The Chimera Brigade

Earlier this month, I was a guest at the Gaslight Steampunk Expo in San Diego, California. The theme was the 1889 Universelle Exposition du Paris where Gustave Eiffel built the largest structure on the planet to date. I knew the country that produced Jules Verne had a strong interest in steampunk. I was aware of Jacques Tardi’s Adèle Blanc-Sec comic series and the wonderful movie April and the Extraordinary World, also inspired by Tardi’s work. I also knew the steampunk-flavored animated musical La Méchanique du Coer. I wanted to see what else the French had produced.

It takes a little bit of detective work to find good books and comics which aren’t published in English, especially if you don’t speak the native language. I did come across an article that recommended the novel Confessions d’un automate mangeur d’opium by Fabrice Colin and Mathieu Gaborit. The title translates as “Confessions of an Opium Eater Automaton.” Set in a Paris whose skies buzz with flying machines, it tells the story of a young actress and her psychiatrist brother who investigate a mysterious death and become entangled in a story involving automata and even Queen Victoria. Sadly, the novel hasn’t been translated into English, but I did discover another work by Fabrice Colin. La Brigade Chimérique is a comic Colin created with Serge Lehman and the title translates as The Chimera Brigade. The comic was translated and published in the United States by Titan Comics.

The Chimera Brigade isn’t exactly steampunk in that it’s set well after the Victorian era in 1938, however it’s clearly the product of the same kind of alternate historical roots. In effect, the comic feels like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets The Justice Society of America. In the opening chapters, we learn that super powered beings emerged in World War I as Marie Curie worked in the trenches using her radium to help wounded soldiers.

Now in 1938, German super powered beings are posed to take over as the master race while in the Soviet Union a more communist-oriented team called “We” has a different vision for Europe. Caught in the middle is Marie Curie’s daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie, who is trying to understand how the super-powered beings were created in the first place so she can keep Europe from falling into chaos. The heroes and villains themselves are a mix of historical figures and characters from classic European pulp stories. The writers coined the term “radiumpunk” to describe their story’s genre.

The story can be a bit of a slow burn compared to American comics which need a fight scene every issue. This reads more like a novel where the plot unfolds over time and we get fascinating insights into the nature of superheroes courtesy the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and Carl Jung.

Six issues of The Chimera Brigade were translated into English. As far as I can tell from the French Amazon site, that’s the complete original run. Like many comics, the story doesn’t quite seem complete, however I do see a new Chimera Brigade title listed on the site for publication in 2022. I hope this new story will be available in the United States and will answer some of the questions left from the original story.

The Martian Chronicles

Last month, I received an ad from Big Finish productions saying that their production of The Martian Chronicles would be going out of print soon. This audio production starred Derek Jacobi and Hayley Atwell whose performances I love. What’s more, Big Finish offered the production at a very nice clearance price, so I picked it up. It turns out the production was a dramatization of three stories that comprise what might be called the “Captain Wilder arc” in Bradbury’s famous collection along with one other story. The stories dramatized were “—And the Moon Be Still as Bright,” “The Off Season,” “The Long Years,” and “The Million-Year Picnic.” The production proved quite good and it made me want to go back and re-read The Martian Chronicles in its entirety. My only regret is that I discovered the production so near the end of its production run, I can’t steer you to it to listen for yourselves.

The Martian Chronicles is a classic example of a “fix-up” novel. It’s a batch of short stories, related by their setting on Mars and follow a rough narrative arc. The narrative arc describes the exploration of Mars by humans, how the Martians resisted human colonization, how humans prevailed and began to settle and ultimately how conflict back on Earth caused most humans to abandon the red planet. Unlike most novels, we don’t really follow one set of characters through these stories. Each story is its own independent narrative. The exception is the Wilder arc. Captain Wilder and members of his crew turn up in three of the stories. In the audio production, Derek Jacobi plays the good captain and we effectively see an abridged version of the full collection’s narrative arc through his eyes.

The Martian Chronicles

I first read The Martian Chronicles in high school. Soon after reading the book, I was fortunate enough to meet Ray Bradbury and he signed my copy. It was fun to look back in the book and see the chapters attributed to the distant future of 1999 and the early 2000s. When Bradbury signed my book in 1983, those years were still just enough in the future to make me wonder if the adventures could happen. When I re-read the book, I decided to get an ebook copy, so I could keep my signed copy in the best possible shape. I was surprised to learn that Bradbury and his publisher had actually revised the book after I read it. Those first missions were moved from 1999 to 2030. A story was removed and two more were added.

At first, I was disappointed that the ebook I picked up wasn’t identical to the version of The Martian Chronicles I’d first read back in the 1980s. But after a little bit, I decided to give this new version a try. After all, I’ve been working on a cycle of revising some of my first novels, some of which started life as fix-ups, to make them better. I did enjoy my read and I learned that the dramatizations weren’t slavish adaptations of Bradbury’s words. They interpreted the material and breathed new life into it, letting me see Bradbury’s words in a new light, which is something good drama can and should accomplish.

The Pirates of Sufiro

I was also surprised and delighted to discover ways The Martian Chronicles influenced my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro. The first chapters of Pirates were written as short stories and the narrative arc I created to weave them together told the story of a colony’s rise and how human nature almost brought it crashing down again. I’ve never mastered Bradbury’s talent for beautiful prose, but I see how his love of his youth and family story helped me to take inspiration from my own youth and the stories of my own family when weaving a story set far from Earth. I learned to take the issues that concerned me and weave them into a new story. I was also fascinated to see that when Bradbury felt a part of his original vision was no longer fresh and new, he was willing to update it. If you’d like to learn more about The Pirates of Sufiro, the story I started dreaming up in the years after I met Ray Bradbury, visit http://davidleesummers.com/pirates_of_sufiro.html

Bad-Ass Women

Late August through early October 2021 has proven to be a busy convention season for me. Most of the conventions have still been virtual, but I have cautiously returned to attending some in-person events. The first virtual convention I attended during this period was Bubonicon 52 Take 2 on August 20-21. Even if you missed it, they posted all of their panels on their YouTube channel in a playlist at: https://youtu.be/eIJoVSjxmlI.

Two weeks later on Labor Day weekend, I gave a science presentation and spoke on seven panels at the virtual CoKoCon. Sessions were held on Discord and Zoom. Unfortunately, these panels don’t seem to have been posted for later viewing, but the discussions were fun and lively. We discussed such topics as writing weird western fiction, keeping classic monsters fresh and new, and the differences between publishing in the small press and larger presses.

At both conventions, I was on a panel with a similar name. At CoKoCon, the panel was called “Bad-Ass Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy.” In that panel, the emphasis was largely on our favorite characters in the genres. At Bubonicon, the title was “Writing Bad-Ass Women” and the panel focused more on the process of writing strong women. The latter panel is available to watch here:

Most of us agreed that there haven’t been enough bad-ass women in science fiction and family, but that the situation is improving. As you can see, there were more men on the Bubonicon panel than women. Still, we all agreed that the process largely involves channeling those bad-ass women we have known in our lives and the ones we do admire in fiction and adapting those traits to our characters. At CoKoCon, I was the only man on the panel. Some of the favorite characters mentioned included Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek, Ellen Ripley in the Alien movies, and Dr. Ellie Arroway in Carl Sagan’s Contact.

I think it should be clear from the list that bad-ass doesn’t always mean “kick-ass.” These women aren’t all characters who emphasize physical prowess. They’re smart characters who think through solutions. An interesting favorite character mentioned at CoKoCon was Tank Girl from the comics and movie of the same name. Although I knew of the character, I didn’t know much about her. I’ve since read some of the comics and watched the movie and may discuss her further in a future post, but among her striking characteristics were her fearlessness and irreverence.

One of the reasons I volunteered for these panels is that I believe in writing bad-ass women into my stories. Whether it’s Marcella and Jane in the Scarlet Order Vampire series, Fatemeh Karimi and Larissa Crimson in the Clockwork Legion series, or Suki Mori and her daughter Suki Firebrandt Ellis in the Space Pirates’ Legacy series, I endeavor to model these characters on the many bad-ass women I’ve known and admired in real life. One area that was mentioned in both panels were the lack of older women mentor figures. A few were named and again, this is an area where improvement is beginning to happen. One of my favorite strong women leaders from my own fiction is Admiral Ayumba Mukombe in Firebrandt’s Legacy. After being on these panels, I’m certainly tempted to tell more of her story. You can learn more about Admiral Mukombe and the other characters from my fiction at http://davidleesummers.com/

Cosmos 1 Solar Sail

The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft has been demonstrating the viability of solar sailing for a little over two years now and the society recently debuted a retrospective video called Sailing the Light. Given these events, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the Planetary Society’s first attempt at launching a solar sail, the ill-fated Cosmos 1. The design ideas implemented in Cosmos 1 were ones I used when creating the Aristarchus for my novel, The Solar Sea.

Cosmos 1 Model Built by David Lee Summers

Cosmos 1 was primarily developed in Russia with oversight from The Planetary Society in the United States. The Planetary Society also provided system design expertise along with subsystem development, such as designing the onboard radio system. The craft’s design involved eight triangular sails deployed on inflatable booms. Motors at the ends of the booms allowed the sails to turn in pairs. This allowed them to optimize the amount of sunlight collected. Solar sails are propelled by the momentum from sunlight, so a solar sail in orbit wants to catch as much sunlight as possible when moving away from the sun. When moving toward the sun, the blades turn sideways, so the solar sail doesn’t slow down. I incorporated the turning boom design into my fictional solar sail. By the way, if you would like to build a Cosmos 1 model, I discovered that the instructions are still online. The pattern and instructions are free at: http://spacecraftkits.com/cosmos1/

The Russians finished building Cosmos 1 in 2005. They planned to send it into space with a Volna Rocket launched from a nuclear submarine. The expectation was that the rocket could carry Cosmos 1 to an orbital distance of 820 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. Just as a comparison, LightSail 2 orbits at about 710 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. Unfortunately the June 21, 2005 launch of Cosmos 1 failed and the rocket crashed into the sea. As I mentioned, The Planetary Society debuted a video about the current LightSail 2 mission called Sailing the Light. I watched the YouTube premier as it happened. You can see it here.

In the video, they talk about upcoming NASA solar sail missions Solar Cruiser and NEA Scout. Solar Cruiser is a significantly larger solar sail than Lightsail 2. Solar Cruiser would be 1650 square meters compared to LightSail 2’s 32 square meters. NEA Scout will be 86 square meters and will have the mission of looking for potentially harmful asteroids.

The Solar Sea

LightSail 2 accomplishes the turning maneuvers I mentioned above, not by turning its sails, but by using momentum wheels inside the space craft. It takes a couple of minutes to turn the craft ninety degrees. With new NASA solar sails in the works, I wondered if anyone was considering a return to the Cosmos 1 design anytime in the near future. I was able to pose that question to LightSail 2’s project scientist Dr. Bruce Betts at the end of the video. In effect, he says that in the near term, most projects are now developing square sails with reaction wheels to turn the craft.

You can read about my fictional solar sail in my novel The Solar Sea. It imagines an entrepreneur building a manned solar sail spaceship and taking it to Titan to search for mysterious particles that appear to travel through time. Along the way, the crew visits Mars and Jupiter and they find clues that we may not be alone in the universe after all. Learn more about the book and watch the book trailer at: http://davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html

Talk Like a Pirate Sales

Shiver me deck plates and roll out the laser cannons! There be plunder off the port bow!

This past Sunday was International Pirate Day and I thought I would mark the occasion by putting some of my favorite pirate stories on sale for the week. As I noted last year on International Talk Like a Pirate Day, Wikipedea tells us the event was started by John Baur and Mark Summers (no relation that I know of) who proclaimed September 19 each year as the day when everyone in the world should talk like a pirate. Of course, when they say everyone should talk like a pirate, they mean everyone should talk like Robert Newton who played Long John Silver in Disney’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island. To mark the occasion, I’m giving readers 25% off the first two volumes of my Space Pirates’ Legacy novels at Smashwords. For good measure, I’ve also added Vampires of the Scarlet Order to the sale.


Firebrandt’s Legacy

Firebrandt’s Legacy is the first book of my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. In the novel, 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!

According to Midwest Book Review: “Firebrandt’s Legacy is a rip-roaring space adventure! Privateer Ellison Firebrandt pursues the ships of Earth’s enemies under a letter of marque. But when he stumbles across an extraordinary woman who knows the secrets to a new type of engine that every government wants for its own ends, he and his crew get swept into a maelstrom of galactic proportions! A grand space opera filled with high adventure from cover to cover, Firebrandt’s Legacy is highly recommended.”

You can pick up Firebrandt’s Legacy for 25% off the cover price through the end of the week at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/916916


The Pirates of Sufiro

The Pirates of Sufiro is the second novel of my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. It’s the story of a planet and its people—of Ellison Firebrandt the pirate captain living in exile; of Espedie Raton, a man from the streets of Earth looking to make a fresh start for himself and his wife on a new world; of Peter Stone, the geologist who discovers a fortune and will do anything to keep it; and of the lawman, Edmund Ray Swan who travels to Sufiro seeking the quiet life but finds a dark secret. It is the story of privateers, farmers, miners, entrepreneurs, and soldiers—all caught up in dramatic events and violent conflicts that will shape the destiny of our galaxy.

Author Jane Lindskold says: “When I first ‘met’ Ellison Firebrandt in Firebrandt’s Legacy, the last thing I even imagined was a future where our hero and his devoted crew did not immerse themselves in swashbuckling space battles with clever intrigues played out against challenging opponents within the dark reaches of outer space. Firebrandt’s creator, author David Lee Summers, was far more ambitious in the future he envisioned for his hero.

“In The Pirates of Sufiro Firebrandt faces challenges that press even his courageous heart and clever mind to the limit, as well as testing the loyalty of those he loves and trusts most deeply. This dynamic generational saga provides enough twists and turns to satisfy the most devoted space opera fan.”

The Pirates of Sufiro is 25% off the cover price through the end of the week at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1031018


Vampires of the Scarlet Order

Vampires of the Scarlet Order features one of my favorite real-life pirates, Grace O’Malley. Her scene is short but fun.

In the novel, a new generation of vampires embarks on a quest to save humanity.

Opening a forgotten crypt during a military exercise, Dr. Jane Heckman is made a vampire and begins a journey to unlock the secret origins of her new kindred.

Elsewhere, solitary vampire Marcella DuBois emerges from the shadows and uncovers a government plot to create vampire-like super soldiers.

Daniel McKee, a vampire working as an astronomer, moves to a new town where he’s adopted by a family, only to have government agents strip those he loves away from him.

All three vampires discover the government is dabbling in technologies so advanced they’ll tap into realms and dimensions they don’t understand. To save humans and vampires alike, Jane, Marcella, and Daniel must seek out the legendary master vampire Desmond, Lord Draco and encourage him to resurrect his band of mercenaries, the Scarlet Order.

Author Neal Asher says Vampires of the Scarlet Order is “A novel with bite. An amalgam of Blade and The Name of the Rose with a touch of X-Files thrown in for good measure.”

Vampires of the Scarlet Order is available for 25% off the cover price through the end of the week at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1038560

The Magnificent Five

As I’ve noted in earlier blog posts, I’ve been listening to the Gerry Anderson Podcast, which distributes new episodes to various podcast platforms on Mondays. Recently, they introduced an audio book and novel by co-host Richard James called Five Star Five: John Lovell and the Zargon Threat. The audio book is available from Big Finish Productions and I downloaded it so the family could listen while taking my youngest child back to college a couple of weeks ago. Five Star Five was the name of a movie project Gerry Anderson was developing after Space: 1999 and I’ve often heard it called his answer to Star Wars. A script had been completed, studio space had been secured, and work on pre-production began when the project was abruptly halted because one of the major investors pulled out of the project. Unfortunately, the project was never finished.

That’s where Richard James comes in. He took the script and turned it into a novel this year, so the rest of us could finally learn more about Five Star Five. The premise is that the evil Zargon Empire plans to take over the peaceful planet Kestra. On Kestra, Colonel Zana seeks a champion to help save them from the threat. So far, this does sound a bit like Star Wars. The person she hopes to recruit is John Lovell, a freelance freighter pilot who reminded me a little of Han Solo, right down to his hirsute co-pilot Clarence. As it turns out, Clarence is a talking chimpanzee. At first I thought the character would put me off, but it turned out elements of the character hearkened back to both Planet of the Apes and Rocket Racoon from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Once Lovell is maneuvered into helping the Kestrans, the story becomes less Star Wars and more The Magnificent Seven as Lovell goes out to recruit a team to help him defeat the Zargon invaders. His team includes a powerful, but sensitive robot, a mystic, and a kid who communicates telepathically with his robot dog.

Unlike other Big Finish productions I’ve listened to, this one is an audio book with Robbie Stevens serving as the sole narrator. Music and sound effects are provided by Benji Clifford. Stevens’ narration is so well done and his voices for the characters so well thought out, I almost felt like I was listening to a full-cast audio drama. I do highly recommend the audio edition. The total runtime of the audio is 5 hours and 19 minutes, so it does feel more in-depth than a movie, but the action never slows down.

John Lovell and the Zargon Threat also felt very much like a first adventure in a series. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gerry Anderson would have produced more movies in the series if the first had proven a success. I suspect the movie Gerry Anderson would have produced circa 1979 would have have rivaled both the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises in effects quality. What’s more, I thought this was a more engaging take on the idea of “The Magnificent Seven in Space” than 1980’s Battle Beyond the Stars. It would be fun if the folks at Anderson Entertainment decided to give us more Five Star Five adventures.

Peacekeeping in Oz

The final Oz novel by L. Frank Baum, Glinda of Oz, opens with Ozma and Dorothy deciding to pay a visit to the sorceress Glinda the Good. While there, Dorothy takes a peek at Glinda’s book that provides news of everything happening everywhere in the world. We learn that the book does not provide detailed accounts, but limits itself to the headlines and a brief summary, which does seem to foreshadow the news results from modern search engines. While browsing through the book, Dorothy learns that two of Oz’s peoples, the Skeezers and the Flatheads are preparing to go to war. Ozma promptly decides to put a stop to this nonsense. After a stop by the Emerald City to put the Scarecrow in charge during her absence, Ozma and Dorothy leave on a peacekeeping mission.

Dorothy and Ozma’s first destination is the mountain home of the Flatheads. As the name implies, these people all have flattened heads. In fact, their heads are flattened just above their eyebrows, which leaves no room for brains. So, they carry their brains around in cans. The Supreme Dictator of the Flatheads claims to be the smartest of the bunch because he has more than one can of brains, all because he took brains from others of his kind. It turns out, the Supreme Dictator is none too happy with Ozma’s interference and plans to imprison her. Thanks to some quick thinking on Ozma’s part, the two princesses escape and make their way to the island home of the Skeezers.

The Skeezers’ island has a great, glass dome and can be lowered into the lake. Queen Cu-ee-oh of the Skeezers isn’t much happier about Ozma’s interference and promptly arrests Oz’s monarch and her companion. She then lowers the island below the lake’s surface and commences to launch a submarine assault on the invading Flathead army. During the melee, Queen Cu-ee-oh is transformed into a diamond swan and forgets all the magic she knew to raise and lower the island. Dorothy and Ozma end up trapped and Ozma has no way to untangle the magic that lowered the island into the lake.

Fortunately, Glinda—remember this is a book about Glinda—sees in her big book that Dorothy and Ozma have been taken prisoner. She travels to the Emerald City and meets with the Scarecrow and Ozma’s advisors. They assemble a rescue party that consists of almost every major Oz character to date. This final book of Baum’s has some interesting perspectives on the limitation of magic in Oz and shows that it can’t simply fix every problem one might encounter.

Glinda of Oz was written at the tail end of World War I and was published in 1920, about a year after Baum’s passing. It’s clear he had things he wanted to say about the nature of war and war machines that can’t always be controlled by those who create them. The domed underwater city foreshadows many similar cities in later science fiction and fantasy novels. Although there’s a large rescue party at the end, it isn’t unwieldy. You get nice moments from the characters that make you glad to get to spend a little more time with them.

Although Glinda of Oz is the last of Baum’s Oz novels, it would not be the last Oz novel by a long shot. Baum’s publisher hired a writer named Ruth Plumly Thompson to take over the series. Between her and other authors such as illustrator John R. Neill, the canonical Oz series would continue until it reached forty novels.

Still, the real delight of the Oz series is that it was a series where both girls and boys could go on adventures. What’s more, both young and old could go on adventures. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em weren’t left behind on that Kansas farm while Dorothy had all the fun in a magical country. Those of us who write science fiction and fantasy do well to pay attention to Baum’s lessons. Over these posts exploring his novels, we’ve learned that Baum wasn’t perfect, but he left a series of novels that are still well worth reading. I hope this series has encouraged you to take a look at Baum’s Oz novels. If you have a favorite, I’d love to hear about it.

A Retread in Oz

The Magic of Oz was L. Frank Baum’s penultimate Oz novel. At “lucky” number 13, I expected great things. What I got was a rehash of story elements from earlier novels in the series. Hearkening back to The Road to Oz, it’s once again Ozma’s birthday. As the novel opens, our friends in Oz are scrambling to find the best presents for their beloved ruler. In the meantime, hearkening back to The Emerald City of Oz, our favorite nemesis, the former Nome King Ruggedo, is plotting his revenge on Dorothy and the gang. To achieve his aims, he teams up with a Munchkin lad named Kiki Aru, who lives high atop Mt. Munch. Because the mountain is so steep, the people who inhabit the mountain haven’t interacted much with the other people of Oz. This brought to mind the Frogman and Cayke the Cookie Cook from The Lost Princess of Oz. Even the conflict’s resolution recalls the ending of The Emerald City of Oz.

This is not to say the book lacks fun, it’s just that the best moments are more about the way these characters who have grown to know each other over several books interact than it is about the characters being in new situations. Trot, Cap’n Bill, and the glass cat go on a quest for a magical flower that constantly changes its blooms. Along the way, Trot and Cap’n Bill get into trouble and the glass cat, known for being a self-absorbed creature, must find help and save the day. In the meantime, we get to see Dorothy and the Wizard team up to create a magical birthday present for Ozma. During their quest, they stumble upon the villains trying to stir up trouble among the jungle animals. In a book like this which revisits so many plot threads from earlier novels, one might think the relationship between Dorothy and the Wizard would be hard to distinguish from the relationship between Trot and Cap’n Bill. However, Baum shows his deftness with characters and each set has their own, distinct “uncle-niece” relationship defined by their individual histories.

The Magic of Oz feels like one of those “filler” episodes of a long-running, but popular television show. It doesn’t really do anything to forward the story, but like the best of those episodes, you’re still happy to have spent time with the characters. Sadly, L. Frank Baum suffered a stroke and died about a month before this novel was released. I couldn’t find any information about his health at the time he wrote the novel, but this does feel like the work of a person struggling to provide a satisfying tale to hungry readers. He did write one more novel in the series, which would be published about a year after his death. We’ll pay our final tribute to L. Frank Baum in that post.

The Necromancer of Oz

The twelfth Oz book seeks to answer a question that has been lingering since the series began. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it’s revealed that Nick Chopper became the Tin Woodsman because he had the misfortune of falling in love with Munchkin lass who happened be enslaved by the Wicked Witch of the East. The Wicked Witch didn’t like Nick distracting her servant so she enchanted his axe. Eventually, poor Nick chopped off every part of his body. As each amputation occurred, a friendly tinsmith replaced the part until he was all made of Tin. Unfortunately, he got caught in a rainstorm and rusted in place until Dorothy found him. Afterwards, he went with Dorothy in search of a heart, because he could no longer feel love. So, what happened after Nick got the heart? So far in the series, we never heard any mention that he went back to seek out the fair lass, whose mistress Dorothy dispatched when she dropped a Kansas farmhouse on her.

As The Tin Woodman of Oz opens, a munchkin named Woot the Wanderer pays a visit to the Tin Woodsman’s castle and they exchange stories. Woot asks what happened to the girl. The Tin Woodsman explains that although the Wizard of Oz gave him a kind heart, it wasn’t a loving heart, so he never felt the need to seek out the girl, who we learn is named Nimmie Amee. Woot and the Scarecrow call the Tin Woodman on this and inform him that it certainly wasn’t kind never to return to Nimmie Amee and let her know what happened. So they decide to go on a quest to find the munchkin lass. If she still wants to marry Nick, he will consent … out of kindness, of course.

As the quest proceeds, we learn a little of the history of Oz. We hear how the Fairy Queen Lurline saw Oz isolated by the deadly desert and turns it into a fairyland where no one can ever die. In this part of the novel, we learn, “…when Oz first became a fairyland, it harbored several witches and magicians and sorcerers and necromancers, who were scattered in various parts…” When I heard this part, I had to pause and consider the necromancers of Oz. In a weird way, the book doesn’t just mention this idea, it eventually explores the idea.

Over the course of their adventures, Nick, the Scarecrow, and Woot meet up with Pollychrome the Rainbow’s daughter and also find yet another tin man rusted in place in the very same woods where Dorothy had found Nick. This tin man is a soldier named Captain Fyter. It turns out that after Nick became a tin man and rusted in place, Captain Fyter came along and also fell in love with Nimmie Aimee, who was heartbroken because Nick had vanished. The Wicked Witch of the East enchanted his sword and the same fate that happened to Nick, happened to Captain Fyter. Like Nick, Captain Fyter went to a nearby tin smith and was rebuilt. The two tin men decide to visit Nimmie Aimee together to see if she will marry either of them. Nick and Fyter visit the home of Nimmie Aimee and find she’s no longer around. So they decide to visit the tinsmith who made them into tin men to see if he knows what happened to her.

Now, remember that bit about how no one can ever die in Oz? When they get to the tinsmith’s house, they find he isn’t around. Nick looks around the house, opens a cupboard and lo and behold he finds his old head! He then goes on to have a conversation with his old head and finds his old self somewhat disagreeable. What’s more, when the tinsmith returns, we learn that he used the organic or “meat” parts of Nick Chopper and Captain Fyter to create yet another creature he names Chopfyt, which we ultimately meet and find it has its own personality. In effect, we do learn that the tinsmith who made the tin woodman and tin soldier is kind of a necromancer of Oz, which leads me to ponder other story possibilities about other creatures we thought long gone.

I found this exploration of how much the tin woodman and the tin soldier are like their original human forms really fascinating because of how much the scenes anticipate science fiction of almost fifty years later where writers would contemplate what happens to consciousness when the mind is transferred into a robot or a computer. I edited one such novel called Upstart Mystique by Don Braden. You can learn more about it at: http://hadrosaur.com/UpstartMystique.php

Finally, before I sign off, the virtual CoKoCon is this coming weekend. I’ll be discussing such topics as exoplanets, the weird west, badass women of science fiction, speculative poetry and magical creatures. You can find the schedule and register to attend for free at: http://www.cokocon.org/2021/index.html. The convention is all virtual, so you just need Zoom and/or Discord to attend the events from wherever you happen to be. Hope you’ll join us!

Marvel Comics in Oz

While reading L. Frank Baum’s original Oz novels, I discovered that Marvel Comics ran an Oz series from 2009 through 2012. Written by Eric Shanower with art by Skottie Young, the series adapted the first six Oz novels into comic format. Shanower is a long-time Oz fan and knows the books and characters well. He’s also an artist in his own right and I first discovered his work by finding his illustrations of Oz characters, which are strongly inspired by John R. Neill’s illustrations for the original novels.

Skottie Young started at Marvel drawing such titles as Spider-Man: Legend of the Spider Clan, Human Torch, and Venom. He was soon tapped to take on the Oz series. I have to admit, when I first encountered these adaptations the art almost kept me from diving in. It was a little more stylized and, well, cartoonish than my taste in comic book art. However, the more I looked at the art, the more I was reminded of the surreal illustrations Tim Burton drew while imagining The Nightmare Before Christmas. There’s something about the illustrations that’s warm and loving, but just a little creepy, which actually suits the material nicely. I warmed to Young’s style even more after watching a video where he told how Oz helped him find his preferred artistic style. I really love his take on Dorothy, the Wizard, and the Tin Woodsman, along with characters like General Jinjur and Professor H.M. Wogglebug T.E. from the later books. He also does real justice to scary characters like the Wicked Witch of the West and Road to Oz’s terrifying Scoodlers.

The comics are almost word-for-word adaptations of the novels, which means the adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has many notable differences from the famous MGM movie. That said, I noticed that Eric Shanower didn’t slavishly adapt the Oz novels when writing these comics. In his adaptation of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, Shanower actually corrects a logic problem in the novel. Where L. Frank Baum gave us a deus ex machina ending, Shanower tweaks the resolution slightly and foreshadows it giving us some plot tension along the way. Yes, Shanower changes Baum, but he shows us how someone who knows and loves an author’s work can make it better. I suspect Baum would have approved.

After reading the six adapted novels, my primary complaint is that they didn’t continue to adapt the rest of Baum’s canon. Still, if you’re looking for a way to quickly see what the larger Oz universe has to offer, the Marvel Oz comics are a good place to jump in. They helped to refresh my memory of the first three novels, which I’d read several years ago. I then had fun seeing Shanower and Skottie’s adaptation of the three novels that began my current journey through Baum’s fantasy series. In 2020, Marvel brought the series out in three digest-sized volumes under the title Oz: The Complete Collection. Copies were available at both my local comic store and my local Barnes and Noble.