Weighing Planets

At this month’s meeting of the American Astronomical Society, the team developing the NEID spectrograph at Kitt Peak National Observatory announced the instrument’s first light and released a great, processed image of the first spectrum that illustrates much of what I’ve talked about when giving behind-scenes-glimpses of the work. This is a spectrum of 51 Pegasi, which happens to have been the first star discovered to have an exoplanet back in 1995.

Credit: Guðmundur Kári Stefánsson/Princeton University/Penn State/NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory/KPNO/AURA

The rainbow in the image above shows light from the star 51 Pegasi spread out by the spectrograph. To the left, you see the spectrum magnified so you can see more details. In particular, you see dark lines bisecting the rainbow in different places. These lines are caused when elements in the star’s atmosphere absorbs a little bit of the light. The dots above the lines come from a “calibration” image. They serve as a road map to tell you where you are in the spectrum. When a planet pulls the star toward us, those dark lines move a little bit toward the blue end of the spectrum (to the left in the image above). When the planet goes behind the star, those lines move a little toward the red end of the spectrum (to the right, in the image above).

What’s cool about this kind of measurement is that how far the planet moves those lines is directly related to how massive the planet is. If you measure the line movement precisely, you can measure how much the planet weighs. If you then use another telescope and take images of the star and watch for the planet to cross in front of the star, you can measure how much the planet makes the star’s light decrease. That tells you the diameter of the planet. With the diameter and the mass, you can calculate the density, which tells you whether you’re looking at a gas giant, a rocky world, a water world, or an ice giant world.

What’s more, I was on-hand when that first image was taken. We celebrated by pulling out a bottle of sparkling cider and toasting the instrument’s success. Afterwards, we got back to work characterizing and testing the instrument’s behavior. As you can tell from the image below, we have lots of people in the control room on these commissioning nights!

This past week has been especially fun as a science fiction writer and long time fan. We’ve been starting our nights by observing the star Tau Ceti, which appears in many science fiction novels, movies, and TV series. Among the notable novels where Tau Ceti appears are such classics as Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel, Robert A. Heinlein’s Time for the Stars, and Samuel R. Delaney’s Empire Star. In Star Trek, Tau Ceti is known as the home of the doomed cargo ship, Kobayashi Maru. The system is the home of the planet Sea of the Morningstar in Bodacious Space Pirates, a wonderful anime series.

In fact, the star itself is very similar to the sun. It has a similar spectral type and a mass about 0.78 times the mass of the sun. It has four candidate planets in orbit and it’s a little less than 12 light years away, so it seems conceivable these are planet humans could eventually visit. I even gave it a cameo in the new, upcoming edition of my novel, The Pirates of Sufiro.

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.

2020 Foresight

In the last post, I looked back to the previous decade. Now, I want to take a look forward at what’s coming next. As it turns out, I’m entering the year 2020 with three projects right at the final editing and typesetting stages, so those are occupying much of my attention at the moment and I expect they will all go “live” in the first quarter of this year.

One of the projects that will appear in the next couple of months is the anthology Exchange Students edited by Sheila Hartney. It features twenty-two stories from a diverse group of authors who explore the idea of exchange students in a variety of settings. Some stories imagine interplanetary exchange students, some imagine time traveling exchange students. We have an exchange student from Hell visiting Heaven. There are also stories about exchange students crossing between our world and fantasy worlds. Throughout the book, you’ll hear stories from the perspectives of the teachers, students, and parents who find themselves in these situations. The final edited manuscript has just been delivered to me and I plan to start typesetting the book this week, then I’ll get in touch with the cover artist about finishing the cover, teased in the thumbnail at the head of this paragraph.

I’m also excited to be presenting Don Braden’s first novel. Don is a retired high school teacher who has often used science fiction as a teaching tool in the classroom. Don has also written for Tales of the Talisman Magazine. What’s more, I’ve almost literally known Don my entire life. He was my brother’s English teacher before I was even old enough to go to school.

Don’s novel is called Upstart Mystique. The novel opens with the space vessel Marco P en route to a distant colony world. The ship loses all power and an unknown force convinces the navigator that a distant, dead world is the vessel’s true destination. Commander Malcolm Carpenter orders the crew to abandon ship to protect them and to learn how to defeat whatever force has intercepted his ship. The crew discovers a small group of inhabitants, the only people on the planet who were not uploaded into a vast computer network—a computer network captivated by upstart humans and their imaginations. To free his crew and his navigator from the planetary network’s grip, Commander Carpenter must face a moral dilemma. Can he save his crew without condemning a planet’s inhabitants and their digital ancestors to death?

I’ve finished the first typesetting pass of Upstart Mystique. It needs a cover and a final check by the author, then it’ll be ready to go to press!

The third book I’m working on is the 25th Anniversary edition of my own novel, The Pirates of Sufiro. When the rights to the “Old Star/New Earth” series were returned to me, I wrestled with how much to re-edit these books. They were my early books and I renamed the series “The Space Pirates Legacy” in part because one of the major characters has a vessel named Legacy and in part because I do see it as my “legacy” series. It’s the series where I cut my teeth as a writer, so to speak, and mostly I wanted to bring them back so they were available to fans who wanted my early work. Still, I felt like Pirates had some cool ideas that were buried in awkward writing. Also, the only ebook edition of the book had some problems that made it even more of a challenge to read. If I was going to put this book back on the market, I owed it to readers to improve what I could. I’ve just completed the actual rewriting portion of the project. I have a few more edits to do, then I’ll start typesetting. Again, the actual book should be available for purchase in the very near future. That said, people who support my Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers will get a code to download it for free once it’s released.

After this, it’ll be time to move on to the next wave of projects. While typesetting and finishing these books, I hope to make some decisions about what will be next. Some things are clear. I’ll be revising and re-issuing the rest of the Space Pirates Legacy series: Children of the Old Stars and Heirs of the New Earth. At this point, I don’t expect they’ll take the kind of time I’ve devoted Pirates, but I do need to re-read and evaluate them. I do plan to polish and work on some short stories I have in mind and send them out to editors. Presuming Children and Heirs don’t prove as time consuming as Pirates, I’ll probably start work on the next new novel. You can share your thoughts about what that should be in the comments below, although I’ll also be asking my Patreon supporters and I do give their thoughts more weight.

My novels of the 2010s

In my last post, I mentioned that I had the attitude of being a temporary employee at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Much of the reason I adopted that attitude in the first place is that then and now, I see myself first and foremost as a writer and editor. When I returned to Kitt Peak in 2008, I feared my writing output would fall off because of my job’s demands. I’m pleased to look back at the previous decade and realize that I actually produced more novels than in any previous decade.

In a very real way, the 2010s were the decade of the Clockwork Legion. These are my steampunk novels that chronicle what happens to Earth when a microscopic alien swarm arrives on Earth in 1876 and begins tampering with events in hopes of avoiding a worldwide catastrophe. Instead of averting catastrophe, the alien sets off the Russian invasion of the United States. Fortunately, a healer named Fatemeh Karimi and a disgraced sheriff named Ramon Morales are there to set things right.

The first novel was published in 2011. Although the original publisher changed focus, the series was picked up by Sky Warrior books and a new edition came out in 2014 quickly followed by the second novel, Lightning Wolves. In that novel, our characters find themselves caught between the miners of Southern Arizona, the Apache Nation, and the Clantons, all while the Russians continue their invasion from the first book.

In 2016’s The Brazen Shark, our characters travel to Japan and then to Russia where they bring the story of the alien’s visit to a conclusion. In 2018, I published Owl Riders, which is set ten years later and looks at the world in the aftermath of the alien’s interference and returns to resolve the conflicts set up in the second novel.

At this point, I don’t plan for the Clockwork Legion to be a series limited to the books created in the 2010s. I want to tell more about Ramon and Fatemeh’s adventures, but they are paused while I work on some other projects. In the meantime, you can learn more about the Clockwork Legion novels by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

The Clockwork Legion series wasn’t the only one I worked on this past decade. I also wrote a second book in my Scarlet Order vampire series. 2012’s Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order was actually a prequel to Vampires of the Scarlet Order. The Scarlet Order is a band of vampires who use their preternatural powers to fight as mercenaries. Dragon’s Fall tells the story of how the Scarlet Order was formed. We first meet Alexandra, a former Greek slave who becomes a vampire thief. Then we travel to King Arthur’s court where one of his rivals becomes a vampire and initiates the Holy Grail quest in hopes of finding redemption. Draco fails to find redemption through the Grail, but he meets Alexandra in his on-going quest. You can learn more about this novel at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

Dragon’s Fall wasn’t my only excursion into horror. In 2016, I released The Astronomer’s Crypt, which imagines astronomers, drug dealers, ghosts, and Apache demons colliding during a terrible storm at an observatory in Southern New Mexico. Of course, this novel does pull a lot from my job at Kitt Peak National Observatory and I probably wouldn’t have been able to write it if I had not returned to telescope operations. On the surface, The Astronomer’s Crypt is a haunted house story inspired by the very labyrinthine Mayall building at Kitt Peak. However, it also imagines what might happen if different layers of existence hinted at through ancient stories collided with our contemporary and comfortable reality. You can learn more about The Astronomer’s Crypt and watch a cool book trailer at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt.html

I finished the decade by returning to a series that really had its genesis way back in the 1980s while I was still in graduate school. In the 2000s when the series was with Lachesis Publishing, I was asked to create a name for the series. On the fly, I came up with “The Old Star/New Earth Series.” I never really liked that name because it didn’t really capture what the series was about. I’ve now reinvented the series as “The Space Pirates’ Legacy” and my last book of the 2010s was a new first book in this series, Firebrandt’s Legacy. It tells the story of a space pirate named Ellison Firebrandt and his band of buccaneers as they pillage ships for Earth’s benefit. I’m currently working on rewriting the first book I ever wrote, The Pirates of Sufiro, which is also the second book of this series. I hope to release the new edition in a few weeks. You can learn more about Firebrandt’s Legacy at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/Firebrandts-Legacy.html

Looking back, that’s seven novel in ten years. I spent most of the 2000s as a freelance writer and wrote four novels. So, at some level, I needn’t have worried about about the observatory lessening my output. That said, I do find as the decade ends that I’m writing fewer short stories and poems now than I did at the beginning of the decade. One of my goals for this coming decade will be to spend more time on some of my shorter works again. Also, one of my first goals of the decade is to finish re-releasing the rest of “The Space Pirates Legacy” series. Concurrent with that, I hope to begin work on a new novel. I haven’t decided for certain what that will be. I’d love to visit Ramon and Fatemeh again. Also, The Astronomer’s Crypt was always meant to be the first book in a trilogy, so I may return to that world for a while. Either way, this promises to be another fun and productive decade.

End of Year Sales

As the year draws to a close, Hadrosaur Productions is pleased to offer our ebooks at a discount through the Smashwords End of Year Sales Event. All of our books normally priced higher than $1.00 are on sale through tomorrow. This is a great chance to load up your e-reader with some great new books.

Travel to the Past

Fallen Angel is the story of Mabel, an angel from Hell, who accompanies General Grant’s army during the last days of the Civil War only to discover that Martians are watching the Earth with envious eyes and slowly drawing their plans against us. Not only that, but Mabel has to contend with her evil sister, who wants to have humans for dinner. Use discount code SEY50 to get Fallen Angel for just $1.50 at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/924099

Sugar Time collects Joy V. Smith’s Sugar Sweet stories into one volume. When Sugar Sweet’s Uncle Max falls ill and his collaborators disappear, she investigates the old Victorian mansion where he conducted his research. She soon finds the collaborators — or what’s left of them — along with an angry Neanderthal. She also finds her uncle’s research project, a working time machine. Sugar Time is available for $1.50 with discount code SEY50 at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/567992

In Revolution of Air and Rust, tt’s 1915 and the American Expeditionary Force has invaded Northern Mexico. Pancho Villa leads his revolutionary army in a desperate raid against the American force only to be outflanked. Just as American airships prepare to deliver the death blow, Pancho Villa is transported to a parallel Earth where he finds an unexpected ally and the technology that might turn defeat into victory. Revolution of Air and Rust is available for $1.50 with discount code SEY50 at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/254622

Great Story Collections

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 in this anthology of science fiction stories about planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission. Kepler’s Cowboys is available for 75% off the cover price with coupon code SEY75 at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/698694

Explore P’Eng-Lai, the legendary home of the immortals in Tales of the Talisman volume 8, issue 3. Travel to an exotic future inhabited by the bee and wolf tribes. Join a quest for a druid’s master — just be careful, the master has been dabbling in forbidden magic! Climb rugged mountains in search of dragon eggs and power. These and other tales of the imagination await in this issue of Tales of the Talisman. This issue is available for $1.50 using discount code SEY50 at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/377360

Thanks to all the readers out there who have made 2019 a year to remember. I wish you a wonderful and prosperous 2020 filled with good books, new discoveries and amazing adventures.

Books for a Buck

Did you receive a new e-reader or a tablet this week? Does it need some good books? Are you just looking for some good reading for the new year? If so, I’m here to help you out! Smashwords is having its annual End of Year Sale and Hadrosaur Productions is happy to be one of the participating publishers. All of our books are on sale and many of them are available for only $1.00 apiece. Read on to learn more about them. Remember, when you check out, make sure coupon code SEY75 has been applied to receive your ebook for only $1.00. The sale only lasts until New Year’s Day, so don’t wait too long!

Hybrid, The Ethereal War

In Armageddon’s Son, Ex-CIA Agent Erik Knight is recruited to assist his mentor, Martin Denton, in discovering the identity of the mysterious thief who stole the Ruby Crucifix of Christ from the very heart of Vatican City. In order to solve the mystery, the agents must accept that the world as they know it is mere illusion, hiding a brutal physical and spiritual war of ‘Good’ versus ‘Evil’. You can get Armageddon’s Son for $1.00 at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/928557

The hidden battle between good and evil approaches a boiling point in Battle Lines. CIA Agent Erik Knight and his trusted ally, Martin Denton, must confront demons, angels, aliens, corrupt politicians and evasive clergymen as they hunt down the demon Molec in a desperate, final attempt to avoid a catastrophic, world-ending battle which would have repercussions across the galaxy and the multiverse. You can get Battle Lines for $1.00 at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/957504

Science Fiction Novels

In The Solar Sea, whales around the world changed their songs the day scientists announced the discovery of new particles around Saturn’s largest moon which could solve Earth’s energy needs. The Quinn Corporation rushes to build a solar sail space craft to unlock the secrets of these strange new particles. The crew makes a grand tour of the solar system and discovers wonders and dangers beyond their imagination. You can buy The Solar Sea at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/805692

In Firebrandt’s Legacy, Ellison Firebrandt fights the good fight for Earth. Under a letter of marque, he raids the ships of Earth’s opponents, slowing down their progress and ability to compete with the home system. On the planet Epsilon Indi 2, he rescues a woman named Suki Mori from a drug lord, only to find she isn’t so happy about living a pirate’s life. However, when the captain finds a new engine that will make him the most successful pirate of all, Suki is the only one who can make it work. Now Firebrandt must find a way to keep his crew fed and his ship supplied while relying on a woman who barely trusts him and while every government in the galaxy hunts him to get the engine back! Try Firebrandt’s Legacy for only $1.00 at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/916916

Two Great Collections

Legends of the Dragon Cowboys brings you two weird western adventures by authors David B. Riley and Laura Givens. Their heroes ride boldly out of the Far East to find their way in a mythic land of danger, romance, and adventure. Their heroes encounter Mayan gods, Native American spirits, Yeti, Voodoo despots and more! The Wild West just got a lot wilder! Get Legends of the Dragon Cowboys at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/751811

A Kepler’s Dozen presents thirteen 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, editor of Tales of the Talisman Magazine, and Steve B. Howell, project scientist for the Kepler mission. You can get A Kepler’s Dozen for just $1.00 at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/325583

Remember all of our books are on sale. If you you didn’t see something you like here, please visit hadrosaur.com and browse the books there. To find the books on sale, just visit the Smashwords link on the books’ detail page.

Steampunk Christmas

To me, steampunk and Christmas go hand in hand. Steampunk is all about Victorian-inspired fantasy worlds. What’s more, Victorians in England and America gave us many of the trappings of the modern secular Christmas. Thomas Nast in New York gave us wonderfully detailed renderings of Santa in his workshop, using such scientific gadgets as telephones and telescopes to fulfill his mission of figuring out who was naughty and who was nice. In the meantime, Charles Dickens unleashed a series of ghosts on miserly Ebenezer Scrooge.

So, when I wrote my first steampunk novel, Owl Dance, it seemed natural to include a scene about Christmas. It’s a simple scene. Ramon Morales and Fatemeh Karimi find themselves in a poor part of San Francisco with little money. Ramon gives Fatemeh a simple gift. Always curious about other people’s religions, Fatemeh asks Ramon how people celebrate Christmas. He tells her many people celebrate with song. She then asks Ramon to sing a song of the angels, anticipating their travels to Los Angeles after the holidays. You can learn more about Owl Dance at http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html. If you’ve already read and enjoyed the novel, remember there are three more novels in the series. You can find out about them at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion.

Music is an important part of this scene because I see music as an important part of both Christmas and the steampunk aesthetic. That said, I don’t own a lot of Christmas albums. Because I grew up in a Christian family, we sang Christmas carols in church and would go out caroling. The one album that was an important part of my family’s Christmas tradition growing up was A Tennessee Ernie Ford Christmas Special. It’s just chock full of a lot of the old traditional carols sung reverently in Tennessee Ernie Ford’s booming bass voice that made the song “Sixteen Tons” a hit back in the day.

In one fun bit of trivia, I learned not too long ago that while Tennessee Ernie Ford did indeed hail from Tennessee, he actually became famous while he was working as a radio announcer for KFXM in my home town of San Bernardino, California after World War II.

A more recent favorite album is Abney Park’s Through Your Eyes on Christmas Eve. As I mentioned in my recent post Music Through the Ages, Abney Park’s songwriter and lead singer, Robert Brown, has a great understanding of older songs. The album’s title song is a new one that longs for the innocence of Christmas as seen through a child’s eyes. The rest of the album is filled with some great classic Christmas songs given the band’s signature treatment, which can include some minor key weirdness to offset the sweetness of the season and some unabashed playfulness with the classic songs. You can find this album at their website: http://abneypark.com/market/.

Whether your Christmas is more secular or sacred, I hope you have a wonderful one. If you celebrate a different winter holiday, may it be a blessed and peaceful time. If you don’t celebrate anything, I hope you at least have some time to relax enjoying what you love best. Happy Holidays!