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

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

Aftershock and Awe

This has been a busy summer for my daughter. She had a remote NASA internship and took second semester physics as an intense six-week summer course. I did what I could to help with both of these areas, explaining things like orbital parameters for the internship and helping her understand physics problems. I know how intense these things are and some of what I did was simply not provide a distraction at inappropriate times by turning on the television. This caused me to turn to books and comics for more of my entertainment, which is not altogether a bad thing. In seeking things to read, I stumbled across a comic published in 2012 based on the TV series Space: 1999 called Aftershock and Awe, written by Andrew Gaska. Given my recent interest watching the show and listening to the audio re-imagining by Big Finish Productions, I thought this looked interesting. The only problem is that it had gone out of print around the time the COVID-19 pandemic began and appeared to be somewhat difficult to find. I did find some copies on eBay and most appeared to be available for a fair price, considering that it was a hardcover book. Still, I decided to ask some devoted fans whether this was worth the price.

On Facebook, there is a group devoted to a podcast hosted by Jamie Anderson, Richard James, and Chris Dale. Jamie is the son of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the producers of Space: 1999 and the podcast is devoted to the shows. If you enjoy shows like Thunderbird, Stingray, UFO, or Space: 1999, the podcast is well worth a listen. What’s more, the Facebook group is full of fans who genuinely enjoy these shows and have fun discussing them. So, I asked about the book there. I had some nice responses, including one from Chris Dale who said the book was worthwhile. I was surprised and delighted a few days later when they read my question on the podcast itself. Jamie Anderson indicated he was familiar with the book and liked it. The upshot of all of this is that I took the plunge and picked up a copy for my collection.

Showing off Aftershock and Awe while wearing my Space: 1999 shirt.

I’ve now had a chance to read the graphic novel and I agree, it was a good choice for my collection. The first half is a retelling of the show’s first episode, “Breakaway.” It features fabulous, classic Space: 1999 comic art by Gray Morrow along with new art and colors by Miki and dialog by Andrew Gaska. Like Big Finish’s version of “Breakaway,” it expands the story. It tells more about the backstory of Commander Gorski who leaves Moonbase Alpha at the beginning. It also suggests there is more to the moon leaving orbit rapidly than simply being propelled by a nuclear explosion. It’s not quite as satisfying as the explanation in the Big Finish audio, but it’s clearly heading in that direction and dovetails with it nicely. When I do have a chance to turn on the TV for a little while, I’m watching the second season of Space: 1999 and it was nice to see second season characters Tony Verdeschi and Shermeen Williams introduced right from the outset as minor characters. The opening title pages also give nods to both the first and second season credit sequences. Like many fans, I’m not as fond of the second season as the first, but the second season has grown on me and I think for the most part, it improved toward the end. So, it was nice to see this nod to continuity.

The second half of the book is set on Earth and sets up Space: 1999 as existing in an alternate history. As someone who has written various flavors of alternate history, I really like this approach. Featuring lovely painted illustrations by David Hueso, we find out what was happening on Earth to a group of people connected to those crewmembers on Moonbase Alpha who blasted out of orbit. Of course, the moon leaving Earth’s orbit suddenly would be catastrophic and such an event would set off numerous natural disasters. The apocalyptic events are highlighted by lines of poetry and quotes from the book of Revelation. The timing was interesting, since I’m about to embark on editing my 2007 novel, Heirs of the New Earth for a new edition, and I also highlight key elements with quotes from Revelation. The other aspect both the graphic novel and my novel share is that while they both imagine great disaster befalling the Earth, they’re both ultimately hopeful stories in that they imagine the human race persevering in the wake of the disaster. First edition copies of my novel are available for half off the cover price at: https://www.hadrosaur.com/HeirsNewEarth.php or you can support me at Patreon and support the work I’m doing on the new edition. My Patreon site is: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers.

I was sufficiently impressed with Aftershock and Awe that I’d recommend it to any Space: 1999 fan. There was a follow up, which also featured Gray Morrow’s art, but that book, To Everything that Was, is much rarer and much more expensive. As I understand, these books were on Comixology for a time. It would be great if a new distribution deal could be made and they could return to digital format, or a new print run ordered for more fans to discover these books.

The Patchwork Girl of Oz

It seems fitting that my journey through the Oz books took a brief hiatus between The Emerald City of Oz and The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Baum himself took a three-year break between the two books. The seventh book in the series opens when a Munchkin named Ojo and his Uncle pay a visit to the Crooked Magician, Dr. Pipt. We soon learn that Dr. Pipt created the magic powder that brought such characters as Jack Pumpkinhead and the Gump to life in earlier books. In this novel, Dr. Pipt’s wife Margolotte has sewn together a girl from a patchwork quilt. Dr. Pipt plans to bring the patchwork girl to life so she can be Margolotte’s servant. The reason she’s made from a patchwork quilt is to look sufficiently different from the Munchkins that she’ll stand out and be recognized immediately as a servant. Margolotte gives the patchwork girl just enough brains to do her job. Ojo decides to give her some more. Soon afterward, Dr. Pipt sprinkles on the powder of life and the patchwork girl springs to life. In a terrible accident, another potion is knocked over, petrifying both Margolotte and Ojo’s uncle. Ojo, along with the patchwork girl, now named Scraps, and the crooked magician’s glass cat go on a quest to find the items needed to restore Margolotte and Unc Nunkie to life.

Ojo and Scraps hunt for the yellow brick road. Along the way, they discover an enclosed area of forest and meet a creature called the Woozy, essentially an animal made of box-shapes with just three hairs growing from the tip of its tail. Those three hairs are one of the spell ingredients, but they can’t pull the hairs out, so they bring the Woozy along with them. They soon find their way to the yellow brick road and get to the Emerald City where Dorothy and Toto join the quest.

For the most part, The Patchwork Girl of Oz has been my favorite of the books so far. It has a tight, breezy plot and there are solid stakes. I care about Ojo rescuing his uncle. Also, we meet some truly unique characters in this book. Scraps is delightful. The glass cat with its red heart and pink brains is a little bit of a jerk but still engaging and an imaginative creation. Sadly, the book also gives us a song about “coal-black Lulu” and a scene with Tottenhots, a play on the word Hottentots, which is a Dutch word which has at times referred specifically to South Africa’s Khoikhoi people, and at other times has been applied to all black people in South Africa. The Tottenhots are described as “imps” and John R. Neill’s illustrations of them evoke stereotypical depictions of black people.

Of course, when the book came out in 1913, such depictions were widely accepted and not seen as problematic. Baum and Neill can and should be viewed in the context of their times, but we also need to remember that their society was a casually racist one. I get the feeling Baum was struggling a bit with society’s attitudes about race in this book. Scraps is “born” to be a servant, but she demonstrates she’s as clever as anyone else and never sees herself as anyone’s slave. At the end of the book Ozma reaffirms Scraps’ freedom from servitude. When we get near the book’s ending, Ojo runs into difficulty when the Tin Woodsman won’t let him pluck a wing from a butterfly, because it would be cruel to a living creature. As we’ve seen along the way, many creatures in Oz, including some insects, are sentient and can talk.

In 1891, Baum wrote an editorial advocating the extermination of Native Americans. In earlier posts, I’ve discussed the challenges of admiring artwork by artists with problematic histories. While it’s not clear that Baum’s views on race glimpsed in The Patchwork Girl of Oz are especially progressive even by 1913 standards, they do seem to have advanced from where they had been two decades earlier. I hope that’s true, because if the Oz books teach us anything, it’s that life is a journey and we learn things along the way. We should always make an effort to be better people today than we were yesterday.

