Giants of Iron and Steam

Back around 2008, when I first learned that the weird westerns and alternate history I had been writing overlapped with steampunk, I decided to see if I could find some music to put me in a good frame of mind for writing. I tend to prefer instrumental music while I write, but I’m happy to have music with lyrics while I’m getting settled into write. I remember naively typing the phrase “steampunk music” into Google just to see what would come up. I found several discussion boards talking about a band called Abney Park and their album Lost Horizons, which was brand new around that time. I bought a copy of the album and fell in love with the music written by the band’s lead singer Robert Brown. Over the years, I’ve snapped up pretty much every album they’ve produced as they’ve been released. I have especially appreciated that Brown has released purely instrumental versions of some of the albums, and yes, they do work as great background when I’m writing.

As time went on, I discovered that Brown is not only a talented songwriter, but a capable storyteller. He’s written three novels set in the world he’s developed through the songs. In 2020, Brown even recorded an audio version of his novel The Toyshop at the End of the World. Given that he performs all the time as lead singer of a band, it should come as no surprise that he performed the book well. So, I was excited to hear that Robert Brown had brought his storytelling and musical talents together into a musical called Giants of Iron and Steam. I gather Brown had hoped to debut this as a live musical, but logistics have not worked out. So, he decided to release it as an album and I recently gave it a listen.

The musical opens in the distant future of his novel series. Two men enter the laboratory of Dr. Calvin Calgori, pushing an older woman in a wheelchair. The two men talk about trying to get to the truth of some matter. To find the information they need, they must use an invention by Dr. Calgori, which will allow them to view the distant past. They peer into the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s as a railroad is being established between a lumber mill and the nearby mountains. We’re soon introduced to a lumberjack named Robert Winters and his daughter Effie who live deep in the mountains. They look forward to the railroad because that means Robert won’t have to float logs down the river. The railroad will support Charles Foster Quinn’s lumber mill. Quinn’s son, Aaron, doesn’t want to succeed his father in the family business. Instead, he wants to be an engineer on the new railroad. Aaron soon meets Effie, which stirs more division between the young man and his father.

The musical felt like a cross between The Pajama Game and Paint Your Wagon. The former is the story of workers at a pajama factory fighting for better wages and working conditions, a theme which comes up in Giants of Iron and Steam. The stage version of Paint Your Wagon focused on the miner Ben Rumson and his daughter’s forbidden romance with a young man named Julio. Unlike those musicals from the 1950s, Giants of Iron and Steam is more honest about the history of labor and race. Plus there’s a dandy mystery as we figure out what the people from the future want from this story of the past.

I felt several personal connections to this story. Aaron learning to be a railroad engineer reminded me of my dad teaching me how to drive a locomotive. Robert Winters talking about the dangers of taking logs down the river reminded me of stories about my great grandfather, who apparently did take logs downriver in his youth, and was seriously wounded at one point. Finally, at one point, Robert Winters reflects on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and sees himself as Prospero to Effie’s Miranda. Given that I actually do have a daughter named Myranda, I’ve opportunity to reflect on The Tempest and definitely felt the parallels.

Giants of Iron and Steam is sold along with the script for the musical, so you can read along as you listen. You can learn more at: https://abneypark.com/market/musical-giants-of-iron-steam-c-83/

If you’d like to look into my steampunk old west, which also tries to present an honest look at history go to http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut

As a writer and an avid reader, I find myself subscribed to the newsletters for several publishers. One of those is Seven Seas Entertainment, which translates Japanese manga and light novels into English. In their latest newsletter, they mentioned a forthcoming light novel which caught my eye simply because of the title: Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut. According to Seven Seas, the novel tells the story of how a space race between two global superpowers led to the “Nosferatu Project.” After sending dogs into space, one of the superpowers decides to send vampires into space before sending humans. This seemed right up my alley! Effectively it’s an atompunk alternate history with vampires. After a little more searching, I discovered the light novel series inspired an anime of the same name and the anime had recently been released in the United States via Funimation.

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut

In the world of this story, the space race is between the Zirnitra Union of the East and the United Kingdom of Arnack in the West. The reason these countries arose instead of the superpowers we know from our history is never discussed. The UZSR has a red flag with snakes. The United Kingdom has a flag with stars and stripes, so it’s not hard to guess who stands in for whom. This world also contains vampires who live predominantly in Eastern Europe. These vampires aren’t the monsters of our mythology, but simply another race of people who happen to be sensitive to sunlight, have pointed ears, and sharp teeth. They eat normal food, but they can gain an energy boost from drinking blood. It’s almost as though Neanderthals survived into the modern world. In the alternate world of the anime, the vampire legends arose as a kind of propaganda to stir hatred and revulsion of vampire kind, and to justify invasions into their lands. It becomes a rather clever way to discuss hatred and bigotry without invoking the all-too-numerous examples we can draw from our real history.

In 1960, the UZSR recruits a vampire to be trained as a cosmonaut. This vampire is the Irina Luminesk of the title. She’s to be trained by Lev Leps, a reserve cosmonaut candidate. Lev was supposed to be one of the regular cosmonaut candidates except that he has a temper and attacked a man who abused one of his fellow cosmonaut candidates. The anime follows Irina’s training along with Lev and Irina’s growing affection for one another. As a fan of the world’s space programs, I found it delightful to see space craft based on early Soviet designs, rather than the oft seen American designs. Characters in the story seem to have historical parallels as well. Party Chairman Fyodor Gergiev is clearly based on Nikita Khrushchev. Lev Leps is basically Yuri Gagarin and his chief rival Mikhail seems based on Gherman Titov. One fun thing I noticed is that while the writing on shops and containers in the anime appears to be in Cyrillic script, the words are actually in English.

Of course, the vampire Irina is the focus of the show. We watch as she trains to be every bit as capable as the human cosmonaut candidates, even when many of the scientists testing and training her buy into the superstitions about vampires. I found myself cheering as she overcame her fear of heights to master parachuting. Given that she’s treated as an animal by many of the scientists and politicians, there’s a real tension about whether or not she’ll survive her first space flight and I won’t spoil things by saying whether or not she does.

It’s a shame this anime came out so close to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I suspect many will shun it because of a perceived connection with Russia even though I suspect no such connection actually exists. In some ways, the series is actually rather critical of the Soviets and their treatment of those countries they took control of. What’s more, one of the themes of the anime is that people can change and become better. In a very real way, it reflects the spirit of Yuri Gagarin who said, “Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!”

I enjoyed the anime enough that I decided to pre-order the light novel so I can get to know the characters better. It will be released on June 23. While waiting for the light novel’s release, you can check out my vampire novels at http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

The Ghost Ship

Now that I’ve finally caught up with my long-term project of getting all my books back into print, I’m starting to set my sights on some new writing projects. I’ve had an idea for a steampunk short story sitting on the back burner for some time now and hope I can work on it this week. To get my mind focused on steampunk again, I decided to listen to an audio steampunk story on my long commute to work last week. The story I listened to is The Ghost Ship by Madeleine Holly-Rosing and it’s set in the world of her wonderful comic, The Boston Metaphysical Society.

The comic and the audio book are set in an 1895 that’s just a little different than the one we know from history. You’ll find rudimentary steam-driven computers, airships, and a United States ruled by the wealthy of “the great houses.” In the Boston of this world, ex-Pinkerton Detective Samuel Hunter, medium and spirit photographer Caitlin O’Sullivan, and scientist Granville Woods investigate supernatural mysteries. I’ve been reading the comic since it began and I was excited when Madeleine Holly-Rosing announced that she planned to release a long-form audio story set in the world of the comic.

In the audio story, a mysterious, derelict ship sails into Boston Harbor. Anyone who tries to board is attacked by spirits and soon meets their end. Samuel, Caitlin, and Granville are brought in to try to find a way to end the menace of the mysterious ship. To do so, they must first find out what ship has actually arrived. When getting aboard the ship proves too perilous, they turn to Boston’s new library where Caitlin discovers more restless spirits and a young man who bears an uncanny resemblance to one of the spirits on the ship. It soon becomes clear that the ghost ship’s very presence may create a scandal for at least one of the great houses. The audio drama is told in eight half-hour episodes and features the voice talents of Emily C.A. Snyder as Caitlin O’Sullivan, Ryan Philbrook as Samuel Hunter, and Martin Davis as Granville Woods.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when hearing a favorite comic translated into audio. I was pleased to say that all the main characters sounded very much like I imagined they would sound. The supporting characters had distinct voices and the action was easy to follow. The serial nature of the audio story felt very much like an adapted comic adventure, even though this story only appears in audio. The piece was well produced by Eddie Louise and Chip Michael. It would be delightful if Madeleine was able to bring us more audio adventures set in her world. At this point, it appears that the best way to order your own copy of The Ghost Ship is to pre-order a copy through the Backerkit site set up for the recent Kickstarter campaign. It’s at: https://the-ghost-ship-audio-drama.backerkit.com/hosted_preorders/396663 and you can get updates on the audio book at at https://bostonmetaphysicalsociety.com/the-ghost-ship-audio-drama/

I’m happy to say that her story has, indeed, put me in the mood to work on a story in one of my own worlds. I’m already plotting my own machinations. My story won’t have ghosts, but I do have some automata and at least one airship disaster planned. Now, it may be a little while before you get to read that story, but I do have something planned for tomorrow. Sheriff Chuck Davis from my novella Breaking the Code finds himself in the world of the fae, paying an unexpected visit to Queen Titania’s Court. Learn more about him and the novella tomorrow, June 8, at Deby Fredericks’ blog: https://wyrmflight.wordpress.com/

A Master of Djinn

I have been a steampunk fan since before I knew the subgenre existed. For that matter, I’ve been writing in the subgenre before I knew it existed. My first steampunk story, “The Slayers,” was published in Realms of Fantasy Magazine in 2001 and I didn’t really become aware of the genre until the release of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker in 2009. My love of steampunk stems from looking at history and asking “what if” questions. When I was growing up, it seemed like the only fantasy stories available were set in a world that felt like medieval Europe. So I loved the idea of fantasy and alternate historical science fiction that opened up the time periods where these stories could be set. There seems an expectation that “steampunk” must be associated with Victorian England, but again because I came at these kinds of stories from sources like The Wild Wild West and Jules Verne’s Voyages extraordinaires, I never really saw England as a necessary component. I’m always delighted when a steampunk or fantasy tale takes me someplace I’ve never been.

A Master of Djinn

Over the last few years, I’ve been delighted by the novellas of P. Djèlí Clark. The first I read was The Black God’s Drums set in post-Civil War New Orleans about a young woman who wants to escape the streets by earning the trust of an airship pirate crew. She thinks the key might be some information she’s gained about a Haitian scientist. Fortunately, the young woman, Creeper, can also manipulate the weather. As far as I’m concerned Clark told another amazing tale in The Haunting of Tram Car 015, which is set in 1912 Cairo. In the story, agents Hamed Nasr and Onsi Youssef of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities are tasked with removing a malevolent supernatural entity from an aerial tram car.

I was delighted to see that Professor Clark returned to his alternate Cairo in a full length novel, A Master of Djinn. Although Hamed and Onsi appear in the novel, they aren’t the point of view characters. This time, we meet Fatma el-Sha’arawi, a woman working for the same ministry. The novel is basically murder mystery. Someone has killed every member of a brotherhood dedicated to al-Jahiz, who opened the veil to the magical realm allowing djinn to return to our world. The murderer claims to be al-Jahiz returned and he threatens to start a popular uprising. Agent Fatma must get to the bottom of who this person is before he disrupts an important peace conference being set up in Cairo.

A Master of Djinn proved a fun, fast-paced tale with some fascinating glimpses at North African, Islamic culture. Tucked in the narrative is a little background on the 1001 Arabian Nights, which I enjoyed, especially after some of my own research for a story I wrote called “Horse Feathers,” which I hope to say more about soon. While waiting for that, you can explore my steampunk world, which starts in the American West of 1877 and finds its way to Mexico, Japan, Russia, and Iran. You can get more details about the Clockwork Legion series at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

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.

Wrangling Brazen Sharks

The Brazen Shark

Last year, I announced that I’m updating and releasing new editions of my Clockwork Legion novels. Today, I’m proud to announce the release of the second edition of book three: The Brazen Shark. This novel picks up right where book two left off. Ramon and Fatemeh have just married and their friend, a one-time pirate captain Onofre Cisneros, has swept them off for a romantic honeymoon in the South Pacific. However, once they reach Hawaii, a British agent makes Cisneros an offer he can’t refuse and the captain must travel to Japan. Wanting to see more of the world, Ramon and Fatemeh ask to accompany the captain only to find themselves embroiled in a plot by samurai who steal a Russian airship, hoping to overthrow the Japanese emperor.

Of all the Clockwork Legion novels, this was arguably the most challenging one to write. Whereas the first two novels were set in locations I know well, this one is set largely in Japan and Russia. I had to do quite a bit of research to make sure the culture and settings felt right. I had several beta readers who knew the novel’s places and cultures. They helped me check my research and my assumptions. In the end, I was pleased with the result. Robert E. Vardeman, a Hugo-nominated author and recipient of the Western Fictioneer’s Lifetime Achievement Award wrote the following: “Airships battling! Samurai fomenting war with Russia! Historical characters and powerfully drawn fictional ones mixing it up with political intrigues make David Lee Summers’ The Brazen Shark a steampunk novel not to be missed. Put it at the top of your reading list. Now!”

Although this is book three in the series, I did strive to write this so it could stand alone. In fact, Robert E. Vardeman wrote his review blurb based on this book alone. He hadn’t read any of the earlier novels. So, if a story about a one-time New Mexico sheriff and a Persian healer teaming up with one history’s greatest chemists to combat samurai air pirates sounds like a fun ride, you can jump right in. That said, you can learn more about the series at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

The chemist of the story is Dmitri Mendeleev, best known for his work developing the Periodic Table of the Elements. Historically, Mendeleev did dabble in airship design and, in fact, went up in a hot air balloon to observe the solar eclipse of 1887. In the Clockwork Legion series, he’s responsible for designing the Russian airships. Other historical figures who appear in the novel include Katsu Kaishu and Okubo Toshimichi who were important figures in Japan’s Meiji restoration. What’s more Katsu Kaishu was a naval engineer, so the novel’s steampunked alternate history allowed me to imagine him unleashing an array of innovations on the world, including the mechanical man on the novel’s cover.

The Brazen Shark is available as follows:

Lightning Wolves Update

As I mentioned two weeks ago, Hadrosaur Productions is in the process of releasing updated editions of the Clockwork Legion novels. This week, I’m proud to announce the release of the second edition of book two, Lightning Wolves. Although the cover is much the same as the previous edition, sharp-eyed folks will notice that Laura Givens adjusted the look of Professor Maravilla. He now looks much more like I pictured him in the novels. Lightning Wolves was a top-ten finisher for Best Steampunk Novel of the Year in the 2014 Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll.

For those unfamiliar with the Clockwork Legion novels, Lightning Wolves takes place a few months after Owl Dance in the year 1877. At the end of the first novel, the United States army had thwarted the Russian assault on Denver, but the Russians still occupied the Pacific Northwest. Now that they have regrouped, the Russians, under the direction of the alien Legion, are advancing into California. New weapons have proven ineffective or dangerously unstable and Professor Maravilla, the one man who can help, has disappeared into Apache Country, hunting ghosts. A healer named Fatemeh Karimi and a former sheriff named Ramon Morales lead a band into the heart of the invasion to determine what makes the Russian forces so unstoppable while a young inventor attempts to unleash the power of the lightning wolves.

As with Owl Dance, this edition is not markedly different from the previous edition because I didn’t want it to deviate from the audiobook read by Edward Mittelstedt, which has not been updated. However, the ebook and print editions have been reformatted.

Neal Wilgus wrote the following in Small Press Review: “David Lee Summers is a talented spinner of pseudo-science adventures with nary a vampire or zombie in sight. This may not be ground-breaking literature but it’s great fun to read and well worth the time spent doing so. Don’t miss it!”

You can pick up the paperback edition of Lightning Wolves at Amazon.com.

The ebook edition is available at Amazon and Smashwords.

Edward Mittelstedt’s reading of Lightning Wolves is available at Audible.com.

As I mentioned in my earlier post about Owl Dance, there will be a brief pause before the updated editions of The Brazen Shark and Owl Riders appear. This will allow me to make more progress on other books I’ve committed to editing. Watch for news about Greg Ballan’s second Hybrid novel, Forced Vengeance, and Lyn McConchie’s collection of weird western tales, The Way-Out, Wild West, soon.

In the meantime, I learned that Comixology’s Independent Comic platform is being folded into Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Because of that, I had to hustle and create a version of my comic Guinevere and the Stranger according to KDP’s guidelines. Fortunately, because my artist and letterer delivered great, high-resolution files, this wasn’t terribly difficult. The upshot is that you can now get an electronic copy of Guinevere and the Stranger through Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09N9JVMQV/

Of course, you can still purchase print copies of the comic directly from me by visiting https://www.hadrosaur.com/GuinevereStranger.php

Guinevere and the Stranger is an adaptation of a chapter from Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires. The comic book introduces the vampire Roquelaure and shows how he met Queen Guinevere in the years after the fall of Camelot.

Owl Dance Update

I hope my readers in the United States are having a good Thanksgiving weekend. I’m spending the weekend with family and reflecting on those things I’m thankful for. One of the things I’m thankful for has been the opportunity to work with some great publishers and editors over the years, such as Sky Warrior Book Publishing who published my Clockwork Legion steampunk series. Sky Warrior connected me with some great editors, gave me excellent marketing tips, and generally supported my efforts as an author. Still, after some discussion this fall, we decided it was to our mutual advantage for Sky Warrior to return the publishing rights to me. We’re parting ways, but I’m thankful that we’re parting ways as friends.

Owl Dance

The new edition of the first book in the series, published by Hadrosaur Productions, is now available. The new edition hasn’t changed much from the previous one. The paperback edition has a spiffy new layout featuring some cool-looking separators designed by Laura Givens. Laura also remixed the cover slightly to make it a little brighter. I only gave the book a cursory edit, looking for any minor copyedits that might have been missed. Partly that’s because the wonderful audiobook edition read by Edward Mittelstedt is still available and I don’t want to revise the text so the audio and text don’t match. I hope to make the new edition of Lightning Wolves available in about two weeks.

Owl Dance is set in 1876. In the novel, Sheriff Ramon Morales of Socorro, New Mexico meets a beguiling woman named Fatemeh Karimi of Persia, escaping oppression in her homeland. When an ancient lifeform called Legion comes to Earth, they are pulled into a series of events that will change the history of the world as we know it. In their journeys, Ramon and Fatemeh encounter mad inventors, dangerous outlaws and pirates. Their resources are Ramon’s fast draw and Fatemeh’s uncanny ability to communicate with owls. The question is, will that be enough to save them when a fleet of dirigibles from Czarist Russia invades the United States?

Richard Harland, author of some of my favorite steampunk novels, including Worldshaker and Song of the Slums, says, “Owl Dance has everything. Airships, owl-ornithopters, a clockwork wolf, a multiple alien entity, a fast-shooting sheriff, a Russian plot to conquer America, and a very sexy, eco-aware, Bahá’í Persian healer-woman – I mean everything! Heaps of fun!”

If you’ve already read and enjoyed Owl Dance, thank you for your support. If you haven’t discovered the series yet, this is a great time to start. As I say, the new edition of the sequel, Lightning Wolves will go live in about two weeks. After that, it’ll probably be about six weeks before the final two novels are published, since I need to finish some editing and layout work on two new Hadrosaur titles from Greg Ballan and Lyn McConchie.

You can purchase the paperback edition of Owl Dance at Amazon.com.

The ebook edition is available at Amazon.com and Smashwords.

Edward Mittelstedt’s reading of Owl Dance is available at Audible.com.

The book should be appearing at more vendors soon. You can see a book trailer and find all the places where the book is available at http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html

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.

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