Captain Harlock’s Endless Orbit

One of my Father’s Day gifts this year contained the DVD of the one Captain Harlock TV series I have not yet seen in its entirety, Endless Orbit SSX, from 1982. Also in the box was the first volume of Leiji Matsumoto’s original Captain Harlock manga from 1977. This was a wonderfully appropriate gift on several levels.

Of course, I’ve been a fan of the good captain since I first encountered him around 1991 in the movie Galaxy Express 999. The imagery of a space pirate who visited Western frontier looking planets no doubt helped drive some of my thinking when I started work on my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, around that time. Now, I’m hard at work on the novel’s twenty-fifth anniversary edition. A final proofread is underway and the book is being laid out, so I’ve been finding myself thinking about some of the themes and influences.

Many of my favorite space operas, the adventures of Captain Harlock included, have a certain family-like atmosphere. There’s a distinct sense of a band of siblings working toward a common goal, whether it be the exploration of a world, freeing Earth from tyranny, or solving some mystery in deep space. Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, despite his stated dislike of children, often feels like a wise father figure. In the 1978 Space Pirate Captain Harlock series, the captain is almost a literal father, looking after the daughter of his best friend who had died before the series began.

One thing that becomes clear as you watch the various Captain Harlock series is that there is no continuity from one series or movie to the next. That said, I prefer to think of the various Harlock series as stories about Harlock in assorted parallel universes, or perhaps running along alternate timelines. I wouldn’t be surprised if Harlock meddles in his own timeline given the Time Castle in Galaxy Express 999 and Harlock’s plot to reset the entire cosmic clock in the 2013 CGI Space Pirate Captain Harlock Movie.

The only exception to the notion that there’s no continuity between movies and series is that the series Endless Orbit SSX is a direct sequel to the movie Arcadia of my Youth. The movie and series tell about Harlock’s attempts to save Earth from an invasion of aliens called the Illumidas. In what I have watched so far, Harlock is still not a literal father, but he does rapidly become a father figure to Tadashi Monono and Revi Bentselle. Revi is the little girl on the box and first appears as a stranded passenger on a ship Harlock raids. Tadashi is a teenage boy who decides to collect a bounty on Harlock, but when he learns Harlock is the good guy, joins the crew of the Space Pirate Battlehship Arcadia as the cook.

The Captain Harlock manga has so far not introduced Harlock’s adopted daughter, Mayu, who appeared in the TV series, but again, Harlock rapidly becomes a father figure to an orphaned teen, Tadashi Daiba. In the manga, as with the original TV series, Harlock is working to keep aliens called the Mazon from invading the Earth.

In my novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, Captain Ellison Firebrandt has a daughter who grows up and leaves home. He also becomes a sort of elder statesman, advising the colonists who settle the planet after him. Harlock earns the loyalty of his crew and friends because he won’t abandon them, no matter what. Even though Earth shuns him as a pirate, he will fight to save the Earth. Firebrandt is much the same. One of the challenges in the new edition of my novel is that I wrote a prequel, which introduced readers to more of Firebrandt’s crew. Once I stranded my captain, I had to find ways to show him continuing to fight for the crew, despite being stranded and despite the fact that he grew to love the world he’d found himself stranded on. I think I’ve finally managed that and still tell the story I’d imagined nearly twenty-five years ago. At this point, I believe I’m less than a month away from releasing the new edition. I’ll announce that here. Otherwise, you can get a copy of the ebook upon release by supporting my Patreon campaign: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

Adam Warren’s Dirty Pair

No, I’m not referring to laundry or hygiene. I’m actually referring to one of the first manga series written and published in the United States between 1998 and 2002. Ever since my wife discovered Haruka Takachiho’s first two Dirty Pair light novels in a bookstore in Bisbee last summer, I’ve been learning more about the books, the anime series they inspired, and Adam Warren’s interesting American take on the series.

The “Dirty Pair” are Kei and Yuri, two young interplanetary agents in the distant future who investigate crimes for the World Welfare Works Association or WWWA. In the story, they received their nickname despite their high rate of success, because they’re infamous for leaving behind a path of destruction, though in all fairness the collateral damage is rarely their fault. The 1985 anime series was something of a muse for the Star Trek: The Next Generation production team. That series actually makes a handful of references to the Dirty Pair. As it turns out Haruka Takachiho was inspired to create the Dirty Pair after watching a wrestling match featuring a team called “The Beauty Pair.” Apparently Takachiho attended the match with A. Bertram Chandler, author of the John Grimes space opera novels. Chandler made a quip about how the team should be called “the Dirty Pair” because of their fighting techniques. Takachiho was then inspired to use that as the name for his science fiction action series. (Note: See the comments for more details and a slight correction about this story.)

In 1988, the American company, Studio Proteus, acquired the rights to do an English language version of The Dirty Pair. Later, the rights were transferred to Dark Horse Comics. The Studio Proteus version wasn’t going to be a translation of the Japanese books, but completely new stories. As I understand, Toren Smith of Studio Proteus approached Haruka Takachiho directly and showed him Adam Warren’s concepts for the characters. Takachiho liked what he saw and gave them permission to do their own version.

I decided to give this version a try. I started by picking up the original comic books that comprised the story arc Fatal But Not Serious which tells the story of the WWWA putting on a public relations campaign to improve the image of the Dirty Pair. They end up hosting a convention in Kei and Yuri’s honor. Of course anyone with a grudge against them comes gunning for them at the con. What’s more, someone unleashes a clone of Yuri and tells her she’s the real Yuri who has to kill imposters.

I’ve since gone on to collect the graphic novel adaptations of the other stories. Adam Warren takes the idea of The Dirty Pair and gives them a decidedly cyberpunk makeover. They get involved with bio weapons, they utilize chip implants to communicate, and even swap personalities. They encounter a wide range of adversaries both of the alien and augmented human variety. There are often questions whether they’re operating in the real world or a simulation. I was delighted to see the book Plague of Angels featured an introduction by fellow New Mexican and amazing cyberpunk writer Walter Jon Williams.

The last book in the series, Run from the Future, proved to be not only my favorite, but it turns out to be quite rare. Every now and then you can find a copy of the graphic novel on eBay. I found one at a price I could afford from a seller in Australia. Given shipping delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it took nearly seventy days to reach me, but it proved worth the wait.

What I really love about this series is that Haruka Takachiho allowed Adam Warren and Toren Smith the opportunity to play in his sandbox. Warren’s vision isn’t exactly like Takachiho’s, but he takes the ideas and explores them in interesting and new ways. Much as I enjoy this version, I’m not sure I’d recommend starting with Adam Warren’s version. I’d recommend trying the anime, which is still distributed in the United States, or find a used copy of the original light novels. If you enjoy those and are looking for more, by all means, give Adam Warren’s version a try.

The Literary Bond

Bond. James Bond.

The name is a fixture of the English-speaking pop culture landscape. Films featuring Ian Fleming’s famous spy are so ubiquitous, I find it hard to think of spy thrillers without “hearing” the iconic theme from Dr. No in my head.

This past week, I’ve been working on a short story that’s something of a spy thriller with notes inspired by James Bond. I can’t say much yet about the story or the anthology series it’s written for. The editor wants to keep things under wraps until closer to release and I don’t want to jinx things by saying too much too early. I will say that I do have one story accepted for this series of anthologies and the story I’ve been working on this past week would be the second for the series, presuming it’s accepted.

Writing this story has required a fair bit of research. I’m thankful to live in an age where I can sit at my desk and watch videos that take me aboard an aircraft carrier or let me walk the streets of a land I haven’t visited before. However, there’s another aspect of research that’s not always appreciated and that’s getting the right tone for a story, especially when the guidelines specify an established tone like the one in this series.

Although I’ve seen large portions of most of the James Bond films, catching bits and pieces here and there when they aired on television, I can only recall sitting down and watching five of the films from beginning to end. What’s more, I’m sad to say that until a few days ago, I’d never actually read any of Ian Fleming’s original James Bond novels. The only Ian Fleming novel I’d ever read was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and that was only a year ago. I did find Chitty Chitty Bang Bang an utter delight and had been wanting to explore Fleming’s Bond novels since then.

I settled on Moonraker as the novel to start with. I picked it because I wanted a novel early enough that Fleming wasn’t being influenced by the films but late enough that he’d established his voice. I also wanted a novel that included a certain technological aspect because of the type of story I was writing. Also, although I enjoy a good card game now and then, I wasn’t sure if I was passionate enough about cards and gambling to stay glued to a novel like Casino Royale.

The novel Moonraker is quite a bit different from the movie. This is perhaps no surprise since the novel dates from 1955. The premise of the novel is that Sir Hugo Drax has been supervising a bunch of German scientists who are building England’s first intercontinental ballistic missile. Drax has become something of a national hero and the first test is imminent. The problem is that Drax is suspected of cheating at cards at the elite gambling club he belongs to. Bond is brought in to tactfully expose the cheating and quietly get it to stop before scandal taints Drax and his project. So, the first third of the book ends up being about Bond figuring out how Drax cheats and then turning the tables on him. This was compelling enough that I may have to give Casino Royale a try after all.

On the same night as Bond is working to prevent a scandal, one of Drax’s German employees shoots the head of security for the Moonraker project then shoots himself. The coincidental timing is enough for higher echelons in the British government to decide Bond should lend a hand to the investigation. It was all a good thrill ride of a novel that reminded me of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, especially when Fleming speaks passionately of good food or fast cars. I was also reminded at times of Robert A. Heinlein’s young adult science fiction novels, especially with the fear that Nazis may be hiding in the woodwork, getting ready to unleash some dastardly plan.

I liked how Fleming’s Bond has a little more self-doubt than his onscreen counterparts and while 007 definitely pursues a woman in this novel, she proves to be a force to be reckoned with. I’m delighted I had the chance to read Moonraker and I suspect I’ll be diving into more of Fleming’s Bond novels soon. After all, I need to make sure I get the tone right in my story!

Revisiting Das Boot

I grew up knowing I had ancestors who came from Germany. What’s more, my uncle married a German woman. I wanted to be a scientist and I knew about a number of German scientists such as Kepler, Einstein, and Heisenberg just to name a few. So when it came to pick a language from my limited high school offerings, I chose German. My high school only offered two years of the language, so when I exhausted those, I was encouraged to take classes at Cal State San Bernardino. During this time, one of the most famous German films was released: Das Boot. The professor of my college German class offered us extra credit if we went to see the movie in German. Several of us went as a group. As with many at the time, I found the movie amazing, stunning, and sad at the end.

My aunt was excited that I had gone to watch a feature-length German film. She contacted one of her relatives in Germany and had them buy a hardcover copy of the original novel and send it to the US. She gave it to me as a Christmas present. It’s still one of my treasured possessions. I’m sorry to say I have not taken the time to wade through and read the whole thing, but I was delighted when I recently picked it up and discovered my German is still good enough to follow the gist of the story.

Writers are often told to “write what you know.” This can be tricky for science fiction writers. That said, we should pull from our experience to make what we imagine as believable as possible. One of the reasons Das Boot was fascinating to me was how real it made serving in a cramped, enclosed ship. Much as I loved the Star Trek-like future of grand, beautiful starships, I couldn’t help but think the reality of military space ships would look more like the U-96 in Das Boot than Captain Picard’s spacious Enterprise. When I started writing the stories that would become the foundation of my Space Pirates’ Legacy series, I made space vessels cramped and claustrophobic with crews who got on each others’ nerves.

Back in the days when I first saw the movie Das Boot, I’d heard rumors of a longer version than the one we saw in the United States. It turns out this was a 5-hour cut broadcast over five nights on British television in 1984. This cut (more or less) was eventually released in the United States as “The Original Uncut Version” shown above. I bought it a few years ago, then promptly moved to a new house where it disappeared under a stack of other videos. I finally found it again and watched the five-hour cut.

I have to say, I was impressed. The longer cut didn’t drag at all. What it gave us were more character moments. The 1980s American theatrical release focused on the captain, the chief engineer, and the war correspondent. The longer release gives us a chance to know the first officer, the third officer, the navigator and the radio operator much better. The crew began to feel even more like a family, albeit a dysfunctional one at times.

I’ve come to realize that space travel would be unsustainable if spaceships were as small and crowded as a World War II-era U-boat, but still, thinking about how they ate, the jobs they were assigned to, the “human” touches that made the sub a little more livable than sterile are all things that help me think about how to design space vessels in my writing. If you want to see how I’ve brought that into play, a good place to start is book one of my Space Pirates’ Legacy series, Firebrandt’s Legacy. You can learn more at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/Firebrandts-Legacy.html

Celebration in Isolation

In my post one week ago, I mentioned that my family was celebrating numerous anniversaries and milestones. It should come as no surprise that these celebrations had to be adjusted in the wake of restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, we did our best to mark the occasions in a suitable fashion.

Before I continue, I note that as I write this, the death toll from COVID-19 approaches 100,000 in the United States. I’m very sorry for those who have lost loved ones at this difficult time. At the same time, I’m grateful to all those who take social distancing guidelines seriously so that we don’t find ourselves in an even worse situation.

Last week, my wife and I celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Looking it up on line, the thirtieth is the Pearl Anniversary. Because my wife and I are fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000, this brought to mind Dr. Pearl Forrester, the evil genius who sent cheesy movies to the Satellite of Love during the show’s SyFy Channel years. With this in mind, my wife and I decided to get each other Mystery Science Theater 3000-themed gifts. We ended up getting the two Netflix seasons of the show along with a 1000-piece puzzle to work on together.

Although it wasn’t technically an anniversary present, the same day as the puzzle and movies arrived in the mail, my wife bought me the code to upgrade my copy of Microsoft Word to the 2019 version. I discovered that the software has a feature that will read the text to you. I’ve long been an advocate for reading your own work aloud when you edit, but this is a nice additional tool. It has already helped me find unintended commas or wrong words in documents I’ve edited. This looks like a nice feature for an author to add to their toolkit and I likely will say more once I gain more experience with it.

Normally we would go out to dinner for our anniversary, and while there are some restaurants opening up with some seating, we decided this wasn’t the time to do that. We grilled steaks for our anniversary and then ordered a to-go meal from one of our favorite restaurants two day later when our daughter graduated from high school.

Las Cruces High School held a “drive-thru” graduation. Parents drove the graduating seniors through the line in cars. My daughter wanted me to drive her through in my Smart Car with its airship pirate logos. A masked and gloved staff member handed out the papers and flowers. I drove the car, so this marked the first time I went through a graduation procession since my own university graduation.

I wrapped up last week with another interview at Las Cruces Community Radio Station 101.5FM KTAL-LP. “All About Books” host Lynn Moorer interviewed me about my novel Firebrandt’s Legacy. Even though this was an in-studio interview, we maintained good social distancing. We sat well over 6-feet apart and she made sure to clean the chair and microphone I used. In the interview, Lynn was especially interested in the jumps ships in my universe use to move faster than the speed of light. My means of faster-than-light travel was an idea I came up with while studying General Relativity in grad school at New Mexico Tech. You may listen to the entire interview at: https://www.lccommunityradio.org/archives/all-about-books-david-lee-summers9615141

You can learn more about the novel, read a sample chapter, and find out where you can obtain a copy of your own at: http://davidleesummers.com/Firebrandts-Legacy.html

Tombstone Rashomon

I’ve been waiting for the DVD release of Tombstone Rashomon ever since I first heard about the movie, which was during its production. The movie stars my friend Eric Schumacher as Doc Holliday. It’s directed by Alex Cox, who directed Repo Man and Sid and Nancy, and tells the story of the infamous gunfight outside Tombstone’s OK Corral from the perspective of several of the participants in a style similar to Akira Kurosawa’s classic film Rashomon.

The gunfight at OK Corral is a tale worthy of a Rashomon-like treatment. It’s a difficult historical moment to understand because the people involved were tangled in so many ways. It wasn’t as simple as the Clantons vs. the Earps as many filmed versions would have you believe. Both sides had dealings that seem both shady and noble, and self-interests muddied up the lines of who was on what side at various points leading up to the affair. I researched the Earps and the Clantons quite a bit for my novels Lightning Wolves and Owl Riders. When I wrote Lightning Wolves and decided the Clantons needed to be part of it, I knew I was writing a period of history before the arrival of the Earps and Doc Holliday. So, my research focused on the family and their allies in the days before Tombstone’s founding. The events set up in that novel prevented Tombstone’s founding, which meant the two factions never came together and the gunfight never happened, but that didn’t prevent Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday from seeing business opportunities in Arizona Territory in Owl Riders. Eric’s research into Doc’s character for Tombstone Rashomon helped inform my portrayal of Doc.

The movie imagines that time travelers arrive in Tombstone the day after the gunfight. They interview Doc Holliday and his girlfriend, Kate Elder, along with Wyatt Earp, Sheriff John Behan, Ike Clanton, and a saloon owner named Hafford. I especially enjoyed Christine Doidge’s performance as Kate. In real life Kate was a Hungarian immigrant and Doidge played up that aspect. In Hungarian, there are not separate words for “he” and “she” and Kate gets flustered and often just uses “she” for both. Kate also seems to relish how this bothers people and refers to Doc as her “wife” even though there are separate words for husband and wife in Hungarian.

Eric played Doc Holliday as an educated man who will do anything he can to succeed in life and make a buck. As in real life, Doc was wracked with tuberculosis and Eric gives a moment that made me more sympathetic to his plight than Val Kilmer’s understated take in the movie Tombstone. The suggestion is made that Doc became a drinking man to dull the pain of the terminal disease. Of course, the movie is all about unreliable narrators.

At times, the film becomes almost impressionistic, mixing modern elements into the historical. There’s always a danger of this confusing an audience, but it can also be interesting to let it be a way of seeing older events through the lens of more familiar, contemporary icons. The film also literally takes you back in time by starting at modern Boot Hill just outside Tombstone, Arizona with tourists taking selfies in front of the Clantons’ tombstones and then dissolving back into the past.

In addition to Eric, I was excited to see Rogelio Camarillo in the film as Billy Claiborne. He was the sound man when we filmed the book trailer for my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. I was also delighted to see Bradford Trojan as Tom McLaury. I had a bit part in the movie Revenge of Zoe, which starred Bradford and Eric Schumacher. I’m still looking forward to that movie’s DVD release!

If you’re fascinated by the history surrounding the gunfight at OK Corral or would just like to see a non-traditional take on a western film, I recommend ordering a copy of the Tombstone Rashomon DVD. While you’re waiting for it to arrive, check out the links to my books below. On the page for The Astronomer’s Crypt, you’ll find the trailer that Eric and Rogelio helped me make.

Return to Penny Dreadful

In my post looking at the vampires who appeared in the first season of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, I mentioned that I had started the second season. I’ve finished the season, which overall, I enjoyed more than the first.

Our heroes, Vanessa Ives, Ethan Chandler, Sir Malcolm Murray, Sembene, and Dr. Victor Frankenstein, are all back. This time our villains prove not to be vampires but a coven of witches. What’s more, these witches, called nightcomers in the Penny Dreadful mythos, are servants of Lucifer with superhuman powers. In this season, Brona Croft is reincarnated by Dr. Frankenstein as Lily Frankenstein, meant as the monster’s bride but possessing a mind of her own. One of my favorite characters this season was Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle played by Sir Simon Russel Beale who was introduced in season 1 but had a nice character arc in season 2.

Reeve Carney is back this season as Dorian Grey. Mostly his story takes place in the background of season 2’s main action, but it looks like they set him up to take a bigger role in the third season. We’ll have to see what happens with that story.

Although Penny Dreadful’s second season still features many characters from classic literature, they seem freed from their origins to tell their own story this season. In many ways this season felt more like a nineteenth century penny dreadful come to life. Although the series does have better writing than a real life penny dreadful like say, Varney the Vampyre, there were moments it did make baffling turns. Some of the characters’ choices seemed more designed to serve plot than make sense for what people would do when faced with these real situations. Why, for example, do the characters often go to battle the monsters at night when its known that’s when the monsters are strongest?

Despite that, there are a lot of clever plot turns and some good character moments in this season. We learn more about Sir Malcolm Murray and his relationship with his estranged wife. We also learn more about Ethan Chandler. Danny Sapani’s Sembene actually gets stuff to do. For me the standout was Billy Piper’s Lily Frankenstein. Her arc takes her from apparently lost waif betrothed to Frankenstein’s monster to woman in control of her destiny.

I’ve been watching Penny Dreadful while working on new editions of my horror novels, Dragon’s Fall, Vampires of the Scarlet Order and The Astronomer’s Crypt. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about Penny Dreadful is that it doesn’t feel too bound by linear storytelling. One episode I thought was interesting in the current season involved Vanessa recounting how she was mentored by a witch. The episode didn’t bother to pop back into the present day, it just had a simple prologue of Vanessa starting her story, then the rest of the story just happened in the series’ past.

This approach reinforced a decision I’ve made for the new edition of Vampires of the Scarlet Order. The original edition was told in very linear order. Events that happened in 1491 happened first. Events that happened in the sixteenth century happened next. That noted, the story’s main conflict actually happens in the present day. So, I’ve decided the new edition will start in the present day and the chapters set in the past will be told when it’s natural for characters in the story to tell them. You can get a sneak peak at the new first chapter at: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO-Preview.html

Of course, the buy links still point to the original novel as released in 2008, but that will change soon after the rights revert to me next month.

Star Trek: Picard

For staying at home during a pandemic, I feel like I’ve been extremely busy the last six weeks. Some of this has been from documentation work that I’ve discussed here. Some has been because rights to three of my novels revert to me at the end of this month and I’m working to get new editions ready to go when the reversion takes effect. This past Friday, the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association invited to me to speak to them via Zoom about Kitt Peak’s DESI project. The upshot is that I haven’t had as much extra time to read or watch TV as I might even under normal circumstances. Despite that, I decided to take advantage of a CBS All Access offer of a free month to watch a series I’ve been looking forward to, Star Trek: Picard.

The series takes place twenty years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis. Admiral Picard, played admirably by Patrick Stewart, has retired to his home and vineyards in France. Meanwhile, in Seattle, black-suited agents storm the home of a young woman named Dahj and kill her boyfriend. She reveals extraordinary strength and gets away. Somehow she knows Picard is the one who can help her. Picard then figures out that she was a biological synthetic lifeform created from cells taken from Commander Data’s positronic network. In short, she’s a daughter of Commander Data, who sacrificed himself in Nemesis to save Picard.

Right away in the first episode, those black-suited agents are back and this time, they succeed in killing Dahj. However, Picard has learned that Dahj would have been one of a pair of identical twin synthetic lifeforms. From here, we go across space into Romulan territory and find out that Dahj’s twin sister, Soji, is helping to study a captured Borg ship while engaging in a romance with a Romulan named Narek, who I soon realized was played by Penny Dreadful’s Doctor Frankenstein, Harry Treadaway.

Admiral Picard now goes on a quest to find Dahj’s sister. When Starfleet refuses to help, he engages the help of Raffi Musiker, his first officer after Commander Riker left. They hire the ship, La Sirena, commanded by a former Starfleet officer, Chris Rios. They follow the clues that lead them to the Borg cube and then beyond to the planet where Soji and Dahj were created. Overall, I enjoyed the series. It was an engaging quest story with some nice moments for Star Trek: The Next Generation era characters such as Picard, Riker, Troi, and Seven of Nine.

My main complaint with the series had to do with the ending, and I’ll try to describe it in as spoiler-free a way as possible. When they get to the planet where Dahj and Soji were created, a beacon is built to summon a destructive force. We are then treated to some scenes of a hole opening in the sky and metallic tentacles flailing about. It’s a moment that feels all too much like the ending of modern superhero fare. It’s become tired there and it really had no place in a Star Trek episode. What’s more, Star Trek’s best scary moments have never involved big bad explicit threats, but threats like the Borg or the bug-like invaders in the Next Generation episode, “Conspiracy.” These are the things that feel like they could walk in and dismantle Starfleet and the Federation with ease if our heroes aren’t very careful.

I’m glad to have seen the series and I would recommend it to fellow Star Trek fans. Besides the nostalgia factor, I was also pleased to see the series embrace elements of Star Trek canon that haven’t felt terribly popular with fans such as the Romulan supernova from the 2009 Star Trek movie and the events of Star Trek: Nemesis itself. I will admit these are not among the highlights of the franchise, but I’ve long found it baffling how willing Star Trek fans are to cherry-pick their favorite bits of canon and try to imagine the rest didn’t happen.

I’m still a little on the fence about CBS All Access itself. I’m delighted they made a free month available to people during this difficult time. Still, episodes themselves were plagued by the occasional stutter that would be more upsetting if I had paid for it. While that could be my internet, I was also a little frustrated that the service wouldn’t let me watch the end credits of episodes without getting ready to play the next episode right away. Star Trek features some good music and I like the opportunity to hear it and I like being able to see who was in the guest cast of an episode without necessarily having to look it up later.

Vampires on the UnXplained

Another great coincidence unfolded this past weekend when the A&E Network aired an episode of its series The UnXplained which discussed vampire and werewolf legends. The coincidence goes beyond this happening as I’m creating new editions of my vampires novels. I made a special point to watch the show because Marita Woywod Crandle was interviewed. I know Marita from doing signings in her shop, Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans. What’s more, Marita honored me by providing a cover quote for the new edition of Dragon’s Fall. Marita is not only the owner of a wonderful New Orleans boutique but an author whose work I admire. I loved her New Orleans Vampires – History and Legend and I really look forward to her forthcoming book about the infamous Carter Brothers of New Orleans.

Another aspect of the coincidence is that the show is hosted by William Shatner. Until it was postponed due to the Corona-19 pandemic, I was scheduled to speak at El Paso Comic Con this past weekend, where William Shatner was scheduled to be one of the featured celebrity guests. So, I ended up seeing William Shatner speak, even though the convention didn’t happen!

I enjoyed the show itself. As with most shows of this type, it didn’t delve very deeply into any of the legends discussed and given that this was a subject I’ve researched, there was little I didn’t know. What I found the most interesting was how much their summation of vampire and werewolf legends tracked themes I explore in both Dragon’s Fall and Vampires of the Scarlet Order. They discussed the appeal of immortality and the dark romanticism of some vampire stories. They made an interesting connection between vampires and werewolves in that both types of stories explore elements of our animal selves. Marita also talked about how vampires have almost become heroic figures and protectors. Humans may be prey, but a vampire can be a good steward of those it feeds upon.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the show to me was a story Ryan Skinner told about an experience he had on Utah’s Skinwalker Ranch. He tells a story about seeing balls of light over a field that moved around and changed size. Suddenly one of the balls of light exploded and there was a wolf very near to them. One of the aspects of my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order is that my vampires are tied to ancient and powerful technology indistinguishable from magic and this technology can allow vampires to cross dimensional planes if they know how to tap it. Whether you believe Mr. Skinner’s story or not, it struck me how much it sounded like a scene that could happen in my vampire universe.

Toward the show’s end, author David Skaal summed up one of the reasons vampires do compel me by citing the idea that vampires can’t see their own reflections. As he says, if a vampire did see their reflection, it would be you.

If you missed the episode in first run, it’s available through various streaming services. I downloaded a copy of the episode via iTunes. Times right now are tough on small businesses. I do encourage you to support those you can. Boutique du Vampyre’s storefront in New Orleans is closed, but their mail order business continues. You can get signed copies of my vampire novel from them as well as Marita’s book. If you can’t decide what you want, you can order a vampire mystery box filled with goodies from the boutique. Here are a few links to get you started:

The Vampires of Penny Dreadful

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic closed down businesses in New Mexico, I found copies of the first two seasons of the Showtime series Penny Dreadful on the shelf of one of my favorite local businesses, COAS Books. I had watched the first season back in 2016 and enjoyed it. You can read my thoughts on my old Scarlet Order Web Journal. I’ve finished re-watching the first season and I’ve just started watching the second.

It was interesting to re-watch Penny Dreadful while re-editing and re-formatting my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires for republication this summer since the first season is ostensibly the story of how Sir Malcolm Murray and Vanessa Ives attempt to rescue Sir Malcolm’s daughter Mina from a nest of vampires. Sharp eyed readers will likely recognize Mina Murray as the woman seduced by Dracula in Bram Stoker’s famous novel, which fits since the series is full of references to Victorian horror. However, this time around, I realized there is no explicit reference to Dracula at all. Mina only ever refers to her captor as “the Master.”

When I’m at book signings, readers often ask me about my particular vampire mythos. They’re curious about the “rules” my vampires follow. Do they only go out at night? Are they bothered by crosses? Can they transform into other creatures? Are they more monstrous, or more romantic? One of the things I found interesting in Penny Dreadful was that in addition to never bringing up Dracula, they never discuss the vampires’ “rules.” The closest they come to this is a brief appearance by Van Helsing, played wonderfully by David Warner. One of my favorite moments in the show comes when Van Helsing is talking to Dr. Frankenstein about vampires and hands him a copy of the first installment of the penny dreadful, Varney the Vampyre.

The vampires themselves were essentially portrayed as a nest of vermin. The vampire we are led to assume is the master seemed inspired by F.W. Murnau’s famous Nosferatu, but with fewer clothes. This vampire is surrounded by a number of women, all with light hair, red eyes and similar white dresses. For the most part, they are portrayed like a rat pack. The only “power” they seem to possess is either some ability for rapid movement or projecting their image over long distance. Mina in her vampire form appears to Vanessa a few times, then rapidly is pulled away.

Both Murnau’s original Nosferatu and Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake not only inspired the producers of Penny Dreadful, but they have inspired my Scarlet Order vampires. In Dragon’s Fall, some vampires shave their heads, making them look a little like Max Schreck in the original movie. In the novel, it’s a practical decision since the vampires can’t be out in sunlight. In primitive times, often their best defense is to bury themselves in the ground. Can you imagine what state your hair would be in if you had to do that?

In Vampires of the Scarlet Order, the antagonists are creating their own vampire-like super soldiers. These creatures end up looking like Max Schreck and Klaus Kinski’s interpretation of Nosferatu. To me, that image of the vampire is still one of the most frightening and I like using it when I want a creature that poses a real threat to my heroes.

Will we learn more about the vampire mythology of Penny Dreadful in the second season? I’m three episodes in as of this writing and while our primary villain does seem inspired by Elizabeth Bathory, she’s portrayed as more of a witch. I suspect the vampires and witches are more an extension of the greater evil the heroes are facing than separate forces. If you’ve seen the rest of the series, please don’t send me spoilers. I’ll likely write a review of the second season once I’ve finished.

In the meantime, you can explore the world of the Scarlet Order in the current editions of the books:

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