Great Reads for the New Year

Happy New Year! The annual Smashwords End of Year Sale ends tomorrow. Many of Hadrosaur’s titles are on sale and I’ve been highlighting them right here at the Web Journal. The coupon codes for these discounts are automatically applied at checkout. One of the things I love about Smashwords is that they provide ebooks in all popular formats and they’re DRM free, so you can download them to your favorite device or gift them to friends without worrying about what e-reader they prefer. If you are shopping for a friend, just click “Give as a Gift” when you visit the Smashwords links!

With the sale drawing to an end tomorrow, I thought I’d highlight a few fun books to jump into with the new year.


The Astronomer’s Crypt

Two years ago on a stormy night, in the dead of winter, Mike Teter experienced something that would change his life forever. Mike was a telescope operator at the world renowned Carson Peak Observatory in New Mexico. We won’t tell you what he saw that night on the mountain nor what happened afterward on a dark stretch of highway, because it would haunt you just as it has haunted Mike. But what we will tell you is that Mike is back at Carson Peak. And what he witnessed that night two years ago is about to become a reality…

Chris Wozney of The Nameless Zine says, “In the best tradition of horror fiction, we have courageous protagonists, characters who cross the line of good and evil in both directions, unspeakable evil from a forgotten age, and a villain behind the scenes who is attempting to bring back dark powers in the (no doubt mistaken) belief that he can control them … Strongly recommended to all who enjoy Stephen King’s novels.”

My novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt, is pulled from over twenty years experience operating telescopes at observatories around the Southwest. You can make this journey into the dark side of astronomy for 75% off with discount code SEY75 through tomorrow at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1025608


Lost Sons: The Battle of Manhattan

Clash of the Titans!

Duncan Kord has traveled the world for many lifetimes. The thousand-year-old Viking warrior was given immortality by an advanced race of beings who literally snatched him from the brink of death on a battlefield in Norway centuries ago. Not only did they save him, they infused his body and mind with the essence of a powerful dragon. Despite his powers, Kord kept mostly to himself, wandering the world, guarding his secrets. Kord’s life changed when he discovered the invader responsible for killing his wife and family and destroying his village all those years ago, is alive and well, and living in New York.

William Jefferson Sagahr has amassed a fortune over many lifetimes. Now living in Manhattan, the powerful magnate is head of a multi-national oil company. The thousand-year-old mercenary warrior was also given immortality and special powers by the same beings who gifted Kord. But Sagahr is nothing like Kord. A twisted evil resides within him, bursting out to wreak havoc on low-income neighborhoods in New York.

Kord travels to New York to confront his ancient nemesis and avenge his Nordic people and his dragon brethren. Sagahr wants to avoid his immortal enemy and hold onto his financial empire while feeding the darker urges burning inside him. A clash of these immortal titans in the heart of Manhattan would mean thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in destruction. Industrialist Brian West and police Lieutenant Robert Mackey must corral these two ancient warriors and keep their powers from leveling the Big Apple.

Lost Sons: The Battle of Manhattan by Greg Ballan is available for 75% off the cover price with discount code SEY75 through tomorrow at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1161235


Legends of the Dragon Cowboys

Legends of the Dragon Cowboys brings you two weird western adventures by authors David B. Riley and Laura Givens. Their heroes ride boldly out of the Far East to find their way in a mythic land of danger, romance, and adventure.

In “The Venerable Travels of Ling Fung” by David B. Riley, a wandering businessman encounters a Mayan god, crooked enterprises and Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, when all he really wants is to open a gun store. Ling Fung is not any ordinary Chinese entrepreneur–he’s highly skilled in Kung Fu and he can shoot good, too. While his heart is set on business, providence seems to have other plans for him.

Laura Givens brings wily acrobat Chin Song Ping to the Wild West in search of adventure and fortune. He finds little fortune, but plenty of adventure. Chin Song Ping is a scoundrel, a gambler and a trouble magnet. His heart of gold lands him in schemes to outwit would-be gods, cannibal ghosts, insane robots, Voodoo despots and the ultimate evil–bureaucrats. But he is a romantic, and the love of his life is the true treasure he seeks. The odds are always against him but if he survives he will become the Western legend he always was in his own mind.

The Wild West just got a lot wilder!

Midwest Book Review says, “These two Western novellas are seasoned a dash of exotic adventure, featuring cowboy protagonists who hail from the Far East and pursue their dreams in the tough-as-nails frontier. Riveting from first page to last, Legends of the Dragon Cowboys is enthusiastically recommended for public library collections and connoisseurs of the genre!”

Get the book for 75% off at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/751811

Lavender Castle

I enjoy listening to the Gerry Anderson podcast hosted by Gerry’s son, Jamie Anderson, along with Richard James and Chris Dale. the podcast discusses the television shows Gerry Anderson produced over a nearly 50-year career in television and includes such well known shows as Thunderbirds and Space: 1999. Chris Dale’s segment on the show is called “The Randomiser” and in it, he watches a random episode from a random Gerry Anderson show. In an episode a few weeks ago, he discussed a show called Lavender Castle, which I’d not heard of before.

Now, when I first heard the title, I pictured something very different from Gerry Anderson’s usual oeuvre of action shows, often with a science fictional element. To me, the title brought to mind princesses, ponies, and an idyllic fantasy land possibly under threat from a comical villain. While listing to the Randomiser, it became clear this was something different. I finally decided I needed to learn more about this show.

Lavender Castle tells the story of the crew of a space vessel called the Paradox, commanded by Captain Thrice, an elf-like grandfatherly being with an eye on his nose in addition to the two on either side. He’s accompanied by a sentient walking stick and a Scottish-accented engineer named Isembard. The Paradox is built like an English cottage with a thatch roof. In the first episode, they land aboard a pirate ship called the Cutting Snark, which floats in a magical glowing river between planets. There they rescue several would-be slaves and recruit them for their crew. The other crew members are a dog-like hero named Roger, a medical student named Lyca, who has butterfly wings, a robot called Sir Squeakalot, and Sproggle, a lovable, lizard-like goofball.

The mission of the Paradox is to prevent a villain named Dr. Agon and his minions from destroying the titular Lavender Castle, which is the source of light and goodness in the universe. Dr. Agon flies through the universe in a monstrous ship called the Dark Station and has an elephant-like landing craft called the Mammoth. Agon’s primary minion is a pterodactyl-like creature called Trump, and I’m especially amused that they all consider the name a horrible insult. Occasionally teaming up with Dr. Agon is the pirate Short Fred Ledd.

The character designs and premise are the brainchild of British illustrator Rodney Matthews, who I wasn’t familiar with. While his style is very much its own, it reminded me of Brian Froud’s illustration work, which inspired movies like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. The series ran for 26 10-minute episodes in 1999. Many of the episodes were scripted by Gerry Anderson himself. The show features a mix of stop motion and computer animation.

Given that the entire series has a run time of about four and a half hours, it’s an easy show to binge watch. I love stop motion animation and this was nicely done, especially for something that was produced on a television budget in the 1990s. They pack a lot of story into each 10-minute episode and I didn’t feel like I ran into too much repetitive material. Because the episodes are so short, we never get much back story for the characters.

I’ve always hated reviews that say something to the effect, “this show will bore adults, but it’s great for children.” Although children are very much the target audience, I found myself thoroughly enchanted by the show. My only complaints, particularly since this is a children’s show, are that almost all the characters are male and the characters can merrily breathe in space. Admittedly that latter point is something of a nitpick since these are clearly fantasy creatures existing in more of a magical realm than a scientific one, but I think a nod could have been given to the real world without slowing things down too much or sounding like a science lesson.

Several episodes are really top-notch. Favorites include: “Dueling Banjos” in which Captain Thrice must have a banjo duel with a crawfish-like swamp creature to get fuel for the Paradox; “Galactic Park” where the crew is lured to a theme park, but it proves to be an elaborate trap by Dr. Agon; and “Interface” where the Paradox responds to a distress call, only to be knocked out by sleeping gas and attacked by a giant mechanical spider. In that episode, Sir Squeakalot must find a way to save the crew by himself.

The entire series can currently be found on YouTube, but less because it’s legal to be there and more because no one is really enforcing the rights. The show was financed by Carrington Productions Incorporated, which was ultimately absorbed by Entertainment Rights Incorporated. Entertainment Rights was eventually purchased by Dreamworks Classics. I gather Anderson Entertainment is currently working on the rights issues with hopes of eventually producing a home video release and perhaps even some tie-in media. I hope they’re successful because this would be an amazing series to watch remastered on Blu-ray. While it may be little more than wishful thinking at this stage, I enjoyed this show so much, I would love to pitch a story for tie-in media if the opportunity ever arose.

While we’re waiting for a home video release of Lavender Castle, you can check out some of my whimsical and sometimes scary retrofuturistic fiction by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com

CoKoCon 2022

I’ll be celebrating Labor Day Weekend at CoKoCon 2022 in the Phoenix, Arizona metro area. The convention is being held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Phoenix Tempe in Tempe, Arizona. CoKoCon is a traditional science fiction convention with panels, an art show, a dealer’s room, gaming and room parties. The author guest of honor is Joseph Nassise, who I have been proud to share a dealer’s table with at Phoenix Comic Con a couple of times. We also shared a table of contents in an issue of Cemetery Dance Magazine. The local guest of honor is the multi-talented Linda Addison. She’s a poet, storyteller and winner of the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers of America. The artist guest of honor is Ave Rose, who is an automation maker and a jewelry designer. You can get all the details about CoKoCon on their website at: https://www.cokocon.org.

Hadrosaur Productions will have a table in the dealer’s room and I will be on several panels through the weekend. My schedule is as follows:

Friday, September 2

7:30pm – Fiesta Ballroom – Cryptids During the Pandemic. While humans were staying home during lockdown, did Bigfoot come out to play? Panelists discuss these mysterious beasts and how they differ from other mythical monsters. On the panel with me are Joseph Nassise and Avily Jerome.

Saturday, September 3

1:00pm – Coronado Room – To See New Earths. I’ll introduce Kitt Peak’s planet-hunting detector, NEID, and discuss its role supporting NASA’s TESS mission, hunting for Earth-like planets outside the solar system.

6:00pm – Coronado Room – Writing Speculative Poetry. I’ll join Linda Addison and Beth Cato to discuss the craft and market for speculative poetry, and maybe we’ll even share some of our work.

Sunday, September 4

2:30pm – Fiesta Ballroom – Mapping the Universe. Kitt Peak’s DESI instrument is engaged in a five-year mission to make the largest 3D map in the universe. How does it work? What are some things we’ve learned along the way? And what do we ultimately hope to learn?

7:30pm – Fiesta Ballroom – Historical Fiction Meets Fantasy. What is the proper proportion of facts with fiction when writing historical fantasy? What resources can authors turn to. What are the perils and joys of research? On the panel with me are Beth Cato, Bruce Davis, and Dani Hoots.


If you’re in the Phoenix metro area this coming weekend, I hope you’ll drop into CoKoCon and say “hello.”

A Master of Djinn

I have been a steampunk fan since before I knew the subgenre existed. For that matter, I’ve been writing in the subgenre before I knew it existed. My first steampunk story, “The Slayers,” was published in Realms of Fantasy Magazine in 2001 and I didn’t really become aware of the genre until the release of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker in 2009. My love of steampunk stems from looking at history and asking “what if” questions. When I was growing up, it seemed like the only fantasy stories available were set in a world that felt like medieval Europe. So I loved the idea of fantasy and alternate historical science fiction that opened up the time periods where these stories could be set. There seems an expectation that “steampunk” must be associated with Victorian England, but again because I came at these kinds of stories from sources like The Wild Wild West and Jules Verne’s Voyages extraordinaires, I never really saw England as a necessary component. I’m always delighted when a steampunk or fantasy tale takes me someplace I’ve never been.

A Master of Djinn

Over the last few years, I’ve been delighted by the novellas of P. Djèlí Clark. The first I read was The Black God’s Drums set in post-Civil War New Orleans about a young woman who wants to escape the streets by earning the trust of an airship pirate crew. She thinks the key might be some information she’s gained about a Haitian scientist. Fortunately, the young woman, Creeper, can also manipulate the weather. As far as I’m concerned Clark told another amazing tale in The Haunting of Tram Car 015, which is set in 1912 Cairo. In the story, agents Hamed Nasr and Onsi Youssef of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities are tasked with removing a malevolent supernatural entity from an aerial tram car.

I was delighted to see that Professor Clark returned to his alternate Cairo in a full length novel, A Master of Djinn. Although Hamed and Onsi appear in the novel, they aren’t the point of view characters. This time, we meet Fatma el-Sha’arawi, a woman working for the same ministry. The novel is basically murder mystery. Someone has killed every member of a brotherhood dedicated to al-Jahiz, who opened the veil to the magical realm allowing djinn to return to our world. The murderer claims to be al-Jahiz returned and he threatens to start a popular uprising. Agent Fatma must get to the bottom of who this person is before he disrupts an important peace conference being set up in Cairo.

A Master of Djinn proved a fun, fast-paced tale with some fascinating glimpses at North African, Islamic culture. Tucked in the narrative is a little background on the 1001 Arabian Nights, which I enjoyed, especially after some of my own research for a story I wrote called “Horse Feathers,” which I hope to say more about soon. While waiting for that, you can explore my steampunk world, which starts in the American West of 1877 and finds its way to Mexico, Japan, Russia, and Iran. You can get more details about the Clockwork Legion series at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

Hadrosaur’s New Payment Buttons

About a year ago, I received an email announcing that PayPal had deployed new payment buttons. I set it aside, knowing I needed to look into it as soon as I could clear some time. An upgrade like this typically means that older code, like that I used for my original PayPal buttons, will be deprecated and not maintained. Still, a quick look at PayPal’s development site told me I’d need to do some coding and testing, plus the old buttons still worked, so it was easy to convince myself to put it off.

One thing I liked about the old PayPal buttons was that when clicked, they would detect the buyer’s location and charge a suitable shipping rate for their address and the amount they purchased. As time went on, I came to realize I needed to update my shipping rates. Domestic postal rates had increased from the time I’d set up the rates and I knew I needed to take that into account. Also, because I can now drop ship from a vendor with locations in much of the world instead of exclusively from my local post office, some of my international shipping rates were too high. I recently went into to PayPal to see if those changes could be made and discovered I could no longer access the area where I used to set those numbers. So, it was time to upgrade to the new buttons PayPal had told me about a year ago.

New look for book pages at Hadrosaur.com

The new PayPal payment buttons basically come in three flavors. There’s a “plug-and-play” option where you enter some options and then you’re given a link to insert into into your code. Pretty much this will work if you have exactly one specific item you’re selling, but it’s not suitable for a bookstore where the books have different prices. The second option provides a set of “buy now” buttons as I have. It requires some basic knowledge of JavaScript but allows you to place buttons that charge different amounts on different pages. The third option allows for more customization so you can add items to a shopping cart and add the kind of location detection I had with the old buttons, but much of this needs to be coded through your own website or through any tools provided by your webhost and isn’t automated through PayPal like it used to be. In other words, they provide the tools so you can do these things yourself.

So far, my experience is that most people drop by Hadrosaur.com to buy a single book per visit, which does make the “buy now” style buttons I have an appropriate choice. Also, I have a pretty good idea of a “typical” shipping price, whether I ship from my local post office or drop ship an item. It’s possible I may need to adjust this, but it can now be adjusted directly on my site without having to rely on access through PayPal’s site. Plus, the new PayPal buttons are called from the site and they promise to keep them secure and up-to-date. If you do drop by my site and would like to buy several items at one time, the best option is to let me know through the website’s contact form and I can invoice you for the items plus the shipping cost for those items. Often combined shipping will be less per-item than it would be if you simply ordered each item individually.

So, please go visit https://hadrosaur.com right now. If you’re a fan of science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, or horror, I’m betting you’ll find a tempting book, audio book or even comic book. And, if you buy one of my books, the “Thank you” message at checkout will even tell you how to get it signed and personalized!

Prisoners of the Wailing Tower

Today, I welcome Deby Fredericks to my blog to introduce her high fantasy novella series, Minstrels of Skaythe. She’s just released the latest installment, Prisoners of the Wailing Tower. I have edited two of Deby’s novels and read several other works she’s written. I always enjoy them. With that, I’ll turn it over to Deby.


What if the forces of light did not prevail against darkness?

That question is the basis for my high fantasy novella series, Minstrels of Skaythe. The evil mage Dar-Gothull has reshaped everything in his own terrible image. Skaythe is an upside-down world, where merciless strength is “good” and caring about others is “bad.”

In creating this setting, I wanted to challenge some of the standard assumptions in fantasy. Our great legends tell us that freedom from tyranny can only be won in battle. Or that some sort of “chosen one” will lead an army to rescue the people. And that every problem must be solved at the point of a sword or gun.

Personally, I question that warfare makes anything better. So, I set out to explore ways that people of good conscience might resist a despot without resorting to violence. My heroes travel as minstrels. Music and dance, juggling and puppetry are their weapons. Rather than fighting to overthrow Dar-Gothull’s regime, they try to comfort the suffering of the people. For this crime they are branded as renegades and hunted throughout the land.

In the second novella, Dancer in the Grove of Ghosts, Tisha explains some of their philosophy. “Always is an illusion. It is a lie the powerful tell – to themselves and to the world. It saves them from admitting that their way has not always been, and that one day their cruelty will have an answer.”

These novellas are my answer.


About Prisoners of the Wailing Tower:

Alemin only wanted to help an innocent. Instead, he was caught by the dreaded hunter-guards. Now he finds himself flung into the Larder, where the very walls are steeped in nightmares and his fellow inmates are vicious killers. Worse, Warden Ar-Lizelle seems intent on tracking down his friends, the Minstrels, who have devoted their lives to undermining Skaythe’s tyrannical regime.

On the outside, the renegade mage Lorrah receives a premonition of Alemin’s plight. She’s desperate to save a man she cares for, but the Larder is commanded by someone she has hated for years and can’t bear to face: her cruel sister, Ar-Lizelle. Luckily, Lorrah is not alone. She has help from the fierce women warriors of Badger Squad. Yet even their combined forces might not be enough to get Alemin free from Dar-Gothull’s Larder!


Where you can get Prisoners of the Wailing Tower:


About Deby Fredericks:

Deby Fredericks has been a writer all her life, but thought of it as just a fun hobby until the late 1990s. She made her first sale, a children’s poem, in 2000.  

Fredericks has six fantasy novels out through two small presses. More recently, she self-publishes her fantasy novellas and novelettes, bringing her to 14 books in all. Her latest is The Minstrels of Skaythe. Her short work has been published in Andromeda Spaceways and selected anthologies.

In addition, she writes for children as Lucy D. Ford. Her children’s stories and poems have appeared in magazines such as Boys’ Life, Babybug, Ladybug, and a few anthologies. In the past, she served as Regional Advisor for the Inland Northwest Region of the Society of  Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, International  (SCBWI).

Songs in Oz

With book number ten, I feel like I’ve reached a milestone in my journey through L. Frank Baum’s original Oz novels. Rinkitink in Oz opens up on the Island of Pingaree in the Nonestic Ocean, some distance from the land of Oz. The title character, king of a land adjacent to the domain of the Nome King, which we’ve visited in several other Oz adventures, arrives on Pingaree with his talking goat Bilbil. He’s a jolly sort who is happy to enjoy all the perks of being a king, but really doesn’t want the responsibility. He’s happy to eat, swap stories, and sing, but doesn’t really want to do the hard work.

Soon after Rinkitink arrives in Pingaree, the island is invaded by a force from the twin islands of Regos and Coregos. The people of Pingaree, including the island’s king and queen, are hauled away as slaves. Rinkitink, Bilbil, and the island’s young prince, Inga, are the only ones who elude capture. Fortunately, Inga had just learned about three magical pearls which give him hope for rescuing his people. One pearl gives him great strength, one gives him invulnerability, the third one gives him sage advice. With the pearls of strength and invulnerability ensconced in the prince’s shoes, he sets out with Rinkitink and Bilbil to rescue his people. All along the way, Rinkitink is happy to entertain his traveling companions with a song.

I’ve always found it interesting when songs appear on the pages of novels. I often find myself trying to sing the words and I wonder how close I might have come to what the author heard in their head. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been listening to these novels on audio. The Librivox recording of Rinkitink that I listened to featured a full cast. The good king was acted, and sung, by an audiobook narrator named Angleet. I thought he did a fantastic job singing Rinkitink’s songs. I don’t know if the melodies were those Baum heard in his head, but they were nicely done and felt true to the fairy tale-like atmosphere of the Oz books

In reading the Oz books to date, I’ve had the impression that L. Frank Baum was a fan of the Brothers Grimm. We see evidence of that in Dorothy’s magical shoes, the talking animals of Oz, and the witches, both good and evil. That noted, the books still have a distinctly American flavor as plucky, independent adventurers such as Dorothy or Trot find their way through the dangers of these lands. For much of its length, Rinkitink feels the most like a Grimm fairy tale of all these novels. In fact, our familiar Oz denizens don’t come into the story until the final chapters of the novel. At the risk of a spoiler, the most American aspect of this novel is how Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz come riding to Inga and Rinkitink’s rescue near the novel’s end.

Like Baum, I’m a fan of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I’ve translated a few of the tales and done my own retellings. They are available in the anthologies Gaslight and Grimm and It Came From Her Purse. Click on the links to learn more about the books.

Also, this coming weekend is the second installment of Buboni-Virtual-Con. I will be on the panel “Writing Badass Women,” which is scheduled from 6:30-7:30pm Mountain Daylight Time on Saturday, August 21. The schedule for the entire convention and information about how to watch the panels from your computer will be on Bubonicon’s website at: http://www.bubonicon.com/.

What are we going to do tonight, Queen Ann?

“The same thing we do every night, Private Files. Try to take over the world!”

Okay, Tik-Tok of Oz doesn’t actually start out like an episode of Pinky and the Brain, but I was reminded of the show when Queen Ann Soforth of Oogaboo decides to lead the eighteen men of her country out to conquer the world. Meanwhile a young girl named Betsy Bobbin and her mule Hank find themselves shipwrecked in a strange fairyland. They go on a quest to find a safe refuge, when they come upon a greenhouse, which is the home of the Rose Kingdom. While they’re there, the Shaggy Man from earlier Oz books literally drops through the roof. The flowers of the Rose Kingdom send Betsy, Hank and the Shaggy Man on their way along with their newly plucked queen who they’ve decided to reject, a cousin of Princess Ozma named Ozga. We soon learn the Shaggy Man is on a quest to find his brother. Princess Ozma discovered the Shaggy Man’s brother was a captive of recurring villain, the Nome King Ruggero.

On their way to the Nome Kingdom, our band meets Polychrome, the rainbow’s daughter who we last met in The Road to Oz. A little further along the road, they come upon a well and find the title character, Tik-Tok, the machine man of Oz. Tik-Tok has long been one of my favorite steampunk-like creations. For all intents and purposes, he’s a true clockwork robot. His thinking, speech, and movements all have to be wound up to work. It turns out that Princess Ozma teleported Tik-Tok to help the Shaggy Man in his quest. Unfortunately, Ruggero found him first and dumped him down the well.

By and by, our two bands encounter each other. Queen Ann’s army consists of sixteen officers and one soldier. The one soldier, Private Files, defects when he doesn’t want to harm the Rose Queen Ozga, Betsy Bobbin, or Polychrome. Queen Ann then recruits Tik-Tok to be her army. The mechanical man agrees under the condition that the first place they invade is the Nome Kingdom, which will, in turn, help the Shaggy Man in his quest.

Despite the title, the book is more about the Shaggy Man and the Nome King than Tik-Tok. Still, I enjoy seeing Tik-Tok in this book. There’s a nice moment near the end of the book where Ozma uses a two-way communication device to talk to the Shaggy Man while watching him through her magic picture. I couldn’t help but think that L. Frank Baum had anticipated video chat in his 1914 novel. Dorothy and her little dog Toto only appear briefly at the end, but we have a wonderful moment where we learn why Toto only barks and wags his tail when other animals who come to Oz, such as Billina the Yellow Hen, learn how to talk.

As with The Patchwork Girl of Oz, I was swept along by the quest story. This one felt different from earlier ones in the series, and I had the sense that Baum was growing more comfortable telling stories with his troupe of characters and bringing new characters into the mix to add spice. That noted, it didn’t seem that Baum paid as much attention to continuity in this volume as earlier books in the series. Polychrome didn’t seem to remember meeting the Shaggy Man back in The Road to Oz. Also, Tik-Tok felt as though he was played more for comedy here rather than being the stalwart defender of his friends. Still, after trying to eschew the series and move on, it feels like Baum is now having fun with these characters and I’m glad to keep reading and having fun as well.

But, It Wasn’t a Dream

At the end of the 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wakes up in her room, relieved to be home after her journey to distant land of Oz. Her Aunt Em tells her, “You just had a bad dream.”

“But it wasn’t a dream,” insists Dorothy. “It was a place.”

My journey through L. Frank Baum’s original Oz novels has brought me to the sixth book in the series, The Emerald City of Oz, and sure enough, Aunt Em will learn that Oz was no dream!

The Tin Woodsman is ready to defend The Emerald City of Oz

As the novel begins, we learn that Uncle Henry and Aunt Em are facing serious financial trouble. Henry had to take out a mortgage to pay for a new farmhouse after the first one was swept away by a tornado in the first book. Now the payment is due, but Henry hasn’t made enough money. All along, Princess Ozma has been asking Dorothy to move to Oz permanently. Given the dire straights in Kansas, Dorothy finally agrees, under the condition that Uncle Henry and Aunt Em also be allowed to move to Oz. The next day, Ozma uses her magic belt to yank Uncle Henry and Aunt Em to the magical land.

So where did this magic belt come from? That goes back to book 3, Ozma of Oz. The magic belt used to belong to the Nome King who lives across the deadly desert from Oz. Well, it turns out the Nome King wants his belt back and what’s more, he’s decided to take over the land of Oz. As the Nomes begin to tunnel under the deadly desert, the Nome general, Guph begins to recruit allies to help with the invasion.

While all this is going on, Dorothy decides to take her uncle and aunt on a tour of Oz. They’re accompanied by the wizard, the Shaggy Man, the sawhorse, Billina the Hen, and Toto. Along the way they see such sights as the land of the Fuddles inhabited by living 3-D jigsaw puzzles, a land populated by living paper dolls, and Bunnybury, a land of civilized rabbits. Fans of groan-worthy puns don’t want to miss Dorothy’s side trip to Utensia, a land of kitchen utensils. Eventually the party makes their way to the castle of the Tin Woodsman, who is now the Emperor of the Winkies. He’s learned about the Nome invasion and the whole group return to the Emerald City to warn Ozma and prepare a defense. Along the way, they pick up their old friends the Scarecrow and Jack Pumpkinhead.

The steampunk in me was delighted when Dorothy suggests that airships might be a great way to get around Oz. Then after that, the wizard realizes that could be a problem, after all, he arrived in a balloon and Dorothy made her first trip by cyclone. If airships become too numerous in our world, they may eventually find Oz. Not only did I enjoy the reference to airships, I loved how this further suggested that Oz was a real place in our world one could just travel to, assuming one could cross the deadly desert that separated it from the rest of the world.

I have to admit, I’ve long been conflicted about the ending of the 1939 film. The problem I run into arguably isn’t the fault of anyone involved in the writing or production of the classic movie. Dorothy’s return home is nicely handled and the audience can draw their own conclusions about whether Oz was a dream or not. In fact, in the Oz novels, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry don’t believe in Oz until they’re brought there in the sixth book. The problem I have is that I’ve seen too many fantasy stories after The Wizard of Oz that send a hero into a fantasy world, give the hero many heart-wrenching, death-defying adventures, and then bring them back home to discover “it was only a dream.”

What I don’t like is the cliché. If I invest myself in a fantasy story, if the characters engage me enough, I want to believe the world they inhabit could exist. I want to believe that my concern for the character had been justified. I want to believe airships could fly over the fantasyland by accident. The Wizard of Oz screenwriters had good narrative reasons for its ending. If you’re going to put me through a harrowing emotional journey, then tell me the whole experience was just dream, you better have reasons that are just as good or you’ll lose me as a reader.

Crossroads in Oz

My travels through L. Frank Baum’s original Oz novels continued with book five, The Road to Oz. Dorothy and Uncle Henry have returned to Kansas by the time the story opens. A hobo called the Shaggy Man comes by the farm and asks Dorothy for directions to the town of Butterfield. He seems scattered and Dorothy decides to take him to the road that will lead to the town. As they walk, the surroundings become unfamiliar and they soon come to a place where many roads intersect. Dorothy is confused because she would remember such a place so near home. They decide to follow one of the roads and soon meet a young boy who calls himself Button-Bright. A little while later, they meet Polychrome, daughter of the rainbow king who is light and joyful and enjoys dancing through life. I couldn’t help but think about the famous song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in all her scenes. Our group soon comes to Foxville, a kingdom of talking foxes and we learn that Princess Ozma will be having a birthday party soon! Of course Dorothy and her new friends will make it to the birthday party, but what makes this party special is that many of the guests come from Baum’s other novels!

The Road to Oz and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum

I love it when an author can find a good reason for characters from different books they’ve written to meet. I’ve done it a couple of times. The vampire Mercedes Rodriguez has a cameo in my novel Owl Dance. The Scarlet Order Vampires come into more direct contact with the Clockwork Legion in the story “Fountains of Blood” which appears in the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone, edited by David Boop.

Princess Ozma’s birthday party proves to be a great excuse to bring together characters from Baum’s other fantasy novels. Among the guests are Queen Zixi of Ix from the novel of the same name, John Dough from the novel John Dough and the Cherub, and the Queen of Merryland from the novel Dot and Tot in Merryland. Of course, the true star guest is none other than the protagonist of Baum’s Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Not only is Santa there, but he brings some of friends, the Knooks and Ryls from the Forest of Burzee.

Admittedly, I’ve jumped ahead a bit. On their way to the party, Dorothy, Toto (who is back for only the second time in the Oz novels), Polychrome, the Shaggy Man, and Button-Bright have their share of adventures. Most are actually rather tame and for the most part, the people they encounter just want an invite to the big shindig in Oz. The exception is when they cross paths with the Scoodlers. If we ever play Oz poker, I’ll take your Flying Monkeys and raise you a Scoodler. The Scoodlers are two-sided with a face looking forward and a face looking backward. Their only desire is to turn our heroes into soup! What’s more, they can take off their heads and throw them at you! Fortunately, the Shaggy Man saves the day and they are able to get away.

Eventually we come to the deadly desert surrounding Oz, but because the Shaggy Man has connections, they get a boat that can cross the sand. I was delighted when they reached Oz and the first familiar people they meet are Billina the Hen and Tik-Tok the Mechanical man from Ozma of Oz. We also get some time with the tin woodsman, the scarecrow, and the cowardly lion.

In a way, The Road to Oz feels like a nice tame road trip (with the exception of the Scoodlers!) designed to give fans of the books so far a chance to spend time with old friends. And yet, Baum sneaks in some subversive politics as the tin man lets us know without a doubt that no one would be so uncouth as to use money in utopia like Oz.

Looking forward to my next trip to the land of Oz. In the meantime, you can learn a little more about my novel Owl Dance at http://davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html. You can learn more about Straight Outta Tombstone at http://davidleesummers.com/shorts.html. What’s more, the Scarlet Order Vampires are experiencing an adventure in a brand new comic book over at my Patreon site: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers.