Doctor Who’s Tenth Anniversary

I didn’t discover Doctor Who by finding it on television. I discovered it on the pages of a magazine. During my middle and high school years, I was an avid reader of Starlog Magazine, which covered science fiction media. One issue had a photo of a young blond-haired man dressed in a sweater, jacket, striped pants and a Panama hat and declared this man would be taking over the part of the Doctor in the series, Doctor Who, which had been running for nearly twenty years. Of course, this was the announcement that Peter Davison would be playing the fifth Doctor. It really piqued my curiosity how an actor could step into the lead role of a series after someone else had played that part. It would be like someone besides Leonard Nimoy playing Spock in Star Trek. My young mind couldn’t imagine it! I looked for Doctor Who, but discovered it wasn’t available on Los Angeles television at the time.

I finally saw my first episode of the series on a summer vacation to my uncle’s house in Florida. It was on at something like 6am on a Saturday morning, but I set my alarm and watched it. I was treated to the serial “The Robots of Death” starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson. From then on, I was hooked, though I wouldn’t be able to watch regularly until my senior year of high school when the Los Angeles public television station finally started carrying the show. They started with “The Five Doctors,” which introduced me to all the people who had played the part so far including that blond-haired chap who had piqued my interest. I kept watching when I went to college and was especially delighted when the Albuquerque PBS station started playing older episodes of Doctor Who. They went back to Jon Pertwee, the third Doctor. I would sit enraptured on Saturday afternoons in a darkened room in the college’s “canteen” watching each episode in turn. Season ten stood out in particular. It started with the tenth-anniversary special which first aired in 1973 called “The Three Doctors,” then went on to bring back the Master, and the Daleks, and wrapped up with an emotional final episode. I was delighted to find this season now exists in its entirety on Blu-ray.

Doctor Who Season Ten Collection

I’ve long been impressed with the treatment the BBC has given the DVD and Blu-ray releases of Doctor Who. Like the season twenty-six pack I discussed a few weeks ago, the season ten set is chock full of special features. Some gave me insight into the writers and producers. Some gave me insights into how the effects were created. Yes, the special effects in this era of Doctor Who could be pretty cheezy, but it was impressive to learn they not only had a limited budget, but very little time to make their effects. Season ten introduced the “color separation overlay” process to Doctor Who, more familiar today as the blue screen or green screen process. This was early days of the process and while sometimes they used it to great effect, sometimes it just didn’t work.

That said, it’s never been the effects that attracted me to Doctor Who. The power of the series is in the writing, enhanced by actors who really loved their parts and did everything they could to sell the stories. Jon Pertwee, who played the Doctor, was famous for his comedy roles, but played the Doctor very straight. Of course, in his ruffled shirt and smoking jacket, he comes off as something of a flamboyant James Bond with an aversion to guns, but he pulls it off and fits in very nicely with the 70s aesthetic. Katie Manning plays his assistant, Jo Grant. By season ten, she’d come into her own and never feared going where she thought she should go. Doctor Who’s women of this era often have a reputation for being helpless and screaming, but I was surprised to go back and find Jo really never screamed and never was helpless. She could be klutzy at times, but she was stronger than I remembered.

This is the first season where I can remember something of a story arc. It’s not very strong, but there’s a running story about the Doctor trying to get to a planet called Metebelis III, which finally pays off in the season’s final episode. Also, the writers clearly know Jo will be leaving at the end of the season, so they start giving us clues in earlier episodes. I remembered being really moved when Jo left the Doctor at the end of “The Green Death” and was surprised to find the emotional power was still there, which was a combination of good writing and great acting. The season opener, which was the first time earlier Doctors came back in one episode was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, due to health concerns, the first Doctor, William Hartnell, had little more than a cameo, but it was great that he had one last outing. Patrick Troughton stepped into the role as though he’d never left it.

If you’re a classic Doctor Who fan, I highly recommend these Blu-ray sets. You will get a lot of behind-the-scenes information and nice presentation of the episodes. If you only know the series from its revival in 2005 to the present, these sets are a great way to look back at the older episodes and get a sense of where the series came from.

The Judas Contract

My teenage years got off to a difficult start. I lost my dad to a heart attack when I was thirteen. By the time I reached my senior year of high school in 1984, I was pretty much done with being a teenager. This all goes to explain why it was that although I made regular visits to the comic shop and though some of my friends were loving a title called The New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, I was pretty much focused on other longtime favorites. I didn’t really discover how much fun the Teen Titans could be until I stumbled on the anime-styled Teen Titans show which ran on Cartoon Network from 2003 to 2006. Even today, I gravitate more toward titles like Justice League Dark, which is what prompted me to pick up the recent Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, when I saw it in the store. The presentation of the Teen Titans in that movie made me curious about their earlier movie appearances, so I picked up the movie Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, which in turn took me back in time to 1984 to read the original graphic novel.

In The Judas Contract, the Teen Titans have a recent recruit named Terra. Most of them have grown to trust her and depend on her. Beast Boy may even be falling in love with her. However, it soon becomes apparent that Terra is not all that she seems. A hallmark of the graphic novel is that this is the point where Dick Grayson first decides to stop being Robin, the Boy Wonder and adopts the mantle of Nightwing, thus allowing Jason Todd to begin his tenure as Batman’s assistant.

It was interesting to compare the movie and graphic novel versions of the story. The movie foregoes the Nightwing story. In the movie, Dick Grayson is already Nightwing. Jason Todd is already dead and Damian Wayne is now Robin and already working with the Teen Titans. The movie starts with the Teen Titans up against a cult leader named Brother Blood. As the movie progresses, we find that the Titans’ longtime rival Deathstroke is working for the cult. In the graphic novel, the conflict with Brother Blood and the conflict with Deathstroke are two separate stories. I love the graphic novel because we get more of Deathstroke’s backstory and more of his connection to Terra. That said, the movie feels like a more rounded and complete story and it also better explores the romance between Nightwing and Starfire.

The movie also contained two episodes of the 2003-2006 Teen Titans series featuring Terra. Those were interesting enough that I went back and rewatched the whole Terra arc from the series’ second season. The Terra in the TV series proves to be quite different from the version in the graphic novel and the movie, but all three versions make an interesting exploration of the concept of betrayal.

I’ve long been fascinated by the character of Judas in the Bible. At the risk of going down a theological rabbit hole, Judas begs many questions. Was he inherently evil? If so, why did Jesus choose him to be an apostle? Just to betray him? Was Judas really a good man? Did he betray Jesus because of free will? In the three versions of The Judas Contract, we see three different interpretations of Terra, ranging from a good person led astray to a person who always was a psychopath. I won’t spoil the story by telling you which is which in case you haven’t delved into these stories and want to explore on your own.

In the story I’m writing, I’m confronting choices like this. Are the good guys what they seem? Are the antagonists really to blame for the events happening? As I reach a point about two-thirds of the way through the outline, I’m going back through and reading what I’ve written and deciding whether I forge ahead as I drafted the outline or if the characters are going to lead me in a new direction. Seeing a story like The Judas Contract explored well in three different ways does help me think about the possibilities. The important thing to remember, and the reason these stories are good, is that all the pieces were in place to tell you why the characters made the choices they did. The hints were there for those who pay attention. So if I do move in a different direction, I need to make sure I’ve also laid that groundwork.

The Last Season of Classic Doctor Who

When my wife and I first married, we moved into an apartment complex in Albuquerque recommended by some close friends who lived in that same complex. One of my fond memories from that period of time was spending Saturday nights that fall going over to their apartment to watch season 26 of Doctor Who when it aired on KNME. There were only four episodes in the season: “Battlefield,” “Ghost Light,” “The Curse of Fenric,” and “Survival.” Still, there was no doubt these were something special. Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor had moved on from his clown-like early portrayal into a somewhat darker and more mysterious figure. Sophie Aldred, as his companion Ace, was strong on the surface, yet seemed afraid to face certain elements of her past. Under the supervision of script editor, Andrew Cartmel, the Doctor was taking Ace on a tour of her own past and making her face the baggage she didn’t want to deal with. It was great stuff and when we got to the end, we couldn’t wait for the next season. Except there would be no next season. This was the end of Doctor Who’s so-called classic era.

Season 26 was recently released on blu-ray. As it turns out, I loved this season so much that I already owned it on a combination of VHS and DVD, but I was glad for the upgrade. Some episodes were distinctly improved. Of particular note are the “movie” edits of “Battlefield” and “Curse of Fenric.” The former has upgraded special effects which help one of the stories that introduced me to Arthurian lore. The latter included scenes that had been cut from the episodes originally aired for time. The longer cut played much better. There’s also an extended cut of the episode “Ghost Light,” which is one of those magical episodes that grows on me every time I watch it. For the purists, the original, uncut episodes are included as well.

In the special features included with the Blu-Ray set, I was reminded that “Ghost Light” started life as a very different episode. It’s the story about a mysterious house connected to Ace’s past. Originally, it was called “Lungbarrow” and it told the story of Ace and the Doctor visiting the house he grew up in. Author Marc Platt actually novelized “Lungbarrow” and it came out as part of the Doctor Who New Adventures line in 1992. At that point in my life, I was busy working on a telescope at Apache Point Observatory and being the dad of a precocious 2-year-old. I barely had time to sleep and eat much less read Doctor Who novels, but I remember seeing all kinds of discussion about this novel on internet circles of the time. I kept meaning to read it. Eventually it was posted in its entirety on the BBC’s Doctor Who website and I read bits and pieces before it was taken down.

Getting my hands on the Season 26 Blu-ray set inspired me to go looking for the novel. Unfortunately, only a limited number of copies were printed and used copies cost hundreds of dollars. Fortunately, the internet archive had a copy tucked away from the days when the book was available and I just gave it a read. It tells the story of the Doctor returning to the house where he was born. There’s evidence he killed the head of the household before he went on the run from the planet Galifrey with his granddaughter. It ties up several hints dropped by writers Ben Aaronovitch and Marc Platt in seasons 25 and 26. On the surface, it would seem to suggest a very different origin for the Doctor than the one revealed in “The Timeless Child” starring Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor. Except that in ways, the stories compliment each other. Not everyone in Doctor Who stories are reliable narrators and it all adds to the central question of the series: Doctor Who? If you’re a fan of either the new or old series, I highly recommend the season 26 set both for the great presentation of the episodes and the behind the scenes information. If you happen to see a copy of Lungbarrow in your favorite used bookstore, be sure to snap it up!

Powers of Darkness

When I read Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker last month, I noticed that the part sections featured epigrams from a Bram Stoker book I’d never heard of before called Makt Myrkranna. It turns out this was the version of Dracula serialized in the Icelandic magazine Falkjonan from 1900 to 1901. The thing is, this isn’t just a translation of Dracula as most of us who discovered it in English know, it’s a completely different version. The title translates as Powers of Darkness and in 2016, Valdimar Asmundsson released an English-language translation of the Icelandic text.

Powers of Darkness

To me, Powers of Darkness reads like an earlier draft of Dracula and that seems to be the conclusion of the translator as well. Some characters have different names. We meet Thomas Harker instead of Jonathan. His fiancee is Wilma instead of Wilhelmina. We meet some new characters such as an old, deaf woman who keeps house for Dracula. There are police investigators in the background, looking into Dracula’s crimes. Instead of Dracula having three brides who tempt Harker, there is a single woman who is presented as Dracula’s niece, who attempts to seduce Harker and feed upon him. Although Harker’s journey to the castle is told in the familiar epistolary format, the events after Dracula leaves his castle in Transylvania become a third-person narrative.

As a writer, I found this version fascinating. It reminded me of the work I did on my novel The Pirates of Sufiro, and I imagine someone who compared the 1994 edition to my recently released 2020 edition would find the new one richer in much the way I would consider Dracula richer than Makt Myrkranna, especially the parts after Dracula goes to England. That part of Makt Myrkranna is very brief compared to Dracula and reads like it was the first time Stoker assembled his notes on various ideas, like a very rough draft. There is also speculation that the original Icelandic publisher thought the novel was running long and the second part ended up being something of a summation, but there are still details in that part missing from Dracula, so one gets a sense that Stoker’s hand was there.

I also found Powers of Darkness interesting because I’m revising my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order for a new edition. In that case, I’m doing less rewriting than I did for The Pirates of Sufiro, but I am recutting the novel and reordering the chapters a bit to tell the story more effectively. I thought about this a lot while reading Dracul, where J.D. Barker and Dacre Stoker build suspense by starting the novel in a scene where Bram Stoker is facing an unknown enemy behind a door, then going back and telling how he reached that point. In Vampires, I started with a very linear narrative, but now I start in the present and let the past unfold when characters have reason to tell it. I think the new version strengthens the narrative.

One interesting element of Powers of Darkness was that the translator took time to attempt to map out a floor plan of Dracula’s castle based on the description. The result is an interesting look inside the count’s Transylvanian abode. Another thing I thought was interesting in this version was that Dracula holds some kind of dark ritual for his followers, which seems to anticipate scenes that would appear in the Christopher Lee Hammer films of the 1970s.

I would recommend Powers of Darkness to writers wanting to glimpse Bram Stoker’s process, or Dracula fans who want to get more insight into the history of the character. If you’re a casual reader looking to read Stoker for the first time, I’d start with the English language Dracula, or perhaps the collection Dracula’s Guest and Other Stories by Stoker. If you want to learn more about Powers of Darkness and even look at maps of Dracula’s castle, visit: http://powersofdarkness.com/. You can learn more about my novels at http://davidleesummers.com.

Dracul

Last month, I was invited to join the Vampyre Library Book Club hosted by Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans. The first featured selection was the novel Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker. Dacre Stoker is the great grandnephew of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, and the manager of the Bram Stoker estate.

Dracul

The novel Dracul imagines that Bram Stoker was inspired to write his most famous novel by events from his life. It’s known that Bram was a rather sickly child and there were fears he wouldn’t survive to adulthood. Instead, Bram suddenly became very healthy and, in fact, became an outstanding athlete at Dublin’s Trinity College. In Dracul, the authors imagine this happened because the Stoker family nanny was a vampire. After she saves Bram’s life, the nanny, Ellen Crone, disappears. Bram and his sister Matilda follow Ellen to nearby Artane Castle where they find a box of putrid earth. An arm rests in the dirt. On its finger is a ring bearing the inscription, “Dracul.”

The story follows Bram, Matilda, and their brother Thornley as they attempt to solve the mystery of Ellen Crone and “Dracul.” They reach a dead end as children but the mystery returns to haunt them in their 20s and they find more clues, which then lead them to a climactic encounter inspired by Bram’s short story “Dracula’s Guest.” In the afterword, Dacre shares how he has come to know that “Dracula’s Guest” was actually part of the first 100 pages of Dracula excised before publication. I found Dracul to be a thrilling and suspenseful novel and I was delighted to read Dacre’s afterword that explained several of the real life and literary inspirations.

In the afterword, Dacre discusses some of the controversy surrounding the inspiration of the character of Dracula. It’s often taken for granted that Stoker used Wallachia’s Vlad III as the inspiration for his vampire. As Dacre points out, that’s not at all a given and he argues that Bram had in mind a creature who had been living from a time much before the fifteenth century. I found this interesting. Although it has been a while since I read Dracula, I do recall noting that Bram shrouded the origins of the title character in mystery.

Dragon’s Fall

It was partly because of that and partly because my favorite screen Dracula is Christopher Lee, that I decided to explore the idea that the Dracula legend came about because people conflated an ancient vampire with Vlad III. The names Dracul and Dracula come from “the order of the dragon” a chivalric order of knights who fought to defend Christendom. This particular order was founded in 1408 by Sigismund von Luxembourg who was then the King of Hungary. However, there are other knights through the centuries who used dragons as emblems or titles and I imagined the “real” Dracula might be one of them. You can learn the full story of my version in my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires. You can find all the places its available at: http://davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html. You can find signed copies of Dracul at: https://feelthebite.com/

Captain Harlock’s Endless Orbit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adam Warren’s Dirty Pair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Literary Bond

Bond. James Bond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tombstone Rashomon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Return to Penny Dreadful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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