Time Traveling through Books

Susan over at the Dab of Darkness blog tagged me in a post about books and time travel. This seemed like a fun topic near and dear to my heart and a good way to start a new week.

What is your favorite historical setting for a book?


The hard part about this one is that I love history and I usually find something to enjoy in any historical setting I explore. However, I think if I had to pin down one era it would be the Victorian era that’s so near and dear to the steampunk I write. In fact, I’m delighted to have added a signed copy of Gail Carriger’s Changeless to my collection. That said, although I do enjoy a good novel set in Victorian England itself, my favorite books are ones set in other places of the world at the time, including the Wild West such as Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century novels or India, such as Eric Brown’s Jani and the Greater Game or even the Africa of Jack Tyler’s Beyond the Rails series.

What writers would you like to travel back in time to meet?

There are lots of writers whose work I admire, but two of the writers who most interest me are Robert Louis Stevenson and Lafcadio Hearn. Stevenson and I share share two initials, a birthday, and a love of pirate stories. Hearn was captivated by the stories of the places he immersed himself in from New Orleans to Japan. Not only have their writings inspired me, they both traveled extensively at a time when it was not always easy to do so and I’d love to hear some of the stories they didn’t have a chance to write down.

What books would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?


The books I’d point my younger self to actually existed back then, but I’d kick myself and actually get myself to read them! I would go back and hand myself Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot. I had preconceived notions that I wouldn’t enjoy King’s work because it was horror, but I would have loved his spooky tale of vampires and I would have been captivated by his great use of characters. I could have learned a lot from reading that book which took my many years to figure out on my own—that I’m still figuring out. Discovering King at a younger age would have started that process a lot earlier!

I’d also encourage myself to read Heinlein’s young adult novels. I remember them on the bookstore shelves when I was a kid, but for some reason never took them home. I would have had a blast with them and their sense of adventure.

If I had to pick a contemporary novel to take back in time, it would have to be a steampunk novel. Clementine or Ganymede by Cherie Priest would have been good choices that my younger self would have liked. It might have kickstarted the idea that I could write steampunk earlier than I did. (Although arguably I started pretty early since I sold “The Slayers” in 2001!)

What book would you travel forward in time and give your older self?

I’d give myself a copy of James Cloyd Bowman’s Pecos Bill: The Greatest Cowboy of All Time. That’s the book that started my love of tall tales and strange stories set in the wild west. It’s actually a book I don’t own, but have recently discovered it’s still in print, so I do need to remedy that. It would be fun to go back and see how Bowman’s version of the Pecos Bill story and the wild west inspired me.

What is your favorite futuristic setting for a book?

It depends on what your asking. Would I like to live in that futuristic setting, or do I think a good story is told there? There’s lots of futuristic settings that make a good story, but I wouldn’t want to live in that world! The Star Trek universe is an example of a futuristic setting which both has great stories, including many great novels, and where I’d like to live. The same is true of A. Bertram Chandler’s John Grimes novels. Both give generally optimistic visions of the future while suggesting plenty of adventures and many worlds to explore. I’m also fond of Ray Bradbury’s Mars, where the past meets the future in a kind of rustic setting on an alien world.

What is your favorite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?


The hard part about this question is that so much of what I read is set in a different time period, it’s hard to pick just one! However, I’m going to pick The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein. I love its mix of engaging characters, politics, and attempt at examining the hard realities of making a colony on another world. This is one I remember enjoying a great deal and is one of the books that inspired me to sit down at the keyboard and actually try my hand at writing. It has been a long time since I’ve read it and it’s one of the books I’d like to go back to and see how well the book stands up to my memory.

Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book to see what happens?

I used to do this all the time when I was a kid, but I stopped. I’m not exactly sure when that happened. My best guess would be during my college and graduate school days when most of my reading swapped over to comics and graphic novels for a time. In those, a glance at the end can be a major spoiler!

If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?

It would be seriously tempting to go back and “fix” painful incidents in my life. For example, I could take some modern textbooks on cardiac care back to doctors who were tending my dad in the 1980s. However, I’ve read enough books cautioning about the dangers of time travel to know how fraught with peril these kinds of well-meaning things can be! Even Hermione Granger was cautioned about interfering with her own time stream.

So, with that in mind, I’d probably use the time turner to give myself some extra time to work on writing at home while I’m also operating telescopes at Kitt Peak. Heck, using the time turner to go back a few hours and get some extra sleep would be pretty amazing.

Favorite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods.


Of course, the original and classic is The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, but perhaps my favorite is The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold. Instead of avoiding possible time travel paradoxes, Gerrold embraces them and looks at what happens when someone tampers with time, including his own timeline. The book’s open discussion of sexuality kind of freaked me out as a kid raised in a conservative, Christian household, but it also opened my eyes to other lifestyles than the one I was told was “correct.”

What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?

I think it would be Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series. I hate to admit, but I still haven’t read all of them and those I’ve read have been in kind of a haphazard fashion, so I’d love to go back and make a real dedicated reading of the complete series.

2016 Election Season

First off, a reminder. I’m at Phoenix Fan Fest this weekend. Drop by the Dark Arts Commics booths A625 and A627 to say hi to me and fellow Las Crucen Daniel Thomas.

Politics and government fascinate me. Because of that, I’m watching this year’s election in the United States closely and I definitely plan to participate by voting. Although politics and social issues do tend to appear in my fiction, I don’t write about them much in this blog. The reason has to do with the power of science fiction and fantasy. These genres allow us to step away from our daily experience and look at things afresh through a new lens. I think that new lens is most effective if the reader doesn’t have a preconceived notion of my stance on issues, so don’t worry, I’m not going to try to sell you on one candidate or another here.


A few weeks ago, I was honored to be asked to write a science fictional take on an Arthurian story for a forthcoming anthology called Camelot 13. I love Arthurian legend and delving into some of the oldest versions of the story, such as the version in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. Part of my fascination extends to the politics embedded in the legend. In many ways, King Arthur and President Ulysses S. Grant strike me as similar, in that both were arguably great military commanders who had less success as heads of state, in part because they were distracted by the shenanigans of those who surrounded them. This isn’t really the element of the lore I explore in my story, but the science fictional lens lets me look at characters such as Arthur, Mordred, and Guinevere without a lot of the preconceived baggage a lot of readers will bring to those characters. I’m pleased to say the story was accepted and I hope to have more details about the book soon.

Of course, during the political season it’s hard to escape people’s opinions on the candidates or even the process of democracy. One of the most compelling pieces I read was an article the related Discovery Channel host Mike Rowe’s opinions on voting. According to Rowe the only misinformation in the article is that he wrote his words in August and not as a response to the debate. I find myself agreeing with a lot of what Rowe says about the right and responsibility of voting. If you’re an American citizen, I do encourage you to go out and vote, but I ask you to perform your due diligence and research the candidates at all levels and evaluate not just their politics but their competence and whether or not they can do duties they’re being elected to perform.

One interesting thing about living in Southern New Mexico is that I’ve had the opportunity to meet some interesting politicians. As an example, I was once called in to jury duty and found myself questioned by the Doña Ana District Attorney of the day, Susanna Martinez. As it turns out, Martinez is now governor of New Mexico and, at least briefly, was bandied about as potential Vice Presidential material. Whether or not you consider Ms. Martinez a serious choice for that role, this experience reminds me that often times our local politicians are the very people who ultimately become our national politicians. Finding competent people for local offices helps to assure that we find competent people for national offices. This is part of why the research element I mentioned is so important.

One of the hallmarks of the United States is that it is a republic and not a monarchy like that of King Arthur. Presidents, congressmen, supreme court justices have power, but ultimately they answer to us. They’re not our bosses. We’re theirs. I encourage you to act like it and hold them accountable by doing your homework and then voting.

Rathbone and Price Read Poe

A few weeks ago, my wife and I bought The Edgar Allan Poe Audio Collection featuring vintage recordings of a selection of Poe’s short stories and poems by Basil Rathbone and Vincent Price. We listened to the complete collection on our trip to San Diego for Gaslight Gathering last weekend.

eap-audio-collection Included in the collection were such classics as “The Fall of the House of the Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Raven.” It’s been a while since I’ve taken the time to delve into Poe and reacquaint myself with the classic stories. The readings by Rathbone and Price were first rate and it was delightful to hear Poe’s wonderfully rendered words spoken by such masters. I have to admit, I’ve never been a great fan of “The Bells”—it always felt like Poe had imbibed a bit much absinthe before writing that one—but it was fun to hear Rathbone play with the words and capture all the different kinds of bells which sing in the poem.

In the set, three of the discs are readings by Rathbone and two are by Price. Most of Rathbone’s readings were a parade of Poe’s greatest hits. Price read stories that were less familiar, at least to me. This was the first time I savored Poe’s stories “Ligeia” and “The Imp of the Perverse.” The collection concludes with Price’s reading of “The Gold Bug.” This story of pirates’ buried treasure made a nice note to end on and was near and dear to my heart.

The one problem with this collection is that it was mastered with a very low volume. I found it helped to import the collection into iTunes where I could adjust the playback volume. You can do that by going to each track, selecting “Get Info” then selecting the “Options” tab. Once there, you can use the “Volume adjust” slider bar so iTunes plays the file at a higher volume than the other files.

If you’re looking for a way to get into the spirit of the Halloween season, it’s hard to beat listening to a good reading of Poe’s short stories. If you have a favorite audio book of spooky stories you’d like to share, let me know in the comments. I have a drive to Phoenix this coming weekend and will be looking for something spooky to listen to.

Speaking of that drive, I’ll be at Phoenix Fan Fest being held at the Phoenix Convention Center on October 22 and 23. I’ll be helping out at the Dark Art Komics Table in the dealer’s room. Daniel Thomas of Dark Art Komics has kindly offered to let me put out my books in exchange for my help, so I hope I’ll see you there!

Last Call for Kepler’s Cowboys

At midnight tonight, October 15, 2016, we reach the deadline to submit a story for the anthology Kepler’s Cowboys, which I’m editing with Steve Howell, Project Scientist for NASA’s K2 Mission. Kepler’s Cowboys is an anthology to be published by Hadrosaur Productions exploring tales of those tough men and women who will venture out into space in the same spirit as those men and women who tamed the wild west a century and half ago. Television shows such as the classic Star Trek, Firefly, and Cowboy Bebop all provide examples of the kinds of adventuresome material we’re seeking. Like our anthology A Kepler’s Dozen the adventures should have a connection to one or more systems discovered by the NASA Kepler Space Telescope during the original Kepler or current K2 missions.


Even though this is a themed anthology, we feel it’s one that allows a lot of room for interpretation and we’re interpreting it broadly to allow as many approaches to the idea of “cowboys” exploring Kepler worlds as possible. If you’ve written a science fiction story about the thrill of exploring a planet, it’s likely your story could work for us. I encourage you to read the guidelines at: http://hadrosaur.com/antho-gl.html.

While tonight is the deadline to postmark submissions or email them to me, there is a special opportunity for any writers or aspiring writers attending TusCon 43 next month in Tucson, Arizona. I will be participating in a panel called Pitch Perfect in which writers will have a chance to pitch a story idea to me. We’ll be leaving one slot open in Kepler’s Cowboys. If you’d like to try for that slot, you can pitch to me during that session. I’ll only take the very best story pitch presented, so make it a good one!

This anthology is something of an experiment on a few levels. First off, we’re allowing authors a lot of room to develop their worlds as they see fit. This is because the Kepler Space Telescope has discovered so many planets that we’re betting if we like a story, we can find a Kepler planet to match the planet the author has written about. Another hallmark of this anthology is that we don’t have reserved spots for featured authors. We’re allowing anyone to submit and everyone has an equal chance at acceptance. We’re doing this partly because we want to provide opportunities to writers even while Tales of the Talisman magazine is on hiatus. We’re also doing it because it’s fun to see the unexpected ways people explore this theme.

At this point, we have somewhat more stories than we need, but that’s okay. This is your chance to outshine those stories we’re already considering. For readers looking to get their hands on this book, I’m hoping to set a firm publication date soon, but you can expect the book to come out sometime in early 2017.

What Is a Monster?

This past weekend, I was on a series of three panels with Gail Carriger at Gaslight Gathering in San Diego where we discussed a spectrum of topics ranging from Gothic literature to monsters in steampunk. Gail is the author of the well loved Parasol Protectorate steampunk series. On one of the panels we were joined by Dru Pagliasotti, author of the novel Clockwork Heart. The other two panels were moderated by DeAnna Cameron, author of the novel The Girl on the Midway Stage. In addition to these panels, I gave a presentation on the paranormal as it was perceived during the Victorian Age. Below is a photo from the first panel session.


The overall experience proved to be a very in-depth discussion that started with our love of Gothic Literature and for many of us, how it got us started thinking about being writers and how the Gothics influenced almost all modern genre fiction from science fiction to horror to mystery to romance. We then moved on to a discussion of how monsters allow us to explore topics we might not otherwise get to explore in fiction. For example, werewolves allow us to explore the monster within. Vampires give us creatures who have a long-time outlook on humanity and can make observations that might seem trite coming from another creature. Of course mad scientists allow us to look at the morality of science itself.

What was perhaps the most interesting point of discussion for me came near the end of the three panels. One of the audience members asked us simply “What makes a monster?” The answer we came up with was that a monster must be corporeal, because monsters must have a physical, perhaps even visceral component. Monsters must be dangerous to humans in some way. In this sense, this allows for someone like Jack the Ripper, who is arguably a monster, though clearly in the form of a human. A monster is no longer monstrous when they are fully allied with humanity and pose no threat to the people they’re around.

One monster who seemed to show up in all the panels was Spring-heeled Jack, who I spoke about at length about a year and a half ago at The Scarlet Order Journal. It was even suggested that I should create a Spring-heeled Jack costume for a future steampunk event. I actually think such a costume would be a lot of fun to create, but it would be a challenge to figure out how to portray him. After all, he really was pretty monstrous in his earliest incarnation, attacking women with his metallic claws and breathing fire, which blinded a girl. Nevertheless, this is a challenge I’ll definitely consider.

Finally, despite Gaslight Gathering being a steampunk convention, it seemed my books which did the best in terms of sales were my Scarlet Order vampire novels, no doubt as a result of the theme. The vampires were pleased to get a chance to shine, though they do remind my readers that they will never, ever sparkle.

Bodacious Space Pirates

Let’s just get this out of the way. When I first saw the title “Bodacious Space Pirates” and the Blu-ray cover on a website, I thought this might be the kind of anime that creepy old guys watch with the shades drawn and the lights down low. Fortunately, being a fan of space pirates, I took time to learn a little more and discovered several positive reviews of the series by women. It turns out this is actually a fun space opera about a high school girl in the future, living on a planet orbiting Tau Ceti who has inherited the captaincy of a pirate ship, the Bentenmaru, from her long lost father.

bodacious-space-pirates In this world, space pirates are a holdover from a war in the distant past. They’ve mostly been forgotten by the time our protagonist, Marika Kato, is in high school, but they still exist, largely to perform courier runs or entertain posh passenger liners with mock pirate raids. Two members of her father’s pirate crew have come to watch over her at school and begin her training as the new captain. In her life as a high school student, Marika is a member of the school yacht club, who have an old solar sailing ship they can use to travel around the Tau Ceti system. As a member of yacht club, Marika begins learning many of the skills she needs to be a ship captain.

The pirate ship Bentenmaru operates under a letter of marque that will expire if the ship doesn’t go on any missions for a period of time. Because of that, Marika’s crew guide her by the hand on her first few missions. On one of the early missions, a princess stows away and asks Marika for help tracking down an ancient ghost ship.

My only real criticism of the show is that its meticulous plotting leads to a few episodes where little happens besides Marika learning new skills. However, this also solves one of the biggest criticisms I have of the 2009 Star Trek by J.J. Abrams, which is how in the world are we expected to believe talented but inexperienced Jim Kirk is given command of the Federation’s best ship right out of the academy? In this case, we have a reason for Marika being given a command despite her inexperience and we follow her as she gains experience, knowledge and confidence.

As a science fiction fan, I’m often on the lookout for good shows to share with my daughters. Of course, one of the downsides of classic science fiction, Star Trek included, is that it’s very male-heavy in the presentation. My daughters have never seen that as implying that exploration and adventure are things only for boys, but still, it’s nice to see a space opera where most of the cast are women and girls. In fact, what this show reminds me of very much are the “Boy Scout” novels of Robert A. Heinlein, except instead of boy’s adventure, this is girl’s adventure. And there are a few cool boys along for the ride include the helmsman, mechanic, and security chief of the Bentenmaru. So boys need not feel left out of the fun! Despite the mini-skirted school uniforms, there’s nary a fanservice shot in this anime, making it appropriate for pretty much all ages.

So, I’ve been watching the series with my 14-year-old daughter who loves it. When I asked her what she thought of the title, she told me it sounded like a fun, space pirate adventure with girls and just the kind of thing she wanted to watch. So much for my first impression of the title. It seems to be just right for the series’ target audience after all. The series is free to watch on Crunchyroll and you can buy downloads of the English dub on iTunes.

The Baron and the Firebird

“I hate vampire stories!” One of my co-workers made that statement at the dinner table this week. It’s a sentiment I sometimes hear at conventions when people glance at my vampire novels without learning more about them. Of course, what they mean is that they hate the proliferation of vampire romances and it’s actually a sentiment I can appreciate, especially when the protagonist vampire is creepily stalking a girl centuries younger than himself. I read a book this week that definitely doesn’t fit that mold.

firebirdebook J. A. Campbell’s novelette The Baron and the Firebird is a vampire romance, but most definitely not one involving a vampire pretending to be a high school student. The story opens with a Russian vampire named Peter in a New York diner looking for his lost love—a woman with a beautiful voice named Zoya. A waitress at the diner suggests he try a musical that recently opened. Having nothing to lose, Peter takes her advice.

The story then flashes back to Russia in 1725. Peter, known back then as Pyotr, is a Baron managing lands. Even though he’s a vampire, he’s learned to subsist on goat’s blood so he doesn’t have to drink the blood of his subjects. Pyotr is able to walk in sunlight through the aid of magical cherries that grow in his garden. Only a small number grow in the harsh Russian winter and he parcels them out carefully because they help him to be a good and effective ruler of his land. Unfortunately, a bird has entered the orchard and has started eating the magical cherries.

This is not just any bird, but a magical firebird. Pyotr traps her. Entranced by her beauty, he builds her a bigger cage. One day, he’s surprised to find not the firebird in his cage, but a beautiful woman. He lets her out and they talk. She makes a bargain to stay a year for each cherry she ate from his garden.

As you might infer, events happen which cause them to become separated, since Pyotr is searching for her years later. I was delighted by the fairy-tale like quality of this particular vampire story. I also appreciated that this story explored the love of two immortal creatures, one of light and one of darkness. The vampire elevates himself to become better than most would expect while the firebird comes down to Earth. Campbell effectively builds tension, making us wonder whether or not the vampire and the firebird will be able to build a love that can last forever.

The Scarlet Order vampires would be pleased to make the acquaintance of Pyotr and Zoya. If you like tales of timeless romance, classic fairy tales, or just want to read a good, non-formulaic vampire tale, then The Baron and the Firebird is the book your looking for. You can pick up a copy in print or ebook format at Amazon.