Discovery's Enterprise

Last month, in my post about sending work to readers and artists and waiting for replies, I mentioned that I’d started work on a model I received for Christmas. The model was the Starship Enterprise as it appears in the second season of Star Trek: Discovery.

No matter your profession, I think it’s vitally important to do things outside your professional interest, whether it’s crafts, hobbies, sports, music, or some combination. Building models has long been one of my favorite past times, though I don’t get to engage in the hobby quite as much as I’d like.

This particular model proved to be a bit of a challenge. Actually building the model was quite simple. There weren’t that many parts, but it was both small and the whole thing is covered stem to stern in water slide decals. You can see them in the photo of the box’s side.

Before applying the decals, I had to decide whether or not to paint the model. The model itself was molded in a shiny gunmetal gray, which is pretty well captured by the box art. Even though I thought it was a little dark and shiny to be screen accurate, I was just going to run with it, but as I inspected the pieces, the flow lines from where the plastic had been poured into the molds was a little too obvious for my taste, so I painted the whole thing a flat, dark aircraft gray, which I think looks just a little more like the ship as shown in the show.

To me, the challenge of decals is getting them to slide into just the right position, stick to the model instead of sticking to me and then hoping they’ll settle into all the contours they’re supposed to. For the last couple of models I’ve built, I used a decal setting solution to help. This stuff is just a mild solvent (almost certainly vinegar from the way it smells) and a very light glue. This helped quite a bit on this model, but there were a lot of nooks and crannies the decals needed to settle into and the setting solution wasn’t quite enough for the job. I decided to try a product I’ve heard about for a while called “Micro Sol” which is similar to the setting solution, except that it has a slightly stronger solvent. I have to say, it worked extremely well. To use it, after the decals were on and dry, just brush on the Micro Sol and let it do the work. After a couple of hours, the decals really soften and settle into place.

I think the final model turned out quite nice, as shown above. As you might notice from the box lid at the top of the post, the model is distributed by a company called Polar Lights and they are known for creating lighted kits. This kit did not have lighting and it was small enough that I didn’t really want to light it. Instead, I picked up some glow-in-the-dark paint and applied it inside the clear domes and places where I wanted a glow. The paint I picked up is an acrylic and there’s some danger of acrylic paint flaking off plastic. In hopes of staving that off, I gave the acrylic a quick top coat of gloss clear lacquer paint. So far, it worked well. Time will tell how it does in the long term!

As I said at the outset, I think it’s important for any professional to have activities outside of their professional life. These activities often pay dividends for us in our work. For me, this model reminded me it was all right to go out of my comfort zone and learn how to improve my work with decals. It reminded me that it’s okay to improvise and try new things like experimenting with the glow-in-the-dark paint. I don’t know for certain how these things will pay off in my writing or astronomy life, but keeping my mind limbered up and flexible is useful in both.

Stand Alone or Series

When people first learn about my books, one of the first questions they ask me is whether they’re stand-alone novels or part of a series. In fact, most of my books are part of series because I think it’s fun to continue to explore the consequences of the actions a group of characters take across several volumes. That said, I also believe that each book in a series should stand on its own. In other words, if a reader has never encountered a book in the series before, they should be able to jump in at any point in the series and not be lost. Moreover, when they reach the end of the book, they should feel they’ve had a satisfactory journey without having to buy another book. I want them to buy the next book because they like the characters, not necessarily because I left them with a cliffhanger.

In my Clockwork Legion steampunk novels, I achieved that by introducing an alien traveler called Legion who has the good intention of wanting to keep humans from destroying each other by meddling in human affairs. Legion starts by encouraging the Russian Empire to “unify” Earth by taking over the North American continent. That story became Owl Dance and the story is essentially resolved in the book. In Lightning Wolves we explore consequences of the war. The Arizona desert becomes an even more lawless frontier than it was before and miners go head to head with cattle rustlers. Meanwhile, we find the Russian invasion is still happening in California. Again, those events are resolved. In the third book, The Brazen Shark, we see the Japanese worried about powerful Russian neighbors and what happens when a samurai force steals a Russian airship for their own political aims. The fourth book, Owl Riders, returns to Arizona and the consequences of leaving a mining machine in the hands of the Apaches.

My hope is each book can be read on its own, but you get a little more out of the story if you read the whole thing. One of the ways I know whether or not I succeeded is by handing a later book to a new reader and asking them whether they were able to follow along or if there were points that lost them. Of course, you can learn more about the Clockwork Legion series at: http://www.zianet.com/dsummers/books.html#clockwork_legion.

Right now, my writing focus is on my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. The first book, Firebrandt’s Legacy, is very much a standalone story telling the adventures of Captain Ellison Firebrandt and his band of swashbuckling space pirates. I’m working on rewriting the second book of the series, The Pirates of Sufiro. It tells how Firebrandt influenced his children and grandchildren’s generation to become heroes. The third book, Children of the Old Stars, is about Firebrandt’s grandson, John Mark Ellis, who goes on a quest to understand an set of beings called the Cluster who destroy starships for no reason people can understand. In the final book, Heirs of the New Earth, those ships have taken over Earth and the galaxy is about to be changed forever.

I’m working as hard as I am to make The Pirates of Sufiro the best book I can because I don’t want people who start with Firebrandt’s Legacy to lose interest and stop. That said, I think a reader could jump into Children of the Old Stars or Heirs of the New Earth and understand what what’s happened without reading the earlier novels. In fact, I just had a lot of fun reading those two novels again. It’s not uncommon for me to pick up a book I wrote a few years before and cringe at some of my word choices or directions I sent my characters, but for the most part, I thought these books still held up. Of course, you can leap into this series right at the beginning by picking up Firebrandt’s Legacy at: http://hadrosaur.com/FirebrandtsLegacy.php. If you want to leap ahead and see how well Heirs of the New Earth stands on its own, I have a few copies of the first edition available at half off the cover price at: http://hadrosaur.com/HeirsNewEarth.php. I hope you’ll join Firebrandt and his heirs for their exciting adventure.

Music for the Journey

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve started evaluating my revisions of The Pirates of Sufiro and deciding whether or not it’s ready for publication as is, or whether I should take the book through another round of edits. As I mentioned in the last post, The Pirates of Sufiro tells the story of a planet founded by pirates and their conflict with even more unscrupulous people. I’ve also come to realize that The Pirates of Sufiro serves as a bridge, showing how a pirate captain like Ellison Firebrandt guided the next two generations into becoming heroes who would save the galaxy.

The first part of this process is making sure characters like Ellison Firebrandt, Carter Roberts, and Suki Mori are true to the characters I envisioned in Firebrandt’s Legacy. I also reread the next two books in the series, Children of the Old Stars and Heirs of the New Earth, to make sure I believe that Fire Ellis, daughter of Ellison Firebrandt, and her son, John Mark Ellis, are where they need to be. Of the two, I think Fire will need the most help in Pirates while John Mark needs a little more work in Children of the Old Stars.

The good news of my reading adventure is that while it looks like I’ll be spending a little more time rewriting The Pirates of Sufiro than I originally expected, the rewrites of Children and Heirs will probably go a bit quicker than I initially expected. In fact, I’m thinking once Pirates is released, it’ll only take about two or three months to finish the new editions of the next two books.

To elaborate a bit on the issue of character consistency, one element of the story that becomes increasingly important as the series progresses is that John Mark Ellis comes from Nantucket. He has a connection with the sea and has even become acquainted with Earth’s whales as intelligent beings. I think there’s enough connection with Nantucket and the whales in Pirates that these things don’t come out of the blue. Nantucket takes on greater importance in Children of the Old Stars.

Despite that, there’s a scene where a character looks into Ellis’s mind and sees a castle on the Scottish moors. I wrote that because I imagined Ellis’s ancestors as Scottish, but it doesn’t really serve a story point or fit Ellis’s self image. In the new edition, look for him to be sheltered in a light house against a raging sea. In another scene in Children of the Old Stars, I imagine Ellis humming “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” I did this at a point where he reaches an important decision and it happens because Ulysses S. Grant was an early inspiration for the character and I wanted that Civil War connection. The problem is that Ellis himself wouldn’t see that connection. He would actually sing songs related to Nantucket and whaling. This led me on a quest to find such songs. During the search, I discovered a wonderful musician and educator named David Coffin based in Boston. He has an album called David Coffin and the Nantucket Sleighride which includes songs just like the ones I was looking for. I even discovered that one of the old songs from circa 1820 fits the mood of the scene I was looking for very well. What’s more, his old songs are great for getting me in the mood to write scenes with Ellis. If you want to learn more about David, his website is: http://www.davidcoffin.com. His albums are available on Amazon and iTunes and I highly recommend them if you want to learn more about sea chanteys and early American music.

Why Pirates?

During a quiet moment at 2018’s MileHiCon, author Jane Lindskold and I sat down and had a nice conversation. In that conversation she asked why an apparently law-abiding, nice person like me would be interested in writing about pirates. After all, I’ve not only written about space pirates, but I’ve written about airship pirates in my steampunk fiction, and pirates have appeared in my vampire fiction. The drug traffickers in The Astronomer’s Crypt could also be seen as pirates of a sort. I have a two-part answer to the question. One part is related to story potential and the other is more personal.

To summarize the United Nations definition of piracy, it is a criminal act of violence, detention or depredation committed by the crew or passengers of a ship or aircraft directed against another ship or aircraft—or directed against a ship, aircraft, persons or property outside the jurisdiction of a country.  Apply that idea to any vessel that is either in space or operating on a distant world, and you open up tremendous story potential.

In fact, when I first wrote my novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, the working title was simply Sufiro. The novel really is about the history of a planet founded by pirates, the disaffected people who follow, and the unscrupulous people who find resources on the world they can exploit. I added “Pirates” to the title because the planet is not only founded by pirates, but those unscrupulous people who come later are committing acts of violence, detention and depredation against their fellows outside the jurisdiction of a country. In a very real way, they are even more piratical than the story’s avowed pirates.

On a more personal level, pirates stir the imagination despite the fact that they steal from others to make a living and often murder to do so. If you look into the history of piracy—particularly during piracy’s “golden age” of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—you find that discipline on military and legitimate trading vessels was brutal and crews were paid almost nothing. On pirate ships, the crews had more of a voice in how things were run and the booty was split more evenly.

Today, in the 21st century, we find ourselves in a world where companies monitor our e-mails and website usage. People can be fired for saying the wrong thing in the heat of the moment. In point of fact, the corporate world of today has nothing on the day when you could be flogged to within an inch of your life for a perceived insult. Still, the idea of setting out to sea or the stars with no one watching your every move and not having to watch your every word does have a certain appeal.

In Leiji Matsumoto’s famous Captain Harlock anime series and manga, the titular pirate captain fights under the skull and crossbones flag because it’s a symbol that one should fight to the death for freedom and that one shouldn’t be subject to corrupt and decadent governments. I wrote The Pirates of Sufiro before I got to know Harlock as any more than a cameo character in Galaxy Express 999, but the idea does capture some of what I tried to capture in my novel.

As it turns out, The Pirates of Sufiro was the first novel I ever wrote and I think it’s fair to say the idea was more ambitious than my skills were ready for almost twenty-five years ago. I’ve been spending much of the last year revising The Pirates of Sufiro for a new edition. I think I’ve made it much better, but I’m in the process of taking a good hard look and deciding whether or not I’ve succeeded in making it the book I want it to be. Much of that is making sure the characters are true to themselves as they developed in the books I wrote after Pirates.

You can help me in my quest to make The Pirates of Sufiro the book it should be by joining my Patreon campaign. My fix-up novel Firebrandt’s Legacy may be read in its entirety. Also, you can read the last published edition of The Pirates of Sufiro and the draft as it stands now. It’s likely there will be even one more draft before the book is published. Once it is published, I’ll give download codes for all the novels in the Space Pirates’ Legacy universe that are in print: The Solar Sea, Firebrandt’s Legacy, and The Pirates of Sufiro. Of course, I love to hear feedback from my patrons and it’s a great way to weigh in on what you think of the books. You can become a patron for just $1.00 a month. To learn more, click the button below. It’s time for some piracy!

TG Geeks Astronomy Interview

Back on the Thanksgiving weekend, my friends Ben Ragunton and Keith Lane came up to visit me at Kitt Peak National Observatory. They are the hosts of the Two Gay Geeks Podcast. On the show, they discuss science fiction, conventions, science and anything else that may be of geeky interest. I gave them a tour of the observatory and then we found a quiet place to sit down and chat about astronomy and my science fiction. The astronomy interview is live this week and the science fiction interview should follow in a couple of weeks. You can listen and find more information at: https://www.tggeeks.com/blog/2020/02/03/tg-geeks-webcast-episode-259/

Much of the discussion centered around topics I’ve discussed here at the Web Journal. Of course, the advantage to a real time interview like this is that they were able to ask me questions as we chatted. I also had a chance to speak a little more about my background in astronomy and how I came to be at Kitt Peak, which included some discussion of my time working at the Very Large Array in New Mexico.

As it turns out, the weather turned rather unpleasant right before they came up to visit. When the weather turns rough, it can be challenging to reach the summit because of snow, ice and rock slides. In fact, Ben and Keith saw a rock slide on the way up. Over time, that particular slide worsened and they made it down just before the road was closed for the remainder of the weekend. They have a photo of rock slide they encountered on the interview page. The day after they left, a boulder fell on the road, higher up the mountain which reinforced the decision to keep the road closed. It took a while for the state to clear the road because most of their heavy equipment was up in Northern Arizona dealing with even fiercer traveling conditions.

In the interview, I mentioned that the website www.noao.edu might be going away soon. As it turns out, that URL still works as a portal to get to information about Kitt Peak and other telescopes that are part of NSF’s OIR Lab, as the organization I work for is now called. I did get word this past week that our websites will begin migrating to a new web portal soon, but discussion was still ongoing about what the new URL actually will be. If you would like to take a virtual tour of Kitt Peak and see some photos and learn some fun facts, you may do so at: https://www.noao.edu/outreach/kptour/.

That evening after speaking with Ben and Keith, I found a nice place to stay warm and check messages on my computer. Every Friday night, Madame Askew, a great steampunk costumer, entertainer, and host of the Tucson Steampunk Society book club, hosts a live online tea session. I was delighted to see that her guests for the evening were none other than Ben and Keith! I gather they interviewed Madam Askew for the show. This is all to say, don’t just listen to my interview, be sure to follow the show. The Two Gay Geeks have some great upcoming interviews, including Madame Askew and a repeat visit with me talking about my writing. They always have some great discussions of what’s going on in science fiction TV and movies, and if you follow them on Social Media, they may even give you a birthday shout out in an upcoming segment.

My Star Trek

Back in 2007, the current actor playing the Doctor in Doctor Who, David Tennant, appeared alongside one of the classic Doctors, Peter Davison in a short film for charity called “Time Crash.” In the short, Tennant has a moment that’s close to breaking the fourth wall. He glances at Davison with admiration, talks about all the things about him that inspired his interpretation of the character and then declares, “You were my Doctor.” Ever since then Doctor Who fans are fond of proclaiming which Doctor was the one that made them a fan of the series. That Doctor is my Doctor.

It’s possible to do almost the same thing with Star Trek. The show is almost as old and existed in numerous incarnations, much like Doctor Who. What’s more, as I talk to people of different ages, I do find that people do remember different Star Trek series with different amounts of fondness, often related to which one they discovered first and really hooked them. Thanks to having older brothers, I have watched and loved Star Trek as long as I remember, but to some degree, the original series is their Star Trek. For me, the series that hooked me was the one that debuted on Saturday morning TV around the time I started the second grade.

The animated Star Trek produced by Filmation Studios and helmed by D.C. Fontana essentially gave us two more seasons of the original series, completing the original five year mission. What’s more, I’d argue most of the episodes were better than the episodes that appeared in the third live action season. We got to see cool new aliens, such as Arex, a new navigator with three arms and three legs, and a Vendorian shapeshifter with tentacles who no doubt stuck in my mind enough to inspire my Alpha Centaurans when I wrote the first chapter of my novel, The Pirates of Sufiro. We also got to see a return of the tribbles and a return to the planet from the episode “Shore Leave.”

I was pleased to see that someone finally devoted a book to the animated series, Star Trek: The Official Guide to the Animated Series by Aaron Harvey and Rich Schepis with an afterward by Dayton Ward, who co-edited the anthology Maximum Velocity with me. It has nice episode summaries plus behind the scenes information. For instance, I didn’t realize that Lou Scheimer of Filmation had been trying to get rights to do an animated Star Trek since before the original went off the air. What’s more, I learned the animated series the only one to win an Emmy in a non-technical category. It won for “Outstanding Children’s Program” in the second season.

