Wild Wild West Con 9

Next weekend will find me at Wild Wild West Con 9, which is being held at Old Tucson Studios in Tucson, Arizona from March 5-8. Click on the title to get more information about tickets, the venue, and places to stay.

Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention (WWWC) is America’s first and only Steampunk convention and festival that takes place in a western-themed town and amusement park. Not only that, it’s the largest Western-style Steampunk Convention in the United States! The organizers have created many successful events since 2011 and I’m pleased to be returning for the ninth time!

The event takes place within Old Tucson, the famous movie studio and amusement park built in 1939 and featured in over 300 movies and TV shows. For the weekend of WWWC, Old Tucson is transformed into America’s only Western-style Steampunk Theme Park! Concerts, street performers, special events, panels, workshops, rides, games, and much more are here for your enjoyment!

I will be participating in panel discussions and I’ll be sharing a booth in the Stage 2 Barn with Diesel Jester and Drake and McTrowell. Among the three of us, we’ll have a wide range of steampunk novels and short story collections along with science fiction, fantasy, and horror books, plus other assorted treats as well! Be sure to make the trek out to the barn and see us there. As for where you can find me on panels I’ll be at the following places:

Friday, March 6

11am-Noon – Sheriff’s Office – Weird Westerns: The Greatest Genre Nobody Ever Heard Of. David B. Riley and I will be on hand to introduce you to weird western fiction. We’ll talk about movies, books, and television that contributed to the growth of the Weird Western and give you some ideas about where you can find it today.

3-4pm – Chapel – Authors of Steampunk. Diesel Jester, David Lee Summers, CI Erasmus L. Drake, and Sparky McTrowell are several of the authors attending Wild Wild West Con. We’ll discuss how we were drawn to Steampunk, what we do and what we see as trends in the field.

5-6pm – Chapel – Steampunk Mystery Fiction. CI Erasmus L. Drake, David B. Riley, Diesel Jester, and I will talk about the ways steampunk and mystery go hand in hand. What makes a good steampunk mystery? Can you just hand Sherlock Holmes a pair of goggles and call it steampunk?

9-10pm – Cholla Room of the Westward Look Hotel – Authors After Dark. Leanna Renee Hieber, Diesel Jester, CI Erasmus L. Drake, and I hold a no-holds-bard reading and discussion of steampunk writing not suitable for the younger crowd.

Saturday, March 7

11am-Noon – Sheriff’s Office – Advance Weird Western Panel. David B. Riley and I continue our discussion of weird westerns. We’ll explore the perceived lack of popularity of these books and stories and why they keep being published anyway.

1-2pm – Chapel – Magic in Steampunk Fiction. David B. Riley, Dr. Sparky McTrowell, Diesel Jester and I talk about the ways magic and fantasy can be explored in steampunk. What makes it different than more traditional magic and fantasy? Does adding magic to your steampunk make the world your building richer?

Sunday, March 8

2-3pm – Courtroom Center – Drake and McTrowell’s Hot Potato School of Writing. CI Drasmus L. Drake and Dr. Sparky McTrowell host their game show-style presentation where Diesel Jester and I will team up with members of the audience to create wild steampunk adventures.

Discovery’s Enterprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waking up in the 20s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Addams Family: An Evilution

Back in October, when I discussed the new Addams Family film, I expressed a hope that we would see some new reprints of Charles Addams’ original cartoons that inspired the TV series and the movies. As it turns out, the only new books I’ve seen are tie-ins to the movie itself and most of them are aimed at kids. Fortunately, one very good book that was published a decade ago by Pomegranate Press is still in print. It’s called The Addams Family: An Evilution and I bought a copy for my wife, who, like me, is a fan of Charles Addams. Once she finished reading the book, she passed it along to me.

Over the years, there have been numerous collections of Charles Addams’ cartoons. What sets The Addams Family: An Evilution apart is that it endeavors to collect all the original published Addams Family cartoons together under one cover, plus many unpublished Addams Family sketches. It also includes Charles Addams’ own notes about the characters that he compiled when the TV series was being conceived plus commentary about the history of the characters by H. Kevin Miserocchi, the director of the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation.

The book starts with a description of how disparate characters from one-panel cartoons became a “family.” Each section of the book after that focuses on a particular character from the Addams Family. There are sections devoted to Morticia, Gomez, Lurch, and the others, including the Addams house itself. I thought it was particularly fascinating that Addams’ own conceptions of the characters differed a bit from what we saw on screen, and especially from how they evolved into the movies. For example, Uncle Fester rarely appears in cartoons with the other members of the family and its not clear he was intended to be a blood relative. He may simply have been a close friend referred to as “Uncle” Fester because of his close ties to the family.

This last bit is also interesting because it appears that Addams viewed Fester as something of an avatar for himself. From the photos in the book, it’s clear that Addams himself was a more robust and handsome fellow than Fester. Still, one of the book’s opening cartoons is taken from Tee and Charles Addams’ wedding invitation and shows Fester and Morticia as a couple. This would be quite a twist in the story as we’ve seen it portrayed in the movies and on TV!

Another element I found especially interesting was that “the Thing” was not conceived of as simply a hand or even a hand in a box. I won’t spoil it by revealing who the character was in the cartoons, but I remember seeing an unidentified creature in some of the cartoons and wondering who that was supposed to be. There is a famous cartoon of an Addams record player where hands stick out of the player and change the records and put the needle down. It’s likely this inspired the TV show and it’s even possible those are supposed to be Thing’s hands.

As I read the book, I saw how elements of Charles Addams’ work has inspired me. I see elements of the vampire Alexandra from my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order in Morticia. I see the manic energy of John Astin’s Gomez in Professor Maravilla of my Clockwork Legion novels. Lurch’s frightening and imposing form is reflected in characters like Arepno and G’Liat from my Space Pirates’ Legacy novels. As always, I hope you’ll explore my works at http://www.davidleesummers.com. If, like me and my wife, you’re a fan of Charles Addams, I highly recommend adding The Addams Family: An Evilution to your library.

Paint Your Wagon

In earlier posts, I’ve discussed how my parents loved Westerns on television and at the movies. I’ve also discussed how the classic show The Wild Wild West taught me there was a type of western that I could fall in love with to. However, I may not have been open to even trying The Wild Wild West if it weren’t for another show, and that’s the 1970 movie of Paint Your Wagon starring Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood.

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I first saw the movie, but I was in elementary school and I know my family had recently traveled through Gold Rush country in Northern California. I had been captivated by the forests and mountains of Northern California and this movie captured that and told a story that made me laugh as well. I even enjoyed many of the songs, especially Lee Marvin’s rendition of “Wandrin’ Star” which has always felt like something of an anthem in my own life. The movie Paint Your Wagon doesn’t get a lot of love from musical fans. Now, I’m not one of those people who says that singing should be left to professionals. I think music belongs to everyone and we work a little too hard to keep it away from people who just want to sing on their own and lift their spirits. Even so, I have to admit, Clint Eastwood’s rendition of “I Talk to the Trees” can be a challenge to listen to. The movie was also an almost complete rewrite of the original Lerner and Lowe Broadway musical. Many new songs were written by Alan Jay Lerner and the music was largely re-scoured by Andre Previn.

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to play the part of Angus in Lerner and Lowe’s Brigadoon. I had great fun, but thought it would be fun to see my school stage Paint Your Wagon. After all, we went to a mining school and it was a musical about miners. One of the themes of the story is about how few women there are in the camp, an issue we shared on campus back in the day. Never mind that the musical features a very male-heavy cast and even at a campus with a large male to female ratio, it was a challenge to get enough male science students out to try out for parts in any musical. Still, that’s about the point when I first got really curious what the Broadway musical was like and how it differed from the movie.

A couple of years later, I found a CD of the original musical’s soundtrack. It included many familiar songs plus several I hadn’t heard before. I gathered Ben Rumson had a daughter in the musical, which he didn’t in the movie. Also, she was in love with a Latino miner who didn’t appear in the movie. The album from the 50’s was truncated just enough for it to be difficult to glean the musical’s entire plot.

A few weeks ago, I learned about a revival of the musical performed in New York in 2015 starring Keith Carradine. What’s more, I discovered they released a more complete and higher fidelity soundtrack than the original from 1952. So, I gave it a try. There were more songs and I got a better sense of the musical. Over the years I’d learned the musical isn’t performed very often. That said, I did decide to see if the script was available. It turns out Alan Jay Lerner published the book with the script in 1952 and I was able to find a good used copy on line.

I can see why the musical never quite achieved the “classic” status other Lerner and Lowe musicals such as Brigadoon, Camelot, or My Fair Lady. It’s a pretty straight-ahead tale of the rise and fall of a mining camp. Jennifer Rumson falls in love with Julio Valveras on first sight. They only get about one scene and a partial of another scene in the first act. He’s gone for most of the second act as well. It’s not exactly a romance for the ages. We also have a plot about Jennifer’s dad, Ben, marrying a Mormon woman. That part was largely preserved in the movie. Still, I could see it being fun to see and perform, even if it isn’t one of the great musicals.

What really struck me was that certain parts of the musical echoed themes I’ve explored in my own work. The story of miners in a new land echoes themes in my novel The Pirates of Sufiro. There’s a great line about being Latino in America during the 1800s that echoes themes I explore in my Clockwork Legion novels. Julio says, “One time all this was part of Mexico. I’m a citizen. Suddenly a few years ago they start fighting in some place called Texas. I’m a foreigner.”

You can help support this blog and my rewrite of The Pirates of Sufiro by donating at my Patreon site: http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. You can learn more about the Clockwork Legion series at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion.

The Addams Family

This has been a busy month for me, but despite that, I made some time to see this year’s animated adaptation of The Addams Family. I first got to know about Charles Addams’s famous family during my college years. The 1964-66 series with John Astin and Carolyn Jones ran in reruns at a time I could catch it during a break between classes. I soon learned that the library at New Mexico Tech had a couple of the collections of original Charles Addams cartoons from The New Yorker Magazine. I loved the originals so much, I photocopied a handful and put them up as posters in my dorm room.

Like most cartoons from The New Yorker, the cartoons Addams drew were single panels. Not all of them featured his famous family, but they were frequent subjects starting back in the 1930s. A favorite cartoon I remember saving included carolers at the door of the Addams mansion while the family stood on the rooftop, gleefully ready to dump a cauldron of boiling oil. Another depicted the family’s mother looking out at a snowy winter scene and saying to her family, “Suddenly, I have a dreadful urge to be merry.” A third depicted the children in animal carriers, brought home in the hands of a deliveryman and the mother calling out, “It’s the children, darling, back from camp.”

I deliberately didn’t use the names of the characters in the descriptions, because cartoonist Charles Addams didn’t give them names until the 1964 series was in development. The series added many elements people now consider staples of the family. In particular the dad’s, Gomez’s, wild attraction for the mom, Morticia, especially when she spoke French. Ted Cassidy gave voice to the cartoon’s mute butler, Lurch, with his mournful and deep, “You rang,” when answering the door. Jackie Coogan brought a frenetic energy to weird Uncle Fester, who could make bulbs light up by putting them in his mouth.

I was delighted when the 1991 film came out. Barry Sonnenfeld’s film recalled several of the jokes from the original Addams cartoons, and included some callbacks to the TV series. Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston were wonderful successors to John Astin and Carolyn Jones. They brought their own interpretations to the roles, but kept the sex appeal. The real delight was Christina Ricci bringing young Wednesday Addams to Gothic life. One of my favorite scenes in the movie does a great job of capturing Charles Addams’s macabre sense of humor. A Girl Scout asks Wednesday and her brother, Pugsley, whether the lemonade they’re selling is made from real lemons. She then tries to sell them cookies and they ask her if they’re made from real Girl Scouts. Of course, what I really appreciated about this movie is that reprints and new collections of Charles Addams’s cartoons were made available and I built up my personal collection of books as much as possible in that era.

Now we come to the 2019 movie. What I loved about this movie was that the character designs do a lovely job of hearkening back to Addams’s original cartoons. I liked the origin story for the family presented at the beginning of the movie and I really liked the fact that the son of the Addams family, Pugsley, finally had a chance to be featured without sacrificing a good story arc for his sister, Wednesday. That said, the movie feels a little tame for my taste, closer kin to “safe” Halloween kids fare such as the Hotel Transylvania franchise than a true successor to the wickedly wonderful world Charles Addams created. Keep in mind, I’ve never had a problem showing my kids the original comics, the 1960s series, or the 1990s movies. The gags are all built in the anticipation of the horror that happened out of view or the horror about to happen. Today, when anime has gone more mainstream, when we have series like The Simpsons and Family Guy, and Adult Swim on Cartoon Network exists, I’m baffled that Hollywood still feels compelled to make cartoons as safe and tame as possible, doing absolutely nothing that could be deemed risque or daring. Yes, Pugsley does play with explosives, but they always feel like cartoon explosives where no one really gets hurt. As a result, this Addams Family comes off as just a little weird, without the piquant hints of danger or sexiness their other incarnations have.

I’m glad I saw the movie and I don’t have any problem recommending it for a home video night. That said, if you really want to get to know the Addams Family, get to your favorite library or bookstore and seek out the original Charles Addams cartoons. Those are family albums well worth perusing.

Mars Globes

One of the places my family and I visited during our July travels was Lowell Observatory on Mars Hill in Flagstaff, Arizona. This was where Percival Lowell, a former US ambassador to Korea, set up shop in the late nineteenth century to observe the planet Mars and search for the elusive Planet X. One thing that captivated Lowell about Mars were the linear features crisscrossing the planet. The more he observed them, the more he became convinced they were canals built by intelligent beings. Over the years, Lowell would make many maps of Mars and publish essays detailing how the red planet must be an abode of life. Lowell also made globes.

Martian globe on display at Lowell Observatory

As it turns out, Lowell’s canals do not exist. They seem to be the result of some optical phenomena going on within the telescope itself enhanced by wishful thinking. It’s easy to imagine Lowell gazing up at Mars from his chair in Flagstaff, imagining a dying desert world with intelligent Martians hanging on through their ingenuity, digging canals to bring water from the polar caps to arable farm land in the equatorial regions. These ideas would go on to inspire writers like H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Ray Bradbury. Even if Lowell’s observations did not prove correct, he succeeded in making Mars a place in people’s imagination that we could visit.

As a young reader, I fell in love with the canal-lined Mars of Ray Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs. When visiting Lowell Observatory, I always thought a Martian canal globe would be a cool souvenir. Unfortunately, they don’t sell them in the gift shop. What’s more, they don’t sell them much of anywhere. Most Mars globes available today show the Mars we’ve mapped via orbiting probes. These are great globes and I’d love one of those, too, but they don’t capture the imagination that stirred me in my earliest days of reading science fiction. I did see that a master globe maker recreated a canal globe a while back and made them available for sale, but I also saw that he charged far more than I could afford. What’s more, when I looked again after visiting Lowell, I couldn’t find them anymore.

Of course, I’m not only a science fiction fan and a professional scientist, I’m a steampunk. If there’s one thing a steampunk knows it’s that when something isn’t available, you just have to go out and make it. My wife and I discussed approaches and I did some searching on the web. I already knew that several images of Lowell’s maps were available online. I found software that would convert rectangular maps to “map gores,” the strips used to make globes. With the power of Adobe Photoshop, I could resize those gores to any ball I wanted. So, I set out to make my own globe. Since this was the first time I’d ever tried something like this, I decided to make a prototype before making a nice one.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

The prototype wasn’t perfect. Despite measuring the ball I used for a form, I sized the gores just a little too small. This could have been a little bit of rounding error from several sources. Also, it took some tries to figure out how to get the gores on smoothly. I mostly figured it out, and I think some better tools would help. Despite that, I think the prototype globe turned out much better than I had any right to expect. In fact, the flaws actually add to the antique look of the globe.

At this point, I’m working on acquiring some better tools and a nice stand for the final globe. Who knows exactly what I’ll do with my new globe-making skills. If a steampunk event shows interest, I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned. Given that the globes aren’t generally available, I might consider making a few for sale, as long as I confirm that I’m not violating any rights by using the old maps and I feel my skills are up to the task.

What I do know is that the globes I make for myself will serve as an inspiration. I look at the globe and dream of Mars as it could have been. When astronauts visit Mars in my novel The Solar Sea, they wax poetic about the old visions of Mars even as they see its real wonders. Of course, Lowell’s crypt next to the dome where he observed Mars was an inspiration for my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. A part of me would like to think of Lowell’s spirit walking a canal-laced Mars, much as scientists who died did in Camille Flammarion’s novel Urania. As I look around the globe, I see that Lowell named one of the canals, Draco, a name shared with the leader of my Scarlet Order vampires. Maybe there’s a story out there about the Scarlet Order paying a visit to Mars.