Great Anthologies for Long Winter Nights

The annual Smashwords End of Year Sale is underway. Many of Hadrosaur’s titles are on sale and I’ll be highlighting them here at the Web Journal. The coupon codes for these discounts are automatically applied at checkout. One of the things I love about Smashwords is that they provide ebooks in all popular formats and they’re DRM free, so you can download them to your favorite device or gift them to friends without worrying about what e-reader they prefer. If you are shopping for a friend, just click “Give as a Gift” when you visit the Smashwords links!

Today, I’m featuring some great anthologies for those times when you want to curl up by a fire and enjoy an author’s work in one sitting.


Exchange Students

In Exchange Students you can study abroad! See new places! Meet new people!

In our exchange student program, you can literally study anywhere or anywhen you can imagine. We’ll send you to new planets. We’ll send you to new dimensions and realms of existence. We’ll send you through time itself!

Don’t believe me? This exciting anthology contains many tales of our thrilling and educational exchange student program. You’ll read tales of aliens coming to earth and humans traveling to alien worlds. You’ll meet a denizen of Hell who travels to Heaven. Some students will discover their super powers on their journey. Other students will have encounters with the undead. You’ll meet a law enforcement officer who travels to the realm of the fae to help solve a crime of truly interdimensional proportions.

Featuring twenty-two amazing stories by Roze Albina Ches, Jaleta Clegg, Ken Goldman, Paula Hammond, Sheila Hartney, Chisto Healy, Joachim Heijndermans, Sean Jones, Tim Kane, Alden Loveshade, Tim McDaniel, J Louis Messina, Jennifer Moore, Brian Gene Olson, David B. Riley, Katherine Quevedo, Holly Schofield, Jonathan Shipley, Lesley L. Smith, Emily Martha Sorensen, Margret A. Treiber and Sherry Yuan.

Exchange Students is available for half off the cover price at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1005851. Coupon code SEY50 should be applied automatically at checkout.


A Kepler’s Dozen

A Kepler’s Dozen is an anthology of action-packed, mysterious, and humorous stories all based on real planets discovered by the NASA Kepler mission. Edited by and contributing stories are David Lee Summers, author of The Pirates of Sufiro, and Steve B. Howell, project scientist for the Kepler mission. Whether on a prison colony, in a fast escape from the authorities, or encircling a binary star, thirteen exoplanet stories written by authors such as Mike Brotherton, Laura Givens, and J Alan Erwine will amuse, frighten, and intrigue you while you share fantasy adventures among Kepler’s real-life planets.

“… the stories represent a glimpse of where science fiction might go if real exoplanets are taken as inspiration.” Melinda Baldwin, Physics Today

You can buy A Kepler’s Dozen for half off the cover price at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/325583. Coupon code SEY50 should be applied automatically at checkout.


Kepler’s Cowboys

  • NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has discovered thousands of new planets.
  • Visiting, much less settling, those worlds will provide innumerable challenges.
  • The men and women who make the journey will be those who don’t fear the odds.
  • They’ll be Kepler’s Cowboys.

Saddle up and take an unforgettable journey to distant star systems. Meet new life forms—some willing to be your friend and others who will see you as the invader. Fight for justice in a lawless frontier. Go on a quest for a few dollars more. David Lee Summers, author of the popular Clockwork Legion novels, and Steve B. Howell, head of the Space Sciences and Astrobiology Division at NASA Ames Research Center, have edited this exciting, fun, and rollicking anthology of fourteen stories and five poems by such authors as Patrick Thomas, Jaleta Clegg, Anthony R. Cardno, L.J. Bonham, and many more!

“If you’re in the mood for science fiction that’s heavy on the science, pore over this enjoyable collection that takes exoplanets and the American West as its inspirations. The stories and poems in Kepler’s Cowboys imagine wild and risky futures for the first generations of exoplanet explorers as they grapple with harsh environments, tight quarters, aliens, and one another.” Melinda Baldwin, Physics Today.

Kepler’s Cowboys is available for half off the cover price at Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/698694. Coupon code SEY50 should be applied automatically at checkout.


If you want to learn more about me as a writer and editor, I’ve been featured on this week’s Spooky Six with Willow Croft segment over at HorrorTree.com. The interview focuses on my horror writing, which feels appropriate since I’ve been busy working on my new Scarlet Oder vampire novel. Drop by and learn such things as what frightens me most and the spookiest place I’ve ever set a horror story. Speaking of the Scarlet Order, make sure you return here on Saturday. I have a special Christmas Eve treat for visitors to the Web Journal.

