The Patchwork Girl of Oz

It seems fitting that my journey through the Oz books took a brief hiatus between The Emerald City of Oz and The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Baum himself took a three-year break between the two books. The seventh book in the series opens when a Munchkin named Ojo and his Uncle pay a visit to the Crooked Magician, Dr. Pipt. We soon learn that Dr. Pipt created the magic powder that brought such characters as Jack Pumpkinhead and the Gump to life in earlier books. In this novel, Dr. Pipt’s wife Margolotte has sewn together a girl from a patchwork quilt. Dr. Pipt plans to bring the patchwork girl to life so she can be Margolotte’s servant. The reason she’s made from a patchwork quilt is to look sufficiently different from the Munchkins that she’ll stand out and be recognized immediately as a servant. Margolotte gives the patchwork girl just enough brains to do her job. Ojo decides to give her some more. Soon afterward, Dr. Pipt sprinkles on the powder of life and the patchwork girl springs to life. In a terrible accident, another potion is knocked over, petrifying both Margolotte and Ojo’s uncle. Ojo, along with the patchwork girl, now named Scraps, and the crooked magician’s glass cat go on a quest to find the items needed to restore Margolotte and Unc Nunkie to life.

Ojo and Scraps hunt for the yellow brick road. Along the way, they discover an enclosed area of forest and meet a creature called the Woozy, essentially an animal made of box-shapes with just three hairs growing from the tip of its tail. Those three hairs are one of the spell ingredients, but they can’t pull the hairs out, so they bring the Woozy along with them. They soon find their way to the yellow brick road and get to the Emerald City where Dorothy and Toto join the quest.

For the most part, The Patchwork Girl of Oz has been my favorite of the books so far. It has a tight, breezy plot and there are solid stakes. I care about Ojo rescuing his uncle. Also, we meet some truly unique characters in this book. Scraps is delightful. The glass cat with its red heart and pink brains is a little bit of a jerk but still engaging and an imaginative creation. Sadly, the book also gives us a song about “coal-black Lulu” and a scene with Tottenhots, a play on the word Hottentots, which is a Dutch word which has at times referred specifically to South Africa’s Khoikhoi people, and at other times has been applied to all black people in South Africa. The Tottenhots are described as “imps” and John R. Neill’s illustrations of them evoke stereotypical depictions of black people.

Of course, when the book came out in 1913, such depictions were widely accepted and not seen as problematic. Baum and Neill can and should be viewed in the context of their times, but we also need to remember that their society was a casually racist one. I get the feeling Baum was struggling a bit with society’s attitudes about race in this book. Scraps is “born” to be a servant, but she demonstrates she’s as clever as anyone else and never sees herself as anyone’s slave. At the end of the book Ozma reaffirms Scraps’ freedom from servitude. When we get near the book’s ending, Ojo runs into difficulty when the Tin Woodsman won’t let him pluck a wing from a butterfly, because it would be cruel to a living creature. As we’ve seen along the way, many creatures in Oz, including some insects, are sentient and can talk.

In 1891, Baum wrote an editorial advocating the extermination of Native Americans. In earlier posts, I’ve discussed the challenges of admiring artwork by artists with problematic histories. While it’s not clear that Baum’s views on race glimpsed in The Patchwork Girl of Oz are especially progressive even by 1913 standards, they do seem to have advanced from where they had been two decades earlier. I hope that’s true, because if the Oz books teach us anything, it’s that life is a journey and we learn things along the way. We should always make an effort to be better people today than we were yesterday.

But, It Wasn’t a Dream

At the end of the 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wakes up in her room, relieved to be home after her journey to distant land of Oz. Her Aunt Em tells her, “You just had a bad dream.”

“But it wasn’t a dream,” insists Dorothy. “It was a place.”

My journey through L. Frank Baum’s original Oz novels has brought me to the sixth book in the series, The Emerald City of Oz, and sure enough, Aunt Em will learn that Oz was no dream!

