Hidden Vampires

The third volume of Keisuke Makino’s Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut light novel series was released just before Christmas. This volume takes us beyond the story of the anime and literally around the world to introduce us to a new set of characters on their own quest for space. In the world of Irina: Vampire Cosmonaut, vampires are simply another hominid species that evolved parallel to humans. They have fangs, pointed ears, sensitivity to sunlight, and blood strengthens them. Most of the old legends about vampires being monsters are simply propaganda. The first two volumes of the series are set in the fictional Republic of Zirnitra – basically the Soviet Union – where our title subject is recruited and used as a test subject before humans are sent into space.

Volume 3 takes us to the United Kingdom of Arnack – basically the United States – where engineers are desperately trying to catch up to the Zirnitrans. Long ago, vampires crossed the ocean from the old world to the new. Many of them married humans and had children. Their offspring, who retain many of the vampire traits are known as dhampirs. In the early days of the United Kingdom, human settlers began using the dhampirs as slave labor. Dhampirs finally achieved freedom from slavery during a civil war, but by the time of the space race, they haven’t really achieved equality in pay or rights with humans. Seeing the metaphors here doesn’t take a lot of work.

Volume 3 opens at the headquarters of the United Kingdom’s space agency, ANSA, located in the crescent city of New Marseilles. Bart Fifield, younger brother of the United Kingdom’s first astronaut has just been assigned to work in the computer division, which is mostly run by young dhampir women because they aren’t as expensive to employ as humans. The leader of the computer division is a dhampir named Kaye Scarlet, whose mother had encouraged her love of space and engineering. Unfortunately, Kaye’s mother had also been a murder victim and the police never really investigated precisely because she was a dhampir.

ANSA leadership decide to make Kaye and Bart part of a public relations campaign to highlight the role of computers in developing space flight. Neither one is really comfortable in this role, but they do their best while also doing their best to support an upcoming orbital flight. Now, in this world, dhampirs don’t drink blood like their vampire cousins unless they have something called Nosferatu Syndrome. Unfortunately, Kaye suffers from the syndrome and when it’s discovered she’s booted out of ANSA. Horrified by the injustice of this, Bart finds his most heroic self and must find a way to make ANSA recognize the contributions of Kaye and the dhampir computer operators.

This story clearly parallels many of the events recounted in the novel and film, Hidden Figures. The first two volumes of Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut highlighted both reprehensible and noble traits in the people of the Zinitra Republic. Now, we get to see the United Kingdom get the same scrutiny. It can be uncomfortable to see the darker side of your own history brought to light, but we do need to face it, even while recognizing the great things we’ve done as a people.

One interesting element of the book was the New Marseilles setting. Clearly it’s inspired by New Orleans, right down to the bars on Bourbon Street, jazz funerals, and hurricanes. Having spent time in New Orleans, I enjoyed seeing the story set there and it was easy to picture both the upper class neighborhoods populated by humans and the lower class neighborhood populated by dhampirs. Although my older brothers weren’t astronauts, I found I related to Bart as a younger brother who often felt he had to live up to his older brothers’ accomplishments. I liked that when Bart does have a conversation with his older brother, the older brother is likeable and helps point Bart in the direction that helps him make good decisions at the end of the novel.

Although this is a novel about the involvement of vampires and their descendants in the space race, the book mostly made me think of my own novel The Solar Sea about the construction of a solar sail to investigate mysterious particles discovered near Saturn. Both books try to look at both the noble and foolish things humans do to achieve big dreams. You can find the Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut light novels at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or wherever you shop for manga and light novels. You can learn more about The Solar Sea at: http://davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html

Doctor Who: Connections

Near the end of November, I discussed Big Finish’s Doctor Who story “What Lies Inside?” featuring Paul McGann as the Doctor, Nicola Walker as Liv Chenka, and Hattie Morahan as Helen Sinclair. One of the things I like about Big Finish is that they frequently have deals on their website or via their newsletter. When I bought “What Lies Inside?” I bought a bundle that included an additional set of three adventures called “Connections.” That second set has been released and my family and I were able to give it a listen during a recent road trip.

Back in my university days, before the World Wide Web, I subscribed to message boards on Usenet. One of those message boards discussed all things Doctor Who. One character who would spark much discussion on the message board was an old school chum of the Doctor’s from the planet Galifrey named Drax. Now, Drax only appeared in a couple of episodes of serial “The Armageddon Factor” which was part of a longer arc where the Doctor, played by Tom Baker, and his companion Romana, played by Mary Tamm, seek out pieces of something called the Key to Time, which will is needed for god-like entities to put the universe back into balance. Drax used to come up for so much discussion because he was not only one of the few people from Galifrey who seemed to actively like the Doctor, he also referred to the Doctor by the name: Theta Sigma. Was Theta Sigma really the Doctor’s name? Was it a nickname? Was it a fraternity they belonged to? These were all questions bandied about on the message board. None of which were ever definitively answered then and none of which are definitively answered in the new audio episode, “Here Lies Drax.” That said, it was great fun to hear a new episode with Drax. Or, does it really have Drax? The episode opens with the Doctor receiving a parcel from Drax for safekeeping. Soon after, they receive an invitation to Drax’s funeral! Once they get to the funeral, they discover Drax had made a lot of enemies over his lifetime, and that’s just how things get going. We soon get a rollicking mystery where the Doctor has to figure out whether there really is any value to the things in the parcel, while he figures out what happened to his old friend.

The second episode of “Connections” is titled “The Love Vampires” and felt like an appropriate listen while I’m working on a vampire novel of my own. In this episode, the Doctor, Helen, and Liv arrive at a space station orbiting a dying star. However, the crew of the station are apparently being killed off by vampires. Now, these aren’t your ordinary run-of-the-mill bloodsucking vampires These vampires take you back to memories of your first love and feed off the emotions generated. Energy and emotion vampires are nothing new to the genre, but the writers cleverly use this concept to explore the characters of Helen, Liv, and the Doctor through their memories of their first loves. We get some nice background on both Helen and Liv. Right from the beginning of the television series, it was established that the Doctor has a granddaughter and Big Finish’s audio dramas have reinforced the idea that Susan is a biological granddaughter. She doesn’t just call him “Grandfather” as a term of affection. In fact, there are several great Big Finish productions where Susan, played by Carole Ann Ford, is teamed up with Paul McGann’s Doctor. So, one figures, the Doctor must have had at least one love in his life, or at least a liaison. Who did the Doctor have a child with? What was their relationship like? This episode suggests some possibilities, but like Drax in “The Armageddon Factor” it may raise more questions than it answers.

The final episode of the “Connections” set moves the focus from the Doctor to Helen. In this case, the Doctor, Helen, and Liv land in modern-day London to investigate a time anomaly. Helen soon discovers one of the Weeping Angels in the back of an old record shop. These are villains who look like statues of angels and only move when you’re not looking at them. When you blink, they can jump on you and transport you back in time. In “Albie’s Angels” this happens to Helen and she’s transported back to the 1960s and is reunited with her long lost brother Albie. She never knew what became of her brother and she learns that her father and brother had a falling out because Albie was gay. It felt quite appropriate to listen to this episode while on a family trip, since it reminds us why families shouldn’t let themselves be torn apart by different lifestyles and viewpoints. The story itself involves the Doctor and Liv trying to find out where Helen has gone while Helen tries to help her brother find his own path in life. Without spoilers, this episode proved to be a bittersweet and poignant tale with connections to other characters in the Doctor Who canon.

You can find “Connections” at https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/doctor-who-the-eighth-doctor-adventures-connections-2523 and while you’re there, you can sign up for the Big Finish newsletter if you choose. I’m just a fan of Big Finish and this isn’t an affiliate link of any kind.

Meanwhile, if you want to get ready for my forthcoming vampire novel and meet a set of characters with their own special abilities, check out my Scarlet Order vampire novels at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

The Final Odyssey

Today finds me at TusCon in Tucson, Arizona where you’ll find me on panels and selling books in the dealer’s room. If you’re in town, I hope you’ll drop by. This is my last convention of the year. One of the things I like about science fiction conventions is the opportunity to celebrate our favorite books, so I thought this was a good opportunity to delve into the final novel of Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey series.

I think the most difficult scene for me to watch in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is the scene where astronaut Frank Poole, played by Gary Lockwood, must go outside the spaceship Discovery to repair the communication antenna. In that scene, the computer HAL sends a space pod at Poole, knocking him away from the ship and dislodging his air supply. Dave Bowman, played by Keir Dullea, valiantly hops into another pod to try to rescue him. Meanwhile, we see Poole frantically trying to reattach his air hose in silence. The scene is tragic and sad, especially when we realize that Bowman is too late and that Poole has likely died as a result of HAL’s attack. Still, Bowman retrieves Poole’s body, but must let it go when HAL won’t let him back into the ship.

After a brief prelude introducing us to the creators of the infamous monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the novel 3001: The Final Odyssey opens aboard the comet-chasing space vessel Goliath. The ship is diverted from its mission to capture and send a water-filled comet into the inner solar system to intercept a small two-meter-long object which has been detected near them. It turns out, the object is none other than the body of Frank Poole, adrift for a thousand years. In the very next chapter, Poole wakes up. It turns out, his death was so quick and he was so well preserved in his space suit that using the technology of a thousand years in the future, doctors could revive Poole. The next part of the story becomes something of a Rip Van Winkle tale as Poole, essentially a man from our time, gets to explore the world as it will be one thousand years in the future.

Poole finds himself in something of a Utopia, where humans have built a gigantic ring around the Earth, connected to the planet by space elevators. While humanity hasn’t left the confines of the solar system, they have colonized many of its worlds, including Jupiter’s large moon, Ganymede. Venus is in the process of being terraformed. Crime has become a treatable mental illness and even a few dinosaurs have been brought back. Because this is Arthur C. Clarke, he backs up his ideas with enough science and engineering to make them at least sound plausible. Because this is the final book in the Space Odyssey series, you know the mysterious monoliths aren’t yet finished with humans or the lifeforms they’ve decided to prod on Jupiter’s moon Europa. Even though the book is now fifteen years old, I hesitate to say much more, lest I spoil the ending, but I will say that Clarke does reveal more about the nature of the monoliths, what happened to Dave Bowman and Hal, but keeps the makers of the monoliths somewhat enigmatic.

Overall, I like the fact that Clarke gave us a more satisfying conclusion to Frank Poole’s story, especially after spending so much time with the fate of Dave Bowman in the previous volumes. One of my favorite moments in the book has to do with Poole being a Star Trek fan who got to meet Leonard Nimoy and Patrick Stewart. Of course, in real life, before 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gary Lockwood played Gary Mitchell, navigator of the USS Enterprise in the second pilot of Star Trek. So, he did meet Leonard Nimoy! Another nice feature of this novel is that he concludes with an extended afterward discussing the science and engineering he based the novel’s ideas on.

It was also fun to compare Clarke’s vision of the future to the future I imagine in my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. Like Clarke’s novel, mine is set a thousand years in the future. My future isn’t a utopian one and it struck me after reading Tales of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, which is set a full 10,000 years in the future, that my vision is somewhere between the two. The one thing we all have in common is that we’ve all been inspired by real scientific ideas. You can learn more about my Space Pirates’ Legacy series at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#pirate_legacy

2061: Odyssey Three

I first saw the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey at my local library in San Bernardino, California. I’m pretty certain it would have been in 1978 and the screening was a celebration of the film’s 10th anniversary. I would have been about 12 years old and very much still in the thrall of Star Wars, which debuted just a year earlier. The movie captivated me with it’s plausible depiction of space travel and it challenged me with the idea that aliens could have tinkered with life on Earth. I still remember Heywood Floyd making a video call to his daughter from orbit and I still find it amazing that by 2008, I would be making video calls regularly home from the remote observatory where I work. The movie’s ending baffled me. Sure, I got that it was the aliens continuing their experiment on humans, but I was a very literal-minded kid and found the psychedelic imagery a little much for my taste. I wanted to know what the aliens were subjecting David Bowman to. So, almost immediately, I turned to Arthur C. Clarke’s novel, written more-or-less in conjunction with the movie. The novel didn’t really give me any clear-cut answers, but I felt more satisfied that I understood what the movie had shown me. Over the next year or so, the book and movie took on special meaning for me. Their plausible depiction of science, helped to start me on the path to actually being a scientist.

Because the book and film together held a special place for me, I ran right out and bought the hardcover of 2010: Odyssey Two when it came out in hardcover in 1982 and I saw the 1984 film almost immediately upon release. While neither sequel quite had the gravitas of the original, I still enjoyed both. By 1987, when 2061: Odyssey Three came out, I was well on my way to an undergraduate physics degree with little time for new novels, so I let it pass me by. Over the next year, some friends told me they didn’t like it as well as the previous two novels, so it never really became a priority for my reading list. A couple of weeks ago, though, I happened to notice that the ebook was available at a discount and decided to see what I had missed.

If one views 2001: A Space Odyssey as the story of humans discovering that aliens had a hand in their evolution and 2010: Odyssey Two as the story of what actually happened to astronaut David Bowman and what the aliens next had up their collective sleeves, then 2061: Odyssey Three is basically an adventure story about humans living in the world set up in the previous novels. While we don’t get a lot of new information about the aliens, we do get some interesting speculation about them.

In 2061: Odyssey Three, Heywood Floyd is still alive and has the opportunity to travel to Comet Halley as it makes its next sojourn through the inner solar system. Meanwhile, Floyd’s grandson is serving as second officer aboard a ship exploring the moons around the star Lucifer, which was formerly the planet Jupiter. As they approach the moon Europa, which now has liquid water on its surface, the purser hijacks the ship and forces them to land. In the process, the ship crashes into the Europan ocean. The danger here is that the aliens warned humans not to land on Europa at the end of 2010: Odyssey Two. As it turns out, the ship Heywood Floyd is on, is the ship in the best position to rescue the ship on Europa. All in all, I found it a fine adventure tale with some interesting speculation about comets, planets, and the life we might find on Jovian moons. There was one annoying detail in that the purser who hijacks the ship is given two different last names without explanation and I suspect Clarke just changed her name and the editor didn’t catch it. Beyond this simple error, this book again lacked the gravitas of the original film and novel, but it was still fun to revisit this world and read this adventure story with its roots in real science. Also, now that 2001 and 2010 are both in the past, it was fun to look forward again to a year that hasn’t happened yet. Hopefully, I’ll get to see 2061 and see what the world is like when Comet Halley returns for real.

Clarke’s Space Odyssey series captivated me with the idea of humans crossing the solar system to solve a mystery. That basic idea served as a template for my novel The Solar Sea about humans traveling to Titan to find the source of particles that can apparently manipulate time. You can learn more about my novel at: http://davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html

Stepping into Space

I’ve created a second list of recommended books at shepherd.com, a book discovery site where authors recommend favorite books based on a particular topic. Space is a topic near and dear to my heart. We’ve put many satellites in orbit. Humans work in orbit. We’ve been to the moon for just a few short years at the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s and we’ve sent robotic probes to planets in the solar system. So, I often find myself asking, what is the next big step into space and these books address different aspects of that question.

You can find the list at: https://shepherd.com/best-books/humans-taking-the-next-big-step-into-space

As a kid, I watched the later moon landings, the Skylab missions, and Apollo-Soyuz even as I discovered shows like Star Trek on television. Voyager flew by Jupiter and Saturn as the Star Wars movies were being released. In my mind, space exploration and science fiction go hand-in-hand. That said, as I’ve progressed in my career as both a scientist and a science fiction writer, it’s become clear that science fiction often makes exploring space look easy. It looks like visiting Mars is as easy as walking next door. In fact, space is very dangerous and even the distances to our closest neighbor planets are vast. We don’t even have technology that would guarantee a robot probe’s safe arrival at the nearest star, much less a human-occupied spacecraft. We have a lot of ideas and people have been working on those ideas, but that’s very different than just being able to pack your bags and go.

Though four of these books delve into the technical challenges of space travel, the set as a whole is less about those challenges and more about why humans are drawn outward toward the stars and what they might learn about themselves there. “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey,” is a familiar saying and, in a sense, all of these books address that. I know people who express concerns about exploring space before we fix the problems of our home planet. I sympathize with that because, so far, Earth is the only planet we know we can live on. However, I’ve also believed we as a species can fix the problems we face on Earth while also striving toward the stars. Doing one doesn’t preclude the other.

I also know people who are concerned about humans destroying other worlds and civilizations with our colonial ambitions and corporate greed. Again, this is a legitimate concern and the books on my list don’t tend to shy away from those issues. They also acknowledge there’s a lot of space to traverse and many technical challenges to overcome before we get to that point. Hopefully, as we make those steps, we can learn to do better. It’s also distinctly possible that if we meet another space-faring race, they’ll easily have the upper hand because they’ve been out there longer than us. Hopefully they’ll be wiser than us as well!

Do you have a favorite book about next steps in exploring space? Let me know in the comments. Meanwhile you can learn more about my book about humans taking a next big step into the solar system at: http://davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html

Risk and Exploration

Almost two months ago, I discussed the anime series Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut. The link in the previous sentence will take you to the original post, so you can read about the anime and learn more about the plot. The anime was based on a light novel series. Last month, I picked up the first volume of the series for my Kindle. Because the light novel and the anime are so strongly based on the Soviet Space Program, I took the opportunity to refresh my memory of that period using my handy copy of the Haynes Soyuz manual, which I’d purchased in 2019 at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas. All in all, it made an enjoyable deep dive into both the history of space flight and an exploration of storytelling techniques.

Haynes Soyuz Manual and Irina the Vampire Cosmonaut light novel

Over the years, I’ve read numerous novels that have been made into movies along with several movie novelizations. That said, this marks the first time I’ve read a Japanese light novel that was adapted into an anime. Overall, the anime adapted the light novel almost scene for scene and beat for beat. The main thing I noticed is that the first novel only covers about half the series. So, presumably, the second half of the series is based on the second novel. I’ll have to wait until October to confirm that! There were a few minor details in the novel that I didn’t remember in the anime, but I’d have to go back and rewatch the anime to make sure they actually weren’t there, or if I just missed them in a casual watch.

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut was interesting from a narrative perspective. It told its story strictly from two points of view. One was reserve cosmonaut candidate Lev Leps, who trains the vampire Irina. The other viewpoint belonged to Irina herself. Lev’s point of view is by far the predominant one in novel, with Irina’s viewpoint providing a small counterpoint to Lev’s at the end of each chapter.

Both the light novel and the anime focus a lot of their time on Irina’s training for her rocket flight. This was where the Haynes guide proved interesting. I learned that the training regimen described in Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut is a reasonably accurate depiction of the Soviet training regimen. Isolation training played an important part in the novel and anime as well as real life. As it turns out, the isolation tank used by the Soviets had a high oxygen content and I learned that one real-life cosmonaut died in a flash fire in the test booth in a way similar to the Apollo 1 astronauts in the United States.

There’s an inherent drama in the conflict between pushing forward to achieve a goal but analyzing all the risks to do something as safely as possible. I used that when I wrote my novel The Solar Sea about the first solar sail voyage across the solar system. I would argue that the Quinn family, who build the solar sail in my novel, push a little too hard for their goal. Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut does a good job of showing how the Soviets also pushed very hard to beat the Americans in various space milestones, arguably taking dangerous risks along the way. That said, I strongly sympathize with the idea that it’s sometimes necessary to take risks to achieve great things. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to look at Russia’s history without thinking about current events. Invading another sovereign nation is most definitely not a great ambition for any country and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has harmed international cooperation in space, which I’d argue has been far more beneficial to the planet than the 60s “space race” ever was.

One thing I enjoyed about the novel is that author Keisuke Makino has an afterward where he discusses his inspirations for writing the light novel. He mentioned that he was intrigued by the idea of taking a fantasy character like a vampire and putting them into a space setting. It’s true, that I can’t think of another book that has vampires involved in the early space programs of either the United States or the Soviet Union, but the ideas of vampires being drawn to space and the stars is one I’ve long found fascinating. In fact, my 2010 story “Anemia” about a vampire boarding a colony ship for the stars to escape the Earth’s sun is now reprinted in the first issue of The Hungur Chronicles. Even before I wrote that story, my Scarlet Order vampires dreamed of going to space in Vampires of the Scarlet Order.

You can get the light novel Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut from Seven Seas Entertainment: https://sevenseasentertainment.com/books/irina-the-vampire-cosmonaut-light-novel-vol-1/

My short story “Anemia” is in the first issue of The Hungur Chronicles: https://www.hiraethsffh.com/product-page/hungur-chronicles-walpurgisnacht-edited-by-terrie-leigh-relf-and-robert-bellam

You can learn more about my novels at: http://www.davidleesummers.com

Deal on Science Fiction Novels

The annual Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale is underway. It gets its name because where I live in the northern hemisphere, readers are loading up their e-readers for great beach reading and vacations. In the southern hemisphere, it’s the middle of winter and people are spending time in a warm and cozy place reading. All of Hadrosaur’s titles are available at deep discounts this month and I’ll be highlighting them all month long here at the Web Journal. If you’re looking for a specific title, you don’t have to wait for me to highlight it, just visit http://www.hadrosaur.com/bookstore.php and click on the book you’re interested in. On its page is a link to Smashwords if its available there. The coupon codes for these discounts are automatically applied at checkout. One of the things I love about Smashwords is that they provide ebooks in all popular formats and they’re DRM free, so you can download them to your favorite device.

Today I wish to present a pair of science fiction novels. The first is a thought-provoking novel I was pleased to edit written by Don Braden. The second is my story set in the near future which imagines a voyage to Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn aboard a solar sail spacecraft, especially apt since the Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 craft has just celebrated its third anniversary.

On its way to a distant colony world, the space vessel Marco P loses all power and an unknown force convinces the navigator that a distant, dead world is the vessel’s true destination. Commander Malcolm Carpenter orders the crew to abandon ship to protect them and to learn how to defeat whatever force has intercepted his ship. The crew discovers a small group of inhabitants, the only people on the planet who were not uploaded into a vast computer network—a computer network captivated by upstart humans and their imaginations. To free his crew and his navigator from the planetary network’s grip, Commander Carpenter must face a moral dilemma. Can he save his crew without condemning a planet’s inhabitants and their digital ancestors to death?

Get Upstart Mystique for 75% off the cover price at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1010602

In The Solar Sea, whales around the world changed their songs the day scientists announced the discovery of powerful new particles around Saturn’s largest moon which could solve Earth’s energy needs. The Quinn Corporation rushes to build a solar sail space craft to unlock the secrets of these strange new particles. They gather the best and brightest to pilot the ship: Jonathan Jefferson, an aging astronaut known as the last man on Mars; Natalie Freeman, a distinguished Navy captain; Myra Lee, a biologist who believes the whales are communicating with Saturn; and John O’Connell, the technician who first discovered the particles. Charting the course is the mysterious Pilot who seems determined to keep secrets from the rest of the crew. Together they make a grand tour of the solar system and discover not only wonders but dangers beyond their imagination.

T. Jackson King, the author of Battlestar and Star Glory says, “This story follows the private space industry exploration of the Moon and becomes a kind of Voyage of the Beagle as the solar sail ship Aristarchus visits Mars, Jupiter, then Saturn and its giant moon Titan … Highly enjoyable read. Highly recommended.”

Get the book for 75% off the cover price at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/805692

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut

As a writer and an avid reader, I find myself subscribed to the newsletters for several publishers. One of those is Seven Seas Entertainment, which translates Japanese manga and light novels into English. In their latest newsletter, they mentioned a forthcoming light novel which caught my eye simply because of the title: Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut. According to Seven Seas, the novel tells the story of how a space race between two global superpowers led to the “Nosferatu Project.” After sending dogs into space, one of the superpowers decides to send vampires into space before sending humans. This seemed right up my alley! Effectively it’s an atompunk alternate history with vampires. After a little more searching, I discovered the light novel series inspired an anime of the same name and the anime had recently been released in the United States via Funimation.

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut

In the world of this story, the space race is between the Zirnitra Union of the East and the United Kingdom of Arnack in the West. The reason these countries arose instead of the superpowers we know from our history is never discussed. The UZSR has a red flag with snakes. The United Kingdom has a flag with stars and stripes, so it’s not hard to guess who stands in for whom. This world also contains vampires who live predominantly in Eastern Europe. These vampires aren’t the monsters of our mythology, but simply another race of people who happen to be sensitive to sunlight, have pointed ears, and sharp teeth. They eat normal food, but they can gain an energy boost from drinking blood. It’s almost as though Neanderthals survived into the modern world. In the alternate world of the anime, the vampire legends arose as a kind of propaganda to stir hatred and revulsion of vampire kind, and to justify invasions into their lands. It becomes a rather clever way to discuss hatred and bigotry without invoking the all-too-numerous examples we can draw from our real history.

In 1960, the UZSR recruits a vampire to be trained as a cosmonaut. This vampire is the Irina Luminesk of the title. She’s to be trained by Lev Leps, a reserve cosmonaut candidate. Lev was supposed to be one of the regular cosmonaut candidates except that he has a temper and attacked a man who abused one of his fellow cosmonaut candidates. The anime follows Irina’s training along with Lev and Irina’s growing affection for one another. As a fan of the world’s space programs, I found it delightful to see space craft based on early Soviet designs, rather than the oft seen American designs. Characters in the story seem to have historical parallels as well. Party Chairman Fyodor Gergiev is clearly based on Nikita Khrushchev. Lev Leps is basically Yuri Gagarin and his chief rival Mikhail seems based on Gherman Titov. One fun thing I noticed is that while the writing on shops and containers in the anime appears to be in Cyrillic script, the words are actually in English.

Of course, the vampire Irina is the focus of the show. We watch as she trains to be every bit as capable as the human cosmonaut candidates, even when many of the scientists testing and training her buy into the superstitions about vampires. I found myself cheering as she overcame her fear of heights to master parachuting. Given that she’s treated as an animal by many of the scientists and politicians, there’s a real tension about whether or not she’ll survive her first space flight and I won’t spoil things by saying whether or not she does.

It’s a shame this anime came out so close to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I suspect many will shun it because of a perceived connection with Russia even though I suspect no such connection actually exists. In some ways, the series is actually rather critical of the Soviets and their treatment of those countries they took control of. What’s more, one of the themes of the anime is that people can change and become better. In a very real way, it reflects the spirit of Yuri Gagarin who said, “Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!”

I enjoyed the anime enough that I decided to pre-order the light novel so I can get to know the characters better. It will be released on June 23. While waiting for the light novel’s release, you can check out my vampire novels at http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Neutrinos and the Day After Tomorrow

In Episode 178 of the Gerry Anderson Podcast, Chris Dale featured the film The Day After Tomorrow on his Randomizer segment. This is not the 2004 film about climate change. Instead, it was a 1975 segment of an American after school series called Special Treat, which offered educational programming aimed at teenagers. It appeared soon afterward on the BBC. The show was produced by Gerry Anderson and starred Nick Tate, Joanna Dunham, and Brian Blessed. The show was produced between seasons one and two of Space: 1999 and it shares models and props with the television show. One of the show’s goals was to introduce kids to Einstein’s theory of special relativity. Anderson apparently had the notion that he might turn this into a series, so wrote it in such a way that more episodes could follow the special.

I was intrigued by Dale’s discussion of the show on the podcast, so decided to seek it out. The episode is available on the DVD The Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson, along with several other one-shot gems produced by Anderson. The Day After Tomorrow reminded me of what Lost in Space might have been like without the Robot or Dr. Smith. Two families travel in a near light-speed craft to Alpha Centauri and beyond. Of course, this becomes our “vehicle” for discussing the effects of special relativity. Nick Tate, best known as Alan Carter in Space: 1999, is the captain and he travels with his daughter. Brian Blessed and Joanna Dunham play a husband and wife scientist team with a son. Like the Robinson kids in the early episodes of Lost in Space, these kids are smart, but manage to avoid crossing over into the annoying territory that kids in science fiction shows have been known to do. Since this is 1975 and well before Brian Blessed became known for “Gordon’s Alive!” in Flash Gordon, he delivers a subdued and believable performance as a scientist.

While I was prepared to see the cast to discuss the wonders of Einstein’s theories, there was a moment that truly surprised me about two-thirds of the way into the show. Joanna Dunham’s character, Dr. Anna Bowen, is observing a red giant star when she warns that she’s detecting “massive neutrino emissions from the red sun.” A moment later, the sun explodes into a supernova! As it turns out, the notion that a supernova would be preceded by a neutrino burst is a theory proposed by my graduate advisor, Dr. Stirling Colgate, in a 1966 paper. This theory would finally be demonstrated in 1987 when a neutrino burst was detected just before Supernova 1987A was observed.

Stirling Colgate at the Digitized Astronomy Observatory after the detection of neutrinos from Supernova 1987A

It’s hard to look at the special and say that it was full of groundbreaking or mind-blowing science. Mostly it seemed like a fun, action adventure show that tossed in some tidbits about special relativity. Still, writer Johnny Byrne had done some homework in astronomy to know that it had been theorized that a neutrino burst would precede a supernova explosion. As a science fiction writer, I know story and character come first, but I really do appreciate a moment like this when I see a writer going the extra mile to understand his subject matter.

The Conquest of the Moon

When most people today think of nineteenth century French science fiction, I suspect the first name that comes to mind is Jules Verne. However, he wasn’t the only writer who speculated about extraordinary journeys around the world or to other worlds. While doing research for the panel “From Jules Verne to Jacques Tardi” which I presented with James Keeline at Gaslight Steampunk Expo earlier this month, I came across the works of André Laurie. Like Jules Verne, Laurie was published by Pierre-Jules Hetzel. André Laurie was the pen-name of Jean Grousset, a politician and journalist. Laurie even “collaborated” with Verne on three novels. I put that in quotes because some experts believe that Laurie wrote the works and Hetzel asked Verne to rewrite them for publication.

One of André Laurie’s most interesting works is called Les Exilés de la Terre – Selene-Company Limited, which is usually translated as The Conquest of the Moon. Published in 1889, it tells the story of an astronomer named Norbert Mauny who leads an expedition to a mountain rich in iron ore in the Sudan to use as the base of a powerful electromagnet which he will use pull the moon to the Earth, so that people can cross over at ease, explore, mine, and colonize. It turns out, this whole plan was started by a group of hucksters who tried to trick people into investing in a lunar colonizing expedition. However, the hucksters had no idea how to pull it off. Mauny convinced the investors of his plan and builds the magnet. As he’s working, a faction of Sudanese are planning to overthrow the European colonizers and they surround Mauny’s observatory with its solar-powered electromagnet. Despite this, Mauny finishes construction and succeeds in pulling the moon to the Earth, only to have the mountain that houses his facility ripped from the Earth and dropped onto the moon. The moon then drifts back out to it’s orbit leaving Mauny and the people with him stranded.

Now, pulling the moon to the Earth sounds like an exceedingly bad idea. In reality this would create a terrible cataclysm. In the novel, he only succeeds in ripping the one mountain from the Earth, raising the tides for a few days and covering Europe in clouds. Though I had to suspend my disbelief a lot for this part of the plot, the rest of the novel presents an interesting look at exploring the moon. Of some note, early in the novel, it’s supposed that the events of Jules Verne’s From the Earth to Moon have already occurred. Once our characters reach the moon, they discover an atmosphere so thin they can’t breathe, so they have to go out with air tanks. Laurie imagines everyone on the moon hopping like kangaroos because of the low gravity and there’s an interesting discussion about how the gravitation of a body would impact the creatures that would evolve on that body. He also notes the temperature extremes that come from the long days and long nights in the “thin” atmosphere.

All in all, The Conquest of the Moon was a fun read. I especially liked how our protagonist was an astronomer who was given a romantic subplot. I could see some of the ideas in this book being given a fun steampunk twist for a more modern story that better understands the nature of the moon, or what would happen if you tried to draw it near.

The edition of The Conquest of the Moon I read was edited by artist and writer, Ron Miller perhaps best known for his 1981 collaboration with William K. Hartmann, The Grand Tour. I was pleased to discover that Miller has edited an entire series of early science fiction novels for Baen which he called “The Conquest of Space” series. All are still available as ebooks. My only complaint with this edition was that it appeared to be scanned using Optical Character Recognition technology, so some characters were misinterpreted and the book wasn’t given a proofread after conversion. Despite that, I enjoyed the book and especially enjoyed Miller’s essay at the end about the growth of science in science fiction through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. You can find the Conquest of Space series along with other books Ron Miller has written and edited at: https://www.baen.com/allbooks/category/index/id/1849