Daniel the Vampire Astronomer

The first vampire story I sold was “Vampire in the City of Crosses,” which appeared in a 2001 issue of The Vampire’s Crypt edited by Margaret L. Carter. One of the things that brought that story to life was the character of Daniel the vampire astronomer. In the story, Daniel tells us about his history in two paragraphs:

“One cold night in 1899 I was walking from the dome of the 24-inch telescope to my sleeping quarters when I heard a low growl. Wary, I thought I’d stumbled upon a mountain lion. Seemingly, my fears were confirmed when something pounced on me in the darkness. I felt the teeth tear into my jugular and my own blood leave my body for the last time. The body on me was not covered in fur as I expected and it was not a mountain lion. It was more like a man. I was euphoric as the creature’s blood passed to my body. I became a vampire there in the snow, on a clear winter’s night on a hill outside Flagstaff.

“The vampire that attacked me taught me how to feed and how to sleep during the day so that others would not find me. Coffins come in handy, but I really do prefer a soft bed. He taught me the basics and little more. I’ve met only a few other vampires. We have conversed some, but for the most part we leave each other alone. We seem to be creatures of solitude. Maybe it’s just me but there are times I long for a new master.”

I adapted the short story “Vampire in the City of Crosses” into a chapter of my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. In the years since the novel’s publication, people have cited the idea of a vampire astronomer as one of the aspects that made them pick up the book. When I revised the book for Hadrosaur Productions in 2020 and hired Chaz Kemp to do the cover, he asked if one of the characters could be black. I realized I never specified Daniel’s ethnicity, so we agreed Daniel should be black. I added language to the new edition to affirm that choice and I believe it added a new dimension to the character.

Two years later, I’m working on a new Scarlet Order novel where I spend more time getting to know the vampires even better. I began to think about those two paragraphs describing Daniel’s origin and wondered what impact his ethnicity might have had on that story. I decided to flesh out Daniel’s origin into a full short story of its own, which is titled “The Older Worlds of Space” and it has just appeared in the Samhain 2022 issue of The Hungur Chronicles Magazine. The story’s title is a reference to The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, a tribute to the fact that Daniel McKee and Percival Lowell were observing Mars at the end of the nineteenth century.

The Hungur Chronicles focuses on vampires in or from outer space as well as those encountered on Earth. Published twice a year, on Walpurgisnacht and Samhain, it features stories, articles, illustrations, and poetry by new voices as well as familiar ones. In addition to my story, the issue contains a novelette by Tyree Campbell along with short stories by such folks as Kelly A. Harmon, Joe Whitlow, and Gary Davis. There are feature articles by Tales of the Talisman alumni Robert E. Porter and Gary Davis plus poems by such folks as Sandy DeLuca, Guy Belleranti, and Juleigh Howard-Hobson. As of this writing, I’m still reading the issue, but so far, the poem “Vampire Visit” by Guy Belleranti, the article “Severed Heads and Omens of Death: The Horror Origins of Halloween” by Gary Davis, and the story “The Cure is in the Blood” by JR Blanes are particular standouts for me. If you’re a vampire fan and looking for some new stories, be sure to check out The Hungur Chronicles.

You can pick up a copy of the current issue of The Hungur Chronicles at: https://www.amazon.com/Hungur-Chronicles-Samhain-2022/dp/1088075428/

Story and History

While my wife and I were in Tombstone the first weekend of October, we realized we’d never seen the 1957 film, Gunfight at the OK Corral starring Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday. The movie also features DeForest Kelley, best known for playing Dr. McCoy in Star Trek, as Morgan Earp and Earl Holliman as Wyatt’s deputy, Charles Bassett. The year before Gunfight at the OK Corral, Holliman had appeared in Forbidden Planet as the cook on the spaceship C-57D. Much of The Gunfight at the OK Corral was filmed at Old Tucson Studios, where we’ve spent quite a bit of time at the Wild Wild West Con steampunk convention. We bought a copy of the Blu-ray at the OK Corral gift shop and brought it home.

