One Thousand Monsters

This new year finds me about halfway through the first draft of my vampire novel Ordeal of the Scarlet Order. When I’m not writing, I’m often reading and one of the books I recently enjoyed is Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters by Kim Newman. I’ve read and discussed two of the books in this series already—three if you count Kim Newman’s graphic novel set in the same world. In this case, I technically skipped ahead to book 5 of the series because I wanted to return to the nineteenth century and continue the story of Geneviève Dieudonné before continuing to march through the twentieth century with Newman’s own vampires.

If I hadn’t already become a fan of Kim Newman’s work from Anno Dracula, this novel would have won me over by opening with a quote by Lafcadio Hearn. Hearn’s essays and collections have long been an influence on me and I even paid tribute to him by making him a character in my novel Owl Riders. Among the works Hearn collected are spooky and strange folktales from Japan. Stories from his collection Kwaidan were even filmed for a movie of the same name. One of the truly memorable stories from that collection features the snow maiden, or Yuki-Onna, a phantom-like figure of cold winter nights who lures men to their deaths. Yuki-Onna looms large in One Thousand Monsters.

The world of Anno Dracula assumes that Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was largely a factual account until the end. Instead of Professor Van Helsing leading a pursuit of the good count through the Carpathians, Dracula eludes his pursuers and marries Queen Victoria, becoming the prince regent and bringing vampires out into the open. In the aftermath of the struggle against Dracula’s corruption, a handful of vampires including Geneviève Dieudonné are exiled from Great Britain and travel to Japan. They settle in Yokai Town, a district of Tokyo set aside for Japan’s own vampires. Newman dives extensively into Asian vampire lore to populate Yokai Town with a wide variety of strange, frightening, tragic, and even sometimes humorous vampires. As the British vampires attempt to settle in, they find the district is under the watchful eye of Lieutenant Majin, who runs the district like a prison. What’s more, sinister things are afoot as vampires make plots in the shadows.

In addition to Geneviève Dieudonné, we get to know several interesting vampires from both European and Asian stories and movies. Leading the European vampire contingent is Princess Casamassina, a vampire who can literally become light. Two soldiers, Danny Dravot and Kostaki work with Geneviève to unravel the mysteries of Yokai Town. Fans of Rudyard Kipling will recognize Dravot from the story “The Man Who Would be King.” There’s even a sailor named Popejoy, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the sailor of Elzie Segar’s comic strip. Among the Asian vampires are a Chinese jiang shi, the cat-like bakeneko, and a child-vampire who controls creepy puppets. There’s even a brief reference to Dance in the Vampire Bund.

All in all, Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters was a great romp. We got to know some familiar characters better and were introduced to some new characters. Newman deftly juggles the many types of vampires from world lore and draws us in to believe they’re all part of one big shared universe. Not only does the book start with a quote by Lafcadio Hearn, but Hearn makes a cameo appearance at the end of the novel. There aren’t many series that I feel compelled to read every book, but the more I read, the more I want the next Anno Dracula in line.

I introduce Lafcadio Hearn in my novel Owl Riders. Although it’s not a vampire novel like One Thousand Monsters, I debuted the book at Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans, in part because the store sits on the site where Ramon and Fatemeh live in the novel. What’s more the Scarlet Order vampires have a way of weaving in and out of the Clockwork Legion stories. In Ordeal of the Scarlet Order, I have a scene where the vampire Desmond Drake is in New Orleans and finds himself at the house where Lafcadio Hearn lived. You can learn about Owl Riders and all my novels at http://www.davidleesummers.com

Hugo

Starting in 2020, a friend started running a virtual happy hour on Friday nights as a way to give us all a little human interaction outside of work during the COVID Pandemic. We’ve enjoyed these gatherings so much, they’ve now been going on for two years. During one of these sessions, a friend recommended the movie Hugo directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Ben Kingsley. My wife chimed in that she’d seen it and strongly suggested we should get a copy. We finally did and I finally had a chance to sit down and watch it.

