The Magnificent Five

As I’ve noted in earlier blog posts, I’ve been listening to the Gerry Anderson Podcast, which distributes new episodes to various podcast platforms on Mondays. Recently, they introduced an audio book and novel by co-host Richard James called Five Star Five: John Lovell and the Zargon Threat. The audio book is available from Big Finish Productions and I downloaded it so the family could listen while taking my youngest child back to college a couple of weeks ago. Five Star Five was the name of a movie project Gerry Anderson was developing after Space: 1999 and I’ve often heard it called his answer to Star Wars. A script had been completed, studio space had been secured, and work on pre-production began when the project was abruptly halted because one of the major investors pulled out of the project. Unfortunately, the project was never finished.

That’s where Richard James comes in. He took the script and turned it into a novel this year, so the rest of us could finally learn more about Five Star Five. The premise is that the evil Zargon Empire plans to take over the peaceful planet Kestra. On Kestra, Colonel Zana seeks a champion to help save them from the threat. So far, this does sound a bit like Star Wars. The person she hopes to recruit is John Lovell, a freelance freighter pilot who reminded me a little of Han Solo, right down to his hirsute co-pilot Clarence. As it turns out, Clarence is a talking chimpanzee. At first I thought the character would put me off, but it turned out elements of the character hearkened back to both Planet of the Apes and Rocket Racoon from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Once Lovell is maneuvered into helping the Kestrans, the story becomes less Star Wars and more The Magnificent Seven as Lovell goes out to recruit a team to help him defeat the Zargon invaders. His team includes a powerful, but sensitive robot, a mystic, and a kid who communicates telepathically with his robot dog.

Unlike other Big Finish productions I’ve listened to, this one is an audio book with Robbie Stevens serving as the sole narrator. Music and sound effects are provided by Benji Clifford. Stevens’ narration is so well done and his voices for the characters so well thought out, I almost felt like I was listening to a full-cast audio drama. I do highly recommend the audio edition. The total runtime of the audio is 5 hours and 19 minutes, so it does feel more in-depth than a movie, but the action never slows down.

John Lovell and the Zargon Threat also felt very much like a first adventure in a series. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gerry Anderson would have produced more movies in the series if the first had proven a success. I suspect the movie Gerry Anderson would have produced circa 1979 would have have rivaled both the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises in effects quality. What’s more, I thought this was a more engaging take on the idea of “The Magnificent Seven in Space” than 1980’s Battle Beyond the Stars. It would be fun if the folks at Anderson Entertainment decided to give us more Five Star Five adventures.

Regime Change in Oz

Despite a familiar character in the title of the ninth Oz book, a whole new protagonist enters L. Frank Baum’s most famous fantasyland in The Scarecrow of Oz. Book nine of the series opens when a girl from California named Trot and her teacher and companion, Cap’n Bill, decide to take a boat to visit a cave, not accessible by walking along the shoreline. They end up being swept down a whirlpool and coming up into a cave where the only outlet is back into the water or out through a long, dark tunnel. Trot and Cap’n Bill make the best of their situation. The good captain catches some fish and they decide to rest before exploring the tunnel. While resting and deciding what to do, an Ork comes up from the water. This Ork isn’t one of the evil minions of Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, but a featherless, ostrich-sized bird with a propeller tail.

This group decides to explore the tunnel. Eventually they find their way out and onto a mostly deserted island. The island’s only inhabitant is Pessim, a little man who never sees the good in anything. We learn that Pessim was stranded on his island by his people because he was so … well … pessimistic. Our heroes eventually fly off the island with the Ork’s help and cross the ocean to the land of Mo, a place where it snows hot, buttered popcorn and the people eat candy for dinner. They soon find Button-Bright, the lost boy from The Road to Oz, happily munching on the popcorn snow. In more foreshadowing of Tolkien, our heroes recruit some eagles to carry them across a nearby desert to a beautiful land. Trot, Cap’n Bill, and Button-Bright soon learn they’ve arrived in Jinxland, a country cut off from Oz by a range of impassable mountains.

Jinxland is ruled by a terrible monarch named King Krewl, whose laws are enforced by a whole coven of wicked witches. There’s a princess named Gloria who is in love with the palace gardener, Pon, despite the fact that Pon’s father dispatched Gloria’s father to become Jinxland’s king. Krewl, in turn, dispatched Pon’s father to take his place on the throne. King Krewl’s courtier, Googly-Goo, wishes to marry Princess Gloria. Krewl orders the witches to freeze Gloria’s heart so that she’ll no longer love Pon. The plan backfires, though, and Gloria refuses to marry anyone!

Over in the main part of Oz, the Scarecrow—remember him, he’s the guy in the title—is meeting with Glinda the Good. Glinda has just learned about all the terrible goings-on in Jinxland, plus she sees that Trot, Cap’n Bill, and Button-Bright could use rescuing from this terrible situation. She sends the Scarecrow to the mountains with some magical rope on a mission of regime change.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I’ve been listening to these books in free recordings available at LibriVox.org. One of the things that made this recording fun was that it featured different voice actors in each of the parts. There was some variation in the sound quality among the actors, but I really didn’t have a problem with this since it’s a free recording and everyone was clear and audible. It was also interesting to note that they changed narrators from chapter to chapter. I thought this would bother me, but it actually worked nicely and I enjoyed hearing the different approaches each narrator took in reading the material. Even after I finish the Oz series, I may well look around for other books to listen to, especially ones with multiple narrators.

Space: 1999 Redux

Saturday’s post about Space: 1999 didn’t come out of a vacuum. On Christmas day, when I went to the Big Finish Productions website to download some Doctor Who audio, I discovered they had produced an audio re-imagining of the Space: 1999 pilot episode, “Breakaway.” This is the episode where a nuclear stockpile on the Moon explodes, blasting it out of Earth orbit and sending it on a journey through space. This appealed to the part of me that really enjoys writing retrofuturistic stories. After all, 1999 is now in the past and the series is now a look at “what could have been” more than “what will be.” Big Finish didn’t just create a new version, they expanded it into a two-hour movie-length version with more details. I recently downloaded it and gave it a listen and I’ll share my thoughts. Before I do, I thought it would be fun to go back and read the original novelization of “Breakaway” released when the series was on the air. Novelizations often give a chance to explain more about the characters and the story than you see on screen, so I thought that might give me a little more background. It turns out that my neighborhood used bookstore had four copies of the novelization in their science fiction section.

As it turns out, Breakaway by E.C. Tubb is not simply a novelization of the first episode. It attempts to weave four episodes from the series into a single narrative arc. With a mere 141 pages, Tubb doesn’t spend a lot of time delving into backstory or character. What we get are effectively novelettes of the episodes “Breakaway” and “A Matter of Life and Death.” The two episodes “Ring Around the Moon” and “Black Sun” are combined into a third novelette. We don’t really learn anything from these stories that we didn’t learn from watching the episodes. Tubb does work to develop the romance between Commander Koenig and Dr. Russell. He also provides a more direct narrative link between the resolution of “Ring Around the Moon” and the events of “Black Sun.” It was interesting to see that Tubb killed off Commissioner Simmonds, an annoying politician from “Breakaway” even though the character would actually meet a far more interesting end later in the series.

The Big Finish production of “Breakaway” proved much more ambitious. Writer Nicholas Briggs, who has written many of the Big Finish Doctor Who stories teamed up with Jamie Anderson, son of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the original Space: 1999 producers, to re-imagine the series. The plot is effectively the same as the original plot, Commander John Koenig has been dispatched to Moonbase Alpha to launch a mission to the distant planet Meta. The mission is in danger because the crew of the probe has started to succumb to a mysterious illness.

Solving the mystery is the primary impetus of the original pilot. In the new version, Koenig learns that his predecessor has been ordered to cover up that the illness is even happening and Dr. Russell is trying desperately not only to learn what’s happening but trying to keep the mission from getting launched until they are sure the people going to Meta won’t get sick. In effect, this new version takes a dramatic situation that already existed and ratchets it up so that it becomes much more engaging. What’s more, Briggs and Anderson developed a clever new way to get the Moon to break away from Earth orbit. I won’t say too much about how it’s done, because that ends up being something of a spoiler for the end of the episode. However, where the original meant packing an implausible amount of explosives on the moon, this one gives us an explanation that makes me think it could happen. Certainly, I’m much more willing to suspend my disbelief for the new explanation than the original one.

Briggs left us with something of a cliffhanger at the end of his version of Breakaway. Fortunately, new episodes of Big Finish’s Space: 1999 are due this month. I’ve already reserved my copies to find out what happens! You can get details about the Big Finish version of Space: 1999 at: https://www.bigfinish.com/hubs/v/space-1999

One of the things I love about this re-imagining of Space: 1999 is how it improves on something that was good albeit flawed. This was one of the things I tried to do when I created my new edition of The Pirates of Sufiro. I worked to keep the parts of the novel that were good, the characters people responded to, but I also tried to take a good hard look at parts of the book that didn’t work so well for readers and revise them and make sure I created good, solid explanations for why things happened. You can learn about The Pirates of Sufiro at: http://davidleesummers.com/pirates_of_sufiro.html

eSpec Books Author Reading Series

At the microphone

In my post last month about Buboni-Virtual Con 2020, I shared a reading from my story “The Sun Worshiper” which was part of the eSpec Books Author Reading Series. This has been a cool service offered by eSpec Books, giving authors an opportunity to showcase their works during the COVID-19 pandemic when we can’t get out and about. The excerpt I shared in the earlier post was from a story in an anthology published by eSpec Books called AfterPunk. The story features steampunk stories in the afterlife. My story in the anthology tells about a Victorian mummy unwrapping party gone wrong. Reading the story was a lot of fun. Several years ago, I’d created audio book editions of my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. Unfortunately, those audiobooks are no longer available, but I dusted off the equipment for this reading. I had so much fun, I hoped for a chance to do some more reading.

As it turns out, eSpec Books hasn’t limited readings to books they’ve published. They invited me to read some of my other material as well. In this video, I read an excerpt from my novel Firebrandt’s Legacy.

In the novel, Ellison Firebrandt fights the good fight for Earth. Under a letter of marque, he raids the ships of Earth’s opponents, slowing down their progress and ability to compete with the home system. On the planet Epsilon Indi 2, he rescues a woman named Suki Mori from a drug lord, only to find she isn’t so happy about living a pirate’s life. However, when the captain finds a new engine that will make him the most successful pirate of all, Suki is the only one who can make it work. Now Firebrandt must find a way to keep his crew fed and his ship supplied while relying on a woman who barely trusts him and while every government in the galaxy hunts him to get the engine back! You can learn more about the novel at: http://davidleesummers.com/Firebrandts-Legacy.html

I also share an excerpt from Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires.

The excerpt I read is actually the very first scene I wrote for the novel, though it actually appears between parts one and two.

This novel tells the story of three vampires. Three lives. Three stories intertwined.

Bearing the guilt of destroying the holiest of books after becoming a vampire, the Dragon, Lord Desmond searches the world for lost knowledge, but instead, discovers truth in love.

Born a slave in Ancient Greece, Alexandra craves freedom above all else, until a vampire sets her free, and then, she must pay the highest price of all … her human soul.

An assassin who lives in the shadows, Roquelaure is cloaked even from himself, until he discovers the power of friendship and loyalty.

Three vampires, traveling the world by moonlight—one woman and two men who forge a bond made in love and blood. Together they form a band of mercenaries called the Scarlet Order, and recruit others who are like them. Their mission is to protect kings and emperors against marauders, invaders, and rogue vampires as the world descends into the chaos of the Dark Ages. Learn more about Dragon’s Fall at: http://davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

Hopefully this has just whetted your appetite for more readings. You can find many more reading by visiting the eSpec Books blog at: https://especbooks.wordpress.com/. They have lots of good books as well and several of their authors have appeared in books and magazines I’ve edited. You can find my stories in Gaslight and Grimm as well as AfterPunk.

Trimming Files

This weekend finds me at El Paso Comic Con. If you’re in the Sun City this weekend, I hope you’ll drop into the convention center and say “hi.” In the week leading up to the convention, I’ve been working on a project that’s both tedious and fun. In effect, I’ve been working as an assistant sound engineer on the audio edition of my own book, Firebrandt’s Legacy.

I’m working with Eric Schumacher of Seelie Studios to create a full-cast audio book. Eric is in the photo above, to the left. Creating full-cast audio adventures has always been a goal of Hadrosaur Productions and our partnership with Seelie is a way to help make that happen. I’m very excited that a vital member of the cast is Geoffrey Notkin, the multi-award winning host of the Science Channel’s Meteorite Men series, who will be narrating the audio book. That’s him on the right in the photo above.

The process of creating the audio book started with Eric chopping my story up into the parts each actor would read. He and I worked together to cast the parts, then he’s been bringing each actor in to read their lines. What happens is that Eric creates an audio file for each actor reading several different takes of their line. Each take might involve a slightly different emotional nuance or emphasize different words in the hopes of finding just the right dramatic impact. Now this is where I come back into the picture.

We now have long audio files with each actor saying the line several different ways, plus each of these files has all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes. There’s discussion with the director about the reading plus there’s some laughing and joking. My job has been to create individual audio files of each individual take and catalog them in the order they appear in the story. Eric will then review these files with the audio editor and combine them into the final audio book.

What we’re recording right now is just the first chapter and I already have over a thousand audio files. As you can imagine, the process of trimming and the final process of stitching these back together will take a while. Now, each chapter of Firebrandt’s Legacy is a stand-alone short story. Once we finish this first chapter, we plan to release it, then start a crowdfunding campaign to finish the book. Our goal will be to raise enough money to pay all the actors, the director, and the audio engineers a fair salary for the amount of work it’ll take to record the remaining fourteen chapters.

I’ve been having a fantastic time listening to each actor’s interpretation of the story’s characters. In fact, I even have a part in the audio book as well and I’ll talk more about that closer to release time. In the meantime, you can learn more about the collaboration between Hadrosaur Productions and Seelie Studios by visiting http://www.bookmediasolutions.com. If you want to be notified of the crowdfunding campaign when it starts, be sure to sign up for my newsletter at http://www.davidleesummers.com. If you don’t want to wait for the audio book campaign and would like to help make this a reality right now, be sure to check out my Patreon page at http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. If you sign up there, you can even read the entire book through the posts and get a sneak-peak at the re-edited edition of The Pirates of Sufiro that I’m currently working on.

Hearing My Own Words

Last week, I finally had the chance to hear the audio book edition of my novel Owl Dance. It might surprise you to hear that I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until after it was released, but by contract, my publisher has the right to create an audio edition and there’s nothing in the contract that says I have a right of approval. My approval process wrapped up when the publisher and I agreed the novel was ready for print.

It might sound like I’m complaining about the process, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, a lot of work goes into writing, editing, and promoting my books…not to mention my other full-time job operating telescopes. It was actually kind of nice to let my publisher handle all the logistics behind arranging the production and proofing the final product. I was glad to know another edition of my book was coming out and I didn’t have to add another task to my plate to make it happen.

So, what did I think of the final product? I think narrator Edward Mittelstedt did a fine job. He had a great range of voices and a nice delivery speed that was clear and understandable. His pronunciation of names like “Fatemeh” and “Maravilla” were somewhat different than mine, but they weren’t wrong. In particular, he pronounces “Maravilla” in a kind of a South American accent, which suits the character.

Recently a friend asked if I had a difficult time enjoying the books I read. Her thought was that as a professional writer and editor, I might be so busy critiquing books I read that I couldn’t just sit back and enjoy them. My answer was that I’ve reached a point where I can read books critically, but still enjoy them. The critical part of my brain is sort of like a background task I can access when needed.

That said, I found listening to my own book was much more difficult than listening to books by other authors. Time has passed since I wrote the book and I have gained a new perspective on my words hearing them read by another person. I found myself critiquing my word choices, plot, and character decisions all through the story. Despite that, my overall impression of the book was positive. I felt like I heard the kind of story I like. That said, there were word choices and particularly some repeated phrases I wouldn’t mind revisiting if the chance ever presented itself.

I’ve come to the point where I strongly recommend writers read their work aloud at some point during the edit. It helps you hear phrases you use too often or too close together. I hadn’t quite reached the point where I was doing that regularly when I wrote Owl Dance and I caught a few places where it showed. I’ve taken the lesson to heart and will be applying it as I go forward. Hopefully these issues attracted my attention because I was listening at a more detail-oriented level than most listeners (or readers) will.

If you’d like to travel back in time to an 1877 that wasn’t, but could have been if a sheriff and a healer started wandering the West together while a visitor from the stars encouraged the Russian Empire to unify the world under one leader, you can read a sample chapter and find links to all the books editions at http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html

The Wild West I Wished For

Today, I’m excited to be at the Tucson Festival of Books at the University of Arizona campus in Tucson. It’s a free event, so if you’re in the area, I hope you’ll drop by. I’m participating in two panels this weekend and will be available after both to sign books.

Last weekend, I was at Wild Wild West Con, at Old Tucson Studios where many classic westerns were filmed. When I grew up, my parents were big fans of westerns. My mom, in particular, was always delighted to find a good “shoot-em-up” on television during a Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, I wasn’t much of a fan of westerns, at least not at first. It wasn’t until I discovered TV series like The Wild Wild West and Kung Fu that westerns began to click for me. As a kid, I loved science fiction and the former mixed tropes I found familiar into the western backdrop, which helped me take notice. The latter took the clash of cultures that often happened in the west seriously and I could see similarities between that world and the multicultural world of Southern California I lived in at the time.

A lot of these elements come to life at Wild Wild West Con. The event started for me on Thursday night at opening ceremonies, where I got to catch up with some old friends from other steampunk conventions. The next morning, I drove out to Old Tucson Studios to unload books. This year, the authors were housed in the building where they filmed the exteriors for the show High Chaparral. Here you see my Smart Car parked out front!

One of the things I love about steampunk conventions is getting to see the wonderful things people have built for costume or display. This year, outside of High Chaparral, was a display of steampunk vehicles. I thought this one could almost be a reinterpretation of Larissa Crimson’s invention from Lightning Wolves, or an evolved version of the vehicle.

The person who built this amazing vehicle is David Lee, principal artist of Hatton Cross Steampunk. He’s also the man behind the mask of Steampunk Darth Vader in the short films Trial of the Mask and Mask of Vengeance. Perhaps it’s not surprising that every now and then people confuse the two of us in correspondence. So it was a pleasure to finally meet David Lee and I was delighted to find him a pleasant person, as many people in the steampunk community prove to be.

In addition to meeting Steampunk Darth Vader, I also had the opportunity to meet Sam Jones, who played Flash Gordon in the campy 1980 movie. I also enjoyed meeting the creators of the comic book Proteus about steampunk fish people who live in the sunken Atlantis. The creators are all cosplayers and came dressed as their characters.

One of the things I’ve always appreciated about steampunk is how it sometimes imagines a more civilized version of Victorian and Wild West times. One of the ways that manifests is through the sport of tea dueling. In a tea duel, participants dunk a cookie in a cup of hot tea for a set amount of time. The last one to eat the cookie without it falling apart and soiling their clothes is the winner. At many steampunk events the masters of ceremonies are Madame Askew and the Grand Arbiter. Here we see them with my daughter who is a tea dueling contestant. Not only was my daughter a contestant, she proved to be Wild Wild West Con’s tea dueling champion!

One of my goals as a writer is to inspire the imagination of people who play in steampunk worlds. What’s more, going to steampunk events helps to inspire my creativity. Wild Wild West Con came at the perfect time as I’m moving into the middle portion of my new novel Owl Riders. For me, that’s right about the point I need a little boost to keep the energy flowing. Right after Wild Wild West Con, I learned that my first steampunk novel was released as an audio book, narrated by Edward Mittelstedt. The book is available for download at Audible.com. If you’re a fan of audio books, I do hope you’ll join me for a journey into the wild west I wished for.

It’s Sugar Time!

This week, I’ve been revisiting an old friend of sorts. Back in 2002, Hadrosaur Productions recorded an audio edition of three short stories by Joy V. Smith and released them under the collective title, Sugar Time. Sugar Time There was a fourth story, which we published in Hadrosaur Tales magazine. Talking to Joy, we decided it was high time to bring out all four stories in a single edition. We’ve released them in print and ebook formats. The beautiful new cover is by Laura Givens.

Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

Her name is Sugar. Sugar Sweet. But never EVER call her ‘Sweetie.’

When Sugar’s Uncle Max falls ill and his collaborators disappear, she investigates the old Victorian mansion where he conducted his research. She soon finds the collaborators—or what’s left of them—along with an angry Neanderthal. She also finds her uncle’s research project, a working time machine. Sugar must act quickly to unlock the secret of time travel so she can set things right and protect her uncle’s research.

Sugar Time collects Joy V. Smith’s Sugar Sweet stories into one volume.

I had a lot of fun going back and re-reading these stories. A couple of elements make these stories stand out from the usual time travel stories. First is an element of mystery. In particular, Sugar meets two creatures from the past that her uncle called Chessies. They are cat-like creatures whose eyes can disappear into their fur and resemble a certain famous feline from Alice and Wonderland. These are creatures not in the fossil record and it’s not until the end that Sugar figures out the true story of their origin.

Another thing that stands out about Sugar Time is the period of time Sugar explores. In many time travel stories, we see people travel through human history. Every now and then, you’ll find a story that takes you to the time of dinosaurs. Joy will take you to the Pleistocene Epoch to see Neanderthals and Saber-tooth cats. It’s quite a thrill ride, and one you don’t want to miss.

The ebook edition of Sugar Time is currently available at Amazon, Smashwords, and Kobo, with more vendors coming soon.

The print edition of Sugar Time is available via Amazon and Hadrosaur Productions.

And, of course, the audio CD is still available through Hadrosaur Productions and well worth a listen. It still has the old cover, but Laura Givens made that one over, too. The new audio cover will be debuting as soon as I run the next batch of disks.