Fan Fiction?

I’ve often heard the Japanese word doujinshi translated as “fan fiction.” So, I found it interesting to discover that Seven Seas Entertainment licensed two collections of Dance in the Vampire Bund doujinshi and translated them into English. Perhaps a better translation of the word doujinshi is “stories from a specific interest group published for that group.” As it turns out, the Vampire Bund doujinshi consist of manga drawn by Nozumu Tamaki, creator of Dance in the Vampire Bund along with stories he supervised created by friends. The originals were self-published by Tamaki and sold at the semi-annual Comic Market (or Comiket) conventions in Japan.

To me, it says a lot about a writer’s world building when the world is rich enough to support stories beyond those told in a given book or series. The first fan fiction I ever encountered was set in the Star Trek universe and my earliest stories were Star Trek stories. Even at a young age, I wanted to see what happened on other starships besides the Enterprise, or what people outside of Starfleet did. Since then, Pocket Books has published entire books using those ideas and Paramount has even done entire series on similar premises.

Dance in the Vampire Bund is a series that appeals to be because it presents a rich world where vampires have made themselves public and the queen of the vampires, Mina Tepes, has set up a home for vampire kind near Tokyo. The story is full of the political machinations among the vampire houses and the mysteries of the origins of the vampire kind. The two doujinshi published by Seven Seas entertainment are called Dance in the Vampire Bund: Forgotten Tales, consisting mostly of manga by Nozumu Tamaki, and Dance in the Vampire Bund: Secret Chronicles, consisting mostly of short stories and novellas introducing characters who live in this world, but aren’t necessarily involved in the main story line.

Many of the Vampire Bund doujinshi’s manga show the main characters in quiet moments between the main action of the series. The short stories introduce many great characters such as Dr. Saji, a vampire dentist who solves mysteries and Lazaro Spallanzani who fancies himself a vampire gourmet who wants to make blood more interesting and palatable to the vampires. We also get stories that explore important events in the history of the vampire bund.

The books also include behind the scene trivia and information about inspirations. I noticed that Mr. Tamaki uses titles from a number of vampire novels and stories and I’ve long been curious whether his more recent “Scarlet Order” series was somehow named for my own Scarlet Order series. Thanks to the power of Twitter (which is explored in a humorous chapter in the doujinshi) and some Japanese help from my daughter, I was able to ask him. As it turns out, he didn’t name his books after mine, but we had much the same idea, using “Scarlet Order” as a metaphor for the bloody order of vampires. I did find it cool to reach across the ocean and communicate with an artist whose work I admire.

I find this idea of collaborators exploring a fictional world in depth fascinating. In many ways, these doujinshi read like “shared world” anthologies here in the United States, which can be fun. I’ve even written in a couple of shared worlds. My novella Revolution of Air and Rust is set in Bob Vardeman’s Empires of Steam and Rust steampunk world, plus I have a story in J Alan Erwine’s Taurin Tales, set on a world he created. I love seeing what happens when artists interpret my characters for book covers or magazine illustrations. These vampire bund doujinshi take the idea of the shared world anthology and expand it further. It would be fun to see more officially translated doujinshi and it would be fun to see more expanded worlds explored by writers and artists alike in the English-speaking world.

The Stories They Tell

I recently had a chance to see the movie The Kid which was directed by Vincent D’Onofrio and stars stars Ethan Hawke as Pat Garrett and Dane DeHaan as Billy the Kid. The movie is actually focused on a boy, Rio (played by Jake Schur), and his sister, Sara (played by D’Onofrio’s daughter, Leila George) who have an abusive father. One night, the father goes into a rage and starts beating their mother. Unable to stand it any longer, Rio shoots his father, but it’s too late. Rio and Sara’s mother is already gone. What’s more, their uncle (played by Chris Pratt) is as bad or worse than the father and he plans no good for his niece and nephew because of what they did to his brother.

The kids escape their uncle only to take refuge in a shack that Billy the Kid and his associates use as a hideout. Billy and Rio take a liking to each other just as newly minted Sheriff Pat Garrett arrives to take the gang in. There’s a shootout, during which Charlie Bowdre is killed. Pat takes Billy’s gang into custody, then discovers Rio and Sara. They make up a story about meeting their parents in Santa Fe. Pat doesn’t quite believe them, but offers to take them anyway. At this point, the movie essentially follows the historical story of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, while Rio tries to decide which of the two to trust with his secret. Later in the film, the stakes are upped when the uncle captures Sara. Then Rio must make a decision about who can be trusted to help rescue his sister.

I first heard this movie was in production soon after watching the movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I was curious what other movies Dane DeHaan had been in and when I saw he would be playing Billy the Kid and Ethan Hawke (who had a bit part in Valerian) would be Pat Garrett, I knew I had to see this movie. It struck me that DeHaan had the potential to be a great Billy and he didn’t disappoint. Despite the Valerian connections, the movie almost crosses over more with the recent remake of The Magnificent Seven, in which Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Ethan Hawke all had starring roles. Despite these connections and despite watching for it, the movie managed to come and go from theaters without my notice.

Overall, the movie used historical characters and events the way I try to in my steampunk and weird western stories. They became a way to ground the story in a historical reality and give it a sense of authenticity. For the most part, the history actually seemed quite good. The major events Billy the Kid’s last days played out as I know the story from Pat Garrett’s own book, The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid. I only had two historical quibbles. First, they kept referring to New Mexico as a state. New Mexico wouldn’t become a state until 31 years after Billy’s death. Also, Santa Fe looked too much like a western boom town and not the longtime settlement it was.

The line that resonated most with me was one spoken by Pat Garrett near the end of the film. “It doesn’t matter what’s true. It matters the story they tell when you’re gone.” It echoes why characters like Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett are so fascinating. We have images and we have countless depictions, but we still want to get to know the truth of those characters. Sometimes we find new truths when we see them through the eyes of contemporaries as was imagined in The Kid. I think they did a great job of portraying Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid as humans, neither totally good nor bad, but products of their circumstances. Sometimes we find truths when we put these characters into new situations as I do in the Clockwork Legion novels.

You can learn more about the Clockwork Legion novels by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

Godzilla vs Godzilla

This past weekend, my daughter took me to see the American film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters for Father’s Day. Earlier in the week, we watched the 2016 Japanese film Shin Godzilla. Afterwards, we had fun comparing and contrasting the two films. Since Shin Godzilla is something of a reboot, it might make more sense to compare the Japanese film to the 2014 American Godzilla, but King of the Monsters is the one that’s fresh in my memory and it is a direct sequel to the earlier film.

As I understand, the Japanese word “shin” has several meanings including “evolved,” “new” and “god.” All of them could apply to the Godzilla of Shin Godzilla. The movie has occasionally been shown under the title Godzilla: Resurgence, but I like the way the audience is invited to interpret the meaning of Shin Godzilla. The movie’s plot is familiar. A giant creature has appeared off the coast of Japan and soon begins rampaging through population centers. When the creature first appears, it’s not the familiar Godzilla form, but rather a fish-eyed, gilled creatures with rudimentary forearms, more like flippers. As the movie progresses, we learn that this Godzilla can evolve to meet whatever challenges he’s faced with and eventually takes on his familiar form.

The movie doesn’t actually spend a lot of time on the monster. Instead, Shin Godzilla focuses on the politicians and scientists trying to figure out what to do about the monster. An important feature of this is how it shows the relationship between the United States and Japan. The United States attempts to control the situation and wants to use atomic bombs to destroy the monster. Of course, this doesn’t go over at all well with the Japanese, even though they see it might be the only choice. This part of the plot strongly recalls the 1954 Godzilla, but updated to reflect modern politics. One standout character is the American Foreign Secretary to Japan, who is, herself, Japanese-American and stands in contrast to the male-dominated Japanese cabinet.

Perhaps the most striking element of Shin Godzilla is Godzilla’s design. This Godzilla is lean, mean, huge and terrifying. He also strikes me as something out of H.R. Giger’s worst nightmares. By contrast, America’s Godzilla looks like he could stand to lose a few pounds. I could accept that he’s just meant to look muscular, but every time I saw his body, I thought he looked more like a large squirrel than a fearsome dragon.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is at once a loving tribute to the Japanese Godzilla franchise and an American action film. I loved the variety of monsters they portrayed. Godzilla’s nemesis is the three-headed, hydra-like King Ghidorah, who is truly ferocious. By comparison, we should have sympathy for Godzilla, so that no doubt helps to contribute to his gentler design.

King of the Monsters opens on senate hearings into the Monarch project, which monitors the monsters, or Titans, as they’re known. I began to wonder if we were going to see something similar to the Japanese version, but it soon turns into standard action fare as bioterrorists capture a scientist and her daughter to make them unleash the Titans to “correct” all the damage humankind has done to the planet.

Perhaps my biggest issue with King of the Monsters is that it follows a trope I’ve been seeing in American films of late where women sacrifice themselves so the men they’re with can succeed. There are some unique twists on this, and I’ll avoid saying more to avoid spoilers, but I still found myself predicting all too easily who wouldn’t make it to the end of the film. Immediately after the film, my daughter and I started listing off several other plot issues. Jeez, don’t bioterrorists believe in guarding their secret headquarters? That said, it’s not like Japanese Godzilla films have all been cinematic masterpieces.

So, who wins in this battle of Godzilla vs. Godzilla? Godzilla: King of the Monsters was a lot more fun on the first watch. There was a lot of action and I cared about the characters. I enjoyed going on the ride the filmmakers created for me. However, I have a sense, that the more I watch it, the more issues I’ll have with it. Shin Godzilla was a bit slow and had a lot of political wrangling, but there were interesting layers in the film and I came away having a sense that if I watched again, I would see things I missed the first time. Both held up mirrors and asked us to consider whether kaiju or humans are really the most terrifying monster. Of the two, Shin Godzilla not only gave me scarier Godzilla, it gave me the most think about on that score.

Taboo Tech

This past week, I had the opportunity to read Joy V. Smith’s latest novel, Taboo Tech. It tells the story of a young woman named Lacie Leigh Collier. Her parents seek out and try to understand old, dangerous, and forbidden technologies. As the novel opens, Lacie is graduating from primary school and preparing to move on to secondary school. Meanwhile, her parents have just found a lead on such a cache of taboo tech and leave her in the care of her uncle. If anything her uncle has an even greater interest in taboo tech and is soon tempted to explore yet another cache. He takes Lacie along with him, but they soon find the Interstellar Guard on their tail. Lacie’s uncle devises an intricate escape for his niece, but she soon finds herself alone in the galaxy with only the companionship of a fledgling AI called Embers.

At this point, Lacie’s adventures really begin. She completes school, then meets and befriends a group of professors who worked with her parents and they take her to a cache of taboo tech where she’s given command of a spaceship left to her by her parents. The professors and Lacie then hatch a plot to build a school on the site of the cache to allow the professors to investigate the cache while not arousing suspicion. To further allay suspicion, Lacie moves on to the resort world of Rainbow’s End where she befriends two members of the security staff and a diplomat’s daughter. All together, they help to thwart a plot against a princess. Lacie then must rescue her friends, the professors, from a plot to take over the school she helped to create. All the while, Lacie hopes to find clues to her parents’ and uncle’s whereabouts.

Taboo Tech is a rollicking fast story that propels Lacie from one adventure to another as she meets new friends, new adversaries, AIs and aliens. We’re never really told why old tech is taboo in this world other than it’s “dangerous.” However, I did wonder if the author gave us some sly clues. Her characters are often as carefully analytical as computers and the deepest emotions are sometimes expressed by the AIs in this world. It makes me wonder if the powers that be in this universe don’t want the humans to know something about their connection to the AIs. If Joy V. Smith ever writes a sequel, maybe this is something that can be explored. Taboo Tech is available at: https://www.amazon.com/Taboo-Tech-Joy-V-Smith/dp/0359516572/

I have had the pleasure of publishing another of Joy V. Smith’s books. Her short story collection Sugar Time is available as an audio book, a print collection, and an ebook from Hadrosaur Productions. The book tells the story of Sugar Sweet who inherits her Uncle Max’s old Victorian mansion where he conducted his research. She soon finds his collaborators—or what’s left of them—along with an angry Neanderthal. She also finds her uncle’s research project, a working time machine. Sugar must act quickly to unlock the secret of time travel so she can set things right and protect her uncle’s research. You can learn more about Sugar Time and order a copy at http://hadrosaur.com/SugarTime.php

Zion’s Fiction

About a year ago, a book arrived in the mail. It was right after I had finished some reading I had to do for some projects and right before I was scheduled to leave for my daughter’s graduation in New Orleans. The book went to the back of my desk and I’m afraid it disappeared behind other work that arrived after I returned from that trip. I recently uncovered the book, started reading and couldn’t put it down.

The book is an anthology of Israeli science fiction stories called Zion’s Fiction, edited by Sheldon Teitelbaum and Emanuel Lottem and features a foreword by Robert Silverberg. Each story is accompanied by a compelling illustration by Avi Katz.

Here in the United States, with the possible exceptions of England and Canada, it can be difficult to find science fiction first published in other countries, especially if that science fiction wasn’t published in English. I find it fascinating to see how people in other parts of the world see the future and I like to learn about the “what if” questions they’re asking.

Silverberg’s foreword and the introduction by the editors help the reader understand the development of Israel’s community of speculative fiction writers against the backdrop of Israel’s history. After that, the anthology presents sixteen stories, many of which were first published within the last decade.

I enjoyed all of the stories in the collection, but among the standouts were “Burn Alexandria” by Karen Landsman, which tells the tale of a time-traveling, future Library of Alexandria that appears every couple of centuries, Brigadoon-like. In this story, it finds itself in a post-apocalyptic future and the librarians must ask whether there is a point in continuing to go forward.

In “The Perfect Girl” by Guy Hasson, a woman enters a school for psychics and is assigned a job watching the morgue, where bodies are donated for study. She learns to read the mind of a girl who killed herself and learns not only about the girl but about herself.

Some stories look at the choices we make and ask what if we could change the course of our lives such as “In the Mirror” by Rotem Baruchem. Other stories take a hard look at faith and religion and ask what they mean. In “The Believers” by Nir Yaniv, God comes to Earth as a violent, vengeful spirit.

“The Stern-Gerlach Mice” by Mordechai Sasson tells the story of scientists who experiment on animals resulting in size-shifting mice who infiltrate homes in a town to overthrow the humans. In this world, the artists are mechanical beggars who people take advantage of, but these automata may be humanity’s only hope.

In “Death in Jerusalem” by Elana Gomel, a woman literally courts death. In this case, it’s death by gunshot personified. He introduces her to his extended family and she begins playing a dangerous game reminiscent of the chess match between a knight and Death in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

“Two Minutes Too Early” by Gur Shomron shows us a puzzle-solving contest of the future my wife and daughters would envy while hinting at a darker mystery.

I was delighted to read this sampling of speculative fiction from Israel. The editors hint at the possibility of more collections in the future, which would be great. Of course, I would love to see collections from other countries as well. Zion’s Fiction is available at online retailers Amazon.com and BN.com and I’m sure you can ask for it from your favorite, local independent bookstore.

The Vampire Lovers

In my story “Fountains of Blood” that appears in the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone, the vampire Marcella hands the protagonist, Billy, a copy of J. Sheridan LeFanu’s 1872 novella Carmilla to help him understand what vampires are. I used Carmilla partly because the story my story is centered around the 1896 Albert Fountain disappearance and Dracula was still a year away from publication. I also chose it because I thought this story of a female vampire would resonate well with my vampire character, Marcella.

Because Carmilla predates Dracula, it does not contain many of the tropes we often associate with vampires. Like many vampires of folklore, Carmilla has ghost-like qualities. She can move through locked doors and haunt people’s dreams. If she’s bothered by religious iconography, LeFanu doesn’t say. I have wondered if any good films were made of LeFanu’s story and I recently discovered that Hammer Studios produced one in 1970 under the title The Vampire Lovers. Just to note, the poster reproduced on the Blu-Ray case does not reflect the film’s content. We never see a hapless male victim chained up and being ravaged by a horde of female vampires.

Overall, the film is remarkably faithful to LeFanu’s novella. The story is more linear. The novella opens when a carriage topples. The passengers prove to be Carmilla and her mother. The mother pleads with an English gentleman to allow Carmilla to rest and recover while she continues her journey. The gentleman agrees and Carmilla enters his home where she seduces the gentleman’s daughter, Laura. Over time, Laura begins to succumb to a mysterious illness. Later, we learn that a similar incident happened in the home of General Spielsdorf when Carmilla, then calling herself Millarca, seduces his ward Bertha. Over time, Bertha grows pale and weak and eventually dies. In the movie, we see the incident in General Spielsdorf’s house first followed by the second incident. For some reason, the filmmakers named General Spielsdorf’s ward Laura and gave the second young lady the name Emma.

That noted, there are more than a couple of superficial changes. For some reason, we get a lot more men in the filmed version. There’s a male vampire overseeing the Countess and Carmilla. There’s a love interest for Emma who comes riding to the rescue at the end, although he doesn’t seem to do much else in the film. The characters of Madame Perrodon and Mademoiselle De LeFontaine from the novella are combined into the character of “Mademoiselle Perrodon” and a male butler is introduced. What’s more, at the ending of the Victorian novella, Laura, Madame Perrodone and Mademoiselle De LeFontaine are all out hunting the vampire with General Spielsdorf and Laura’s father. In the movie, Emma is wasting away at home while the men are out hunting.

Carmilla is very much a story of a female vampire seducing young women and it feels like the filmmakers in 1970 were trying to imply that the victims needed real men to both defend them and show them how much better love would be with a man. It’s interesting to see that the Victorian author didn’t do this, though LeFanu often nods and winks to his audience telling us how scandalous the women’s behavior is.

If you’re as fascinated by vampire stories as I am, you definitely should not miss Carmilla. It’s a short read and available for free at Project Gutenberg. The movie is also worth a watch and features notable performances by Ingrid Pitt as Carmilla, Peter Cushing as General Spielsdorf, and Kate O’Mara as Mademoiselle Perrodon. Be aware this is the era when Hammer started undressing its female leads at any opportunity, so if that offends, you might want to skip this film. If you want to know more about my vampires and the history of Marcella, be sure to read Vampires of the Scarlet Order. You can find more details and the first chapter at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/VSO.html.

An Apocalypse Ends

In 2016, I discovered the comic book Scooby Apocalypse. It was part of the Hanna-Barbera Beyond initiative, in which various Hanna-Barbera animated characters were imagined on the pages of DC Comics in darker, edgier situations than the original cartoons. In Scooby Apocalypse, the gang from Scooby-Doo Where Are You? found themselves trapped in a hellish world where a nanite plague has swept the world, turning most people into horrific monsters. Most books in the Hanna-Barbera Beyond series lasted no more than six issues. A few lasted for twelve issues. Scooby Apocalypse was definitely the longest lasting with a three-year 36-issue run.

The original Scooby-Doo Where Are You? debuted in 1969 during my preschool years. It was one of my favorite shows for many years. As a kid, I found the ghosts and monsters genuinely spooky. For that matter, the spooky space kook, a glowing skeleton in space armor with a cackling laugh still sends chills up my spine. Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Daphne, and Velma were all genuinely likable to me. I worried about them and was always relieved when they discovered the villain was just a criminal in a costume. The premise, no doubt, helped to give me some genuine skepticism, even if one of the characters was a talking dog!

As far as I’m concerned, Scooby had two really good seasons and the third season, The Scooby-Doo Movies, which went to an hour format and featured celebrity “guest stars” wasn’t too bad. As with many Scooby fans of my generation, I lost interest when Scooby’s plucky nephew Scrappy-Doo was introduced.

I did regain interest in the series when Warner Brothers started making direct-to-video Scooby-Doo stories. Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island came out in 1998 and I still think it’s one of the finest Scooby stories made. It imagined the team as adults. Fred and Daphne worked for a TV station on a show investigating paranormal claims. Velma owned a bookstore. Scooby and Shaggy were bouncing from job to job. To me, this felt like what the gang would be doing. They get together to look into claims of zombies in the Louisiana Swamp and they discover there is some truth to the claims. Now that I’ve been to Louisiana a few times, I feel like the story really captures some of the haunted mystery of the bayou country.

Now, this wasn’t the first time Scooby and the gang encountered “real” monsters, but earlier incarnations often made the “real” ghosts silly and cheesy and dropped them into the stories with no explanation. Zombie Island felt like a real continuation of the series. Other movies like The Witch’s Ghost were also fun.

Scooby Apocalypse is set in an alternate world where the gang meet up as adults. Like in Zombie Island, Fred and Daphne work for a TV station. Velma works at a research lab. Shaggy is a lab assistant and Scooby is part of an experiment giving dogs the power of speech. Over the course of the three-year run, we learn about Velma’s role in the creation of the nanites. We also meet two of her brothers. The gang gains allies in the form of Cliffy, an orphan boy with one arm and one of Velma’s sisters-in-law. We even meet Scrappy-Doo, who like Scooby is part of the program designed to give dogs intelligence and enhanced abilities. Scrappy starts out as a villain but ultimately becomes one of the good guys. One of my favorite elements was a romance between Shaggy and Velma. Watching the original series as an adult, I always felt the chemistry was there, but some reason, most later iterations ignored it.

The series also took some dark twists and turns. This really shouldn’t be surprising given that it’s apocalyptic fiction, but some moments were stunning given the source material. After three years, the series came to a generally satisfying conclusion. As it stands, it drags a bit in the middle and the ending felt a bit rushed. I think this is just the nature of comics publishing. You don’t get to plan the lengths of your story arcs very far in advance. On the whole, I’m glad I stuck around for the ride. Looking back on different incarnations of Scooby and the gang, I wouldn’t rate this as my favorite, but it’s still up in the top tier.