Gunfight at the OK Corral Blu-Ray

I wasn’t expecting a historically accurate retelling of the real gunfight. After all, right there on the cover, Burt Lancaster lacked Wyatt Earp’s epic mustache! What’s more, the real gunfight was a messy thirty-second shootout that resulted from tensions brewing between two factions in Tombstone over the previous months. Most of the story’s drama is in the lead-up and the aftermath. When the movie is titled Gunfight at the OK Corral, you essentially know the gunfight itself is going to be the story’s big climactic scene. What surprised me was how much the movie diverged from history.

The movie opens with Wyatt Earp as a US Marshal on the trail of bad guy Johnny Ringo. In a small town in Texas, he finds a sheriff has let him get away. However, the sheriff points Earp to Doc Holliday, who happens to be in town, for more information. It turns out a gunman has come to town to get revenge for Doc killing his brother after cheating at cards, which gives us the setup for our opening confrontation. After this is resolved, Wyatt returns home to Dodge City, Kansas and continues searching for clues about Ringo. In the meantime, he has a run-in with a lady gambler named Laura Denbow and a romance blossoms between them. Eventually, Wyatt gets a telegram from his brother Virgil in Tombstone. Johnny Ringo has joined forces with a group of ranchers called the Clantons.

I’m not really interested in nitpicking the movie for historical accuracy. It tells a solid, tight-knit tale about a good lawman doggedly chasing down his opponent culminating in a satisfying, cinematic gunfight. What did strike me was how it used a handful of carefully placed historical details to give it the sense of historical veracity, even though it diverged from history at many key points.

Because I spent my weekend in Tombstone working on a dieselpunk story, which was a work of historical fantasy based in a real location and inspired by a true story, I realized this movie did a lot of what I do when I’m writing these kinds of his historical fantasy stories. History may have served as a foundation, but the movie’s writer and director made sure that it told a solid, self-contained story. History is often messy with many unresolved threads. Real-life romances and relationships aren’t always easy to understand. The big difference between Gunfight at the OK Corral and the stories I write is that I typically signal my story isn’t literal history by including fantastical or science fictional elements such as airships that didn’t exist at the time or wandering alien travelers. I enjoyed Gunfight at the OK Corral, but might have enjoyed a fantastical take based, for example, on Emma Bull’s novel Territory, even more.

As it turns out, I set a portion of my Clockwork Legion series in the area around Tombstone, but I deliberately decided I didn’t want to retell the story of the gunfight at the OK Corral. Instead, in my alternate version of history, the Clantons and the Earps are barely aware of each other because the events in this world conspire to keep them on separate paths. Part of the novel Lightning Wolves is based on the story of the Clantons before Tombstone was founded. By Owl Riders, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday have shown up, but their business interests are unrelated to the Clantons. You can learn more about the series at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

Research Trip Through Time

As I mentioned back in my post about visiting the Grand Canyon earlier this year, I’ve been invited to write a story for a steampunk anthology and the anthology must feature a crow or a raven in some prominent way. As it turns out, there are many ravens in Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon. They’re all over the place and they talk to each other and they’re frequent visitors to the campground. Also, my novel Owl Dance features Professor Maravilla who retreats to the Grand Canyon in 1877 to study birds flying over the canyon. After some thought, I came up with enough of a story idea to pitch to the editor. Of course, a pitch is not a fully formed story. To make the story work, I needed to know a little more about the history of the Canyon at that period. Fortunately, I found John Wesley Powell’s book about exploring the Grand Canyon in the gift shop. His expeditions happened just about five years before my story was to be set, so it seemed a great resource.

John Wesley Powell was a geologist, who in the years after the Civil War, put together an expedition to study the geology of the Green and Colorado River basins. He assembled a team and they started up near the headwaters of the Green River just above the Gates of Lodore. As it turns out, my wife and I had camped just a few miles south of his starting point in 1993.

