World Goth Day 2022

World Goth Day happened on May 22. World Dracula Day happens on May 26, because Bram Stoker’s Dracula was released on May 26, 1897. With both of those happening within one week, I’ve decided to have a week-long celebration. The Official World Goth Day site defines it as “a day where the goth scene gets to celebrate its own being, and an opportunity to make its presence known to the rest of the world.” I thought this would be a great opportunity to share a special deal on my Gothic-literature and Dracula-inspired novels Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires and Vampires of the Scarlet Order. It’s even more appropriate, since the new novel I’m working on is tentatively titled Ordeal of the Scarlet Order and will complete the trilogy!

The Scarlet Order Books

Founded in 1067, the Scarlet Order is a band of vampire mercenaries led by Desmond, Lord Draco. Before he became a vampire, Draco was in the line of succession for the British throne. After becoming a vampire, he sought redemption and ultimately found the best way he could survive was to help those kings and princes whose causes he believed in. Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires chronicles the formation of the Scarlet Order. In Vampires of the Scarlet Order, the United States government has started a program to create super soldiers, so they don’t have to rely on vampires any more. Unfortunately, this means they are tampering with powers far beyond their understanding.

From now through May 28, you can pick up the ebook editions of these novels for just $1.00.

If you prefer printed novels, I still have a great deal. Buy either one of my novels at hadrosaur.com and I’ll toss in the related comic book, “Guinevere and the Stranger” absolutely free. “Guinevere and the Stranger” adapts the chapter that tells the vampire Roquelaure’s origin story into comic book form. What’s more, you can get your novels signed, just fill out the contact form on the site after you place your order and let me know you’d like signed copies.

These make great gifts for the Gothic Literature fan in your life, or keep them and enjoy them for yourself! If you have both novels, but not the comic, here’s where you can find it:

My newsletter subscribers got a jump on this special. If you’d like to subscribe to my newsletter, just visit my website: http://www.davidleesummers.com and find the signup form right at the bottom of the page.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one celebrating Goth Day this week. Tom Hutchison of Big Dog Ink is running a Kickstarter campaign for his second annual Goth Day issue. Big Dog Ink publishes the Critter superhero comic, Legend of Oz: The Wicked West, and the vampire/shapeshifter comic Ursa Minor among others. The Goth Day specials imagine the characters from the Big Dog Ink universe existing in a darker, parallel universe.

The special Goth Day issue is written by Tom Hutchison with art by CB Zane and colors by Gat Melvyn. Each Goth Day special is a one-shot, standalone issue, but Tom has made a pack available through Kickstarter where you can pick up his entire Goth Day series. Last year’s issue introduced the idea of Tom’s darker world, and a number of its inhabitants. In 2022 he expands on that world and introduces new characters and situations…including the Mermaid Princess in the banner ad!

To support Tom’s Kickstarter, visit:

Star Trek: Prodigy

As I mentioned recently, I subscribed to Paramount Plus so I can enjoy the new series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds as its released. I’m still enjoying the series, but while I’m subscribed to the service, I’m also checking out some of the other recent entries in the Star Trek universe.

One thing that has bothered me in Star Trek since The Next Generation is how competitive entry into Starfleet is presented to be. It doesn’t bother me that it’s presented as competitive. After all, exploring space should be aspirational and I have no problem with the idea that its a job for the best and brightest. The problem is the scale of the competition. Back in The Next Generation, Wesley Crusher took a whole bunch of exams and became one of three finalists for some region of space to make it into the academy. Only one of them would make it. How many people started the application process wasn’t clear, but it seemed like these were the only three finalists from several worlds. More recently, in Strange New Worlds, it was stated that thousands of people applied for every single posting.

Two things bother me about these moments. First, we know that Starfleet has many, many ships and many Starbases around the galaxy. In some seasons, it seems like a ship is destroyed every episode. Most of these ships are presented as having somewhere between fifty and a thousand crewmembers. I don’t know how many people there are in Starfleet, but it seems like there are a whole lot of them and there’s real attrition because exploring space is dangerous business! Sure, they come from different planets, but it still strikes me that there’s no shortage of people in Starfleet even though it’s also supposed to be extraordinarily competitive to get in the door. It pushes my willing suspension of disbelief. Also, while I like the aspirational aspect of the competition, I watch a show like Star Trek because I’d like to imagine myself exploring the universe with those people. If it’s presented as too competitive, then I begin to see it as an unachievable dream. Interestingly enough, this is where Star Trek: Prodigy comes in.

