Squirrel Girl

A number of my birthday and Christmas presents in 2018 revolved around one of my favorite comic books, Marvel’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. For those who haven’t encountered the character, she’s a college-age woman with a big bushy tail, can speak to squirrels, and has the proportional strength of a squirrel. Her alter ego is Doreen Green, a university computer science student.

What first attracted me to the comic were the covers. Instead of the usual muscle-bound or hyper-sexualized heroes, the covers featured this rather ordinary looking girl with a squirrel-ear headband and a big tail. There was action in the covers, but it was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. It made me want to learn more. I dived in and quickly discovered that the writing delivered on the promise of the covers.

What makes Squirrel Girl interesting is that she’s not your garden variety hero with a dark origin trying to fight or solve mysteries in an increasingly grim reality. She often looks for solutions that work best for everyone involved. She tries to get to the root of why bad guys are doing bad things and helps them solve that problem. The result is that she tends to make more friends than enemies. Of course, some bad guys don’t want their problems solved. In that case, Squirrel Girl has no problem kicking their butts, often with the help of an army of New York City squirrels, but also with her college roommate Nancy and fellow superheroes Koi Boy and Chipmunk Hunk. And let’s not forget Brain Drain, a disembodied brain transplanted into a robot body who quotes existentialist literature and is always there to help our heroes.

As it turns out, the artist whose work captured my attention is Erica Henderson. When I see an artist whose work grabs my attention, I like to learn more about where their work has appeared. As I followed up on her other work, it suddenly dawned on me that Erica was the daughter of long-time Tales of the Talisman contributor C.J. Henderson and, in fact, I had published some of Erica’s art in volume II, issue 3 of the magazine! If you’d like a copy, back issues are available at: http://talesofthetalisman.com/bookstore-v2.html

As for the presents themselves, among them were the graphic novels that I showed up at the top of the post. Not only did I get books but my youngest daughter designed and sewed a Squirrel Girl plush for me. Now one of my favorite features of the comic book is the letters section. You see, not only does Doreen Green try to make friends, but the letters are positive and fun as well, especially when they encourage young fans in their creativity. When Verity made me the plush, I had to take a photo and send it in. As it turns out, they just published the photo and my letter in issue number 40. That was a real delight.

If you’re a comic book fan looking for something that’s light but thoughtful, fun but intelligent, I highly recommend checking out Marvel’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

Advertisements

Sandman Mystery Theatre

When I first discovered Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic in 1989, I may have been one of the only people disappointed that it wasn’t about a guy in a suit, a fedora, and a gas mask who fought crime. Of course, I’m alluding to the Sandman from the Golden Age of comic books, who was actually mentioned in that first issue of Neil Gaiman’s comic. In time, Gaiman’s comic would win me over on the merits of its own great writing, but it still didn’t satisfy that interest to see more stories about the Golden Age version of the character. Just a few weeks ago, I learned that there was a comic that would do just that.

Sandman Mystery Theatre, written by Matt Wagner and Steven T. Seagle, ran from 1993-1999. In its 71-issue run, it returned to the 1930s to follow the adventures of Wesley Dodds, a quiet stay-at-home millionaire by day who donned a suit, trench coat, fedora, gas mask and gas gun by night to fight crime on the streets of New York City. Looking at the years of its original run, it’s no surprise why I missed it. It coincided very neatly with the early years of my marriage, family life, writing, and astronomy careers!In the Monday of Thanksgiving week, I think it’s fitting to say that I’m very thankful for the existence of digital back issues of comics!

I first discovered the Sandman character when I was a kid, reading comics featuring the Justice Society of America. This was the superhero team that preceded the more famous Justice League. Sandman was one of the team’s founding members and I found him interesting. Like Batman, Sandman has no super powers. He’s basically a detective who carries a gun that puts people to sleep. The similarities between Batman and Sandman don’t stop there. As I mentioned, Wesley Dodds is a millionaire, like Bruce Wayne. He also has a loyal butler who knows his secret. As it turns out, the two characters were introduced to readers at nearly the same time. Sandman first appeared in New York World’s Fair Comics in January 1939, while Batman debuted in Detective Comics in May 1939. Of some note, Wesley Dodds always had his loyal butler Humphries, while Alfred didn’t join Bruce Wayne until 1943.

