Wild Wild West Con 6

Next weekend, I’ll be a participating author at Wild Wild West Con in Tucson Arizona! The event is being held from March 3-5 at Old Tucson Studios. Among this year’s guests are Thomas Willeford from the TV show Steampunk’d and Sam Jones from the movie Flash Gordon. There will be workshops, panel discussions, and evening concerts. The bands performing include The Cog is Dead, Frenchy and the Punk, and Celtica – Pipes Rock. For more information about the event be sure to visit the convention’s web page at: http://wildwestcon.com

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This year’s theme is “Cthulhu for President.” My schedule for the weekend is as follows:

Friday, March 3

  • Noon-1pm – Aristocrat Lounge – Reading. I will be in the Aristocrat Lounge to entertain people with a steampunk story inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • 2pm-3pm – Arizona Theater – Invaders from the Depths of Space. Percival Lowell’s observations of canals on Mars led to stories of invasion from space and ultimately helped to lay the foundation for the Cthulhu Mythos. A look at the science that gave rise to a literary movement.
  • 4pm-5pm – Courtroom Center – Steampunk Authors. The authors attending Wild Wild West Con talk about their process creating the steampunk stories you love.

Saturday, March 4

  • 11am-Noon – Chapel – Steampunk and the Cthulhu Mythos. Writers discuss the Cthulhu Mythos, the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and how they can be brought together with the steampunk aesthetic to create new tales of terror.
  • 1pm-2pm – Aristocrat Lounge – Reading. A special event for those who purchased Aristocrat tickets, Diesel Jester and I will read from our works. This reading is flagged for adults only.

Sunday, March 5

  • Noon-1pm – Sheriff’s Office – The Weird Wild West. Weird Westerns are stories that imagine strange happenings in the Wild West. Authors discuss how they are they similar and different from steampunk stories. Can they be one and the same?

If you’re in Southern Arizona next weekend, I hope to see you at Wild Wild West Con. When I’m not on panels, you can find me at High Chaparral where I’ll be selling my books.

Aliens with Tentacles

I’m in the process of assembling a presentation for Wild Wild West Con in Tucson, Arizona that discusses the origins of terrifying aliens from space coming to invade the Earth. The presentation dovetails with the convention’s theme, “Cthulhu For President.” H.P. Lovecraft describes his most famous creation as, “a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind.” During my research, I discovered that Cthulhu is part of a long line of terrifying monsters inspired by octopi and squids.

Personally, I’ve always found cephalopods fascinating and a little mysterious. Octopi often seem elusive when I visit aquariums and either hide or don’t give me very good photo ops. This is one of the best photos I’ve taken of an octopus at the Seattle Aquarium in 2008:

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That said, when I invented the Alpha Centaurans for my novel The Pirates of Sufiro, I gave them tentacles to make them immediately distinct and “alien” as I was getting the action off the ground. When Captain Firebrandt from The Pirates of Sufiro returns in Kepler’s Cowboys, I wanted to give him a truly dangerous and frightening opponent in the water. The first thing that came to mind was a giant squid.

My octopus-inspired aliens and scary squid are really heirs to a science fiction trope that goes well back to the nineteenth century. For some reason, the Victorians found squids and octopi truly frightening. Camille Flammarion was, in many ways, the Neil deGrasse Tyson of his day. He wrote popular science books about astronomy and biology. He also wrote science fiction. In his book, Lumen, he imagines extraterrestrial beings from a star in the constellation Andromeda who live in water and must “keep their tentacles in unceasing motion.”

In The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells described the Martians as having pulsating bodies, a beak-like mouth, and lank, tentacular appendages. Although Jules Verne tended to steer away from aliens in his fiction, one can make a case that he capitalized on the Victorian terror regarding cephalopods when he had a giant squid attack the Nautilus in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

By all accounts, H.P. Lovecraft was an avid reader and would have been familiar with the works of Wells and Verne—and possibly Flammarion as well, who was widely translated and in circulation during Lovecraft’s youth. So, it’s really no surprise that in 1926 when Lovecraft created his most famous monster, he would invoke the image of the octopus to inspire terror in his readers.