I think Hugo is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a mainstream steampunk film. Hugo Cabret is an orphaned boy living in the Paris train station in 1931. When his father died in a fire, Hugo had been taken in by his uncle, who maintained the station’s clocks. The only thing Hugo had of his fathers was a broken-down automaton, like the ones used in magic shows at the end of the Victorian era. It appeared this particular automaton could write. Hugo sets about finding parts to make the automaton work again, which means occasionally stealing parts from a toy seller at the station. The toy seller catches Hugo in the act and makes him empty his pockets. In the process he discovers the boys notes about the automaton. Soon after this, Hugo meets and befriends the toy seller’s goddaughter, Isabelle. She helps Hugo and the toy seller reach an understanding and Hugo starts working for him to pay the toy seller back for the parts he took.

As the movie progresses, we eventually learn that the toy seller is none other than Geoges Méliès, the filmmaker who made A Trip to the Moon in 1902. Méliès fell on hard times after World War I. He’s depressed and has no interest in talking about his films. Working together Hugo and Isabelle do manage to get the automaton working and they eventually learn that the automaton once belonged to Méliès. In short, the film tells the story of Hugo coming to terms with the loss of his father and it’s also the story of how Méliès vanished from public view because of World War I and how he came to terms with his legacy in the 1930s. My only real complaint about the film is that the scenes of Méliès directing his films looked a little too much like modern filmmaking. The glimpses of early filmmaking we saw in E. Elias Merhige’s Shadow of the Vampire felt a little more true to the period than what we saw in Hugo.

With its automata, its look at the magic of early film making, and the great clockworks of the Paris train station, the film Hugo feels very much like a steampunk or maybe even dieselpunk story (it is set in the 1930s, after all). However, it isn’t quite steampunk. Instead, it’s historical fiction. After all, automata who danced, wrote notes, or did other tricks really existed. The master maker of such automata was none other than Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, a magician who was one of Méliès’s real-life mentors. Robert-Houdin, incidentally, also inspired magician Erik Weisz, who took the stage name Harry Houdini in Robert-Houdin’s honor. Still, it’s astonishing to see a film which feels so steampunk directed by such a mainstream director as Martin Scorsese and which was taken seriously enough to win four Academy Awards.

The film Hugo reminded me of my approach to steampunk and other, similar historical fantasy. I start with meticulous research about what happened in history. Within the true story, I find the tale I want to tell, usually by asking “what if” about some set of real world events. The “what if” might involve some fantastic element like asking what if airships had been present? Or, what if the automata had miniaturized analytic engines and could do complex calculations, becoming more like modern robots than simply sophisticated clockwork toys.

Hugo came out in 2011 and it feels like a lot has happened since then and steampunk has faded in mainstream popularity. Georges Méliès was fortunate enough to see the magic of his films be rediscovered during his lifetime. I suspect steampunk and historical fantasy are far from the end of their life. There’s still much magic for audiences to discover. If you want to delve into my steampunk worlds, just visit http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

What Lies Inside?

I enjoy collecting action figures and statues based on some of my favorite science fiction and fantasy universes. I especially like ones that take inspiration from sources other than movies or TV. One manufacturer I especially liked was Eaglemoss, which made spaceship models based not only on the Star Trek television series, but also occasionally from novels and video games. Eaglemoss also made figures from comic books and other science fiction franchises. I was saddened to hear that they went out of business at the end of this past summer. Shortly after they went out of business, I learned they had made some figures based on the Doctor Who audio adventures from Big Finish Productions. I have loved these audio stories, and I decided to see if I could get a set before they disappeared into the hands of collectors forever. I lucked out and found a nice set featuring Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor and Nicola Walker as his companion Liv Chenka. Paul McGann did play the Doctor in the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie, but Big Finish designed a new look for the Doctor as he appears on the audio book covers, also Liv has never appeared on screen. Even the Dalek’s paint scheme is unique to the audio book covers.

