Dracula, motherf**ker!

One challenge of the pandemic is that its kept me from spending quality time at my favorite bookstores and comic shops. I’ve still been patronizing them when I can, but I have missed spending a luxurious hour just wandering the shelves looking for new things to catch my eye. With that in mind, about two weeks ago, I started browsing some lists of the best comics and graphic novels of 2020 just to see if I missed something I would want to know about. One graphic novel that popped up on several of those lists was Dracula, motherf**ker! written by Alex de Campi with art by Erica Henderson. I was already well acquainted with Erica Henderson’s art from her work on Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Jughead. Also, she’s one of those artists I’ve known of from way back when, since I used to do a lot of work with her father, C.J. Henderson. Between Erica’s work and the description of the graphic novel as a grindhouse-inspired Dracula story set in 1970s Los Angeles, I knew this was something I needed to read. A quick search of my local comic shop’s website revealed they had the book on the shelf.

Nosferatu recommends Dracula, motherf**ker!

Dracula, motherf**ker! opens in 1889 Vienna. Dracula’s brides capture the count and nail him into his coffin. The action then jumps ahead to 1974 Los Angeles where Hollywood star Bebe Beauland opens his crypt. A short time later, photographer Quincy Harker appears on the scene to take photos of the carnage that results. We soon learn that Bebe Beauland is not as dead as she first appeared and, of course, Dracula is on the loose again. Dracula’s brides from the opening of the story appear and begin helping Quincy.

The story is told largely through the visuals. Many pages are nighttime dark cut through with bright neon-like colors. The graphic novel format gives Henderson the freedom to design the story around two-page visual spreads. Even when there are two discrete pages of narrative panels, there’s a visual cohesion across the two-page spreads. Dracula himself seems inspired by Nosferatu but ratcheted up a few notches. He’s a monstrous creature of eyes and teeth with an old man’s arms and a cape of night. The story’s stars, though, are the brides and Quincy. Henderson does a great job of conveying emotion through the characters’ facial expressions and body language.

This was the rare graphic novel that I actually read three times back-to-back. I kept seeing things in the art and picking up things from de Campi’s minimalist, but effective dialogue. I recommend this volume for fans of vampires and good comic books. I picked up my copy at Zia Comics in Las Cruces.

Some of my interest in this graphic novel came from the fact that I’m collaborating on a vampire book project based on a short episode in my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires. It was fascinating to see so many of the lessons I’ve been learning applied effectively in Dracula, motherf**cker! Next week, I’ll be back with a little sneak peek at the project I’m working on.

The Masque of the Red Death

In November 2020, I resumed my regular commute to Kitt Peak National Observatory to operate the Mayall 4-meter and WIYN 3.5-meter telescopes. The observatory is quieter now than it was in March 2020, when I worked my last shift before the observatory closed for the pandemic. Only approved staff, tenants, and contractors are allowed on the mountain. The visitor center is closed and no tours are given. Still, twice a month, I make the drive to the observatory from my home in Las Cruces, New Mexico to the observatory west of Tucson, Arizona. I have an old iPod Classic that keeps me company on my drives. Sometimes I listen to audio books. Sometimes I just put it on random shuffle and see what plays. This week, after a nice assortment of songs, the iPod played Basil Rathbone’s reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.” While it may seems a little silly to worry about spoilers in a 179-year-old short story, I may share some in this post. If you haven’t read the story, here’s a link to it at Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia: https://www.poemuseum.org/the-masque-of-the-red-death

I’ve always enjoyed this story, but it seemed to take on a more personal meaning now that we’re living through a pandemic. Poe’s “red death” is fictitious, but COVID-19 is real. I’ve known several people affected. Also, when I walk through my neighborhood, I often walk through the local cemetery, which is a quiet place with little traffic. However, I have noticed that it’s been much busier during the months of the pandemic. There have been times when I’ve seen the grave diggers preparing three or four graves in a single day. Before the pandemic, I typically saw them digging fewer than one grave per week.

As the story opened and Basil Rathbone described the crenelated abbey and all of its compartments, I found myself thinking of the remote observatory, high on a mountaintop. Each dome and building a little like the compartments of the story.

Kitt Peak National Observatory

While at the observatory, I tend to be alone in my “bubble,” whether that be in my dorm room or at the telescope. However, when I’m outside of my bubble, I wear a mask. Though my mask may not be a festive one, it still struck me when Poe described the masked revelers Prince Prospero invited to the abbey. Also, while I may be alone, I’m often on a video conference with several people taking data, so it can be something like a revel. I’m far from a prince like Prospero. Some days I feel more like the jesters or the staff in the abbey, still I know I’ve been fortunate to have relative job security during this year that’s been difficult for so many people.

Donning my mask for the festivities

The rooms where I work have new air cleaners and UV lights. Again, these new features bring to mind the eerie atmosphere of the apartments in the abbeys, but I stay alone in my bubble and these things have been installed to keep away the uninvited guest who crashed the party in Poe’s story.

This little exercise just goes to show how the best stories have a lasting power and can maintain a personal relevance. It also shows how I sometimes can see beyond the ordinary world around me into something fantastical. It’s much the process I used when writing my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. I took what I had experienced at observatories I’d worked at and stretched those experiences just a little bit and asked what could be. The hope is that I produced something that’s both realistic and scary. And I hope the scares work because they seem like they could happen. If you want to learn more about the novel and watch the book trailer, visit: http://davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt.html

Space: 1999 Redux

Saturday’s post about Space: 1999 didn’t come out of a vacuum. On Christmas day, when I went to the Big Finish Productions website to download some Doctor Who audio, I discovered they had produced an audio re-imagining of the Space: 1999 pilot episode, “Breakaway.” This is the episode where a nuclear stockpile on the Moon explodes, blasting it out of Earth orbit and sending it on a journey through space. This appealed to the part of me that really enjoys writing retrofuturistic stories. After all, 1999 is now in the past and the series is now a look at “what could have been” more than “what will be.” Big Finish didn’t just create a new version, they expanded it into a two-hour movie-length version with more details. I recently downloaded it and gave it a listen and I’ll share my thoughts. Before I do, I thought it would be fun to go back and read the original novelization of “Breakaway” released when the series was on the air. Novelizations often give a chance to explain more about the characters and the story than you see on screen, so I thought that might give me a little more background. It turns out that my neighborhood used bookstore had four copies of the novelization in their science fiction section.

As it turns out, Breakaway by E.C. Tubb is not simply a novelization of the first episode. It attempts to weave four episodes from the series into a single narrative arc. With a mere 141 pages, Tubb doesn’t spend a lot of time delving into backstory or character. What we get are effectively novelettes of the episodes “Breakaway” and “A Matter of Life and Death.” The two episodes “Ring Around the Moon” and “Black Sun” are combined into a third novelette. We don’t really learn anything from these stories that we didn’t learn from watching the episodes. Tubb does work to develop the romance between Commander Koenig and Dr. Russell. He also provides a more direct narrative link between the resolution of “Ring Around the Moon” and the events of “Black Sun.” It was interesting to see that Tubb killed off Commissioner Simmonds, an annoying politician from “Breakaway” even though the character would actually meet a far more interesting end later in the series.

The Big Finish production of “Breakaway” proved much more ambitious. Writer Nicholas Briggs, who has written many of the Big Finish Doctor Who stories teamed up with Jamie Anderson, son of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the original Space: 1999 producers, to re-imagine the series. The plot is effectively the same as the original plot, Commander John Koenig has been dispatched to Moonbase Alpha to launch a mission to the distant planet Meta. The mission is in danger because the crew of the probe has started to succumb to a mysterious illness.

Solving the mystery is the primary impetus of the original pilot. In the new version, Koenig learns that his predecessor has been ordered to cover up that the illness is even happening and Dr. Russell is trying desperately not only to learn what’s happening but trying to keep the mission from getting launched until they are sure the people going to Meta won’t get sick. In effect, this new version takes a dramatic situation that already existed and ratchets it up so that it becomes much more engaging. What’s more, Briggs and Anderson developed a clever new way to get the Moon to break away from Earth orbit. I won’t say too much about how it’s done, because that ends up being something of a spoiler for the end of the episode. However, where the original meant packing an implausible amount of explosives on the moon, this one gives us an explanation that makes me think it could happen. Certainly, I’m much more willing to suspend my disbelief for the new explanation than the original one.

Briggs left us with something of a cliffhanger at the end of his version of Breakaway. Fortunately, new episodes of Big Finish’s Space: 1999 are due this month. I’ve already reserved my copies to find out what happens! You can get details about the Big Finish version of Space: 1999 at: https://www.bigfinish.com/hubs/v/space-1999

One of the things I love about this re-imagining of Space: 1999 is how it improves on something that was good albeit flawed. This was one of the things I tried to do when I created my new edition of The Pirates of Sufiro. I worked to keep the parts of the novel that were good, the characters people responded to, but I also tried to take a good hard look at parts of the book that didn’t work so well for readers and revise them and make sure I created good, solid explanations for why things happened. You can learn about The Pirates of Sufiro at: http://davidleesummers.com/pirates_of_sufiro.html

Revisiting Space: 1999

I’m sure everyone remembers where they were on September 13, 1999. Or, at least, they would remember that momentous day if the events of the television show Space: 1999 had come to pass. In the show, that’s the day a nuclear waste dump exploded on Earth’s moon sending it out of orbit and on a long, harrowing journey out of the solar system. I recently found myself thinking about Sylvia and Gerry Anderson’s series. I remember watching it when it first aired, but it occurred to me that I didn’t remember many details about the series, so I went back and watched most of the first season’s episodes.

The first thing that occurred to me as I watched the series is how much it owed to two sources: Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey and Sylvia and Gerry Anderson’s previous live-action television series, UFO. The show reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey in the sense that it’s less about space as a setting for the story’s action as it’s a place where mankind will encounter phenomena that will stretch the mind and maybe even spur the next stage of human evolution. The uniforms, the moon base, and the overall feel of the show reminded me a lot of UFO and I’ve read that some elements of the series were, in fact, originally developed for a second season of UFO, which never materialized.

The science of Space: 1999 is much maligned. Isaac Asimov once famously remarked that an explosion big enough to knock the moon out of orbit would destroy it. Physicist Kevin Grazier has taken a much more balanced approach and calculated the energy it actually would take to knock the moon out of Earth’s orbit. He notes that enough energy to knock the moon out of orbit would be highly improbable and also remarks that getting the moon to leave Earth’s orbit isn’t as hard a problem as getting the moon to leave the solar system. You can read Grazier’s thoughts here: https://www.gerryanderson.co.uk/science-of-space-1999/

In his article, Grazier does point out one way in which Space: 1999’s science was ahead of its time and that was it’s presentation of rogue planets. In the series, the moon encounters numerous planets away from the sun wandering by themselves with no nearby star. Rogue planets were pure speculation when the series was created, but we now know them to be something that does exist. We still do have a science issue in that some of these rogue planets seem to support human-like life, despite the lack of a nearby star.

Part of how Space: 1999 sells its improbable physics is by giving us some of the most believable tech I’ve seen in a science fiction series. The Eagle spacecraft look like the kind of things you might have expected NASA to have developed if they had continued building on the Apollo program. The only real problem with the Eagles is their use in atmosphere and high gravity worlds as the series progresses. I believe them on the moon, but not necessarily flying through dense planetary atmospheres. The comlocks that people use to unlock doors and talk to each other feel like the kind of combination remote control, video cell phone that could have been developed in the 1990s.

One of the things I found remarkable about revisiting Space: 1999 was the quality of the cast. Of course, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, and Barry Morse all had wonderful, understated performances. They felt like humans coming to grips with the weird reality they found themselves in. I had forgotten that actors such as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee appeared in the series. Speaking of Cushing and Lee, I had forgotten how well the series did at presenting science fiction horror. The denizens encounter some truly frightening situations such as aliens who take over people’s bodies, or implacable tentacled aliens who dine on people’s flesh and spit out corpses.

One of the episodes I found especially interesting was one called “The Guardian of Piri.” In it, Catherine Schell plays an alien who convinces the Alphans they can have complete contentment if they settle. Much of it reminds me of the kinds of visions John Mark Ellis experiences in Children of the Old Stars and the Cluster’s eventual takeover of Earth in Heirs of the New Earth. The structures on Piri are even spheres, reminding me of the Cluster. Although I don’t remember the episode specifically, it does make me wonder how much the episode seeped into my subconscious and was reprocessed in my story.

So, where was I on September 13, 1999? I was working at New Mexico State University on the 1-meter telescope project based at Apache Point Observatory. We were about a month into a new semester, which meant that I was probably busy getting classroom demonstrations ready. I was also working on the novel Children of the Old Stars and thinking about some of the more metaphysical topics I wanted to explore in my series. You can help me create the new edition of my novel by supporting my Patreon campaign at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

Remembering David B. Riley

I was saddened to learn last week that my friend and long-time Hadrosaur Productions contributor David B. Riley passed away unexpectedly at the beginning of the month. I first discovered David’s work when he submitted his story “The Brother” for publication in Hadrosaur Tales 2 way back in 1997. It told the story of a vampire monk, an idea I loved and I remember being pulled in by his clean, unpretentious prose.

Although David’s first submission to me involved a vampire monk, he soon started submitting stories featuring the character I believe will be his most enduring, Miles O’Malley. Miles was a down-on-his-luck cowboy in the old west who managed to get caught up in a feud between Nick Mephistopheles (AKA Satan) and Ah Puch, Mayan god of death. These stories were a lot of fun and David ultimately turned them into a novel called The Two Devils. I edited the first edition for LBF Books.

David continued to submit to me over the run of Hadrosaur Tales and his work appeared in many issues of Tales of the Talisman starting with issue 2 of that journal. From the time David first started submitting to me, I became aware of his interest in weird westerns. I knew he ran a zine called Trails: Intriguing Stories of the Wild West. I submitted a couple of stories and I was pleased when David liked them enough to publish them. This zine was just a few sheets of paper stapled together. In 2006, he decided to put together a nice, perfect bound anthology of the same name. I was delighted to appear in the anthology alongside such friends as Uncle River and Robert E. Vardeman. Not only did that prove a nice anthology to appear in, that was the first appearance of my characters Ramon Morales and Fatemeh Karimi who would headline my Clockwork Legion novels.

Although I had been corresponding with David since 1997, I first met him in person at MileHiCon in Denver, Colorado. I think that would have been in 2002. We would see each other at many conventions after that. Often we would be on panels together discussing the weird west, how the weird west intersected with steampunk, or a topic of common historical interest such as observations of Mars in the nineteenth century. David and I didn’t always agree on panels or in personal conversations, but I think we both came away from our conversations with something to think about and we took those opinions to heart.

I appeared in a few other books David edited, including Six-Guns Straight From Hell. David continued to write stories featuring characters he introduced in his Miles O’Malley Stories. I published two of his novellas in this world. One is Fallen Angel, which features Miles and the Angel Mabel. I also published his novella “The Venerable Travels of Ling Fung” as part of the collection Legends of the Dragon Cowboys.

After David retired from working in the hotel business, he moved to Tucson, Arizona. I was pleased to give him and his family a tour of Kitt Peak. Also, David became a regular speaker at Wild Wild West Con. While passing through Tucson one time, I decided to stop at a movie theater to see the latest remake of The Magnificent Seven. I was surprised when David came in. He joined me and we had fun discussing the movie afterward. I was especially gratified when David Boop, who also appeared in Tales of the Talisman and Six-Guns Straight From Hell dedicated the collection Straight Outta Dodge City to both David and me.

I’ll miss David and our discussions about the weird west. I’ll miss his comments on this blog. If you haven’t discovered his writing, I encourage you to look him up on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or wherever you buy books.

Sneak Peek at Breaking the Code

Last autumn, my friends at eSpec Books asked me to submit a novella for their NeoParadoxa imprint, which features books about cryptids. Many of these titles will be featured in Box Mountain’s monthly Cryptid Crate subscription boxes which include cryptid themed art and decor for your home in addition to the books.

What are cryptids? They are creatures lurking in our world. Obscure creatures long relegated to myth and legend. They have been sighted by a lucky-or unlucky-few, some have even been photographed, but their existence remains unproven and unrecognized by the scientific community.

These creatures, long thought gone, have somehow survived; creatures from our nightmares haunting the dark places. They swim in our lakes and bays, they soar the night skies, they hunt in the woods. Some are from our past, and some from other worlds, and others that have always been with us—watching us, fearing us, hunting us.

These are the cryptids, and the Systema Paradoxa books tell their tales.

Because the book will be featured in the Cryptid Crates, the folks at eSpec Books have asked me not to give away too much of the surprise of what’s inside. So I’m limiting myself to sharing the cover and a short book book description.

1942. Gallup, New Mexico. Marine recruiters have come to town looking to fill their ranks with a secret weapon against the Axis powers-what would become Navajo Code Talkers—but not everyone supports the prospect of young native men going off to war.

When one new recruit is found dead, and a rancher’s cattle are mutilated, whispers of witchcraft and skinwalker filter through the town, and interest in enlisting wanes. Is there evil afoot, or is that just what opponents to the cause want everyone to think?

Whether guided by magic, mischief, or malevolence, without a doubt, nothing is as it seems…

If you’re excited for the release of the novella, the very best way to get a copy is by subscribing to Cryptid Crate at: https://www.cryptidcrate.com. Not only will you get my novella and the goodies that come with it, you’ll get the other novellas in the series as they’re released.

If you would rather just get the book by itself, it is available for pre-order at fine bookstores including:

How I Botched the Acetylcholine Test

I am a textbook introvert. As many sites on the internet will tell you, this is nothing unusual. All it really means is that much as I find interactions with people necessary and even rewarding, I can also find them draining. This would seem to be true of anywhere from 30-50% of the population. An upshot of being an introvert is the holidays can be especially draining with parties and gatherings. You would think I wouldn’t have found this year as draining given that gatherings have been discouraged. In fact, I didn’t go to any in-person events. While I did go to several online gatherings, as I noted in High Tech New Year’s Eve post, those were all pretty comfortable affairs with people I know well.

As a writer, I’m interested in what motivates people. Over the years, I’ve been fascinated to learn how much our brain chemistry affects who we are. I’ve found several articles that suggest that the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and dopamine play a strong role in who is an introvert and who is an extrovert. Simply put, introverts seem to thrive more on acetylcholine which makes us feel good when we turn inward. We feel gratified by long periods of time focused on a single task. Extroverts thrive more on dopamine, which can get released when you have positive interactions with others, such as a phone call that pushes your career forward or a strong romantic engagement.

A beautiful, quiet moment – the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn as seen from outside the WIYN 3.5-meter Telescope.

Now, I’m an astronomer, not a neurochemist, so I can’t vouch for how accurate this is. For that matter, I’ve come across some articles that suggest that dopamine and acetylcholine are far more intertwined in the brain than my simple description above would suggest. Still, it does mesh with my experience of really enjoying quiet tasks where I work by myself for long periods of time. It probably goes a long way to explaining why I like to write. So, I suspect there is some truth to something about my personality liking acetylcholine.

So, how did I botch the test? First off, I should explain that this post’s title is a reference to the classic Star Trek episode “The Immunity Syndrome.” In the episode, Mr. Spock has to fly a shuttlecraft into a giant space amoeba to save the Enterprise. While he’s there, he’s supposed to conduct some tests. Of course, he saves the day and everyone is happy, but Dr. McCoy points out that Spock didn’t do everything right. He tells Spock, “You botched the acetylcholine test!”

To this day, I’m not sure how Spock botched the test. I “botched the test” at a more personal level. At the moment, my work days at Kitt Peak National Observatory start around 4pm with a Zoom Meeting with various project collaborators. This meeting usually only lasts a few minutes, but then resumes again around 5:30pm with those collaborators who are observing. The Zoom meeting then lasts all the way until sunrise. Now, I’m not talking or interacting with the collaborators the whole night, but they are often interacting with each other and I do have to pay attention to plans for the night. I have no problem with this, but it can keep me from engaging in long, deep periods of concentration.

Also, I had planned a nice quiet period between Christmas and the New Year. I wasn’t scheduled to be at the observatory and I arranged a break from a collaborative creative project I’ve been involved in. As it turns out, I got a call on Christmas Eve from one of my editors, telling me notes on a story would be arriving that night. In short, the week turned into an intensive, albeit productive and gratifying, session whipping a story into shape for publication. I’ll tell you about that story in Saturday’s post. Once that was done, I had the nice New Year’s Eve that I talked about, then went back to work for more long observing nights with their accompanying Zoom sessions. Needless to say, I reached the first break of the new year feeling pretty wiped out.

I was suffering what some people know as an “introvert hangover.” For me, this takes the form of almost every interaction, no matter how benign, getting on my nerves. I try not to get to this point, but it does happen sometimes. Fortunately, we’re a family of introverts and we do our best to take care of each other when this happens. Also, I’ve been able to have some quiet time at the end of this most recent break from the observatory and I’m starting to feel myself again.

I hope your new year is off to a good start and you’re doing your best to stay healthy and well.

Learning from Loss

In 1976, when I was in elementary school, my teacher taught us about elections by having some of the students “run for office.” Of course, we weren’t running for any real political office, but the idea was to make campaign posters, have a debate, and let the class vote on who won. I ran for senator and thought I would be a shoe-in. Of the two people running, I was the one known to be the “smart kid.” I remember making some great posters with great slogans. In the end, I lost that election and I was devastated.

One of my friends came up and presented a hard truth to me. This friend did like me, but couldn’t vote for me because the other kid talked a lot more in the debate. I pointed out that the other kid made promises they couldn’t keep. My friend noted they actually said they would do something while it wasn’t clear I would do anything. Looking back, I realize that part of why I failed on that occasion was my own introverted personality. I wasn’t comfortable speaking to groups, so I didn’t say everything that was on my mind. More to the point, I learned to cope with the loss and move on. I didn’t get bitter. I didn’t say the other kid cheated. I knew I’d lost fair and square and I learned what I would need to do should I ever choose to run for a real elected position.

Losing is a powerful, albeit painful teacher. Whether one loses an election, a sporting event, or a competition of any sort, you can learn from the experience and do better. In fact, it’s such a great teacher that I’m hesitant to trust anyone who tries to tell me they never lost and that they succeed at absolutely everything they ever attempted. What’s more, the older they get without losing, the more I worry because I know the first real loss they face will be all the more difficult.

In the 1990s, I started reading through A. Bertram Chandler’s space opera series about John Grimes. Growing up as a Star Trek fan, I really enjoyed these books. John Grimes was a character much like Captain Kirk. As I read, I came to the novel The Big Black Mark, which is a novel about Grimes screwing up big time. He actually gets booted out of the service and has to find a new career. At that point, Grimes suddenly became a much more interesting character to me than Captain Kirk and it was precisely because he lost and had to learn from his mistakes and become better. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a Star Trek fan, but I find Grimes’s journey a bit more interesting.

I took this to heart when I wrote my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. The Pirates of Sufiro is about Ellison Firebrandt coping with losing his life of being a successful pirate. In the next book, Children of the Old Stars, his grandson makes a blunder when attempting to communicate with an alien race invading the galaxy and must start his quest all over again outside the military. I wrote these books when I was young and I hadn’t experienced as many losses as I have at this point in my life. One reason I’m revising them for new editions is that I’m better able to tap into the emotions that go with loss and moving on in new ways.

In the end, losing an election or a competition doesn’t make you a “loser.” It’s how you cope with the loss that demonstrates your true nature. I hope you’ll join Ellison Firebrandt and John Mark Ellis on their journey’s of loss and redemption. You can learn more about the Space Pirates’ Legacy series by visiting: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#pirate_legacy

2020 Hindsight

Soon after the year 2020 began, I wrote a post called “2020 Foresight,” as a play on the old saw, “Hindsight is 20/20.” The post looked at my publishing plans for the first part of 2020 and, for the most part, those plans ticked off just as I expected they would. Through Hadrosaur Productions, I released Sheila Hartney’s anthology Exchange Students at the end of February, which imagined exchange students traveling between worlds and times. In April, Hadrosaur released Don Braden’s novel Upstart Mystique, which imagined a colony ship from Earth encountering a civilization that had attempted to upload its collective consciousness into a computer. I released the new, revised edition of my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, in July. I’m happy to look back at the year and see all of these plans actually came about as expected.

As we entered 2020, one thing I knew was that the contracts for three of my novels would be up for renewal in March. I knew the publisher had scaled back operations and I suspected they would want to revert the rights to me. I didn’t discuss this in the blog at the time because I didn’t think it would be professional of me to talk about it before my publisher and I discussed the fate of these books. As it turns out, the publishing rights for these books did revert to me right as much of the world began to shut down for the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. The upshot was that I spent much of the spring and early summer working on new editions. I made fairly minor changes to The Astronomer’s Crypt and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires. I decided to re-order the chapters of Vampires of the Scarlet Order, which helped to tighten the novel’s focus. I’m pleased with how these novels turned out and I was especially gratified by the good reaction I received to the new edition of Vampires of the Scarlet Order when it was a featured selection of Boutique du Vampyre’s Vampyre Library Book Club in November.

As we moved from summer into fall, my attention turned to some new writing projects. I wrote a novelette and a novella, both of which have been accepted by their respective publishers. In fact, I spent the last week of 2020 working on edits my publisher requested for the novella. I’m really excited for its release in 2021 and plan to share details about it as soon as I can. I have also continued my work revising the Space Pirates’ Legacy novels. I’m rapidly approaching the halfway point on Children of the Old Stars. You can follow the progress of the Space Pirates’ Legacy project and I’ve been told I can provide an early sneak peek of the novella project if you sign up at my Patreon site.

It seems as each year ends, I hear a chorus of voices bemoaning the terrible year ending and hoping for better times in the new year. The transition from 2020 to 2021 is no different and, arguably, the chorus is more justified this year than they have been in many recent years. That noted, I was pleased to attend a virtual Tohono O’Odham storytelling hosted by the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum on December 30. One of the storytellers shared a traditional song that reminds us, even in darkness, there is light from the moon and stars to guide our way. My readers who have stuck with me have been a bright point of light in the year just past. Thank you. If you haven’t discovered the books I write and publish yet, I invite you to browse the selection at http://hadrosaur.com/bookstore.php and http://davidleesummers.com/.

A High Tech New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is often a quiet affair for me. In a normal year, Kitt Peak National Observatory attempts to have telescopes pointed at the sky, doing science-related tasks on as many nights as possible. The only exceptions are closures for weather, engineering tasks, and we’re often closed on Christmas. Over the last decade, I’ve toasted the New Year several times at work with a nice cup of coffee. This year, proved a rare exception and I was able to ring in the New Year at home. In years past, New Year’s Eve at home has involved cooking up a big pot of a red chile, hominy, and pork stew called posole, then either playing games, working on puzzles, or watching movies until near midnight, then sharing a toast of sparkling cider with the family.

The posole still happened this year and, if I do say so myself, it was one of the best batches I’ve made in a long time. I credit that to my wife making stock for the base from some leftover pork bones we had in the freezer. The meat on those bones also became the meat for the stew. This is really the way posole is supposed to be made, but we often shortcut this step and cook the meat on the morning of New Year’s Eve.

Another thing that made this New Year’s Eve special was the opportunity to connect with numerous friends via video chat. On top of that, the band Abney Park performed a live streaming concert from their home studio in Seattle. I’ve seen advertisements for Abney Park’s New Year’s Eve concerts for several years now and I’ve always wanted to go. Among other things, one of their frequent venues for those concerts was quite close to the neighborhood where my brother used to live. So this was like a wish come true. What’s more, this concert came just a couple months before the tenth anniversary of seeing Abney Park play live the first time at Wild Wild West Con in 2011. Shortly before that, my family and I had seen a YouTube video of the band giving an impromptu performance of the title song from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. When my youngest daughter met Captain Robert, she asked him if they could play it at the concert. He told her they hadn’t rehearsed it and didn’t have the music along, so they couldn’t. However, at the New Year’s Eve Concert, ten year’s later, with my daughter home from college and in the audience, Captain Robert and the band actually played Chitty Chitty Bang Bang live. It was a delight.

My daughters and a friend meeting Robert Brown and Nathaniel Johnstone at the first Wild Wild West Con

The other parties we attended were just as much fun, if for different reasons. I spent time with several college friends in one call. It was a relaxed time where we chatted casually as friends are wont. This party ended about 8pm and then we joined Madame Askew and her Temporal Entourage for their New Year’s Eve festivities where I connected with friends from all across the country and around the world. Author Karen Carlisle confirmed for us that the sun really did rise as expected on January 1 in Australia. If all goes well, I hope you will be able to purchase a new anthology this coming year with stories by me and Karen. Performing at the event was burlesque dancer Eve Riot. I will note, all the links so far in this post point to the Patreon pages for these amazing artists. I encourage you to visit their pages, learn more about them, and support them if you’re able to!

This has been such a difficult year for many people, but one thing I’m grateful for is the way people have found new ways to use technology to reach out and connect to one another across the globe. Even once the pandemic situation improves and we are able to gather again, I hope we don’t lose all of this ability. I’ve been able to attend events and connect with people I wouldn’t have necessarily been able to otherwise.

On the subject of remote chatter, there has been recent news of a strange radio signal from Proxima Centauri. It’s at a frequency not typically used by spacecraft. It disappeared when the Parkes Radio Telescope moved away from Proxima, then returned when it pointed in that direction again. There is no known astronomical phenomenon that broadcasts at that frequency. Also, there’s a habitable zone planet around Proxima Centauri. I’ve even imagined people living there in my novel The Pirates of Sufiro. That said, there’s a good chance this is just an undiscovered natural phenomenon. Still, I find myself wondering if someone out there wants to get on our video chat action. If you want to follow this story, the Planetary Society has set up a page discussing the detection at: https://www.planetary.org/articles/aliens-at-proxima-centauri-a-new-radio-signal-raises-the-question.