When I created my tentacled alien for The Pirates of Sufiro, I gave it little conscious thought, but it’s clear I was being inspired by those early works as well. When I put Captain Firebrandt up against a giant squid, I knew Verne had inspired me. Whether conscious inspiration or not, it’s all enough to make me think twice the next time I order octopus sushi or calamari rings. I’d hate for our cephalopod overlords to be displeased!

G.O. Clark’s Collection of Robot Poetry

A few days ago, I received a collection of poetry in the mail from long-time Tales of the Talisman contributor, G.O. Clark. built-to-serve-g-o-clark-200x300 It was a copy of his new poetry collection, Built to Serve. In this collection, Clark tackles the subject of robots from many different angles. Of course, robots are no longer just the stuff of science fiction, they’re part of our every day world. I started my astronomy career working with a robotic telescope and over the course of my career, I’ve seen automation make many aspects of astronomical observation more efficient. I’ve long thought about artificial intelligence and my daughter recently took a college course in machine learning, which led to some interesting discussions. What’s more, writers have long used robots as metaphors for low wage workers or even slaves.

Clark’s collection takes a look at robots from both the practical and metaphorical angles. He starts the collection in an almost steampunk alternate reality and imagines robots of the past moving forward into futures of obsolescence, much as humans do in life. As he notes in “The Steam-Powered Robot”:

    Funny thing about the future,
    it never waits for anyone. His mainspring
    driven moment slipped away: old iron
    bones recycled for a newer model.

Clark compares and contrasts the sensations robots might experience to those of humans. He also imagines how humans might themselves go against the spirit of Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics and use robots to hunt down other humans. In a familiar science fiction trope, Clark imagines robots transforming the world into a better place, which doesn’t always go so well for the humans who created them.

C;arl reminds us that many of our first encounters with robots are with toys and he looks at those encounters with both fondness and terror. Some of the robots he introduces us to are toys of the more adult variety, but even they can induce nightmares such as the lady robot in this poem:

    Heading back towards the
    closet, she deftly unzips, then
    steps out of her perfect tan skin and
    hangs it upon a custom hanger.

It’s true Clark covers many familiar robot tropes, but he does it well and often times he gives those tropes fresh twists. Moreover, he looks at humanity through the eyes of robots and helps us understand more about ourselves. This is a collection well worth seeking out. You can find copies at the Alban Lake Store and at Smashwords.

The Astronomer’s Crypt, on Lisa Burton Radio

Last week, Mike Teter from my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt was interviewed on Lisa Burton Radio. Lisa Burton is a robot who interviews characters from novels on her radio show. The transcripts appear on Craig Boyack’s blog.

In fact, Lisa is Craig’s brainchild and we collaborated to put together this “radio” segment. After I told him about the novel, he drafted a set of questions Mike to answer. I put myself in character and answered the questions. I realized in the process of writing this that one of the other characters in the novel might not like what Mike was saying, so he calls in.

I hope you’ll go check out Lisa’s interview with Mike. She puts him on the spot and asks tough questions that make him uncomfortable. If you’re a writer, you should check out Craig’s guidelines and consider having Lisa interview one of your characters. If you’re a reader, be sure to check out more of the Lisa Burton segments. You’re sure to find some great books and you may discover a new favorite character!

Entertaining Stories

Don’t touch that dial, you’ve found Lisa Burton Radio. Coming at you with 1.21 jigawatts of power, this is the only show that interviews the characters from the books you love. I’m your host, Lisa the robot girl, and with me today is Mike Teter. Mike is an astronomer with the Carson Peak Observatory in New Mexico. “Welcome to the show, Mike.”

“Hi Lisa, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me on the show.”

“My bio says you’ve recently returned to the observatory after a two year hiatus. What happened, grass wasn’t greener?”

