The Bloody Red Baron

The Bloody Red Baron

I enjoyed Kim Newman’s novel Anno Dracula and his related graphic novel 1895: Seven Days in Mayhem enough that I decided to continue to his next novel in the Anno Dracula series, The Bloody Red Baron. As one might expect from the title and the cover, this novel is set in World War I and focuses on the conflict between Allied and German pilots, in particular Baron Manfred von Richthofen. That said, the cover of the Titan Books edition is a little deceptive because Richthofen doesn’t fly his famous Fokker triplane. Instead, he’s a vampire who’s been the subject of medical experimentation and literally can transform into a deadly flying weapon. Meanwhile, Edgar Allan Poe, who long ago became a vampire and immigrated to Europe has been sent to write Richthofen’s biography to inspire the German forces. Those same German forces are now under the command of Count Dracula, who has found a position in the Kaiser’s court after being deposed from the rule of Great Britain.

On the allied side, we follow the adventures of Edwin Winthrop, a protégé of Charles Beauregard, one of the protagonists of Anno Dracula. Winthrop goes on a aerial reconnaissance mission and is shot down by the Red Baron. As he fights to return to allied territory, he drinks some vampire blood to survive his wounds and gains some vampire strength. He then signs up as a fighter pilot with a personal mission to get his vengeance on Richthofen. In the meantime, vampire reporter Kate Reed is trying to learn about the allied pilots and finds herself entangled in the story’s events. The novel ends in a great climactic battle which involves biplanes, monstrous German flying aces, and airships. Dracula even shows up and tries to bring some medieval battle tactics into World War I.

I enjoyed the novel, but it never quite drew me in the same way as Anno Dracula did. That said, the Titan Books edition features a nice bonus. It also includes a novella called 1923: Vampire Romance. In this story, Edwin Winthrop recruits Genevieve Dieudonné from Anno Dracula to infiltrate a gathering of high-ranking vampires who have assembled to determine who will be the next vampire leader of Europe. Among the claimants to the title are the head of Hammer Films Seven Golden Vampires, Carmilla Karnstein’s long lost brother, and a nasty hunchbacked vampire. In the middle of it all is a young lady who wants to become a vampire and is smitten by Carmilla’s brother. The whole thing both sends up the vampire romance genre and plays tribute to an Agatha Christie locked-room mystery. To me, this seemed a much stronger successor to Anno Dracula.

The Titan Books edition of The Bloody Red Baron also includes annotations by Kim Newman detailing some of his influences, inspirations and references. A final bonus is a film treatment he wrote for Roger Corman loosely based on the ideas presented in The Bloody Red Baron. All in all, I had fun with Newman’s continuation of the Anno Dracula series and I’m interested in reading more in due course.

In the meantime, you can learn more about my vampire novels by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

The House of Mystery

Last month, between Las Cruces Comic Con and Bubonicon, my wife and I took our daughter back to college. A big part of the back-to-college ritual is the trip to the nearby big-box store to stock up on supplies for the school year. While doing that, I’ll inevitably pop into the video section to see if there’s a release I’ve missed. This year, I found Constantine: The House of Mystery. It featured Matt Ryan reprising his role of John Constantine, a character from DC and Vertigo comics. It also featured one of my other favorite DC characters, the magician Zatanna. I decided it would be worth picking up.

Constantine: The House of Mystery

Upon closer inspection, I noticed the headline over the title, “DC Showcase Animated Shorts.” Sure enough, the disk proved to be an anthology of sorts, featuring a Constantine story, a Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth story, a Losers story, and a Blue Beetle story. My only complaint about this is that aside from the Constantine story, all the other stories had been released before. Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth had been released as a special feature on the Justice Society: World War II Blu-Ray I purchased a year ago. After a little digging, I found out the other two shorts included with House of Mystery had been previously released as well, but I hadn’t seen them. Still, I could imagine a fan of DC animation being disappointed that this disk contained mostly previously released material.

I like anthology movies and TV series. They provide an opportunity to sample many kinds of stories and tell tales that aren’t really suited to a full-length movie or TV series. I found many early favorite authors by watching the credits of The Twilight Zone and seeing whose stories inspired the episodes. So, given the fact that three of the four shorts on this disk were new to me, it was a nice treat. The Constantine story, House of Mystery, is set after Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. At the end of that movie, the heroes won, but Earth was left a wasteland. Sorcerer John Constantine sends the Flash on a mission to reset time so the world can be made right again. However, the godlike superhero Spectre pulls Constantine out of time and drops him into the House of Mystery. In the comics, the House of Mystery title was itself an anthology comic where people would go into the House and literally anything could and did happen. In this case, Constantine finds himself tormented by demons who take the forms of his closest friends. Constantine’s only hope is to find a way to break out of the house and break the cycle of torture and torment. His solution is well grounded in the comics. My only issue with the short is that they slightly redesigned Constantine from Apokolips War to House of Mystery and they use both versions, so it can be a little jarring when they swap back and forth.

Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth provided a good introduction to the character, which was good, since I’d never read the comic before. It opens on a post-apocalyptic Earth as our title character is trying to free his friend Prince Tuftan of the Tiger Kingdom from captivity. As they flee Tuftan’s original captives, they find themselves captured by the Gorilla Kingdom and forced to go on a quest to show which of them can earn the title of the Mighty One, a revered figure from the Gorillas’ past. The story has a nice twist ending, when the Mighty One’s identity is revealed.

Losers was a comic set during World War II. The Losers themselves are a unit of military outcasts sent on dangerous missions. In this story, they find themselves marooned on an island populated by dinosaurs. However, it turns out the dinosaurs aren’t the island’s biggest secret. Perhaps not surprisingly, the story had a lot in common with Jurassic Park. Still, there were some nice twists and turns and it made me interested in learning more about the original comic.

Aside from John Constantine, Blue Beetle was the character I knew best from his time as a member of the Justice League International, which ran in the 1980s. Blue Beetle himself is the millionaire Ted Kord who fights crime in a beetle suit and flies around in a beetle-shaped craft. In the DC universe, he’s effectively a more lighthearted version of Batman. To that end, the animated short was made to look and feel like animated cartoons of the 1960s and 70s. Blue Beetle tries to stop a diamond theft and learns that the villains plan to use the diamond in an emotion-controlling machine. It’s all a lot of fun and probably my favorite of the shorts on the disk.

All in all, I enjoyed the four shorts and would love to see more anthologies of short films from DC, but would prefer them to be all new material. If you’ve already seen the three shorts that have appeared on other disks, you may prefer to stream the Constantine short separately through your favorite service rather than buy the disk.

Research Trip Through Time

As I mentioned back in my post about visiting the Grand Canyon earlier this year, I’ve been invited to write a story for a steampunk anthology and the anthology must feature a crow or a raven in some prominent way. As it turns out, there are many ravens in Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon. They’re all over the place and they talk to each other and they’re frequent visitors to the campground. Also, my novel Owl Dance features Professor Maravilla who retreats to the Grand Canyon in 1877 to study birds flying over the canyon. After some thought, I came up with enough of a story idea to pitch to the editor. Of course, a pitch is not a fully formed story. To make the story work, I needed to know a little more about the history of the Canyon at that period. Fortunately, I found John Wesley Powell’s book about exploring the Grand Canyon in the gift shop. His expeditions happened just about five years before my story was to be set, so it seemed a great resource.

John Wesley Powell was a geologist, who in the years after the Civil War, put together an expedition to study the geology of the Green and Colorado River basins. He assembled a team and they started up near the headwaters of the Green River just above the Gates of Lodore. As it turns out, my wife and I had camped just a few miles south of his starting point in 1993.

Green River in Northern Colorado

Powell and his team proceeded down the Green through the canyon lands of Utah until it met up with the Colorado. Along the way, he describes many adventures climbing up the mountains on either side of the river to measure elevations. At one point, he describes going up one cliff face almost too steep for him. He jumps and tries to pull himself up to the top, but can’t. Eventually, his partner has to climb above him, take off his pants and throw one end to Powell, so he can use them as a rope to pull himself to the top. What Powell didn’t really tell us in his narrative is that he’d lost one arm in the Civil War, making this an even more harrowing episode than I first pictured.

What actually proved very useful in this part of the book is that Powell describes the equipment he used at the time and how he used it. This gave me some nice detail to add to my story, since I imagine Professor Maravilla meeting some geologists in my story. Powell’s journey continued on into Arizona and he passed the Vermilion Cliffs, which I visited a few years ago.

Vermilion Cliffs

Powell’s party ultimately wends its way into the Grand Canyon itself. Of course these are the days before the Grand Canyon was anything like a tourist destination or even a household name. He describes traveling along the river and exploring many of the side canyons along the way. I learned that he named the area called “Indian Gardens” after a literal garden he found near the river. At this point in the expedition, they were running low on supplies and Powell describes helping himself to squash growing there.

The Grand Canyon in 2022

Powell’s views on Native Americans are both interesting to read and challenging. He was invited to hear stories and watch ceremonies that few non-Native Americans get to see today. He offers insights unique to his time period and advocated for the preservation of Native American culture. However, he also saw Native Americans as primitives and advocated for their education. Unfortunately, this would be part of the movement that would lead to the creation of Indian Schools which stripped many Native Americans from their homes, languages, and cultures. While my story doesn’t involve Native Americans living near the Canyon, Powell’s attitudes did help me better form some characters in my story.

John Wesley Powell would go on to become the second director of the United States Geological Survey a few years after his book was published. Lake Powell, an artificial reservoir in the Colorado River created by the Glen Canyon Dam is named for him. I appreciate the research trip through time I took with John Wesley Powell and the view he gave me of geology in the Wild West. Of course, the challenge of this kind of time travel is that while Powell can speak to me, I can’t speak to him and discuss the consequences of his actions and find out what he would do as a result.

You can learn more about my novel Owl Dance at: http://davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html

Stepping into Space

I’ve created a second list of recommended books at shepherd.com, a book discovery site where authors recommend favorite books based on a particular topic. Space is a topic near and dear to my heart. We’ve put many satellites in orbit. Humans work in orbit. We’ve been to the moon for just a few short years at the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s and we’ve sent robotic probes to planets in the solar system. So, I often find myself asking, what is the next big step into space and these books address different aspects of that question.

You can find the list at: https://shepherd.com/best-books/humans-taking-the-next-big-step-into-space

As a kid, I watched the later moon landings, the Skylab missions, and Apollo-Soyuz even as I discovered shows like Star Trek on television. Voyager flew by Jupiter and Saturn as the Star Wars movies were being released. In my mind, space exploration and science fiction go hand-in-hand. That said, as I’ve progressed in my career as both a scientist and a science fiction writer, it’s become clear that science fiction often makes exploring space look easy. It looks like visiting Mars is as easy as walking next door. In fact, space is very dangerous and even the distances to our closest neighbor planets are vast. We don’t even have technology that would guarantee a robot probe’s safe arrival at the nearest star, much less a human-occupied spacecraft. We have a lot of ideas and people have been working on those ideas, but that’s very different than just being able to pack your bags and go.

Though four of these books delve into the technical challenges of space travel, the set as a whole is less about those challenges and more about why humans are drawn outward toward the stars and what they might learn about themselves there. “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey,” is a familiar saying and, in a sense, all of these books address that. I know people who express concerns about exploring space before we fix the problems of our home planet. I sympathize with that because, so far, Earth is the only planet we know we can live on. However, I’ve also believed we as a species can fix the problems we face on Earth while also striving toward the stars. Doing one doesn’t preclude the other.

I also know people who are concerned about humans destroying other worlds and civilizations with our colonial ambitions and corporate greed. Again, this is a legitimate concern and the books on my list don’t tend to shy away from those issues. They also acknowledge there’s a lot of space to traverse and many technical challenges to overcome before we get to that point. Hopefully, as we make those steps, we can learn to do better. It’s also distinctly possible that if we meet another space-faring race, they’ll easily have the upper hand because they’ve been out there longer than us. Hopefully they’ll be wiser than us as well!

Do you have a favorite book about next steps in exploring space? Let me know in the comments. Meanwhile you can learn more about my book about humans taking a next big step into the solar system at: http://davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html

American Vampire

In my last post, I discussed vampires from space. Today, we’ll take a look at thoroughly Earth-bound vampires, though we will travel back in time to 1920s Hollywood and even a little further back to the Old West. The comic book series American Vampire first captured my attention because one of its stories was written by Stephen King. Even though King’s works had been adapted for comics, American Vampire was the first time King actually scripted a comic. What’s more, I had enjoyed the way King played with the tropes of the American west in his novel, The Gunslinger, so I hoped he’d capture some of that magic again in a novel actually set in the American west.

American Vampire

The first volume of American Vampire actually tells two stories. The lead story, written by Scott Snyder, introduces us to Pearl Jones, an aspiring actress in 1920s Hollywood. As the story opens, she’s pretty much just picked up small parts in films, but it looks like her luck may change when she’s invited to a party hosted by some of the players in the movie industry. It turns out these producers and directors are vampires and she’s there as part of the buffet. Somehow she survives the initial assault and a mysterious stranger, who also proves to be a vampire, helps her become a vampire. The mysterious stranger is Skinner Sweet, a vampire who appears to have a grudge against the old European vampires who attacked Pearl.

The other story running through the issues is Skinner Sweet’s origin story penned by Stephen King. We meet Sweet as a human outlaw on a train. A Pinkerton agent is taking him to face justice. Sweet expects to be freed by his gang, but one of the men who paid the Pinkertons is a European vampire who wants Sweet dead so he can fulfill his plans. The vampire attacks Sweet and appears to kill him. Unknown to anyone, Sweet managed to drink some of the vampire’s blood. Sweet is buried, but eventually rises again years later. This segment is told through the eyes of a successful author who wrote a book based on Sweet’s story. For the most part, it worked. King did lean heavily on the tropes of the American west, plus tropes within his own writing, but he delivered a solid vampire origin story.

The two stories weave a tale of vampires evolving in the new world. American vampires have new powers and fewer weaknesses than their European counterparts. As a metaphor for Americans embracing the new and moving forward, sometimes in dangerous ways, I found this interesting. Still, as a scientist who likes to ask why things happen, I wanted to better understand why American vampires are fundamentally different from European vampires. What’s the mechanism that caused vampires to evolve in this world? Admittedly, I’ve only read volume one, which contains the first five issues of the comic, so it’s possible this is explored more later.

Both stories were nicely told, but I think the real star of the comic was Rafael Albuquerque’s art. Having the same artist on both stories really helped to unify them. Also Albuquerque’s art felt very dynamic, which fit the stories well. I loved his use of color to both differentiate the stories and set the moods of the stories.

Another thing I appreciated in the graphic novel editions was the inclusion of sample script and early art pages. As someone who has long been fascinated by the process of creating comics, I liked this behind-the-scenes look.

You can learn more about my vampire comic, Guinevere and the Stranger by visiting http://davidleesummers.com/Tales-of-the-Scarlet-Order.html

The Space Vampires

In recent weeks, I’ve been working on a sequel to my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order, which is about vampire mercenaries who learn they must stop a government plot to create super soldiers with vampire powers. Part of the reason is that vampires have a cosmic origin that gives them powers which could prove extremely dangerous if unlocked. What’s more, the government scientists creating those super soldiers are working diligently to unlock all the vampire secrets. In the sequel, the vampires have decided to unlock those secrets for themselves. This notion of vampires having an otherworldly origin has been explored in numerous books and stories, but a notable example is Colin Wilson’s 1976 novel The Space Vampires, which was then adapted into the 1985 movie Lifeforce. I had seen the movie once in the 1980s and then read the novel in the late 1990s, but I didn’t remember many of the details, so I went back for a second look.

The Space Vampires and Lifeforce

The book and the movie start out much the same. A space mission stumbles across a gigantic, derelict space vessel. Aboard, they find several alien bodies. After some searching, the space ship crew discovers three attractive human forms, who appear to be in suspended animation. Three of the human like figures are taken back to Earth. One of them, in the form of a beautiful young woman, wakes up while being examined and sucks the lifeforce from the person examining her, then escapes and begins looking for others to feed from.

The details are somewhat different between the book and the movie. The novel is set over a century in the future and the alien ship is in the asteroid belt. The movie is set in 1986 and the ship is in the tail of Comet Halley. The aliens in the book look like human-sized squids, while the ones in the movie look like bats. Despite those differences, the book and movie are more alike than I remember. After the alien vampire woman escapes into the world, our heroes start looking for clues so they can locate her and stop her. It turns out that the lead astronaut of the expedition does have a kind of psychic link to her which helps.

The novel spends much more time exploring the issue of vampires from a more metaphysical angle. It points out that everyone on Earth feeds off life, including vegetarians. There’s also an exploration of how we gain energy from other people and that to a certain extent, all humans could be viewed as psychic vampires. I found myself thinking of Colin Robinson from the TV series, What We Do in the Shadows. There’s also an exploration of ways in which the predator/prey relationship can mirror the pursuit of sexual partners.

To give the story more visual action, the movie introduces the idea that people drained by the alien vampires come back to life as zombies two hours after they were drained and then seek to drain others. The zombies are easily stopped by restraining them, but you have to find them first. This allows for a big spectacle ending as our heroes must find and destroy the vampires while London gets overrun by zombies. The book’s ending is much quieter and, at first read, it almost seems he invoked a deus ex machina. However, on reflection, Wilson did give us a few clues about the ending, but I also thought he could have foreshadowed the ending a little better than he did.

Having watched the movie and read the book together, I had the impression that the movie’s screenwriter, Dan O’Bannon, read the novel and paid close attention. As in the book, the vampires use sexuality as a lure for their victims, represented visually by Mathilda May playing the vampire woman nude in most of the movie. Both the book and movie posit an alien origin for vampires on Earth, and as I noted, there were more scenes from the book in the movie than I remembered. If Dan O’Bannon’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s the screenwriter behind Alien. The book is fun in that it gives us a light Lovecraftian take on the vampire mythos. The movie takes that idea and ramps it up with a lot of fun, high-octane action backed by a great Henry Mancini score. I wouldn’t take either of them too seriously but, for the most part, I don’t think their creators intended us to.

You can see my take on vampires and their cosmic origins in Vampires of the Scarlet Order. You can learn more about the novel at: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO.html

Lovecraft Country

I first became aware of the TV series Lovecraft Country when it turned up on the Nebula Award Ballot for the 2020 Ray Bradbury Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. The show looked interesting, so I watched a few episodes and was impressed enough to go out and buy the complete series on Blu-Ray. I finally had the chance to watch the whole thing and I’m pleased to say it lived up to my expectations.

Cthulhu thinks you should watch Lovecraft Country

Lovecraft Country is a TV series that blends Lovecraftian science fiction and horror with the all-too-real horror that is the experience of black people in Jim Crow America. In the first episode, Atticus Freeman joins up with his friend Leticia Lewis and his Uncle George on a road trip from Chicago to Massachusetts to search for his missing father. Set in the 1950s, Atticus has just returned from serving in Korea. He’s a fan of good books, including science fiction and horror. In the first episode, Atticus learns that his father disappeared in the vicinity of a small town called Ardham. As the series progresses, we learn that Atticus is descended from a slave and her owner. The owner, a member of the Braithwhite family, was a leader in a secret society known as the Order of the Ancient Dawn. Because he’s descended from the Braithwhites, Atticus has the ability to summon the magic his ancestors could. A distant cousin of Atticus, Christina Braithwhite, has already mastered the magical arts but has plans to use Atticus in a nefarious scheme. There are lots of puzzle pieces on the road to Atticus understanding his magical legacy and Christina trying to put her plan into action, which lead to individual episodes which take us back and forth through time and space.

In the midst of this story about secret societies and magic, we are taken on a tour of the all-too-real racism of 1950s America along with a time-travel sequence to the Tulsa race massacre of 1921. H.P. Lovecraft himself was a master of weird storytelling, who introduced us to unforgettable monsters from shoggoths to the mi-go to Great Cthulhu. He was also an avid amateur astronomer who conveyed both the wonders and the terrors of the cosmos. Unfortunately, he was also a racist. He wasn’t simply a casual of-his-times, misguided white person, but actually someone who wrote letters supporting Hitler’s ideas and poetry about the inferiority of black people. So, I found it interesting to see a story that placed black people front and center in a Lovecraftian world, seeking to understand it and keep it from destroying them even as they’re dealing with real world problems.

My favorite character in Lovecraft Country proved to be Atticus’s Aunt Hippolyta. Hippolyta is a woman who wants to be an astronomer, but lives in times when being black and a woman are both serious impediments to her desires. About midway through the series, she finds an orrery built by the Order of Ancient Dawn. Because of her interest in astronomy, she’s able to unlock secrets about the orrery that elude others. She travels to an observatory and goes on truly fantastic journey.

I was sorry to see that Lovecraft Country wasn’t renewed for a second season. Although the first season ends at a satisfying point, I would enjoy following these characters on more adventures.

Black Dossier

Back in June, when I started the third arc of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I also picked up a copy of their graphic novel Black Dossier. This chapter in the adventures of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is set in 1958, but it was released before Century: 1910, which I’d read and discussed in June. This graphic novel starts out as a straightforward adventure story. Mina Murray and her companion Allan Quartermain Jr. have set out to steal The Black Dossier, which contains the entire history of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen from its beginning. Because it’s set so much closer to the present than other League stories, the identities of famous literary figures who appear in the graphic novel are hinted at rather than revealed outright to avoid charges of copyright infringement. So, for example, Mina enlists the help of a master spy named Jimmy, who is an ancestor of Campion Bond and works for someone called “M.” So it’s not too hard to figure out who’s who.

Once Mina and Allan obtain the black dossier, they begin to read. The first section is a description of documents written in the time of the Big Brother government of post-World War II England. I suspect most people know that Orwell’s novel 1984 was originally titled 1948, but the publisher insisted on the change so it would be seen as science fiction rather than satire. From there, we move on to a whole series of documents which parody works ranging from depression-era pornography to Shakespeare to Jack Kerouac.

I’ll admit, when I first started reading this book, I was a bit put off by the dense pages of prose that followed the more traditional graphic novel format. I looked up the history of this particular project and learned that Black Dossier had not originally been intended to be a graphic novel as such, but a sourcebook for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Once I realized that, I settled in for a more time-consuming read and plowed through the prose. And really, the problem was not that the prose itself was difficult, but because it was presented in the pages of a graphic novel-sized volume with limited page count, some of the sections were presented in tiny type that often spanned the width of the page, making it physically difficult to read – at least for a dude in his 50s trying to find the right distance to hold the book from his progressive lenses.

Once I soldiered through that slight difficulty, I was rewarded with parodies of numerous works both classical and modern detailing the Elizabethan origins of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen up through their exploits in World War II. Along the way, we learned about some of the league’s members, such as Virginia Woolf’s immortal Orlando who periodically changes genders, Shakespeare’s Prospero, and Lemuel Gulliver. We also learned how the Queen of the Faeries, Glorianna, formed the League, how Mina met Captain Nemo, and the truth behind Allan Quartermain “Junior.” Among my favorite moments were following Orlando’s adventures as he/she took part in the founding of Britain beside the Trojan soldier Brutus from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. I also loved the section where P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster get mixed up in a tale of Lovecraftian horror. For geeks like me, there’s a lovely cutaway diagram of Nemo’s Nautilus from these stories. Also, as a fan of Gerry Anderson’s television shows, there was a nifty cameo of Robert the Robot and Fireball XL-5. Of course, because this is set in the main graphic novel story, neither one is mentioned by name.

Black Dossier isn’t the book to pick up for a quick Sunday afternoon read. It takes some work to get through, especially if you’re not familiar with all the source material. I found myself looking a few things up along the way. Still, it rewarded me with a look back at some great books I have read and introduced me to a few books I need to read.

(Mostly) Heroic Vampires

This weekend finds me at CoKoCon in Phoenix, Arizona. This is the third weekend in a row that I’ve attended a convention. In between conventions, I took my youngest child back to college and worked my first night shift at Kitt Peak National Observatory since we had to leave for a wildfire back in June. Fortunately, all the scientific buildings and equipment seem to have come through the fire fine. The observatory did lose and suffer damage to a couple of support structures. We also lost utility power to the site and internet. The internet has been partially restored thanks to a satellite linkup and we’re running on generator power at the moment. The last of the monsoon rains continue to cause mudslides, which occasionally close the road. Still, we’re making progress toward opening back up for regular operations. As I’ve mentioned in some other posts, my work at Kitt Peak helped spur my interest in vampire fiction, since telescope operators are only seen from sundown to sunup. With that in mind, another thing that happened in the midst of all my travel is that my list called “Books about Vampires You Want to Root For” has been published at Shepherd.com.

At Bubonicon, I read from my story “Horsefeathers” which is scheduled for release before the end of the year in the anthology Staring Into the Abyss coming from Padwolf Publishing. It’s a somewhat dark story that mixes witchcraft, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and elements of the Arabian Nights. After reading the story, author Jane Lindskold asked what I’m working on now and I discussed my novel-in-progress Ordeal of the Scarlet Order. She further asked what it is about dark, underworld characters such as spies, vampires, and pirates that attracts an apparently upstanding and moral person like me. We’ve discussed the topic before, especially as it relates to pirates, but this time I had the opportunity to discuss the topic more generally.

I think an answer can be found in the books in this list. I find it interesting to meet characters who aren’t intrinsically moral and discover how they became more moral and ethical creatures. In books like Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut, Irina is fundamentally moral and ethical, just misunderstood. Of course, all of us feel misunderstood from time to time and I enjoy stories about how people better understand one another. That seems an especially prescient lesson these days. In books like The Vampire Tapestry or The Vampire Lestat, you could argue that Dr. Edward Weyland and Lestat do not always make moral and ethical decisions, but their examination of their own natures is fascinating to me. These characters may not be traditional heroes, but they do their best to navigate an existence through a world of humans.

So please, go check out the list. I’d love to hear if you have a favorite vampire novel and what you find appealing about it. Is it a story about a vampire protagonist trying to make sense out of the world or is it a story where the vampire is pure evil and the appeal is the hero defeating that evil? I’d also be delighted if you looked at the list and found a new favorite book! Meanwhile, you can find my own novels featuring vampires you want to root for at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

CoKoCon 2022

I’ll be celebrating Labor Day Weekend at CoKoCon 2022 in the Phoenix, Arizona metro area. The convention is being held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Phoenix Tempe in Tempe, Arizona. CoKoCon is a traditional science fiction convention with panels, an art show, a dealer’s room, gaming and room parties. The author guest of honor is Joseph Nassise, who I have been proud to share a dealer’s table with at Phoenix Comic Con a couple of times. We also shared a table of contents in an issue of Cemetery Dance Magazine. The local guest of honor is the multi-talented Linda Addison. She’s a poet, storyteller and winner of the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers of America. The artist guest of honor is Ave Rose, who is an automation maker and a jewelry designer. You can get all the details about CoKoCon on their website at: https://www.cokocon.org.

Hadrosaur Productions will have a table in the dealer’s room and I will be on several panels through the weekend. My schedule is as follows:

Friday, September 2

7:30pm – Fiesta Ballroom – Cryptids During the Pandemic. While humans were staying home during lockdown, did Bigfoot come out to play? Panelists discuss these mysterious beasts and how they differ from other mythical monsters. On the panel with me are Joseph Nassise and Avily Jerome.

Saturday, September 3

1:00pm – Coronado Room – To See New Earths. I’ll introduce Kitt Peak’s planet-hunting detector, NEID, and discuss its role supporting NASA’s TESS mission, hunting for Earth-like planets outside the solar system.

6:00pm – Coronado Room – Writing Speculative Poetry. I’ll join Linda Addison and Beth Cato to discuss the craft and market for speculative poetry, and maybe we’ll even share some of our work.

Sunday, September 4

2:30pm – Fiesta Ballroom – Mapping the Universe. Kitt Peak’s DESI instrument is engaged in a five-year mission to make the largest 3D map in the universe. How does it work? What are some things we’ve learned along the way? And what do we ultimately hope to learn?

7:30pm – Fiesta Ballroom – Historical Fiction Meets Fantasy. What is the proper proportion of facts with fiction when writing historical fantasy? What resources can authors turn to. What are the perils and joys of research? On the panel with me are Beth Cato, Bruce Davis, and Dani Hoots.


If you’re in the Phoenix metro area this coming weekend, I hope you’ll drop into CoKoCon and say “hello.”