This weekend, April 22-24, I will be a participant and a vendor at El Paso Comic Con. This year, El Paso Comic Con is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Featured guests at the convention include William Shatner, Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, and anime voice actors Mike McFarland, Monica Rial, and Austin Tindle. Comic book artists Renee Witterstaetter, Michael Golden and Sam de la Rosa will also be on hand. The convention will be held at the El Paso Convention Center in downtown El Paso, Texas. You can get all the details at https://www.elpasocomiccon.com
I will be exhibiting the books I’ve written, edited, or have stories in at booth A15 in the exhibitor hall. Author Tamsin Silver will be joining me at my booth. I have two new books I was proud to edit and publish since last fall’s El Paso Comic Con. One is The Way-Out Wild West by Lyn McConchie. The other is Hybrid: Forced Vengeance by Greg Ballan. I also have the new editions of my first three Clockwork Legion novels Owl Dance, Lightning Wolves, and The Brazen Shark. Of course, since this is a comic con, I will have plenty of copies of my comic Guinevere and the Stranger on hand. I’m always happy to sign books you buy from me.
Tamsin and I will also be presenting some panels discussing our writing experiences at the convention. It’s possible we’ll add some other attending authors to our panel lineup as well. Here’s our schedule:
Saturday, April 23
1:00-1:45pm in the El Paso Panel Room. Researching Your Fiction. Fiction is making stuff up, but it still involves knowledge of the tools the characters use, the settings they visit, and the types of people they’ll meet in those settings. Tamsin and I will discuss how to do the research that makes your fiction feel realistic to readers.
3:00-3:45pm in the El Paso Panel Room. Getting to Know the Characters in Your Head. Tamsin and I will discuss how to breathe life into characters you’re writing no matter how far from your own experience they may be.
Sunday, April 24
4:00-4:45pm in the El Paso Panel Room. From Weird Westerns to Space Opera. Tamsin and I talk about their experience writing westerns, horror, science fiction and fantasy and how they’re the same and different.
In earlier posts, I’ve discussed working with the Hydra spectrograph on the WIYN Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory. It’s a piece of instrumentation that allows astronomers to observe up to 90 objects simultaneously during one telescope pointing. The WIYN telescope can see one square degree of the sky at a time. Hydra has a set of optical “buttons” which can be placed on a metal plate at the position where an object will be in the field of view. These buttons send data to the spectrograph two floors below via fiber optic lines. The device that places these buttons is a robot, which resembles the claw from crane machine. It picks up each button from a parked position and puts it where it belongs.
This type of multi-object spectrograph is somewhat common now, but Hydra was one of the first of these types of spectrographs built in the early 1990s. In fact, the instrument is older than the WIYN telescope and I helped to commission the instrument in its first version at the Mayall 4-meter. Precision machines like the Hydra gripper suffer a lot of wear and tear in 30 years, so a little over a year ago, Hydra began an upgrade process. The engineers worked with Prod Design and Analysis in El Paso, Texas to upgrade the gripper with new technology. The folks at Prod were struck by how much the gripper resembled a crane machine’s claw and added the sticker you see in this first photo.
As you might imagine, I’ve become quite familiar with Hydra, working with it off and on for almost thirty years. However, making major changes to the instrument meant learning new procedures. The original Hydra gripper was an analog device that “knew” where buttons were by counting steps using a device called an encoder and then remembering those steps to go back and pick the button up again. If there was some electrical noise or a mechanical problem that caused the count to be less precise, it could miss picking up the button. The upgraded Hydra also uses encoder counts, but it has added new programmable logic controllers and video analysis. It goes to the button, takes a picture, analyzes that pictures and then adjusts it’s position, if needed, to get the button. All this new logic has meant that we have a new control cabinet in the telescope to house electronics. The hope is that this will make positioning more accurate. However, it has meant learning new ways to monitor the process of the gripper at work and recovering the gripper if problems occurred.
This past week was one of the first times I’ve had to use the upgraded Hydra without one of the engineers on hand in case problems occurred. I made sure to review the manual, because it had been several months since my introduction to the upgrades and I reviewed the troubleshooting procedures. The first night of observing started out quite smooth. We had four field setups without any problem whatsoever. Then on the fifth field configuration, a heart-stopping problem occurred. The Hydra control program crashed while the gripper was carrying a button to a new position. Of course, these buttons and their attached fibers are all very delicate and if Hydra forgets the button’s position, there’s a risk that the attached fibers could get tangled. This could prove to be a very expensive problem.
In the old days, a problem like this automatically meant going into the dome, which is a cold proposition on a winter night! Then with a long stick , carefully reaching into the instrument and releasing the button from the gripper jaws, which allow you to open the instrument. After that, you’d have to manually place this fragile, optically sensitive button and fiber back into its stow position. In short, it’s a delicate procedure to do when you’re cold and on a lift in a dark dome!
Now we have a handpaddle, which lets us talk to the gripper directly. I went to the Troubleshooting guide, refreshed my memory and followed the instructions. For the most part they worked. I was able to control the gripper and set the button down in a controlled way. Unfortunately, we’re still working out some bugs, so I still had to open Hydra and check the button’s real position, but it was a much quicker, safer operation.
Confronting change in procedures that had grown familiar and routine was definitely scary and a little challenging. The things that helped me manage my discomfort were focusing on the familiar parts of the routine, reviewing the new procedures before starting work, and then when a problem did happen, I took a deep breath and used the instructions and my experience to solve the problem the best I could. This past week, the upgraded Hydra moved from a machine that presented me with a little anxiety to a machine I look forward to understanding better.
From Dusk till Dawn, directed by Robert Rodriguez, is a movie set in the borderland region of West Texas and Northern Mexico. It’s been on my radar for some time, but it’s taken me a while to finally watch it. Released in 1996, this movie tells the story of two brothers on the run from the law. At a motel, they take a family hostage and flee across the border to Mexico. The brothers go to a strip club to wait for their contacts only to find the strip club is, in fact, home to a nest of vampires. The exact fictional settings are a little vague, although it’s implied the motel is in El Paso. Much of the film was made near Barstow, California, where I was born. The edition of the film I watched included the bonus movie Full-Tilt Boogie, which is a documentary about the making of From Dusk till Dawn.
One of the things that makes this movie interesting is that it takes its time introducing the horror elements. As noted in Full-Tilt Boogie, a lot of horror movies get right to the scary parts, but the best horror novels often give you a chance to become acquainted with the characters before throwing them into the horrific situation. This allows you to care more whether or not the characters make it out the other side. The mix of characters was interesting, because the Gecko brothers were not sympathetic at all. Both of them are murderers and one of them is a rapist. However, the family they kidnap is relatable. We meet a dad and his two children. The dad is a minister who recently lost his wife and suffers a crisis of faith.
Once the vampires are introduced, the movie is mostly about action as the human characters fight to survive the night. I thought the strip club was an interesting front for a nest of vampires. It allows vampires in their sexier human form to lure the unsuspecting into their trap. Beyond that, we learn little about the vampires themselves until a compelling hint about their origins and how it might be tied to history and mythology is dropped in the movie’s last scene. I won’t discuss the specifics in case that would spoil it for anyone, but I gather the hint is developed in the made-for-TV sequels and TV series. The vampires themselves are portrayed as pure monsters and they take many different forms.
Although it’s ostensibly a vampire film, the plot structure involving sympathetic characters mixed up with gangsters followed by a frightening second act reminded me most of my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt, which is also set in the borderland region. You can learn more about that novel at: http://davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt.html.
Even though my Scarlet Order vampires are not outwardly monstrous, they do have ties to history and world lore, including Native American cultural lore. I would have enjoyed more exploration of these ideas in From Dusk till Dawn and may have to watch at least some of the TV series to see how they explore it there. The best place to see these ideas explored in my writing is in my novel Vampires of the Scarlet order. Learn more about it at: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO.html
Last Friday, I was browsing the web and I read a headline about a group being outraged at a public person’s words. I found myself thinking the person’s words weren’t the brightest, but I wasn’t quite sure they warranted “outrage.” Then I noticed another headline about people being outraged at something else and then there was another headline about outrage. I made an offhand comment to my wife that it’s no wonder with all this outrage that certain frustrated young men who don’t handle their emotions well start shooting people. The only emotion that seems to get validation by politicians and the media is outrage. Little did I know that in less than 24 hours, a young man would open fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, not all that far from where I live.
It may not be altogether clear from the map, but the borderland communities of Las Cruces, New Mexico, El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico are pretty tight knit. I used to do contract work for El Paso Community College and spent some of my time at the Valle Verde Campus not far from the Walmart where the shooting took place. I go to El Paso from time to time to see movies and, of course, I’ve been a guest author at El Paso Comic Con a few times. El Paso is also a safe town in this modern world. More people were killed in Saturday’s mass shooting than in the twelve months before that. These are people I consider my neighbors and this tragedy saddens me.
I know many are outraged in the wake of these events and I have my moments of outrage as well. Already there is renewed talk of gun control and that has triggered the outrage of gun control advocates. I fear that all this will go nowhere as it has in the wake of so many recent incidents. The challenge is that people need to move beyond the outrage and actually talk compromise and think about creative solutions. People need to understand what causes a person to take such hate-filled action as opening fire on families in a store, shopping for school supplies, then discourage that from happening.
It seems that the shooting in El Paso was fueled by anti-immigrant rhetoric. This rhetoric is poisonous nonsense. I’ve recently been looking into my own family’s history. As far as I can tell, every one of my ancestors was in this country before 1800. The current President of the United States is the grandson of immigrants who came in 1885. From my family’s perspective, his family looks no different than those coming across the border today. I know that from the perspective of Native Americans, my family looks no different than any other immigrants.
This brings us back to the culture of outrage. Outrage is a momentary reaction. News reporters like it because it’s a raw emotion and it draws people to the narrative being told. Politicians like it because it keeps votes rolling in as they stoke the fires. However, outrage is only sustained by finding a new outrage. Eventually, the old outrage drains away as the families of the victims mourn and find ways to move forward after their losses. Instead of looking for new outrages, we need to actually talk to each other about possible solutions and find ways to implement them. In that way, we may just stand a chance of breaking out of the culture of outrage.
Next weekend, I’ll be at El Paso Comic Con in El Paso, Texas. The event is being held from Friday, April 12 through Sunday, April 14 at the El Paso Convention Center. Special guests for the weekend include LeVar Burton from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Reading Rainbow. Also there will be Jason David Frank, Johnny Yong Bosch, Steve Cardenas, Jason Narvy, and Paul L. Schrier II who all played in incarnations of the Power Rangers TV series. There will also be guests from the comics industry such as writer and illustrator Frank Cho and writer Donny Cates. There will be music by The Library Bards plus cosplay, vendors, and panels all weekend long. You can get more information about the event at: http://elpasocomiccon.com/
Through much of the event, you will be able to find me at booth A15 in the vendor hall. I will have all my books available for sale and I’ll be happy to answer your questions. Also, on Sunday, April 14 at 11am, I’ll join author R.H. Webster for a panel entitled “The Southwest as Inspiration” in the Juarez Panel Room. We’ll talk about the surprising ways the Southwest inspires our science fiction fantasy, and steampunk. Be sure to bring all your questions for us!
I’ll be unveiling Hadrosaur Productions latest novel, Armageddon’s Son at my booth. I edited this terrific novel by Greg Ballan, which tells how the forces of Light and Dark wage war on and above Earth as each side seeks human allies to advance either the destruction or salvation of an ignorant mankind. In one bold, desperate act, an agent of Chaos has stolen the most powerful and coveted holy relic from the very heart of Vatican City, The Ruby Crucifix of Christ. This powerful relic was carved from the very cross where the savior was nailed, and is stained with His blood. This holy relic is said to be the instrument to end Armageddon and herald a new age of Man. Fortunately, Ex-CIA Agent Erik Knight is recruited to assist his mentor, Martin Denton, to discover the identity of the mysterious thief and locate the stolen relic.
Another book that will be new to El Paso Comic Con is David B. Riley’s Fallen Angel. It tells the story of Mabel, an angel from Hell, who accompanies General Grant’s army during the last days of the Civil War only to discover that Martians are watching the Earth with envious eyes and slowly drawing their plans against us. Not only that, but Mabel has to contend with her evil sister, who wants to have humans for dinner. Although Mabel and Grant get the upper hand before the war ends, the battle of good against evil isn’t won so quickly.
Of course, I’ll have my own latest release along as well and I’ll be happy to sign copies of Firebrandt’s Legacy for you. The novel tells the story of Ellison Firebrandt who 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.
I look forward to seeing you in El Paso next weekend!
Next weekend, I’ll be at El Paso Comic Con in El Paso, Texas. The event is being held from Friday, April 13 through Sunday, April 15 at the El Paso Convention Center. Special guests for the weekend include Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, and Marina Sirtis who played Riker, Data and Troi, respectively in Star Trek: The Next Generation. There will be cosplay, vendors, and panels all weekend long. You can get more information about the event at: http://elpasocomiccon.com/
Through much of the event, you will be able to find me at booth A30 in the vendor hall. I will have all my books available for sale and I’ll be happy to answer your questions. Also, on Sunday, April 15 at 11am, I’ll join authors C.M. Bratton, Ken Hudnall, Ray Ramos and R.H. Webster for a special Q&A session in the Juarez Panel Room. Be sure to bring all your questions for us!
At the event, I’ll be unveiling the second edition of my novel The Solar Sea, which tells the story of a voyage through the solar system aboard a solar sail space craft. In the novel, the crew hope to solve the mystery of particles that apparently travel through time, found in great quantity around Saturn’s moon, Titan. Along the way, the crew of the Solar Sail Aristarchus find clues to suggest that we are not alone in the universe after all.
Much of the plot is imaginary, but my goal was to transport readers to Mars, Jupiter and Titan as we know them to be. I also transported them using a technology that’s being developed. As it turns out, the Planetary Society is getting ready to launch their LightSail 2 spacecraft aboard an upcoming SpaceX flight. LightSail 2 has now been integrated into the NanoSat in preparation for launch. You can learn more about the process at the latest edition of The Planetary Post featuring Robert Picardo (from Star Trek: Voyager) and several special guest stars.
Next weekend, I’ll be at El Paso Comic Con in El Paso, Texas. The event is being held from Friday, April 21 through Sunday, April 23 at the El Paso Convention Center. Special guests for the weekend include Alan Tudyk who played Wash in Firefly, Lou Ferrigno who played the Incredible Hulk in the 1980s, and Nicholas Brendon who played Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There will be cosplay, vendors, and panels all weekend long. You can get more information about the event at: http://elpasocomiccon.com/
Through much of the event, you will be able to find me at booth A77 in the vendor hall. I will have all my books available for sale and I’ll be happy to answer your questions. Also, on Sunday, April 23 at noon, I’ll join authors Gary Wilson, R.S. Dabney, and Natalie Wright for a special Q&A session in Juarez Panel Room 2. Be sure to bring all your questions for us!
In other news from this past week, I discovered a nice mention of the anthology A Kepler’s Dozen on Physics Today’s blog in an article about the state of exoplanet science fiction. Physics Today is the flagship publication of the American Institute of Physics. In the article, they discuss the stories written by Mike Brotherton, Laura Givens, and Steve Howell. In summary, they say “the stories represent a glimpse of where science fiction might go if real exoplanets are taken as inspiration.” You can read the entire article at: http://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.5.3049/full/. You can learn more about A Kepler’s Dozen and order a copy for yourself at: http://hadrosaur.com/kepler.html.
Today, I’ll be in El Paso, Texas for the Steampunk Art Fest, being held at Barmen Kitchen and Patio at 4130 N. Mesa from 2 until 9pm. Although work at Kitt Peak National Observatory will call me away, the fun will continue on Sunday from 4 until 9:30pm. There will be a fire show, live music, and a costume contest, plus steampunk artists. I will be there today and will have a selection of my books available and will be happy to chat with you!
This past week, I’ve been catching up with some 2016 films I missed. One of them was the fine science fiction film, Arrival, starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. It tells the story of twelve mysterious alien spacecraft that land around the world. Every few hours, the aliens open the door and allow people in to talk to them. Adams plays a linguist attempting to understand their language while Renner plays a physicist.
The aliens in the film prove to be a fine example of aliens with tentacles, which I wrote about back in February. These creatures have seven legs and look like giant octopi or squids.
Another fascinating aspect of these aliens is that they don’t perceive time linearly like humans do. This leads the characters to ask whether they would make the same choices if they knew the future as they would if they didn’t. I don’t want to give away too many specifics because that risks spoiling the movie’s central mystery. However, it struck me that these aliens are not unlike the character Legion in my Clockwork Legion novels.
Legion does see time linearly like humans, but he is a living consciousness transferred into a vast computational array with tremendous predictive abilities. Legion’s appearance on Earth helps to give rise to the steampunk alternate reality. In my case, I worked to avoid the deus ex machina kind of plot where Legion simply tells humans how to build advanced technology. Rather, I use Legion as a means to clear away all doubt. Humans design the machines and Legion tells them whether or not they’re possible. This in turn means the leaders of society are willing to fund those inventions ahead of their time. Of course, another aspect of Legion is that he doesn’t always make the best choices about which humans to talk to.