I’ve long appreciated that Big Finish productions have given us a nice run of Paul McGann as the Doctor. He’s only appeared on screen three times in the role. First in the TV movie, where he was introduced. Second in a TV short called “Night of the Doctor” where we learned how his incarnation met its end. Most recently, he appeared in the episode called “Power of the Doctor” where Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor meets the “spirits” of several earlier incarnations. It always felt like a shame he didn’t have more stories. While I have listened to several Big Finish audio productions featuring Paul McGann as the Doctor, I hadn’t yet listened to any featuring Liv, nor have I listened to any after the eighth Doctor started sporting his leather jacket look as shown in the action figure. That said, I did listen to the pivotal stories “Lucie Miller” and “To the Death,” which effectively show us how the Doctor went from a more breezy, lighthearted personality to a more reserved, careful personality, reflected in the change of outfit. So, I decided I should rectify that. The hard part was deciding where to start. Right after “To the Death,” Big Finish produced several epic-length episodes featuring the eighth Doctor that span several volumes each. I wasn’t quite ready to commit that much time to a story. That said, this year, Big Finish has released two sets of more episodic adventures featuring Paul McGann. The first was “What Lies Inside?”

“What Lies Inside?” is, itself, composed of two different stories. The first is “Paradox of the Daleks.” As this story starts, it looks like it’s going to be a very traditional story of the Doctor facing his old nemesis the daleks. The Doctor, Liv, and Helen Sinclair arrive on a space station where the inhabitants are conducting experiments on time travel. It turns out, the daleks have also invaded, preparing to establish a temporal beachhead in some war they’re fighting. As the Doctor tries to foil the daleks’ plans, one of the space station’s inhabitants tricks Liv and Helen into hiding in a time capsule. The capsule sends them back in time to before they all arrived and sets a chain of events into action. On the whole, the story reminded me of Back to the Future, but where the stakes could be the universe itself!

The second story was “The Dalby Spook.” In this story, the Doctor, Helen, and Liv visit the Isle of Man in 1933. They go to see a stage psychic perform and encounter the real-life skeptic Harry Price. It turns out that Price is on the island to investigate reports of an invisible, talking mongoose said to haunt the Irving family home. I was delighted to learn that Harry Price’s investigation of Gef the Talking Mongoose really happened. I love it when real events are given a science fictional or fantastic twist and this story doesn’t disappoint. The Doctor, Liv, and Helen soon learn that something sinister is indeed going on around the Irving home, but it may not be as simple as young Voirrey Irving trying to get people to believe in an imaginary friend. She may be in real danger and Helen and Liv have to convince the Doctor to help.

While I’m disappointed that Eaglemoss has gone out of business, I’m happy that events came together to get me to listen to more Big Finish Doctor Who adventures. You can learn about their full range of adventures at https://bigfinish.com

Of course, if you like audiobooks, don’t miss the audiobook adaptations of my novels Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves. You can find them at:

Vesper

A little over a week ago, I won two tickets to a movie at the Fountain Theatre in Mesilla, New Mexico. This felt like something of a big deal, since neither my wife nor I had been to a movie theater since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fountain Theatre is a small venue run by the Mesilla Valley Film Society and is known for showing foreign and indie releases. It’s called the Fountain Theatre because the building was purchased by Albert Fountain Jr. in 1905. Back in those days, the theater put on plays, light opera, and vaudeville performances. The Fountain family sold the building to Vincent Guerra in 1929 and that’s when they began to show movies. Guerra had to relinquish the building back to the Fountain family in 1938. The Mesilla Valley Film Society began renting the building in 1989 as a venue to show foreign, alternative, and indie films.

The film my wife and I won tickets for was Vesper. Directed by Kristina Buožytė and Bruno Samper, it’s a French-Lithuanian-Belgian film set in a post-apocalyptic world where people had attempted to avert disaster by growing genetically modified crops. Things went horribly wrong and most animal life died and the planet is dominated by dangerous plants. Society’s elite live in citadels and trade viable food seeds with the stragglers in the wider world for items they need. The film’s title character, played by Rafiella Chapman, lives in an old house with her father who had been injured in battle. He can see and hear through a floating drone that accompanies Vesper out into the world. On one of Vesper’s trips, she finds Carmellia, played by Rosy McEwen, who survived an aircraft crash. Vesper brings her back to the house and nurses her back to health. Carmellia heals surprisingly quickly.

Vesper’s uncle Jonas, played by Eddie Marsan, lives on a nearby homestead with a number of children. He harvests blood to trade with the citadels in exchange for seeds. We soon learn that Jonas is not an uncle to be relied on. He’s mercenary and has less-than-platonic interest in his niece. When he finds Carmellia’s wrecked aircraft, he quickly kills Carmellia’s father and scavenges the craft instead of calling the citadels for help. It’s a dark world and there’s no obvious path to making it better. Aspects of the story reminded me of a more rural take on Yukito Kishiro’s Battle Angel Alita. Of course, our title character is Vesper, and like a twilight prayer, she might hold hope for a better future. Overall, this was a great film to lure me back out to the theater. You can learn more about the movie and find places to stream it at: https://www.vespermovie.com/

In general, I’m delighted to see that the Mesilla Valley Film Society is still operating and showing great films. If the theater’s 1905 owner, Albert Fountain Jr. sounds familiar to my readers, he should. His father, Albert Jennings Fountain appears as a character in my novel The Brazen Shark, where he serves as defense attorney to Billy McCarty and Luther Duncan. Also, Albert Fountain and his son Henry are the title characters in my story “Fountains of Blood” which appears in the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone. As always, you can learn more about my writing by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com

Otherlands

I was around six-years-old when I came face-to-face with my first dinosaur. It was in the book aisle of the grocery store where my family shopped, in the pages of the How and Why Wonder Book of Dinosaurs. My mom bought the book for me and I poured over the pages of the book, fascinated by the large, lumbering brontosaurus, the fearsome allosaurus, the triceratops with its three horns and the duckbilled trachodon, munching away on leaves in a swamp. I learned how to pronounce those long dinosaur names my mom stumbled over and I went on to check out even more books with pictures of dinosaurs from the library.

My love of dinosaurs stayed with me even as Voyager’s encounters with the planets lured me into a career in astronomy. Through astronomy, I came to learn that Earth has only existed for a short time in the vast history of the universe. Reading about dinosaurs as a kid, I knew that humans existed only a short time compared dinosaurs and other creatures lived before the dinosaurs and also between the dinosaurs and us. While working on my physics degree, I took a course in geology and got to know the geological eras and learn a little more about the life that lived in those times through the fossils they left behind. During the field-mapping exercise I did as part of my geology class, I even found the fossil imprint of a Cretaceous-era leaf. During this time, I became keenly aware of how fragile life can be and how there have been several mass extinctions. I learned, among other things that the mass extinction that gave rise to the dinosaurs was far more extensive than the one that doomed them.

I was fortunate to marry an amazing person who shares my love of nature and of dinosaurs. One of our most memorable vacations was a trek to Dinosaur National Monument in Northern Utah, where numerous dinosaur fossils were buried in a flood millions of years ago.

Otherlands by Thomas Halliday

It’s from this perspective that a friend recommended the book Otherlands by Thomas Halliday. Halliday takes a fascinating approach with his book. He steps backward from the present day through the geological eras. He picks a place where the fossil record is well developed, and tells you what it would be like to be in that place if you arrived there on a day in that time. He introduces us to giant penguins and feathered, nearly silent dinosaurs. He shows us eras where plants dominated the landscape and we learn about trilobites scuttling along the sea floor with multifaceted eyes focused at different distances. I was fascinated to realize that in terms of number of species dinosaurs, in the form of birds, still dominate the planet today. Of course, humans dominate the planet in the sense of shaping it to accommodate our needs and whims. Halliday does point out we’re not the first species to impact the planet and its climate, we just may be the first one to make conscious decisions about how we impact the climate. The whole thing paints a picture of just how small a place we humans take up in the whole history of the Earth. If you’re fascinated by paleontology, dinosaurs, and the creatures who lived in other eras, this is a book well worth reading.

I can probably trace my fascination of not only dinosaurs but books to that copy of the How and Why Wonderbook of Dinosaurs. That funky duck-billed trachodon has always stuck with me. I came to learn that it’s a type of hadrosaur and some hadrosaurs like parasaurolophus and tsintaosaurus have single growths on their heads, resembling unicorn horns. When my wife and I founded a science fiction and fantasy small press, we looked to the hadrosaur as a visual metaphor because it was at once a creature of science and fantasy. I encourage you to look up Otherlands, but I hope you’ll also drop by hadrosaur.com and learn about the books we publish. No doubt you’ll find something to stir your imagination!

Arthur: King of Britain

Earlier this year, I discovered Caliber Publishing’s updates of L. Frank Baum’s Oz and H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. A couple of weeks ago, I discovered Caliber Publishing had also published a comic book adaptation of the King Arthur story in the early 1990s. Unlike Oz and War of the Worlds, which were effectively continuations of their respective tales, Caliber’s Arthur: King of Britain is a straightforward adaptation of the Arthur story as it appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. This adaptation is written and features black and white artwork by Michael Fraley, who started his career as a newspaper sketch artist, but soon moved into graphic design and honed his writing skills to the point of earning a regular newspaper tech column.

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain is an important work. Written circa 1136 AD, Geoffrey’s work endeavors to combine aspects of Arthurian folklore and the fragmentary bits of history that suggest Arthur was a real figure into a single narrative of Arthur’s life. Later, more famous versions of the King Arthur story, such as Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur are arguably built on Geoffrey’s framework. Geoffrey’s version tells the story of how Merlin helped Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon take the form of Gorlois of Cornwall, to seduce Gorlois’ wife, Igerne. From that union, Arthur is born. He would go on to be trained as a knight and assume the throne upon the death of his father.

According to Geoffrey, Arthur goes on to unite the British people to confront the Saxon invaders who have begun to take over much of Britain. Once the Saxons are defeated, Arthur marries Guinevere and then begins a series of military campaigns in the lands surrounding Britain. When Roman envoys come to Arthur to demand tribute, Arthur decides to use the forces he’s assembled from the British Isles and Western Europe to conquer Rome itself. He leaves Britain in the care of his nephew, Modred. While on the Roman campaign, Arthur learns that Modred has married Guinevere and claimed the throne of Britain for himself, setting up the final tragic battle at Camlan.

Fraley’s comic adaptation includes notes about the story, which I found interesting. He points out that Geoffrey would have been steeped in Biblical tradition and he tells a story that eschews the more magical aspects of Celtic lore in favor of a story that reads like it could have been part of the Bible. The giants in the History of the Kings of Britain resemble Goliath more than Ysbaddaden Chief Giant of the Celtic Arthurian tale Culhwch and Olwen. Fraley also suggests that Arthur’s conquest of Rome may have been inspired by Geoffrey’s desire to give Arthur a story as epic as Charlemagne’s. Fraley talks about this European quest moving into the background of later stories. I’ve long suspected that later writers, who didn’t see a Roman conquest by Britain in any other history and who wanted to tell a moral tale, transformed much of that quest into the quest for the Holy Grail.

I thought Fraley’s book Arthur: King of Britain was a good adaptation of Geoffrey of Monmouth. The black and white art supported the story well and his notes gave me new insight into the story. If you’re a fan of comics and Arthurian legend, you can find the five-issue series collected as a graphic novel in both digital and print formats at Amazon.

When I wrote my novel, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires, I planned to set part of the story in Arthurian times right from the beginning. I decided to use Geoffrey’s version of the story as my template for my story’s background. You can learn more about Dragon’s Fall at: http://davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

Geoffrey’s version of the Arthur story has also influenced my science fiction. His version of Arthur’s final battle with Modred, inspired the final confrontation between Manuel Raton and Mary Hill in my novel The Pirates of Sufiro. There’s a reason the strategic pass where the novel’s climactic scene happens is called Camlan. You can learn more about The Pirates of Sufiro at: http://davidleesummers.com/pirates_of_sufiro.html

Finally, if you’re interested in those early Welsh Arthurian folktales, I recorded my own retelling of Culhwch and Olwen. You can learn more here: http://davidleesummers.com/cando.html

Batman’s Beginnings

The first superhero I remember is Batman as portrayed by Adam West in the 1960s. I loved that show and would watch it obsessively. I remember begging my parents for a toy Batmobile. I even built a toy Batcave out of a Styrofoam box insert. The show was my gateway into the world of comic books. Anytime I had enough spare change, I would buy an issue of Batman or Justice League from the corner drug store and read it over and over until it fell apart. In my high school years, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight would be one of the first series I would collect seriously. I still have my original copies. As with any canon that has been around for a long time, I love going back to the beginning to see how the story was originally conceived.

DC Comics has been pretty good about collecting omnibuses of its early material and I recently picked up Batman: The Golden Age Volume 1 in its digital format. Over the years, I’ve owned replica editions of Batman’s first appearance in Detective Comics #27. I also have the Joker and Catwoman stories from Batman #1 collected in anthologies. That noted, this is the first opportunity I’ve had to read Batman’s first 19 appearances in Detective Comics along with the first three complete issues of Batman 1 through 3. The omnibus also includes Batman’s appearance in New York World’s Fair Comics.

Batman first appeared in May 1939 as The Bat-Man in issue 27 of Detective Comics. Right away the first panel introduces to wealthy socialite Bruce Wayne and his friend Police Commissioner Gordon discussing the Bat-Man. Gordon soon gets a call and he and Wayne rush to a murder scene. The Bat-Man makes his first appearance on page 3, cutting a figure that’s still recognizable to readers today. The pointy ears on his cowl are a little longer and stick out a bit more to the side than they ultimately would. His eyes are more slit-like and his cape seems a bit more wing-like. By the end of the issue we would learn that Bruce Wayne is the man in the bat mask. The Bat-Man’s hyphen would mostly disappear by Detective Comics #30.

The first of Batman’s famous rogue’s gallery, Dr. Hugo Strange, was introduced in Detective Comics #36. Batman’s sidekick Robin would make his first appearance in Detective Comics #38. In that issue, we’re given two pages of origin story followed by Robin fully entrenched as Batman’s sidekick. This issue was followed by Batman #1 in April 1940, which introduced us to both the Joker and Catwoman. To me, no one has yet matched Jerry Robinson’s original Joker design for sheer creepiness. I was also fascinated to see that the sexual tension between Batman and Catwoman started almost right at the very beginning.

What’s perhaps most interesting in these earliest issues is what’s missing. There’s no Batmobile. Batman just drives around in an ordinary sedan. He does have a very cool bat-shaped plane, though. There’s no Alfred the Butler and no Batcave. While Batman is very grim in the earliest issues, he starts smiling more, like he’s taking delight in bringing criminals to justice.

I’ve recently been researching the early part of the 1930s for a story I’m writing. There was a definite fascination with gangsters who were romanticized into figures who stood up to authority and were sometimes seen as Robin Hood-like figures who took money from the rich. It’s interesting to see how Batman emerged at the end of that era as the Great Depression came to an end and the United States watched World War II unfold. Instead of a Robin Hood, Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson gave us a rich guy who did what he thought was right, even if he skirted the law. Batman and Catwoman not only flirt with each other but they almost flirt with the idea of becoming a Bonnie and Clyde, but ultimately, Batman does what’s right and remains on the side of justice.

Over the years, the art of comic books has become more polished as has the writing. Still, it’s fun to go back to the beginning and see how these characters started. Much of what makes them popular now was right there at the beginning, but many things we take for granted took years to develop. I’m grateful Adam West and Burt Ward invited me into this expansive world many years ago and while I follow other comic series more closely now, I still like to check in and see what Batman and Robin are up to from time to time.

Story and History

While my wife and I were in Tombstone the first weekend of October, we realized we’d never seen the 1957 film, Gunfight at the OK Corral starring Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday. The movie also features DeForest Kelley, best known for playing Dr. McCoy in Star Trek, as Morgan Earp and Earl Holliman as Wyatt’s deputy, Charles Bassett. The year before Gunfight at the OK Corral, Holliman had appeared in Forbidden Planet as the cook on the spaceship C-57D. Much of The Gunfight at the OK Corral was filmed at Old Tucson Studios, where we’ve spent quite a bit of time at the Wild Wild West Con steampunk convention. We bought a copy of the Blu-ray at the OK Corral gift shop and brought it home.

Gunfight at the OK Corral Blu-Ray

I wasn’t expecting a historically accurate retelling of the real gunfight. After all, right there on the cover, Burt Lancaster lacked Wyatt Earp’s epic mustache! What’s more, the real gunfight was a messy thirty-second shootout that resulted from tensions brewing between two factions in Tombstone over the previous months. Most of the story’s drama is in the lead-up and the aftermath. When the movie is titled Gunfight at the OK Corral, you essentially know the gunfight itself is going to be the story’s big climactic scene. What surprised me was how much the movie diverged from history.

The movie opens with Wyatt Earp as a US Marshal on the trail of bad guy Johnny Ringo. In a small town in Texas, he finds a sheriff has let him get away. However, the sheriff points Earp to Doc Holliday, who happens to be in town, for more information. It turns out a gunman has come to town to get revenge for Doc killing his brother after cheating at cards, which gives us the setup for our opening confrontation. After this is resolved, Wyatt returns home to Dodge City, Kansas and continues searching for clues about Ringo. In the meantime, he has a run-in with a lady gambler named Laura Denbow and a romance blossoms between them. Eventually, Wyatt gets a telegram from his brother Virgil in Tombstone. Johnny Ringo has joined forces with a group of ranchers called the Clantons.

I’m not really interested in nitpicking the movie for historical accuracy. It tells a solid, tight-knit tale about a good lawman doggedly chasing down his opponent culminating in a satisfying, cinematic gunfight. What did strike me was how it used a handful of carefully placed historical details to give it the sense of historical veracity, even though it diverged from history at many key points.

Because I spent my weekend in Tombstone working on a dieselpunk story, which was a work of historical fantasy based in a real location and inspired by a true story, I realized this movie did a lot of what I do when I’m writing these kinds of his historical fantasy stories. History may have served as a foundation, but the movie’s writer and director made sure that it told a solid, self-contained story. History is often messy with many unresolved threads. Real-life romances and relationships aren’t always easy to understand. The big difference between Gunfight at the OK Corral and the stories I write is that I typically signal my story isn’t literal history by including fantastical or science fictional elements such as airships that didn’t exist at the time or wandering alien travelers. I enjoyed Gunfight at the OK Corral, but might have enjoyed a fantastical take based, for example, on Emma Bull’s novel Territory, even more.

As it turns out, I set a portion of my Clockwork Legion series in the area around Tombstone, but I deliberately decided I didn’t want to retell the story of the gunfight at the OK Corral. Instead, in my alternate version of history, the Clantons and the Earps are barely aware of each other because the events in this world conspire to keep them on separate paths. Part of the novel Lightning Wolves is based on the story of the Clantons before Tombstone was founded. By Owl Riders, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday have shown up, but their business interests are unrelated to the Clantons. You can learn more about the series at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

Doc Holliday’s Faro Table

This weekend finds me in the midst of a long shift at Kitt Peak National Observatory. I’m working fifteen nights out of twenty-one with two three-night breaks. After the fire at Kitt Peak, we have a real risk of landslides if there’s rain. Because of that, those of us on staff have to convoy up the mountain at either 8:00am or 2:30pm and we can only leave the mountain at 3:45pm. So, if I finish a shift on Friday night, I can’t actually leave until 3:45pm on Saturday. The upshot is that three-day breaks are actually closer to two-day breaks and given that I have a five-hour drive home, a two day break rapidly becomes one day.

Because of this, and because I’m working on some short stories, my wife suggested a weekend a little closer to Tucson. So, we spent the first of my two breaks in Tombstone, Arizona, site of the famous gunfight at the OK Corral. I’ve been to Tombstone on other occasions and I enjoy the Old West ambience and the saloons that serve up a nice range of burgers and local beer. She found a new bed and breakfast in town called “The Dragon’s Keep Inn.” It seemed clear from the description that the owners were science fiction and fantasy fans near and dear to our heart. Currently the inn has two rooms and two RV spaces. They hope to open a small shop in the near future and it’s a nice change of pace from the usual Tombstone establishment that names everything after Wyatt Earp or Ike Clanton.

Kumie and I at The Dragon’s Keep in Tombstone

My goal for the weekend was mostly to write. I’m working on a story set on a railroad among the mining towns of Colorado, so being in a mining town in Arizona seemed like good ambience. The Dragon’s Keep proved a nice place to write and I made good progress on my story. Still, being in Tombstone, we wanted to see some of the sights. One place I hadn’t visited before was the Bird Cage Theatre, which is one of the few buildings in Tombstone that actually dates back to the time of the famous gunfight.

The Bird Cage Theatre

The Bird Cage Theatre also has a reputation as a very haunted place, so they offer nightly ghost tours. Since The Dragon’s Keep Inn is on the south end of Allen Street, not far from the Bird Cage, we decided to go on the ghost tour. One thing that made the ghost tour worthwhile is that it’s a small group. We were on the 9:30pm tour and we only had four people in our group. The tour guide was quite knowledgeable and I enjoyed learning about the history of the Bird Cage. You get to see the small rooms where bordello girls plied their trade. There are bullet holes in the ceiling where rowdy cowboys fired off their weapons during shows. They also have some artifacts from early Tombstone such as this Black Mariah hearse, which carried many of Tombstone’s residents on their last ride to Boot Hill.

Black Mariah at the Bird Cage Theater

Admittedly, I’m something of a skeptic when it comes to ghosts. If the Bird Cage is haunted, the ghosts were rather quiet that night. The one odd occurrence I experienced happened while standing near the Black Mariah. I could swear I felt someone touching the back of my head. I looked around and no one was there. It was a very light touch, almost like I’d walked into a spider web, but I saw nothing to account for it. Perhaps my favorite artifact at the Bird Cage Theatre was the faro table used by Doc Holliday.

Doc Holliday’s Faro Table

I had a special connection to this faro table because when I wrote my novel Owl Riders, I made a point of writing in a couple of scenes where Doc Holliday and Ramon Morales play faro on an airship ride from New Orleans to Tucson. Of course, Doc couldn’t bring the full table along, but he had his shoe for shuffling cards and a mat for laying out the hands. I found it great fun to actually see a piece of history directly connected with something I had written about. You can learn more about Owl Riders at: http://davidleesummers.com/owl_riders.html

The Bloody Red Baron

The Bloody Red Baron

I enjoyed Kim Newman’s novel Anno Dracula and his related graphic novel 1895: Seven Days in Mayhem enough that I decided to continue to his next novel in the Anno Dracula series, The Bloody Red Baron. As one might expect from the title and the cover, this novel is set in World War I and focuses on the conflict between Allied and German pilots, in particular Baron Manfred von Richthofen. That said, the cover of the Titan Books edition is a little deceptive because Richthofen doesn’t fly his famous Fokker triplane. Instead, he’s a vampire who’s been the subject of medical experimentation and literally can transform into a deadly flying weapon. Meanwhile, Edgar Allan Poe, who long ago became a vampire and immigrated to Europe has been sent to write Richthofen’s biography to inspire the German forces. Those same German forces are now under the command of Count Dracula, who has found a position in the Kaiser’s court after being deposed from the rule of Great Britain.

On the allied side, we follow the adventures of Edwin Winthrop, a protégé of Charles Beauregard, one of the protagonists of Anno Dracula. Winthrop goes on a aerial reconnaissance mission and is shot down by the Red Baron. As he fights to return to allied territory, he drinks some vampire blood to survive his wounds and gains some vampire strength. He then signs up as a fighter pilot with a personal mission to get his vengeance on Richthofen. In the meantime, vampire reporter Kate Reed is trying to learn about the allied pilots and finds herself entangled in the story’s events. The novel ends in a great climactic battle which involves biplanes, monstrous German flying aces, and airships. Dracula even shows up and tries to bring some medieval battle tactics into World War I.

I enjoyed the novel, but it never quite drew me in the same way as Anno Dracula did. That said, the Titan Books edition features a nice bonus. It also includes a novella called 1923: Vampire Romance. In this story, Edwin Winthrop recruits Genevieve Dieudonné from Anno Dracula to infiltrate a gathering of high-ranking vampires who have assembled to determine who will be the next vampire leader of Europe. Among the claimants to the title are the head of Hammer Films Seven Golden Vampires, Carmilla Karnstein’s long lost brother, and a nasty hunchbacked vampire. In the middle of it all is a young lady who wants to become a vampire and is smitten by Carmilla’s brother. The whole thing both sends up the vampire romance genre and plays tribute to an Agatha Christie locked-room mystery. To me, this seemed a much stronger successor to Anno Dracula.

The Titan Books edition of The Bloody Red Baron also includes annotations by Kim Newman detailing some of his influences, inspirations and references. A final bonus is a film treatment he wrote for Roger Corman loosely based on the ideas presented in The Bloody Red Baron. All in all, I had fun with Newman’s continuation of the Anno Dracula series and I’m interested in reading more in due course.

In the meantime, you can learn more about my vampire novels by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order