The Space Vampires

In recent weeks, I’ve been working on a sequel to my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order, which is about vampire mercenaries who learn they must stop a government plot to create super soldiers with vampire powers. Part of the reason is that vampires have a cosmic origin that gives them powers which could prove extremely dangerous if unlocked. What’s more, the government scientists creating those super soldiers are working diligently to unlock all the vampire secrets. In the sequel, the vampires have decided to unlock those secrets for themselves. This notion of vampires having an otherworldly origin has been explored in numerous books and stories, but a notable example is Colin Wilson’s 1976 novel The Space Vampires, which was then adapted into the 1985 movie Lifeforce. I had seen the movie once in the 1980s and then read the novel in the late 1990s, but I didn’t remember many of the details, so I went back for a second look.

The Space Vampires and Lifeforce

The book and the movie start out much the same. A space mission stumbles across a gigantic, derelict space vessel. Aboard, they find several alien bodies. After some searching, the space ship crew discovers three attractive human forms, who appear to be in suspended animation. Three of the human like figures are taken back to Earth. One of them, in the form of a beautiful young woman, wakes up while being examined and sucks the lifeforce from the person examining her, then escapes and begins looking for others to feed from.

The details are somewhat different between the book and the movie. The novel is set over a century in the future and the alien ship is in the asteroid belt. The movie is set in 1986 and the ship is in the tail of Comet Halley. The aliens in the book look like human-sized squids, while the ones in the movie look like bats. Despite those differences, the book and movie are more alike than I remember. After the alien vampire woman escapes into the world, our heroes start looking for clues so they can locate her and stop her. It turns out that the lead astronaut of the expedition does have a kind of psychic link to her which helps.

The novel spends much more time exploring the issue of vampires from a more metaphysical angle. It points out that everyone on Earth feeds off life, including vegetarians. There’s also an exploration of how we gain energy from other people and that to a certain extent, all humans could be viewed as psychic vampires. I found myself thinking of Colin Robinson from the TV series, What We Do in the Shadows. There’s also an exploration of ways in which the predator/prey relationship can mirror the pursuit of sexual partners.

To give the story more visual action, the movie introduces the idea that people drained by the alien vampires come back to life as zombies two hours after they were drained and then seek to drain others. The zombies are easily stopped by restraining them, but you have to find them first. This allows for a big spectacle ending as our heroes must find and destroy the vampires while London gets overrun by zombies. The book’s ending is much quieter and, at first read, it almost seems he invoked a deus ex machina. However, on reflection, Wilson did give us a few clues about the ending, but I also thought he could have foreshadowed the ending a little better than he did.

Having watched the movie and read the book together, I had the impression that the movie’s screenwriter, Dan O’Bannon, read the novel and paid close attention. As in the book, the vampires use sexuality as a lure for their victims, represented visually by Mathilda May playing the vampire woman nude in most of the movie. Both the book and movie posit an alien origin for vampires on Earth, and as I noted, there were more scenes from the book in the movie than I remembered. If Dan O’Bannon’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s the screenwriter behind Alien. The book is fun in that it gives us a light Lovecraftian take on the vampire mythos. The movie takes that idea and ramps it up with a lot of fun, high-octane action backed by a great Henry Mancini score. I wouldn’t take either of them too seriously but, for the most part, I don’t think their creators intended us to.

You can see my take on vampires and their cosmic origins in Vampires of the Scarlet Order. You can learn more about the novel at: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO.html

Giants of Iron and Steam

Back around 2008, when I first learned that the weird westerns and alternate history I had been writing overlapped with steampunk, I decided to see if I could find some music to put me in a good frame of mind for writing. I tend to prefer instrumental music while I write, but I’m happy to have music with lyrics while I’m getting settled into write. I remember naively typing the phrase “steampunk music” into Google just to see what would come up. I found several discussion boards talking about a band called Abney Park and their album Lost Horizons, which was brand new around that time. I bought a copy of the album and fell in love with the music written by the band’s lead singer Robert Brown. Over the years, I’ve snapped up pretty much every album they’ve produced as they’ve been released. I have especially appreciated that Brown has released purely instrumental versions of some of the albums, and yes, they do work as great background when I’m writing.

As time went on, I discovered that Brown is not only a talented songwriter, but a capable storyteller. He’s written three novels set in the world he’s developed through the songs. In 2020, Brown even recorded an audio version of his novel The Toyshop at the End of the World. Given that he performs all the time as lead singer of a band, it should come as no surprise that he performed the book well. So, I was excited to hear that Robert Brown had brought his storytelling and musical talents together into a musical called Giants of Iron and Steam. I gather Brown had hoped to debut this as a live musical, but logistics have not worked out. So, he decided to release it as an album and I recently gave it a listen.

The musical opens in the distant future of his novel series. Two men enter the laboratory of Dr. Calvin Calgori, pushing an older woman in a wheelchair. The two men talk about trying to get to the truth of some matter. To find the information they need, they must use an invention by Dr. Calgori, which will allow them to view the distant past. They peer into the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s as a railroad is being established between a lumber mill and the nearby mountains. We’re soon introduced to a lumberjack named Robert Winters and his daughter Effie who live deep in the mountains. They look forward to the railroad because that means Robert won’t have to float logs down the river. The railroad will support Charles Foster Quinn’s lumber mill. Quinn’s son, Aaron, doesn’t want to succeed his father in the family business. Instead, he wants to be an engineer on the new railroad. Aaron soon meets Effie, which stirs more division between the young man and his father.

The musical felt like a cross between The Pajama Game and Paint Your Wagon. The former is the story of workers at a pajama factory fighting for better wages and working conditions, a theme which comes up in Giants of Iron and Steam. The stage version of Paint Your Wagon focused on the miner Ben Rumson and his daughter’s forbidden romance with a young man named Julio. Unlike those musicals from the 1950s, Giants of Iron and Steam is more honest about the history of labor and race. Plus there’s a dandy mystery as we figure out what the people from the future want from this story of the past.

I felt several personal connections to this story. Aaron learning to be a railroad engineer reminded me of my dad teaching me how to drive a locomotive. Robert Winters talking about the dangers of taking logs down the river reminded me of stories about my great grandfather, who apparently did take logs downriver in his youth, and was seriously wounded at one point. Finally, at one point, Robert Winters reflects on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and sees himself as Prospero to Effie’s Miranda. Given that I actually do have a daughter named Myranda, I’ve opportunity to reflect on The Tempest and definitely felt the parallels.

Giants of Iron and Steam is sold along with the script for the musical, so you can read along as you listen. You can learn more at: https://abneypark.com/market/musical-giants-of-iron-steam-c-83/

If you’d like to look into my steampunk old west, which also tries to present an honest look at history go to http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

Come Along and Sing

The title of today’s post are the opening words to one of my favorite songs, “Wilderness” by C.W. McCall. Bill Fries, the man who sang those words, passed away on April 1 at the age of 93. Back in 1975 and 76, it was hard to tune to a country music station and not hear his words. C.W. McCall’s trucker ballad “Convoy” rose to the top of the country music charts. It would serve as the inspiration for a Sam Peckinpah film of the same name and Rolling Stone Magazine would eventually name it one of the 100 greatest Country Songs of all time.

C.W. McCall was a character created by two people working at an advertising agency in Omaha, Nebraska: Bill Fries and Chip Davis. They created a series of commercials for Old-Home Bread featuring the trucker C.W. and his romance with a waitress named Mavis. An actor played C.W. and Fries voiced him in musical narration. The commercials were popular and they recorded a version of the jingle, which went on to become a popular record. Soon after, MGM Records offered them a deal. At that point, Fries went on to become the face of C.W. McCall as well as the voice.

C.W. McCall’s Greatest Hits and some speculative fiction it inspired

I was nine-years-old when “Convoy” hit the top of the charts. My dad heard the song “Wolf Creek Pass” on the radio, loved it, and bought the album. Soon after, I talked my parents into buying the Black Bear Road album which contained “Convoy.” I loved the music and would go on to buy every C.W. McCall album I could find. To this day, the music is a favorite for road trips and I can sing many of the songs.

It should come as no surprise the songs influenced my writing. I’ve written two stories directly influenced by C.W. McCall songs. One was “Captain’s Holiday” which appeared in David B. Riley’s Ghost Town anthology. Influenced by a song that paints a word picture of a ghost town, I tell the story of a starship captain who returns to Earth and connects to its history by visiting an abandoned town in the New Mexico desert. Another story was “The Convoy” which forms part of Firebrandt’s Legacy. In this case, pirate captain Ellison Firebrandt is hauling logs from a distant colony world and joins a convoy of space vessels. One of the captains falls sick and the pirates have to find a way to get help. Words and phrases from the songs have gone on to influence me in smaller ways as well.

After the C.W. McCall years, Bill Fries settled in Ouray, Colorado where he served as mayor for six years. Meanwhile, in the final years of C.W. McCall, Chip Davis and other members of the band created Mannheim Steamroller. In fact, if you go back and listen to C.W. McCall songs, you can often hear the sound that would make Mannheim Steamroller famous a few years later. Even “Convoy” has a violin section! As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I don’t often write to music with lyrics because I find it distracting, but Mannheim Steamroller is often playing in the background when I write.

Back in 2001, I learned through the C.W. McCall fan club that Bill Fries was open to correspondence. I sent him a letter and a CD to sign. I received a gracious reply along with my signed CD. It was a small connection with someone who has been a great influence and who touched my life, but a treasured one. I look back and have fond memories of listening to C.W. McCall songs with my dad, mom, and brothers. I remember sharing the songs with my friends. I remember singing the songs with my kids on road trips. As Bill Fries said at the end of “Aurora Borealis,” “I realized that life is just a collection of memories. And memories are like starlight: they go on forever.”

The Ring of the Nibelung

I enjoy retelling myths and folktales and love seeing the ways other people interpret those myths and folktales from their perspective. I’m a fan of movies and their soundtracks. In fact, I often put on soundtrack music as a background when I write to help set a mood for the story I’m telling. I also love fantasy tales involving quests, dragons and magic. For all these reasons, I feel drawn to Richard Wagner’s famous opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen. The whole story is a retelling of Germanic myth. The cycle introduced the “leitmotiv” or recurring theme for characters or moods and the music itself can be stirring and powerful.

P. Craig Russell’s Ring of the Nibelung comics and my Blu-Ray of the opera

Taken as a unit, these four operas are enormous. The total running time is some 15 hours, and it’s common for them to be performed over the course of four nights. When the operas are performed, there’s a lot to take in. There’s grand and epic music. Typically it’s performed in the original German. It’s a mythic story performed on stage with a large cast. Even a “minimalist” approach to staging these stories takes a lot of technical skill. I’ve only watched the whole thing through once on Blu-Ray and while I followed the story, it was a challenge.

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that artist P. Craig Russell adapted Der Ring des Nibelungen into comic book format under the translated title The Ring of the Nibelung. On one hand, this seems audacious, moving an opera into the silent world of comics, but I thought it worked remarkably well. His illustrations are gorgeous and you see the four stories that compose the operas as the mythic stories they are. He visualizes the dwarf Alberich who steals gold from mermaids in the Rhine to make a ring of power. We see the god Wotan as he’s caught between what his heart tells him to do and what the law tells him to do concerning his twin children Siegmund and Sieglinde. We see the valkyries visualized and Russell shows us the battle between Siegried and the dragon for the ring made from the Rhine gold. Next time I sit down to watch these operas, I plan to start by reading Russell’s comic adaptation to help me see the story threads as I also appreciate the music and the staging.

One of the things I found fascinating when I did watch Der Ring des Nibelungen and was reinforced when I read the comic adaptation were some of the parallels between Wagner’s opera and J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic, The Lord of the Rings. I assumed the parallels exited because both Wagner and Tolkien were inspired by the same source material, but I recently learned that the central element of the cursed ring is not found in the older legends. Tolkien himself was a scholar of Germanic and Nordic legends and was highly critical of, what he considered, Wagner’s loose interpretation of the legends. I’ve seen it suggested that Tolkien may have been inspired to write his books because he thought Wagner had missed the mark. I’m not enough of a Wagner or Tolkien scholar to know how likely that is. Still, like following a ring full circle, this gets to the root of what I find fascinating about retellings. Wagner and Tolkien saw different aspects to the same source material and both created fascinating works that provide food for thought.

Songs in Oz

With book number ten, I feel like I’ve reached a milestone in my journey through L. Frank Baum’s original Oz novels. Rinkitink in Oz opens up on the Island of Pingaree in the Nonestic Ocean, some distance from the land of Oz. The title character, king of a land adjacent to the domain of the Nome King, which we’ve visited in several other Oz adventures, arrives on Pingaree with his talking goat Bilbil. He’s a jolly sort who is happy to enjoy all the perks of being a king, but really doesn’t want the responsibility. He’s happy to eat, swap stories, and sing, but doesn’t really want to do the hard work.

Soon after Rinkitink arrives in Pingaree, the island is invaded by a force from the twin islands of Regos and Coregos. The people of Pingaree, including the island’s king and queen, are hauled away as slaves. Rinkitink, Bilbil, and the island’s young prince, Inga, are the only ones who elude capture. Fortunately, Inga had just learned about three magical pearls which give him hope for rescuing his people. One pearl gives him great strength, one gives him invulnerability, the third one gives him sage advice. With the pearls of strength and invulnerability ensconced in the prince’s shoes, he sets out with Rinkitink and Bilbil to rescue his people. All along the way, Rinkitink is happy to entertain his traveling companions with a song.

I’ve always found it interesting when songs appear on the pages of novels. I often find myself trying to sing the words and I wonder how close I might have come to what the author heard in their head. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been listening to these novels on audio. The Librivox recording of Rinkitink that I listened to featured a full cast. The good king was acted, and sung, by an audiobook narrator named Angleet. I thought he did a fantastic job singing Rinkitink’s songs. I don’t know if the melodies were those Baum heard in his head, but they were nicely done and felt true to the fairy tale-like atmosphere of the Oz books

In reading the Oz books to date, I’ve had the impression that L. Frank Baum was a fan of the Brothers Grimm. We see evidence of that in Dorothy’s magical shoes, the talking animals of Oz, and the witches, both good and evil. That noted, the books still have a distinctly American flavor as plucky, independent adventurers such as Dorothy or Trot find their way through the dangers of these lands. For much of its length, Rinkitink feels the most like a Grimm fairy tale of all these novels. In fact, our familiar Oz denizens don’t come into the story until the final chapters of the novel. At the risk of a spoiler, the most American aspect of this novel is how Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz come riding to Inga and Rinkitink’s rescue near the novel’s end.

Like Baum, I’m a fan of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I’ve translated a few of the tales and done my own retellings. They are available in the anthologies Gaslight and Grimm and It Came From Her Purse. Click on the links to learn more about the books.

Also, this coming weekend is the second installment of Buboni-Virtual-Con. I will be on the panel “Writing Badass Women,” which is scheduled from 6:30-7:30pm Mountain Daylight Time on Saturday, August 21. The schedule for the entire convention and information about how to watch the panels from your computer will be on Bubonicon’s website at: http://www.bubonicon.com/.

Steampunk CommuniTea Weekend

This coming weekend, I’m honored to be one of the participants in a great virtual event and everyone is invited! The event is the Steampunk CommuniTea Weekend, which is presented by the Tucson Steampunk Society, the Tea Scouts, Madame Askew and the Grand Arbiter, and the Temporal Entourage. This will be a weekend full of virtual panels, performances, and sundry adventures. To register for the weekend and receive a complete schedule of events once it’s available, go to: https://madame-askew.ticketleap.com/steampunk-communitea-weekend/

Registration for the event is free and includes access to the Zoom panels and Discord chats. There will be additional performances that will include an extra charge. You can get all the details on the event’s Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/events/336440080917274

Guests for this event include a number of my favorite writers, including Gail Carriger, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Karen Carlisle, and Beth Cato. There are also events with makers, artists, and costumers. I see many familiar faces from other steampunk events I’ve attended in the past such as my alter ego, David Lee, the Airship Ambassador, Kevin Steil, and costumer, Tayliss Forge. I’m especially excited to see that there will be a concert by Nathaniel Johnstone, one of my favorite musicians. The concert does cost extra, but it’s a very reasonable price.

You can see a complete listing of the guests along with information about them at: https://madameaskew.com/covidween-2020/

As of this writing, I will be participating in at least three events this weekend. At 7pm Pacific Daylight Time on Friday, April 8, I’ll join a discussion called “Libations with Literati.” I gather this will be a social hour where the guest authors and publisher will be on hand to chat about their work and and be available to ask questions. At 9pm, I will give my presentation “Mars: A Land Across the Aether” as Mars itself sits high in the sky. This has been a popular presentation at several steampunk events and this is a great opportunity for folks who can’t ordinarily travel to events to watch the presentation. At 2pm Pacific Standard Time on Saturday, I’ll join some of the other authors for “The Care and Feeding of Great Steampunk Stories.” I will certainly be sitting in on other events as well through the weekend.

I do hope you will join us for this wonderful, virtual steampunk event. It will be an opportunity to connect with steampunks from around the world and learn more about the fun of steampunk literature, arts, craft, and music.

A High Tech New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is often a quiet affair for me. In a normal year, Kitt Peak National Observatory attempts to have telescopes pointed at the sky, doing science-related tasks on as many nights as possible. The only exceptions are closures for weather, engineering tasks, and we’re often closed on Christmas. Over the last decade, I’ve toasted the New Year several times at work with a nice cup of coffee. This year, proved a rare exception and I was able to ring in the New Year at home. In years past, New Year’s Eve at home has involved cooking up a big pot of a red chile, hominy, and pork stew called posole, then either playing games, working on puzzles, or watching movies until near midnight, then sharing a toast of sparkling cider with the family.

The posole still happened this year and, if I do say so myself, it was one of the best batches I’ve made in a long time. I credit that to my wife making stock for the base from some leftover pork bones we had in the freezer. The meat on those bones also became the meat for the stew. This is really the way posole is supposed to be made, but we often shortcut this step and cook the meat on the morning of New Year’s Eve.

Another thing that made this New Year’s Eve special was the opportunity to connect with numerous friends via video chat. On top of that, the band Abney Park performed a live streaming concert from their home studio in Seattle. I’ve seen advertisements for Abney Park’s New Year’s Eve concerts for several years now and I’ve always wanted to go. Among other things, one of their frequent venues for those concerts was quite close to the neighborhood where my brother used to live. So this was like a wish come true. What’s more, this concert came just a couple months before the tenth anniversary of seeing Abney Park play live the first time at Wild Wild West Con in 2011. Shortly before that, my family and I had seen a YouTube video of the band giving an impromptu performance of the title song from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. When my youngest daughter met Captain Robert, she asked him if they could play it at the concert. He told her they hadn’t rehearsed it and didn’t have the music along, so they couldn’t. However, at the New Year’s Eve Concert, ten year’s later, with my daughter home from college and in the audience, Captain Robert and the band actually played Chitty Chitty Bang Bang live. It was a delight.

My daughters and a friend meeting Robert Brown and Nathaniel Johnstone at the first Wild Wild West Con

The other parties we attended were just as much fun, if for different reasons. I spent time with several college friends in one call. It was a relaxed time where we chatted casually as friends are wont. This party ended about 8pm and then we joined Madame Askew and her Temporal Entourage for their New Year’s Eve festivities where I connected with friends from all across the country and around the world. Author Karen Carlisle confirmed for us that the sun really did rise as expected on January 1 in Australia. If all goes well, I hope you will be able to purchase a new anthology this coming year with stories by me and Karen. Performing at the event was burlesque dancer Eve Riot. I will note, all the links so far in this post point to the Patreon pages for these amazing artists. I encourage you to visit their pages, learn more about them, and support them if you’re able to!

This has been such a difficult year for many people, but one thing I’m grateful for is the way people have found new ways to use technology to reach out and connect to one another across the globe. Even once the pandemic situation improves and we are able to gather again, I hope we don’t lose all of this ability. I’ve been able to attend events and connect with people I wouldn’t have necessarily been able to otherwise.

On the subject of remote chatter, there has been recent news of a strange radio signal from Proxima Centauri. It’s at a frequency not typically used by spacecraft. It disappeared when the Parkes Radio Telescope moved away from Proxima, then returned when it pointed in that direction again. There is no known astronomical phenomenon that broadcasts at that frequency. Also, there’s a habitable zone planet around Proxima Centauri. I’ve even imagined people living there in my novel The Pirates of Sufiro. That said, there’s a good chance this is just an undiscovered natural phenomenon. Still, I find myself wondering if someone out there wants to get on our video chat action. If you want to follow this story, the Planetary Society has set up a page discussing the detection at: https://www.planetary.org/articles/aliens-at-proxima-centauri-a-new-radio-signal-raises-the-question.

Music for the Journey

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve started evaluating my revisions of The Pirates of Sufiro and deciding whether or not it’s ready for publication as is, or whether I should take the book through another round of edits. As I mentioned in the last post, The Pirates of Sufiro tells the story of a planet founded by pirates and their conflict with even more unscrupulous people. I’ve also come to realize that The Pirates of Sufiro serves as a bridge, showing how a pirate captain like Ellison Firebrandt guided the next two generations into becoming heroes who would save the galaxy.

The first part of this process is making sure characters like Ellison Firebrandt, Carter Roberts, and Suki Mori are true to the characters I envisioned in Firebrandt’s Legacy. I also reread the next two books in the series, Children of the Old Stars and Heirs of the New Earth, to make sure I believe that Fire Ellis, daughter of Ellison Firebrandt, and her son, John Mark Ellis, are where they need to be. Of the two, I think Fire will need the most help in Pirates while John Mark needs a little more work in Children of the Old Stars.

The good news of my reading adventure is that while it looks like I’ll be spending a little more time rewriting The Pirates of Sufiro than I originally expected, the rewrites of Children and Heirs will probably go a bit quicker than I initially expected. In fact, I’m thinking once Pirates is released, it’ll only take about two or three months to finish the new editions of the next two books.

To elaborate a bit on the issue of character consistency, one element of the story that becomes increasingly important as the series progresses is that John Mark Ellis comes from Nantucket. He has a connection with the sea and has even become acquainted with Earth’s whales as intelligent beings. I think there’s enough connection with Nantucket and the whales in Pirates that these things don’t come out of the blue. Nantucket takes on greater importance in Children of the Old Stars.

Despite that, there’s a scene where a character looks into Ellis’s mind and sees a castle on the Scottish moors. I wrote that because I imagined Ellis’s ancestors as Scottish, but it doesn’t really serve a story point or fit Ellis’s self image. In the new edition, look for him to be sheltered in a light house against a raging sea. In another scene in Children of the Old Stars, I imagine Ellis humming “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” I did this at a point where he reaches an important decision and it happens because Ulysses S. Grant was an early inspiration for the character and I wanted that Civil War connection. The problem is that Ellis himself wouldn’t see that connection. He would actually sing songs related to Nantucket and whaling. This led me on a quest to find such songs. During the search, I discovered a wonderful musician and educator named David Coffin based in Boston. He has an album called David Coffin and the Nantucket Sleighride which includes songs just like the ones I was looking for. I even discovered that one of the old songs from circa 1820 fits the mood of the scene I was looking for very well. What’s more, his old songs are great for getting me in the mood to write scenes with Ellis. If you want to learn more about David, his website is: http://www.davidcoffin.com. His albums are available on Amazon and iTunes and I highly recommend them if you want to learn more about sea chanteys and early American music.

Remember Yamato

On Christmas, my older daughter surprised me with a copy of one of the myriad Space Battleship Yamato soundtrack albums. She found the Japanese import at a convention this past year. A search of Tim Eldred’s amazing Yamato fan site, OurStarBlazers.com, revealed that it was the 1995 release of the Space Battleship Yamato: The New Voyage Symphonic album.

As I’ve mentioned before, I collect soundtracks and love to play them while I write. They can help me find a mood or a tone while I’m writing certain scenes. Sometimes they just help me escape the mundane worries of the world while I try to get into a creative headspace. The TV series Space Battleship Yamato debuted in October 1974 in Japan and featured one of the most epic scores ever to appear in a space opera TV series. Here in America, John Williams’s amazing soundtrack for Star Wars set a standard for space adventure music. I’ve heard it speculated that George Lucas was inspired to have Williams create such an epic score because he’d seen it done with great success in Japan. Whether that speculation is true or not, I still consider the Yamato soundtracks to be among the gold standard of science fiction music.

Even though I have been a fan of Space Battleship Yamato since I first saw it on American TV circa 1978 or so, I haven’t seen every episode of the translated series, Star Blazers, or every movie. It doesn’t help that the original movies only had limited release in the United States. When they were released on DVD, they came out at a price I couldn’t readily afford. Space Battleship Yamato is noted for having a rousing opening song performed by Isao Sasaki. In the album for Space Battleship Yamato: The New Voyage, there’s a new opening song, also performed by Isao Sasaki, called “Remember Yamato.” The song is so distinctive, that I realized The New Voyage was one of the stories I missed.

A search of Amazon revealed that The New Voyage was still available on DVD and it was at a price I could now afford, so I sent away for it and finally had a chance to watch it. I knew the events of the story because I had friends who had described it to me during my high school years. Still, this was the first time I’d seen this particular story for myself. It’s quite an iconic chapter in the Yamato storyline. In short, it tells the story of how the Captain Kodai of the Yamato teamed up with Lord Dessler of the Gamilon Empire to attempt to save the planet of Dessler’s greatest love from an evil empire strip-mining her planet. If we were to put this in Star Wars terms, it would be like Luke Skywalker teaming up with Lord Vader after the Empire’s defeat to go fight evil industrialists. I’d definitely pay to see that!

It turns out the special features on this particular disc were assembled by none other than Tim Eldred, whose website helped me identify the soundtrack album, which in turn led me on a quest to find the movie. One of the special features is a translation of creator Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s liner notes for the album! At the end of the notes, he says, “Please enjoy the sound of this space opera and revive the vast anime-universe in your heart. I also hope you will create your own wonderful images which surpass mine.”

I’m delighted that I have been able to create some of my own space opera adventures in novel form which have been inspired by the music of Space Battleship Yamato and I will forever be grateful to Mr. Nishizaki for his creation. You can explore my work at my website http://www.davidleesummers.com

Steampunk Christmas

To me, steampunk and Christmas go hand in hand. Steampunk is all about Victorian-inspired fantasy worlds. What’s more, Victorians in England and America gave us many of the trappings of the modern secular Christmas. Thomas Nast in New York gave us wonderfully detailed renderings of Santa in his workshop, using such scientific gadgets as telephones and telescopes to fulfill his mission of figuring out who was naughty and who was nice. In the meantime, Charles Dickens unleashed a series of ghosts on miserly Ebenezer Scrooge.

So, when I wrote my first steampunk novel, Owl Dance, it seemed natural to include a scene about Christmas. It’s a simple scene. Ramon Morales and Fatemeh Karimi find themselves in a poor part of San Francisco with little money. Ramon gives Fatemeh a simple gift. Always curious about other people’s religions, Fatemeh asks Ramon how people celebrate Christmas. He tells her many people celebrate with song. She then asks Ramon to sing a song of the angels, anticipating their travels to Los Angeles after the holidays. You can learn more about Owl Dance at http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html. If you’ve already read and enjoyed the novel, remember there are three more novels in the series. You can find out about them at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion.

Music is an important part of this scene because I see music as an important part of both Christmas and the steampunk aesthetic. That said, I don’t own a lot of Christmas albums. Because I grew up in a Christian family, we sang Christmas carols in church and would go out caroling. The one album that was an important part of my family’s Christmas tradition growing up was A Tennessee Ernie Ford Christmas Special. It’s just chock full of a lot of the old traditional carols sung reverently in Tennessee Ernie Ford’s booming bass voice that made the song “Sixteen Tons” a hit back in the day.

In one fun bit of trivia, I learned not too long ago that while Tennessee Ernie Ford did indeed hail from Tennessee, he actually became famous while he was working as a radio announcer for KFXM in my home town of San Bernardino, California after World War II.

A more recent favorite album is Abney Park’s Through Your Eyes on Christmas Eve. As I mentioned in my recent post Music Through the Ages, Abney Park’s songwriter and lead singer, Robert Brown, has a great understanding of older songs. The album’s title song is a new one that longs for the innocence of Christmas as seen through a child’s eyes. The rest of the album is filled with some great classic Christmas songs given the band’s signature treatment, which can include some minor key weirdness to offset the sweetness of the season and some unabashed playfulness with the classic songs. You can find this album at their website: http://abneypark.com/market/.

Whether your Christmas is more secular or sacred, I hope you have a wonderful one. If you celebrate a different winter holiday, may it be a blessed and peaceful time. If you don’t celebrate anything, I hope you at least have some time to relax enjoying what you love best. Happy Holidays!