Giants of Iron and Steam

Back around 2008, when I first learned that the weird westerns and alternate history I had been writing overlapped with steampunk, I decided to see if I could find some music to put me in a good frame of mind for writing. I tend to prefer instrumental music while I write, but I’m happy to have music with lyrics while I’m getting settled into write. I remember naively typing the phrase “steampunk music” into Google just to see what would come up. I found several discussion boards talking about a band called Abney Park and their album Lost Horizons, which was brand new around that time. I bought a copy of the album and fell in love with the music written by the band’s lead singer Robert Brown. Over the years, I’ve snapped up pretty much every album they’ve produced as they’ve been released. I have especially appreciated that Brown has released purely instrumental versions of some of the albums, and yes, they do work as great background when I’m writing.

As time went on, I discovered that Brown is not only a talented songwriter, but a capable storyteller. He’s written three novels set in the world he’s developed through the songs. In 2020, Brown even recorded an audio version of his novel The Toyshop at the End of the World. Given that he performs all the time as lead singer of a band, it should come as no surprise that he performed the book well. So, I was excited to hear that Robert Brown had brought his storytelling and musical talents together into a musical called Giants of Iron and Steam. I gather Brown had hoped to debut this as a live musical, but logistics have not worked out. So, he decided to release it as an album and I recently gave it a listen.

The musical opens in the distant future of his novel series. Two men enter the laboratory of Dr. Calvin Calgori, pushing an older woman in a wheelchair. The two men talk about trying to get to the truth of some matter. To find the information they need, they must use an invention by Dr. Calgori, which will allow them to view the distant past. They peer into the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s as a railroad is being established between a lumber mill and the nearby mountains. We’re soon introduced to a lumberjack named Robert Winters and his daughter Effie who live deep in the mountains. They look forward to the railroad because that means Robert won’t have to float logs down the river. The railroad will support Charles Foster Quinn’s lumber mill. Quinn’s son, Aaron, doesn’t want to succeed his father in the family business. Instead, he wants to be an engineer on the new railroad. Aaron soon meets Effie, which stirs more division between the young man and his father.

The musical felt like a cross between The Pajama Game and Paint Your Wagon. The former is the story of workers at a pajama factory fighting for better wages and working conditions, a theme which comes up in Giants of Iron and Steam. The stage version of Paint Your Wagon focused on the miner Ben Rumson and his daughter’s forbidden romance with a young man named Julio. Unlike those musicals from the 1950s, Giants of Iron and Steam is more honest about the history of labor and race. Plus there’s a dandy mystery as we figure out what the people from the future want from this story of the past.

I felt several personal connections to this story. Aaron learning to be a railroad engineer reminded me of my dad teaching me how to drive a locomotive. Robert Winters talking about the dangers of taking logs down the river reminded me of stories about my great grandfather, who apparently did take logs downriver in his youth, and was seriously wounded at one point. Finally, at one point, Robert Winters reflects on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and sees himself as Prospero to Effie’s Miranda. Given that I actually do have a daughter named Myranda, I’ve opportunity to reflect on The Tempest and definitely felt the parallels.

Giants of Iron and Steam is sold along with the script for the musical, so you can read along as you listen. You can learn more at: https://abneypark.com/market/musical-giants-of-iron-steam-c-83/

If you’d like to look into my steampunk old west, which also tries to present an honest look at history go to http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

Arkham Dreams

In several posts, I’ve mentioned being a Star Trek fan from a very young age. Even before I discovered Star Trek, I was a fan of the Batman television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Part of Batman’s appeal in whatever format is the rogue’s gallery of colorful criminals who try to get away with some dastardly deed only to be foiled by the caped crusader and the boy wonder. My favorite villains at the time were the Penguin played by Burgess Meredith and Egghead played by Vincent Price. Nowadays, I’ve come to appreciate Caesar Romero as the Joker and all the talented actresses who played Catwoman.

Over the years, I’ve remained a fan of the Penguin as a character. Some of that, no doubt, is because I still hear Burgess Meredith’s performance whenever I see the character in the comics. I have to admit, I liked the Penguin’s tuxedo. Some of the appeal came from the Penguin’s use of gadgets hidden in umbrellas. As a kid, umbrellas were fairly easy to come by, so it was easy to play the part without many other accessories. I have to admit, the fact that the Penguin was portrayed a bullied, bookish kid in the comics played on my sympathies. In fact one of my favorite Penguin origin stories was “The Killing Peck” written by Alan Grant with art by Sam Kieth. As it turns out, I wrote about the artist just over a year ago, when I reflected on the comic and animated series, The Maxx.

Batman meets the Maxx

I recently learned that in 2018, Sam Kieth returned to both the worlds of The Maxx and Batman in a comic book miniseries called Arkham Dreams. Three issues of the mini-series were released in 2018, then there was a hiatus, and the series was finished at the end of 2020. The Maxx himself is a large, purple-clad homeless superhero. In Arkham Dreams, we find him in Gotham City going back and forth between the real world and the Outback, which is the world of the subconscious, and, as it happens, fertile ground for exploring both the psyche of Batman and many of his nemeses. The story opens with the Maxx among Gotham’s homeless. Batman catches up with him and takes him to Arkham Asylum for treatment. Of course, Arkham is where many of Batman’s rogues gallery are housed when they’re not committing crimes. At Arkham, Batman encounters a new doctor named Disparu who is trying a new treatment on the Penguin. With the Maxx at Arkham, the worlds of Gotham City and the Outback begin to merge and the two heroes must figure out why this happening and whose Outback they’re going into before the world devolves into chaos.

I love it when characters from different universes meet. Part of what made The Maxx great was its quirky sense of humor even as it delved into serious issues against a psychedelic backdrop. These days, Batman is known for its grim and gritty storytelling, but the best stories often include a certain sense of fun. When that sense of fun is taken to an extreme, Batman becomes like the Adam West and Burt Ward TV series. Pull it back just a little and you find a middle ground where the Maxx and Batman work well together. My favorite part of Arkham Dreams is that even though it’s a crossover, it doesn’t forget to continue some of the narrative from the original Maxx series of the 90s and we get a nice continuation of the story of Maxx and his friend Julie Winters even as Batman confronts the psyches of his rogues gallery.

The real joy of a Sam Kieth book is the art, which is in fine form here. There is a fascinating sequence where the Maxx and Batman are going back and forth between the two worlds. In the Outback, they’re on an air whale battling a strange infection that’s hurting the creature. In the real world, they’re trying to release bombs placed by the Joker on an airship. Arkham Dreams is available in a handsome hardcover edition, which includes all five issues of the comic plus a cover gallery.

If you’re in the mood for crossover stories and want to see the time the Clockwork Legion met the Scarlet Order vampires, read the story “Fountains of Blood” in the collection Straight Outta Tombstone available in ebook at: https://www.amazon.com/Straight-Outta-Tombstone-David-Boop-ebook/dp/B071JGTN3H/

Star Trek: Prodigy

As I mentioned recently, I subscribed to Paramount Plus so I can enjoy the new series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds as its released. I’m still enjoying the series, but while I’m subscribed to the service, I’m also checking out some of the other recent entries in the Star Trek universe.

One thing that has bothered me in Star Trek since The Next Generation is how competitive entry into Starfleet is presented to be. It doesn’t bother me that it’s presented as competitive. After all, exploring space should be aspirational and I have no problem with the idea that its a job for the best and brightest. The problem is the scale of the competition. Back in The Next Generation, Wesley Crusher took a whole bunch of exams and became one of three finalists for some region of space to make it into the academy. Only one of them would make it. How many people started the application process wasn’t clear, but it seemed like these were the only three finalists from several worlds. More recently, in Strange New Worlds, it was stated that thousands of people applied for every single posting.

Two things bother me about these moments. First, we know that Starfleet has many, many ships and many Starbases around the galaxy. In some seasons, it seems like a ship is destroyed every episode. Most of these ships are presented as having somewhere between fifty and a thousand crewmembers. I don’t know how many people there are in Starfleet, but it seems like there are a whole lot of them and there’s real attrition because exploring space is dangerous business! Sure, they come from different planets, but it still strikes me that there’s no shortage of people in Starfleet even though it’s also supposed to be extraordinarily competitive to get in the door. It pushes my willing suspension of disbelief. Also, while I like the aspirational aspect of the competition, I watch a show like Star Trek because I’d like to imagine myself exploring the universe with those people. If it’s presented as too competitive, then I begin to see it as an unachievable dream. Interestingly enough, this is where Star Trek: Prodigy comes in.

Star Trek: Prodigy

Star Trek: Prodigy is a 3-D animated series co-produced by Paramount and Nickelodeon. The show opens on a mining colony outside the Federation where prisoners are used as labor. They’re overseen by a mysterious figure known as Diviner. One of the prisoners, a young man named Dal, is assigned to work deep within the asteroid being mined. There he along with a Medusian in a travel suit called Zero discover the derelict Starfleet ship, the U.S.S. Protostar. Dal and Zero assemble a team of people to resurrect the Protostar and flee Diviner. Their team includes a Tellarite mechanic named Jankom Pog, a rocklike creature named Rok-Tahk, and a slime-like alien called Murph. The inexperienced crew make a getaway aboard the starship with help from a holographic Captain Janeway, from Star Trek: Voyager. The ragtag crew learns about the Federation and decides to take the ship back to Starfleet. In the meantime, we learn that Diviner has been searching for the ship all along and is none too happy with the young people absconding with the prize he’d hoped to find. Diviner, his daughter Gwyn, and the robotic enforcer Drednok go in pursuit of the Protostar.

As our young crew learns about the ship and its abilities, they find that letting it fall into Diviner’s hands would be a bad idea. Along the way, they encounter some strange new worlds, learn to work together as a team and rise to meet the challenges presented to them. There may be a certain realism in presenting placement in Starfleet as highly competitive, but to me, Star Trek’s strongest stories are often about how characters cope with unexpected challenges. There’s no question the best and brightest face difficulties, but sometimes it nice to see people who didn’t necessarily rise to the top of the class, rise to the occasion.

Over the years, Nickelodeon has produced some great shows for younger audiences. While Star Trek: Prodigy may not rise to the quality of a show like Avatar: The Last Airbender, it still tells an engaging tale, expands the Star Trek universe in some good ways and worked equally well for my twenty-year-old daughter and me.

Stay on This Channel

Terrahawks, Volume 1

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I have a long drive from my home to the observatory where I work. Because of that, I like to listen to audiobooks and audio plays while on the road. This past week, I downloaded and listened to Terrahawks Volume 1 available from Big Finish Productions and the Gerry Anderson Store. The production is directed by Gerry Anderson’s son, Jamie Anderson. I gather Terrahawks was shown in the United States, but it came out when I was starting university, so I never saw it at the time. So what is Terrahawks?

Gerry Anderson was a producer well known for producing memorable science fiction and adventure stories in the United Kingdom. Among his most famous shows were Thunderbirds, which ran from 1964-66 and followed the exploits of International Rescue, an agency equipped with advanced air, sea, and space craft that went to the aid of people in trouble. This was followed by the 1967-68 series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons which imagined a top security organization charged with protecting Earth from space invaders. Both shows were produced for younger audiences and featured marionettes. Anderson would go on to produce live action shows in the 1970s like UFO and Space: 1999. Like Captain Scarlet, UFO also featured a security organization protecting the Earth from aliens.

In 1983, Gerry Anderson returned with a new television series. Like Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and UFO, it would feature a secret organization protecting Earth from an alien menace. This show also marked a return to a show produced with a children’s audience in mind featuring puppets. This time, the puppets would be “glove” puppets rather than marionettes, but the show would still feature Gerry Anderson’s quality model work and special effects. The show was called Terrahawks. The aliens were led by a witch-like android named Zelda. She was accompanied by her sister, Cy-star, and her son, Yung-star, plus an assortment of colorful minions. They operated from a base on Mars.

The titular Terrahawks were Earth’s defense force, led by Dr. “Tiger” Ninestein. He was one of nine clones and if he ever died, one of the other clones could be brought in to replace him. His second-in-command was Captain Mary Falconer. Working with them were Lieutenants Hawkeye, Hiro, and Kate Kestrel. Kate also worked as a pop musician and her songs were featured in the show. The Terrahawks organization also has a force of spherical robots called Zeroids. Each of the Zeroids have their own unique personality such as the gruff but loveable Sergeant Major and his right-hand, the French-accented Dix Huit. When Terrahawks started, it seemed Gerry Anderson planned to give it the same kind of earnest, serious treatment as he did Captain Scarlet and UFO. However, budget constraints and the type of puppetry, which was new for Anderson, made it hard to take the show as seriously as its predecessors. Many creators would struggle to bring such a show into line with their vision, but Anderson seems to have rolled with it and allowed the show’s more absurdist and humorous elements to come to the fore. What made the show work were the fun scripts and brilliant voice acting. As such, the show translates very well to an audio-only format.

The Terrahawks Volume 1 audio was released in 2015. It contains eight 30 to 40-minute stories plus a making-of feature. The audio opens with “The Price is Right” in which a government inspector arrives to audit the Terrahawks after Zelda has gone on hiatus for several months. Working at the National Observatory in the United States, I’ve seen many of these kind of inspections and the humor was much appreciated. In “Deadly Departed,” it appears Zelda has finally been destroyed, but everyone is surprised to discover that Tiger Ninestein is named as her heir! The episode “101 Seed” was an episode written for the original series by Gerry Anderson, but never filmed.

“A Clone of My Own” was perhaps the most interesting story. Zelda begins killing off Tiger Ninestein’s clones. Lurking in the background is a serious look at the individuals who are Tiger Ninestein’s clones and the ethics of using them as backup models for the Terrahawks’ leader. Another really interesting idea was explored in Chris Dale’s “Timesplit.” In that one, Zelda’s minion Lord Tempo creates two versions of Lieutenant Hawkeye based based on the possible outcomes of an encounter. He would either escape or be captured. In this case, both happen.

Two of the funniest episodes are “Clubbed to Death” in which Zelda starts a payday loan scam on Earth and “No Laughing Matter” in which a comedian is sent to paralyze our heroes by making them laugh to the point that they can’t effectively defend the Earth.

Throughout the stories, the Zeroid robots infuriate the always-serious Dr. Ninestein. In the final story, “Into the Breach,” the good doctor creates a new type of Zeroid called a Cyberzoid that follows orders perfectly and it looks like the Zeroids will be shelved for good in favor of new robots that sound like fans of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I enjoyed these audio stories a great deal. The story “Deadly Departed” is free to download at the Gerry Anderson Store or from Big Finish Productions if you would like to give the stories a try. Otherwise, you can find the full volume at the links below:

Peering Into Distorted Mirrors

The first time I encountered the idea of parallel worlds — where you might encounter familiar faces existing in an altered reality — was the classic Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror,” written by Jerome Bixby. The episode imagines Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura entering an alternate version of their world where a totalitarian Imperial Earth controls the galaxy instead of a benevolent Federation of Planets. Crewmembers move up in rank by assassinating superior officers and starships are sent to dominate worlds. To me, and I believe many other fans as well, it stands out as one of the more memorable episodes. Despite that, Star Trek would not revisit the “mirror universe” again until Deep Space Nine. At that time, we learn that Spock of the mirror universe attempted to affect changes to the Earth Empire, which, in turn, made the empire weak and allowed the Klingons and Cardassians to take over much of the galaxy. Of course, one wonders what the Mirror Universe equivalents of Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D were doing during this time.

Mirror Universe Collection

IDW Comics decided to explore this idea in a set of comic book miniseries which have been collected in the graphic novel Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mirror Universe Collection. The graphic novel contains three complete story arcs. The first, “Mirror Broken,” tells the story of how the mirror universe Jean-Luc Picard took command of his version of the Enterprise. This story features beautiful painted artwork by J.M. Woodward and is possibly the best artwork I’ve seen in a Star Trek comic. The story by David & Scott Tipton does a nice job of weaving a Next Generation story out of our glimpses of the mirror universe from the TV series. The second arc is “Through the Mirror” which imagines the mirror universe Picard and his crew finding a way into our universe to plunder technology and resources. Of course the Picard of our universe must do what he can to thwart the mirror Picard. The final story arc is “Terra Incognita” in which the mirror universe engineer Reginald Barclay is stranded in our universe and must find a way to blend in. This proved to be my favorite story since it focused on one character, how he was the same and different from his counterpart in “our” universe and how he had to learn to fit in to survive and thrive.

The graphic novel also contains two one-shot stories: “Origin of Data” and “Ripe for Plunder.” Both stories were interesting. The latter involves the mirror universe Data seeking out the deposed Emperor Spock in exile. The idea was interesting, but I thought the tale deserved more nuance than a one-shot story allowed.

To me, the appeal of parallel universe stories is that they allow us to explore “the road not traveled.” We can look back at history and ask what if historical figures made different choices than they did in the history we know? This is what I do in my Clockwork Legion novels. Such alternate universes don’t have to be “dark” universes like the one presented in Star Trek’s mirror universe. They can be an exploration of human drives under different conditions. They can provide for a fun character study. Although I have issues with Star Trek: Into Darkness, I still love the idea of exploring the Enterprise’s encounter with Khan Noonien Singh under different circumstances than we knew in the original series.

In an interesting piece of real-world alternate history, I gather Jerome Bixby and his son Emerson wrote a sequel to “Mirror, Mirror” called “Broken Mirror” for Star Trek: The Next Generation. This version was written before Deep Space Nine’s creation and imagined Spock from the mirror universe discovering a problem which developed when Captain Kirk and his landing party returned to their home universe many years before. Apparently matter from the two universes would have been leaking into one another creating a disaster about to happen, which required crews from both universes to work together. I would love to see this story adapted or even a published version of the screenplay.

Dark alternate universes provide an interesting approach to the cautionary tale. “Mirror, Mirror” and its sequels give us a look at what our future might be like if we give into our darker, more totalitarian natures. After all, there’s no guarantee the Star Trek universe is ours. We could be living inside the mirror.

You can explore my alternate version of the late 1800s by reading the Clockwork Legion series, which is available at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

The Guns of Legende

A couple of weeks ago, author Brody Weatherford asked if I would take a look at his new book, Front Range Rebellion, which is the first book in a new western series called The Guns of Legende. The series is centered on the Society of Buckhorn and Bison, a secret organization that takes on dangerous missions to preserve justice through the Wild West. Led by the suave Allister Legende, no job is too dangerous or too daunting. I was reminded of the Mission: Impossible TV series with Legende filling the role of Mr. Phelps. Legende is a character with a shadowed past and a considerable fortune who lives in a Denver Mansion filled with hidden rooms and secret passages.

Front Range Rebellion

Legende commands a team which includes his butler Kingston, the ironically named Mr. Small, and Augustus Crane, the Denver Postmaster. Like the best fictional butlers, Kingston reveals unexpected talents as the story progresses. Crane is ideally positioned to make sure messages are delivered to Legende and to members of the team.

In Front Range Rebellion, Legende recruits Frank Landy and his ex-wife Emily O’Connor. Landry is a southerner but not a southern patriot who works as a whiskey peddler. He can talk anyone into buying whatever it is he’s selling. O’Connor is of Irish descent from Boston. She has a quick temper but she’s a skilled gambler with a taste in the finer things in life.

As the novel begins, the Society of Buckhorn and Bison is tasked with defeating the power-mad Colonel Carlton Clark’s attempt to form his own country and thus prevent Colorado from achieving statehood. Landry and O’Connor prove just the people needed to thwart Colonel Clark’s political and military machinations. As a former married couple, it’s never quite certain how well they’ll cooperate. They have different ideas and different ways of swinging into action. Landry is just as interested in showing up his ex-wife as he is stopping Colonel Clark and his murderous army. Statehood and more is at stake. Thousands of lives hang in the balance as Frank and Emily battle both the would-be President of Auraria.

Although Front Range Rebellion reminds me of Mission: Impossible, it never really takes on the steampunk flavor of The Wild Wild West since it relies more on suspense and intrigue than on gadgets. Along the way, there’s plenty of western gunfight action. All of the characters are well drawn and I cared about them. Colonel Clark is the kind of bad guy who is nasty enough you want to see him fail, but Weatherford keeps him believable. If you’re a fan of good action-packed westerns, or a fan of spy thrillers, you’re sure to enjoy Front Range Rebellion. I look forward to moving on to the second book in the series, Death Waits at Yellowstone.

You can learn more about The Guns of Legende and order the books at the series website: https://gunsoflegende.com

Finding the Groove Again

“Write every day” is a common mantra you’ll hear from writers. Writing every day will give you practice. If you’re honest as you evaluate your writing and work with people who will give you honest feedback, you’ll grow as a writer. Writing every day keeps you in the groove. The more you do it, the easier writing becomes. However, I understand quite well how life can throw challenges to this ideal in a person’s path.

This past year is a case in point. It’s actually been rather busy on several writing-related fronts. I edited the novels Hybrid and Hybrid: Forced Vengeance for Greg Ballan. I edited the short story collection The Way-Out Wild West by Lyn McConchie. I completed re-editing my novel Heirs of the New Earth and brought out new editions of my first three Clockwork Legion novels. The fourth one is in process now. I’ve also been working on a project I can’t discuss yet. Of course, I’ve been doing all this while operating telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory. What I haven’t done as much as I’d like is write new fiction.

This is not to say that I’ve eschewed writing altogether during this period. I’ve kept this blog going. Typically that means composing a roughly 500-word post twice a week. That has helped a great deal because it helps me think about topics and gives me practice composing articles. I’ve also written and revised scenes as part of my editorial work and the secret project I alluded to. Even if you can’t write every day, I highly recommend making some time to write each week, even if it doesn’t contribute to a project. Even journaling can help.

Daniel, the Vampire Astronomer – illustration by Chaz Kemp

I think the hardest part for me getting back into the writing groove is that I find it far too easy to be distracted by tasks such as work around the house and yard, emails, and even books to read. The first thing I did to get back into the groove was decide what story I wanted to write. In effect, this story is something of a warm-up for the vampire novel I outlined. What’s more, I have some markets in mind for the new story. Without giving too much away, I’d realized that the vampire Daniel in Vampires of the Scarlet Order was very much defined by being a vampire and an astronomer for over a century. I wanted to know more about who he was before he became either a vampire or an astronomer. Once I defined the idea, I spent some time doing some research into schools he might have attended and what was going on in the world at the time of the story, which I planned to set in 1899, and how those events might impact his life. I then went for a walk. I find walks provide a great opportunity to clear my head and I am often able to put my research together with my character and come up with a story.

Once I returned from the walk, I gave myself permission to tune out the world. I turned off my email, turned off my phone’s sound, logged out of Facebook messenger, closed the door to my writing office and told myself I would stay in place until I wrote 500 words. I did that within half an hour but once the story started flowing, I wanted to write more. I got a drink (hydration is important!) and went back to work. Next thing I knew, I had almost 3000 words. The whole process felt a lot like riding a bicycle. Now, I’m in the process of editing and revising the story. Overall, I’m feeling pretty good about it and I hope I’ll have some news about it soon.

So, the keys for me were that even though I had taken a brief hiatus from writing new fiction, I had not given up writing altogether. I had kept a routine. I also had kept a reading routine, which kept my imagination stimulated. When I chose to sit down and write some new fiction, I started with a character I wanted to know, which propelled me through the writing and I gave myself permission to spend uninterrupted time with that character so they could speak to me. If you take a break from writing, you may find a whole different process will help you get into the groove, but maybe some of these experiences will help.

This weekend, I am at El Paso Comic Con. I have two panels today where I discuss writing. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll come to the con, sit in on one or both panels and visit me at my booth in the vendor’s area. You can learn more about Daniel the vampire astronomer in Vampires of the Scarlet Order. More information at: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO.html

El Paso Comic Con 2022

This weekend, April 22-24, I will be a participant and a vendor at El Paso Comic Con. This year, El Paso Comic Con is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Featured guests at the convention include William Shatner, Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, and anime voice actors Mike McFarland, Monica Rial, and Austin Tindle. Comic book artists Renee Witterstaetter, Michael Golden and Sam de la Rosa will also be on hand. The convention will be held at the El Paso Convention Center in downtown El Paso, Texas. You can get all the details at https://www.elpasocomiccon.com

I will be exhibiting the books I’ve written, edited, or have stories in at booth A15 in the exhibitor hall. Author Tamsin Silver will be joining me at my booth. I have two new books I was proud to edit and publish since last fall’s El Paso Comic Con. One is The Way-Out Wild West by Lyn McConchie. The other is Hybrid: Forced Vengeance by Greg Ballan. I also have the new editions of my first three Clockwork Legion novels Owl Dance, Lightning Wolves, and The Brazen Shark. Of course, since this is a comic con, I will have plenty of copies of my comic Guinevere and the Stranger on hand. I’m always happy to sign books you buy from me.

Tamsin and I will also be presenting some panels discussing our writing experiences at the convention. It’s possible we’ll add some other attending authors to our panel lineup as well. Here’s our schedule:

Saturday, April 23

1:00-1:45pm in the El Paso Panel Room. Researching Your Fiction. Fiction is making stuff up, but it still involves knowledge of the tools the characters use, the settings they visit, and the types of people they’ll meet in those settings. Tamsin and I will discuss how to do the research that makes your fiction feel realistic to readers.

3:00-3:45pm in the El Paso Panel Room. Getting to Know the Characters in Your Head. Tamsin and I will discuss how to breathe life into characters you’re writing no matter how far from your own experience they may be.

Sunday, April 24

4:00-4:45pm in the El Paso Panel Room. From Weird Westerns to Space Opera. Tamsin and I talk about their experience writing westerns, horror, science fiction and fantasy and how they’re the same and different.

Adaptations and Retellings

The idea of adapting a story and retelling a story may sound much the same, but I’d suggest they’re slightly different things. Adapting a story is finding a way to tell a story in a new medium. For example, adapting a story to be filmed as a movie or told in an audio. Retelling is more like what happens when I tell a story to someone and then that someone tells the story to someone else, emphasizing the parts they liked and adding new details, and so on.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

I recently watched David Lowery’s film The Green Knight. Although I’m a fan of early Arthurian literature, I had never read the original poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The movie certainly reminded me of Arthurian literature of its period. The poem is believed to have been written circa 1380 AD. Arthur’s knights gathered for revels and a quest happened. A hunt formed an integral part of the quest and beheadings happened. All of these elements reminded me of Culhwch and Olwen, which appeared in written form around the same time, but is believed to have originated in the 11th or 12th century.

I enjoyed the film a lot and it encouraged me to seek out the original. After doing some research on the web, I decided to give Simon Armitage’s translation a try. I found his translation very readable and I appreciated it that it’s printed side-by-side with the original Middle English. Some of Armitage’s modern colloquialisms did pull me briefly out of the story, but overall, I thought he did a fine job of conveying both meaning and poetic sensibility. I also learned that the movie The Green Knight was much more a retelling than an adaptation.

Calling The Green Knight a retelling is by no means intended as a criticism. I enjoy retelling stories and have sold several of my retellings over the years. I think a retelling can bring new insights to characters, highlight hidden elements in stories, and make older stories more relevant to new audiences. The poem alludes to quests and trials as Gawain travels to complete his quest at the Green Chapel. The movie visualizes two of those quests, drawing on another story for one of those quests. David Lowery clearly emphasized Gawain’s class and privilege, then used the quest as a way for him to learn the value of courage. In the poem, Gawain doesn’t need to learn courage as much as he needs to learn honesty and perhaps even that it’s acceptable to be afraid.

It took me about the same amount of time to read Simon Armitage’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as it did to watch the movie. I’m glad I did both. Also, it’s worth noting, the introductory material to Armitage’s translation was fascinating. I learned, among other things, that because Germanic languages tend to emphasize first syllables, early Germanic poems tended to use alliteration. Because Romance languages tend to emphasize last syllables, their poems tended to rhyme. English takes words from both and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was an early example of poem that used both techniques.

I share a retelling of Arthurian legend as part of my novel, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires, which you can learn more about at: http://davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

I also adapted the early story Culhwch and Olwen. Learn more about that at: http://davidleesummers.com/cando.html

A Master of Djinn

I have been a steampunk fan since before I knew the subgenre existed. For that matter, I’ve been writing in the subgenre before I knew it existed. My first steampunk story, “The Slayers,” was published in Realms of Fantasy Magazine in 2001 and I didn’t really become aware of the genre until the release of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker in 2009. My love of steampunk stems from looking at history and asking “what if” questions. When I was growing up, it seemed like the only fantasy stories available were set in a world that felt like medieval Europe. So I loved the idea of fantasy and alternate historical science fiction that opened up the time periods where these stories could be set. There seems an expectation that “steampunk” must be associated with Victorian England, but again because I came at these kinds of stories from sources like The Wild Wild West and Jules Verne’s Voyages extraordinaires, I never really saw England as a necessary component. I’m always delighted when a steampunk or fantasy tale takes me someplace I’ve never been.

A Master of Djinn

Over the last few years, I’ve been delighted by the novellas of P. Djèlí Clark. The first I read was The Black God’s Drums set in post-Civil War New Orleans about a young woman who wants to escape the streets by earning the trust of an airship pirate crew. She thinks the key might be some information she’s gained about a Haitian scientist. Fortunately, the young woman, Creeper, can also manipulate the weather. As far as I’m concerned Clark told another amazing tale in The Haunting of Tram Car 015, which is set in 1912 Cairo. In the story, agents Hamed Nasr and Onsi Youssef of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities are tasked with removing a malevolent supernatural entity from an aerial tram car.

I was delighted to see that Professor Clark returned to his alternate Cairo in a full length novel, A Master of Djinn. Although Hamed and Onsi appear in the novel, they aren’t the point of view characters. This time, we meet Fatma el-Sha’arawi, a woman working for the same ministry. The novel is basically murder mystery. Someone has killed every member of a brotherhood dedicated to al-Jahiz, who opened the veil to the magical realm allowing djinn to return to our world. The murderer claims to be al-Jahiz returned and he threatens to start a popular uprising. Agent Fatma must get to the bottom of who this person is before he disrupts an important peace conference being set up in Cairo.

A Master of Djinn proved a fun, fast-paced tale with some fascinating glimpses at North African, Islamic culture. Tucked in the narrative is a little background on the 1001 Arabian Nights, which I enjoyed, especially after some of my own research for a story I wrote called “Horse Feathers,” which I hope to say more about soon. While waiting for that, you can explore my steampunk world, which starts in the American West of 1877 and finds its way to Mexico, Japan, Russia, and Iran. You can get more details about the Clockwork Legion series at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion