Remember Yamato

On Christmas, my older daughter surprised me with a copy of one of the myriad Space Battleship Yamato soundtrack albums. She found the Japanese import at a convention this past year. A search of Tim Eldred’s amazing Yamato fan site, OurStarBlazers.com, revealed that it was the 1995 release of the Space Battleship Yamato: The New Voyage Symphonic album.

As I’ve mentioned before, I collect soundtracks and love to play them while I write. They can help me find a mood or a tone while I’m writing certain scenes. Sometimes they just help me escape the mundane worries of the world while I try to get into a creative headspace. The TV series Space Battleship Yamato debuted in October 1974 in Japan and featured one of the most epic scores ever to appear in a space opera TV series. Here in America, John Williams’s amazing soundtrack for Star Wars set a standard for space adventure music. I’ve heard it speculated that George Lucas was inspired to have Williams create such an epic score because he’d seen it done with great success in Japan. Whether that speculation is true or not, I still consider the Yamato soundtracks to be among the gold standard of science fiction music.

Even though I have been a fan of Space Battleship Yamato since I first saw it on American TV circa 1978 or so, I haven’t seen every episode of the translated series, Star Blazers, or every movie. It doesn’t help that the original movies only had limited release in the United States. When they were released on DVD, they came out at a price I couldn’t readily afford. Space Battleship Yamato is noted for having a rousing opening song performed by Isao Sasaki. In the album for Space Battleship Yamato: The New Voyage, there’s a new opening song, also performed by Isao Sasaki, called “Remember Yamato.” The song is so distinctive, that I realized The New Voyage was one of the stories I missed.

A search of Amazon revealed that The New Voyage was still available on DVD and it was at a price I could now afford, so I sent away for it and finally had a chance to watch it. I knew the events of the story because I had friends who had described it to me during my high school years. Still, this was the first time I’d seen this particular story for myself. It’s quite an iconic chapter in the Yamato storyline. In short, it tells the story of how the Captain Kodai of the Yamato teamed up with Lord Dessler of the Gamilon Empire to attempt to save the planet of Dessler’s greatest love from an evil empire strip-mining her planet. If we were to put this in Star Wars terms, it would be like Luke Skywalker teaming up with Lord Vader after the Empire’s defeat to go fight evil industrialists. I’d definitely pay to see that!

It turns out the special features on this particular disc were assembled by none other than Tim Eldred, whose website helped me identify the soundtrack album, which in turn led me on a quest to find the movie. One of the special features is a translation of creator Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s liner notes for the album! At the end of the notes, he says, “Please enjoy the sound of this space opera and revive the vast anime-universe in your heart. I also hope you will create your own wonderful images which surpass mine.”

I’m delighted that I have been able to create some of my own space opera adventures in novel form which have been inspired by the music of Space Battleship Yamato and I will forever be grateful to Mr. Nishizaki for his creation. You can explore my work at my website http://www.davidleesummers.com

2020 Foresight

In the last post, I looked back to the previous decade. Now, I want to take a look forward at what’s coming next. As it turns out, I’m entering the year 2020 with three projects right at the final editing and typesetting stages, so those are occupying much of my attention at the moment and I expect they will all go “live” in the first quarter of this year.

One of the projects that will appear in the next couple of months is the anthology Exchange Students edited by Sheila Hartney. It features twenty-two stories from a diverse group of authors who explore the idea of exchange students in a variety of settings. Some stories imagine interplanetary exchange students, some imagine time traveling exchange students. We have an exchange student from Hell visiting Heaven. There are also stories about exchange students crossing between our world and fantasy worlds. Throughout the book, you’ll hear stories from the perspectives of the teachers, students, and parents who find themselves in these situations. The final edited manuscript has just been delivered to me and I plan to start typesetting the book this week, then I’ll get in touch with the cover artist about finishing the cover, teased in the thumbnail at the head of this paragraph.

I’m also excited to be presenting Don Braden’s first novel. Don is a retired high school teacher who has often used science fiction as a teaching tool in the classroom. Don has also written for Tales of the Talisman Magazine. What’s more, I’ve almost literally known Don my entire life. He was my brother’s English teacher before I was even old enough to go to school.

Don’s novel is called Upstart Mystique. The novel opens with the space vessel Marco P en route to a distant colony world. The ship 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?

I’ve finished the first typesetting pass of Upstart Mystique. It needs a cover and a final check by the author, then it’ll be ready to go to press!

The third book I’m working on is the 25th Anniversary edition of my own novel, The Pirates of Sufiro. When the rights to the “Old Star/New Earth” series were returned to me, I wrestled with how much to re-edit these books. They were my early books and I renamed the series “The Space Pirates Legacy” in part because one of the major characters has a vessel named Legacy and in part because I do see it as my “legacy” series. It’s the series where I cut my teeth as a writer, so to speak, and mostly I wanted to bring them back so they were available to fans who wanted my early work. Still, I felt like Pirates had some cool ideas that were buried in awkward writing. Also, the only ebook edition of the book had some problems that made it even more of a challenge to read. If I was going to put this book back on the market, I owed it to readers to improve what I could. I’ve just completed the actual rewriting portion of the project. I have a few more edits to do, then I’ll start typesetting. Again, the actual book should be available for purchase in the very near future. That said, people who support my Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers will get a code to download it for free once it’s released.

After this, it’ll be time to move on to the next wave of projects. While typesetting and finishing these books, I hope to make some decisions about what will be next. Some things are clear. I’ll be revising and re-issuing the rest of the Space Pirates Legacy series: Children of the Old Stars and Heirs of the New Earth. At this point, I don’t expect they’ll take the kind of time I’ve devoted Pirates, but I do need to re-read and evaluate them. I do plan to polish and work on some short stories I have in mind and send them out to editors. Presuming Children and Heirs don’t prove as time consuming as Pirates, I’ll probably start work on the next new novel. You can share your thoughts about what that should be in the comments below, although I’ll also be asking my Patreon supporters and I do give their thoughts more weight.

My novels of the 2010s

In my last post, I mentioned that I had the attitude of being a temporary employee at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Much of the reason I adopted that attitude in the first place is that then and now, I see myself first and foremost as a writer and editor. When I returned to Kitt Peak in 2008, I feared my writing output would fall off because of my job’s demands. I’m pleased to look back at the previous decade and realize that I actually produced more novels than in any previous decade.

In a very real way, the 2010s were the decade of the Clockwork Legion. These are my steampunk novels that chronicle what happens to Earth when a microscopic alien swarm arrives on Earth in 1876 and begins tampering with events in hopes of avoiding a worldwide catastrophe. Instead of averting catastrophe, the alien sets off the Russian invasion of the United States. Fortunately, a healer named Fatemeh Karimi and a disgraced sheriff named Ramon Morales are there to set things right.

The first novel was published in 2011. Although the original publisher changed focus, the series was picked up by Sky Warrior books and a new edition came out in 2014 quickly followed by the second novel, Lightning Wolves. In that novel, our characters find themselves caught between the miners of Southern Arizona, the Apache Nation, and the Clantons, all while the Russians continue their invasion from the first book.

In 2016’s The Brazen Shark, our characters travel to Japan and then to Russia where they bring the story of the alien’s visit to a conclusion. In 2018, I published Owl Riders, which is set ten years later and looks at the world in the aftermath of the alien’s interference and returns to resolve the conflicts set up in the second novel.

At this point, I don’t plan for the Clockwork Legion to be a series limited to the books created in the 2010s. I want to tell more about Ramon and Fatemeh’s adventures, but they are paused while I work on some other projects. In the meantime, you can learn more about the Clockwork Legion novels by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

The Clockwork Legion series wasn’t the only one I worked on this past decade. I also wrote a second book in my Scarlet Order vampire series. 2012’s Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order was actually a prequel to Vampires of the Scarlet Order. The Scarlet Order is a band of vampires who use their preternatural powers to fight as mercenaries. Dragon’s Fall tells the story of how the Scarlet Order was formed. We first meet Alexandra, a former Greek slave who becomes a vampire thief. Then we travel to King Arthur’s court where one of his rivals becomes a vampire and initiates the Holy Grail quest in hopes of finding redemption. Draco fails to find redemption through the Grail, but he meets Alexandra in his on-going quest. You can learn more about this novel at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

Dragon’s Fall wasn’t my only excursion into horror. In 2016, I released The Astronomer’s Crypt, which imagines astronomers, drug dealers, ghosts, and Apache demons colliding during a terrible storm at an observatory in Southern New Mexico. Of course, this novel does pull a lot from my job at Kitt Peak National Observatory and I probably wouldn’t have been able to write it if I had not returned to telescope operations. On the surface, The Astronomer’s Crypt is a haunted house story inspired by the very labyrinthine Mayall building at Kitt Peak. However, it also imagines what might happen if different layers of existence hinted at through ancient stories collided with our contemporary and comfortable reality. You can learn more about The Astronomer’s Crypt and watch a cool book trailer at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt.html

I finished the decade by returning to a series that really had its genesis way back in the 1980s while I was still in graduate school. In the 2000s when the series was with Lachesis Publishing, I was asked to create a name for the series. On the fly, I came up with “The Old Star/New Earth Series.” I never really liked that name because it didn’t really capture what the series was about. I’ve now reinvented the series as “The Space Pirates’ Legacy” and my last book of the 2010s was a new first book in this series, Firebrandt’s Legacy. It tells the story of a space pirate named Ellison Firebrandt and his band of buccaneers as they pillage ships for Earth’s benefit. I’m currently working on rewriting the first book I ever wrote, The Pirates of Sufiro, which is also the second book of this series. I hope to release the new edition in a few weeks. You can learn more about Firebrandt’s Legacy at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/Firebrandts-Legacy.html

Looking back, that’s seven novel in ten years. I spent most of the 2000s as a freelance writer and wrote four novels. So, at some level, I needn’t have worried about about the observatory lessening my output. That said, I do find as the decade ends that I’m writing fewer short stories and poems now than I did at the beginning of the decade. One of my goals for this coming decade will be to spend more time on some of my shorter works again. Also, one of my first goals of the decade is to finish re-releasing the rest of “The Space Pirates Legacy” series. Concurrent with that, I hope to begin work on a new novel. I haven’t decided for certain what that will be. I’d love to visit Ramon and Fatemeh again. Also, The Astronomer’s Crypt was always meant to be the first book in a trilogy, so I may return to that world for a while. Either way, this promises to be another fun and productive decade.

Steampunk Christmas

To me, steampunk and Christmas go hand in hand. Steampunk is all about Victorian-inspired fantasy worlds. What’s more, Victorians in England and America gave us many of the trappings of the modern secular Christmas. Thomas Nast in New York gave us wonderfully detailed renderings of Santa in his workshop, using such scientific gadgets as telephones and telescopes to fulfill his mission of figuring out who was naughty and who was nice. In the meantime, Charles Dickens unleashed a series of ghosts on miserly Ebenezer Scrooge.

So, when I wrote my first steampunk novel, Owl Dance, it seemed natural to include a scene about Christmas. It’s a simple scene. Ramon Morales and Fatemeh Karimi find themselves in a poor part of San Francisco with little money. Ramon gives Fatemeh a simple gift. Always curious about other people’s religions, Fatemeh asks Ramon how people celebrate Christmas. He tells her many people celebrate with song. She then asks Ramon to sing a song of the angels, anticipating their travels to Los Angeles after the holidays. You can learn more about Owl Dance at http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html. If you’ve already read and enjoyed the novel, remember there are three more novels in the series. You can find out about them at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion.

Music is an important part of this scene because I see music as an important part of both Christmas and the steampunk aesthetic. That said, I don’t own a lot of Christmas albums. Because I grew up in a Christian family, we sang Christmas carols in church and would go out caroling. The one album that was an important part of my family’s Christmas tradition growing up was A Tennessee Ernie Ford Christmas Special. It’s just chock full of a lot of the old traditional carols sung reverently in Tennessee Ernie Ford’s booming bass voice that made the song “Sixteen Tons” a hit back in the day.

In one fun bit of trivia, I learned not too long ago that while Tennessee Ernie Ford did indeed hail from Tennessee, he actually became famous while he was working as a radio announcer for KFXM in my home town of San Bernardino, California after World War II.

A more recent favorite album is Abney Park’s Through Your Eyes on Christmas Eve. As I mentioned in my recent post Music Through the Ages, Abney Park’s songwriter and lead singer, Robert Brown, has a great understanding of older songs. The album’s title song is a new one that longs for the innocence of Christmas as seen through a child’s eyes. The rest of the album is filled with some great classic Christmas songs given the band’s signature treatment, which can include some minor key weirdness to offset the sweetness of the season and some unabashed playfulness with the classic songs. You can find this album at their website: http://abneypark.com/market/.

Whether your Christmas is more secular or sacred, I hope you have a wonderful one. If you celebrate a different winter holiday, may it be a blessed and peaceful time. If you don’t celebrate anything, I hope you at least have some time to relax enjoying what you love best. Happy Holidays!

Christmas in Space

Last year was the 50th anniversary of the first celebration of Christmas in space. This happened during the Apollo 8 mission commanded by Frank Borman with James Lovell Jr. serving as command module pilot and William Anders serving as lunar module pilot. On Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 entered orbit around the Moon. During the mission, they took the famous Earthrise photo, showing the Earth rising over the Lunar horizon. Ten hours later, they took turns during a transmission to Earth to read the opening verses of Genesis. Borman concluded the transmission by saying, “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.” During a transmission four hours later, James Lovell reported, “Please be informed there IS a Santa Claus.”

Image credit: NASA

After he retired from NASA, Borman lived for a time to Las Cruces, New Mexico and was still living there when I moved to town in 1995.

In December 1993, Mission Specialist Jeffrey Hoffman celebrated Hanukkah on the Space Shuttle Discovery. He brought a dreidel and a travel menorah and spoke about Hanukkah during a live television broadcast. During the mission, the shuttle captured the Hubble Space Telescope, brought it into the shuttle bay and performed a full service of the instrument over the course of five space walks.

Although we have never achieved the science fictional promise of cities in space, we have achieved more regular habitation of space in the years since Apollo 8 through the International Space Station. Christmas is regularly celebrated there and its fun to see stockings hung on the station and astronauts with fuzzy, red hats. That said, Americans aren’t the only crew members. Russians who serve aboard the ISS often emphasize New Year celebrations over Christmas. When they do celebrate Christmas, many celebrate Orthodox Christmas in January.

When I wrote my novel The Solar Sea, it seemed only natural that people would make an effort to celebrate those holidays that were special to them. December arrives as the solar sail Aristarchus travels to Mars. The character Vanda Berko finds special meaning in the menorah’s light while traveling through the darkness of space. The ship’s cook brings a small tree aboard the ship and the crew decorate it and sing carols on Christmas morning.

James Lovell, the astronaut who declared “there IS a Santa Claus” on Apollo 8 would go on to become commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13. When the Aristarchus crew gets into trouble, they cheer themselves by remembering that dire as that early mission was, Lovell helped to bring the crew home safely.

You can learn more about The Solar Sea and found out how to get your own copy by visiting http://www.zianet.com/dsummers/solar_sea.html

Christmas Vampires

As we approach Christmas, I’ve been having fun reading social media posts from my friends at Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans, Louisiana. I gather the entire season from Halloween through Christmas is quite busy for them. They’ve been getting in some fun vampire-themed ornaments, Krampus dolls and ornaments, and Voodoo-themed ornaments. If you want to check out what they have, visit their website at http://feelthebite.com.

When I think of vampires and Christmas, one movie that comes to mind is The Nightmare Before Christmas. In the movie, Jack Skellington, the skeletal Pumpkin King, learns about the joy of Christmas and convinces his fellow residents of Halloween Town to hijack it for themselves. Halloween Town is populated by many colorful characters, but among them are four vampires who gleefully create ghoulish presents for Jack to deliver on Christmas Eve. They are portrayed as a band of brothers who go around with umbrellas to protect them from the sun during the daytime.

Even my Scarlet Order vampires enjoy getting into the Christmas spirit. Despite my earlier examples, it may seem counter-intuitive to imagine vampires celebrating Christmas. However, as the novel progresses, the leader of the Scarlet Order vampires, Lord Draco, goes on his own quest for the Holy Grail, hoping the cup of Christ might prove a source of redemption to vampires. As part of the quest, he encounters a powerful being and learns that Christians refer to beings like it as angels. He’s not certain what this means from a theological standpoint, but it does convince him that Christ is worthy of great respect. I imagine that Draco would at least pay homage to the holidays of Easter and Christmas.

In order to better understand his immortal existence, Draco continues his quest and ultimately meets a vampire thief named Alexandra. She loves Draco, but she also loves her freedom and travels the world. As she travels, she looks for books that Draco will enjoy and she brings them to him as gifts. She even brings him books as Christmas presents. This ultimately forms the basis of Draco’s library which continues to grow as the centuries progress.

Of course, I wrote this as I did because books are among my favorite gifts to give and receive. My library isn’t as impressive as the one Lord Draco builds over the centuries, but sometimes I think I’m working on it. At some level, I’m grateful for ebooks, otherwise I might run out of room to actually occupy my house! If you’re like me and a fan of good books, you find a lot of them at the Boutique du Vampyre link in the opening paragraph. You can also find both electronic and print editions of my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order at: http://www.zianet.com/dsummers/dragons_fall.html and learn more about Draco, Alexandra, and their quests.

After NaNo

I’m sorry to say I didn’t get a chance to participate in this year’s National Novel Writing Month. My daughter did give it a try and I’m proud that she managed to make good progress on a project she’s working on. For those who don’t know about the National Novel Writing Month, every November writers are challenged to write 50,000 words in a month. Because I’m in the midst of commissioning two instruments at Kitt Peak National Observatory, I didn’t think I could commit to that amount of writing during November this year. However, I have participated twice before and both of my NaNoWriMo novels ultimately became published works.

While 50,000 words is a good amount of a novel, it’s shorter than what most genre publishers are looking for. Some publishers are happy to see young adult books around this length, but even they tend to want at least slightly longer. Also, the organizers of NaNoWriMo encourage authors not to spend time revising their works during the month. The goal is just to get 50,000 new words down on the page. So, how do you go from 50,000 unedited words to a novel you’re willing to submit to a publisher?

I first learned about NaNoWriMo from Jackie Druga, who owned LBF Books, which had just purchased my novels Vampires of the Scarlet Order, The Pirates of Sufiro, and Children of the Old Stars. She challenged me to try my hand at writing a novel in a month. I decided it was time to actually write a novel I’d started twice before, but gave up on called The Solar Sea. The reason I’d given up on this novel twice before is that I didn’t know quite what it wanted to be. Was it an adventure novel? Was there more of a suspense element? Should it be for adults? The 50,000 word length and being a parent of two young daughters inspired me to approach this new start as a young adult novel. I’d thought about it so much over the previous fifteen years, I had really clear pictures of the characters, so writing it was easy. When I got to the end of the month, I had a more-or-less complete novel. It needed spelling and grammar cleaned up. It needed details fleshed out. I ran it by three or four beta readers. I even read it aloud to my daughters and was pleased to see how much the story held them, but even at a young age, they pointed out places where they wanted more. By the time all was said and done, I had a 65,000 word novel and LBF said they were willing to publish it. If you want to see the result, you can learn more about the current edition at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html

Because things had gone so well, Jackie encouraged me to participate in NaNoWriMo again the next year. This time, my project was much less defined. I knew I wanted to write a prequel to my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order and I had a rough idea of what the story would be. I set out on the journey to create the book that would ultimately become Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. I did finish 50,000 words, but I was left with the feeling that I had far from a complete novel. I liked the opening, but felt like the book was beginning to meander toward the end. I also didn’t feel like it had a good focus. In this case, I set the novel aside until I had some idea of what to do with it.

I believe about two years passed. I made a few half-hearted attempts at editing, but was never quite sure what the book was missing. By that time, LBF Books had been purchased by Lachesis Publishing and LeeAnn Lessard approached me with the idea of writing five vampire novellas with erotic overtones. It occurred to me that my NaNoWriMo attempt to could be adapted into three of those. As I thought about what the other two novellas could be, I found a new opening that gave the whole project focus and an overarching theme. With that in mind, I was able to find an ending that became the final novella. Ultimately, those five novellas were published under one cover and called Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. Each of the novellas is a part of the story set in a different time period. As the story evolves, the vampires of the story become romantically involved. In this case, it helped to give myself some distance from the original creation and to get some input that gave me a slightly different approach. By the time I fleshed out the middle and added a new beginning and end, I had a 94,000-word novel. If you’d like to learn more about this novel, visit http://www.davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

To all of you who made good progress on a project this year during NaNoWriMo, I salute you! I wish you the best as you polish your work and help it find its final form.