Green River in Northern Colorado

Powell and his team proceeded down the Green through the canyon lands of Utah until it met up with the Colorado. Along the way, he describes many adventures climbing up the mountains on either side of the river to measure elevations. At one point, he describes going up one cliff face almost too steep for him. He jumps and tries to pull himself up to the top, but can’t. Eventually, his partner has to climb above him, take off his pants and throw one end to Powell, so he can use them as a rope to pull himself to the top. What Powell didn’t really tell us in his narrative is that he’d lost one arm in the Civil War, making this an even more harrowing episode than I first pictured.

What actually proved very useful in this part of the book is that Powell describes the equipment he used at the time and how he used it. This gave me some nice detail to add to my story, since I imagine Professor Maravilla meeting some geologists in my story. Powell’s journey continued on into Arizona and he passed the Vermilion Cliffs, which I visited a few years ago.

Vermilion Cliffs

Powell’s party ultimately wends its way into the Grand Canyon itself. Of course these are the days before the Grand Canyon was anything like a tourist destination or even a household name. He describes traveling along the river and exploring many of the side canyons along the way. I learned that he named the area called “Indian Gardens” after a literal garden he found near the river. At this point in the expedition, they were running low on supplies and Powell describes helping himself to squash growing there.

The Grand Canyon in 2022

Powell’s views on Native Americans are both interesting to read and challenging. He was invited to hear stories and watch ceremonies that few non-Native Americans get to see today. He offers insights unique to his time period and advocated for the preservation of Native American culture. However, he also saw Native Americans as primitives and advocated for their education. Unfortunately, this would be part of the movement that would lead to the creation of Indian Schools which stripped many Native Americans from their homes, languages, and cultures. While my story doesn’t involve Native Americans living near the Canyon, Powell’s attitudes did help me better form some characters in my story.

John Wesley Powell would go on to become the second director of the United States Geological Survey a few years after his book was published. Lake Powell, an artificial reservoir in the Colorado River created by the Glen Canyon Dam is named for him. I appreciate the research trip through time I took with John Wesley Powell and the view he gave me of geology in the Wild West. Of course, the challenge of this kind of time travel is that while Powell can speak to me, I can’t speak to him and discuss the consequences of his actions and find out what he would do as a result.

You can learn more about my novel Owl Dance at: http://davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html

Birthday Reflections

Today is my birthday. The day comes with mixed emotions, as I know it does for many adults. Today, I’m delighted that I get to spend the day at the TusCon Science Fiction Convention in Arizona with friends and fellow fans. Also, I received a nice gift from my wife, a set of digital comic books, which I hope to read and then blog about in the near future. Despite all that, birthdays make it hard to escape thoughts of growing older and mortality. Still, I’m delighted to know that I share a birthday with one of my literary heroes, Robert Louis Stevenson.

Celebrating my third birthday with my grandma

This week, I was curious about birthday celebrations and looked up some articles about them. They seem to have their roots in ancient ceremonies marking the births of certain gods. In Ancient Egypt, the birthdays of pharaohs were celebrated as a way to equate them with the gods. Over time, birthday celebrations came to be fairly commonplace for national rulers along with certain other rich and powerful people. Most other people wouldn’t routinely celebrate their birthdays until around the middle of the nineteenth century.

Several different things came together to make birthdays an occasion to celebrate. As Europe and the United States moved into the Industrial age, keeping track of time gained importance. People had clocks and calendars in their homes and time became much more regimented as people went to work in cities. As medical science advanced in this period, special note was taken of how people changed as they aged. The number of years one had lived became a way to measure a standard of growth in children and then a standard of overall health as adults. People kept track of their birthdays and began to note how old they were.

Another thing that happened in the nineteenth century was that families started having fewer children. I’ve seen it suggested that around this time, children became seen less as commodities and resources and became more cherished as individuals. Even by this time, some bakers in Germany had come up with the idea of marketing cakes for children’s birthdays and the idea would eventually travel to America.

At this point in my life, my birthday is a good excuse for a fine meal with family and a few friends. I’m perfectly happy to enjoy a piece of good cake for dessert. I look back on the years that have passed so far and hope I’ve learned from my mistakes. I look forward to new challenges and discoveries in the years ahead and hope my children, who I cherish, continue to prosper. Of course, the best birthday present you can give an author is to read one of their books. You can find mine at http://www.davidleesummers.com. If you’ve already read one of my books and loved it, please leave a nice review. Trust me, that’s something that would make a fabulous birthday gift!

The Patchwork Girl of Oz

It seems fitting that my journey through the Oz books took a brief hiatus between The Emerald City of Oz and The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Baum himself took a three-year break between the two books. The seventh book in the series opens when a Munchkin named Ojo and his Uncle pay a visit to the Crooked Magician, Dr. Pipt. We soon learn that Dr. Pipt created the magic powder that brought such characters as Jack Pumpkinhead and the Gump to life in earlier books. In this novel, Dr. Pipt’s wife Margolotte has sewn together a girl from a patchwork quilt. Dr. Pipt plans to bring the patchwork girl to life so she can be Margolotte’s servant. The reason she’s made from a patchwork quilt is to look sufficiently different from the Munchkins that she’ll stand out and be recognized immediately as a servant. Margolotte gives the patchwork girl just enough brains to do her job. Ojo decides to give her some more. Soon afterward, Dr. Pipt sprinkles on the powder of life and the patchwork girl springs to life. In a terrible accident, another potion is knocked over, petrifying both Margolotte and Ojo’s uncle. Ojo, along with the patchwork girl, now named Scraps, and the crooked magician’s glass cat go on a quest to find the items needed to restore Margolotte and Unc Nunkie to life.

Ojo and Scraps hunt for the yellow brick road. Along the way, they discover an enclosed area of forest and meet a creature called the Woozy, essentially an animal made of box-shapes with just three hairs growing from the tip of its tail. Those three hairs are one of the spell ingredients, but they can’t pull the hairs out, so they bring the Woozy along with them. They soon find their way to the yellow brick road and get to the Emerald City where Dorothy and Toto join the quest.

For the most part, The Patchwork Girl of Oz has been my favorite of the books so far. It has a tight, breezy plot and there are solid stakes. I care about Ojo rescuing his uncle. Also, we meet some truly unique characters in this book. Scraps is delightful. The glass cat with its red heart and pink brains is a little bit of a jerk but still engaging and an imaginative creation. Sadly, the book also gives us a song about “coal-black Lulu” and a scene with Tottenhots, a play on the word Hottentots, which is a Dutch word which has at times referred specifically to South Africa’s Khoikhoi people, and at other times has been applied to all black people in South Africa. The Tottenhots are described as “imps” and John R. Neill’s illustrations of them evoke stereotypical depictions of black people.

Of course, when the book came out in 1913, such depictions were widely accepted and not seen as problematic. Baum and Neill can and should be viewed in the context of their times, but we also need to remember that their society was a casually racist one. I get the feeling Baum was struggling a bit with society’s attitudes about race in this book. Scraps is “born” to be a servant, but she demonstrates she’s as clever as anyone else and never sees herself as anyone’s slave. At the end of the book Ozma reaffirms Scraps’ freedom from servitude. When we get near the book’s ending, Ojo runs into difficulty when the Tin Woodsman won’t let him pluck a wing from a butterfly, because it would be cruel to a living creature. As we’ve seen along the way, many creatures in Oz, including some insects, are sentient and can talk.

In 1891, Baum wrote an editorial advocating the extermination of Native Americans. In earlier posts, I’ve discussed the challenges of admiring artwork by artists with problematic histories. While it’s not clear that Baum’s views on race glimpsed in The Patchwork Girl of Oz are especially progressive even by 1913 standards, they do seem to have advanced from where they had been two decades earlier. I hope that’s true, because if the Oz books teach us anything, it’s that life is a journey and we learn things along the way. We should always make an effort to be better people today than we were yesterday.

The Addams Family: An Evilution

Back in October, when I discussed the new Addams Family film, I expressed a hope that we would see some new reprints of Charles Addams’ original cartoons that inspired the TV series and the movies. As it turns out, the only new books I’ve seen are tie-ins to the movie itself and most of them are aimed at kids. Fortunately, one very good book that was published a decade ago by Pomegranate Press is still in print. It’s called The Addams Family: An Evilution and I bought a copy for my wife, who, like me, is a fan of Charles Addams. Once she finished reading the book, she passed it along to me.

Over the years, there have been numerous collections of Charles Addams’ cartoons. What sets The Addams Family: An Evilution apart is that it endeavors to collect all the original published Addams Family cartoons together under one cover, plus many unpublished Addams Family sketches. It also includes Charles Addams’ own notes about the characters that he compiled when the TV series was being conceived plus commentary about the history of the characters by H. Kevin Miserocchi, the director of the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation.

The book starts with a description of how disparate characters from one-panel cartoons became a “family.” Each section of the book after that focuses on a particular character from the Addams Family. There are sections devoted to Morticia, Gomez, Lurch, and the others, including the Addams house itself. I thought it was particularly fascinating that Addams’ own conceptions of the characters differed a bit from what we saw on screen, and especially from how they evolved into the movies. For example, Uncle Fester rarely appears in cartoons with the other members of the family and its not clear he was intended to be a blood relative. He may simply have been a close friend referred to as “Uncle” Fester because of his close ties to the family.

This last bit is also interesting because it appears that Addams viewed Fester as something of an avatar for himself. From the photos in the book, it’s clear that Addams himself was a more robust and handsome fellow than Fester. Still, one of the book’s opening cartoons is taken from Tee and Charles Addams’ wedding invitation and shows Fester and Morticia as a couple. This would be quite a twist in the story as we’ve seen it portrayed in the movies and on TV!

Another element I found especially interesting was that “the Thing” was not conceived of as simply a hand or even a hand in a box. I won’t spoil it by revealing who the character was in the cartoons, but I remember seeing an unidentified creature in some of the cartoons and wondering who that was supposed to be. There is a famous cartoon of an Addams record player where hands stick out of the player and change the records and put the needle down. It’s likely this inspired the TV show and it’s even possible those are supposed to be Thing’s hands.

As I read the book, I saw how elements of Charles Addams’ work has inspired me. I see elements of the vampire Alexandra from my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order in Morticia. I see the manic energy of John Astin’s Gomez in Professor Maravilla of my Clockwork Legion novels. Lurch’s frightening and imposing form is reflected in characters like Arepno and G’Liat from my Space Pirates’ Legacy novels. As always, I hope you’ll explore my works at http://www.davidleesummers.com. If, like me and my wife, you’re a fan of Charles Addams, I highly recommend adding The Addams Family: An Evilution to your library.

One Day Older…

At the very end of September in 1980, I had just started my freshman year of high school. I remember waking up to a voice calling out. I followed the voice from my bedroom to the living room, where I found my dad on the couch, calling for my mom, who was sound asleep. He told me he thought he was having a heart attack. I ran in and woke my mom who called the ambulance. While waiting for the ambulance, I called my brothers and asked them to meet us at the hospital. I don’t remember much of what happened next. I just remember being in a hospital waiting room when the doctor came in and talked to us. My dad hadn’t lived to see another sunrise.

As of this morning, I’m one day older than my dad ever was. I find myself thinking of all the things he was and all the things he did. He was a general foreman for the Santa Fe railroad, a lifelong Boy Scout leader, a talented painter, and a model railroad hobbyist who made sure the toy trains were as accurate as he could make them. He was a Marine at the end of World War II, a church elder, and a Mason. From him, I gained a love of history, nature, genealogy, and so much more. Now that I’m one day older than he ever was, I find myself wondering what he would think of the man I became.

This last year during the DESI installation at Kitt Peak National Observatory, I’ve been spending a lot of time wearing a hard hat at work. My dad almost always wore his hard hat at work. While it’s a superficial comparison, the image of him in his hard hat is indelibly burned into my memory. I know he would find the observatory fascinating and would love to see behind the scenes of everything we do, just as he enjoyed giving behind-the-scenes tours of the Santa Fe shops in San Bernardino, California. I suspect he’d be mystified by my love of science fiction but interested in how I play with “what if” questions in my alternate history. I know my dad would be proud of my daughters and interested in the things they’ve accomplished.

The date of my dad’s death has hung over me like a specter these last four decades. The rational part of my mind has known that barring accidents, there’s no particular reason I wouldn’t outlive my dad. Then again, doctors talking genetics have a way of keeping his early demise closer to the forefront of my mind than I would like. I’ve often felt the urge to accomplish as much as I can before this date, to assure that if I died young, I would have lived as full a life as possible. I’m glad I’ve made it to this point and I’m glad I have more life to live to share with my friends and loved ones. I know life is finite and I have no idea how much longer I have. What I do know is that the rest of my life is an open book and I plan to fill the pages with as much fun, action, and wonder as I possibly can.

Return to Bisbee

On the weekend of August 17 and 18, the Tucson Steampunk Society invaded the mining town of Bisbee, Arizona, a picturesque town a few miles south of Tombstone. This is the second year in a row I was able to join the group. As it turns out, I joined them after spending two weeks in a row at Kitt Peak National Observatory, so this provided a nice respite from my “day” job. As with last year, there were only a few scheduled events, making this a weekend where steampunks could meetup, relax, and actually socialize with one another. One of several highlights for the weekend was dinner at the Travellers Camp at Juniper Flats in the mountains above Bisbee. Here’s the whole group in a photo.

Photo courtesy Pete Mecozzi. Visit him online at:
https://petemecozziphotography.mypixieset.com/

In this case, the Travellers refer to “displaced people of Irish origin” and they provided a delightful supper of vegetable soup, chicken, and flat bread with herbs and bacon. They also provided wonderful Irish music.

After dinner, we moved on to another highlight of the weekend, the PG PJ Potluck Parlour Party. Like last year, I was invited to regale the attendees with a story. I read my story “The Zombie Shortage” which appears in the anthologies Zombiefied: An Anthology of All Things Zombie edited by Carol Hightshoe and then was reprinted in The Many Tortures of Anthony Cardno, edited by Anthony R. Cardno. As I mentioned in my recent post about editing and ego, it’s not always possible to read an audience, but I was pleased to find the audience laughing along with me as I read my wicked little tale that asks what happens should we suffer the zombie apocalypse, put the zombies to use, and then run out of zombies.

In fact, if you want to listen to the reading, Jim Springer of the Creative Play and Podcast Network recorded it and you can listen to the reading at: https://creativeplayandpodcastnetwork.podbean.com/e/a-reading-from-zombiefied-an-anthology-of-all-things-zombie-by-david-lee-summers/

One of many fun things about the Bisbee Inn where the steampunks gathered is that it’s also part of several ghost tours. Because of that, there’s a rather suspicious looking mannequin in the entryway. I have to pass him several times before I remind myself he is a mannequin and not a person. Perhaps one of the most delightful moments from the weekend came when I learned the Tucson steampunks had officially named the mannequin “Egon” after the assistant character in “The Zombie Shortage.”

Over the course of the weekend, I was delighted to make the acquaintance of Frank Goglia and his son, Joseph, of Meridian Books and Comics in Bisbee. He has a great stock of books and comics and after this weekend, he now has a few of my books. If you’re in Bisbee and you’re looking for some great reading, be sure to visit the store!

I find weekends like this are a vital part of recharging my creative energy. In fact, just before the weekend, I had received an invitation to pitch a story idea for a shared world anthology. Before the weekend, I almost dreaded pitching a story. It wasn’t so much a case of writer’s block as burn out from a long work shift and feeling the weight of several other projects that also needed attention. After the weekend, I saw several places to jump in and after several good emails with the anthology’s editor, I had a direction. Since then, I’ve turned my general story direction into an outline. As it turns out, this outline has no ending, but that’s fine. At this point, I see at least three possible endings all depending on who the characters reveal themselves to be when I actually write the story.

At this point, it’s a little too early for me to say much about the story itself. I want to wait and see if the editor likes the end result. What I will say is that the story is set in the past, but it’s not steampunk. Of course, there are many people who now want to carefully classify exactly what brand of retrofuturism a story explores. If it’s World War I era, it’s dieselpunk. If it’s the 1920s, it’s jazzpunk. If it’s after World War II, it’s atompunk. My story’s set in the 1980s, an era I lived through, so with tongue embedded in cheek, I’ll declare it punkpunk for now.

Now that my batteries are recharged, I just need to get ready for another week at the observatory, some editing work, then I can turn my attention to actually writing this story that I’m excited about thanks in no small part to my friends in the Tucson Steampunk Society.

Mars Globes

One of the places my family and I visited during our July travels was Lowell Observatory on Mars Hill in Flagstaff, Arizona. This was where Percival Lowell, a former US ambassador to Korea, set up shop in the late nineteenth century to observe the planet Mars and search for the elusive Planet X. One thing that captivated Lowell about Mars were the linear features crisscrossing the planet. The more he observed them, the more he became convinced they were canals built by intelligent beings. Over the years, Lowell would make many maps of Mars and publish essays detailing how the red planet must be an abode of life. Lowell also made globes.

Martian globe on display at Lowell Observatory

As it turns out, Lowell’s canals do not exist. They seem to be the result of some optical phenomena going on within the telescope itself enhanced by wishful thinking. It’s easy to imagine Lowell gazing up at Mars from his chair in Flagstaff, imagining a dying desert world with intelligent Martians hanging on through their ingenuity, digging canals to bring water from the polar caps to arable farm land in the equatorial regions. These ideas would go on to inspire writers like H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Ray Bradbury. Even if Lowell’s observations did not prove correct, he succeeded in making Mars a place in people’s imagination that we could visit.

As a young reader, I fell in love with the canal-lined Mars of Ray Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs. When visiting Lowell Observatory, I always thought a Martian canal globe would be a cool souvenir. Unfortunately, they don’t sell them in the gift shop. What’s more, they don’t sell them much of anywhere. Most Mars globes available today show the Mars we’ve mapped via orbiting probes. These are great globes and I’d love one of those, too, but they don’t capture the imagination that stirred me in my earliest days of reading science fiction. I did see that a master globe maker recreated a canal globe a while back and made them available for sale, but I also saw that he charged far more than I could afford. What’s more, when I looked again after visiting Lowell, I couldn’t find them anymore.

Of course, I’m not only a science fiction fan and a professional scientist, I’m a steampunk. If there’s one thing a steampunk knows it’s that when something isn’t available, you just have to go out and make it. My wife and I discussed approaches and I did some searching on the web. I already knew that several images of Lowell’s maps were available online. I found software that would convert rectangular maps to “map gores,” the strips used to make globes. With the power of Adobe Photoshop, I could resize those gores to any ball I wanted. So, I set out to make my own globe. Since this was the first time I’d ever tried something like this, I decided to make a prototype before making a nice one.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

The prototype wasn’t perfect. Despite measuring the ball I used for a form, I sized the gores just a little too small. This could have been a little bit of rounding error from several sources. Also, it took some tries to figure out how to get the gores on smoothly. I mostly figured it out, and I think some better tools would help. Despite that, I think the prototype globe turned out much better than I had any right to expect. In fact, the flaws actually add to the antique look of the globe.

At this point, I’m working on acquiring some better tools and a nice stand for the final globe. Who knows exactly what I’ll do with my new globe-making skills. If a steampunk event shows interest, I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned. Given that the globes aren’t generally available, I might consider making a few for sale, as long as I confirm that I’m not violating any rights by using the old maps and I feel my skills are up to the task.

What I do know is that the globes I make for myself will serve as an inspiration. I look at the globe and dream of Mars as it could have been. When astronauts visit Mars in my novel The Solar Sea, they wax poetic about the old visions of Mars even as they see its real wonders. Of course, Lowell’s crypt next to the dome where he observed Mars was an inspiration for my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. A part of me would like to think of Lowell’s spirit walking a canal-laced Mars, much as scientists who died did in Camille Flammarion’s novel Urania. As I look around the globe, I see that Lowell named one of the canals, Draco, a name shared with the leader of my Scarlet Order vampires. Maybe there’s a story out there about the Scarlet Order paying a visit to Mars.

Shogun

Looking back on it, 1980 was a very influential year for me. It was the year Carl Sagan’s Cosmos aired, which helped me consider a career in astronomy. It was the year I started high school. It was the year my father passed away. While it seems something of a blip compared to those other things, it was also the year the mini-series Shōgun ran on television. The series was based on James Clavell’s novel of the same name. It told the story of a Dutch ship piloted by an Englishman, John Blackthorne, that lands on Japan’s shores circa 1600. Blackthorne soon gets swept up in a power struggle between a daimyo named Toranaga and other daimyos close to the Emperor regent. I recently had the chance to read the novel that inspired the series. The miniseries was my first introduction to Japanese history and the samurai. It also made me consider the difficulties of sailing off in a frail ship on a mission of discovery around the world.

As a kid who grew up watching Star Trek, I was captivated that on the sailing ship Erasmus, the crew deferred to the ship’s pilot as much or more than they did to the captain. My dad explained to me that it was because the pilot was the guy who was going to get these guys home safely. When I read the novel, I was reminded that Blackthorne was not only a pilot but a trained shipbuilder. I first conceived of my novel The Solar Sea just three years after I saw the miniseries. Even in its earliest days, I wanted a story that didn’t look like a Star Trek retread. One of the ways I did that was to introduce a character called Pilot, who designed the solar sail and then took it out into the solar system. He would essentially share authority with the ship’s captain. My Pilot ended up being a very different character from the virile Blackthorne in Shōgun and I used the power sharing idea to introduce some mystery and conflict into the story. You can learn more about The Solar Sea at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html

The miniseries also left me with a fascination for Japanese history and culture, which I would come back and explore in my third Clockwork Legion novel The Brazen Shark.  Much of my Clockwork Legion series is set in the southwestern United States in the 1800s. Of course, here in the United States, we developed a whole mythology about that time and place. We have an image of the cowboy and the Wild West that’s more the product of authors like Louis L’Amour and directors like John Ford than from history. When researching The Brazen Shark, I learned that a similar situation developed in Japan. In the years from the Meiji Restoration through World War II, an almost mythic, idealized version of the samurai was created in the popular imagination. One of the interesting characteristics of the novel, is that I felt like I was reading that Japanese mythic, idealized vision of the samurai filtered through an American writer’s vision. Because of that, I wouldn’t use Shōgun as a historical reference, but more as a window into a cultural picture that grew up later. You can learn more about The Brazen Shark by visiting: http://www.davidleesummers.com/brazen_shark.html

It was not only fascinating to read the novel as someone interested in history, but as a writer. Clavell does not stick with a limited point of view at all. Instead he hops from the head of one character to another at will, to the point that I almost had a hard time following when we’d left one character’s point of view and entered another’s. The novel was written in 1975 and it was a huge seller, which reminds me that things like “the correct way” to do point of view are sometimes a more a matter of fashion than anything else. It also reminds me that a book doesn’t have to be “perfect” by an arbitrary, contemporary standard to be good. It was different from what I’m used to and I’d argue not as good as the limited point of view books I see now, but it still works.

I’ve seen several reviews that take the novel Shōgun to task for its ending. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but the ending actually worked for me. Throughout, Toranaga is essentially portrayed as a consummate chess player. To him, it’s all about getting all the pieces in the right place. If he succeeds, he will win the day. If he fails, or misread his opponent, he will fail. Karma, neh?