The Astronomer’s Crypt 2nd Edition Now Available

This has been an eventful week. I spent the early part working on a draft plan for reopening Kitt Peak National Observatory during the COVID-19 pandemic. I think the team involved came up with a good, detailed plan. It came in at 13,000 words, the length of a novella! While doing this, I’ve been listening to the news of the death of George Floyd and protests associated with this terrible event. There should be no question that black lives matter and black voices need to be heard.

While all of this was going on, the second edition of my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt was released. This edition features a new cover, new formatting, plus my wife and I have gone over the new edition with a fine-toothed comb and cleaned up many typographical errors. I won’t guarantee we got them all, but this version should be an improvement over the previous edition. What’s more, it’s a little less expensive than the previous edition. So, if you haven’t yet, this is a great time to open the crypt and see what lurks within.

The story begins two years before the novel’s main events on a stormy night, in the dead of winter. On that night, Mike Teter experienced something that would change his life forever. Mike was a telescope operator at the world renowned Carson Peak Observatory in New Mexico. That night, he saw something and experienced events so terrible they would drive him to leave his job, haunted by terrible visions. Despite those events, Mike is called back to Carson Peak and the vision he had two years before becomes a reality as ghosts, gangsters and an Apache spirit from the dawn of time collide during a terrible storm. The novel is strongly inspired by my years working at observatories in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. What’s more, Mike’s vision in the novel is very close to something that happened to me several years ago at the WIYN telescope. Fortunately, my story didn’t have the tragic consequences of Mike’s tale. If you want to read the prologue, you can for free at: http://davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt-Preview.html

In July 2017, Chris Wozny wrote a review of the novel for The Nameless Zine, which is the online newsletter of the Western Science Fiction Association. She said, “In the best tradition of horror fiction, we have courageous protagonists, characters who cross the line of good and evil in both directions, unspeakable evil from a forgotten age, and a villain behind the scenes who is attempting to bring back dark powers in the (no doubt mistaken) belief that he can control them … Strongly recommended to all who enjoy Stephen King’s novels.” You can read the entire review at: http://www.westernsfa.org/Book_Nook/Books-2017/Astronomers_Crypt.php

You can buy the print edition at Amazon.com.

You can buy the ebook edition at either Amazon.com or Smashwords.com.

Revisiting Das Boot

I grew up knowing I had ancestors who came from Germany. What’s more, my uncle married a German woman. I wanted to be a scientist and I knew about a number of German scientists such as Kepler, Einstein, and Heisenberg just to name a few. So when it came to pick a language from my limited high school offerings, I chose German. My high school only offered two years of the language, so when I exhausted those, I was encouraged to take classes at Cal State San Bernardino. During this time, one of the most famous German films was released: Das Boot. The professor of my college German class offered us extra credit if we went to see the movie in German. Several of us went as a group. As with many at the time, I found the movie amazing, stunning, and sad at the end.

My aunt was excited that I had gone to watch a feature-length German film. She contacted one of her relatives in Germany and had them buy a hardcover copy of the original novel and send it to the US. She gave it to me as a Christmas present. It’s still one of my treasured possessions. I’m sorry to say I have not taken the time to wade through and read the whole thing, but I was delighted when I recently picked it up and discovered my German is still good enough to follow the gist of the story.

Writers are often told to “write what you know.” This can be tricky for science fiction writers. That said, we should pull from our experience to make what we imagine as believable as possible. One of the reasons Das Boot was fascinating to me was how real it made serving in a cramped, enclosed ship. Much as I loved the Star Trek-like future of grand, beautiful starships, I couldn’t help but think the reality of military space ships would look more like the U-96 in Das Boot than Captain Picard’s spacious Enterprise. When I started writing the stories that would become the foundation of my Space Pirates’ Legacy series, I made space vessels cramped and claustrophobic with crews who got on each others’ nerves.

Back in the days when I first saw the movie Das Boot, I’d heard rumors of a longer version than the one we saw in the United States. It turns out this was a 5-hour cut broadcast over five nights on British television in 1984. This cut (more or less) was eventually released in the United States as “The Original Uncut Version” shown above. I bought it a few years ago, then promptly moved to a new house where it disappeared under a stack of other videos. I finally found it again and watched the five-hour cut.

I have to say, I was impressed. The longer cut didn’t drag at all. What it gave us were more character moments. The 1980s American theatrical release focused on the captain, the chief engineer, and the war correspondent. The longer release gives us a chance to know the first officer, the third officer, the navigator and the radio operator much better. The crew began to feel even more like a family, albeit a dysfunctional one at times.

I’ve come to realize that space travel would be unsustainable if spaceships were as small and crowded as a World War II-era U-boat, but still, thinking about how they ate, the jobs they were assigned to, the “human” touches that made the sub a little more livable than sterile are all things that help me think about how to design space vessels in my writing. If you want to see how I’ve brought that into play, a good place to start is book one of my Space Pirates’ Legacy series, Firebrandt’s Legacy. You can learn more at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/Firebrandts-Legacy.html

Fun with Text-to-Speech

This week, my wife and I have been proofreading the Hadrosaur Productions editions of The Astronomer’s Crypt and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires before these books are uploaded as ebooks and sent to the print vendor. Last week, my wife presented me with the code to upgrade Microsoft Office on my desktop computer. I upgraded the edition and began to look through the menus, making sure I knew where familiar features were located. Fortunately not much has changed, but I did accidentally stumble on the text-to-speech option while I had The Astronomer’s Crypt manuscript open. So, I decided to let it read a page or two to me. My first thought was that this is what it would be like for Stephen Hawking to read me a story. It was a fairly flat reading. Despite that, I found it surprisingly listenable. As it read over a section I had already approved, I noticed it skipped over a word. I looked closer and discovered that it had not skipped. I had omitted the word. Specifically it was a small one, the article “a.”

I began to think this could be a handy tool for proofreading. So I started playing it while I read over the formatted manuscript. Now then, I normally do a “read aloud” pass when I edit my manuscripts. However, if I get too much into the flow of the story, I can “read” words that should be there but actually don’t exist on the page. Also, reading it with my inflections means that I can overlook some weak, repetitive prose by placing the emphasis where I want it. The problem is, my intention may not match what another reader will see on the page. The upshot is that the flat reading of the Text-to-Speech actually proves useful because it helps me hear how well the prose itself is doing its job.

Not surprisingly, text-to-speech has limitations. If you write fantasy or historical fiction, be prepared for the program to mispronounce names. However, there’s a neat element to this. It will mispronounce those names the same way. Every. Single. Time. While going through Dragon’s Fall, I looked at names on the page and thought they were correct, but the text-to-speech program read the misspelled version differently than the correct version. This caused me to look closer. Humans have a tendency to read with visual clues, so a name like Myrinne will look very much like Myrrine when you read it on the page, but the text-to-speech program pronounces them differently.

Text-to-speech is functionality that has been part of Word processors and operating systems for a little while, so it’s possible this may not be new to many people, but if it is new to you, I recommend you give it a try and see how you like it as a tool. If you do give this a try, I recommend reading along on the page while the program reads to you. It’s hard to “hear” the difference between commas and periods, for example, but the program will make it clear when you have one of those in the wrong spot!

I have found that Text-to-Speech is enabled in Word 2019 and in Adobe Acrobat (though I found its interface is a bit clunky to use in Acrobat.) I gather it’s also enabled in the Mac edition of Scrivener, but it does not exist in the PC edition. Word 2019 gives you a nice “play/pause” button so you can stop when you hear a problem. If you get lost while the program is reading, I recommend pausing, going back to where you last were following and start again.

I’ll wrap up today’s post with an update about the books mentioned above. Lachesis Publishing has started to pull their editions of the books from publication. Last I looked, the only vendor that hasn’t pulled them down is Apple, but hopefully that will happen soon and I can begin uploading my editions.

Celebration in Isolation

In my post one week ago, I mentioned that my family was celebrating numerous anniversaries and milestones. It should come as no surprise that these celebrations had to be adjusted in the wake of restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, we did our best to mark the occasions in a suitable fashion.

Before I continue, I note that as I write this, the death toll from COVID-19 approaches 100,000 in the United States. I’m very sorry for those who have lost loved ones at this difficult time. At the same time, I’m grateful to all those who take social distancing guidelines seriously so that we don’t find ourselves in an even worse situation.

Last week, my wife and I celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Looking it up on line, the thirtieth is the Pearl Anniversary. Because my wife and I are fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000, this brought to mind Dr. Pearl Forrester, the evil genius who sent cheesy movies to the Satellite of Love during the show’s SyFy Channel years. With this in mind, my wife and I decided to get each other Mystery Science Theater 3000-themed gifts. We ended up getting the two Netflix seasons of the show along with a 1000-piece puzzle to work on together.

Although it wasn’t technically an anniversary present, the same day as the puzzle and movies arrived in the mail, my wife bought me the code to upgrade my copy of Microsoft Word to the 2019 version. I discovered that the software has a feature that will read the text to you. I’ve long been an advocate for reading your own work aloud when you edit, but this is a nice additional tool. It has already helped me find unintended commas or wrong words in documents I’ve edited. This looks like a nice feature for an author to add to their toolkit and I likely will say more once I gain more experience with it.

Normally we would go out to dinner for our anniversary, and while there are some restaurants opening up with some seating, we decided this wasn’t the time to do that. We grilled steaks for our anniversary and then ordered a to-go meal from one of our favorite restaurants two day later when our daughter graduated from high school.

Las Cruces High School held a “drive-thru” graduation. Parents drove the graduating seniors through the line in cars. My daughter wanted me to drive her through in my Smart Car with its airship pirate logos. A masked and gloved staff member handed out the papers and flowers. I drove the car, so this marked the first time I went through a graduation procession since my own university graduation.

I wrapped up last week with another interview at Las Cruces Community Radio Station 101.5FM KTAL-LP. “All About Books” host Lynn Moorer interviewed me about my novel Firebrandt’s Legacy. Even though this was an in-studio interview, we maintained good social distancing. We sat well over 6-feet apart and she made sure to clean the chair and microphone I used. In the interview, Lynn was especially interested in the jumps ships in my universe use to move faster than the speed of light. My means of faster-than-light travel was an idea I came up with while studying General Relativity in grad school at New Mexico Tech. You may listen to the entire interview at: https://www.lccommunityradio.org/archives/all-about-books-david-lee-summers9615141

You can learn more about the novel, read a sample chapter, and find out where you can obtain a copy of your own at: http://davidleesummers.com/Firebrandts-Legacy.html

Dragon’s Fall – 2nd Edition Cover Reveal

As with The Astronomer’s Crypt, the rights to my vampire novels, Dragon’s Fall and Vampires of the Scarlet Order revert to me next month. I’ve been working hard this month to re-edit and re-format all of these books so I can launch them as soon as possible after the rights formally revert to me. My vampire novels are older than The Astronomer’s Crypt, so they required a bit more editing. The most challenging part about Dragon’s Fall was that it was originally intended to be released as a series of five novellas and the project had two editors. One editor worked on the first two novellas and a second editor came in for the remaining three. The upshot is that I caught some consistency issues plus a handful of typos and even a couple of outright mistakes such as sunlight shining through a window at night! This is the kind of thing guaranteed to make an author cringe!

Of the Dragon’s Fall novellas, only two were released as stand-alones both featuring covers by Laura Givens that I discussed in last Tuesday’s post. The cover for the collected edition featured a stock image of a vampire woman with some nice lettering by Laura. Of course the danger of stock images is that you sometimes find them on multiple covers and, in fact, I had the experience of revealing my cover and then within the week another author revealed almost the exact same cover with a different title!

For the new edition, I chose artist Chaz Kemp to do the cover. Chaz was artist guest of honor at TusCon in 2019 and is scheduled to be artist guest of honor at Bubonicon this year. I picked him because he has a lovely character styling that evokes days gone by and a lot of his work captures the kind of mood evoked in these books. The cover is basically a family portrait showing Desmond, Lord Draco, Alexandra the Greek, and the first ever depiction of Roquelaure against a starry, autumnal backdrop.

For the first time, we see Desmond with his goatee and Chaz gave him a lovely dragon emblem, denoting is rank as one of the King’s Dragon’s in ancient Britain. Also for the first time, we see Roquelaure, whose past is couched in mystery. Although he often wears a cloak in the books, it’s noted that he could easily be confused with Sir Lancelot of legend. Chaz’s version captures that aspect of Roquelaure nicely. Alexandra looks thoughtful as she ponders the subject that she cares most about: Freedom.

I was also honored that Marita Woywod Crandle, owner of Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans and author of New Orleans Vampires—History and Legend provided a new quote for the cover: “A journey into the time of lords, battles, sailing the seas, and vampires. A wonderful escape into historical adventure.”

Observant readers will notice a subtle change to the book’s subtitle. Originally, the book’s subtitle was simply Rise of the Scarlet Order. I changed it to Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires for this edition because over the last few years, even though the cover featured an obvious vampire on the cover, people often asked if it was a book about dragons. Alas, the only dragon in the book is Desmond, Lord Draco!

You can read more about the novel and read the first chapter at: http://davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

Anniversaries and Milestones

May 2020 is a month of numerous milestones and anniversaries for me. Today, May 19, I celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of my marriage to Kumie Wise. I’ve dedicated two of my novels to her. The first is The Pirates of Sufiro which celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary this year and the second is Vampires of the Scarlet Order which celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this month. To commemorate both our anniversary and the anniversary of Vampires of the Scarlet Order, the dedication of which reads “To Kumie, enchantress of my heart forevermore,” I share this fun photo the two of us had taken at the Arizona Renaissance Fair circa 1994. In other milestones, my youngest daughter graduates from high school later this week.

The fifteenth anniversary of the release of Vampire of the Scarlet Order coincides nicely with the upcoming release of new editions of both that novel and it’s prequel, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires. I hired artist Chaz Kemp to create new covers for the novels. He’s turned in the cover for Dragon’s Fall and I’ll unveil that on Saturday. For those of you who don’t know Chaz’s work, I encourage you to learn more about him at https://www.chazkemp.com/

In working with Chaz, I’ve been thinking about the characters of Dragon’s Fall and how they’ve been portrayed by other artists. The “dragon” of Dragon’s Fall is a vampire named Desmond, Lord Draco. As a human, he was one of the Dragon Lords of Duke Ambrosius Aurelianus in Britain circa 570 AD. He’s sent to raid a Saxon village. Downed by a Saxon arrow, he falls prey to a vampire who has been following the Saxons. Not one to take such an attack lying down, Draco fights back. So doing, he manages to swallow some of the vampire’s blood and becomes a vampire himself. The Saxon vampire, Wolf, takes him under his wing. Wolf leads Draco and the other Dragon Lords on a quest for the one thing Wolf thinks can bring forgiveness to a vampire: the Holy Grail. As Draco nears the quest’s end, he learns he has the ability to transform into a beast, as many vampires can. In Draco’s case, the “beast” proves to be a swarm of flies. In the years after the hunt for the Holy Grail, Draco goes on to become one of the founding members of a band of vampire mercenaries called the Scarlet Order. Here we see Draco as imagined by Steven Gilberts. I like Steve’s vision except for one minor nitpick. He gave Draco a shave! Draco should have a beard.

Dragon’s Fall actually opens with the tale of a vampire even older than Draco. This is the vampire Alexandra. When I first started drafting Dragon’s Fall during a NaNoWriMo session, I started with Draco’s story. However, Lachesis Publishing came to me and asked for a series of five vampire novellas. To make the series work out, I added Alexandra’s origin story. I entitled the novella A Gorgon in Bondage, but given that Lachesis wanted to sell the novella as erotica, they shortened the title. Still, my longtime cover artist, Laura Givens gave me a nice version of Alexandra for the cover of the novella. This novella will appear as part of Dragon’s Fall under its original title.

The final vampire who helped to found the Scarlet Order is the mysterious Roquelaure. Roquelaure is a word from the French and it refers to a type of hooded, knee-length cloak that European men wore in the 18th and 19th centuries. The cloaks were named for the French marshal Antoine Gaston Jean Baptiste, Duc de Roquelaure. Roquelaure is also the nom de guerre of a mysterious vampire that I introduced in the story “Pat, Marcella, and the Kid” first published in 2002. Until the upcoming cover for the new edition of Dragon’s Fall, no artist has illustrated the mysterious Roquelaure, so it was fun to work with Chaz to imagine what he looks like. Be sure to return on Saturday to see Chaz’s version of these three characters who appear on the new edition of Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires.

The Astronomer’s Crypt – 2nd Edition Cover Reveal

Next month, the rights to my novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt, revert to me. One of my jobs this month has been preparing a new edition so its ready to launch as soon as I’m clear to do so. Overall, I was happy with the novel’s first edition and my updated edit has changed very little. I caught a handful of typos that were missed the first time. I’m not sure I believe it’s possible for a truly typo-free book to exist. Also, the editorial process on any book is a discussion between the writer and the editorial team. As the author, I find I agree with many editorial suggestions wholeheartedly. There are, of course, a few editorial suggestions that just don’t work for me and I ask to leave the section as written, or I come up with an alternative revision. There are also places where an editor makes a suggestion and while I don’t agree with it 100%, I still accept it, because I don’t disagree with it or don’t feel it substantially changes things. I’ve revisited a few of those moments in the book.

The bigger change will be the cover itself. Laura Givens who did the original cover is back to do the new take. The concept for the original cover was to present an observatory enclosure on a dark, spooky night like a haunted house. The potential problem with this concept is that unless you’re familiar with observatory enclosures, you might not know what you’re looking at. In fact, tall observatory buildings bear a close resemblance to silos. So when Laura took on the new edition, she wanted to better capture what most people think of when they think “observatory” and that’s the telescope inside. We also discussed it and decided to include one of the monsters from the book. In this case, it’s a creature from Mescalero Apache lore known as Big Owl, or He Who Kills With His Eyes.

One of the challenges of including the monster on this version of the cover is that in contemporary American society, we tend to picture owls as cute or friendly. However, in many Native American traditions, owls are harbingers of death and to the Mescalero Apache, Big Owl was considered an adversary to the first humans. To get to the idea of a scary owl in the novel, I used the idea that modern birds are the descendants of dinosaurs and I began to picture a primordial, dangerous, predatory owl. I think Laura did a great job of capturing that vision on the cover.

Of course, Big Owl isn’t the only threat you’ll meet in this novel. There are drug dealers, ghosts, and a destructive storm as well. The first edition of The Astronomer’s Crypt will still be available for two more weeks. If you want to get your hands on that edition, do it now. Otherwise, I hope to release the new edition of The Astronomer’s Crypt in June.

You can learn more about the novel, watch the book trailer, and read the prologue at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt.html

Tombstone Rashomon

I’ve been waiting for the DVD release of Tombstone Rashomon ever since I first heard about the movie, which was during its production. The movie stars my friend Eric Schumacher as Doc Holliday. It’s directed by Alex Cox, who directed Repo Man and Sid and Nancy, and tells the story of the infamous gunfight outside Tombstone’s OK Corral from the perspective of several of the participants in a style similar to Akira Kurosawa’s classic film Rashomon.

The gunfight at OK Corral is a tale worthy of a Rashomon-like treatment. It’s a difficult historical moment to understand because the people involved were tangled in so many ways. It wasn’t as simple as the Clantons vs. the Earps as many filmed versions would have you believe. Both sides had dealings that seem both shady and noble, and self-interests muddied up the lines of who was on what side at various points leading up to the affair. I researched the Earps and the Clantons quite a bit for my novels Lightning Wolves and Owl Riders. When I wrote Lightning Wolves and decided the Clantons needed to be part of it, I knew I was writing a period of history before the arrival of the Earps and Doc Holliday. So, my research focused on the family and their allies in the days before Tombstone’s founding. The events set up in that novel prevented Tombstone’s founding, which meant the two factions never came together and the gunfight never happened, but that didn’t prevent Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday from seeing business opportunities in Arizona Territory in Owl Riders. Eric’s research into Doc’s character for Tombstone Rashomon helped inform my portrayal of Doc.

The movie imagines that time travelers arrive in Tombstone the day after the gunfight. They interview Doc Holliday and his girlfriend, Kate Elder, along with Wyatt Earp, Sheriff John Behan, Ike Clanton, and a saloon owner named Hafford. I especially enjoyed Christine Doidge’s performance as Kate. In real life Kate was a Hungarian immigrant and Doidge played up that aspect. In Hungarian, there are not separate words for “he” and “she” and Kate gets flustered and often just uses “she” for both. Kate also seems to relish how this bothers people and refers to Doc as her “wife” even though there are separate words for husband and wife in Hungarian.

Eric played Doc Holliday as an educated man who will do anything he can to succeed in life and make a buck. As in real life, Doc was wracked with tuberculosis and Eric gives a moment that made me more sympathetic to his plight than Val Kilmer’s understated take in the movie Tombstone. The suggestion is made that Doc became a drinking man to dull the pain of the terminal disease. Of course, the movie is all about unreliable narrators.

At times, the film becomes almost impressionistic, mixing modern elements into the historical. There’s always a danger of this confusing an audience, but it can also be interesting to let it be a way of seeing older events through the lens of more familiar, contemporary icons. The film also literally takes you back in time by starting at modern Boot Hill just outside Tombstone, Arizona with tourists taking selfies in front of the Clantons’ tombstones and then dissolving back into the past.

In addition to Eric, I was excited to see Rogelio Camarillo in the film as Billy Claiborne. He was the sound man when we filmed the book trailer for my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. I was also delighted to see Bradford Trojan as Tom McLaury. I had a bit part in the movie Revenge of Zoe, which starred Bradford and Eric Schumacher. I’m still looking forward to that movie’s DVD release!

If you’re fascinated by the history surrounding the gunfight at OK Corral or would just like to see a non-traditional take on a western film, I recommend ordering a copy of the Tombstone Rashomon DVD. While you’re waiting for it to arrive, check out the links to my books below. On the page for The Astronomer’s Crypt, you’ll find the trailer that Eric and Rogelio helped me make.

Return to Penny Dreadful

In my post looking at the vampires who appeared in the first season of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, I mentioned that I had started the second season. I’ve finished the season, which overall, I enjoyed more than the first.

Our heroes, Vanessa Ives, Ethan Chandler, Sir Malcolm Murray, Sembene, and Dr. Victor Frankenstein, are all back. This time our villains prove not to be vampires but a coven of witches. What’s more, these witches, called nightcomers in the Penny Dreadful mythos, are servants of Lucifer with superhuman powers. In this season, Brona Croft is reincarnated by Dr. Frankenstein as Lily Frankenstein, meant as the monster’s bride but possessing a mind of her own. One of my favorite characters this season was Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle played by Sir Simon Russel Beale who was introduced in season 1 but had a nice character arc in season 2.

Reeve Carney is back this season as Dorian Grey. Mostly his story takes place in the background of season 2’s main action, but it looks like they set him up to take a bigger role in the third season. We’ll have to see what happens with that story.

Although Penny Dreadful’s second season still features many characters from classic literature, they seem freed from their origins to tell their own story this season. In many ways this season felt more like a nineteenth century penny dreadful come to life. Although the series does have better writing than a real life penny dreadful like say, Varney the Vampyre, there were moments it did make baffling turns. Some of the characters’ choices seemed more designed to serve plot than make sense for what people would do when faced with these real situations. Why, for example, do the characters often go to battle the monsters at night when its known that’s when the monsters are strongest?

Despite that, there are a lot of clever plot turns and some good character moments in this season. We learn more about Sir Malcolm Murray and his relationship with his estranged wife. We also learn more about Ethan Chandler. Danny Sapani’s Sembene actually gets stuff to do. For me the standout was Billy Piper’s Lily Frankenstein. Her arc takes her from apparently lost waif betrothed to Frankenstein’s monster to woman in control of her destiny.

I’ve been watching Penny Dreadful while working on new editions of my horror novels, Dragon’s Fall, Vampires of the Scarlet Order and The Astronomer’s Crypt. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about Penny Dreadful is that it doesn’t feel too bound by linear storytelling. One episode I thought was interesting in the current season involved Vanessa recounting how she was mentored by a witch. The episode didn’t bother to pop back into the present day, it just had a simple prologue of Vanessa starting her story, then the rest of the story just happened in the series’ past.

This approach reinforced a decision I’ve made for the new edition of Vampires of the Scarlet Order. The original edition was told in very linear order. Events that happened in 1491 happened first. Events that happened in the sixteenth century happened next. That noted, the story’s main conflict actually happens in the present day. So, I’ve decided the new edition will start in the present day and the chapters set in the past will be told when it’s natural for characters in the story to tell them. You can get a sneak peak at the new first chapter at: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO-Preview.html

Of course, the buy links still point to the original novel as released in 2008, but that will change soon after the rights revert to me next month.

Star Trek: Picard

For staying at home during a pandemic, I feel like I’ve been extremely busy the last six weeks. Some of this has been from documentation work that I’ve discussed here. Some has been because rights to three of my novels revert to me at the end of this month and I’m working to get new editions ready to go when the reversion takes effect. This past Friday, the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association invited to me to speak to them via Zoom about Kitt Peak’s DESI project. The upshot is that I haven’t had as much extra time to read or watch TV as I might even under normal circumstances. Despite that, I decided to take advantage of a CBS All Access offer of a free month to watch a series I’ve been looking forward to, Star Trek: Picard.

The series takes place twenty years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis. Admiral Picard, played admirably by Patrick Stewart, has retired to his home and vineyards in France. Meanwhile, in Seattle, black-suited agents storm the home of a young woman named Dahj and kill her boyfriend. She reveals extraordinary strength and gets away. Somehow she knows Picard is the one who can help her. Picard then figures out that she was a biological synthetic lifeform created from cells taken from Commander Data’s positronic network. In short, she’s a daughter of Commander Data, who sacrificed himself in Nemesis to save Picard.

Right away in the first episode, those black-suited agents are back and this time, they succeed in killing Dahj. However, Picard has learned that Dahj would have been one of a pair of identical twin synthetic lifeforms. From here, we go across space into Romulan territory and find out that Dahj’s twin sister, Soji, is helping to study a captured Borg ship while engaging in a romance with a Romulan named Narek, who I soon realized was played by Penny Dreadful’s Doctor Frankenstein, Harry Treadaway.

Admiral Picard now goes on a quest to find Dahj’s sister. When Starfleet refuses to help, he engages the help of Raffi Musiker, his first officer after Commander Riker left. They hire the ship, La Sirena, commanded by a former Starfleet officer, Chris Rios. They follow the clues that lead them to the Borg cube and then beyond to the planet where Soji and Dahj were created. Overall, I enjoyed the series. It was an engaging quest story with some nice moments for Star Trek: The Next Generation era characters such as Picard, Riker, Troi, and Seven of Nine.

My main complaint with the series had to do with the ending, and I’ll try to describe it in as spoiler-free a way as possible. When they get to the planet where Dahj and Soji were created, a beacon is built to summon a destructive force. We are then treated to some scenes of a hole opening in the sky and metallic tentacles flailing about. It’s a moment that feels all too much like the ending of modern superhero fare. It’s become tired there and it really had no place in a Star Trek episode. What’s more, Star Trek’s best scary moments have never involved big bad explicit threats, but threats like the Borg or the bug-like invaders in the Next Generation episode, “Conspiracy.” These are the things that feel like they could walk in and dismantle Starfleet and the Federation with ease if our heroes aren’t very careful.

I’m glad to have seen the series and I would recommend it to fellow Star Trek fans. Besides the nostalgia factor, I was also pleased to see the series embrace elements of Star Trek canon that haven’t felt terribly popular with fans such as the Romulan supernova from the 2009 Star Trek movie and the events of Star Trek: Nemesis itself. I will admit these are not among the highlights of the franchise, but I’ve long found it baffling how willing Star Trek fans are to cherry-pick their favorite bits of canon and try to imagine the rest didn’t happen.

I’m still a little on the fence about CBS All Access itself. I’m delighted they made a free month available to people during this difficult time. Still, episodes themselves were plagued by the occasional stutter that would be more upsetting if I had paid for it. While that could be my internet, I was also a little frustrated that the service wouldn’t let me watch the end credits of episodes without getting ready to play the next episode right away. Star Trek features some good music and I like the opportunity to hear it and I like being able to see who was in the guest cast of an episode without necessarily having to look it up later.