Short Sleeps

When I tell people I live in Las Cruces, New Mexico, but work at Kitt Peak National Observatory outside Tucson, Arizona, one of the first questions I’m asked is some variation of how that works, especially once they realize the two points are approximately 325 miles apart. The answer is that I have a dorm room at the observatory. Here’s what it looks like.

The room is assigned to me permanently, so as you can see, I’ve added some personal touches. This time of year, I’m afraid I don’t get to spend much time in the comfort of my room. I often think of the period from November through February as the time of the short sleeps. It’s sort of a counterpoint to Clement Moore’s “long winter’s nap” from his famous poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

Of course, the reason this is the time of the short sleeps is because of the long winter night. At optical observatories, we try to maximize the time we’re on the sky and that means data taking starts soon after sunset and finishes just a little before sunrise. To get the telescope ready for observations, I actually have to be at work before sunset. How close to sunrise we work in the morning depends on the scientific requirements of the program, but it’s not uncommon for me to work right up until sunrise. This time of year, it’s not uncommon for me to get six hours of sleep through the day before starting another day of work. Even if I wanted to commute 325 miles each day, it would be impossible.  For that matter, living closer wouldn’t necessarily help. It’s still 50 miles to Tucson.

I’m often asked whether I can write during my long nights at the observatory. The reality is that work takes enough of my attention that I really can’t compose new material while I’m at work. However, sometimes we do get into situations where I’m monitoring a long exposure and just need to look up from time to time to make sure the instrumentation is behaving as expected. During those times, I find I can edit stories. I also sometimes bring a good book to keep me company on a long winter’s night.

A casual observer will likely notice from the photo of my room that I’m a fan of Cowboy Bebop. Of course, followers of this blog will know that I’m generally a fan of space cowboys and space pirates. A closer look at the photo will reveal some badges from past conventions tacked to the bulletin board in the background. My schedule is such that it’s not uncommon for me to go from an event directly to work at the observatory.

My favorite things in this photo, though, are two things made for me by my family. My wife made the crochet jackalope next to my bed, which helped to inspire the jackalope harvesters in my Clockwork Legion novels. My daughter drew the lightning wolf picture which hangs to the right of my bed. The lightning wolf is, of course, the mechanized bicycle designed by bounty hunter Larissa Crimson in the same series. I’ve shown off both of these in more detail in other posts.

Of course, the Clockwork Legion books make good companions through the long, dark nights of winter. You can learn more about the books by visiting the links at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

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Space “Cowboys”

This weekend I’m at Bubonicon 48. If you’re in Albuquerque, I hope you’ll drop by and visit us at the Hadrosaur Productions table and check out some of the cool panels going on. In the run-up to Bubonicon this past week, Steve Howell and I have been working on Hadrosaur’s anthology Kepler’s Cowboys, which looks at the variety of planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler space telescope and imagines the brave men and women who will either explore those worlds or will come to our world exploring.

One of the things that I’ve noticed while reading for this anthology is how literally many of the authors have taken the cowboy idea. Several of the submissions feature very literal cowboys in space, who practically wear spurs and big hats. That’s fine and I think a few of those will definitely make it into the anthology, but I do want to point out that’s not the only thing I want to see. In fact, I thought I’d spend a little time today introducing you to a few of my favorite space “cowboys.”

Faye Faye Vallentine is one of the bounty hunters in the anime Cowboy Bebop. Although I enjoy watching Faye’s story, I probably wouldn’t want to know her. In fact, she’s rather arrogant and lazy and she might well be addicted to both gambling and alcohol. However, she does (albeit grudgingly sometimes) show concern for the crew of the spaceship Bebop and the mystery of her past makes her vulnerable. By all appearances she became an ace pilot in about three years. Although much of the mystery of her past is resolved in the series, there are still lots more stories that could be told about her, both from before she joined the crew of the Bebop, and after the end of the series. I love it when it feels like we’re seeing a snippet of someone’s life in a story and don’t feel like that character was born the moment the story was created.

Jewell_Staite Kaylee Frye is the mechanic who keeps the spaceship Serenity flying in the televison series Firefly. The photo is from Phoenix Comicon a couple of years ago when my daughter and I had the chance to meet Jewell Staite, the actress who played Kaylee. Firefly, like Cowboy Bebop, is almost the definitive space cowboy series. In both cases, I could pick almost any character from the series as an example of someone who fits the archetype. I picked Kaylee because I like the fact that she’s a technical genius. Of all the members of Serenity’s crew, she’s probably the worst with a gun, but she’s loyal and has no problem telling it as she sees it.

Nichols My final entry is arguably two for the price of one, because not only would I consider Nyota Uhura a space cowboy, but Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played her in the original Star Trek is arguably a real-life space cowboy! The photo shows Nichols with my daughters at New Mexico Tech in 2008. To many, Uhura did little but “answer the phone” for Captain Kirk, but those people miss the fact that she not only worked communications on the Starship Enterprise but she could take over the science station when Spock wasn’t there and she could navigate the ship. In the animated episode “The Lorelei Signal,” Uhura took command and even rescued Kirk, Spock and McCoy. What’s more, she was a strong African-American woman on television at a time when most African-American women were relegated to roles in comedy or playing slaves in historical dramas. As for Nichelle Nichols, she not only played an explorer, she’s worked as a real-life space advocate and recruiter for NASA. She’s a powerful speaker and visionary and I’m honored that I’ve had the chance to meet her.

As you’ll no doubt have noticed, none of my cowboys are boys, nor do they have anything to do with cows. (Except perhaps for that one episode of Firefly where they hauled cattle, but that’s beside the point!) Although I don’t want fan fiction with these specific characters, I would love to see more stories with strong women like the ones depicted here. I’d also love to see more stories by women. Here’s what you need to know for submissions:

Cowboy Bebop

A couple of weeks ago, I was browsing through the video section of a local store when I came across a recent release of the TV series Cowboy Bebop. Although I’ve been an anime fan since I first saw Gigantor in the early 1970s, I managed to miss Cowboy Bebop’s debut on the Cartoon Network circa 2001. Cowboy Bebop Disc That was right after my wife and I decided that we weren’t getting enough out of cable to keep paying an exorbitant bill every month. I’d seen two or three episodes over the years at science fiction conventions and knew that I wanted to actually watch the series, so I picked it up.

If you’re like me and late to discovering Cowboy Bebop, it’s the story of two bounty hunters: a former cop named Jet Black and a former mob enforcer named Spike Spiegel, who travel through the solar system in a space ship called the Bebop looking for criminals to nab. As the series progresses, they’re joined by Faye Valentine, a bounty hunter with a mysterious past; Ein, a Welsh Corgi with a brain implant; and Radical Edward, a teenage girl who has mad computer skills. Unlike a lot of current anime, Cowboy Bebop has less of an overarching story and is more a series of self-contained episodes.

In this world Cowboys are Bounty Hunters, but space cowboy imagery runs through the series. Spike, Faye, and Jet all have their personal fighters, which are a little like their mechanical horses. There’s a sense of the solar system colonies on Mars and Jupiter’s moons requiring a kind of wild west frontier spirit to tame. Much of the look and feel of the show is reminiscent of Joss Whedon’s Firefly and if Whedon didn’t take some inspiration from Cowboy Bebop, then the similarities are a pretty big coincidence.

One of the great elements of Cowboy Bebop is a truly remarkable jazz soundtrack by Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts. At points, the music slips away from the jazz and adopts a little lonely guitar to enhance the wild west feel.

Another thing that strikes me as especially well done is the characterization of Radical Edward. As the father of a bright teenage girl, she hits many of the right notes. Edward can be persuaded to be useful, but most of the time is more interested in sleeping, eating, or doing her own thing, which sometimes horrifies or confuses the adults around her.

The Pirates of Sufiro

My only real issue with the series is that it’s set in 2071, and though I would love to have many well populated colonies out in the solar system by then, I’m hard pressed to believe it will happen. Despite that, I love the look of the series and have long been attracted to the idea of stories about the rugged individuals who will go out and forge new lives among the stars, such as my novel The Pirates of Sufiro. In my story, space pirates are stranded on a distant world and must make a life there in a story that took some inspiration from my great grandparents who homesteaded in New Mexico and Texas. The link in the title will take you to the free PDF edition distributed by my publisher, which is my preferred edition.

Finally, I’ll wrap up today’s post with a brief update. At this point, we’ve decided that Tales of the Talisman will remain closed through 2016. However, Hadrosaur Productions will be reading for an anthology this year tentatively on the theme of Space Cowboys. Like the space cowboys of Cowboy Bebop and The Pirates of Sufiro, these are not necessarily literal cowboys, but people who embody the frontier spirit. Some may be quick with their blaster. Some may have to use their wits to survive in a harsh environment. Some may just be the people who are happy to be alone riding the range of space when no one else wants to. I hope to have guidelines posted at the Tales of the Talisman website by April, with the reading period this summer. Till next week…see you space cowboy.