“Actually, leaving the observatory was the hardest thing I’d ever done. You see, a terrible blizzard blew in my last night there and the two of us working that night decided to leave the site. Ron Wallerstein drove ahead of me. He was going a little too fast when he reached a bridge spanning a…

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Maximum Velocity Cover Reveal

At CopperCon in 2007, David Boop approached me about editing an anthology of space pirate stories for Flying Pen Press. We called Flying Pen’s owner David Rozansky and I promised to talk to some people and see what kind of interest I could drum up. I found several enthusiastic authors and started collecting stories. David, David and I met over dinner at MileHiCon in Denver about six weeks later. We were joined by Carol Hightshoe and a few other people, and the idea came up that we could turn this space pirate anthology idea into a whole series of anthologies that explored different themes. It was decided Carol would do the second anthology about women exploring space.

space_pirates1 2008 saw the publication of Space Pirates, the first anthology in the Full-Throttle Space Tales series. Space Sirens, edited by Carol Hightshoe, came out in early 2009. Dayton Ward edited the third entry in the series called Space Grunts which presented stories of the military in space. He tells the story of his involvement at The Fog of Ward.

At this point, I returned to edit a second volume in the series. Back at the dinner at MileHiCon, we’d discussed calling it Space Vampires, but we decided to open it to a variety of horror tropes. I received stories about zombies, ghosts, monstrous aliens, and yes, even vampires. SummersSpaceHorrors That book became Space Horrors. Jennifer Brozek edited Space Tramps about vagabonds making their way through the spaceways. Last but not least, Bryan Thomas Schmidt proposed an exciting anthology of space battles in all their forms. I was honored to have stories in every anthology of the series but one. I don’t know whether I would have been selected for Space Grunts because time commitments prevented me from submitting a story. Let that be a lesson for all those who decide not to submit their work. The best way to guarantee not having your story in a book or magazine, is never to submit it!

Unfortunately, in 2013, Flying Pen Press made the decision to stop publishing fiction and the books went out of print and the publication rights to the stories reverted to the individual authors.

It’s a shame to keep good stories from readers who want them, so the five editors started thinking about ways we could bring the books back in some form. In 2015, Jennifer Brozek, Dayton Ward, and I were all in Phoenix for LepreCon and we hatched the idea of assembling a “best of” anthology. Each editor would read the anthology before the one they edited and select their five favorite stories for potential inclusion.

In a moment of wonderful synchronicity, David Boop who helped to launch the series originally, had started working with WordFire Press, owned by bestselling author/editor Kevin J. Anderson. David and Kevin discussed the idea of doing a “best of” anthology from the Full-Throttle Space Tales independently of our plans. David came to me with the idea just as I was working with the editors to select their stories. David encouraged me to make a pitch to Kevin, which I did, and the upshot is that this summer, WordFire Press will be publishing the “best of” collection entitled Maximum Velocity. Credit for the cool title goes to Dayton Ward, by the way. Here’s a first look at the cover:

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And here are the stories you’ll find inside:

    From Space Pirates:

  • “On the Eve of the Last Great Ratings War” by David Boop
  • “Space Pirate Cookies” by C.J. Henderson
  • Earth-Saturn Transit” by W.A. Hoffman

    From Space Sirens:

  • “Outpost 6” by Julia Phillips
  • “Hijacking the Legacy” by David Lee Summers
  • “Rebel Moon” by Carol Hightshoe

    From Space Grunts:

  • “Price of Command” by Irene Radford and Bob Brown
  • “Finders Keepers” by Scott Pearson
  • “Granny’s Grunts” by Alan L. Lickiss

    From Space Horrors:

  • “Last Man Standing” by Danielle Ackley-McPhail
  • “Into the Abyss” by Dayton Ward
  • “Listening” by Anna Paradox

    From Space Tramps:

  • “Backup” by Ivan Ewert
  • “The Frigate Lieutenant’s Woman” by Erik Scott de Bie
  • “Oh Give Me Land, Lots of Land, Under Starry Skies Above” by Shannon Page and Mark J. Ferrari

    From Space Battles:

  • “The Thirteens” by Gene Mederos
  • “The Joystick War” by Jean Johnson
  • “Guard Dog” by Mike Resnick and Brad R. Torgersen

It’s been tremendous fun to revisit these stories of swashbuckling pirates, talented women, soldiers, and vagabonds facing situations both terrifying and thrilling. WordFire currently expects the anthology will be available in June and I hope to have copies at Westercon in July. So, buckle up, because this summer we’ll be going to Maximum Velocity!

Elizabeth Guizzetti’s Top Seven Fairy Films

Today, I’d like to welcome a very special guest to the Web Journal. Elizabeth Guizzetti is author of the story “Under the Roses” in Wee Folk and Wise: A Faerie Anthology edited by Deby Fredericks. weefolka I’ve long been a fan of stories about the fae and a few years ago, I was even on a panel at CopperCon in Phoenix which asked whether vampires or the fae are scarier. Our conclusion was the fae, because you always know where you stand with vampires. With the fae, things aren’t always so clear!

Wee Folk and Wise: A Faerie Anthology is available on Amazon. You can find out more about Elizabeth at her home page: elizabethguizzetti.com

Elizabeth shares seven of her favorite films about fairies, many of which I’ve seen and highly recommend. Those I haven’t seen I’ll be checking out. And, as you can see, the fairies in her list aren’t always sweet and innocent.


Though fairy tales are everywhere now, both in rewritten and classic form, I have loved fairy stories since I was a little girl. In conjunction with the release of Wee Folk and Wise, I want to share my top seven movies that star fairies, pixies, brownies and the like.

Maleficent (2014)
Explore the untold story of Disney’s most iconic villain in the classic Sleeping Beauty. In an unforgiving mood after a neighboring kingdom threatens her forest, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) places an irrevocable curse on the king’s newborn daughter, the Princess Aurora. But as the child grows, Maleficent finds herself becoming fond of the girl. And as the conflict between the two realms intensifies, Maleficent realizes that Aurora (Elle Fanning) may hold the key to peace in the land.

Why I love it: A remake of the Disney classic, Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is a fairy betrayed by her first love. This took the basic story and turned it into a completely different movie.

In revenge, she curses the king’s infant daughter Aurora. She soon discovers the other three fairies charged with watching Aurora are negligent. After rescuing the child during her toddler years, Maleficent changes one of the creepiest love stories, it is a mother figure/child love story.

By far, this is the best Disney movie I’ve seen. The acting is great. This movie has amazing actors starting with Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning. They fit each role perfectly The amazing musical score sets the right mood in every scene.

Willow (1986)
A reluctant farmer (Warwick Davis) dreams of learning magic. When his children find a baby in the river, he sets off on a quest to protect the baby from an evil queen.

Why I love it: I must have seen this film at least a dozen times when I was a child and a dozen more as an adult. (It played at the dollar theater near my childhood home) This movie has everything: dwarves, brownies, heroes, evil queen, the greatest swordsman that ever lived and a defiant princess. Great directing by Ron Howard, awesome acting by the whole cast, including Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, and Joanne Whalley, an enchanting and exciting plot, excellent special effects, and plenty of humor and action.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
In Spain of 1944, the bookish young stepdaughter Ofelia of a sadistic army officer escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world.

Why I love it: It mixes the gritty real world with a dark fantasy world. No matter where Ofelia is, every scene is staged beautifully. There is graphic violence in the real world which is scarier than the dark fantasy that Ofelia enters. The characters feel so real. The costuming feels rich and the special effects feel lifelike.

I am a fan of director Guillemor del Toro and have enjoyed every one he has made. This film was so special to him, he gave up his entire salary to see this film made including back end points.

Legend (1985)
A young man must stop the Lord of Darkness from both destroying daylight and marrying the woman he loves.

Why I love it: Fauns! Fairies! Goblins! Unicorns! Tim Curry! Tom Cruise plays Jack a boy of the forest, Mia Sara plays a young beautiful princess who loves him. The story is not just about innocent true love, it has an innocence about it. It is a true fairy tale with a fight between good and evil. And it has a solid fairy character: Oona is not to be messed with. She has more power than anyone knows and a quick wit. “You look like mourners at your own funerals.”

The Hallow (2015)
A family who moved into a remote mill house in Ireland finds themselves in a fight for survival with creatures living in the woods

Why I love it: This horror movie is a creature feature of the best kind. The filmmakers are careful to not use the word “fairy” but they used the changeling legends.

These fairies steal babies and replace them with their own. They can’t touch iron. Joseph Mawie and Bojana Novakovich move into a new house with their infant. A local farmer tries to warn them against walking in the near by wood and taking down the iron bars that cover their windows. Other than not listening to someone who basically seems crazy, they are smart about their growing problem. Every scene builds upon the suspense, until the viewer is holding their breath.

Labyrinth (1986)
Babysitting infant brother Toby on a Saturday night isn’t young Sarah’s (Jennifer Connelly) idea of fun. Frustrated by his crying, she secretly wishes the Goblins from her favorite book, Labyrinth, will carry Toby away. When her fantasy comes true, a distraught Sarah must enter a maze of illusion to bring Toby back from a kingdom inhabited by mystical creatures and governed by the wicked Goblin King (David Bowie).

Why I love it: Awesome puppetry. David Bowie in all his glory. Okay while its about goblins, more than fairies, there are lots of different types of fantastical creatures that Sarah runs into while in the maze. They do show fairies as annoyance, like mosquitos. Talking worms, monsters, dwarves, and as a girl with younger siblings, I identified with Sarah.

The Secret of Roan Inish (1996)
10-year-old Fiona is sent to live with her grandparents in a small fishing village in Donegal, Ireland. She soon learns the local legend that an ancestor of hers married a Selkie – a seal who can turn into a human. Years earlier, her baby brother washed out to sea in a cradle shaped like a boat; someone in the family believes the boy is being raised by the seals.

Why I love it: It was a sweet family film in a beautiful setting. Though it is a very different movie than The Hallow, like The Hallow, it took a myth seriously which is why I loved it. Jeni Courtney who plays the lead is a sweet girl, but she has an inner strength that moves her adult relatives to action.

Those are my top seven fairy films. What are some of your favorites?

Making Life Better Through Astronomy #SHaW

The first stirrings of what would become my interest in steampunk happened the year K.W. Jeter coined the word in a letter to Locus Magazine. During the summer of 1987, I worked at Maria Mitchell Observatory on Nantucket, observing pulsating variable stars with an early twentieth-century telescope driven by a wind-up clock drive.

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I would go on to publish those results and present them at Harvard College Observatory. The idea that I could explore the universe with equipment built in the Victorian era stuck with me through the years and eventually blossomed when I started writing steampunk and weird western stories.

When I started attending steampunk events about five years ago, the maker culture reminded me of my introduction to astronomy. A few years before I worked at Maria Mitchell Observatory, I joined an amateur astronomy club and was encouraged to build a Dobsonian telescopes. Designed by amateur astronomer John Dobson, these inexpensive, easy-to-build telescopes allow anyone with an interest to look at planets, stars, and beyond. This history combined with some extra motivation from one of my daughter’s science projects, led us to build a little steampunk Dobsonian telescope.

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The telescope’s tube is, in fact, cardboard, but I gave it a coat of brass paint as a tribute to the Alvan Clarke and Sons telescopes I worked with on Nantucket and which drove so much science through the Victorian era. Having built this telescope, we have since taken it to steampunk and science fiction conventions where we’ve viewed planets and nebulae. Here’s my daughter setting up the telescope on the deck of the Queen Mary at Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium in 2015.

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I’ve also conducted workshops, using the steampunk telescope as an example of how easy and satisfying it is to build your own small telescope.

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It’s exciting when people look through a telescope like this and realize they can peer into moon craters, see the rings of Saturn, or the ghostly Orion Nebula. For them, science has left the textbook and become something they can access. There’s even more magic when people realize they can get those kinds of views with something they built themselves. If you’re interested in building a telescope like this for your own enjoyment, I wrote two posts that should help you get started and include links to more detailed information.

This post is part of Steampunk Hands Around the World. Visit the Airship Ambassador for more information and to visit more great posts on the topic!

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