The Astronomer’s Crypt: Get Out!

I’m proud to announce the release of the book trailer for my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. As you’ll see, we took a somewhat different approach from the usual book trailer and dramatized a scene from the novel, making it almost a short film in its own right. Enjoy!

It’s been a thrilling experience working with such a talented team to bring this scene from the novel to life. Our goal was to take the idea of the book trailer to a new level and give you a real sample of what the book is like.

Eric Schumacher, my co-executive producer and director who plays Mike, is an experienced actor and filmmaker living in Tucson. He’s appeared in the Fox series Legends & Lies: The Real West and the movie Tombstone Rashomon. He pulled together the talent who made this sound and look good. Sara Mirasola who played Claire has been in the films Date of the Dead and Thirst. I’m the voice of Professor Burroughs on the phone.

We had a terrific debut for the trailer at TusCon in Tucson, Arizona last week. Eric was on hand along with Assistant Director Elisa Cota-Francis and Cinematographer R.S. Francis. As Eric explained during the discussion, the assistant director isn’t the person who gets the director coffee, instead they’re the on-set supervisor. R.S., or Bobby as I know him, not only shot the film, but handled the special effects in the trailer as well.

After the trailer played, reader Lisa Garland said, “The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I knew I was creeped out.”

If you dare to open The Astronomer’s Crypt, you can find copies at:

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In the Heart of the Sea

An all too frequent lament I hear these days is that Hollywood is too obsessed with superhero blockbuster movies and remakes. They can’t seem to make anything original. A couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to discover a recent historical film called In the Heart of the Sea directed by Ron Howard (Apollo 13 among others) and starring such bankable stars as Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Tom Holland (Spiderman Homecoming), and Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer). The movie tells the story of the Essex, an early nineteenth century Nantucket whaler whose story went on to inspire Herman Melville to write Moby-Dick. What was surprising to me was that I’d heard nothing about this film until I saw a preview for it in front of a superhero movie I was watching with my kids.

I am a big fan of Herman Melville’s magnum opus. I first read the novel in high school and had a difficult time understanding it. I was also disappointed to discover that the version I bought was an abridged version. After I met Ray Bradbury in 1983 and learned he’d written the screenplay for the 1956 film starring Gregory Peck, I vowed to give the novel another try. I sought out a copy of the unabridged novel and dived in. I read it in college and loved not just the main story, but all the diversions Melville took to tell us about aspects of whaling. I felt they helped me understand the plot much better.

Not long after I read the novel, I ended up taking a job on Nantucket, working at a small observatory. I got to visit the whaling museum there and experience the town that gave rise to an important part of early nineteenth century Americana. It’s fair to say Moby-Dick worked its way into my very bones. Parts of which strongly influenced my novels Children of the Old Stars and Heirs of the New Earth.

In fact, my first professional sale was a retelling of Moby-Dick in which the crew of an airship hunts dragons for the fuel that allows them to breath fire. It was published in Realms of Fantasy magazine in 2001 and is now available in a standalone reprint edition at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

Perhaps after all this, it comes as no surprise that I loved In the Heart of the Sea. It told the story of men hunting whales from little wooden boats, using hand-thrown harpoons. In the story, we already see that whales are becoming over-hunted and hard to find. This drives the crew of the Essex to attempt to hunt whales out on the open ocean where they find one angry whale that has grown large and isn’t going to put up with this hunting nonsense any longer.

I found it a powerful movie, well told. It was both exciting and thoughtful, which seems a rare combination in movies these days. It endeavored to be faithful to history. Sadly, the big name blockbuster stars didn’t really shine in this film, and it would seem they didn’t draw much of an audience, either. Reviewer Matthew Lickona of the San Diego Reader said the movie had “a strange decency and politeness for a film that strives to depict, in epic form, man’s dark and visceral struggle with the world and himself.” The thing is, that’s actually one of the things I find compelling about history is that often times people found ways to be polite and decent in the heart of darkness.

If you like good, historical fiction, I would recommend In the Heart of the Sea. It’s not an amazing film, but it is a good one, and a good change of pace from yet another superhero film. It gives me hope that I might find a few more good films out there, lurking under the surface.

TusCon 44

Next weekend, I’ll be at TusCon 44 which is being held from November 10-12 at the Sheraton Tucson Hotel and Suites in Tucson, Arizona. Timothy Zahn is the Author Guest of Honor, Theresa Mather is the Artist Guest of Honor, Melinda M. Snodgrass is the Media Guest of Honor, Geoff Notkin is the Toastmaster, Madame Askew is the Mistress of Chaos, Hal and Dee Astell are the Fan Guests of Honor. For more information about the convention visit http://www.tusconscificon.com

This year, all of my panels are on Saturday, November 11, but as you’ll see, it’s a busy schedule! I will be at TusCon all weekend and Hadrosaur Productions will be in the dealer’s room. Here’s my event schedule:

Saturday, November 11

  • 12pm-1pm – Autographing – Canyon Theater Foyer. I’ll be signing autographs alongside Jeffrey J. Mariotte, Marsheilla Rockwell, Rick Cook, and Dr. David Williams.

  • 2pm-3pm – The Astronomer’s Crypt: Making a Book and a Trailer – Panel Room 2 (Pima B). Filmmaker Eric Schumacher and I will debut our short film which presents a scene from my novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt. Our goal with this project is to make something that goes beyond the ordinary book trailer and actually brings you inside the world of the book. We’ll discuss how we made the trailer and, if you’re an author, we’ll show you how we can help you get more eyes on your book.
  • 4pm-5pm – Publishing in 2017 – The Options, the Opportunities, the Pitfalls – Ballroom (Sabino). There’s the big press, the small press, the self press, the no press. What to do what to do? On the panel with me are Ron Collins, Julie Verley, Cynthia Ward, Beth Meacham, and Catherine Wells.
  • 5pm-6pm – The Snowball Effect: How to pick up steam on the way to making a low-budget film – Panel Room 1 (Pima A). I’ll join director Marty Ketola, actor Eric Schumacher, and actor Geoff Notkin to discuss the making of the indie film Revenge of Zoe in which screenwriter Billy Shaw must face his inner demons while convincing comic book store owners John and Pete to help him write a sequel to his greatest work; a movie about comic book super heroine Fren-Zee.
  • 7pm-8pm – Why Do Adults Like Young Adult Fiction? – Ballroom (Sabino). What are adults finding in the “kids” shelves that they’re not find in the rest of the bookstore? On the panel with me are Linda Addison, Mary Fan, Jim Doty, Jill Knowles, and Beth Meacham.

Also, I’m planning my annual shared birthday celebration with fellow longtime TusCon dealer Marty Massoglia on Saturday night after all the panels. Check with us at the convention for details. We might even go back in time on Friday night to TusCon 43 to have the party we missed last year!

That Punk, Popeye

About a week and a half ago, I learned that the soundtrack album from the 1980 movie Popeye had been re-released with tracks not included on the original album. I loved this movie when it came out and I bought the soundtrack on vinyl. The movie was one of the few bright spots I remember in the weeks immediately following my father’s death. Listening to the songs over again sent me to my DVD of the movie for a rewatch. As always, I enjoyed this lighthearted Robert Altman romp with its funky island setting and a set crowded with extras who feel like fully realized characters. What struck me this time around were how many steampunk sensibilities appeared in the film.

I’m sure some of the steampunk “feel” of the film is the result of screenwriter Jules Feiffer’s attempt to write a story heavily inspired by E.C. Segar’s original comic strip, Thimble Theatre. The strip, born soon after World War I and very much in the steam era, will celebrate its centennial in 2019. Popeye was introduced as a supporting character ten years after the strip began and soon supplanted most of the regular cast. At the time Popeye was introduced, the strip generally was about the characters going on some zany quest or another in search of riches or to help someone. In the movie, Popeye arrives on a quest to find his lost father—a powerful theme for me at the time. Quests are certainly the narrative basis of a lot of steampunk, though they are by no means exclusive to steampunk.

The first thing that struck me about the film is how much of it is concerned with manners and etiquette. Olive Oyl’s father, Cole, is always asking for an apology for some perceived slight. There’s an early dinner scene where Popeye struggles to be polite among a cacophony of voices and flailing arms and limbs, only to be left with nothing to eat for his trouble. Of course Popeye has always been a defender of the weak and those unable to protect themselves. It’s even in his theme song: “Keep good behavior, that’s your one life saver with Popeye the Sailor Man!”

As I mentioned at the outset, the movie is set in a funky village outside of time. The village, built for the movie, reminds me of Nantucket, except that it’s clinging to rocks of Malta. There are no vehicles except for the rotting ships in the harbor and the tax man’s bicycle. The whole thing feels like it’s set at the time of the original comic, late in the steam era. In fact, there’s even kind of a builder sensibility evident in Poopdeck Pappy’s boat at the end. The whole thing looks like a steamboat cobbled together from odds and ends in someone’s garage. It’s not beautiful, but it might just get a few admiring nods at a seaside steampunk convention because it floats and it works!

The circus is important to many in the steampunk community. After all, it was an important nineteenth century entertainment. Many of the steampunk events I’ve attended have a real love of circus performers. Abney Park even released an album called The Circus at the End of the World. One of the things that’s striking about Popeye is all the circus performers working as extras, showing off their talents in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The whole movie has a very steampunk-feeling circus atmosphere.

I’d be hard pressed to call Popeye a steampunk film, but Robin Williams’ Popeye is a misfit with a good heart who could easily walk into many steampunk stories I know and feel surprisingly right at home. Some steampunk characters would probably look askance at him in his dingy sailor suit and corncob pipe, but he’d scowl and just tell them, “I yam what I yam!”

Leijiverse Discoveries

As a fan of Leiji Matsumoto’s work, I was pleased to discover a new manga from him plus an anime that I hadn’t seen before. The anime was the 2012 six-episode series Ozma which is available to stream at Crunchyroll. The manga is Captain Harlock: Dimensional Voyage.

Ozma tells a story of humanity struggling to survive on a future Earth that has become a desert world. Sam Coyne is a young crewman aboard the Bardanos, a ship of the sand that scavenges the world for useful items. While searching for Ozma, the mysterious sand whale, he rescues a girl named Maya, who is being chased by the Theseus Army and takes her back to his ship. Captain Bainas of the Bardanos puts Maya under her protection. As the story proceeds, we learn that there are two factions on this future Earth: the Ideal Children who are carefully genetically engineered and live for a long time by transferring their thoughts into new, grown bodies and the Natura, who propagate as most humans have over time. The Ideal Children were hunting Maya, while she, like Sam, was seeking Ozma.

My first reaction to Ozma was that it could be summed up as Leiji Matsumoto’s Dune. That turns out not to be exactly right, but there are a few similarities. The strongest elements of this anime are the cool retrofuture look of the show along with some of the Bardanos crew. I especially liked Captain Bainas, who reminded me of a more accessible Emeraldas, and Dr. Luna who seemed like a female Dr. Zero. Also, there are some great battle scenes between the Bardanos and the Theseus Army. My sense after getting to the end of this three-hour short series was that with some judicious cutting and little rewriting, this would make an awesome two-hour movie. In particular, the series needed to work on the character of Sam, show us more of his relationship with the Captain and with his childhood friend, Mimay. Also, the ending could be strengthened with a little more information.

On looking up more information, it’s a little unclear how much Leiji Matsumoto was actually involved in this anime. I gather it was based on an unpublished manga from the 1980s, but I haven’t found out whether he had much involvement in the development of the anime or not. Call this worth a watch if you’re a Matsumoto fan and have a little spare time.

On the other end of the Leijiverse spectrum is the manga Captain Harlock: Dimensional Voyage. When I first saw this announced, I didn’t expect much. It sounded like a simple retelling of the Mazone story from the 1978 Captain Harlock series done by a new artist. I pretty much planned to give this a pass, but a coffee coupon sent me in to my local Barnes and Noble store where I happened to see it on the shelf. A brief browse convinced me to buy the first issue and I’m glad I did.

The first thing I noticed was that Kouiti Shimaboshi’s art really did Leiji Matsumoto proud. The characters look like updated versions of the classic characters from the Leijiverse. What’s more, Matsumoto and Shimaboshi pulled the best elements from some forty years of the Harlock “canon” and combined them in this story. I recognized elements not only from the original, but Harlock Saga, Endless Odyssey, Queen Emeraldas, and even the Harlock: Space Pirate movie. In the original, the prime minister felt like a broad satire. In this, the character came off as a razor-sharp critique of modern politicians. I liked seeing Chief Ilita from Endless Odyssey as Harlock’s main military opponent. He always struck me as the most dangerous of Harlock’s foes, mostly because he actually was an honorable and competent man. So far, we haven’t seen any sign of Harlock’s adopted daughter Mayu, so it’ll be interesting to see if they work her into this story. My only complaint was that the volume proved to be quite short. I definitely will give volume 2 a look and will see where they go with this.

In this last week, I’ve thought a little about my own Captain Firebrandt and how much Captain Harlock may have influenced him. The first anime I saw featuring Captain Harlock was Galaxy Express 999 when it played on the SciFi channel somewhere circa 1993, about five years after I created Captain Firebrandt in 1988. I suspect Harlock’s appearance in Galaxy Express 999 is one thing that gave me the nudge to write a novel about Captain Firebrandt and explore the character more. After that point, the next time I saw Captain Harlock was in 2015, soon after watching Space Battleship Yamato 2199 and learning about Harlock’s relationship to the original series.

I think a Harlock/Firebrandt crossover story would be fun to do, but doubt it could happen any time soon, unless I did it as fan fiction for my own enjoyment. If you want to see the latest adventures of Captain Ellison Firebrandt, please consider supporting my Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers.

Star Trek Revisited

This past week, I started a rewatch of Star Trek: The Next Generation with my youngest daughter. The fact that this rewatch coincides with the show’s thirtieth anniversary and this weekend’s premier of Star Trek: Discovery is mostly coincidental. I suspect the part that isn’t coincidence has to do with all the ads I’ve been seeing for Star Trek: Discovery. They’ve certainly put Star Trek on my mind.

When Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted, I was in my senior year at University. I remembered being glued to the television on Saturday afternoon when each new episode aired on syndicated television. Back in those days, I was so much a fan of the original series that I could quote lines verbatim. I typically could identify the episode within the first minute. In the early days, I didn’t feel The Next Generation was quite as good as the best episodes of the original series, but it was never as bad as the worst episodes, either. Most importantly, it felt like Star Trek.

It would probably come as a surprise to friends who knew me in those days that Star Trek: The Next Generation was the last Star Trek series I watched in its entirety. I have seen and enjoyed episodes of Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise, but as I began my astronomy and writing careers, television became less of a priority in my life and I just didn’t make time to follow those series.

One of the things I really like in Star Trek: The Next Generation is the way characters will do everything they can to find a mutually agreeable solution before resorting to violence. In many ways, this approach helped to shape Ramon and Fatemeh in my steampunk novels. Of course, Star Trek gave a lot of lip service to the “prime directive”—the policy of not interfering with cultures more primitive than them. In many ways, my alien traveler character Legion explores the bad, and even some good, that might happen from violating such a directive. Legion sparks off global conflict, but he also opens people’s minds, allowing them to see the benefits of technology and to see other peoples’ perspectives.

One aspect of Star Trek: The Next Generation that particularly struck me this time around was the idea of a “post-atomic horror” in the middle of the twenty-first century. When I first watched the series in the post-Reagan years of the 1980s, that seemed extremely pessimistic. As the years went by, I had reason to hope that the idea would disappear just as much as the original series’ Eugenics Wars of the 1990s did. It’s been very disheartening to see the specter of nuclear conflict raise its ugly head again in the last few months. I sincerely hope that world leaders can find a path to negotiate rather than let this science fictional prediction come to pass.

Before I wrap things up, I’ll turn briefly to Star Trek: Discovery. To be honest, I haven’t decided whether I’m going to watch, at least initially. A lot of what I’ve seen looks good and it looks like a show I would enjoy. I’m particularly encouraged to see that Michelle Yeoh, one of my favorite actresses, is part of the series. The big question for me is whether I want to sign up for CBS All Access to watch. The cost itself isn’t a big problem. More to the point for me is how little I watch television these days. For me, I’d be signing into the network to watch just one show. I may wait for a few episodes to come available, then try the “one-week free” option and then see how I like the show.

Before I go, I did want to share a couple of nice appearances this week at The Curious Adventures of Messrs Smith and Skarry Blog. I was interviewed about multicultural steampunk: https://smithandskarry.wordpress.com/2017/09/20/soup-of-the-day-with-steampunk-author-david-lee-summers/

Also, my novel The Brazen Shark received a very nice review, which you can read at: https://smithandskarry.wordpress.com/2017/09/22/morning-cuppa-the-brazen-shark-steampunk-fiction/

I’ll leave you with the Vulcan wish, “Live Long and Prosper” and its reply, “Peace and Long Life.”

What’s Opera, Harlock?

Like many Americans of my age, my education in opera came from the wonderful 1957 Bugs Bunny short, “What’s Opera, Doc?” In the short, Bugs and Elmer Fudd satirize pieces from Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen among other operas.

It turns out, Bugs and Elmer aren’t the only characters from animation to take on Wagner’s Ring Cycle. In 1999, Leiji Matsumoto made an adaptation of Das Rheingold featuring Captain Harlock and the crew of the Arcadia called Harlock Saga. In this case, they don’t sing, but act out a loose, science fictional adaptation of the opera. I gather Matsumoto took the idea further in print and there are manga adaptations of Die Walküre and Siegfried as well as Der Rheingold.

In a way, bringing a character like Harlock into an opera closes a loop of sorts. Of course, Captain Harlock is a classic “space opera” character. So, what does “space opera” have to do with plain ol’ opera? To answer that, one has to go back to the original genre opera—the “horse opera.” The term “horse opera” goes all the way back to wild west shows of the nineteenth century. In that case, there’s a good chance that the term was a reference to the big spectacle that those shows represented.

By the time we get to the early twentieth century, the term “horse opera” began to be applied to movies we’d just call Westerns today. In fact, early Western star William Hart was called “the Caruso of the horse opera” in 1917. The term then migrated to western stories broadcast on the radio. When romance stories started on the radio, many sponsored by soap companies, they picked up the moniker “soap opera.” The term “space opera” started being applied to science fiction stories soon after that.

Today, when we speak of space opera, we tend to think of science fiction stories told on a grand scale, featuring larger-than-life characters, engaging in epic quests. In that sense, space opera is much the same kind of spectacle as, well, opera.

Lest one speak poorly of cartoons, I’ll note that “What’s Opera, Doc” and Harlock Saga have inspired my wife and I to finally watch Der Ring des Niberlungen. It’s definitely big and epic like a space opera. It’s also got its share of illicit romance, not unlike a soap opera. Of course, there’s the great music. Hours and hours of it. Der Ring des Niberlungen runs to some fifteen hours.

While I’m on the subject of space opera, today marks the relaunch of my space opera saga, now christened “The Space Pirates’ Legacy.” Click on the button below to visit my Patreon page and see the awesome cover Laura Givens created for the first book in the series, Firebrandt’s Legacy. If you become a Patron (and you can do so for just $1 a month), you’ll be able to read the book’s first story today. It first appeared in the collection Space Pirates, but I’ve given it a thorough edit to better line up with later stories in the book. My goal is that patrons will get to read at least one new story a month. If I get enough patrons, I’ll make sure they all get a copy of the complete book upon release. Click the button and get all the details right now.