The Tin Woodsman is ready to defend The Emerald City of Oz

As the novel begins, we learn that Uncle Henry and Aunt Em are facing serious financial trouble. Henry had to take out a mortgage to pay for a new farmhouse after the first one was swept away by a tornado in the first book. Now the payment is due, but Henry hasn’t made enough money. All along, Princess Ozma has been asking Dorothy to move to Oz permanently. Given the dire straights in Kansas, Dorothy finally agrees, under the condition that Uncle Henry and Aunt Em also be allowed to move to Oz. The next day, Ozma uses her magic belt to yank Uncle Henry and Aunt Em to the magical land.

So where did this magic belt come from? That goes back to book 3, Ozma of Oz. The magic belt used to belong to the Nome King who lives across the deadly desert from Oz. Well, it turns out the Nome King wants his belt back and what’s more, he’s decided to take over the land of Oz. As the Nomes begin to tunnel under the deadly desert, the Nome general, Guph begins to recruit allies to help with the invasion.

While all this is going on, Dorothy decides to take her uncle and aunt on a tour of Oz. They’re accompanied by the wizard, the Shaggy Man, the sawhorse, Billina the Hen, and Toto. Along the way they see such sights as the land of the Fuddles inhabited by living 3-D jigsaw puzzles, a land populated by living paper dolls, and Bunnybury, a land of civilized rabbits. Fans of groan-worthy puns don’t want to miss Dorothy’s side trip to Utensia, a land of kitchen utensils. Eventually the party makes their way to the castle of the Tin Woodsman, who is now the Emperor of the Winkies. He’s learned about the Nome invasion and the whole group return to the Emerald City to warn Ozma and prepare a defense. Along the way, they pick up their old friends the Scarecrow and Jack Pumpkinhead.

The steampunk in me was delighted when Dorothy suggests that airships might be a great way to get around Oz. Then after that, the wizard realizes that could be a problem, after all, he arrived in a balloon and Dorothy made her first trip by cyclone. If airships become too numerous in our world, they may eventually find Oz. Not only did I enjoy the reference to airships, I loved how this further suggested that Oz was a real place in our world one could just travel to, assuming one could cross the deadly desert that separated it from the rest of the world.

I have to admit, I’ve long been conflicted about the ending of the 1939 film. The problem I run into arguably isn’t the fault of anyone involved in the writing or production of the classic movie. Dorothy’s return home is nicely handled and the audience can draw their own conclusions about whether Oz was a dream or not. In fact, in the Oz novels, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry don’t believe in Oz until they’re brought there in the sixth book. The problem I have is that I’ve seen too many fantasy stories after The Wizard of Oz that send a hero into a fantasy world, give the hero many heart-wrenching, death-defying adventures, and then bring them back home to discover “it was only a dream.”

What I don’t like is the cliché. If I invest myself in a fantasy story, if the characters engage me enough, I want to believe the world they inhabit could exist. I want to believe that my concern for the character had been justified. I want to believe airships could fly over the fantasyland by accident. The Wizard of Oz screenwriters had good narrative reasons for its ending. If you’re going to put me through a harrowing emotional journey, then tell me the whole experience was just dream, you better have reasons that are just as good or you’ll lose me as a reader.

Justice Society: World War II

A little over a month ago, I was excited to learn there would be a DC animated movie featuring the first ever super hero team from comics, the Justice Society of America. I’ve discussed the Justice Society a few times here and I’ve enjoyed many of their incarnations in the comics from their earliest appearance in 1940 up through their more modern appearances in the 1990s and early 2000s. This new movie promised to return the Justice Society to World War II to punch some Nazis.

Justice Society: World War II

The story opens with President Franklin D. Roosevelt learning about the Justice Society from Colonel Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman’s long-time romantic interest. Trevor suggests these heroes could make a real difference in the war effort. We then jump ahead to what appears to be the present day. Barry Allen, the Flash who first appeared in the Silver Age comics, is having a picnic with his girlfriend Iris West when a fight breaks out between Superman and Brainiac. During the fight, the Flash attempts to stop a speeding Kryptonite bullet from hitting Superman. In the process, he speeds up so much he appears to go back in time to World War II, into the middle of a battle where the Justice Society is involved. The only thing is, Barry has never heard of this superhero team and the whole concept of superhero teams is alien to him. Still, the Flash from the modern era earns the trust of the heroes of the past and they begin following leads to a Nazi invasion of North America. The climactic scenes involve a battle between Nazi-controlled sea-dwelling kaiju-like creatures and the Justice Society.

Over the course of the movie, plenty of Nazis are punched or dispatched in other ways. At the risk of a minor spoiler, Barry learns that he didn’t travel back into the past, but to an alternate Earth. In the comics, this was a pretty typical conceit used to bring the Justice Society and Justice League together for an annual team-up. The best character arc involves the romance between Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman, which then pays off in the story involving Barry Allen and Iris West.

I was pleased to see that the early Justice Society was well represented. Hourman, Hawkman, Jay Garrick’s Flash, Black Canary and of course Wonder Woman are all present and accounted for. That said, Hourman and the original Flash were the only two Justice Society members we don’t see as familiar, regular characters again in the Silver Age and beyond. I would have enjoyed seeing at least a couple more of the early Justice Society members such as Alan Scott’s Green Lantern, the Sandman, or Al Pratt’s Atom. I also think it’s past time for the original Red Tornado, Ma Hunkel, to get a little more of the spotlight.

That all noted, I was pleased to see Wonder Woman depicted as the leader of this Justice Society incarnation. Wonder Woman’s first appearance was, in fact, in the back of an issue of All-Star Comics featuring the Justice Society and she was soon made a member. However, she was relegated to the role of secretary and rarely went on actual adventures. So, giving her the spotlight was nice.

Although I liked several elements of this movie, I didn’t think it quite lived up to the quality standards of earlier DC animated films. It’s tricky to give people good character development in large team-up pieces like this, but the script writers managed it in movies like Justice League Dark and Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. Aside from the parallel romance story, the characters weren’t explored much at all. Also, the climactic battle just seemed a little too big and over-the-top like what we’ve come to expect in the DC live action movies. I wanted to see the Justice Society punch Nazis. Somehow, a battle with a gigantic shark-octopus hybrid felt a little anti-climactic.

It was nice to see the Justice Society get the spotlight in an animated film and I hope they get a chance to appear again. I also hope they can get a stronger story and more time for less-familiar characters to show us what made them as cool as more modern heroes.

In the meantime, I’m in the process of sharing my debut comic book over at my Patreon site. We’re taking a break for the weekend, but we’ll be back with a new page on Monday. Even if you haven’t subscribed, you can see the first two pages for free. After that, you would need to subscribe. To learn more, visit https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

Crossroads in Oz

My travels through L. Frank Baum’s original Oz novels continued with book five, The Road to Oz. Dorothy and Uncle Henry have returned to Kansas by the time the story opens. A hobo called the Shaggy Man comes by the farm and asks Dorothy for directions to the town of Butterfield. He seems scattered and Dorothy decides to take him to the road that will lead to the town. As they walk, the surroundings become unfamiliar and they soon come to a place where many roads intersect. Dorothy is confused because she would remember such a place so near home. They decide to follow one of the roads and soon meet a young boy who calls himself Button-Bright. A little while later, they meet Polychrome, daughter of the rainbow king who is light and joyful and enjoys dancing through life. I couldn’t help but think about the famous song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in all her scenes. Our group soon comes to Foxville, a kingdom of talking foxes and we learn that Princess Ozma will be having a birthday party soon! Of course Dorothy and her new friends will make it to the birthday party, but what makes this party special is that many of the guests come from Baum’s other novels!

The Road to Oz and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum

I love it when an author can find a good reason for characters from different books they’ve written to meet. I’ve done it a couple of times. The vampire Mercedes Rodriguez has a cameo in my novel Owl Dance. The Scarlet Order Vampires come into more direct contact with the Clockwork Legion in the story “Fountains of Blood” which appears in the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone, edited by David Boop.

Princess Ozma’s birthday party proves to be a great excuse to bring together characters from Baum’s other fantasy novels. Among the guests are Queen Zixi of Ix from the novel of the same name, John Dough from the novel John Dough and the Cherub, and the Queen of Merryland from the novel Dot and Tot in Merryland. Of course, the true star guest is none other than the protagonist of Baum’s Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Not only is Santa there, but he brings some of friends, the Knooks and Ryls from the Forest of Burzee.

Admittedly, I’ve jumped ahead a bit. On their way to the party, Dorothy, Toto (who is back for only the second time in the Oz novels), Polychrome, the Shaggy Man, and Button-Bright have their share of adventures. Most are actually rather tame and for the most part, the people they encounter just want an invite to the big shindig in Oz. The exception is when they cross paths with the Scoodlers. If we ever play Oz poker, I’ll take your Flying Monkeys and raise you a Scoodler. The Scoodlers are two-sided with a face looking forward and a face looking backward. Their only desire is to turn our heroes into soup! What’s more, they can take off their heads and throw them at you! Fortunately, the Shaggy Man saves the day and they are able to get away.

Eventually we come to the deadly desert surrounding Oz, but because the Shaggy Man has connections, they get a boat that can cross the sand. I was delighted when they reached Oz and the first familiar people they meet are Billina the Hen and Tik-Tok the Mechanical man from Ozma of Oz. We also get some time with the tin woodsman, the scarecrow, and the cowardly lion.

In a way, The Road to Oz feels like a nice tame road trip (with the exception of the Scoodlers!) designed to give fans of the books so far a chance to spend time with old friends. And yet, Baum sneaks in some subversive politics as the tin man lets us know without a doubt that no one would be so uncouth as to use money in utopia like Oz.

Looking forward to my next trip to the land of Oz. In the meantime, you can learn a little more about my novel Owl Dance at http://davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html. You can learn more about Straight Outta Tombstone at http://davidleesummers.com/shorts.html. What’s more, the Scarlet Order Vampires are experiencing an adventure in a brand new comic book over at my Patreon site: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers.

The Wizard’s Return to Oz

My wife and I share a love of great science fiction and fantasy. When we met, she had a large collection of great books and that collection has only grown. In that collection were most of the 29 Oz novels published by Del Rey Books in the 1980s. These were lovely editions of the novels featuring realistic covers by Michael Herring, inspired by John R. Neill’s original illustrations. I went back to the shelf the other day to appreciate them, when I learned this month was the 165th birthday of L. Frank Baum, the original Royal Historian of Oz.

Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the Oz novels. In a very real way, they were the first long-running fantasy series. They inspired early silent movies and Baum even created a comic strip featuring some of the Oz characters. The first novel in the series would, of course, inspire one of Hollywood’s most famous films, the 1939 Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland. It’s a truly magical and wondrous film, but it’s really only the beginning of the trip down the proverbial yellow brick road. You don’t have to read many of the books to see that Baum had an incredible imagination. Each book features a whole array of new and colorful characters and creatures.

I’m sorry to say I haven’t read quite as many of the books as I should, and I’ve vowed to continue my journey through Oz. Until this month, I’d read the first three novels in the series, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz, and Ozma of Oz. So, I embarked on book four, The Wizard and the Dorothy in Oz. Of course, time is always a factor, and it’s not always easy to just pick up one book when I already have an extensive to-read pile threatening to topple over. This is when I had a sudden epiphany and realized Baum’s Oz books are in the public domain. I soon discovered that free audio editions of the books exist on Librivox.org. What’s more, the books are almost the perfect length to listen to during my commute from home to work at Kitt Peak National Observatory. So, now, I get to commute to work via the marvelous land of Oz!

As Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz opens, Dorothy and her Uncle Henry are visiting friends and relatives in California. As Dorothy meets up with Zeb the farm hand, an earthquake opens a fissure, sending them plummeting into the Earth along with Jim the Cab Horse and Dorothy’s kitten, Eureka. Fortunately, air gets thicker the further they go into the Earth and they land gently in a country inhabited by intelligent vegetables. Soon, the great and powerful Oz, the wizard who departed in a hot air balloon at the end of the first book reappears and joins Dorothy. All together they begin a quest to return to the surface world where they belong. Along the way they meet wooden gargoyles, invisible bears (oh my!), and even dragons. Eventually, in something of a deus ex machina twist, they end up in Oz, where their friend, Princess Ozma welcomes them with open arms. The wizard returns as a permanent resident of Oz, though he’s no longer the guy in charge.

The book takes some dark turns as our heroes travel from one dangerous land to another. What’s more, their troubles don’t end when they reach Oz. Jim finds himself in conflict with the sawhorse, who is faster and more robust its flesh-and-blood counterpart. Also, Eureka is put on trial when it’s suspected she ate Princess Ozma’s pet piglet. The book is not without its flaws, but it presents an original adventure with imaginative creatures and never once talks down to the kids in its audience. I’m looking forward to taking more trips to the land of Oz and seeing whatever strange folks I’ll meet.

Alita Battle Angel – The Movie

Two weeks ago, I shared my thoughts about the Robert Rodriguez film, From Dusk till Dawn. This past week, I watched Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of the manga Battle Angel Alita, which I discussed here at the Web Journal back in December. There was a lot about From Dusk till Dawn that suggested Rodriguez would be a good director for this manga. He clearly had a good sense of both character and action, both of which would be essential for adapting Alita for mainstream American audiences.

The American movie adaptation largely follows the plot of the first two volumes of the Alita manga. Set in somewhat grungy city under a pristine floating city, Dr. Ido finds Alita’s cybernetic head in a scrap heap and attaches it to a new body. We learn that Dr. Ido supplements his income as a bounty hunter. While following Dr. Ido, Alita unlocks some of her latent combat abilities. She also decides to become a bounty hunter. As all of this is going on, she meets a young man named Hugo who teaches her about life in the city. He also shares his dreams of traveling to the floating city, Zalem. In the film, Hugo takes Alita to a fallen spaceship from an ancient war, where she learns more about her past. He also introduces her to a futuristic, rocket-propelled version of roller derby called motorball. These last two elements weren’t in the first two volumes of the manga, but I gather are introduced in later volumes.

Overall, the movie felt like a faithful adaptation of the manga. It stayed true to the story of Alita and her journey of self-discovery and independence. It also kept the manga’s spirit of fighting for justice even when the odds are against you. I liked how even though we’re presented with something of a dystopia, the film’s “Iron City” didn’t seem an entirely bad place. You could get chocolate, make friends, and find moments of joy.

One element of the script that bothered me was the need to change and anglicize some of the names. The manga came from an era when anglicizing names was common. For example, Alita’s name in the original manga was Gally. However, in the movie, they change Dr. Daisuke Ido to Dr. Dyson Ido. They also change Yugo to Hugo, which doesn’t bother me as much since they sound similar. Still, it seems anime and manga translation has largely moved past the need to anglicize Asian names for American audiences. It’s time for more mainstream movies to follow suit.

I have mixed feelings about the movie’s choice to give Rosa Salazar’s Alita large eyes reminiscent of the style seen in anime and manga. On one hand, it’s an interesting nod to the story’s artistic roots. Also, it makes some sense that a battle cyborg might have enhanced, larger eyes to take in more than ordinary human eyes. The large eyes serve to emphasize that Alita isn’t human. However, that’s where I think the filmmakers missed the mark somewhat. Alita is supposed to be very human despite the fact she’s manufactured. Also, in manga and anime, the large eyes are something of an artistic style designed to emphasize the role eyes play in conveying emotion. It seems unnecessary to give one character literal anime eyes. It also had a tendency to remind me I’m watching a “special effects movie” instead of letting me disappear into the story.

So far, Alita: Battle Angel is my favorite American live-action adaptation of an anime. It may be flawed, but it largely stayed true to the source material. It gives me hope for better adaptations in the future and if it introduces some new readers to the source material, so much the better.

Fury From the Deep

When I was a kid, video recorders were not a common household item. People watched whatever was on broadcast TV when it was aired. If you missed it, too bad! Being a fairly innovative kid who didn’t want to be limited to experiencing my favorite shows when they aired, I turned to the one recording device a lot of people did have. I used an audio cassette recorder to record my favorite shows so I could listen to them whenever I wanted. It was pretty amazing how well that worked. Between the dialog, the music, and the sound effects, I could visualize episodes of Star Trek or The Wild Wild West just by listening to them. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only innovative kid out there.

When the BBC started making the series Doctor Who, they had no idea it would become a worldwide phenomenon or that people would want to watch episodes that had already aired. What’s more, the United Kingdom at the time really didn’t have syndicated television the way we did in the United States, so there wasn’t a market for rerunning shows after they had first aired. The upshot was that once an episode aired, the video tapes it had been recorded on were often recycled for other shows, which meant numerous episodes had been lost. And this is where the innovative kids (and probably some adult fans as well) come in. We still have audio recordings of some of those lost episodes, many of which feature the second actor to play the Doctor, Patrick Troughton.

As I’ve said in other posts, I think animation is an underutilized medium for storytelling. One of the more clever ways I’ve seen animation used in recent years is to recreate some of these lost Doctor Who episodes. We have audio and we often have still photos from the set to know how things looked. Artists can then retell the story in animation. Of course, there’s more to it than that. Audio engineers need to clean up the audio recordings from over 50 years ago. Also, you have to decide how much artistic license to employ. Do you retell the story shot for shot as close as you can? Or, do you enhance the creatures, sets and special effects to make it “better” than it had been before? At what level do you go too far adding new visual elements?

“Fury from the Deep” is a well-remembered “lost” episode of Doctor Who. The Doctor and his young companions arrive on Earth in the 1960s and find a natural gas production facility that’s being besieged by sentient seaweed. In this telling, it sounds silly, but decent script writing gives us a facility staff that’s sympathetic and trying to keep things operating all while our strange menace is slowly taking over the people in hopes of driving away the facility. Patrick Troughton shows himself as a great actor who can take all of this seriously, make us care about this problem, and see the seaweed as the intended threat.

The animators strike a nice balance and keep much of the original episode’s look. However, where the original episode gave us a few pieces of menacing, wiggling seaweed, we now get something that looks like it’ll sting you when you pick it up, as said in the dialogue. Where the original gave us a stuntman in a costume, we now get something that looks like a plant breaking through the plant’s pipes. We even get menacing seaweed coming out of the ocean.

I enjoyed this look back at an early episode of Doctor Who. Between this and other animated retellings of early episodes, I’m getting a better sense of how the series became so well loved that it would last for many decades. “Fury from the Deep” does include something of a milestone. It’s the first episode to introduce the Doctor’s ubiquitous sonic screwdriver. In later episodes, he uses it for many different tasks. In this episode, we actually see it used to remove some screws!

The DVD includes a radio play by Victor Pemberton, the episode’s author. The story is, effectively, an earlier version of “Fury from the Deep,” that features sentient mud in place of sentient seaweed. What makes the radio drama interesting is that the scientist who fills the Doctor’s place in the story is played by Roger Delgado, who would eventually play the Doctor’s nemesis, the Master, in Doctor Who. In a nice touch, the animated backgrounds for this episode include wanted posters for Roger Delgado’s Master. This is especially fun since Delgado wouldn’t be cast in the series for another two years. It seems a very appropriate touch for a show about time travel.

A History in Blood

Back in November, my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order was a featured novel at the Vampyre Library Book Club hosted by Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans. I started following the book club before my book was featured and I’ve continued to follow it afterward, though I have to admit that I fell somewhat behind in my reading! Still, I’m glad I’ve continued to follow the club’s activities. The club has featured well known books by major publishers such as Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris and Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker. However, the beauty of book clubs is that they introduce me to great books from smaller presses that I might have missed simply because they don’t have as much distribution. One such book was A History in Blood by Chris DeFazio, which was featured in December.

A History in Blood introduces us to Julian Brownell, an ER doctor in Boston who also happens to be a vampire. The book opens when Julian’s human wife, Lisa, announces that wants a divorce. We soon learn that Lisa has not only been having an affair with her boss, but she’s carrying his baby. Julian decides he’s had enough of playing human and goes to one of his old haunting grounds, New Orleans. Along the way, we learn that Julian actually started life as a Roman soldier. In New Orleans, we meet several vampires who have a shared history with Julian. While all of this is going on, we have two serious situations brewing. A husband and wife team, Helen and Bill Harrison, head up a team of vampire hunters that would give the team from John Steakley’s Vampire$ a run for their money! Helen is known as the Genealogist and she’s found a surefire way to track down vampires and send her strike forces after them. Of course, these vampires include Julian and his friends. The other brewing situation is that Lisa’s boss has uncovered the assets Julian has stashed away over the years and believes Julian has a money-making racket, and he wants in on the action. The great plot and colorful characters propelled me through the book’s pages.

Part of what made this book great is that Chris DeFazio is, himself, an ER doctor. Not only did he bring a certain reality to Julian’s chosen profession at the start of the novel, it’s clear he took time and thought about how vampire physiology would work. He came up with some fascinating reasons why vampires could heal rapidly and live a long time and used those elements well in the book.

Another aspect of the book I appreciated was getting to visit cities I love such as Boston and New Orleans. The New Orleans scenes, in particular, took me back to French Quarter and I enjoyed revisiting such places as Fritzel’s Jazz Club and Jackson Square. In one chapter, Julian visits Martha’s Vineyard. I’ve never been to the Vineyard, but I did live on nearby Nantucket Island for a summer and his portrayal of island life felt authentic to me.

If you want to join me in the Vampyre Library Book Club and discover more cool novels, the club is on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/663608917753704

You can get Chris DeFazio’s novel at Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans: https://feelthebite.com/collections/vampire-library-books-for-sale/products/a-history-in-blood

While you’re there, don’t forget to pick up a copy of Vampires of the Scarlet Order or Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires!

The Black Sable

In recent months, I’ve been enjoying Zenescope Publishing’s Van Helsing series which tells the story of Liesel Van Helsing, inventor and daughter of Dracula’s famous nemesis. Like many comic companies, Zenescope features a large common universe with characters who meet and interact. While learning more about their universe, I came across their space pirate character, the Black Sable. As someone who has written his share of space pirates as well as vampires, I decided to check this out.

Zenescope has been making a name for itself by creating a set of strong women characters. Most of these women are the type who kick ass now and ask questions later. The Black Sable is no exception to this. Set one century in the future, we find that humankind has developed a star drive and colonized much of the galaxy. They’ve also bumped up against the Mer, a race of vicious shark-like people. Humans have come out on top so far, but the Mer want to reclaim their place as the dominant species. The shark people are one of many ways we see that although this is a space saga, this pirate yarn is modeled strongly on tales from the golden age of piracy.

The story opens when Sable’s ship, the Fury, attacks a cargo transport only to discover the ship is hauling alien slaves. Sable refuses to make money off of slaves and frees them. As a result, they go back to a safe harbor to see if they can learn about any new sources of plunder. Sable runs across an old acquaintance named Blake who has a line on Korvarian Fuel Cells, which are, apparently quite valuable and should be an easy score. The two make plans to find these fuel cells. This immediately takes them into the middle of the conflict between the humans and the Mer. Not only that, but another pirate, Captain Blood, has also gotten word about the Korvarian fuel cells.

Over the course of the story, we learn that Sable herself was born a slave and has a deep connection to Captain Blood that she’s not aware of. I liked the fact that Sable is written as a pirate with something of a moral compass. The story is written primarily as swashbuckling adventure and doesn’t delve very deep into character motivations or the politics of the struggle between the Mer and humans and the corporation that’s also involved. Still, there’s enough there that the story kept me turning pages. Given that the story features nautical-inspired space pirates, they get bonus points for giving us a battle with a space kraken.

I had fun seeing some parallels between The Black Sable and my own Space Pirates’ Legacy series. Like Sable, Ellison Firebrandt is a pirate with a moral compass. Although he’s not born a slave, he does run up against slavery in The Pirates of Sufiro. A large, red, alien investigator named Officer Stanas reminds me a bit of my Rd’dyggian characters Arepno and G’Liat. Even the space kraken brought to mind the implacable alien threat of the Cluster in my novels. You can, of course, learn more about the Space Pirates’ Legacy series at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#pirate_legacy

The Black Sable was published in 2018 and it’s not clear how this story could feed into their bigger fantasy universe which is largely set in the present day. Still, it was such a fun ride that I hope they haven’t given up on this story and will produce another arc, or at least a one-shot, down the road. You can pick up a copy of the graphic novel at: https://zenescope.com/products/the-black-sable-graphic-novel

Battle Angel

November is my birthday month and in this modern age of digital shopping, that usually means a slew of coupons find their way into my email over the course of the month. I don’t use all the coupons. If I did, I’d probably go broke saving all that money. That noted, the coupons that tempt me most are the ones that get me to shop at bookstores. Among other things, the coupons become an excuse to try some books I haven’t explored before.

Battle Angel Alita

This time around, I found myself looking at the manga shelf at the local bookstore when Kodansha Comics’ beautiful deluxe edition of Battle Angel Alita caught my eye. Mostly I knew of Alita from the recent film directed by Robert Rodriguez and starring Rosa Salazar. I’d put off seeing the film because I knew it had been based on a manga and I wanted to know the source material before going to see the film. Among other things, I’ve often been disappointed by American interpretations of manga and anime.

Kodansha’s deluxe edition of the manga features an introduction by Brenden Fletcher, beautifully reproduced artwork at large size and some great translator notes. From the introduction, I learned that this cyberpunk manga by Yukito Kushiro had its origins in the early 1990s. Its Japanese title might best be translated as “Gun Dream Gally.” The manga first appeared in the United States in the mid-1990s, which probably explains why I wasn’t familiar with it. I was busy being a new dad at that point. However, arriving in the mid-1990s, manga and anime characters were still subject to having their names changed by translators, so Gally (or Garii) became Alita.

Battle Angel Alita is set in a dystopian, dark futuristic version of Kansas City, which sits under a floating, modern city called Zalem. A cybernetics specialist called Ito finds a beautiful robotic head in the scrap dropped by Zalem. He repairs the head and attaches it to a body and thus Alita is born. It turns out that Ito isn’t just a cybernetics specialist, he’s also a bounty hunter who dispenses justice to humans and rogue cyborgs who have broken the laws of the factory, which has become the central authority in this version of Kansas City. Alita’s first volume is largely a martial arts adventure story as Alita discovers she is a skilled warrior. She must battle a rogue cyborg called Makaku.

In the second volume, Alita falls in love with a boy named Yugo who dreams of going to the floating city. The only problem is that Yugo is illegally killing cyborgs and harvesting their spinal columns, the only part of the human body cyberneticists can’t duplicate. This volume explored the Yukito Kushiro’s science fictional world much more and I found myself much more engaged by the complicated set of emotions experienced by Alita and Yugo. Overall, I highly recommend this deluxe hardcover manga.

Upstart Mystique

It turns out that Battle Angel Alita was also made into a short original video animation. As of this writing, the anime can be watched for free on YouTube and it does tell much the same story as the manga, though somewhat condensed. Having watched the anime and read the manga, I’m now interested in seeing the American film.

As with many of the best cyberpunk stories, Battle Angel Alita explores questions of our relationship with machines. In the future, how much will machines become part of our bodies? Will we be able to move our consciousness from one body to another? Can the brain live long enough to be transplanted? Can consciousness survive in a computer without the brain? I was pleased to edit and publish a novel that also explores these questions, though it’s set on a distant alien world encountered by the crew of a starship. If you’re intrigued by these questions, I also encourage you to read Upstart Mystique by Don Braden. The book is available at: http://hadrosaur.com/UpstartMystique.php