October Adventures Continue

In my last post, I shared some of my adventures traveling around the country this month. Admittedly, a travelogue may seem a little out of place for a post appearing just two days before Halloween, but I’ll share a book at the end to put you in the spirit of the season and it’s even a quick read.

I left Kansas City on the train on Sunday night, October 14. By the time I woke up on Monday morning, the ground was covered in snow. I like traveling by train when I can. It’s a great way to see the countryside and although it takes longer than traveling by plane, it feels much more civilized. I enjoy flying, but the hassle of crowds, airport security, and flights filled to the brim take away much of the fun. Besides, my grandfather, dad, and brother all worked on the railroad, so I feel a certain family connection when I travel by rail.

I met my wife in Albuquerque where she brought my faithful Smart Car in for a service. We then drove down to Las Cruces with a brief stop in Socorro for some chicken mole enchiladas. For me, chocolate and chile come together to form the ultimate comfort food. After a four-hour sleep, I then drove to Tucson for a daytime shift at Kitt Peak where we’re continuing to refit the Mayall 4-meter for the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Survey.

After three days on the mountain, I gritted my teeth for another short sleep, got up early in the morning to drive to the airport where I caught a plane for Denver, Colorado. There, I celebrated MileHiCon 50. The highlight of the event was that every living convention guest was invited back as a guest. Here you see them assembled at opening ceremonies.

MileHiCon is always a special for me because I get to connect with so many people I’ve worked with over the years. These include Bob Vardeman who was one of the honored guests and who created the Empires of Steam and Rust Series,  David B. Riley one of the co-authors of Legends of the Dragon Cowboys, J Alan Erwine and Carol Hightshoe who have edited many anthologies I’ve been in and who appeared in A Kepler’s Dozen. Denver is also home to Laura Givens, the talented artist who has done many of my covers, and also the co-author of Legends of the Dragon Cowboys.

A particular high point of MileHiCon was the annual poetry reading. This year it was moderated by Stace Johnson. Ronnie Seagren joined us and read poems by several different people. Sadly, Gail Barton, a staple of past MileHiCon poetry readings had passed away, but I was fortunate enough to have a copy of the poetry journal she often handed out at the event, which allowed me to share some of her poems. It was lovely to have her voice at the event at least one more time.

Once MileHiCon was finished, I returned to Kitt Peak to continue work on the DESI spectrograph. This time, I helped a team from Ohio State University build the racks that will hold the spectrographs themselves once they all arrive. I have to admit, building the racks was a process not unlike assembling a piece of Ikea furniture!

At last, I am back home for Halloween. I’m turning my attention to some editorial projects, including a new novella from David B. Riley and two great books from Greg Ballan. In my off hours, I’m reading some spooky comic books and watching a few hair-raising films.

If you’re looking for something good to read between trick-or-treaters on Wednesday night, may I recommend the collection Blood Sampler? This book collects thirty-five vampire flash fiction stories written by Lee Clark Zumpe and me. The cover is by Laura Givens and the book features interior illustrations by Marge Simon. Chris Paige, writing for the fan newspaper ConNotations in Arizona said, “If you like vampire stories, this may be the best seven dollars you can spend.” Admittedly the new edition of the paperback went up to $8.00, but the ebook is only $4.00. You can learn how to get your claws on a copy by visiting  http://www.davidleesummers.com/Blood-Sampler.html

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Ten (plus) Years at Kitt Peak

David Lee Summers, Christian Soto, and Dick Joyce at the annual AURA service awards ceremony.

This month, I received my ten-year service award from the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy for my work at Kitt Peak National Observatory. The awards were presented following an annual presentation on the state of the observatory. Other award recipients included my boss, Dick Joyce, whose been with Kitt Peak for 45 years and one of my fellow Observing Associates, Christian Soto, who is celebrating his five-year anniversary. The photo shows the three of us at the University of Arizona ballroom where the presentation was given.

As it turns out, I’ve actually worked at Kitt Peak for more than a decade. I was tempted away from graduate school in 1992 and worked at the observatory until 1995. During that time, I watched the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope’s construction and served as one of its first four operators. I left because my wife and I were expecting our first child and I wanted a job that allowed me to be home more of the time. So, I went to work helping to finish commissioning a 1-meter telescope run by New Mexico State University. In late 2007, a former co-worker from Kitt Peak called me up and said they needed experienced telescope operators and asked if I wanted to return. At that time, I was a full-time writer and editor and wasn’t sure I did want to, but I agreed to an interview. They offered me a job and after much soul-searching I decided to return. I started in February 2008. So, now that it’s October, that means I’ve actually worked at Kitt Peak for about fourteen years. Unfortunately, human resources said I was away too long for my previous seniority to count, but my boss has expressed an interest in rectifying that if possible. We’ll see if that happens.

I feel like I made a good decision in returning. One surprising fringe benefit was that I became a more productive writer even though I was working full time. I suspect there are a few reasons for that. First of all, it forced me to better organize my time. Also, it put me into a position where I was interacting with people face-to-face more regularly, which I think helped me to bring more depth and emotional realism to my writing. Of course, the story of my departure and my return directly inspired elements of my novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt.

In the book, Mike Teter leaves the observatory because of a frightening experience. As it turns out, his experience was based on something that happened to me in my first tenure at Kitt Peak. It was a windy, stormy morning and I had gone up to make sure I’d serviced the instrumentation for the morning. The wind rattled the dome and there was an energy in the air. I had an unshakable feeling that something didn’t want me there and some kind of force was coming to remove me from the mountain. That frightening feeling went away after I’d had some sleep and I didn’t leave because of that incident, but I asked myself what if there really had been an evil force? What if it had manifested? Would I have been able to stay if my fears had actually materialized? I channeled that experience into the novel’s prologue. I know prologues often get a bad rap, but I made it a prologue not because it was “optional” but because it was an inciting incident that happened a few years before the main action of the novel.

If you’re in the mood for a scary read this Halloween week, you can read the entire prologue for free at http://www.davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt-Preview.html. If you get to the end and find you’re hooked, I have information about how you can order a copy of the novel. Hope you have a spooktacular week!

DeadSteam Trailer

Two weeks from today, on October 1, Grimmer and Grimmer Books will release its dreadpunk anthology DeadSteam. The term dreadpunk refers to Gothic inspired horror and fantasy, often with something of a steampunk flavor. The TV series Penny Dreadful was a good example.

As for the book itself? Reader beware: to open this tome is to invite dread into your heart. Every page you turn will bring you closer to something wicked. And when the dead begin to rise from the steaming pits of hell, only then will you discover that it is already too late. Your life is forfeit.

Featuring an introduction by Leanna Renee Hieber, author of The Eterna Files and Strangely Beautiful saga, DeadSteam plays host to the scintillating writing of Jen Ponce (The Bazaar, Demon’s Cradle), Wendy Nikel (The Continuum), Karen J Carlisle (The Adventures of Viola Stewart), Jonah Buck (Carrion Safari), and more…

With seventeen chilling tales of dreadpunk, gaslamp, and dark steampunk, DeadSteam will leave you tearing at the pages, desperate for more. For within these pages, the dead rise from their graves to haunt the London Underground, witches whisper their incantations to the wind, a sisterhood of bitten necks hunts fog-drenched alleyways lit only by gaslight, and only one thing is certain: that dread will follow you until you turn that final page.

And that sinking feeling in the pit of your chest? That fear that something is following you, watching you, hunting you? It is not for nothing. Look over your shoulder, dear reader. Watch behind you. Listen to the whispers in the darkness.

But know this … it is all inevitable.

I’m excited that my story, “A Specter in the Light,” is part of this anthology. The story was first published in the anthology Six-Guns Straight to Hell, which has been out of print for five years now. So if you missed the story in its first incarnation, be sure to catch it in this new volume. It’s a truly chilling tale of mining engineers using a Tesla coil to bring light to a mine, only to reveal an ancient horror.

If this has not been enough to tantalize your interest in the anthology, editor Bryce Raffle has debuted the book’s trailer today. Take a look:

I think this will make a great book for getting into the Halloween spirit. What’s more, you don’t have to wait to order. It can be preordered from major retailer’s right now. If you’re a book collector and prefer your books in hardcover, they can accommodate that as well! Drop over to https://deadsteam.wordpress.com/pre-order/ and order your copy today so you can have your copy right at the beginning of October. While you’re at the site, be sure to visit the blog links and read interviews with the authors, including yours truly!

Facing Monsters

This week, many of us will be visited by an assortment of monsters coming to our doors to politely ask for treats. It’s likely we’ll see zombies, vampires, assorted creations of Dr. Frankenstein, and perhaps even some scary clowns. Many of us will also watch scary movies featuring these same monsters, or settle into a comfy chair to read a spooky book.

So, why exactly do these monsters hold sufficient power over us that we still devote an unofficial holiday to them? I think it’s safe to say most of us don’t believe we’re hiding from evil spirits by dressing up. Most of us have access to food and housing and despite the fears many politicians would like to instill in us with help from the media, we are, on the whole, pretty safe.

I came across a fascinating article at PBS.org that addresses the question of why we fear monsters by Leo Braudy. If you want to read it, you can find it at: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/column-well-always-obsess-fear-monsters

In the article, Braudy suggests that societal changes over the last couple of centuries have given rise to five monstrous archetypes. I’ve had some fun thinking about how the monsters from my novels might fit into these groups. The titles are links and you can click on them to learn more about the books.

The monster from nature represents forces humans think they’ve harnessed but haven’t. The monster I’ve written that fits that best would be “He Who Kills With His Eyes” from The Astronomer’s Crypt. He’s an ancient Native American elemental spirit released from his prison on the story’s hapless observatory and is very much kin to monsters like Godzilla or the shark from Jaws.

The created monster represents our own creations turning against us. The super soldier vampires of Vampires of the Scarlet Order represent this danger. Scientists use nanites to create these monsters who represent a danger not only to humanity but to parallel worlds.

The monster from the past represents a creature from our pagan past who challenges our Judeo-Christian beliefs. Braudy suggests Dracula is an example of this. My Scarlet Order vampires from Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order do have elements of this in that they have great strength and immortality without recourse to a deity. The ghosts in The Astronomer’s Crypt might be better examples of this in that they haven’t moved on to heaven or hell and they gain strength from the release of dark forces.

The monster from within represents our own repressed, dark psychology. The duality of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde is a classic example, but I think my Scarlet Order vampires are good examples of this as well, especially in Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order where Alexandra and Draco must face the monsters they’ve become in becoming vampires.

The monster hoard which is the mindless, intractable collection of monsters such as zombies. For this, I’m actually going to turn to my steampunk works. The hive mind Legion and those humans Legion controls and connects in Owl Dance have certain zombie-like properties. At the very least, they represent giving oneself over to the collective like the Star Trek’s Borg.

So, what’s your favorite monster? Which of these archetypes does it fall into, or does it defy classification?

Hope you have a happy and safe Halloween and the only monsters you face are fictional ones.

Treat Yourself to a Scary Read

This week, my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt is Lachesis Publishing’s Book of the Week.

In my novel, astronomers, ghosts, drug dealers, and a monster from the beginning of time collide at a remote observatory during a violent thunderstorm. You might ask why a professional astronomer who operates telescopes would set a horror novel at an observatory. There are actually several reasons I chose to present this as a venue for a scary tale.

First, one of the scariest movies from my teen years was Ridley Scott’s movie Alien. Part of the reason the movie was so effective was that I was a big Star Trek and Star Wars fan growing up. Alien allowed haunted house horror to encroach on the “safe place” of science fictional optimism and action. Sure, Star Trek and Star Wars had their scary moments, but those moments were soon relieved by the heroes escaping the scary situation, a logical scientific explanation, or even humor. In Alien, the scary moments never let up. What’s more, the space ship was dark, dank, and full of shadows, not like the bright and colorful ships of those other science fictional franchises. For me, having a monster on the loose in an astronomical observatory is very much a call back to Alien.

Setting a horror story at an observatory is also something of an homage to one of the masters of twentieth century horror, H.P. Lovecraft. He was fascinated by astronomy and actually wrote scientific articles. Of course, he imagined ancient creatures from the depths of space to be among his horrors that tormented those people who dared to look in dark places.

Arguably one of the most important reasons for setting a horror story at an observatory relates to the adage, “write what you know.” I’ve worked at observatories for twenty-two of the last thirty years. Ironically, I feel comfortable and even safe working at observatories. However, some of the scariest stories happen in places where we don’t expect horrific things to occur. It’s one of the reasons Ray Bradbury could scare people with a story set at a fun carnival, and why Stephen King could scare us so effectively with a resort hotel in the Rockies. If you watch science shows, you’ve undoubtedly seen an astronomer speaking about the mysteries of the universe. You don’t expect something horrible in that situation.

And yet, it’s never far from the back of my mind that horrific things can happen. We’re at a remote site with wild animals. Observatories have big industrial equipment that come with their own safety issues. We work in the dark, in big, windowless buildings. When the power goes out, it can be really and truly dark. I’ve made the mistake of going into rooms without a flashlight and having doors close behind me and becoming quickly disoriented. There are access hatches that open into big, open areas. Those of us who work at observatories have to be ever vigilant to make sure accidents don’t happen.

I’ve also spoken at some length about how some observatories have literal crypts in or near their structures. James Lick is buried in the pier of the 36-inch telescope and Percival Lowell is interred in a mausoleum just outside the 24-inch telescope where he observed the features he thought were Martian canals.

In The Astronomer’s Crypt, I dared to take a place I loved and then scared myself by imagining the worst possible things happening. This Halloween, I dare you to come along with me and peer into the dark places behind the scenes at an observatory.

Lachesis Publishing has sweetened the deal making this a great Halloween treat. They’ve reduced the ebook from $4.99 to 99 cents for the rest of October at:

Remembering Houdini

Happy Halloween! I hope everyone dropping by will have a safe and enjoyable celebration. This Halloween finds me operating the Mayall 4-meter telescope instead of trick-or-treating, but I do plan to bring some spooky reading with me to the telescope to celebrate the occasion.

Today also marks the ninetieth anniversary of Harry Houdini’s death. Houdini fascinated me as a kid and the more I’ve learned about him over the years, the more he intrigues me. Not only was he an amazing escape artist and magician, but he was a pioneer in both cinema and aviation. However, what has always fascinated me most was Houdini’s work as a skeptic. The photo below shows Houdini in a “spirit” photograph of him interacting with Abraham Lincoln through the magic of a double exposure.

500px-houdini_and_lincoln

Houdini became interested in the occult and spiritualism after his mother died in 1913. He wanted to contact his mother beyond the grave. However, back in his early days as a performer, he masqueraded as a spiritual medium himself and began to recognize that the mediums he contacted had just updated and recycled tricks he himself once used. Ashamed of his own past, he started a crusade to expose fake mediums and show people how they performed their tricks.

By 1925, Houdini’s show went from his familiar routine of escapes and magic tricks to showing how psychics and spiritualists performed their tricks. Houdini chronicled his exploits in a book entitled A Magician Among the Spirits which he co-authored with C.M. Eddy Jr. Reportedly, it’s this book which cost Houdini his friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes.

Doyle himself was a strong believer in spiritualism, though interestingly he’s associated with his own share of intellectual fraud. Probably the most famous case was helping to publicize the Cottingly Fairies. In this case, two young cousins photographed themselves with dancing pixies. However, the cousins later confessed that the “fairies” were illustrations from a popular children’s book of the day called Princess Mary’s Gift Book. I first read about this case in James Randi’s book Flim Flam. Of course, Randi himself was influenced to investigate the paranormal by Houdini. I was honored to meet the Amazing Randi when I was in college, where he did his own demonstration of psychic “magic.”

In 1926, Houdini planned to start a new book about religious miracles with C.M. Eddy Jr. and none other than H.P. Lovecraft. Although an outline and three chapters were written, plans for the book were derailed by Houdini’s untimely death later that year.

Despite Houdini’s efforts to debunk the paranormal, his widow Bess went on to attempt to contact her dead husband through the aid of spiritualists. It’s said her final attempt happened eighty years ago tonight on October 31, 1936. The séance was broadcast on the radio. The medium, Ed Saint, called out on to Houdini to make himself known, but no answer came. After an hour, Bess called an end to the séance. At that point, a very localized, violent storm broke out. Supposedly it was clear over the surrounding area. It only rained over the séance location.

I hope you stay warm and dry this Halloween and may all your encounters with ghosts and spirits prove pleasant ones.

Too Early for Halloween Decorations?

As long as I can remember, people have complained about Christmas decorations appearing in stores earlier in the current year than the previous year. This year is the first time I can remember people commenting—mostly in a lighthearted way, it seems—about Halloween decorations appearing early. As it turns out, I actually don’t mind a little lead time on the Halloween season. I love Halloween, but because of my observatory job, I only get a couple of weeks at home in a month. If I’m working on a writing or editorial deadline, I might not get to a store that has decorations to remind me Halloween is approaching until very close to the date. fsf-sep2016 Also, although I attend several science fiction, steampunk, and comic conventions each year where cosplay is encouraged, I don’t often get to go full-out since I’m appearing as a professional on panels. Halloween is a definite chance to play.

Speaking of conventions, when I was at Bubonicon in Albuquerque a couple of weeks ago, I picked up a copy the David Gerrold Special Issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from Gerrold himself. He was kind enough to sign it for me. The issue has proven to be worth the money just for Gerrold’s fine science fiction novella “The Further Adventures of Mr. Costello” and Peter S. Beagle’s “The Green-Eyed Boy,” which is a prequel to The Last Unicorn. However, I’ve also been enjoying the fact that the issue contains several spooky tales about ghosts and murder most foul. It’s done a great job getting me into the Halloween frame of mind!

2020-visions As an aside, David Gerrold is actually the first professional science fiction author I met. We met at a convention in California circa 1981 and he signed my copy of his book The Trouble with Tribbles which told how he created the Star Trek episode of the same name. I was honored to appear alongside Gerrold in the anthology 2020 Visions edited by Rick Novy. The anthology tells stories set in the year 2020. You only have a little more than three years to find how good we did predicting the future!

Back on the subject of Halloween, this is one of those years where I have to work at the observatory on the big day itself. Unfortunately, that means I can’t really go all out on costuming this year, but I’m still thinking about dressing up. Perhaps I’ll go as an astronomer’s ghost in honor of my forthcoming novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt!