What We Do in the Shadows

I wrote about the movie What We Do in the Shadows on my Scarlet Order blog over seven years ago. Since then, there have been four seasons of the television series inspired by the movie on the FX network. On the Scarlet Order blog, I mentioned that I can be skeptical of horror comedies because they often end up being campy or silly. What We Do in the Shadows proved to be a pleasant surprise. There was good comic timing and you could sense the love the filmmakers had for the genre they were poking fun at. The upshot is that you felt like the people who made the film were laughing with fellow vampire fans at the genre’s tropes, rather than making fun of vampire fans. I was also a little hesitant to dive into the TV series for the same reason. I was concerned that a TV adaptation would go for cheap laughs and corny gags over thoughtful, albeit funny writing. I finally sat down to watch the first three seasons last year and I just finished the fourth season and I’m glad to say my concerns were, for the most part, unfounded.

Like the original movie, the television series What We Do in the Shadows follows a group of vampire roommates. Although set in the same world as the movie, the series is set in a different location and we follow different vampires. The movie was set in New Zealand. Now we’re in Staten Island, New York. The original movie followed a mocumentary format. The TV series takes more a reality-show format with a camera crew following our vampires through their night-to-night lives.

The roommates are Nandor the Relentless played by Kayvan Novak. At one point, he was the leader of a principality in southern Iran and a fierce warrior. 760 years later, he’s the self-appointed head of the household. His familiar, Guillermo de la Cruz played by Harvey Guillén is the only human in the group. Guillermo’s one desire is to become a vampire, but it turns out he has a family secret that puts him at odds with that goal. Living in the house with Nandor are husband and wife Laszlo Cravensworth and Nadja of Antipaxos played by Matt Berry and Natasia Demetriou. Demetriou also plays the ghost of Nadja, who started wandering the earth when Nadja became a vampire. She now possesses a doll. Rounding out the roommates is Mark Proksch as Colin Robinson, an energy vampire who makes most of the money for the household by working at dull office jobs.

Over the four years of the series so far, it’s continued to poke fun at vampire tropes alongside the trials and tribulations of people sharing a house. Still, the series delivers characters we care about. Nandor, for example, sees himself as a great, verile lover who can seduce anyone. However, he actually has rather poor luck in the romance department and we sympathize with him because Novak gives him an air of vulnerability. Nadja and Laszlo make power plays in the vampire world and start money making schemes, playing on those familiar tropes, but we discover they’re not very good at those ventures. They bicker, but there’s a feeling that the two really care about each other. In many ways, Guillermo is the show’s heart as the longsuffering human who just wants to be recognized for his loyalty but feels ignored by those he serves.

Does it always work? Some episodes are better than others. Some jokes play better than others. Still, for a TV series in its fourth season, it’s held up and been consistently a fun watch that remembers to tell a good story.

My vampire fiction isn’t comedy, but I think humor is an important element in horror or serious supernatural fiction. It helps to break the tension and it helps us relate to the characters and care about them. Because of that, I like seeing humor done well. Good comedy gives us enough drama to increase the stakes, so to speak. Good drama needs a little humor to help you relate in the same way. You can learn more about my vampire fiction at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Full Steam Ahead

Over the last few years, one of the bestselling anthologies on the Hadrosaur Productions convention table is Gaslight and Grimm, a collection of steampunk fairy tales published by eSpec Books. I had a blast writing the story “The Steam-Powered Dragon” for that collection, which was a steampunk retelling of a lesser-known Grimm Fairy Tale, “The Dragon and his Grandmother.” Back in 2020, the editor, Danielle Ackley-McPhail asked if I would be interested in steampunking another fairy tale. I was definitely game. She told me the new anthology would be Grimm Machinations and the stories must feature a maker or some form of political machinations, or both. One of the suggested stories for the anthology was “Snow White.” Danielle mentioned she thought “Snow White” might be a stretch for this anthology’s themes. However, I love a challenge and this was a story I had translated from German back in college, plus I had the German edition of the tales, which included the Grimm Brothers’ original notes. I totally saw “Snow White” as a story that contained elements of both makers and political machinations. I began some tinkering of my own and soon “The Porcelain Princess” was born. While waiting to hear more about Danielle’s plans for this anthology, plans for a convention started to take shape.

Long time con-goers, vendors, and entertainers, Donna McClaren, aka The Baroness Alexandra, and Kolleen Kilduff from Design by Night Designs noted a lack of Steampunk festivals in the Baltimore area. Hence, Baltimore’s first Steampunk Convention, Tell-Tale Steampunk Festival was born. It is a weekend-long event and will feature workshops, vendors, entertainment, music, and educational panels. Tell-Tale Steampunk will draw its inspiration and theme from authors each year and plans on having a more hands-on/participation experience for festival goers. This year’s theme is based on the writings of Baltimore’s own Edgar Allan Poe and will feature a volume of stories based on the corax family (a nod to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”), as well as an interactive game to accompany the stories of our feather heroes. The main focus is audience participation and interaction. You can learn more about the convention at https://telltalesteampunk.com/

While I was vacationing in the Grand Canyon this past summer, I received an email from Danielle Ackley-McPhail about this anthology. Being at the canyon, I was literally surrounded by ravens. What’s more, several scenes of my novel Owl Dance were set at the Grand Canyon. I began to think about Professor Maravilla arriving at the canyon and seeing all the ravens. I also learned more about early geologists who had an eye on exploiting the canyon’s mineral wealth. All of those ideas came together to form the story “Dreams of Flight” which is now part of the game and part of the anthology A Cast of Crows.

But wait, as Ron Popiel used to say, there’s more! When this project started coming together, Danielle added a third book to the mix. This one is an anthology called Grease Monkeys: The Heart and Soul of Dieselpunk. Danielle and I discussed whether I might have a contribution to this anthology and I thought about my grandfather, who worked for the Santa Fe Railroad during the time when the railroads were transitioning from steam to diesel locomotives. I’ve also been fascinated by the history of narrow-gauge rail in the west, in part thanks to my university history professor who was a historian on one of the lines. I remembered how narrow-gauge railroads were particularly challenged by the change to diesel. Then I began to think about the outlaws of the era and I started to imagine Bonnie and Clyde as air pirates. It wasn’t long before I had a story about my grandfather fighting the famous outlaws over the mountain towns of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Soon, the story “The Falcon and the Goose” was born and after a solid rewrite based on editorial feedback, the story was added to the atnthology.

These anthologies include several authors I greatly admire and have worked with including Michelle D. Sonnier, Patrick Thomas, Christine Norris and John L. French. If you love retrofuturistic stories, or if you’re just curious about the whole steampunk and dieselpunk thing, this is a great place to dive in and find some great stories. The project has already funded, but please keep supporting. There are some great rewards for supporting the Kickstarter and if the project earns enough money, eSpec Books will create hardcover editions, which I’d love to see. Help us reach our goals and make all three of these books happen by supporting us at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/e-specbooks/full-steam-ahead

Dracula Cha Cha Cha

As we march into this new year, I’ve been continuing my exploration of vampire novels and movies while working on my novel Ordeal of the Scarlet Order. Today, I’m taking a look at Dracula Cha Cha Cha, which is the third novel in Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula series. Originally released as Judgment of Tears, this novel is set in 1959 Rome where Dracula is planning a high profile wedding. Vampire reporter Kate Reed, who has appeared in many of the other Anno Dracula novels, has traveled to Rome to report on the event. She’s immediately swept into the entourage of an elder vampire and his “niece,” an actress named Malenka. In recent weeks, a mysterious figure known as the Crimson Avenger has been murdering vampires and sure enough he strikes at the end of Kate’s first night in Rome. The Crimson Avenger kills the elder vampire and Malenka. Kate is the only witness and she hopes to solve the mystery.

Kate is also in town to say farewell to her human friend, Charles Beauregard, who is being tended through his last days by the vampire elder Geneviève Dieudonné. Geneviève gets swept into the mystery along with Kate. It also turns out that a British spy called Bond is on the trail of the Crimson Avenger. I was especially amused that Newman notes that Danny Dravot of both his earlier novels and Rudyard Kipling’s novella The Man Who Would be King is the one who turned Bond into a vampire. What’s more, he notes Bond and Dravot bear a superficial resemblance. Movie fans might recall that Sean Connery portrayed Danny Dravot in John Huston’s adaptation of the story as well as his more famous role as James Bond.

Once again, Kim Newman gives us a solid, suspenseful mystery with references to numerous cinematic vampires. In other novels and stories featuring long-lived and immortal characters, a lot is made of these characters outliving people they’ve grown to love. In this novel, Kate, Geneviève, and their vampire acquaintance Penelope Churchward must face the ultimate demise of Charles Beauregard even as the spymaster who has appeared in many of these novels helps them put many of the puzzle piece in place. It helps to ground the novel and give it emotional weight I’ve found lacking in some of those other stories.

The Titan Books edition of Dracula Cha Cha Cha also includes a novella set in 1968 called Aquarius. Again, Kate Reed is involved in a murder mystery. In 1960s Britain, vampires and humans have learned to coexist, so it comes as a shock when a human girl is drained dry by a vampire. Kate soon uncovers clues that point to a nearby university which admits both human and vampire students. Again, it’s a solid mystery and well resolved.

In addition to the two stories, Newman walks us through many of his cinematic influences. This is a nice feature, since it gives me some new movies to seek out.

I was amused that in the lead-up to Dracula’s wedding, many of the characters were dancing to a song called the “Dracula Cha Cha.” As I read the book, I thought Kim Newman had made it up. It turns out it’s a real song recorded by Bruno Martino in 1959 and you can find numerous cover versions of the song. I definitely need to add the song to my vampire song playlist.

Clearly, I would recommend Dracula Cha Cha Cha to vampire fans who like a good mystery. If you’d also like to get ready for my forthcoming novel, you can learn about the Scarlet Order vampire novels at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Snow, Glass, Apples

The fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” has fascinated me ever since I translated the story for a German literature class back in my university days. Since that time, I published a translation of the story in an issue of Tales of the Talisman Magazine. I then wrote a piece of flash fiction that imagined a vampiric version of Snow White called “The Tale of Blood Red” which appeared in the anthology Blood Sampler. Most recently, I gave Snow White a steampunk treatment and placed the story with the forthcoming anthology Grimm Machinations.

On a recent trip to a bookstore, I found the 2019 graphic novel Snow, Glass, Apples written by Neil Gaiman with art by Colleen Doran. Reading the back and then browsing the interior, I soon discovered this was also a retelling of Snow White. Not only that, it looked like Snow White was portrayed as a vampire. Of course, I picked up the book right away. In this case, the fairy tale is told from the point of view of Snow White’s stepmother, the queen. We learn that the former king went to the woods and fell in love with a beautiful young woman after his wife had died. The king marries the young woman and brings her home. There, she discovers his vampire daughter, who mostly keeps to herself. Over time, the king fades and dies, which is how the young woman becomes queen. She sees Snow White for the danger she is, orders her heart cut out and her body taken to the woods. The years pass, but fewer and fewer people cross the woods to visit the spring fair. Looking in her scrying mirror, the queen realizes that Snow White is still alive. When people enter the woods, she attacks and kills them. The queen sets a plan in motion to save her land and the fair from Snow White. She’ll create blood-laced poison apples for her stepdaughter.

You might wonder how Neil Gaiman and I would independently come up with the idea of a vampire Snow White. I would argue many of the ingredients are right there in the fairy tale. In the original, Snow White’s mother pricks her fingers and sees the blood drop onto a snow-covered, ebony window frame. She wishes for a child with skin white as snow, lips red as blood, and hair black as ebony. Also, in the original story, Snow White’s stepmother succeeds in killing Snow White three times, only to have Snow White return from the dead each time. When Snow White dies the third time, the dwarfs place her in a glass coffin and the prince at the end wakes her, not with a kiss, but having his bumbling entourage drop the coffin, dislodging the poisoned apple piece. And, there’s also the bit near the opening where the wicked queen wants to destroy Snow White’s heart. It’s not a big leap to go from the story as commonly read to the idea of Snow White being a magical, undead creature.

It turns out Snow, Glass, Apples is actually based on a 1994 short story by Gaiman. The story along with Colleen Doran’s art has a distinctly erotic feel. This may feel like a departure from a classic fairy tale, but again, it has roots in the original story. I’m fortunate enough to have a German copy of Grimms’ tales which include notes by the Grimm brothers. They mention that some versions of the story do relay not just the wish of Snow White’s mother, but tell the story of Snow White’s conception during a sleigh ride.

I was glad to discover Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran’s Snow, Glass, Apples. The story is an interesting twist on the original and Doran’s art is lush and gorgeous, adding to Gaiman’s story. The graphic novel was published by Dark Horse Books and you should be able to find copies online or at your local bookstore. The original story appears in Gaiman’s collection Smoke and Mirrors.

My translation of “Snow White” appeared in Tales of the Talisman, volume 2, issue 2, which is sadly out of print. My vampire story, “The Tale of Blood Red” is available in Blood Sampler, which you can pick up here: https://www.hiraethsffh.com/product-page/blood-sampler-by-david-lee-summers-lee-clark-zumpe

My steampunk story “The Porcelain Princess” will appear in Grimm Machinations from eSpec Books. Although that version of Snow White isn’t a vampire, I still explore some of the darker, spookier aspects of the character. The Kickstarter for the book should be launching soon. I’ll be sure to keep people posted.

The Last Adventure

Jodie Whittaker’s final Doctor Who adventure debuted at the end of October 2022. Throughout the series, the episode where a Doctor regenerates is often of the most powerful of that actor’s tenure. “The Power of the Doctor” was a great case in point, giving the Doctor an opportunity to confront her past and bringing back several companions Doctor Who’s classic era. Unfortunately, in Doctor Who history, there was one actor who was never given a proper final episode and that was the sixth Doctor, played by Colin Baker.

Colin Baker’s era on Doctor Who was plagued by several related problems. The top people at the BBC had lost interest in Doctor Who. Because of that, the show runner, John Nathan-Turner, was spending more time fighting to keep the show on the air than actually running the show. When I go back and watch Colin Baker’s episodes, I get the sense that the writers had a lot of talent but were writers who really needed strong editorial guidance. Unfortunately, because of the issues with the BBC, that guidance really wasn’t there and Doctor Who is a show that needs top notch writing and a good editorial vision to work. In the end, the BBC dictated changes in the show, which included a change of lead actor. Colin Baker basically decided he wouldn’t come back for a few minutes of screen time before his regeneration began. So, after Colin Baker’s last season, we start the next season with the Doctor in mid-regeneration and suddenly the Sylvester McCoy era began.

Colin Baker’s Doctor could be irascible, prickly and childish. The only problem is that the TV writers of his era tended to overplay those tendencies making him a challenging Doctor to like. Fortunately, Big Finish productions came along and gave us more adventures for the sixth Doctor. Stronger writers showed “Old Sixie” could also be heroic, fiercely loyal, and determined. In many ways, because of the episodes produced by Big Finish, the sixth Doctor’s era has become one of my favorites. In 2015, Big Finish decided to tackle one of the biggest challenges and write a fitting finale for the sixth Doctor. The result was “The Last Adventure.”

Title notwithstanding, “The Last Adventure” is actually four stories set at different times in the sixth Doctor’s tenure. Each adventure features a different companion. In “The End of the Line” the Doctor and Constance Clark find a train lost in the fog. When they attempt to find help, they find the same train at a different point in time. They soon find someone is breaking down the barriers between parallel universes. In “The Red House,” the Doctor and Charley Pollard end up on a world populated by werewolves. Except they really aren’t werewolves. These creatures are normally wolves who take on human aspects at certain times. In “Stage Fright,” the Doctor and Flip Jackson arrive in Victorian London only to find that a director is putting on plays about the Doctor’s regenerations. Finally, “The Brink of Death” brings us to the Doctor’s final days as he teams up with Melanie Bush only to find himself trapped in the Time Lord Matrix. The common denominator in all of these stories is that the Valeyard is involved.

We met the Valeyard in the sixth Doctor’s final TV season and we learn that he’s the amalgamation of all the Doctor’s darker tendencies all merged into one being sometime between his penultimate and final incarnation. The idea is that the Valeyard is playing a long game and in each story, the Doctor gets another piece of the puzzle until their final confrontation in “The Brink of Death.” I remember at the time “Trial of a Time Lord” was on TV, there were many fan discussions of how the Valeyard came to be. This story gives us an answer and without spoiling it, I thought it was a lovely bit of minimalist writing in that it gives us an answer in one sentence. It’s a great example of how something can be explained without pages of exposition.

I’m a big fan of the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. While there were some rough moments in his first season, I generally loved his tenure from the moment he’s captured by the Rani until he walks off in the sunset with Ace, and then has his amazing regeneration into Paul McGann in the TV movie. Still, I choked up a bit as it came time for “Old Sixie” to go. He met his end showing his best qualities. If you want to know the end of Colin Baker’s story, or even if you just want to sample him in stories from different eras of the Big Finish run, “The Last Adventure” is a great place to go. You can find it at: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/doctor-who-the-last-adventure-1212

Daniel the Vampire Astronomer

The first vampire story I sold was “Vampire in the City of Crosses,” which appeared in a 2001 issue of The Vampire’s Crypt edited by Margaret L. Carter. One of the things that brought that story to life was the character of Daniel the vampire astronomer. In the story, Daniel tells us about his history in two paragraphs:

“One cold night in 1899 I was walking from the dome of the 24-inch telescope to my sleeping quarters when I heard a low growl. Wary, I thought I’d stumbled upon a mountain lion. Seemingly, my fears were confirmed when something pounced on me in the darkness. I felt the teeth tear into my jugular and my own blood leave my body for the last time. The body on me was not covered in fur as I expected and it was not a mountain lion. It was more like a man. I was euphoric as the creature’s blood passed to my body. I became a vampire there in the snow, on a clear winter’s night on a hill outside Flagstaff.

“The vampire that attacked me taught me how to feed and how to sleep during the day so that others would not find me. Coffins come in handy, but I really do prefer a soft bed. He taught me the basics and little more. I’ve met only a few other vampires. We have conversed some, but for the most part we leave each other alone. We seem to be creatures of solitude. Maybe it’s just me but there are times I long for a new master.”

I adapted the short story “Vampire in the City of Crosses” into a chapter of my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. In the years since the novel’s publication, people have cited the idea of a vampire astronomer as one of the aspects that made them pick up the book. When I revised the book for Hadrosaur Productions in 2020 and hired Chaz Kemp to do the cover, he asked if one of the characters could be black. I realized I never specified Daniel’s ethnicity, so we agreed Daniel should be black. I added language to the new edition to affirm that choice and I believe it added a new dimension to the character.

Two years later, I’m working on a new Scarlet Order novel where I spend more time getting to know the vampires even better. I began to think about those two paragraphs describing Daniel’s origin and wondered what impact his ethnicity might have had on that story. I decided to flesh out Daniel’s origin into a full short story of its own, which is titled “The Older Worlds of Space” and it has just appeared in the Samhain 2022 issue of The Hungur Chronicles Magazine. The story’s title is a reference to The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, a tribute to the fact that Daniel McKee and Percival Lowell were observing Mars at the end of the nineteenth century.

The Hungur Chronicles focuses on vampires in or from outer space as well as those encountered on Earth. Published twice a year, on Walpurgisnacht and Samhain, it features stories, articles, illustrations, and poetry by new voices as well as familiar ones. In addition to my story, the issue contains a novelette by Tyree Campbell along with short stories by such folks as Kelly A. Harmon, Joe Whitlow, and Gary Davis. There are feature articles by Tales of the Talisman alumni Robert E. Porter and Gary Davis plus poems by such folks as Sandy DeLuca, Guy Belleranti, and Juleigh Howard-Hobson. As of this writing, I’m still reading the issue, but so far, the poem “Vampire Visit” by Guy Belleranti, the article “Severed Heads and Omens of Death: The Horror Origins of Halloween” by Gary Davis, and the story “The Cure is in the Blood” by JR Blanes are particular standouts for me. If you’re a vampire fan and looking for some new stories, be sure to check out The Hungur Chronicles.

You can pick up a copy of the current issue of The Hungur Chronicles at: https://www.amazon.com/Hungur-Chronicles-Samhain-2022/dp/1088075428/

Staring Into the Abyss

I am proud to announce that my brand new story “Horsefeathers” has just been released in the anthology Staring into the Abyss edited by Patrick Thomas and John L. French. The anthology is part of the Agents of the Abyss series, which author Edward J. McFadden III, author of Terror Peak, Crimson Falls, and Quick Sands describes this way: “Imagine Universal Monsters Meets James Bond and you’d have Agents of the Abyss.”

Staring Into the Abyss asks what if monsters were real? How would the existence of monsters play out on the international stage?

The anthology goes on to explore several specific scenarios, such as Amelia Earhart working for the US government on a mission to an island in the Bermuda Triangle where prehistoric life abounds. Sherlock Holmes teams up with his goddaughter Jane Watson and the simian head of DAT, France’s paranormal spy network, to stop a dangerous hybrid of monster and machine from destroying London. There’s Adam Frankenstein working in the German resistance to stop the Nazis from creating more of his kind from the bodies of their victims. During the Cold War, Baba Yaga and the Night Witches make a stealth attack on the King of Transyvania—Dracula. A very unusual assassin works the frigid waters of the Russian sea. The Invisible Madame tries to track down her son who was kidnapped by the British MI-7. And the legendary Phantom of the Opera, now a murderous body-stealing ghost and the top French operative, may have met his match in a teenage girl.

My story in the anthology is another story of Baba Yaga and the Night Witches. I imagine them on a mission for the USSR during the War in Afghanistan during the 1980s. In this case, Baba Yaga has learned that an artifact from the 1001 Nights might really exist and might give her more power than she already possesses. She sends her Night Witches on a mission to retrieve it. Yes, my story’s name was inspired by a Marx Brothers film, but this is serious business as we learn that horses don’t necessarily need feathers in order to fly.

The other stories in the anthology are written by Mattea Orr, John L. French, Patrick Thomas, Robert E. Waters, Lee O’Connell, Rowan Dillon, and Aleathia Drehmer.

If this idea intrigues you, then stand by. The series currently has at least five planned books. Some are novels and others are short story collections. I’ve already written a novelette for a forthcoming collection called “The Cuban Monster Crisis.” This one is set during one of the most dangerous points in the cold war when an ancient city is discovered off the Cuban coast where the world’s monsters might be controlled. Special Agent Justin Boudreaux has just been assigned to Admiral Theodore Roosevelt command to keep the Soviets from gaining an edge in the worldwide monster race. You say Theodore Roosevelt died in 1919 and didn’t live to see the Cold War? Well, maybe you were meant to think that.

The eBook edition is live as I write this post. The print edition is still coming available. Amazon’s ebook link below should point to both editions once the collection is live in printed form. The “print” link points to Barnes and Noble’s page for the print edition. If it shows as “Out of Stock” when you check, just make a note to check back in a couple of days to see if its available.

Lavender Castle

I enjoy listening to the Gerry Anderson podcast hosted by Gerry’s son, Jamie Anderson, along with Richard James and Chris Dale. the podcast discusses the television shows Gerry Anderson produced over a nearly 50-year career in television and includes such well known shows as Thunderbirds and Space: 1999. Chris Dale’s segment on the show is called “The Randomiser” and in it, he watches a random episode from a random Gerry Anderson show. In an episode a few weeks ago, he discussed a show called Lavender Castle, which I’d not heard of before.

Now, when I first heard the title, I pictured something very different from Gerry Anderson’s usual oeuvre of action shows, often with a science fictional element. To me, the title brought to mind princesses, ponies, and an idyllic fantasy land possibly under threat from a comical villain. While listing to the Randomiser, it became clear this was something different. I finally decided I needed to learn more about this show.

Lavender Castle tells the story of the crew of a space vessel called the Paradox, commanded by Captain Thrice, an elf-like grandfatherly being with an eye on his nose in addition to the two on either side. He’s accompanied by a sentient walking stick and a Scottish-accented engineer named Isembard. The Paradox is built like an English cottage with a thatch roof. In the first episode, they land aboard a pirate ship called the Cutting Snark, which floats in a magical glowing river between planets. There they rescue several would-be slaves and recruit them for their crew. The other crew members are a dog-like hero named Roger, a medical student named Lyca, who has butterfly wings, a robot called Sir Squeakalot, and Sproggle, a lovable, lizard-like goofball.

The mission of the Paradox is to prevent a villain named Dr. Agon and his minions from destroying the titular Lavender Castle, which is the source of light and goodness in the universe. Dr. Agon flies through the universe in a monstrous ship called the Dark Station and has an elephant-like landing craft called the Mammoth. Agon’s primary minion is a pterodactyl-like creature called Trump, and I’m especially amused that they all consider the name a horrible insult. Occasionally teaming up with Dr. Agon is the pirate Short Fred Ledd.

The character designs and premise are the brainchild of British illustrator Rodney Matthews, who I wasn’t familiar with. While his style is very much its own, it reminded me of Brian Froud’s illustration work, which inspired movies like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. The series ran for 26 10-minute episodes in 1999. Many of the episodes were scripted by Gerry Anderson himself. The show features a mix of stop motion and computer animation.

Given that the entire series has a run time of about four and a half hours, it’s an easy show to binge watch. I love stop motion animation and this was nicely done, especially for something that was produced on a television budget in the 1990s. They pack a lot of story into each 10-minute episode and I didn’t feel like I ran into too much repetitive material. Because the episodes are so short, we never get much back story for the characters.

I’ve always hated reviews that say something to the effect, “this show will bore adults, but it’s great for children.” Although children are very much the target audience, I found myself thoroughly enchanted by the show. My only complaints, particularly since this is a children’s show, are that almost all the characters are male and the characters can merrily breathe in space. Admittedly that latter point is something of a nitpick since these are clearly fantasy creatures existing in more of a magical realm than a scientific one, but I think a nod could have been given to the real world without slowing things down too much or sounding like a science lesson.

Several episodes are really top-notch. Favorites include: “Dueling Banjos” in which Captain Thrice must have a banjo duel with a crawfish-like swamp creature to get fuel for the Paradox; “Galactic Park” where the crew is lured to a theme park, but it proves to be an elaborate trap by Dr. Agon; and “Interface” where the Paradox responds to a distress call, only to be knocked out by sleeping gas and attacked by a giant mechanical spider. In that episode, Sir Squeakalot must find a way to save the crew by himself.

The entire series can currently be found on YouTube, but less because it’s legal to be there and more because no one is really enforcing the rights. The show was financed by Carrington Productions Incorporated, which was ultimately absorbed by Entertainment Rights Incorporated. Entertainment Rights was eventually purchased by Dreamworks Classics. I gather Anderson Entertainment is currently working on the rights issues with hopes of eventually producing a home video release and perhaps even some tie-in media. I hope they’re successful because this would be an amazing series to watch remastered on Blu-ray. While it may be little more than wishful thinking at this stage, I enjoyed this show so much, I would love to pitch a story for tie-in media if the opportunity ever arose.

While we’re waiting for a home video release of Lavender Castle, you can check out some of my whimsical and sometimes scary retrofuturistic fiction by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com

Battlestar Galactica

In the summer of 1978, I went with my parents to Ports O’ Call Village in San Pedro California. This was a shopping mall with curio shops and restaurants done up in the style of a New England fishing village. Eleven-year-old me was mostly bored by these excursions, but I perked up when we went into a hobby shop with some models that reminded me of Star Wars, which was still a relatively new thing. It turned out these were models for a new show called Battlestar Galactica, scheduled to debut that fall on television. They depicted a Colonial Viper and a Cylon Raider. My parents wouldn’t let me buy the models, but I did watch for the show and was captivated by its 24 episodes featuring Lorne Greene, Richard Hatch, and Dirk Benedict.

As it turns out, Battlestar Galactica would only bear some superficial resemblance to Star Wars through the space dogfights and robots that somewhat resembled chromium-plated Darth Vaders. Still, in those days before on-demand video, it was the closest thing I could get to reliving George Lucas’s 1977 film. As I’m sure most people reading this blog know, Battlestar Galactica tells the story of a group of robots called cylons who destroyed twelve worlds occupied by humans. The last living humans then went in search of a mysterious thirteenth colony called Earth, while pursued by the cylons. I did like the idea of a group of humans searching for the lost colony of Earth and I liked many of the characters. I also liked the almost mystical elements the show had, with angelic and demonic beings cropping up from time to time. That said, even eleven-year-old me had a hard time believing that noisy cylons with all their whirring sounds could sneak up on anyone and I wondered how the viper pilots were supposed to see with those lights around their helmets. Wouldn’t those reflect off the glass of their canopies and keep you from seeing the enemies?

In 2004, Ron Moore, known for his work on Star Trek: The Next Generation, would bring Battlestar Galactica back. This time, Edward James Olmos would play Commander Adama of the Galactica, most of the cylons we saw on screen looked human, and people wore contemporary neckties and spoke into analog phones. I liked this gritty new look. Unfortunately, the show came out at a time soon after I’d eschewed cable, so I only saw episodes here and there. Still, I liked the way this new show explored contemporary issues through a science fictional lens, gone were the helmet lights I didn’t like, and the human-like cylons seemed a bit scarier than the robots, precisely because you were never quite sure who exactly was and wasn’t a cylon.

Sitting at home during the 2020 pandemic, I finally had an excuse to start watching the 2004 Battlestar Galactica from beginning to end. I finally made it to the end a little over a week ago. Overall, I liked this new take. I liked the fact that it told a complete story and I like the nuts-and-bolts reality of it. I hesitate to say too much about the ending for anyone like me who has waited a while to watch the entire show. Still, most of it worked for me. Elements of it had a deus ex machina feel, but as I noted earlier, angelic and demonic forces have been part of the show since the original incarnation. I did feel those elements were there throughout the new version, though they could have been just a little stronger to better support the ending.

To me, both shows felt like they wanted to tell a story like a novel, but both were confined to the realities of episodic television. What’s more, from the special features on the 2004 Battlestar Galactica Blu-rays, it was clear they weren’t writing from an over-arcing outline. At best, they seemed to plot out a general direction from half-season to half-season. It mostly worked, but at times, it felt like the writers came up with more good ideas than they could satisfactorily resolve.

The original series always felt like it made a promise it never kept. It promised the Battlestar Galactica would find Earth. It kind of did in the Galactica 1980 series, but that 10-episode series never really lived up to the original. This time, I feel like the humans finally did find their way to Earth, and while I had some quibbles with some plot elements that could have been better resolved, I still thought it was a ride worth taking.

TusCon 49

This coming weekend, from November 11-13, I’ll be at TusCon in Tucson, Arizona. It’ll be held at the Tucson Sheraton Hotel and Suites. The author guest of honor is Mary Fan. She’s the author of several science fiction and fantasy novels and stories, including Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon, Starswept, and Artificial Absolutes. She is also the co-editor of the Brave New Girls anthology series. The artist guest of honor is Alan M. Clark, who has illustrated the writing of such authors as Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Joe R. Lansdale, Stephen King, George Orwell, Manly Wade Wellman, and Greg Bear. His awards include the World Fantasy Award, four Chesley Awards, the Deathrealm Award, and the International Horror Guild Critic’s Award for Best Artist. Weston Ochse returns as TusCon’s toastmaster. The American Library Association calls him “one of the major horror authors of the 21st Century.” His work has won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won four New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. You can get all the details at: https://www.tusconscificon.com

I’ll be on the following panels at TusCon 49:

Saturday, November 12

10am – Panel Room 1 – Should Art be Triggering. You can’t change the world without disturbing people. But some kinds of disturbing people is just being mean. Where is the line between making art and being a jerk? On the panel with me are Chaz Kemp, Earl H Billick, Mona Ventress, T.M. Williams, Patrick Hare, and Tamsin L. Silver

2pm – Autograph Area – Autographing. I’ll be in the autograph area from 2pm to 3pm in case you’ve had a busy convention and haven’t been able to make it into the dealer’s room.

Sunday, November 13

2pm – Ballroom – Using the Past to Inform the Future: Writing Fresh Fiction from Existing Source Material. Art is innately additive, especially in our “property” oriented world. How do you reinvent rather than recycle. On the panel with me are Weston Ochse, Patrick Hare, John Hornor Jacobs, and Tamsin L Silver


Of course when I’m not on a panel, you can find me in the dealer’s room at the Hadrosaur Productions table. Also in the dealer’s room will be such vendors as author Adam Gaffen along with Chaz Kemp and Tamsin L. Silver, who share panels with me. So make sure to make time to come into the dealer’s room to find some great books, toys, art, and more!