Interview with David Lee Summers

Daniel the Vampire Astronomer

The first vampire story I sold was “Vampire in the City of Crosses,” which appeared in a 2001 issue of The Vampire’s Crypt edited by Margaret L. Carter. One of the things that brought that story to life was the character of Daniel the vampire astronomer. In the story, Daniel tells us about his history in two paragraphs:

“One cold night in 1899 I was walking from the dome of the 24-inch telescope to my sleeping quarters when I heard a low growl. Wary, I thought I’d stumbled upon a mountain lion. Seemingly, my fears were confirmed when something pounced on me in the darkness. I felt the teeth tear into my jugular and my own blood leave my body for the last time. The body on me was not covered in fur as I expected and it was not a mountain lion. It was more like a man. I was euphoric as the creature’s blood passed to my body. I became a vampire there in the snow, on a clear winter’s night on a hill outside Flagstaff.

“The vampire that attacked me taught me how to feed and how to sleep during the day so that others would not find me. Coffins come in handy, but I really do prefer a soft bed. He taught me the basics and little more. I’ve met only a few other vampires. We have conversed some, but for the most part we leave each other alone. We seem to be creatures of solitude. Maybe it’s just me but there are times I long for a new master.”

I adapted the short story “Vampire in the City of Crosses” into a chapter of my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. In the years since the novel’s publication, people have cited the idea of a vampire astronomer as one of the aspects that made them pick up the book. When I revised the book for Hadrosaur Productions in 2020 and hired Chaz Kemp to do the cover, he asked if one of the characters could be black. I realized I never specified Daniel’s ethnicity, so we agreed Daniel should be black. I added language to the new edition to affirm that choice and I believe it added a new dimension to the character.

Two years later, I’m working on a new Scarlet Order novel where I spend more time getting to know the vampires even better. I began to think about those two paragraphs describing Daniel’s origin and wondered what impact his ethnicity might have had on that story. I decided to flesh out Daniel’s origin into a full short story of its own, which is titled “The Older Worlds of Space” and it has just appeared in the Samhain 2022 issue of The Hungur Chronicles Magazine. The story’s title is a reference to The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, a tribute to the fact that Daniel McKee and Percival Lowell were observing Mars at the end of the nineteenth century.

The Hungur Chronicles focuses on vampires in or from outer space as well as those encountered on Earth. Published twice a year, on Walpurgisnacht and Samhain, it features stories, articles, illustrations, and poetry by new voices as well as familiar ones. In addition to my story, the issue contains a novelette by Tyree Campbell along with short stories by such folks as Kelly A. Harmon, Joe Whitlow, and Gary Davis. There are feature articles by Tales of the Talisman alumni Robert E. Porter and Gary Davis plus poems by such folks as Sandy DeLuca, Guy Belleranti, and Juleigh Howard-Hobson. As of this writing, I’m still reading the issue, but so far, the poem “Vampire Visit” by Guy Belleranti, the article “Severed Heads and Omens of Death: The Horror Origins of Halloween” by Gary Davis, and the story “The Cure is in the Blood” by JR Blanes are particular standouts for me. If you’re a vampire fan and looking for some new stories, be sure to check out The Hungur Chronicles.

You can pick up a copy of the current issue of The Hungur Chronicles at: https://www.amazon.com/Hungur-Chronicles-Samhain-2022/dp/1088075428/

Feeling Blessed

On June 15 this year, I was one of the last eight people to evacuate the summit of Kitt Peak in Southern Arizona as a wildfire approached, leaving the observatory where I work in the hand of a large firefighting team. When I left, the Contreras fire was within a mile of the observatory. Less than an hour before the evacuation, I stood in the parking lot of the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope and looked into the raging inferno. The wind blew our direction and sparks flew off the fire. I helped one of the WIYN engineers find a valuable instrument in the 0.9-meter telescope next door and carry it to her car, so it could be driven to safety. To be honest, I never felt in danger during this whole experience, in part because of the calm confidence of the firefighters on the mountaintop. Still, the closeness and size of the fire effected me profoundly.

I went to a hotel room in Tucson. I was still the operator on duty for the WIYN telescope and it was my duty to fill in telescope usage reports to be filed with the National Science Foundation. I spent the night watching live footage of the fire from our webcams. Early in the morning of June 16, I watched as the fire swept up over the southwest ridge where the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the Arizona Radio Observatory have dishes. Soon after that, the cameras died. I felt hollow inside, not knowing what would come next.

As it turns out, those firefighters saved the observatory. Every science building came through the experience. The dorm building where I live when at work and the one across the way from it were damaged. Two dorms on the southwest ridge were lost. The fire took out power lines and the internet, which ran the same route as the power lines. This is why I lost the camera view. The fire also burned through many of the wooden posts holding up guardrails along the road to the summit. There was a lot of cleanup in the aftermath of the fire. Ash encroached many places. Still, I have been working on the summit since August. When I returned, we were operating purely on generator power. Our internet has been provided by a Starlink satellite connection since the fire.

In September, the local power utility installed new power lines and we’re back on line power at the summit. New internet cable is being strung. The road to the summit is closed to all but staff, and even staff can only go up or down at certain hours to avoid interfering with road work. The upshot is that I’ve effectively lost a day of my “weekend” because I have to travel to the mountain earlier in the day than I did before. At a personal level, this has been the hardest thing to adjust to and I feel like I’m struggling a lot harder to keep personal projects moving forward. Still, I’m glad to be back at work and I’m gradually adapting to using my extra night on the mountain as time for writing or other personal work.

Kitt Peak National Observatory is on the land of the Tohono O’Odham people. I’ve always been grateful to work at an observatory that has good relations with its neighbors. A large number of people working at the observatory are part of the Tohono O’Odham nation and after the fire moved past Kitt Peak, it threatened the nearby village of Pan Tak. Fortunately, all the villagers and their animals were safely evacuated and were able to return home by June 23.

On Wednesday, November 30, Tim Antone, a Tohono O’Odham medicine man came to the summit and blessed the structures and performed a personal blessing ceremony for any staff who wanted to participate. As I say, the fire was a profound and challenging experience for me, so I partook in the blessing, which helped to bring a sense of closure to the whole affair as I reflected on the past few months. I’m grateful to Mr. Antone for the gift of this ceremony to the observatory and its staff.

MileHiCon 54

I will be attending MileHiCon 54 in Denver, Colorado, which will be held from Friday, October 21 through Sunday October 23, 2022 at the Denver Marriott Tech Center. You can get more information about the event at https://milehicon.org.

This year’s toastmaster is Kevin J. Anderson, who has published more than 175 books, 58 of which have been national or international bestsellers. He has written numerous novels in the Star Wars, X-Files, and Dune universes, as well as unique steampunk fantasy trilogy beginning with Clockwork Angels, written with legendary rock drummer Neil Peart. Anderson is also the owner of WordFire Press, publisher of the collection Maximum Velocity: Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales that I co-edited with Carol Hightshoe, Dayton Ward, Jennifer Brozek, and Bryan Thomas Schmidt.

The author guests of honor are Travis Heermann and Ken Liu. Author, filmmaker, screenwriter, poker player, poet, biker, Travis Heermann is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, an Active member of SFWA and the HWA, and the author of the Shinjuku Shadows series, Ronin Trilogy, The Hammer Falls, and other novels. Ken Liu is an American author of speculative fiction. A winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards, he wrote the Dandelion Dynasty, a silkpunk epic fantasy series (starting with The Grace of Kings), as well as short story collections The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories and The Hidden Girl and Other Stories. He also authored the Star Wars novel The Legends of Luke Skywalker.

I will be on several panels throughout the weekend. My schedule is below. When I’m not on panels, you can find me in the dealer’s room. I’ll be sharing a booth space with author Adam Gaffen.


Friday, October 21

  • 4:00pm, Evergreen F: 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.

Saturday, October 22

  • 11:00 am, Conifer 2: Cryptozoology in Art and Fiction Cryptids remain ever popular. Our panelists will discuss what they are, and how they show up in art and fiction of all forms (books, movies, television, comics, etc). On the panel with me are Daniel Dvorkin, Jon Black, Lou J. Berger, and Matt Bille
  • 2:00 pm, Evergreen F: The Year in Science Panelists cover the science news that most caught their attention over the past year. Courney Willis will serve as moderator. Also on the panel are Carolyn Collins Petersen, Daniel Dvorkin, and Ka Chun Yu
  • 4:00 pm, Conifer 2: SF&F Poetry SF&F is not just prose. Our panelists will discuss all things poetic in the SF&F world. Stace Johnson will moderate. On the panel with me are Mary Turzillo, and Reese Hogan
  • 5:00 pm, Conifer 3: Writing Effectively For Comics (So You’re Not Murdered by your Artist or Letterer) Writing for comics is very different than writing for prose. Learn from our panelists how not to make things harder for yourself, your letterer, your artist, or your editor. Jason Henderson will be moderating. Also on the panel are Karen Bjorn, Travis Heermann, and Sumiko Saulson

Sunday, October 23

  • 2:00 pm, Evergreen F: 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?

2061: Odyssey Three

I first saw the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey at my local library in San Bernardino, California. I’m pretty certain it would have been in 1978 and the screening was a celebration of the film’s 10th anniversary. I would have been about 12 years old and very much still in the thrall of Star Wars, which debuted just a year earlier. The movie captivated me with it’s plausible depiction of space travel and it challenged me with the idea that aliens could have tinkered with life on Earth. I still remember Heywood Floyd making a video call to his daughter from orbit and I still find it amazing that by 2008, I would be making video calls regularly home from the remote observatory where I work. The movie’s ending baffled me. Sure, I got that it was the aliens continuing their experiment on humans, but I was a very literal-minded kid and found the psychedelic imagery a little much for my taste. I wanted to know what the aliens were subjecting David Bowman to. So, almost immediately, I turned to Arthur C. Clarke’s novel, written more-or-less in conjunction with the movie. The novel didn’t really give me any clear-cut answers, but I felt more satisfied that I understood what the movie had shown me. Over the next year or so, the book and movie took on special meaning for me. Their plausible depiction of science, helped to start me on the path to actually being a scientist.

Because the book and film together held a special place for me, I ran right out and bought the hardcover of 2010: Odyssey Two when it came out in hardcover in 1982 and I saw the 1984 film almost immediately upon release. While neither sequel quite had the gravitas of the original, I still enjoyed both. By 1987, when 2061: Odyssey Three came out, I was well on my way to an undergraduate physics degree with little time for new novels, so I let it pass me by. Over the next year, some friends told me they didn’t like it as well as the previous two novels, so it never really became a priority for my reading list. A couple of weeks ago, though, I happened to notice that the ebook was available at a discount and decided to see what I had missed.

If one views 2001: A Space Odyssey as the story of humans discovering that aliens had a hand in their evolution and 2010: Odyssey Two as the story of what actually happened to astronaut David Bowman and what the aliens next had up their collective sleeves, then 2061: Odyssey Three is basically an adventure story about humans living in the world set up in the previous novels. While we don’t get a lot of new information about the aliens, we do get some interesting speculation about them.

In 2061: Odyssey Three, Heywood Floyd is still alive and has the opportunity to travel to Comet Halley as it makes its next sojourn through the inner solar system. Meanwhile, Floyd’s grandson is serving as second officer aboard a ship exploring the moons around the star Lucifer, which was formerly the planet Jupiter. As they approach the moon Europa, which now has liquid water on its surface, the purser hijacks the ship and forces them to land. In the process, the ship crashes into the Europan ocean. The danger here is that the aliens warned humans not to land on Europa at the end of 2010: Odyssey Two. As it turns out, the ship Heywood Floyd is on, is the ship in the best position to rescue the ship on Europa. All in all, I found it a fine adventure tale with some interesting speculation about comets, planets, and the life we might find on Jovian moons. There was one annoying detail in that the purser who hijacks the ship is given two different last names without explanation and I suspect Clarke just changed her name and the editor didn’t catch it. Beyond this simple error, this book again lacked the gravitas of the original film and novel, but it was still fun to revisit this world and read this adventure story with its roots in real science. Also, now that 2001 and 2010 are both in the past, it was fun to look forward again to a year that hasn’t happened yet. Hopefully, I’ll get to see 2061 and see what the world is like when Comet Halley returns for real.

Clarke’s Space Odyssey series captivated me with the idea of humans crossing the solar system to solve a mystery. That basic idea served as a template for my novel The Solar Sea about humans traveling to Titan to find the source of particles that can apparently manipulate time. You can learn more about my novel at: http://davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.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.

(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

Contreras Wildfire and Kitt Peak

Over the years working at Kitt Peak National Observatory, I’ve seen several fires from the domes at the summit. A few of these fires have even approached close enough to create nail-biting situations where we prepared to evacuate the site. However, a little over a week ago, a fire burned right up to our facility. As an operator on the Mayall 4-meter and WIYN 3.5-meter telescopes, I’m tasked with facility and personnel safety after hours. So, this means I was keeping a close eye on the fire up until the point we had to leave Kitt Peak.

While driving up to work at Kitt Peak National Observatory on Saturday night, June 11, I passed through the small town of Three Points, Arizona and noticed an orange glow on the ridge between Kitt Peak and Baboquivari Peak. I gritted my teeth, afraid I was seeing the beginnings of a fire. I hoped I was wrong. I’d hoped someone had installed a radio tower with an orange light between the town and the mountain, but soon after I started driving up the Kitt Peak road, my hopes were dashed. I soon saw a fire burning off in the distance. At that point, I wasn’t terribly worried, I’d seen fires in that part of the range before and the Tohono O’Odham fire department usually knocked them out within a couple of days. When I reached the summit, I checked in with the duty operators, let them know I’d arrived on site and confirmed they had seen the fire and that officials knew about it. Since it had been visible from a nearby town, I figured they did, but it’s always good to check. By all accounts, the fire started from a lightning strike earlier that evening.

Unfortunately, the southwest has been suffering a drought which has now lasted over 20 years and vegetation was extremely dry. However, the wind was calm and blowing away from the observatory, so when I started my shift on Sunday, June 12, we were able to work with the fire burning off in the distance and smoke blowing away from us. As it turns out, the WIYN telescope, where I was working, had a problem with its optical system. A vacuum system which keeps the heavy mirrors off the hard mounting points had failed, causing minor distortion. We were taking spectra, so this problem didn’t keep us from working, but it needed to be fixed, so on Monday, June 13, our optical engineer began the process of removing the secondary mirror from the telescope to investigate the problem. This is a big job and it couldn’t be completed in one day, so my primary job that night was to monitor the fire’s progress and make sure the wind didn’t shift to blow over the observatory. Here’s a look at the fire shortly after sunset.

View toward Baboquivari Peak on June 13, 2022

On Tuesday, while I slept, it became apparent that the fire was a big enough danger that steps should be taken to make the site as safe as possible. Engineers began shutting down less critical systems and making things as safe as possible. The wind shifted that afternoon and more smoke began coming toward the site. When many people imagine an observatory, they might imagine anywhere from one to six telescopes on a remote mountain summit. It may help to understand that Kitt Peak National Observatory is the world’s largest observatory campus with over twenty telescopes. There are, in fact at least six dormitory buildings along with several houses, kitchen facilities, a full maintenance yard including automotive shop, water treatment facility, backup generators and so forth. Like many college campuses, Kitt Peak is almost like a small town in its own right. So lots of people were at work all across the site through the day. That evening, I had a briefing from the Kitt Peak director. Because of the smoke, telescopes would be closed that night. Smoke can damage optics. As the night started, I went up to the Mayall telescope and took a photo from the visitor gallery. Only a little of the fire was visible from that vantage, looking like a string of lights on the mountain in the background, just to the right of the left-most dome. Still, this gives you an idea of how close the fire was getting.

Contreras Fire on the night of Tuesday, June 14

The wind picked up the night of June 14 and the fire seemed to pick up strength. As you can see in the first photo, there was a small ridge line between us and the fire. By the morning of June 15, the fire crested that ridge and I wondered how much longer we would remain on site. Here’s what it looked like on Wednesday morning.

Contreras Fire on the Morning of June 15.

I went to bed, knowing someone would wake me if we needed to evacuate. I woke up and attended two administrative meetings. From my room, I could already tell there was much more smoke in the air by Wednesday afternoon. As soon as the meetings were finished, I went to the WIYN telescope. From that vantage, I saw that the fire had progressed dramatically. A wall of smoke rose from just below the mountain summit and I could see flames just over a mile away. I went into the observatory and learned that a controlled shutdown of as many systems as possible was underway. I helped where I could. Among other things, I helped to carry one piece of instrumentation down to an engineer’s car so it could be transported off the mountain safely. Firefighters began arriving on the mountain. One of them warned us a plane was about to drop a load of fire retardant and we should move our vehicles so they would be damaged when that much water and retardant came down onto the mountain. We did as directed and soon afterward I was called into a meeting in the director’s office. While in that meeting, the incident commander gave us the order to evacuate. I went to my dorm room, packed up as much as I could and went to my car. I was off the mountain within about half an hour.

Because my home is in New Mexico, the observatory management put me up in a hotel room in Tucson that night. I hoped we would be evacuated, the firefighters would hold the line on the fire and I would return in a night or two. Still I had an uneasy feeling as I walked back to my hotel room after dinner that night. Here’s the view of the hotel. What looks like clouds low in the sky is smoke from the Contreras wildfire.

Smoke from the Contreras Wildfire, visible from Speedway Blvd in Tucson, Arizona

On Wednesday night, I watched the fire on the mountain webcams from my hotel room. Part of my job is accounting for the night’s use so it can be reported to the National Science Foundation. I filled out my reports. Thursday night was more of the same. On Friday morning, I filled out my report, but soon after, computers at the observatory went dark. A little while later, I learned that utility power had gone out on the mountain and we’d lost the internet connection. The fire had reached the summit.

I went home on Friday, but have continued to follow the news. The firefighters did a tremendous job. No scientific buildings were lost. As far as I’ve heard, only four support structures were consumed by the fire. It helped that almost all the buildings at Kitt Peak are constructed of concrete, steel, and brick. Since Saturday, the fire has been contained, but access to the Kitt Peak summit is still strictly regulated for safety. As soon as its safe, engineers and facility teams will begin the process of inspecting the site. They’ll see how much smoke and ash infiltrated the domes. They’ll see if there’s been heat damage. They’ll make sure we have reliable power and internet. Once that’s done, it’ll be time to see if the telescopes and instrumentation can be brought back on line and repair things as needed. It’ll be a process and it’ll take time. Still, I can’t emphasize enough how grateful I am to the firefighters who jumped in and kept the facility as safe as possible so that we actually can look forward to resuming operations. They did tremendous work and I look forward to resuming science at Kitt Peak in the not-too-distant future.

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.

Cosmic Cartography

When plotting out my stories, I spend a lot of time looking at maps. This can be especially useful when writing historical fiction. Boundary lines change and even physical features can change because of human activity or natural phenomena such as earthquakes. Also, maps reveal the limitations of those who made them. Before the modern era, mapmakers didn’t have satellites to define coastlines or mountain ranges. People on the ground had to do their best to measure and calculate distances and translate those into maps.

While working on the DESI survey at Kitt Peak’s Mayall survey, I feel a little like one of those early cartographers. Of course, our job is to measure the distance to as many galaxies as we possibly can and make a map of the known universe. As it turns out, I’m not alone feeling this way. Graduate Student Claire Lamman at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics was inspired to create an illustration in the form of an antique map called Cosmic Cartography. You can see the artwork in detail and read about it at a post Claire wrote for the DESI blog at https://www.desi.lbl.gov/2021/08/19/cosmic-cartography/

Recently, my wife celebrated her birthday. Like me, she enjoys old maps and she also enjoys challenging puzzles, so I gave her a 1000-piece puzzle of the Cosmic Cartography artwork.

Cosmic Cartography Puzzle

Not only am I reminded of cartographers from long ago who made maps, but I’m reminded of science fiction stories where starships on patrol had the job of making maps. Of course, such starships require a team of highly trained people and one of the great ways to build teamwork is to have a set of common logos. In science fiction, these often take the form of badges or patches on uniforms. In my world, these might be stickers on laptops, T-shirts or ball caps. With that in mind, the DESI team actually created a place where you can order these kinds of items. One of the items is a poster of Claire’s Cosmic Cartography artwork, which can be ordered as a jigsaw puzzle, which inspired the present for my wife. If you want to show your support for our project mapping the universe, you can find all the cool DESI Swag at the project’s Redbubble shop: https://www.redbubble.com/people/DESIsurvey/shop

As it turns out, the puzzle was a bit more of a challenge than some other similar puzzles my wife and I have done. Redbubble is a print on demand company and the puzzle was printed on somewhat thin cardboard and the jigsaw cuts didn’t have a lot of variation, so it was possible for pieces that didn’t belong together to attach better than they should. Still, my wife and I persevered and assembled the puzzle. It was fun to discuss the different elements of the artwork. Some notable elements are the Mayall telescope and dome and an area of the map itself representing the MzLS survey, which I helped with. There’s a circle showing the Sloan Digital Sky Survey map. I was at that telescope’s dedication ceremony in the 1990s. There’s even Baoban, the DESI coyote. The coyote gets his name from two sources. BAO stands for Baryonic Acoustic Oscillations, which is the science which allows us to accurately determine distances to galaxies and “Ban” which is the Tohono O’Odham word for coyote.

Working on the puzzle proved a good opportunity to both spend some time with my wife and to reflect on the talented and bright group of people I’m privileged to work with.