Crossroads in Oz

My travels through L. Frank Baum’s original Oz novels continued with book five, The Road to Oz. Dorothy and Uncle Henry have returned to Kansas by the time the story opens. A hobo called the Shaggy Man comes by the farm and asks Dorothy for directions to the town of Butterfield. He seems scattered and Dorothy decides to take him to the road that will lead to the town. As they walk, the surroundings become unfamiliar and they soon come to a place where many roads intersect. Dorothy is confused because she would remember such a place so near home. They decide to follow one of the roads and soon meet a young boy who calls himself Button-Bright. A little while later, they meet Polychrome, daughter of the rainbow king who is light and joyful and enjoys dancing through life. I couldn’t help but think about the famous song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in all her scenes. Our group soon comes to Foxville, a kingdom of talking foxes and we learn that Princess Ozma will be having a birthday party soon! Of course Dorothy and her new friends will make it to the birthday party, but what makes this party special is that many of the guests come from Baum’s other novels!

The Road to Oz and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum

I love it when an author can find a good reason for characters from different books they’ve written to meet. I’ve done it a couple of times. The vampire Mercedes Rodriguez has a cameo in my novel Owl Dance. The Scarlet Order Vampires come into more direct contact with the Clockwork Legion in the story “Fountains of Blood” which appears in the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone, edited by David Boop.

Princess Ozma’s birthday party proves to be a great excuse to bring together characters from Baum’s other fantasy novels. Among the guests are Queen Zixi of Ix from the novel of the same name, John Dough from the novel John Dough and the Cherub, and the Queen of Merryland from the novel Dot and Tot in Merryland. Of course, the true star guest is none other than the protagonist of Baum’s Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Not only is Santa there, but he brings some of friends, the Knooks and Ryls from the Forest of Burzee.

Admittedly, I’ve jumped ahead a bit. On their way to the party, Dorothy, Toto (who is back for only the second time in the Oz novels), Polychrome, the Shaggy Man, and Button-Bright have their share of adventures. Most are actually rather tame and for the most part, the people they encounter just want an invite to the big shindig in Oz. The exception is when they cross paths with the Scoodlers. If we ever play Oz poker, I’ll take your Flying Monkeys and raise you a Scoodler. The Scoodlers are two-sided with a face looking forward and a face looking backward. Their only desire is to turn our heroes into soup! What’s more, they can take off their heads and throw them at you! Fortunately, the Shaggy Man saves the day and they are able to get away.

Eventually we come to the deadly desert surrounding Oz, but because the Shaggy Man has connections, they get a boat that can cross the sand. I was delighted when they reached Oz and the first familiar people they meet are Billina the Hen and Tik-Tok the Mechanical man from Ozma of Oz. We also get some time with the tin woodsman, the scarecrow, and the cowardly lion.

In a way, The Road to Oz feels like a nice tame road trip (with the exception of the Scoodlers!) designed to give fans of the books so far a chance to spend time with old friends. And yet, Baum sneaks in some subversive politics as the tin man lets us know without a doubt that no one would be so uncouth as to use money in utopia like Oz.

Looking forward to my next trip to the land of Oz. In the meantime, you can learn a little more about my novel Owl Dance at http://davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html. You can learn more about Straight Outta Tombstone at http://davidleesummers.com/shorts.html. What’s more, the Scarlet Order Vampires are experiencing an adventure in a brand new comic book over at my Patreon site: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers.

Fevre Dream

I first became aware of George R.R. Martin’s vampire novel from a review Kurt MacPhearson wrote for Tales of the Talisman Magazine back in 2010. His enthusiasm for Fevre Dream caused me to put it on my to-read list. I finally had a chance to dive in and my only real regret is that I waited so long to read the book.

Fevre Dream Novel

Starting in 1857, Fevre Dream tells the story of Abner Marsh, owner of a small steamboat company in St. Louis, who lost most of his boats the previous winter when they were crushed by ice during an unusually harsh winter. A stranger named Joshua York shows up on his doorstep and offers to buy half the company and gives Abner enough money to build his dream steamboat, which Abner calls the Fevre Dream after the river which flowed by his home town. The Fevre Dream sets off down the Mississippi with Marsh and York serving as co-captains. It soon becomes apparent that York only appears at night. What’s more, York insists that the steamboat make many stops on its journey where he will disappear for days at a time. Meanwhile, on a plantation near New Orleans, we meet Damon Julian, leader of a vampire nest. A human thrall named Sour Billy Tipton buys slaves and brings them to the plantation for the vampires to drain dry. It soon becomes clear that Marsh, York, and Julian are heading toward a confrontation. Martin offers some twists and turns that kept me guessing about the exact nature of the confrontation.

I loved Martin’s description of steamboats. The places the Fevre Dream visits in the novel came to life through his writing. Martin also did a great job of creating vampires that felt like they could be real creatures who exist in the world we know. Also, instead of simply dismissing vampire mythology as so much nonsense, as many other writers did in the 1980s and 1990s, he lets his characters speculate about how that mythology built up around the real creatures, which I liked. I was less impressed with his use of an offensive word for African-Americans. While it lends some authenticity to the novel in its period and setting, and it ultimately serves a good story point, there are some points where the word just feels overused.

Fevre Dream Comic

One of the things that led me to read the book now was discovering that Daniel Abraham had adapted the novel into a comic book. Abraham is one-half of the writing team who created the Expanse novels under the pen-name James S.A. Corey. Since I recently went through the exercise of adapting an episode from one of my vampire novels into a comic book, I was curious what the comic adaptation of this novel was like. He did a good job of paring the novel down to it’s essence and hitting the key plot points. In a comic book, the art needs to do a lot of the heavy lifting of conveying the story’s emotions. At some level, a comic writer’s job is to give the artist all the tools needed to show the story to the reader. Overall, the art did seem to capture the emotions I felt when reading the novel. I did catch a couple of places where it seemed like important plot points were mentioned in passing and if I hadn’t known they were important from the novel, I might have missed them in the comic. This is a challenge in comic book writing because you have to be so minimalist that you have to make choices about what to emphasize and what not to. I might have made a different choice, but without more experience than I have, I don’t know if it would be a better choice.

For those people looking for an interesting, historical vampire tale, I do recommend either the novel or the comic book adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s Fevre Dream. Studying how Daniel Abraham adapted Martin’s novel has given me some ideas about what I would do in further adaptations of my own work.

As a reminder, I will be sharing my comic book, Guinevere and the Stranger with my Patreon subscribers starting on Monday. If you want to be first in line to read the comic, be sure to subscribe at https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. What’s more, print comics have arrived and will go on sale at https://www.hadrosaur.com soon after it’s appeared for Patreon subscribers.

Time Traveler with a Celery Boutonniere

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I first learned about the television series Doctor Who from an article in Starlog Magazine. The article announced that Peter Davison would take over the role of the Doctor from Tom Baker, who had played the part for seven years. I knew nothing about who any of these people were or what the show was about, but I do remember blond-haired Peter Davison in a light colored outfit standing next to the ubiquitous blue police box, which I would later learn was his machine for traveling in time and space. When I finally saw an episode of Doctor Who, it featured Tom Baker, a jovial fellow with a mop of curly hair and a scarf that went on forever. I was curious how the young blond actor and the curly-haired actor could play the same part. Eventually, I would learn that the Doctor can regenerate into a whole new body. Still, I was curious what Peter Davison would be like compared to Tom Baker.

The Doctor and the Master face off in Peter Davison’s first season as the Doctor.

Around this time, I discovered that my local bookstore started carrying novelizations of Doctor Who episodes. Right there on the shelf was that blond-haired fellow smiling at me from the cover of a story called “The Visitation.” I picked it up and found myself transported back to medieval England in a story where aliens crashed on Earth. In the final struggle, a lamp is knocked into some hay and the great fire of London is started. In college, I would finally see the episode as part of season nineteen of the series, which was Peter Davison’s first. That season is now out on Blu-Ray and I recently revisited the first year of this blond-haired fellow as the Doctor.

I had fond memories of this season from college. Tom Baker played the Doctor for so long, a new actor seemed a breath of fresh air. I remember Peter Davison as an affable, breezy personality. As a quirk, he wore a stalk of celery as a boutonniere on clothes suitable for a cricket match. I remember liking how the writers created something of a Holmes/Moriarty relationship between the Doctor and his old nemesis the Master.

Rewatching it, the nineteenth season didn’t quite match my memories. Peter Davison’s Doctor seemed to snap at people more than I remembered. He also looked a little uncomfortable in the part at times. He was, after all, the first actor to play the part who had also grown up watching it. The season also presented the Doctor with three companions. This wasn’t unheard of in the series’ run, but it wasn’t common. In this case, I could see that four regular characters were a challenge for the writers. Often they’d find a way to put one companion on the sideline while giving one or two others the limelight.

I had fond memories of an episode called “Black Orchid.” It’s a short episode in the middle of the season where the Doctor ends up in the middle of a 1920s mystery. It’s not very science fictional, but it seemed like it made the best use of all the characters and it remains one of my favorite of the season. The episode I first read in novel form, “The Visitation” also held up pretty well. The only part I thought could have been improved were the aliens, who looked too much like people in stiff, rubber suits.

The season felt longer than other Doctor Who seasons I’ve purchased. Indeed, most seasons I’ve watched only have four or five distinct stories. This one had seven. Classic Doctor Who stories were serialized from half-hour episodes. Most of the actual stories were shorter than stories in earlier seasons. Still, I had a feeling that in some cases the writers struggled to find material for all four episodes of a story. Some stories in the nineteenth season might have been stronger as only two or three-part stories. This is probably one of the reasons “Black Orchid” remains a favorite. It doesn’t feel padded out.

As with other Doctor Who Blu-Rays I’ve purchased, this one is chalk full of interviews and behind-the-scenes documentaries. All in all, it was fun to go back and spend a season with the first Doctor I’d ever actually seen, if only in a magazine photo.

Salem’s Daughter

Salem’s Daughter graphic novel

Back in December, I purchased a bundle of graphic novels from Zenescope Publishing. I’ve discovered that I enjoy several of their titles including Van Helsing, The Black Sable, and Belle: Beast Hunter. One of the graphic novels in the bundle I purchased was a 2011 title called Salem’s Daughter. I was a little dubious when I saw the cover, but I have learned that you can’t always judge comics by their covers and this is especially true with Zenescope around the period when this book was released. When I flipped through the book, I found no scenes of a woman in lingerie being burned at the stake. What I did see in the interior pages looked very interesting. By all appearances this promised to be an interesting weird western story.

The graphic novel includes three story arcs. The first story arc introduces three characters. The woman on the cover is Anna Williams, a young witch who is just coming into her powers. She has a certain amount of clairvoyance and when threatened, she can literally burn an attacker’s face off. Over the course of the graphic novel she learns more powers. We also meet Braden Cole, a cowboy who rides into town seeking a no-good scoundrel who did him wrong. Finally, we meet that no-good scoundrel, Darius, who has the ability to manipulate people’s minds and get them to do what they want. The second story arc takes Anna and Braden to a new town where they learn about a missing child and discover that a Jersey Devil is terrorizing the town. The graphic novel concludes with a one-shot about Anna and Braden helping a man who has been seduced by a succubus.

All of this is great fodder for a set of weird western stories and I enjoyed the artwork as Anna and Braden make their way through old rustic towns and into saloons, jailhouses and remote caves. The only thing is, the dialogue tells us the settings for the stories are Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. I was reminded of episodes of The Wild Wild West where Jim and Artie travel to New Orleans. The series depicted the most desolate and dry, wild west version of New Orleans I’ve ever seen! In the show, it’s pretty clear the crew was given an “old west” town to shoot on and they did their best to make the sets they had look like the place in the story. I’m not quite sure why Salem’s Daughter is set in the northeast, yet looks like the Wild West. It seems like editing the story to place it further out west would have worked just fine. After all, there’s a small town outside Las Cruces called Salem and I could easily imagine a Jersey Devil finding his way out west.

Despite the disconnect in setting, I found the notion of a cowboy and a witch traveling together and solving problems to be appealing. It’s pretty much the premise I started with in my 2011 novel, Owl Dance. In my weird western, the magic is more subtle and the threats more science fictional in nature. You can learn more about Owl Dance at: http://davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html

You can learn more about Salem’s Daughter at: https://zenescope.com/products/salems-daughter-trade-paperback. There was a sequel, Salem’s Daughter: The Haunting. It appears to be out of print, but it looks like you can get digital copies at Comixology.com.

Revisiting Space: 1999

I’m sure everyone remembers where they were on September 13, 1999. Or, at least, they would remember that momentous day if the events of the television show Space: 1999 had come to pass. In the show, that’s the day a nuclear waste dump exploded on Earth’s moon sending it out of orbit and on a long, harrowing journey out of the solar system. I recently found myself thinking about Sylvia and Gerry Anderson’s series. I remember watching it when it first aired, but it occurred to me that I didn’t remember many details about the series, so I went back and watched most of the first season’s episodes.

The first thing that occurred to me as I watched the series is how much it owed to two sources: Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey and Sylvia and Gerry Anderson’s previous live-action television series, UFO. The show reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey in the sense that it’s less about space as a setting for the story’s action as it’s a place where mankind will encounter phenomena that will stretch the mind and maybe even spur the next stage of human evolution. The uniforms, the moon base, and the overall feel of the show reminded me a lot of UFO and I’ve read that some elements of the series were, in fact, originally developed for a second season of UFO, which never materialized.

The science of Space: 1999 is much maligned. Isaac Asimov once famously remarked that an explosion big enough to knock the moon out of orbit would destroy it. Physicist Kevin Grazier has taken a much more balanced approach and calculated the energy it actually would take to knock the moon out of Earth’s orbit. He notes that enough energy to knock the moon out of orbit would be highly improbable and also remarks that getting the moon to leave Earth’s orbit isn’t as hard a problem as getting the moon to leave the solar system. You can read Grazier’s thoughts here: https://www.gerryanderson.co.uk/science-of-space-1999/

In his article, Grazier does point out one way in which Space: 1999’s science was ahead of its time and that was it’s presentation of rogue planets. In the series, the moon encounters numerous planets away from the sun wandering by themselves with no nearby star. Rogue planets were pure speculation when the series was created, but we now know them to be something that does exist. We still do have a science issue in that some of these rogue planets seem to support human-like life, despite the lack of a nearby star.

Part of how Space: 1999 sells its improbable physics is by giving us some of the most believable tech I’ve seen in a science fiction series. The Eagle spacecraft look like the kind of things you might have expected NASA to have developed if they had continued building on the Apollo program. The only real problem with the Eagles is their use in atmosphere and high gravity worlds as the series progresses. I believe them on the moon, but not necessarily flying through dense planetary atmospheres. The comlocks that people use to unlock doors and talk to each other feel like the kind of combination remote control, video cell phone that could have been developed in the 1990s.

One of the things I found remarkable about revisiting Space: 1999 was the quality of the cast. Of course, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, and Barry Morse all had wonderful, understated performances. They felt like humans coming to grips with the weird reality they found themselves in. I had forgotten that actors such as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee appeared in the series. Speaking of Cushing and Lee, I had forgotten how well the series did at presenting science fiction horror. The denizens encounter some truly frightening situations such as aliens who take over people’s bodies, or implacable tentacled aliens who dine on people’s flesh and spit out corpses.

One of the episodes I found especially interesting was one called “The Guardian of Piri.” In it, Catherine Schell plays an alien who convinces the Alphans they can have complete contentment if they settle. Much of it reminds me of the kinds of visions John Mark Ellis experiences in Children of the Old Stars and the Cluster’s eventual takeover of Earth in Heirs of the New Earth. The structures on Piri are even spheres, reminding me of the Cluster. Although I don’t remember the episode specifically, it does make me wonder how much the episode seeped into my subconscious and was reprocessed in my story.

So, where was I on September 13, 1999? I was working at New Mexico State University on the 1-meter telescope project based at Apache Point Observatory. We were about a month into a new semester, which meant that I was probably busy getting classroom demonstrations ready. I was also working on the novel Children of the Old Stars and thinking about some of the more metaphysical topics I wanted to explore in my series. You can help me create the new edition of my novel by supporting my Patreon campaign at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers