After Punk

I had a great signing yesterday at Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans. For those who missed the event, I left behind some signed books which can be bought through their website. Tonight, in Baltimore, eSpec Books will be unveiling a cool new anthology that features my story “The Sun Worshiper.” Unfortunately, my schedule doesn’t allow me to attend, but I would encourage anyone in the Baltimore area to go check out the release party tonight at Balticon. Click the link for more information about the convention. Meanwhile, allow me to tell you more about After Punk and my story.

While mankind can scarce hope to pierce the Veil without crossing it, a few intrepid souls will ever bend their will against the aether, combining artifice and the arcane to uncover its secrets.

From voodoo death cults to the Day of the Dead, mummy parties, the wheel of reincarnation, the practice of death portraits, and so much more, these tales leave no gravestone unturned.

Be it heaven or hell or the limbo in between, the hereafter is about to get ‘Punked.

With stories by Jody Lynn Nye, David Sherman, Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, James Chambers, Michelle D. Sonnier, Jeffrey Lyman, Bernie Mojzes, Travis I. Sivart, Jeff Young, L. Jagi Lamplighter, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, and yours truly.

My story, “The Sun Worshiper,” is about a spiritualist named Dinela Stanton who is invited to a mummy unwrapping party in London hosted by a prominent scientist. When she arrives, she finds all her fellow guests are scientists who have denounced her as a fraud. To make matters worse, it would appear that the scientist who invited Dinela is attempting to perpetrate a deception of his own.

The story was born from two sources. When I was in elementary school, I had the opportunity to see the Tutankhamen exhibit as it toured the United States. I was captivated, as were many, with all the wealth and beautifully preserved items found in the king’s tomb. Of course, as a young boy, I was both creeped out and fascinated by things like canopic jars and mummified cats.

I’m also intrigued by the Victorian obsession with séances and attempting to contact the spirit world. While studying the paranormal and the scientific method in college, I learned how many spiritualists managed to fool people. Despite that, I sometimes find myself wondering what would happen if a real spiritualist would come along and demonstrate real ability to the most ardent skeptics. To my mind, a true spiritualist wouldn’t help but be captivated by the idea of contacting the spirit of an ancient Egyptian mummy, and might even stick around in the face of her detractors.

After Punk is available in paperback and ebook at:

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NEID – A New Way of Seeing Exoplanets

Last week, I talked a little about the work we’re doing refitting the Mayall 4-meter Telescope for the Dark Energy Spectrographic Instrument. However, it’s not the only construction going on at Kitt Peak. The WIYN 3.5-meter telescope, which I also work with, is getting a new spectrograph installed called NEID. Deploying NEID doesn’t require a full telescope refit like deploying DESI, but there’s still quite a bit of work happening in the building.

Most of the work right now is going into building a new bench spectrograph room. NEID is an acronym for “NN-explore Exoplanet Investigations with Dopler spectroscopy”. The word “neid” is also the Tohono O’Odham word meaning “to see.” An appropriate choice, given Kitt Peak’s location on the Tohono O’Odham Nation in Southern Arizona. The goal of NEID is to provide the astronomical community with a state-of-the-art Doppler spectrograph to investigate exoplanets around nearby stars.

The way this will work is that an optical fiber assembly will be mounted to the telescope itself at the port in the photo to the right with the sign on it. That optical fiber will carry the light from the star to the new bench spectrograph downstairs where it will be spread out, like a rainbow. The reason for doing this is not to see a pretty rainbow, but to see dark lines interspersed through the rainbow. Those dark lines are like the star’s chemical fingerprint.

Now, here’s the fun part. When a planet moves around the star, it drags the star just a tiny amount toward the Earth which causes that spectral fingerprint to shift a little bit toward the blue end of the spectrum. When the planet passes behind the star, it drags it away from the Earth and moves the spectral fingerprint toward the red end of the spectrum. Looking for this shift is the “Doppler” approach to finding planets that NEID will employ.

In addition to discovering new planets, NEID will be used to follow up observations by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and will help to determine masses and densities for planets TESS discovers. By the way, the NN-Explore that’s part of NEID’s acronym stands for NASA-NSF-EXoPLanet Observational REsearch. The current plan is to begin commissioning the instrument this fall and for regular observations to commence in 2019.

Being part of on-going research into planets around other stars is what inspired Dr. Steve Howell of NASA’s Ames Spaceflight Center and I to invite science fiction writers to imagine what these planets around other stars might be like. The results were our two anthologies, A Kepler’s Dozen and Kepler’s Cowboys. You can learn more about the anthologies by clicking on their titles.

Once NEID goes online and starts making discoveries, Steve and I may have to “see” into the future and collect a third anthology. This time, including stories about planets discovered by a telescope on a mountaintop in Arizona’s Tohono O’Odham Nation.

Characters Are What They Eat

As the old saying goes, “you are what you eat.” My post’s title though refers less to nutrition than what you can reveal about a character through scenes set at mealtimes. I thought about this last week while revising the story “Jump Point Blockade” for my collection-in-progress, Firebrandt’s Legacy. During the story, Captain Firebrandt shares bobotie with Suki, the woman he’s building a relationship with. Bobotie is a South African dish that shares characteristics of a meatloaf, shepherd’s pie, and a curry. We decided to try our hand at making it this weekend. Here’s the result.

We picked a recipe from a South African site based on the author’s family recipe. If you want to try your hand at bobotie, here’s the recipe we used: http://www.getaway.co.za/food/recipes-food/traditional-south-african-bobotie-recipe/.

Part of the reason for the choice is that this version didn’t include nuts at cook time, since our daughters are nut-allergic. Different recipes call for different types of nuts. We went with cashews to serve with our version, but almonds and pine nuts also seem to be common choices. We also used a homemade apple and pear chutney in the mix. Finally, just a note that the recipe specifies “sultanas” over raisins. It turns out that most raisins sold in the United States are, in fact, sultana raisins.

Firebrandt is South African because I created him during the time apartheid was being dismantled in South Africa. He came from a culture where his ancestors had been part of an oppressive regime and he wanted no part of belonging to one himself. What’s more South Africa is one of the few countries to have developed nuclear weapons, but voluntarily destroyed them. I see the elimination of nuclear weapons as one of the necessary paths forward for the human race. In my head, Firebrandt has always spoken with a South African accent and having him share bobotie with a friend was a way to show that on the page.

Scenes including mealtimes not only reveal what people eat, but their accepted manners while eating. How strongly they adhere to meal customs can tell you much about a character, no matter what those customs are. If someone cares a lot about protocol, they might adhere strongly to custom. Other characters might care more about conversation. Some characters might reveal themselves to be completely uncouth at the dinner table. How hosts react to good and bad manners can also be revealing.

One of the challenges in Firebrandt’s Legacy is that I wrote many of the chapters as stand-alone short stories. It could be that when I’m finished collecting the stories and read them as a whole, I might find that I’ve overused the number of times my characters have shared meals. If that’s the case, I’ll need to cut a few of them and share only those that are the most revealing and most interesting.

I invite you to share some adventures, and perhaps a few meals, with the crew of the pirate ship Legacy. I’m posting a new chapter each month. So far, most of the chapters have been revisions of stories that have appeared far and wide in the small press and aren’t always easy to find. I’m nearing a point where most of the stories will be new and unpublished. You can read these stories for just a dollar a month. Of course, this helps me fund other projects as well, such as my recent publication of The Solar Sea. This leads to surprise bonus rewards. I just gave all my wonderful patrons a free ebook copy of the new novel. (If you join my Patreon page now, you can still pick up a copy!) Click the button below to read the first chapter for free and learn how to support this fun project.

Tales of Paranormal Steampunk Kickstarter

Today, I want to tell you about an exciting new Kickstarter from eSpec Books which has already funded and is working on stretch goals. eSpec will be publishing three books of paranormal steampunk. These include the novel The Clockwork Witch by Michelle D. Sonnier and the eShort Spirit Seeker by Jeff D. Young. The third book is After Punk, Steampowered Tales of the Afterlife edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Greg Schauer. I’m excited to see that the project has funded. What’s more, my short story, tentatively titled “The Scientist, The Spiritualist, and the Mummy” was one of the stretch goals and that goal has been reached, so it will be part of the book.

Here’s the blurb for the anthology After Punk that my story will appear in:

    While mankind can scarce hope to pierce the Veil without crossing it, a few intrepid souls will ever bend their will against the aether, combining artifice and the arcane to uncover its secrets.

    From voodoo death cults to the Day of the Dead, mummy parties, the wheel of reincarnation, the practice of death portraits, and so much more, these tales leave no gravestone unturned.

    Be it heaven or hell or the limbo in between, the hereafter is about to get ‘Punked.

    With stories by Jody Lynn Nye, David Sherman, Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, James Chambers, Michelle D. Sonnier, Jeffrey Lyman, Bernie Mojzes, Travis I. Sivart, Jeff Young, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail.

My story is about a scientist who invites a spiritualist to a wild mummy unwrapping party. This was a fun story to write and I look forward to it being part of the book. Even though this stretch goal has been reached, there are lots of other great stretch goals that can be met before the Kickstarter finishes. These include a bonus short story by Gail Z. Martin and Larry Martin, a novella by Michelle D. Sonnier, and illustrations in the books! While you can buy the books after they’re released, Danielle Ackley-McPhail always provides a lot of extras for supporting the Kickstarters. So this is a great time to reserve your books!

To support the Kickstarter campaign or to learn more, visit: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/e-specbooks/tales-of-paranormal-steampunk

Discovering New Authors

On March 10, I’ll be moderating a panel at the Tucson Festival of Books called “Magical History.” The festival encourages moderators to be familiar with the works of the panelists and I think that’s an excellent idea, so I’ve been reading a selection of their books. As it turns out, I’m already a fan of Gail Carriger’s work, but this gave me a chance to read more of her books. I also am familiar with Beth Cato’s writing, because I published her poetry a number of times in Tales of the Talisman, however this gave me the long-overdue excuse to read one of her novels for the first time. Mindy Tarquini and Melodie Winawer are both new writers to me and it’s been a pleasure to see their take on the idea of “Magical History.”

Reading a book by an author you’ve never read before can be a daunting prospect. Will they satisfy your taste? Will their prose style transport you to a place you want to go? Will they move at a pace you’re comfortable with? Recommendations by friends who share your taste is a great option. In this case, moderating a panel with a topic that interests me and with a couple of authors I’m already acquainted with provided me with recommendations for a couple of additional new authors.

Another great way to discover new authors is by reading anthologies with themes you care about and that maybe include an author or two you already like. An anthology is a way for an editor to present several stories they like which address the theme. In a sense, the editor is recommending a bunch of authors to you. What’s more, you get a bunch of short stories so you may sample those stories without committing to a whole novel.

That said, I’ll bet if you look at reader reviews of almost any random anthology you will find at least one and perhaps several reviews that say, in essence: “There were some terrific stories and there were some terrible stories.” To be honest, I don’t find these very helpful reviews. Speaking as an anthologist, it’s my job to find a variety of stories that address the anthology’s theme. I like to find stories from a diverse group of writers with different backgrounds. It’s not always possible to know cultural background or even gender from a name on a submission, but a person’s background and experiences are often reflected in the stories they tell. I like to mix it up and give readers stories I think are a sure bet most readers will love and a few that I think challenge the reader. Because of that variety, I know there’s a risk not every reader will love every story. For that matter, I don’t love every story from most anthologies I read, but I often love some enough that I want to seek out more stories or even a novel by some of the authors.

There are lots of great anthologies out there to sink your teeth into. You can discover a lot of great ones just by looking at older posts here at the Web Journal (and if you keep reading, I’m sure I’ll be telling you about more in the future!) If you care to explore the anthologies I’ve had a hand in curating, visit: http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#anthologies

The Orville

Last week, I watched the first season of Seth MacFarlane’s new series, The Orville, with my daughter who’s home from college. Marketed as a science fiction comedy in the vein of Galaxy Quest, I find that the show is, in many ways, a true successor to Star Trek.

The premise of the show is that Captain Ed Mercer, played by MacFarlane, has just been given command of a mid-size exploratory vessel. To his chagrin, his ex-wife Kelly Grayson played by Adrianne Palicki serves as his first officer. Other members of the crew include Lt. Commander Bortus, the Klingon-like second officer from the Planet Moclan, Lt. Alara Kitan, the hyper-strong but young security chief from the planet Xelaya, and Lt. Gordon Malloy, Ed’s wisecracking friend who serves as the ship’s helmsman.

The first couple of episodes focused more on the humor, but as the show progressed it became decidedly more like classic Star Trek exploring themes of gender, religion, and the role of social media in society. It’s even taken on some interesting science fictional ideas such as what exploring other dimensions would mean, our interactions with life forms both more advanced and more primitive, and time travel.

Overall, the show’s exploration of science fiction themes works. This is perhaps no surprise since there’s a strong overlap of production staff not only with some of the Star Trek series, but with Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos. Although the show keeps its humor low-key, it’s still an integral part of the presentation. It keeps the show light and avoids it taking itself too seriously. That said, my most serious complaint about the show is that its humor is tied very strongly to 21st century pop-culture references. In a show set in the 24th century that is pretty decent at its science fiction, it feels a little jarring. It’s as though me and all my friends were experts in the 1600s and only read books and watched plays from that era. Okay, as an avowed Steampunk there is, perhaps, some feeling of truth in this portrayal, but I think you get what I mean!

I find I don’t always agree with the positions Seth MacFarlane and the producers present in the show, but that’s fine. He presents them in a thoughtful way that doesn’t put me off, which allows me to evaluate my own positions. In fact, he doesn’t always give us easy answers at the end of an episode or imply that what the crew did was the best choice. In this way, The Orville really does what science fiction does best: help us look at our own time with a critical eye.

As it turns out, I don’t have cable. I gave it up as an unneeded luxury back in 2001. I decided to buy the first season of The Orville on iTunes after watching those episodes that were available for free on Fox’s website. I will note that I still haven’t watched Star Trek: Discovery. Here’s the key difference: Fox allowed me to sample some episodes for free (albeit with commercials), and then gave me a means to subscribe to the series for a reasonable cost. CBS All Access, where Discovery runs will only allow me to subscribe to the channel and won’t even let me sample the series without a subscription that includes a whole lot of content I really don’t want. That’s why I gave up cable back in 2001!

I’m currently on Patreon raising funds for my collection of space pirate stories, Firebrandt’s Legacy. Like The Orville, I endeavor to mix some light-hearted humor with good science fiction to provide an entertaining mix. You can read the first story in the collection with absolutely no commitment right here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/chapter-one-for-14391922. If you like what you read, you can subscribe for any amount you like at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. In exchange for your patronage, you get to see each story in the collection as it’s written or reedited. I share behind the scenes information about the stories, and I’ll give you a “thank you” in the finished book.

Smashwords End of Year Sale

The e-book retailer Smashwords has started an End of Year Sale, which runs from today through January 1. Did you get a new ereader fo the holidays? Are you looking for a fun way to spend some time during the dark nights of winter? Why not pick up some great books from Hadrosaur Productions. Five of Hadrosaur’s titles are available for 50% off their retail price as part of this global event. All you have to do is enter the code SEY50 at checkout. Smashwords presents their ebooks in a variety of formats including mobi (which work on Kindles), epub (which work on Nooks), and PDF (which work on just about anything).


A Kepler’s Dozen

A Kepler's Dozen A Kepler’s Dozen presents thirteen action-packed, mysterious, and humorous stories all based on real planets discovered by the NASA Kepler mission. I edited this anthology along with Steve B. Howell, project scientist for the Kepler mission. Whether on a prison colony, in a fast escape from the authorities, or encircling a binary star, these exoplanet stories will amuse, frighten, and intrigue you while you share fantasy adventures among Kepler’s real-life planets.

Get the book at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/325583


Kepler’s Cowboys

NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has discovered thousands of new planets.
Visiting, much less settling, those worlds will provide innumerable challenges.
The men and women who make the journey will be those who don’t fear the odds.
They’ll be Kepler’s Cowboys.

Saddle up and take an unforgettable journey to distant star systems. Meet new life forms—some willing to be your friend and others who will see you as the invader. Fight for justice in a lawless frontier. Go on a quest for a few dollars more. David Lee Summers, author of the popular Clockwork Legion novels, and Steve B. Howell, head of the Space Sciences and Astrobiology Division at NASA Ames Research Center, have edited this exciting, fun, and rollicking anthology of fourteen stories and five poems by such authors as Patrick Thomas, Jaleta Clegg, Anthony R. Cardno, L.J. Bonham, and many more!

Get the book at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/698694


Revolution of Air and Rust

Revolution of Air and Rust This is my tale of Pancho Villa in an alternate Steampunk reality. Set in 1915, Teddy Roosevelt is building an empire. Pancho Villa is the only man who stands in his way!

The American Expeditionary Force under the command of General “Black Jack” Pershing has invaded Northern Mexico. Pancho Villa leads his revolutionary army in a desperate raid against the American force only to be outflanked. Just as Pershing’s airships prepare to deliver the death blow, Pancho Villa is transported to a parallel Earth where he finds an unexpected ally and the technology that might just turn defeat into victory.

Revolution of Air and Rust is a stand-alone novella set in the Empires of Steam and Rust world created by Robert E. Vardeman and Stephen D. Sullivan. A story filled with military action, espionage and gadgetry that’s sure to satisfy fans of steampunk and alternate history.

Get the book at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/254622


Sugar Time

Sugar Time

Her name is Sugar. Sugar Sweet. But never EVER call her “Sweetie.”

When Sugar’s Uncle Max falls ill and his collaborators disappear, she investigates the old Victorian mansion where he conducted his research. She soon finds the 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.

Sugar Time collects all four of Joy V. Smith’s Sugar Sweet stories into one volume. I had tremendous fun editing this volume. If you enjoy a good time travel romp, this might just be the book to put at the top of your summer reading list.

Get the book at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/567992


Legends of the Dragon Cowboys

Legends of the Dragon Cowboys brings you two weird western adventures by authors David B. Riley and Laura Givens. Their heroes ride boldly out of the Far East to find their way in a mythic land of danger, romance, and adventure.

In “The Venerable Travels of Ling Fung” by David B. Riley, a wandering businessman encounters a Mayan god, crooked enterprises and Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, when all he really wants is to open a gun store. Ling Fung is not any ordinary Chinese entrepreneur–he’s highly skilled in Kung Fu and he can shoot good, too. While his heart is set on business, providence seems to have other plans for him.

Laura Givens brings wily acrobat Chin Song Ping to the Wild West in search of adventure and fortune. He finds little fortune, but plenty of adventure. Chin Song Ping is a scoundrel, a gambler and a trouble magnet. His heart of gold lands him in schemes to outwit would-be gods, cannibal ghosts, insane robots, Voodoo despots and the ultimate evil–bureaucrats. But he is a romantic, and the love of his life is the true treasure he seeks. The odds are always against him but if he survives he will become the Western legend he always was in his own mind.

The Wild West just got a lot wilder!

Get the book at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/751811