The animated Star Trek often suffers from arguments about the series’ canon. In fact, all canon refers to is the collected body of original work produced by the licensed owners. What people really seem to mean when they argue about “canon” is “the consistent internal history of the show.” It doesn’t help that the series creator, Gene Roddenberry, didn’t want to consider the animated series part of that official history. Despite that, several authors in later series have included references to it. Now, to put this kind of debate into perspective, I have a hard enough time maintaining consistency in a multi-book series that I, alone, create. I can’t imagine being absolutely consistent throughout a series that has lasted over 50 years with multiple creators, where history itself has changed some of the backstory. (We all remember Khan Noonien Singh’s reign in the 1990s, right?) I think the best new creators can do is know what came before, do their best to get it right, and maybe even have a little fun when they find contradictions and anachronisms.

If you haven’t seen the animated series, or it’s been a while, I encourage you to take a look. Bringing Harvey and Schepis’s book along for the journey might just add to your appreciation.

Waking up in the 20s

At the start of the new year, I read many social media posts reminding me that we’ve returned to the 20s. As it turns out, 1920 was something of a banner year for science fiction in that it saw the birth of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Frank Herbert. It also saw the birth of Patrick Troughton, the second actor to play the Doctor in Doctor Who and DeForest Kelley who would play the doctor of the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek.

I decided to celebrate the start of the 2020s by continuing the adventures of one of my favorite comic book heroines, Adèle Blanc-Sec. She is probably best known to Americans from the wonderful 2010 film by Luc Besson called The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. After watching that movie, I was curious about the character and found out she appeared in French comics written by Jacques Tardi whose work also inspired the movie April and the Extraordinary Journey. I found that Fantagraphics had produced nice translated editions of the first four of Adèle’s adventures, which inspired the movie. The problem is, the movie and the translated graphic novels both end on a cliffhanger. Adèle sets sail on the Titanic

As it turns out, Adèle’s story does continue. Volume 5 was translated and published by Dark Horse Comics as “The Secret of the Salamander” and tells what happens to Adèle as a result of the infamous voyage. Unfortunately, none of the comics after volume 5 have been translated. I was pleased to discover, though, that I could buy the French edition of Volume 6, which I translate as “The Drowning of the Two-Headed Man” in digital format from Comixology. This story begins a new chapter of Adèle Blanc-Sec’s adventures after World War I. It’s not precisely the 1920s, but the stage is being set for the roaring decade to come.

There was one challenge. I don’t speak or read French very well. I did have a semester back in middle school. I won’t say how many years ago that is. I also have studied some Spanish over the years and have a very rudimentary Spanish vocabulary, which helps to recognize French words. Still, armed with Google Translate and my limited French skills, I made my best go of reading the comic.

It turns out this actually was a pretty fun exercise. My French was good enough that I could tell when Google’s translation app gave me a wonky result, and I would need to dig deeper to figure out what someone said. I also have no doubt I missed some idioms that would have been clearer to a native speaker. Still, the process of going through very carefully allowed me to appreciate Jacques Tardi’s fine artwork as well as much of his wordplay, much of it making me laugh as I worked through the translation.

In short, the story opens with police finding a drowned two-headed drowned man in a canal. They are soon attacked by a giant octopus. Meanwhile, Adèle Blanc-Sec has awoken to discover a world war was fought. She has nothing but an overcoat. Still, she returns to her apartment and finds its been kept up in her absence. She soon gets embroiled in a mystery involving the French army, circus performers, and the aforementioned giant octopus. As I understand, her adventures continue into the 1920s.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec and April and the Extraordinary World are two of the better steampunk films I know. If Adèle’s adventures continued on screen, we could be treated to some fine dieselpunk. Hopefully, we will get some translated copies of her later adventures. If any comic book companies are reading this, I do have all my notes from reading the book! For the rest of you, you can learn about the steampunk adventures I’ve created by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

Also, for those seeking out steampunk goodness, I learned this weekend that I will once again be presenting panels at Wild Wild West Con in Tucson, Arizona this March. This is one of the most fun, immersive events I go to. You can learn more at: http://wildwestcon.com.