Another interesting element to the Sandman character is that he’s one of the first comic book heroes to have a sidekick who is not simply a miniature version of himself. His sidekick was a woman named Dian Belmont who was not written as a damsel in distress even in her earliest comic appearances and often shared dangers with Wesley.

In Sandman Mystery Theatre, Matt Wagner took the source material and brought it into a gritty, noir world written for adults. It starts in 1938, just before the time period of the original Sandman comics. The story follows Wesley and Dian as they get involved in a series of murder investigations. It’s hard to call these “cozy” mysteries because the comic does not steer away from racism, child abuse, and real social issues of the time period, many of which still resonate today. We also see Wesley and Dian grow closer together and a romance blossom between them. Unlike so many comic book romances, this is not one that flickers out every story cycle, but deals with characters learning about each other and making decisions about what to reveal and not reveal about their pasts. In many ways, the story reminds me very much of the Thin Man movies of the 1930s, but with less rampant alcoholism.

Like heroes such as Batman and the Green Hornet, Wesley Dodds is essentially a masked vigilante. He has some martial arts training. He’s not as powerful as Batman. Villains can hurt him—badly. While he has money, he doesn’t affect a playboy persona like Bruce Wayne. The overall effect is that Wesley Dodds becomes a much more relatable character, like many of the noir detectives. I’m having fun catching up on back issues of Sandman Mystery Theatre. You can find digital copies at places like Amazon and Comixology.

Bombshells

While visiting Bisbee, Arizona a couple of weeks ago, I found a fun figurine of Batgirl with something of a steampunk makeover in a boutique called Va Voom! I walked around the shop two or three times and finally decided she had to come home with me. I also decided I had to know whether she had a formal appearance in the comics. As it turns out, she did. She was the star of DC’s Bombshells Annual #1.

For those not familiar with DC’s Bombshells, the comic was set during an alternate World War II and imagines that many of the DC Universe’s female superheroes have gathered together to fight for the Allied cause. Among the Bombshells are familiar heroines such as Wonder Woman and Supergirl. Batwoman, who I remember discovering in reprints of vintage Batman comics, also takes a major role here. The team is spearheaded by Amanda Waller, who readers of Suicide Squad are sure to recognize. I’m sad to say the comic has ceased publication, but the last three years are widely available in collected graphic novels both in print and ebook editions.

The Batgirl story in this world actually opens in the swamps of Louisiana during 1941. Killer Croc has gone in search of the Batgirl of the swamps and he succeeds. What’s more, he discovers she’s a vampire! The action moves to West Point in 1941 where Amanda Waller is talking to a new recruit named Francine Charles. Waller sends Charles on a mission to recruit Batgirl to the Bombshells. When she asks why, Waller tells her Batgirl’s story.

We learn that Barbara Gourdon was a French girl living during World War I who loved tinkering with machinery. Her mother has fields of lavender and her father is a police officer. He buys her an airplane and she learns to fly. She ultimately falls in love, but disappears when she must save her lover. It’s up to Francine Charles to learn how the ace pilot became a vampire and to see if that vampire can be recruited to the Bombshells.

At the beginning of the summer, I talked about “superhero fatigue.” In that case, I spoke primarily of finding nothing but superhero movies at the cinema. One place I rarely suffer superhero fatigue is in my local comic shop. There are many fun and innovative titles on the shelves and I see the superheroes I grew up with being taken in new and interesting directions. Superhero fatigue in the movies has much to do with the fact that we’re seeing stuff that happened 20 years ago or more in the comic pages!

I love the idea of a feminist superhero team like the Bombshells. After reading Annual #1, I picked up the entire first year of collected stories and was impressed by the writing and the artwork. I love the exploration of characters who received too little page time back when I read comics more regularly many years ago. In the Batgirl comic in particular, I liked how they gave her a lavender bat costume like she had in the Adam West series, but also created a good reason for her to have that costume.

I also liked how Batgirl took a dark turn and became a vampire. The opening scenes in the Louisiana swamps with Killer Croc reminded me not a little of Marcella DuBois’s debut in my own novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. What’s more, Marcella is one of my own characters who I’ve explored in an alternate timeline. That version of Marcella appears in Straight Outta Tombstone which has just appeared in a nifty trade paperback edition. I have a feeling Marcella would be right at home with Amanda Waller’s Bombshells

You can learn more about Vampires of the Scarlet Order at http://www.davidleesummers.com/VSO.html

You can learn more about Straight Outta Tombstone at https://www.amazon.com/Straight-Outta-Tombstone-David-Boop/dp/1481483498/

The Classics and Beyond

Working long nights at Kitt Peak National Observatory, I often get a chance to ask my fellow astronomers about their taste in science fiction. Some of these astronomers are young, just starting their careers. Many are still in grad school. I find the first authors many will name are people like Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Robert A. Heinlein, and Larry Niven—many of the same people I would have named when I was in grad school. Every now and then, someone else will pop up like James S.A. Corey of the Expanse series or Andy Weir, who wrote The Martian.

I find it interesting that so many of my peers in the astronomy world still gravitate to the classics of science fiction. When someone doesn’t mention newer works, I sometimes suggest some. Often I’m met with “I’ll have to look up that author!” It indicates to me that word about newer authors isn’t always spreading outside of writing or fandom circles.

Publishing does face a real challenge. There are many great writers and there are a lot of enthusiastic readers. However, there are limited resources to publish all the best writing and limited shelf space to display it. The internet helps the shelf-space issue, but it doesn’t always make discovering new fiction all that easy. Of course some of that shelf space should go to classics and people will gravitate to what they’ve heard good things about from peers and mentors. Perhaps it’s no surprise that people keep going back to the classics.

This is one of the reasons that I’ve always appreciated magazines and anthologies. They become a way for me to get a sample of what newer authors have done. Magazines, though, are struggling in the Internet age. Numerous magazines have ceased publication. An inherent problem for fiction magazines is that they carry a date, which as time goes by makes the fiction look increasingly dated. Of course, fiction doesn’t always age poorly as evidenced by all the classic authors who still influence young, contemporary scientists.

Good anthologies, though, do have staying power and I’m proud to have contributed to some great anthologies over the years. One of the anthologies I’m most proud of is Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales. In that book, I got to work alongside talented editors Carol Hightshoe, Dayton Ward, Jennifer Brozek, and Bryan Thomas Schmidt to choose the very best stories from the Full-Throttle Space Tales originally published about ten years ago. I was especially proud that my fellow editors chose my story “Hijacking the Legacy” as one of the best stories from those books. It meant that I got to have a story alongside such authors as Phyllis Irene Radford, C.J. Henderson, Shannon Page, Mark Ferrari, Jean Johnson and Mike Resnick. I’ll note, Phyllis Irene Radford was also the editor of my novels Lightning Wolves and The Brazen Shark. Sometimes publishing is a small world.

I think Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales has the potential to be a classic. I don’t say this out of ego, but out of the fact that I got to spend a lot of time with this volume as it was put together. I really got to appreciate the wide range of stoies that could be explored in a backdrop of space adventure. There’s humor, there’s adventure, there are scares, and there are cautionary tales. I lost track of how many times I read the book on the path to publication and I never got bored. There were many other stories from the original volumes that I wish we could have included, but I think this is a good sample.

I’ve often spoken of my love of classic space opera such as Star Trek, Babylon 5, and Space Battleship Yamato. I find the stories here excite me just as must as the best episodes of those series. If you’re looking to discover some authors, this is a great place to start. You can get a copy today at: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B074FHCJXG/

Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale 2018 – Fantasy/Steampunk Spotlight

This month, the e-book retailer Smashwords is running their annual Summer/Winter sale, which runs from July 1 through July 31. Why summer/winter? That’s because it’s summer here in the northern hemisphere and winter in the southern hemisphere! All of Hadrosaur Productions’ titles published at Smashwords will be on sale for 50% off their retail price. All you have to do is enter the code SSW50 at checkout. Smashwords presents their ebooks in a variety of formats including mobi (which work on Kindles), epub (which work on Nooks), and PDF (which work on just about anything). For today’s post, I’ll be focusing on Hadrosaur’s fantasy, weird western and steampunk titles at Smashwords. Read to the end to get a free bonus!


Legends of the Dragon Cowboys

Legends of the Dragon Cowboys brings you two weird western adventures by authors David B. Riley and Laura Givens. Their heroes ride boldly out of the Far East to find their way in a mythic land of danger, romance, and adventure.

In “The Venerable Travels of Ling Fung” by David B. Riley, a wandering businessman encounters a Mayan god, crooked enterprises and Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, when all he really wants is to open a gun store. Ling Fung is not any ordinary Chinese entrepreneur–he’s highly skilled in Kung Fu and he can shoot good, too. While his heart is set on business, providence seems to have other plans for him.

Laura Givens brings wily acrobat Chin Song Ping to the Wild West in search of adventure and fortune. He finds little fortune, but plenty of adventure. Chin Song Ping is a scoundrel, a gambler and a trouble magnet. His heart of gold lands him in schemes to outwit would-be gods, cannibal ghosts, insane robots, Voodoo despots and the ultimate evil–bureaucrats. But he is a romantic, and the love of his life is the true treasure he seeks. The odds are always against him but if he survives he will become the Western legend he always was in his own mind.

The Wild West just got a lot wilder!

Get the book at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/751811


Revolution of Air and Rust

Revolution of Air and Rust This is my tale of Pancho Villa in an alternate Steampunk reality. Set in 1915, Teddy Roosevelt is building an empire. Pancho Villa is the only man who stands in his way!

The American Expeditionary Force under the command of General “Black Jack” Pershing has invaded Northern Mexico. Pancho Villa leads his revolutionary army in a desperate raid against the American force only to be outflanked. Just as Pershing’s airships prepare to deliver the death blow, Pancho Villa is transported to a parallel Earth where he finds an unexpected ally and the technology that might just turn defeat into victory.

Revolution of Air and Rust is a stand-alone novella set in the Empires of Steam and Rust world created by Robert E. Vardeman and Stephen D. Sullivan. A story filled with military action, espionage and gadgetry that’s sure to satisfy fans of steampunk and alternate history.

Get the book at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/254622


Tales of the Talisman

Tales of the Talisman Magazine may be on hiatus, but back issues are still available. We did post one issue to Smashwords and it’s chock full of outstanding stories and poetry. At only $1.50, this is quite a steal!

In volume 8, issue 3, Kurt MacPhearson and Rick Yennik show us the way to P’Eng-Lai, the legendary home of the immortals. Anna Sykora takes us to an exotic future inhabited by the bee and wolf tribes. Join Timothy Bastek and Taylor Packer on a quest for a druid’s master. Just be careful. The master has been dabbling in forbidden magic! Sidney Blaylock, Jr. climbs rugged mountains in search of dragon eggs and power. D’Arcy Ann Pryciak takes us camping with a family of banshees, but be careful of the salamander causing forest fires. These and other tales of the imagination await in this edition of Tales of the Talisman.

Get the book at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/377360


The Slayers

Now, this one is a special treat, just for reading this blog and for looking at what we have available from Hadrosaur Productions at Smashwords, I’m giving away a free short story!

Dragon bellies are full of powerful carbide that allows them to breathe fire. Dragon carbide is a valuable treasure. Rado is a young man who sails the winds in a flyer. He signs aboard a mighty dirigible called the Slayer to hunt dragons. However, he soon learns that Captain Obrey will not rest until he strips the teeth and carbide from a mighty gold dragon. First published in 2001, “The Slayers” is a fun, clever retelling of Moby Dick in a fantasy world with dragons. Remember to enter the code SSW50 on checkout to get the story for free!

Get the book at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/58303

Anniversaries and a Graduation

Today, I’m with my family in New Orleans to celebrate my eldest daughter’s graduation from Tulane University. She majored in mathematics and computer science and has a minor in Japanese. Needless to say, I’m proud of her accomplishments and expect great things from her in the years to come. Today, my wife and I also celebrate our twenty-eighth wedding anniversary. This is one of those times when I can’t help looking back at where I’ve come from and then look forward to where I hope to go. The photo at the head of the article shows me with my wife, Kumie, and daughter, Autumn, in 1997, right around my daughter’s second birthday.

1995, the year my daughter was born, was a milestone year for us. The birth of our first child would have been sufficient for that to be true, but it was also the year Kumie graduated from the University of Arizona with her master’s degree in business administration and we founded Hadrosaur Productions. Originally, the company’s objective was audio book publishing, but we soon moved into magazine publication as well with the first issue of Hadrosaur Tales. We dedicated the first issue of the magazine to Ray Bradbury. He sent a nice letter and photos to all the contributors in response. His letter and photo still hangs over my desk to this day.

Autumn has accepted a job offer and will be moving on soon. She’s enjoyed her time in New Orleans and I’ve enjoyed visiting. I’ve made friends there and hope to find other occasions to visit the Crescent City in years to come. We’re spending a week in the city, exploring, taking in the ambience, and generally celebrating our daughter’s accomplishment. It’s been amazing to watch her grow into a determined, young woman with her own goals and interests. She’s even started her own company where she sells crafts. You can follow her online at http://entropycreations.wordpress.com

Hadrosaur Productions has also made a pretty good showing as a small publisher. We published Hadrosaur Tales for ten years, then published Tales of the Talisman for another ten. We have a number of great books including Joy V. Smith’s time travel adventure, Sugar Time; Wayne James’s anthology of science fiction and horror, When Only the Moon Rages; the weird western Legends of the Dragon Cowboys by David B. Riley and Laura Givens; and our science fiction anthologies inspired by the Kepler space mission. I encourage you to browse all our titles at http://www.hadrosaur.com.

Also, we have many back issues of our magazines still available. Good stories and poems don’t spoil! You can browse back issues of Hadrosaur Tales at http://www.zianet.com/hadrosaur and back issues of Tales of the Talisman at http://www.talesofthetalisman.com.

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Perhaps one of the things I miss most from years gone by is the ability to tune in to network television on Saturday morning and find a wide variety of animated cartoon programming. Much of this is due to television networks in the period of 1992 to 2002 deciding they didn’t make enough money to continue supporting animated programming. Also, around 2001 my wife and I decided that neither cable nor satellite TV were necessary items for our budget and we could see all the TV we wanted with other media such as DVDs. Of course, our decision was all part of the national trend that helped to kill animation in the first place. Not many people eschewed broadcast TV altogether as we did that early, but the number of choices available made it harder for networks to justify the expense of animation when certain cable networks specialized in it.

I grew up watching cartoons in the 1970s. I fondly remember many teams of crime-solving kids from shows such as Scooby-Doo and Josie and the Pussycats. The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour provided some great comedy, much of it originally produced much before my time. I was already a Star Trek fan and loved the animated adaptation that aired in the mid 70s. There were even some cool live action experiments during that time such as Land of the Lost about a family trapped in a land of dinosaurs and the superhero-themed Shazam/Isis Hour.

I never really fell out of love with cartoons, but the 1990s ended up being another high point for me. That was in the early days of my astronomy career and cartoons became an escape from my working life. They were also a welcome treat when my first daughter was young. What I particularly remember from that period were some exceptional superhero shows such as Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men. There were also some great animated superhero parodies such as Earthworm Jim, The Tick and Freakazoid.

Of course, for all the gems, there were many forgettable shows as well. Still, what I find amazing living in the times we do is how many of these shows that I thought I would never see again are readily available on video or with the touch of a button on the internet. For a guy like me who occasionally wants a dose of nostalgia, these are great times. That said, the real joy of those Saturday mornings was the fun of discovery and I think that’s what I really miss is having that easy means of discovering new favorites.

Giving people a way to discover new authors was much of the reason I edited Hadrosaur Tales followed by Tales of the Talisman. Publishing those magazines also helped me appreciate the economic reality that caused the networks to take Saturday morning cartoons off the air. Like TV shows gone by, you can still get most of the back issues of both magazines. There are some great stories there by authors such as Neal Asher, Nicole Givens Kurtz, David Boop, and Janni Lee Simner and many more. You can find the back issues of each at:

As it turns out, I can do better than just give you nostalgia, Hadrosaur Productions has published two anthologies of stories set around planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission. Be sure to check out: