First Responder Training

This past week at Kitt Peak National Observatory, I renewed my first responder certification. As I mentioned in my Saturday blog post, observatories are in remote locations and bad things do happen. I’ve been fortunate enough that I haven’t had to deal with much in the way of criminal activity at an observatory. I’m often asked if I have ever seen aliens at the observatory. My answer to that is that the law enforcement agency I’ve interacted most with at the observatory is the U.S. Border Patrol.

That said, things can be bad enough without people engaged in illegal activities. I have had to treat an astronomer who was stung by a scorpion. I also know of a time a person on the mountain suffered a heart attack, though did not go into cardiac arrest. As I approach the age my father suffered a fatal heart attack, I find myself grateful that many of my co-workers know CPR and have been trained in the use of Automated Electronic Defibrillators.

Even without worrying about heart conditions, I have also had more than my share of accidents. About a month before my oldest daughter was born, I was working on a telescope when I accidentally knocked a 15-pound weight off a ladder and it fell right into my jaw, puncturing my lower lip. Luckily I didn’t lose any teeth. More recently, an elevator became stuck. We were able to open the door and I jumped to the floor below to go find a ladder to get my fellow passengers out. I managed to sprain my knee in the process.

At Kitt Peak National Observatory, once we dial 911, it will take 45 minutes for the closest ambulance to make it to the observatory summit. Many observatories are even further from emergency response. Having a staff where many people have first responder training means we can help each other and help visitors during emergencies.

I strongly encourage you to get first responder training if it’s at all available. I have to admit, I don’t always remember all the lessons from the videos and practice sessions, but the training does give me the confidence to follow instructions from a 911 dispatcher when I call. I’ve also found that in those rare emergency situations, I’m surprised by how much I do remember.

Another aspect of first responder trainer that’s important to me is that it gives me experience I can draw on as a writer. Aspects of both Kitt Peak’s remote location and the training I’ve received as a first responder have gone into such novels as The Pirates of Sufiro. The novel is currently out of print, but I’m about to launch into a full rewrite in preparation of a fourth edition at my Patreon site. My Patreon site also helps to fund this blog and I currently have an initiative to raise enough money to upgrade this to an ad-free site. Drop over to my Patreon site and read two free stories of my new collection Firebrandt’s Legacy. If you sign on, you can read the rest of the collection for free, plus you can see how The Pirates of Sufiro develops in its new edition. I bet you’ll even see some examples of how I put my first responder training to use in my fiction writing. My Patreon site is at: http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers.

Advertisements

Thoughts about the Sunspot Observatory Closure

From 1995 until 2001, I worked on New Mexico State University’s 1-meter telescope at Apache Point Observatory. The observatory is about one mile down highway 6563 from the Sunspot Solar Observatory. The highway gets its number because the hydrogen-alpha spectral line which is important to solar astronomy is at 6563 angstroms. Here’s a look at Apache Point. The 1-meter enclosure is in the foreground with the 3.5-meter telescope in the background.

Occasionally, when I worked at Apache Point, I would make the hike down the road to get lunch at Sunspot’s on-site cafeteria. Sunspot recently made news because of it was suddenly closed and vacated on September 7. It just reopened at the beginning of this week on September 17.

Sunspot Solar Observatory is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), the same organization that manages Kitt Peak National Observatory where I currently work. Because of all these connections, it’s not surprising that I received a lot of questions about what was happening at Sunspot.

The simple fact of the matter is that I don’t know much beyond what I’ve read in the news. It’s been 17 years since I’ve been to Sunspot and although Kitt Peak and Sunspot are administered by the same top level board, different companies actually run the observatories at a day-to-day level. Kitt Peak is run by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory and Sunspot is run by the Sunspot Solar Observatory Consortium, a group managed out of New Mexico State University.

The sudden closure created rampant speculation ranging from lost military secrets to Bigfoot to the observatory harboring a UFO. To be honest, I’m not quite certain how a remote solar observatory with a staff of nine would capture a UFO, but it sounds like it could make a fun short story. Just to demonstrate how even a hint of something can run away from people, when I mentioned the possibility of writing a short story on Facebook, it eventually came back around to me that I’m hard at work on a novel about this subject. That’s quite an upgrade!

As I understand, the reason for the sudden closure had to do with an on-going law enforcement investigation at the site. Apparently because there was concern that a suspect in the investigation might pose a threat to the people at Sunspot, the decision was taken to vacate the nine employees and close the facility. According to various media outlets later in the week, it was discovered that a janitor at the site was downloading child pornography and had made veiled threats against the management and fellow staff.

In fact, the “mundane” explanation of a criminal investigation makes a lot of sense to me. Over the years, I’ve heard numerous tales of various people at observatories all over getting up to no good. Perhaps the most infamous story has to do with a disgruntled employee firing a handgun at the primary mirror of the 107-inch telescope at McDonald Observatory in Texas back in 1970. The mirror survived the assault and, in fact, is still in use. The bullet holes have simply been painted black to avoid scattering light. I have known people at observatories who have threatened violence and even become violent. I’m glad to see a facility such as Sunspot take actions to avoid a more tragic outcome to a bad situation.

It’s stories like this and stories of real-world border crime that influenced one aspect of the conflict in my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. That said, one of the criminals does allow himself to get carried away by the notion that there might be aliens or even a monster laboratory at the observatory. The irony is that it isn’t the astronomers who are creating the monster they encounter, but other dark forces at work around the observatory, including some aided by a disgruntled former employee.

My observatory in The Astronomer’s Crypt is entirely fictional. However it is set in the same mountains as the real Sunspot Solar Observatory. The one thing that struck me was how much the real world observatory closure reminded me of what the aftermath of my novel’s events would look like. That said, the observatory of my novel would not be opening just ten days after the incident was resolved. To find out why, you’d just have to read it. To do that, visit http://www.davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt.html and find out where to order your copy.

DeadSteam Trailer

Two weeks from today, on October 1, Grimmer and Grimmer Books will release its dreadpunk anthology DeadSteam. The term dreadpunk refers to Gothic inspired horror and fantasy, often with something of a steampunk flavor. The TV series Penny Dreadful was a good example.

As for the book itself? Reader beware: to open this tome is to invite dread into your heart. Every page you turn will bring you closer to something wicked. And when the dead begin to rise from the steaming pits of hell, only then will you discover that it is already too late. Your life is forfeit.

Featuring an introduction by Leanna Renee Hieber, author of The Eterna Files and Strangely Beautiful saga, DeadSteam plays host to the scintillating writing of Jen Ponce (The Bazaar, Demon’s Cradle), Wendy Nikel (The Continuum), Karen J Carlisle (The Adventures of Viola Stewart), Jonah Buck (Carrion Safari), and more…

With seventeen chilling tales of dreadpunk, gaslamp, and dark steampunk, DeadSteam will leave you tearing at the pages, desperate for more. For within these pages, the dead rise from their graves to haunt the London Underground, witches whisper their incantations to the wind, a sisterhood of bitten necks hunts fog-drenched alleyways lit only by gaslight, and only one thing is certain: that dread will follow you until you turn that final page.

And that sinking feeling in the pit of your chest? That fear that something is following you, watching you, hunting you? It is not for nothing. Look over your shoulder, dear reader. Watch behind you. Listen to the whispers in the darkness.

But know this … it is all inevitable.

I’m excited that my story, “A Specter in the Light,” is part of this anthology. The story was first published in the anthology Six-Guns Straight to Hell, which has been out of print for five years now. So if you missed the story in its first incarnation, be sure to catch it in this new volume. It’s a truly chilling tale of mining engineers using a Tesla coil to bring light to a mine, only to reveal an ancient horror.

If this has not been enough to tantalize your interest in the anthology, editor Bryce Raffle has debuted the book’s trailer today. Take a look:

I think this will make a great book for getting into the Halloween spirit. What’s more, you don’t have to wait to order. It can be preordered from major retailer’s right now. If you’re a book collector and prefer your books in hardcover, they can accommodate that as well! Drop over to https://deadsteam.wordpress.com/pre-order/ and order your copy today so you can have your copy right at the beginning of October. While you’re at the site, be sure to visit the blog links and read interviews with the authors, including yours truly!

Steampunk Batman

One of the appeals of alternate history and steampunk is the ability to imagine wrongs of the past made right. Of course, one of the most notorious villains of the Victorian age was Jack the Ripper. For me, my first Jack the Ripper tale wasn’t alternate history, but science fiction. It was an episode of Star Trek written by Robert Bloch called “Wolf in the Fold” in which Chief Engineer Scott is accused of committing some very Jack the Ripper-like murders.

One of my earliest exposures to alternate history was the graphic novel Gotham by Gaslight written by Brian Augustyn and illustrated by Mike Mignola. It imagines that Jack the Ripper travels to Gotham City and starts his murder spree again, only to confront Batman. I bought and read the graphic novel soon after it was released in 1989. I was in graduate school at the time and comics were one of the few things I had time to read. It’s hard to call the original Gotham by Gaslight steampunk. The story pretty much limits itself to technology that was well established in the nineteenth century. That said, the artwork reminds me more than a little of Jacques Tardi’s artwork in The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. Also, it’s worth noting that Robert Bloch, who wrote the Jack the Ripper Star Trek episode, also wrote the graphic novel’s introduction.

Earlier this year, Warner Brothers produced a direct-to-video animated adaptation of Gotham by Gaslight. I knew I wanted to reacquaint myself with this story. I watched it on Netflix and liked it enough, I went out and bought a copy. I discovered Best Buy has a special edition that includes a reprint of the original graphic novel—very cool because that meant I could refresh my memory of the original without damaging my first edition.

As it turns out, the plot of the movie is quite a bit different from that of the graphic novel. This becomes apparent right away when it opens with Pamela Isley (better known to many Batman fans as Poison Ivy) working in a burlesque house and becoming the Ripper’s first murder victim. I have to admit to mixed feelings on this point. One on hand, it feels a bit like a betrayal of character to make Pamela a victim. On the other, it establishes right away that you can’t take your expectations of certain characters for granted and that does pay off as the movie progresses.

It’s pointed out in the commentary that the graphic novel was only 40 pages long and that doesn’t really provide enough material to fill out a 70-minute movie. What I like is that they didn’t add stuff just to add stuff. They fleshed out the mystery and we got to see my favorite aspect of Batman—we got to see him working as a detective, hunting for clues and actually figuring out who the Ripper is.

They also made it more steampunk than the original, but it’s not a gratuitous addition of gadgets. Instead, they added a World’s Fair, which was very much a showpiece of technology at the time, and they gave the police an airship. This latter works because in Batman: The Animated Series the police are shown as having airships, so it was great to see that idea explored in this alternate history version. They also gave Batman a couple of steampowered gadgets. Of course, Batman always needs cutting-edge technology in his work.

There’s great voice acting in the movie with Bruce Greenwood as Batman, Anthony Head as Alfred the Butler, and Jennifer Carpenter as Selina Kyle. The DVD’s special features are pretty much teasers for other DC/Warner film projects, but the Blu Ray includes a couple of bonus Batman cartoons, a commentary and a making-of featurette. All in all, this ended up being one of my favorite adaptations of a DC comic book. It seems like the makers of the live-action DC movies could learn a thing or two from the animation department.

Of course, if you’re in a steampunk mood, you should check out my Clockwork Legion series. I have plenty of airships to go around, plus there’s even the New Orleans World Cotton Exposition in the fourth book—one of the original World’s Fairs. You can learn more about the series by visiting: http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion. If you’re in Las Cruces, I’m signing copies this morning at COAS Books downtown from 10 until noon. If you miss that, I’ll be at Branigan Library tomorrow from 2 until 4pm.

Chargers

No, this isn’t a post about a football team that started in Los Angeles, moved to San Diego, then returned to Los Angeles. This past week, I operated the WIYN telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory. About halfway through the week, the charger circuit on the telescope failed. The WIYN is a telescope with a 3.5-meter primary mirror, making it the second largest aperture optical telescope at the observatory. This large telescope needs to track the sky as smoothly as possible to get the precise measurements we make of astronomical objects. Because of that, the motors don’t actually work off a power cord plugged into the wall that could be subject to brown outs or power spikes. Instead, we have a charger circuit that charges up a set of small batteries. The telescope drives actually are powered by the batteries, shown in the photo to the left.

Although I have some experience with electronics, I’m not actually an electrical engineer. When failures like this occur, my job is less to make a repair, but to see if I can find a way to limp along for the rest of the night and continue to take data in spite of the trouble. However, the circuit is so fundamental to the telescope’s operation and the problem bad enough that I couldn’t even limp along. We had to close up and wait for more expert help in the daytime.

Fortunately, our expert electronics crew was able to repair the charger circuit in less than a day, so we were back on sky and taking spectra of galaxy clusters the next night. What has always amazed me about the charger circuit on the WIYN telescope is that a bank of relatively small batteries can move a 3.5-meter telescope. Those batteries need to move the telescope in three axes. The obvious axes are altitude and azimuth. As WIYN tracks the sky, images rotate in the field of view, so there’s also a rotator that keeps north up in the images.

The charger system strikes me as a metaphor for my approach to seeking inspiration for my writing. The charger system takes current from the wall in whatever form it exists, uses it to charge batteries, which change the form of the current to produce good telescope motion. I take inspiration from my work in astronomy, from the books I read, the movies I see, and my time interacting with friends and family, allow myself to process that through my brain and turn that into the stories and novels I write.

I have taken variable star data with telescopes that use wind-up clock drives and that has helped to inspire and inform clockwork gadgets in my steampunk stories. I once helped an astronomer to take one of the deepest images of the center of our galaxy in the infrared, which helped me to imagine a voyage to the center of the galaxy in my Space Pirates’ Legacy novels. Working late nights on a lonely mountain top in meandering buildings informs my horror. If you’re a writer, I’d love to hear about some things that have inspired your writing in the comments below.

Explore the worlds I’ve created at http://www.davidleesummers.com

Las Cruces Events

I’ve been on the road a lot this past month, so I’m looking forward to a week at home. That said, a week at home doesn’t mean a break from promoting books. It just means I’ll be promoting them in my hometown of Las Cruces, New Mexico at a pair of terrific events.

The first event is a signing at COAS Books downtown at 317 North Main Street from 10am until noon on Saturday, September 15. What’s especially fun about this event is that it happens during the Farmer’s and Craft Market downtown, so my daughter will be selling her crochet items nearby.

The second event will be the fifth annual Celebrate Authors event held in the Roadrunner Room of the Thomas Branigan Memorial Library at 200 E. Picacho Avenue from 2-4pm on Sunday, September 16. There will be 30 authors in all at this event including my friend R.H. Webster. The event is hosted by the Friends of the Thomas Branigan Memorial Library and they always provide a wide range of tasty snacks. It’s a great opportunity to discover local authors and discover what they’re doing.

I will have a selection of all my books at both of these events. That said, I will be featuring three recent releases.

Owl Riders

First is my latest novel, the steampunk adventure Owl Riders. In the year 1885, Apaches have captured a large swath of Southern Arizona and former lawman Ramon Morales must negotiate peace. Meanwhile, back in New Orleans, his wife is kidnapped by a man from her native Persia. A band of outlaws and pirates called the Owl Riders must assemble to reunite Ramon and his wife so they can tame the Wild West.

The Solar Sea

The next book I’ll be featuring is the reissue of my novel The Solar Sea. Whales around the world changed their songs the day scientists announced the discovery of powerful new particles around Saturn’s largest moon which could solve Earth’s energy needs. The Quinn Corporation rushes to build a solar sail space craft to unlock the secrets of these strange new particles. Along the way, they discover humans may not be alone in the solar system.

Straight Outta Tombstone

Last but not least, the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone is now out in a mass market paperback edition. These tales may not be the ones your grandpappy spun around the chuck wagon campfire, unless he was talking about soul-sucking ghosts, steam-powered demons, and wayward aliens! This collection of weird western short stories features tales by Jim Butcher, Larry Correia, Alan Dean Foster, Kevin J. Anderson and more. Among the tales is my take on the disappearance of Albert J. Fountain, best known from history as Billy the Kid’s defense attorney.

If you’re in Las Cruces, New Mexico next weekend, I hope I’ll see you at COAS Books, the Branigan Library, or both!

Bombshells

While visiting Bisbee, Arizona a couple of weeks ago, I found a fun figurine of Batgirl with something of a steampunk makeover in a boutique called Va Voom! I walked around the shop two or three times and finally decided she had to come home with me. I also decided I had to know whether she had a formal appearance in the comics. As it turns out, she did. She was the star of DC’s Bombshells Annual #1.

For those not familiar with DC’s Bombshells, the comic was set during an alternate World War II and imagines that many of the DC Universe’s female superheroes have gathered together to fight for the Allied cause. Among the Bombshells are familiar heroines such as Wonder Woman and Supergirl. Batwoman, who I remember discovering in reprints of vintage Batman comics, also takes a major role here. The team is spearheaded by Amanda Waller, who readers of Suicide Squad are sure to recognize. I’m sad to say the comic has ceased publication, but the last three years are widely available in collected graphic novels both in print and ebook editions.

The Batgirl story in this world actually opens in the swamps of Louisiana during 1941. Killer Croc has gone in search of the Batgirl of the swamps and he succeeds. What’s more, he discovers she’s a vampire! The action moves to West Point in 1941 where Amanda Waller is talking to a new recruit named Francine Charles. Waller sends Charles on a mission to recruit Batgirl to the Bombshells. When she asks why, Waller tells her Batgirl’s story.

We learn that Barbara Gourdon was a French girl living during World War I who loved tinkering with machinery. Her mother has fields of lavender and her father is a police officer. He buys her an airplane and she learns to fly. She ultimately falls in love, but disappears when she must save her lover. It’s up to Francine Charles to learn how the ace pilot became a vampire and to see if that vampire can be recruited to the Bombshells.

At the beginning of the summer, I talked about “superhero fatigue.” In that case, I spoke primarily of finding nothing but superhero movies at the cinema. One place I rarely suffer superhero fatigue is in my local comic shop. There are many fun and innovative titles on the shelves and I see the superheroes I grew up with being taken in new and interesting directions. Superhero fatigue in the movies has much to do with the fact that we’re seeing stuff that happened 20 years ago or more in the comic pages!

I love the idea of a feminist superhero team like the Bombshells. After reading Annual #1, I picked up the entire first year of collected stories and was impressed by the writing and the artwork. I love the exploration of characters who received too little page time back when I read comics more regularly many years ago. In the Batgirl comic in particular, I liked how they gave her a lavender bat costume like she had in the Adam West series, but also created a good reason for her to have that costume.

I also liked how Batgirl took a dark turn and became a vampire. The opening scenes in the Louisiana swamps with Killer Croc reminded me not a little of Marcella DuBois’s debut in my own novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. What’s more, Marcella is one of my own characters who I’ve explored in an alternate timeline. That version of Marcella appears in Straight Outta Tombstone which has just appeared in a nifty trade paperback edition. I have a feeling Marcella would be right at home with Amanda Waller’s Bombshells

You can learn more about Vampires of the Scarlet Order at http://www.davidleesummers.com/VSO.html

You can learn more about Straight Outta Tombstone at https://www.amazon.com/Straight-Outta-Tombstone-David-Boop/dp/1481483498/