Sufiro Through the Years

2019 marks two important milestone anniversaries. 25 years ago, Kumie Wise, William Grother, and I formed Hadrosaur Productions. That same year saw the publication of my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, in audio form.

Hadrosaur Productions was founded to be a multimedia company, publishing books, producing audio books, and ultimately producing video projects. To prove the concept, I gathered a bunch of co-workers from Kitt Peak National Observatory and we recorded my first novel. I edited the audio recordings on primitive audio software and then had the master tapes duplicated. My wife and I took these around to science fiction conventions in Arizona and New Mexico and sold them at our first dealer’s tables. I have fond memories of these times since it was my introduction to fandom and response to this audio edition was generally positive. Looking back, fans liked seeing other fans get together and create something like this. As you can see the artwork is simple. It’s just a drawing of Captain Firebrandt, First Mate Roberts, and Suki ready to face life on the planet Sufiro. I drew the illustration. I also drew the Hadrosaur logo that would be the company logo for many years. As you’ll notice, I credited myself as “Dave L. Summers.” My name is common enough, I was looking for a way to set myself apart and I liked the way Dave L. Summers flowed off the tongue.

In 1995, I attended a writer’s conference at the University of Arizona where Ray Bradbury was the keynote speaker. An agent was also slated to attend and attendees were invited to send her their manuscripts. I sent mine and she agreed to represent it. The upshot is that she placed the book with a publisher and ultimately the mass market edition of The Pirates of Sufiro was released. As it turns out, Roberts never had a first name before this edition. The editor gave him the name Carter. I liked it well enough that I let it become canon. The cover of this edition features what appears to be simple stock art of a spaceship and a planet. The ship really doesn’t look like anything in the book, but I didn’t have a strong objection because it said “science fiction” and looked more professional than my line drawing. I’m also credited as “David L. Summers” here, the only time I used my name as I use it in scientific publications. Alas, my agent and my publisher both proved to be scam artists who worked to separate authors from their money. I never saw a dime from this edition other than from copies I sold myself and I ultimately had to go to court to get my publishing rights back. Still my experience wasn’t all bad. This edition did turn up on the shelves of the New Mexico State University Bookstore and Waldenbooks at the local mall and they even invited me to do a book signing. I also got a nice half-page write up about the book in the Las Cruces Sun-News.

Print on demand publishing was starting to get off the ground about the time I got my rights back. At that point, I had also gotten acquainted with several artists through my work editing Hadrosaur Tales Magazine. I hired Jeff Ward to do a cover for a new edition I would publish through Xlibris. This is the first professional cover for the book where I had full control of what appeared. Prominent on the cover are the faces of Captain Firebrandt and his grandson, Commander John Mark Ellis. At the bottom of the image is Firebrandt’s daughter, Suki Carter Firebrandt. She stands in front of Ward’s version of the Firebrandt homestead. Jeff has since gone on to do covers for such venues as Apex Magazine and the SFWA Bulletin. This version would only be used for four years. At that point, another cover artist I knew and worked with, Nick Johns, introduced me to one of his other clients, LBF Books. This edition is also the first one to credit me with the name I have used for most of my writing career: David Lee Summers. At this point, search engines existed and I looked long and hard to see which version of my name was relatively unique and wouldn’t be confused with a plethora of other David Summerses. I ultimately decided on my full, legal name. To me it sounded like a name a writer would use.

In 2004, Jacqueline Druga of LBF Books read and loved my newest novel, Vampires of the Scarlet Order. She asked what else I had and I mentioned The Pirates of Sufiro and its sequel Children of the Old Stars. Jackie asked to read them. She loved them and offered me a contract. Around that same time, I met artist Laura Givens at MileHiCon in Denver, Colorado and she asked if I knew any publishers looking for cover art. I introduced her to Nick and Jackie and they soon started working together. One of Laura’s first covers for LBF would be her cover for The Pirates of Sufiro. We decided to take the idea I had for the Xlibris cover and expand it across the series. The Pirates of Sufiro would feature Captain Firebrandt on the planet next to the homestead. Suki Firebrandt would appear on the cover of Children of the Old Stars in a habitat dome on Titan. John Mark Ellis would appear on the cover of the as-yet unwritten Heirs of the New Earth. For this version, Laura created what I now consider to be the iconic Firebrandt. In many ways, he bears a strong resemblance to the version I had way back in my first crude drawing on the cassette tape version.

Laura’s cover has been canonical for over ten years. When I re-envisioned the series as a four-book series called the Space Pirates’ Legacy, Laura improved on her iconic image of Captain Firebrandt for the new Book One, Firebrandt’s Legacy. So, it was natural that I would ask Laura to create the cover for the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Pirates of Sufiro. She has done so and I have to say, the newest version is the best yet. Come back on Saturday as I unveil the newest cover for an all-new and improved visit to the planet Sufiro.

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Lasers on Telescopes

For me, the phrase “lasers on telescopes” brings to mind super villains capturing top secret astronomical facilities in order to execute a nefarious plan. I think of Mr. Freeze capturing Gotham Observatory to build a giant freeze ray in the movie Batman and Robin. Perhaps a funnier and better example is Chairface Chippendale using a laser in a telescope to deface the moon with his name in the TV series The Tick.

Laser measuring tool (on yellow arm between black mirror covers) over the Mayall primary mirror.

In fact, lasers are used on telescopes. Perhaps the best known real-world examples are telescopes that use laser guide stars. This is a technique where astronomers fire a laser mounted on the telescope into the sky. The laser light is scattered by the atmosphere, but optics in the telescope correct that light back into the proper size beam and also correct the stars seen at the same time. We had a system like that at the 2.1-meter telescope at Kitt Peak run by CalTech. There was also a system like that at the 3.5-meter telescope at New Mexico’s Apache Point Observatory.

Now, these lasers are not ones that are likely to be co-opted for nefarious purposes by super villains. Lasers used for guide stars just aren’t that powerful. That said, they can’t be used with impunity. The artificial guide star laser at Kitt Peak was visible in the ultraviolet band and would interfere with optical telescopes also observing in that band. What’s more, I’ve been told Apache Point Observatory had to clear laser firings with the Air Force, who had a base nearby. The observatory’s laser wasn’t likely to shoot down planes, but we could imagine tragic results if a pilot happened to fly through a laser’s line of sight only to be blinded.

This past week, while working at the Mayall 4-meter telescope, we were also using a laser. In this case, it wasn’t fired at the sky, but the laser was mounted on the telescope’s mirror cell and fired at different surfaces on the telescope to get precise measurements. Now that the refit for DESI is nearing completion, the engineers need to make sure everything went back together as it was designed. They need to make sure all the new parts are placed in just the right place. If not, this is the time to make adjustments. Measurements of telescopes are important because they help to assure that astronomers can focus the telescope properly. Precise measurements are also critical to determine the proper weight distribution of the telescope, which in turn helps it track the sky precisely.

As it turns out, I also spent part of this past week working on an adaptive optics system a little like those laser systems I mentioned. However, the WIYN Tip-Tilt Module doesn’t actually use a laser. Instead, it takes precision measurements of an actual star and uses optics within the instrument to bring that star as close as possible to a precise point. I’ve seen it used to deliver incredible image quality with stars only 0.3 arcsecs across. To put that in perspective, star images with WIYN are typically more like 0.8 arcsec across. The size difference is the result of atmospheric blurring.

This all echoes something I’ve been saying in the past few blog posts. If something isn’t quite right, there are ways to fix it, even when its a multi-million dollar scientific project. By comparison, books are much easier to fix. It’s why beta readers and editors are so important to the writing process. They help us see places where we didn’t express ourselves clearly, made something work in an artificial way, or simply used the wrong word. It’s part of why reviews are so important. Reviews help customers, but they also help writers because they tell them what worked and didn’t work.

Over the years, reviews helped me refine my craft until I could write books like Owl Riders and Firebrandt’s Legacy. And yes, reviews are helping me shape the 25th anniversary edition of The Pirates of Sufiro, which I’m working on right now. I hope you’ll join me on a journey to one of the worlds I’ve created and, if you do, please leave a review to let me and others know what you thought. The titles in this paragraph are links where you can get more information about the books.

Stamp Collecting

One thing astronomers do is attempt to classify the objects they see by common properties. For example, stars that display similar chemical fingerprints in their spectra will be assigned a certain spectral type. Galaxies can be grouped by shape such as spiral, barred spiral, elliptical, and my favorite, irregular. Here’s a chart from NASA showing the numbers of exoplanets discovered as grouped by size of planet.

Back in my college days, we called this “stamp collecting.” It’s a somewhat derogatory term because it’s not necessarily the most exciting work in astronomy and its significance can be somewhat misleading. A great example is the whole “is Pluto a planet” debate which was sparked by classifying Pluto a dwarf planet. To my mind a “dwarf planet” is just a type of planet. After all, we orbit a dwarf star! (A G2V yellow dwarf main sequence star if you want more of the taxonomy.)

That said, this process of stamp collecting does serve an important purpose. By seeing how many of what types of objects are out in the universe, it helps us understand how the universe evolved. It helps us see patterns that show us how particular objects might have changed. For example, when I mentioned that the sun is a G2V main sequence star, that not only tells me what it is, but gives me some idea where the star is in its life cycle.

We do stamp collecting in the writing world as well. We classify books broadly by subject: science fiction, horror, romance, adventure, etc. We often take these individual classifications down even finer. A science fiction book can be described as hard science fiction, space opera, military science fiction and more. Like stamp collecting in astronomy, this can be an important process. It helps readers find what they want to read. However, it can also get overblown.

It’s become a reality in the publishing industry that an author’s name is a sort of brand, and authors often get classified right along with their books. Mary Smith writes military science fiction while John Jones writes space opera. Some writers even go so far as to pick different pseudonyms each time they explore not just a new genre, but a new subgenre.

I’ve been thinking about this lately in terms of my own writing career. For most of the last decade, I’ve been very focused on my Clockwork Legion steampunk novels. Now, I’m turning my focus more to my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. To my mind, the two series actually have a lot in common. There’s a real space cowboy vibe in the Space Pirates series that echoes the retrofuturism of the steampunk. Of course, this does cause some people to ask if I’ve finished the Clockwork Legion series or won’t do more steampunk. The answer to both is absolutely not. I think I have many more steampunk stories to tell and many of those will feature Ramon, Fatemeh, Larissa, and the rest of the gang. However, I also like telling stories about Captain Firebrandt, Roberts, and Manuel Raton.

For what it’s worth, I classify myself as a writer of fantastic tales with a retrofuturistic vibe. That captures my steampunk, my space cowboys, and even my vampires, especially when I write stories set in a historical context.

If you’re in Tucson, I hope you’ll join me tomorrow, Sunday, February 10 at 3:30pm at Antigone Books for the Tucson Steampunk Society’s book club meeting where I’ve been invited to discuss my fourth Clockwork Legion novel, Owl Riders, which recently was a top-ten finisher in the Predators and Editors Reader’s Poll for best steampunk novel of 2018. Copies of the novel are available at Antigone and if you let us know you haven’t read it yet, we’ll try not to give away too many spoilers. Antigone Books is located at 411 N. 4th Avenue in Tucson. If you can’t make it, the book club posts videos of the meeting that will be shared on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TucsonSteampunkSociety/

Magic and Mayhem in the Old West

This past week, I had the pleasure of reading Incident at Whisper Falls by J. Stephen Thompson. It’s a short weird western novel that opens when an outlaw gang rides into the titular town and unleashes mayhem. Meanwhile a mysterious cardinal appears to a reverend and offers to answer the town’s prayers of getting rid of the outlaws. From there, we jump ahead a few years and meet McCray, a bounty hunter trailing a conman named Spenser Townshend, a so-called Mystik who uses magic to disguise himself and cheat at cards. McCray handily captures Townshend and the two ride off together like Glenn Ford and Van Heflin in 3:10 to Yuma. In this case, McCray hopes to hand Townshend to the marshal at Whisper Falls.

Instead of Whisper Falls, they find a town called Dignity about 20 miles to the east of where Whisper Falls is marked on McCray’s map. What’s more, anyone who seems to know anything about Whisper Falls seems disinclined to talk about it to the bounty hunter. McCray and Townshend continue to where Whisper Falls should be and find that magical forces have removed the town from our plane of existence entirely. What follows is a battle between the forces of good and evil that has elements of both classic westerns and dark fantasy.

We’re accustomed to classic high fantasy being set against a medieval backdrop, but this is really something borne of fantasy’s roots in fairy tales. In fact, when many familiar fairy tales were first told, the people telling them were just telling stories about the people and places around them, or things that might have happened in their parents’ or grandparents’ generations. Another strong inspiration for modern fantasy tales are the heroic quests written by Renaissance writers who, in turn, had created idealized, romanticized versions of medieval knights and clerics to tell their moral tales.

Of course Renaissance writers weren’t the only ones to romanticize and idealize previous generations. The Japanese of the Meiji era created stories about idealized samurai. Here in America, we’ve created an idealized, mythic version of the Wild West. Add a little magic and a few monsters and these times and places become ideal settings for epic fantasy stories. Other great writers who’ve used a Wild West backdrop for their tales of epic fantasy include Stephen King in The Gunslinger and Jim Butcher in his story “A Fistful of Warlocks” from the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone.

Incident at Whisper Falls tells a satisfying, complete tale, but J. Stephen Thompson left several hooks for sequels to this first book of his Mystic America series. I look forward to seeing the further adventures of the bounty hunter McCray and his allies.

When Cultures Meet

This week at Kitt Peak National Observatory finds me working with an astronomer logged in and observing from Kyoto, Japan. Meanwhile, on our walkie talkies, we hear French as optical scientists from France work on the new spectrographs at the Mayall Telescope. A favorite memory of working at Kitt Peak involves an astronomer who left the control room at appointed hours to face Mecca and pray. One of the things I enjoy about my “day” job is the way people of different cultures come together to work toward the common goal of understanding the universe around us.

Morning meeting in the Mayall Control Room

At Kitt Peak, our cultural differences allow people to bring different life experiences to the table when solving problems. Language differences can teach us patience as we learn to communicate our goals with members of the same team and who share the same objective. Cultural diversity is also fun as we share our tastes in such things as music, movies, and food.

As someone whose family has lived in the United States since the early days of European colonization, my own culture is defined by a blending of melding of cultural influences from places like Germany, Scotland, and Mexico. Of course, history is replete with examples of people with different cultures having conflicting goals. The results include invasion, forced relocation, and cultural appropriation. There’s more than a little of that in my ancestral background as well on all sides of the issue.

I find the meeting of different cultures inherently fascinating. It forms a big part of my Clockwork Legion books such as The Brazen Shark and Owl Riders. I find it interesting to think what might have been if different cultures met on different terms and perhaps had different perspectives. In science fiction novels such as The Solar Sea, I echo much of what I see at work, people of different cultures coming together for a common goal.

All of this contributed to my excitement when Sheila Hartney proposed assembling an anthology of stories about exchange students to be published by Hadrosaur Productions. There’s a lot of potential for drama as people learn about each other and try to understand each other. Of course, since we publish science fiction and fantasy, Sheila wants to give this anthology a science fictional twist. We want to imagine exchange students coming together from other planets, across time, and across dimensions. Do you have a story of a vampire exchange student staying with a werewolf family? We want to see it? Do you have a story of someone from Earth going to Kepler-22b to study. We want to see it. Do you have a story of an elf studying in dwarven forges? I think you get the idea. The guidelines are at: http://www.hadrosaur.com/ExchangeStudents-gl.html. I hope we’ll see a submission from you.

Launching Firebrandt’s Legacy

I am proud to announce that my twelfth novel, Firebrandt’s Legacy, has officially launched! The title refers to Ellison Firebrandt, who 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!

This novel represents a milestone in a long journey. I created the character of Ellison Firebrandt for a short story I wrote as part of a workshop back in 1989. Yes, Ellison Firebrandt is 30 years old this year. He went on to become a protagonist in my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, which was first published in audio form in 1995, then saw print publication in 1997. I revisited the character in 2008 when I edited the anthology Space Pirates for Flying Pen Press and decided to tell a story about the good captain before he was stranded on the planet Sufiro. Over the next few years, that one story became a handful which appeared in a number of great anthologies edited by such talented people as Jennifer Brozek, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Carol Hightshoe, and J Alan Erwine.

Carol Hightshoe was the first to suggest that I collect these tales. As I looked at what I had, I realized I didn’t really have enough for a book, so a little over a year ago, I created a Patreon account as a way of motivating myself to write more stories in this world. It was a tremendous success and the book is now complete. I’m now using the Patreon to both fund and serve as motivation for a complete rewrite of The Pirates of Sufiro. If you sign up for my Patreon site before the end of February, you can get the ebooks of Firebrandt’s Legacy and The Solar Sea as immediate bonuses, plus you can see Pirates rewritten as it happens. The link is: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

Now, you might ask, if Firebrandt’s Legacy is a collection of short stories, why am I calling it a novel? One of my goals was to write the stories in such a way that there’s one continuous and satisfying story arc. Basically it’s a so-called “fix-up” novel. Yes, you can read it as short stories, but you can also read it as a single episodic novel.

Carol Hightshoe, who also writes the amazing Chaos Reigns series, says: “‘A privateer can be a force for good if he’s not too tempted to be a pirate.’ Meet Captain Ellison Firebrandt a privateer who walks that fine line – targeting enemy ships, rescuing damsels and protecting priceless relics. Swashbuckling adventures await all who come aboard Legacy.”

Firebrandt’s Legacy is available in print at Amazon.

It’s also available as an ebook at the following vendors:

Finally, if you’re a NetGalley, subscriber, you can get the book for the month of February at: https://www.netgalley.com/catalog/book/157799

Discovery

At long last, the first season of Star Trek: Discovery has been released on DVD, BluRay, and iTunes. As a result, I was finally able to watch the season. That said, I should note that nothing actually prevented me from subscribing to CBS All-Access to watch the show there before it came out on home media. In fact, a few weeks ago, I gave in and subscribed for the trial period just to check it out. What I learned was that even when I viewed CBS All-Access from the highest speed internet I had available, I still experienced pauses and video glitches that detracted from the viewing experience. Also, as I suspected, I didn’t find enough available on CBS All-Access to feel compelled to stick with the service. I decided I’m content to wait a year for the series to appear on home media.

As for the series itself, I enjoyed it … mostly. As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up as a Star Trek fan. I would run home from school and anxiously turn on the TV to catch episodes of the original series. Star Trek was, in many ways, the series that’s responsible for the start of my writing career. This new incarnation of Star Trek is set about a decade before the original series and the first season tells the story of the Federation’s war with the Klingon Empire. The story is told from the point of view of Michael Burnham, who starts out as first officer of the U.S.S. Shenzhou. In an attempt to stave off war, she commits an act of mutiny and ultimately ends up being recruited by Captain Lorca of the Starship Discovery to help in the war effort. It turns out that the Discovery has a special new type of drive that utilizes a biophysical network to transport it almost instantaneously from one place to another. Over the course of the series, we get to see plenty of Klingon politics, the return of original series villain Harry Mudd, and a return to the Mirror Universe where humans have formed a tyrannical empire.

I liked how the series used the Klingons to explore issues of cultural assimilation and appropriation. In the original series, Harry Mudd was something of a comic foil for Captain Kirk. In the new series Rain Wilson managed to give Mudd a decidedly dark and sinister twist. I thought the deeper exploration of the mirror universe was pretty cool. I enjoyed all the actors and was especially pleased to see the navigator and helmsman of Discovery both played by women. I felt the season-long story arc suited Star Trek. I also really liked the almost “lower decks” approach to the show where we see the action through the eyes of people who are not the most senior officers. What’s more, this series improved on Star Trek: The Next Generation where for all their high-minded talk of equality, the senior officers often took an almost elitist approach to their juniors.

My main problem with the series is the so-called spore drive. While I don’t have an intrinsic problem with the idea of a biophysical network that spans the universe and perhaps even bridges universes, I wasn’t so keen on the idea that it would provide an almost magical way of letting you move instantly between two quite distant points. Also, while I liked the season-long story arc, I felt it wrapped up just a little too neatly in the final episode and the solution relied on the Klingon homeworld being constructed in a way that seems inconsistent with our understanding of planetary geology.

Those issues noted, I liked it enough that I’ll almost certainly be back for season two … when it comes out on home media.

As I mentioned earlier, Star Trek was responsible for the start of my writing career. My first, albeit unpublished, novel was set between the end of the original series and the first movie. When I learned that it was unlikely that I could publish that novel because I was a young, untested writer, I created the starship Legacy and Captain Ellison Firebrandt. Because Firebrandt is a privateer, he ended up being quite a bit different than Captain Kirk. Monday is the official release day for my latest book set in this universe, Firebrandt’s Legacy. The ebook is available right now for pre-order at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords. I can’t quite control the release date for the print edition to the same degree as the ebook, but I expect it to be available by Monday. The Amazon link should indicate when it’s live.