Building the Queen Emeraldas

When I finish a major writing project, I like to take a break and find something fun to do, like working on a hobby project. For the last year and a half, I’ve been engaged in a major rewrite of my novel The Pirates of Sufiro. The goal of the rewrite was to strengthen the novel as a whole and better position it as “book two” in my “Space Pirates’ Legacy Series.” Book one, Firebrandt’s Legacy, introduces readers to space pirate Ellison Firebrandt and develops his relationship with Suki Mori. Book two, tells what happens when they are marooned on a distant, alien world. Because this has been an intensive “from the ground up” rewrite, I decided a fun model-building project was in order and I thought it was appropriate to build the space ship of one of my other favorite fictional space pirates, Emeraldas from the manga of Leiji Matsumoto.

Emeraldas is a space pirate who fights for humanity. To her, the skull and crossbones symbolize her willingness to fight for humanity’s freedom until she herself becomes bones. She has been a character in many of the Captain Harlock manga and anime as well as the Galaxy Express 999 series about a train that traverses the stars. In most versions of Leiji Matsumoto’s universe, Emeraldas is romantically involved with Harlock’s best friend, Tochiro. In some versions they’re even married and have a child named Mayu. Her ship is known as the Queen Emeraldas.

I find the Queen Emeraldas an interesting design. It is a spaceship, but it resembles an airship with an old-fashioned sailing vessel as the gondola. The truly fascinating part of this is that such airships have become very common in steampunk art circles. I will note that in steampunk art, the ship is often so large, that I find it hard to believe the small gas bags above could lift the craft. If the Queen Emeraldas were an airship, it seems the ratio of sizes between the gas envelope and the ship would be much closer to correct.

One thing that was fun about this model was that it was lighted. I very much appreciated that my daughters have both taken enough Japanese to help me read the instructions that came with the kit. This allowed me to buy the recommended lights. Making a plastic model look good is a nice challenge and I enjoy painting them and making them look like they do in the show, but after several weeks of working at home, it was nice to actually wire up a small electronic project and have it work. Admittedly this is a simple project compared to those I work on at Kitt Peak, but it was still a chance to stay in practice.

If you’d like to read my novel The Pirates of Sufiro in its new version, you can learn all about it, read the first chapter, and find places to buy the novel at: http://davidleesummers.com/pirates_of_sufiro.html. As it turns out, the novel features both space vessels and airships!

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.

The Brazen Shark Available in Print

My third Clockwork Legion novel, The Brazen Shark is now available in print from Amazon.com. Here’s what Drake and McTrowell have to say about the novel: “Pack your goggles and your telescope and your atlas because the Clockwork Legion is taking us on another whirlwind adventure. And this one covers the globe in the air, on the sea, on terra firma, undersea … and even into space!”

Drake and McTrowell

Drake and McTrowell know their globe-spanning adventure. In the photo above, I crossed their path aboard the Queen Mary as they were bound for another exciting destination. You can read about their adventures at drakeandmctrowell.com. There, you’ll find five books of their adventures available to read on-line absolutely free. However, if you’re willing to send them some money, and I strongly recommend you do, you can pick up the hardcover edition of their first book featuring illustrations by Brian Kessinger and an introduction by Professor Elemental, or you can buy the audio version of their first adventure, which is fabulous.

Brazen Shark-300x450 The Brazen Shark is the third novel of my Clockwork Legion series. However, if you haven’t read the first two books, feel free to dive in right here. If you like what you read, you can always go back and read the first two! Set in 1877, this novel tells the story of a one-time sheriff named Ramon Morales who gave up his career in law enforcement to save an outspoken Persian healer named Fatemeh Karimi from a witchcraft trial. We’ve watched their romance develop over the last two books and this is the story of their honeymoon. However, it’s a honeymoon unlike any other when they find themselves embroiled in a plot by samurai warriors who have stolen a Russian airship to overthrow the Japanese emperor. The cover art is by the ever-talented Laura Givens.

The Brazen Shark is available in paperback and ebook. The paperback is ready to ship now. The ebook will be sent to your Kindle on February 1, 2016.

While I’m discussing steampunk writing, I’ll remind you there’s still time to support the Kickstarter for Gaslight and Grimm. This awesome anthology project is already funded, so there’s no risk in supporting it at any level. The book features my story “The Steam-Powered Dragon and His Grandmother.” It also features steampunked retellings of “The Three Little Pigs,” “The Nightingale”, “Red Riding Hood” and more by such authors as James Chambers, Jean Marie Ward, and Christine Norris. Lots of great stretch goal bonuses have been added already and if we receive enough funding, we’ll also have stories by Jody Lynn Nye and Gail Z. Martin in the anthology as well. So drop by and reserve your copy of Gaslight and Grimm today!

Steampunk Goes To High School

This past week, one of the local high school teachers invited me to speak to her creative writing class about steampunk. I thought I would share my outline of the presentation in case it was helpful, either for the particular case of presenting information about steampunk or any other genre writing.

I started out by finding out what the students knew about steampunk. This particular class didn’t know much, just had some idea that it had to do with the past, but one student piped up that he was a fan of cyberpunk. So, this led me into a discussion of steampunk’s roots in the 1980s and how K.W. Jeter coined the term in a letter to Locus magazine. This seemed to hook the class. I also pointed out that steampunk isn’t just a genre of writing, but it’s expanded into art, music, and even lifestyles. I passed around a copy of Robert Brown’s Lyrics of Abney Park which includes many wonderful illustrations and photos as a source of inspiration.

SummersOwlDance

One of the difficulties defining steampunk is that you can find whole web pages devoted to the subject. I settled on a definition that basically goes like this: Steampunk is a story set in a world that looks like the 1800s but features technology or magic that doesn’t seem to belong based on what we know about history. I pointed out that this allows for stories that are actually set in the 1800s and also those that might be set in the future after some kind of apocalypse wiped out society. I also noted that although it often falls under different names, people also write these kinds of alternate histories about other time periods as well.

I showed off my books and mentioned that my interest was in looking at history of the region and imagining what would have happened if technology had been given a push in some areas and developed a little faster than the history we know.

Perhaps my greatest challenge in this discussion was that most of these kids didn’t seem very excited by history or historical topics. Despite that, they seemed to perk up when I challenged some of their notions. For example, I asked, “what was the favored weapon of samurai warriors in the 1800s?” Several answered, “swords.” I then pointed out that swords aren’t very effective against armor. Although samurai did train extensively with swords, many realized guns were more effective in combat. We also talked about what Las Cruces was like in 1881 and what kids their age would have been doing and what kinds of things they would want if they went back to that time.

From there, I moved on to a discussion of my process as a writer and how I’m inspired by things around me. I folded in the earlier historical discussion by pointing out that I get curious about those places I drive by in my commute, such as the Council Rocks in Arizona where Apaches used to camp or the turnoff for Tombstone, Arizona. I talked about how I like to visualize things, then write them down. We also talked about some of the mechanics of submitting writing to magazines and anthologies.

I wrapped up the session by giving them a writing prompt. I had the students imagine they were teenagers in 1881 Las Cruces. Billy the Kid is in town. What happened when the airship arrived?

There was just enough time at the end of the class for a couple of students to share their stories. One told about troopers descending and preparing to invade, though we didn’t hear yet what they were after. Another student imagined that the airship belonged to Pat Garrett, who was seeking Billy the Kid. Now that last story is one I’d like to see finished for sure!

Different Dragons II

Wolfsinger Publishing has just released the anthology Different Dragons II, which includes my short story “The Dragon’s Keepers.” Here’s the description of the book.


What happens when dragons are dropped unexpectedly on your front door step from a company you’ve never heard of? In China, a dragon comes up with a unique solution on what to do with all those maidens! Different-Dragons-II An amusement park is hounded by a sea monster the Indians had been feeding for centuries. Haunted by a ghostly dragon, a young woman flees across the snow wilderness, terrified her slaughter of the beasts means her own death. A family is murdered in the Middle East, and a dragon promises a young girl vengeance for their deaths. Are there dragons on a spaceship? You bet! Not to mention an usual dragon ride one pilot will never forget! And let’s not forget, how dragons can appear to be something they’re not, when protecting themselves or their family, from hidden magical dangers. These and other tales await within these pages of Different Dragons II.


In my short story “The Slayers,” I imagined a world where airship crews hunted dragons for the fuel that allows them to breathe fire. In “The Dragon’s Keepers,” I imagine that an airship captain of this world has come to realize dragons are intelligent and must be preserved. He has joined the fight to prevent the wanton destruction of dragons. With the help of a wizard’s daughter, he must find a way to stop a ritual dragon slaying.

Here’s the complete table of contents for the anthology:

  • “Introduction: These are the Tales” by Dana Bell
  • “The Dragon’s Keepers” by David Lee Summers
  • “The Stalker” by Lynn Donovan
  • “Such is the Jungle” by Quincy Allen
  • “Changling” by Rebecca McFarland Kyle
  • “Suntosun Shipping” by G.L. Francis
  • “Of the Generation” by Therese Arkenberg
  • “Dot’s Lunch – The Watchers along the Line” by Dave With
  • “His Lucky Color is Gold” by Rebecca Leo
  • “Hargmir, Ghost of Dragons” by David Turnbull
  • “Space Wings” by H.A. Titus
  • “Asim’s Gift” by Kathryn S. Renta
  • “Mr. Long’s School for Girls” by Rob S. Rice
  • “Bessie Returns” by Christine Hardy
  • “Amélie’s Guardian” by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

SummersTheSlayers

Different Dragons II is available at Amazon.com and Smashwords. What’s more, if you buy the book from Smashwords enter the code ED26N on checkout for a 25% discount as long as you visit before October 15. If you’d like to go back and read my other story set in this fantasy world, “The Slayers” is available as a stand-alone short story at Amazon.com and Smashwords.

Finally, as a reminder to those friends in Las Cruces, I am signing books today from 10am until noon at COAS Books Downtown. I hope you’ll drop in and say “hi!”