Star Trek: Prodigy

Star Trek: Prodigy is a 3-D animated series co-produced by Paramount and Nickelodeon. The show opens on a mining colony outside the Federation where prisoners are used as labor. They’re overseen by a mysterious figure known as Diviner. One of the prisoners, a young man named Dal, is assigned to work deep within the asteroid being mined. There he along with a Medusian in a travel suit called Zero discover the derelict Starfleet ship, the U.S.S. Protostar. Dal and Zero assemble a team of people to resurrect the Protostar and flee Diviner. Their team includes a Tellarite mechanic named Jankom Pog, a rocklike creature named Rok-Tahk, and a slime-like alien called Murph. The inexperienced crew make a getaway aboard the starship with help from a holographic Captain Janeway, from Star Trek: Voyager. The ragtag crew learns about the Federation and decides to take the ship back to Starfleet. In the meantime, we learn that Diviner has been searching for the ship all along and is none too happy with the young people absconding with the prize he’d hoped to find. Diviner, his daughter Gwyn, and the robotic enforcer Drednok go in pursuit of the Protostar.

As our young crew learns about the ship and its abilities, they find that letting it fall into Diviner’s hands would be a bad idea. Along the way, they encounter some strange new worlds, learn to work together as a team and rise to meet the challenges presented to them. There may be a certain realism in presenting placement in Starfleet as highly competitive, but to me, Star Trek’s strongest stories are often about how characters cope with unexpected challenges. There’s no question the best and brightest face difficulties, but sometimes it nice to see people who didn’t necessarily rise to the top of the class, rise to the occasion.

Over the years, Nickelodeon has produced some great shows for younger audiences. While Star Trek: Prodigy may not rise to the quality of a show like Avatar: The Last Airbender, it still tells an engaging tale, expands the Star Trek universe in some good ways and worked equally well for my twenty-year-old daughter and me.

Stay on This Channel

Terrahawks, Volume 1

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I have a long drive from my home to the observatory where I work. Because of that, I like to listen to audiobooks and audio plays while on the road. This past week, I downloaded and listened to Terrahawks Volume 1 available from Big Finish Productions and the Gerry Anderson Store. The production is directed by Gerry Anderson’s son, Jamie Anderson. I gather Terrahawks was shown in the United States, but it came out when I was starting university, so I never saw it at the time. So what is Terrahawks?

Gerry Anderson was a producer well known for producing memorable science fiction and adventure stories in the United Kingdom. Among his most famous shows were Thunderbirds, which ran from 1964-66 and followed the exploits of International Rescue, an agency equipped with advanced air, sea, and space craft that went to the aid of people in trouble. This was followed by the 1967-68 series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons which imagined a top security organization charged with protecting Earth from space invaders. Both shows were produced for younger audiences and featured marionettes. Anderson would go on to produce live action shows in the 1970s like UFO and Space: 1999. Like Captain Scarlet, UFO also featured a security organization protecting the Earth from aliens.

In 1983, Gerry Anderson returned with a new television series. Like Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and UFO, it would feature a secret organization protecting Earth from an alien menace. This show also marked a return to a show produced with a children’s audience in mind featuring puppets. This time, the puppets would be “glove” puppets rather than marionettes, but the show would still feature Gerry Anderson’s quality model work and special effects. The show was called Terrahawks. The aliens were led by a witch-like android named Zelda. She was accompanied by her sister, Cy-star, and her son, Yung-star, plus an assortment of colorful minions. They operated from a base on Mars.

The titular Terrahawks were Earth’s defense force, led by Dr. “Tiger” Ninestein. He was one of nine clones and if he ever died, one of the other clones could be brought in to replace him. His second-in-command was Captain Mary Falconer. Working with them were Lieutenants Hawkeye, Hiro, and Kate Kestrel. Kate also worked as a pop musician and her songs were featured in the show. The Terrahawks organization also has a force of spherical robots called Zeroids. Each of the Zeroids have their own unique personality such as the gruff but loveable Sergeant Major and his right-hand, the French-accented Dix Huit. When Terrahawks started, it seemed Gerry Anderson planned to give it the same kind of earnest, serious treatment as he did Captain Scarlet and UFO. However, budget constraints and the type of puppetry, which was new for Anderson, made it hard to take the show as seriously as its predecessors. Many creators would struggle to bring such a show into line with their vision, but Anderson seems to have rolled with it and allowed the show’s more absurdist and humorous elements to come to the fore. What made the show work were the fun scripts and brilliant voice acting. As such, the show translates very well to an audio-only format.

The Terrahawks Volume 1 audio was released in 2015. It contains eight 30 to 40-minute stories plus a making-of feature. The audio opens with “The Price is Right” in which a government inspector arrives to audit the Terrahawks after Zelda has gone on hiatus for several months. Working at the National Observatory in the United States, I’ve seen many of these kind of inspections and the humor was much appreciated. In “Deadly Departed,” it appears Zelda has finally been destroyed, but everyone is surprised to discover that Tiger Ninestein is named as her heir! The episode “101 Seed” was an episode written for the original series by Gerry Anderson, but never filmed.

“A Clone of My Own” was perhaps the most interesting story. Zelda begins killing off Tiger Ninestein’s clones. Lurking in the background is a serious look at the individuals who are Tiger Ninestein’s clones and the ethics of using them as backup models for the Terrahawks’ leader. Another really interesting idea was explored in Chris Dale’s “Timesplit.” In that one, Zelda’s minion Lord Tempo creates two versions of Lieutenant Hawkeye based based on the possible outcomes of an encounter. He would either escape or be captured. In this case, both happen.

Two of the funniest episodes are “Clubbed to Death” in which Zelda starts a payday loan scam on Earth and “No Laughing Matter” in which a comedian is sent to paralyze our heroes by making them laugh to the point that they can’t effectively defend the Earth.

Throughout the stories, the Zeroid robots infuriate the always-serious Dr. Ninestein. In the final story, “Into the Breach,” the good doctor creates a new type of Zeroid called a Cyberzoid that follows orders perfectly and it looks like the Zeroids will be shelved for good in favor of new robots that sound like fans of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I enjoyed these audio stories a great deal. The story “Deadly Departed” is free to download at the Gerry Anderson Store or from Big Finish Productions if you would like to give the stories a try. Otherwise, you can find the full volume at the links below:

Peering Into Distorted Mirrors

The first time I encountered the idea of parallel worlds — where you might encounter familiar faces existing in an altered reality — was the classic Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror,” written by Jerome Bixby. The episode imagines Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura entering an alternate version of their world where a totalitarian Imperial Earth controls the galaxy instead of a benevolent Federation of Planets. Crewmembers move up in rank by assassinating superior officers and starships are sent to dominate worlds. To me, and I believe many other fans as well, it stands out as one of the more memorable episodes. Despite that, Star Trek would not revisit the “mirror universe” again until Deep Space Nine. At that time, we learn that Spock of the mirror universe attempted to affect changes to the Earth Empire, which, in turn, made the empire weak and allowed the Klingons and Cardassians to take over much of the galaxy. Of course, one wonders what the Mirror Universe equivalents of Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D were doing during this time.

Mirror Universe Collection

IDW Comics decided to explore this idea in a set of comic book miniseries which have been collected in the graphic novel Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mirror Universe Collection. The graphic novel contains three complete story arcs. The first, “Mirror Broken,” tells the story of how the mirror universe Jean-Luc Picard took command of his version of the Enterprise. This story features beautiful painted artwork by J.M. Woodward and is possibly the best artwork I’ve seen in a Star Trek comic. The story by David & Scott Tipton does a nice job of weaving a Next Generation story out of our glimpses of the mirror universe from the TV series. The second arc is “Through the Mirror” which imagines the mirror universe Picard and his crew finding a way into our universe to plunder technology and resources. Of course the Picard of our universe must do what he can to thwart the mirror Picard. The final story arc is “Terra Incognita” in which the mirror universe engineer Reginald Barclay is stranded in our universe and must find a way to blend in. This proved to be my favorite story since it focused on one character, how he was the same and different from his counterpart in “our” universe and how he had to learn to fit in to survive and thrive.

The graphic novel also contains two one-shot stories: “Origin of Data” and “Ripe for Plunder.” Both stories were interesting. The latter involves the mirror universe Data seeking out the deposed Emperor Spock in exile. The idea was interesting, but I thought the tale deserved more nuance than a one-shot story allowed.

To me, the appeal of parallel universe stories is that they allow us to explore “the road not traveled.” We can look back at history and ask what if historical figures made different choices than they did in the history we know? This is what I do in my Clockwork Legion novels. Such alternate universes don’t have to be “dark” universes like the one presented in Star Trek’s mirror universe. They can be an exploration of human drives under different conditions. They can provide for a fun character study. Although I have issues with Star Trek: Into Darkness, I still love the idea of exploring the Enterprise’s encounter with Khan Noonien Singh under different circumstances than we knew in the original series.

In an interesting piece of real-world alternate history, I gather Jerome Bixby and his son Emerson wrote a sequel to “Mirror, Mirror” called “Broken Mirror” for Star Trek: The Next Generation. This version was written before Deep Space Nine’s creation and imagined Spock from the mirror universe discovering a problem which developed when Captain Kirk and his landing party returned to their home universe many years before. Apparently matter from the two universes would have been leaking into one another creating a disaster about to happen, which required crews from both universes to work together. I would love to see this story adapted or even a published version of the screenplay.

Dark alternate universes provide an interesting approach to the cautionary tale. “Mirror, Mirror” and its sequels give us a look at what our future might be like if we give into our darker, more totalitarian natures. After all, there’s no guarantee the Star Trek universe is ours. We could be living inside the mirror.

You can explore my alternate version of the late 1800s by reading the Clockwork Legion series, which is available at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

Exploring Strange New Worlds

A little over two weeks ago, I was a panelist and vendor at El Paso Comic Con. I had a great time at the convention. Tamsin Silver and I hosted three writing panels. On two of the panels, we asked another attending author, Alan Morgan, to join us. The panels were the best-attended writing panels I’ve seen at El Paso Comic Con. We spoke about “Researching Your Fiction,” “Getting to Know the Characters in Your Head” and “From Weird Westerns to Space Opera.” The first two panels were focused very much on the process of writing. We discussed how research is important whether you’re writing historical fiction, space opera, or even fantasy set in a world of your own creation. At the very least you need to know how things work so you can describe them realistically. The character panel focused on how we can pull from people all around us to create characters. Alan brought a great perspective to both of these because he writes games as well as fiction. The final panel, “From Weird Westerns to Space Opera” essentially brought the themes of the other two panels together by considering how the process of creating all speculative genres share common elements.

It was appropriate to discuss space opera at the convention, since one of the featured guests was none other than William Shatner. My wife and I got to meet him briefly for a photo op. Unfortunately, these photo ops don’t give much opportunity to interact, but we did exchange pleasantries and I have heard Shatner speak on other occasions.

William Shatner, David Lee Summers, and Kumie Wise

Now I will confess, I did Photoshop this image slightly. Since everyone was unmasked for the photo, they placed us a few feet from Mr. Shatner. I simply closed up the gap to give the photo a more friendly feel. One thing that was fun about meeting Shatner when we did was that it came just before the debut of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds which features a character first portrayed by none other than William Shatner.

In earlier posts, I’ve discussed my reluctance to subscribe to streaming services. However, I’ve been looking forward to Strange New Worlds for a while and I decided I didn’t want to wait for the video release. Overall, I enjoyed the first episode and I look forward to seeing how it plays out. For those who haven’t seen it, this new Star Trek is set aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise roughly six years before Captain Kirk takes command. The Enterprise is commanded by Captain Christopher Pike played by Anson Mount. His First Officer is Una Chin-Riley played by Rebecca Romijn and his science officer is Mr. Spock, played by Ethan Peck.

Ethan Peck and David Lee Summers at WIYN

The episode opens when a starship approaches a planet to make first contact. We then cut to a scene in Montana where Captain Pike is on leave between missions while the Enterprise is undergoing refit. Admiral Robert April turns up and informs him that the first contact mission went awry. What’s more, that mission was being commanded by Una. So, the Enterprise must leave on its mission early to find out what happened. Robert April is a character we first met in the animated Star Trek series where he was introduced as the captain of the Enterprise before Pike. I won’t say much more at this point because I don’t want to risk spoilers. One of the things I did find interesting about the episode was that it posited the idea of the warp drive being weaponized. Tying this back into the discussion of the El Paso Comic Con panels, one thing that came up back in the 1990s when I was first researching engines and plausible methods of faster-than-light travel, was how often new power sources can be weaponized, which led to the dual concepts of Quinnium weapons and the Erdon-Quinn drive in The Pirates of Sufiro. You can see the results my research along with an array of colorful characters by reading the novel, which is available at: http://davidleesummers.com/pirates_of_sufiro.html

Another fun element of the new Star Trek series was getting to see more of Ethan Peck’s work. As I’ve mentioned before, he visited the WIYN telescope on my birthday in 2019 as we were commissioning the NEID Spectrograph, which actually looks for strange new worlds around other stars. I am glad to be part of a team that’s paving the way for a Star Trek-like future and I think it’s very cool that one of the actors in the series has actually seen some real exploration of strange new worlds.

Celebrating Moms

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the moms who appear in my fiction. In a very real way, I owe my start as a novelist to my mom. In 1993, I read The Magic Journey by John Nichols. One of the characters was a woman who grew up in a small New Mexico town, but left to make her own life elsewhere. Elements of the story reminded me of the stories my mom told about growing up on a homestead near Raton, New Mexico and moving out to California with her cousin in the 1940s. The confluence of ideas made me think I could tell a generational story set on an alien world. That story became The Pirates of Sufiro.

The Pirates of Sufiro

As it turns out, there are several moms throughout the Space Pirates’ Legacy series. Suki Mori’s mom appears in Firebrandt’s Legacy and storms off to Epsilon Indi 2 to rescue her daughter from a crime boss. The Pirates of Sufiro opens with Ellison Firebrandt’s mother appearing for the first time in years. She’s on a quest to end piracy and while she could have taken him off to trial and possible prison time, she chooses to maroon him in space with just enough fuel to reach an uninhabited planet where he can make a home. Once they reach Sufiro, Suki becomes a mom. Her arc echoes my grandmother’s story. Like my grandmother, Suki was portrayed as a strong woman who helped build a homestead, but sadly died far too young. Despite that, Suki’s daughter Fire grows up to become a historian and also raises a son. Fire continues as an integral character in Children of the Old Stars and Heirs of the New Earth. You can learn more about the Space Pirates’ Legacy books at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#pirate_legacy

Vampires of the Scarlet Order

As a parent, one of the scariest things to imagine is harm coming to one of our children. For most of us, the last thing we can imagine is deliberately hurting one of our children. This is one reason the legend of La Llorona here in the Southwestern United States is so terrifying. It tells the story of a mother who drowns her own children, then immediately regrets it and drowns herself. The legend inspired the vampire Mercy in my Scarlet Order vampire novels. In this case, Mercy fed on her children when she became a vampire. In an attempt to make peace with her conscience, she becomes a mentor to two younger vampires. I’m planning to explore Mercy’s character more in the third Scarlet Order novel, which I’ve been working on. You can learn more about the Scarlet Order vampire novels at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Owl Dance

Three moms make prominent appearances in the Clockwork Legion novels. The first is Ramon’s mom, Sofia Morales who appears at the end of Owl Dance and the beginning of Lightning Wolves. Ramon inherits his wisdom and compassion from her. Later, in Owl Riders, once Fatemeh Karimi has married Ramon, she becomes mom to a precocious daughter named Alethea. Among other things, Fatemeh passes along her ability to listen to owls and understand what their verbal and nonverbal communications mean. In the final act of Owl Riders, we meet Fatemeh’s mom in Persia and learn where Fatemeh gained many of her healing gifts. I’m in the process of proofreading the new edition of Owl Riders and have been enjoying spending time with Fatemeh and her family again. You can learn more about the Clockwork Legion novels at http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

The Astronomer’s Crypt

Even my horror novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt has a mom. Astronomer Dr. Bethany Teter is a mom-to-be. She’ll do everything she can to protect her unborn child, which is a challenge when the storm of the century blows up on the mountain where she’s observing, drug traffickers arrive, and a monster from the dawn of time appears. She does a good job looking out for herself, but she also has allies in her husband and a friendly ghost who watches out for the mountain’s astronomers. You can learn more about the novel and watch a short film based on the novel at: http://davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt.html

Since this is the day before Mother’s Day, I suspect you already have any gifts for the moms in your life. However, I’m sure many moms out there would love more ebooks on their readers. Following the links will tell you how to find them. I hope you’re able to celebrate Mother’s Day with a special mom. I’ll be celebrating with my wife and remembering my mom.

Burning Dreams

While waiting for this Thursday’s premier of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, I decided to spend some time with one of the novels featuring Captain Christopher Pike and the crew of the Starship Enterprise in the days before Captain James T. Kirk. Soon after I had watched the second season of Star Trek: Discovery season 2, which introduced Anson Mount as Captain Pike, Rebecca Romijn as Number One, and Ethan Peck as Spock, I dived in and read D.C. Fontana’s novel Vulcan’s Glory which is also set in this era along with reprints of Marvel Comics’ great series Star Trek: The Early Voyages. As you might imagine, Fontana’s novel focused on Spock and I picked her novel since she was so involved in Star Trek’s development and the development of Vulcan culture. I wasn’t disappointed and was treated to an enjoyable look at Spock’s early years aboard the Enterprise. For my recent read, I chose Burning Dreams by Margaret Wander Bonanno which focused on Captain Pike.

Burning Dreams by Margaret Wander Bonanno

Burning Dreams was released in 2006 as part of Star Trek’s 40th anniversary celebration and it’s a sweeping novel that covers much of Captain Pike’s life and career. In the two-part original series episode, “The Menagerie,” we learn Captain Pike was grievously wounded saving cadets during a training voyage. He becomes a quadriplegic who can no longer speak. Spock takes him to the planet Talos IV. The inhabitants there have phenomenal powers of illusion and can create an environment where Pike’s active mind can express itself. What’s more he has a companion, the survivor of an earlier crash named Vina, who was also seriously wounded and relies on illusion for a happier life than she would have in human society.

The novel opens in the 24th century. Several decades have passed since Captain Pike was left on Talos IV. Spock is an ambassador and he’s summoned to Talos IV. He remembers leaving the captain on the planet. We then shift to Pike’s point of view where he meets Vina again and begins telling his life story. We learn that Captain Pike’s family terraformed worlds for the Federation and we learn how he developed his love of horses. Once Pike is grown, we follow him on a transformative mission where he served as first officer under a hawkish Starfleet captain. Then we follow one of his adventures aboard the Enterprise. The novel tells us that Pike commanded the Enterprise for two separate five-year missions. The novel ends with Ambassador Spock reaching Talos IV, where he learns Captain Pike has died. Despite that sad, but expected news, we are treated to the kind hopeful ending the best Star Trek episodes excelled at.

Around the early 1980s, Gene Roddenberry and a few people in his inner circle went to some effort to define Star Trek’s “canon.” By that point, Paramount Studios had granted licenses to create tie-in media such as books and comics. Understandably, with an eye on the series’ future development, Roddenberry wanted to define the official continuity of the series and no one monitored the continuity of that tie-in media. That said, this process was taken to extremes. Whole series and movies were declared not part of the canon and I’ve seen fans get into intense arguments over what is and isn’t canonical Star Trek.

I’ve seen indications that the current Star Trek production team has a friendlier approach to the tie-in media and I’ve heard murmurings that they have tried to find ways to work in certain elements from the tie-in media that play well with the established continuity, but don’t over-constrain the current writing teams. Enough details about Star Trek: Strange New Worlds have appeared in the media to make it apparent that its story differs in some details from those presented by Margaret Wander Bonanno in her novel. Still, there are a few tantalizing hints that the series and novel may dovetail in some interesting ways.

In a world like Star Trek where they’ve established that multiple universes exist and they’ve even created new canonical universes through time travel stories, I find it hard to get too worked up about what is and isn’t part of the canon. I was glad to meet Margaret Wander Bonanno’s version of Captain Pike. It delighted me that she used aspects established in D.C. Fontana’s Vulcan’s Glory and the Marvel comic series. I would love it if elements from Burning Dreams appeared in the new TV series. If they don’t, I’m still glad to have spent some time with this novel’s version of Captain Pike. All I ask is that TV series tell a similarly compelling story.

Revisiting the Cage

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds debuts in just a few days. It will follow the crew of the Starship Enterprise under the the command of Captain Christopher Pike. Captain Pike, his first officer, Una, and his science officer, Mr. Spock appeared for several episodes of Star Trek: Discovery’s second season. That noted, Discovery was not the first time we encountered the Enterprise in the days before before Captain Kirk. Strange New Worlds is a series inspired by Star Trek’s original pilot film from 1965 called “The Cage.”

Like many Star Trek fans of my generation, I first encountered “The Cage” cut into the original series’ only two-part episode, “The Menagerie.” In that story, we learn that Kirk’s predecessor, Captain Pike was grievously wounded in an accident saving cadets. Spock hijacks the Enterprise and takes his former captain to Talos IV. It turns out that a visit to Talos IV is the only death penalty offense in Federation law. Kirk and a commodore catch up to the Enterprise and put Spock on trial. In the trial, as part of his defense, Spock plays a recording of the Enterprise’s first visit to Talos IV, which also happens to be the original Star Trek pilot.

Screen shot from “The Cage” (CBS)

“The Cage” has a somewhat unique place in television history. Most of the time when a network turns down a pilot film, that’s the end of the story. In this case, the network liked the pilot just enough to commission a revised pilot. The sets were updated, new people were cast to fill critical rolls and the producers went for a more action-packed script. All of this became the original Star Trek series most people are familiar with.

I first became aware of “The Cage” during my pre-teen years. I knew Gene Roddenberry occasionally screened a personal print at conventions, but there were few opportunities for most fans to see the episode except as part of “The Menagerie” in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Despite that challenge, I wanted to experience the original pilot. My solution was to use an audio tape recorder to record the parts of “The Cage” that had been cut into “The Menagerie.” With that, I had my own audio play of “The Cage.” A few years later, “The Cage” would be released on home video and it was finally aired on television for the first time in 1988.

Because I worked so hard to experience “The Cage,” it holds a special place in my heart. There’s a lot I really like about Star Trek’s first pilot. I like Captain Pike’s vulnerability. I like that his first officer was a woman. Spock is emotional here and I like how he contrasts with the somewhat colder captain and first officer. I love the bridge design, which feels a little more “real” and militaristic than the brightly colored version of the set we got in the series. That noted, some things about “The Cage” have not aged well. The navigator’s name may be José, but it’s a very white cast compared to the production version of the series. Although we have women as first officer and captain’s yeoman, they’re presented as exceptions to a rule that most officers are men.

In the episode, the Enterprise receives a distress call from a ship that crashed on Talos IV. The Enterprise arrives and finds survivors. However, the survivors turn out to be illusions and the whole thing is an elaborate plot to trap Captain Pike for a zoo-like exhibit. In the exhibit is a woman who seems interested in seducing the captain. The woman, Vina, turns out to be the crashed ship’s sole survivor. The Talosians have become so addicted to their power of illusion, they can no longer maintain their own machines. This last idea seems to have become even more relevant in the years since the story was filmed. The Talosians want Pike and Vina to start a colony of humans who can build a new civilization. When Pike seems less than thrilled about this idea, the Talosians arrange for Pike’s first officer and yeoman to beam down as additional choices for Pike to breed with, leading to a famous, unintentionally funny line where Spock, left standing on the transporter pad shouts, “the women!” I like to think there’s an alternate universe version of this scene Vina is given the choice, only the men beam down, and Number One shouts “the men!”

I like the actors who will be portraying Captain Pike and his crew in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. I like that we’re seeing a more diverse cast. I was fortunate enough to meet Ethan Peck who plays Spock in this version when he visited the WIYN telescope in 2019, so I look forward to seeing his work. I anticipate there will be moments that will make me groan or prove unintentionally funny, but I also anticipate moments that will inspire me, which has always been Star Trek’s greatest gift to me as a writer and a scientist.

The Guns of Legende

A couple of weeks ago, author Brody Weatherford asked if I would take a look at his new book, Front Range Rebellion, which is the first book in a new western series called The Guns of Legende. The series is centered on the Society of Buckhorn and Bison, a secret organization that takes on dangerous missions to preserve justice through the Wild West. Led by the suave Allister Legende, no job is too dangerous or too daunting. I was reminded of the Mission: Impossible TV series with Legende filling the role of Mr. Phelps. Legende is a character with a shadowed past and a considerable fortune who lives in a Denver Mansion filled with hidden rooms and secret passages.

Front Range Rebellion

Legende commands a team which includes his butler Kingston, the ironically named Mr. Small, and Augustus Crane, the Denver Postmaster. Like the best fictional butlers, Kingston reveals unexpected talents as the story progresses. Crane is ideally positioned to make sure messages are delivered to Legende and to members of the team.

In Front Range Rebellion, Legende recruits Frank Landy and his ex-wife Emily O’Connor. Landry is a southerner but not a southern patriot who works as a whiskey peddler. He can talk anyone into buying whatever it is he’s selling. O’Connor is of Irish descent from Boston. She has a quick temper but she’s a skilled gambler with a taste in the finer things in life.

As the novel begins, the Society of Buckhorn and Bison is tasked with defeating the power-mad Colonel Carlton Clark’s attempt to form his own country and thus prevent Colorado from achieving statehood. Landry and O’Connor prove just the people needed to thwart Colonel Clark’s political and military machinations. As a former married couple, it’s never quite certain how well they’ll cooperate. They have different ideas and different ways of swinging into action. Landry is just as interested in showing up his ex-wife as he is stopping Colonel Clark and his murderous army. Statehood and more is at stake. Thousands of lives hang in the balance as Frank and Emily battle both the would-be President of Auraria.

Although Front Range Rebellion reminds me of Mission: Impossible, it never really takes on the steampunk flavor of The Wild Wild West since it relies more on suspense and intrigue than on gadgets. Along the way, there’s plenty of western gunfight action. All of the characters are well drawn and I cared about them. Colonel Clark is the kind of bad guy who is nasty enough you want to see him fail, but Weatherford keeps him believable. If you’re a fan of good action-packed westerns, or a fan of spy thrillers, you’re sure to enjoy Front Range Rebellion. I look forward to moving on to the second book in the series, Death Waits at Yellowstone.

You can learn more about The Guns of Legende and order the books at the series website: https://gunsoflegende.com

Finding the Groove Again

“Write every day” is a common mantra you’ll hear from writers. Writing every day will give you practice. If you’re honest as you evaluate your writing and work with people who will give you honest feedback, you’ll grow as a writer. Writing every day keeps you in the groove. The more you do it, the easier writing becomes. However, I understand quite well how life can throw challenges to this ideal in a person’s path.

This past year is a case in point. It’s actually been rather busy on several writing-related fronts. I edited the novels Hybrid and Hybrid: Forced Vengeance for Greg Ballan. I edited the short story collection The Way-Out Wild West by Lyn McConchie. I completed re-editing my novel Heirs of the New Earth and brought out new editions of my first three Clockwork Legion novels. The fourth one is in process now. I’ve also been working on a project I can’t discuss yet. Of course, I’ve been doing all this while operating telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory. What I haven’t done as much as I’d like is write new fiction.

This is not to say that I’ve eschewed writing altogether during this period. I’ve kept this blog going. Typically that means composing a roughly 500-word post twice a week. That has helped a great deal because it helps me think about topics and gives me practice composing articles. I’ve also written and revised scenes as part of my editorial work and the secret project I alluded to. Even if you can’t write every day, I highly recommend making some time to write each week, even if it doesn’t contribute to a project. Even journaling can help.

Daniel, the Vampire Astronomer – illustration by Chaz Kemp

I think the hardest part for me getting back into the writing groove is that I find it far too easy to be distracted by tasks such as work around the house and yard, emails, and even books to read. The first thing I did to get back into the groove was decide what story I wanted to write. In effect, this story is something of a warm-up for the vampire novel I outlined. What’s more, I have some markets in mind for the new story. Without giving too much away, I’d realized that the vampire Daniel in Vampires of the Scarlet Order was very much defined by being a vampire and an astronomer for over a century. I wanted to know more about who he was before he became either a vampire or an astronomer. Once I defined the idea, I spent some time doing some research into schools he might have attended and what was going on in the world at the time of the story, which I planned to set in 1899, and how those events might impact his life. I then went for a walk. I find walks provide a great opportunity to clear my head and I am often able to put my research together with my character and come up with a story.

Once I returned from the walk, I gave myself permission to tune out the world. I turned off my email, turned off my phone’s sound, logged out of Facebook messenger, closed the door to my writing office and told myself I would stay in place until I wrote 500 words. I did that within half an hour but once the story started flowing, I wanted to write more. I got a drink (hydration is important!) and went back to work. Next thing I knew, I had almost 3000 words. The whole process felt a lot like riding a bicycle. Now, I’m in the process of editing and revising the story. Overall, I’m feeling pretty good about it and I hope I’ll have some news about it soon.

So, the keys for me were that even though I had taken a brief hiatus from writing new fiction, I had not given up writing altogether. I had kept a routine. I also had kept a reading routine, which kept my imagination stimulated. When I chose to sit down and write some new fiction, I started with a character I wanted to know, which propelled me through the writing and I gave myself permission to spend uninterrupted time with that character so they could speak to me. If you take a break from writing, you may find a whole different process will help you get into the groove, but maybe some of these experiences will help.

This weekend, I am at El Paso Comic Con. I have two panels today where I discuss writing. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll come to the con, sit in on one or both panels and visit me at my booth in the vendor’s area. You can learn more about Daniel the vampire astronomer in Vampires of the Scarlet Order. More information at: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO.html