(Mostly) Heroic Vampires

This weekend finds me at CoKoCon in Phoenix, Arizona. This is the third weekend in a row that I’ve attended a convention. In between conventions, I took my youngest child back to college and worked my first night shift at Kitt Peak National Observatory since we had to leave for a wildfire back in June. Fortunately, all the scientific buildings and equipment seem to have come through the fire fine. The observatory did lose and suffer damage to a couple of support structures. We also lost utility power to the site and internet. The internet has been partially restored thanks to a satellite linkup and we’re running on generator power at the moment. The last of the monsoon rains continue to cause mudslides, which occasionally close the road. Still, we’re making progress toward opening back up for regular operations. As I’ve mentioned in some other posts, my work at Kitt Peak helped spur my interest in vampire fiction, since telescope operators are only seen from sundown to sunup. With that in mind, another thing that happened in the midst of all my travel is that my list called “Books about Vampires You Want to Root For” has been published at Shepherd.com.

At Bubonicon, I read from my story “Horsefeathers” which is scheduled for release before the end of the year in the anthology Staring Into the Abyss coming from Padwolf Publishing. It’s a somewhat dark story that mixes witchcraft, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and elements of the Arabian Nights. After reading the story, author Jane Lindskold asked what I’m working on now and I discussed my novel-in-progress Ordeal of the Scarlet Order. She further asked what it is about dark, underworld characters such as spies, vampires, and pirates that attracts an apparently upstanding and moral person like me. We’ve discussed the topic before, especially as it relates to pirates, but this time I had the opportunity to discuss the topic more generally.

I think an answer can be found in the books in this list. I find it interesting to meet characters who aren’t intrinsically moral and discover how they became more moral and ethical creatures. In books like Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut, Irina is fundamentally moral and ethical, just misunderstood. Of course, all of us feel misunderstood from time to time and I enjoy stories about how people better understand one another. That seems an especially prescient lesson these days. In books like The Vampire Tapestry or The Vampire Lestat, you could argue that Dr. Edward Weyland and Lestat do not always make moral and ethical decisions, but their examination of their own natures is fascinating to me. These characters may not be traditional heroes, but they do their best to navigate an existence through a world of humans.

So please, go check out the list. I’d love to hear if you have a favorite vampire novel and what you find appealing about it. Is it a story about a vampire protagonist trying to make sense out of the world or is it a story where the vampire is pure evil and the appeal is the hero defeating that evil? I’d also be delighted if you looked at the list and found a new favorite book! Meanwhile, you can find my own novels featuring vampires you want to root for at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Risk and Exploration

Almost two months ago, I discussed the anime series Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut. The link in the previous sentence will take you to the original post, so you can read about the anime and learn more about the plot. The anime was based on a light novel series. Last month, I picked up the first volume of the series for my Kindle. Because the light novel and the anime are so strongly based on the Soviet Space Program, I took the opportunity to refresh my memory of that period using my handy copy of the Haynes Soyuz manual, which I’d purchased in 2019 at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas. All in all, it made an enjoyable deep dive into both the history of space flight and an exploration of storytelling techniques.

Haynes Soyuz Manual and Irina the Vampire Cosmonaut light novel

Over the years, I’ve read numerous novels that have been made into movies along with several movie novelizations. That said, this marks the first time I’ve read a Japanese light novel that was adapted into an anime. Overall, the anime adapted the light novel almost scene for scene and beat for beat. The main thing I noticed is that the first novel only covers about half the series. So, presumably, the second half of the series is based on the second novel. I’ll have to wait until October to confirm that! There were a few minor details in the novel that I didn’t remember in the anime, but I’d have to go back and rewatch the anime to make sure they actually weren’t there, or if I just missed them in a casual watch.

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut was interesting from a narrative perspective. It told its story strictly from two points of view. One was reserve cosmonaut candidate Lev Leps, who trains the vampire Irina. The other viewpoint belonged to Irina herself. Lev’s point of view is by far the predominant one in novel, with Irina’s viewpoint providing a small counterpoint to Lev’s at the end of each chapter.

Both the light novel and the anime focus a lot of their time on Irina’s training for her rocket flight. This was where the Haynes guide proved interesting. I learned that the training regimen described in Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut is a reasonably accurate depiction of the Soviet training regimen. Isolation training played an important part in the novel and anime as well as real life. As it turns out, the isolation tank used by the Soviets had a high oxygen content and I learned that one real-life cosmonaut died in a flash fire in the test booth in a way similar to the Apollo 1 astronauts in the United States.

There’s an inherent drama in the conflict between pushing forward to achieve a goal but analyzing all the risks to do something as safely as possible. I used that when I wrote my novel The Solar Sea about the first solar sail voyage across the solar system. I would argue that the Quinn family, who build the solar sail in my novel, push a little too hard for their goal. Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut does a good job of showing how the Soviets also pushed very hard to beat the Americans in various space milestones, arguably taking dangerous risks along the way. That said, I strongly sympathize with the idea that it’s sometimes necessary to take risks to achieve great things. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to look at Russia’s history without thinking about current events. Invading another sovereign nation is most definitely not a great ambition for any country and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has harmed international cooperation in space, which I’d argue has been far more beneficial to the planet than the 60s “space race” ever was.

One thing I enjoyed about the novel is that author Keisuke Makino has an afterward where he discusses his inspirations for writing the light novel. He mentioned that he was intrigued by the idea of taking a fantasy character like a vampire and putting them into a space setting. It’s true, that I can’t think of another book that has vampires involved in the early space programs of either the United States or the Soviet Union, but the ideas of vampires being drawn to space and the stars is one I’ve long found fascinating. In fact, my 2010 story “Anemia” about a vampire boarding a colony ship for the stars to escape the Earth’s sun is now reprinted in the first issue of The Hungur Chronicles. Even before I wrote that story, my Scarlet Order vampires dreamed of going to space in Vampires of the Scarlet Order.

You can get the light novel Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut from Seven Seas Entertainment: https://sevenseasentertainment.com/books/irina-the-vampire-cosmonaut-light-novel-vol-1/

My short story “Anemia” is in the first issue of The Hungur Chronicles: https://www.hiraethsffh.com/product-page/hungur-chronicles-walpurgisnacht-edited-by-terrie-leigh-relf-and-robert-bellam

You can learn more about my novels at: http://www.davidleesummers.com

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut

As a writer and an avid reader, I find myself subscribed to the newsletters for several publishers. One of those is Seven Seas Entertainment, which translates Japanese manga and light novels into English. In their latest newsletter, they mentioned a forthcoming light novel which caught my eye simply because of the title: Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut. According to Seven Seas, the novel tells the story of how a space race between two global superpowers led to the “Nosferatu Project.” After sending dogs into space, one of the superpowers decides to send vampires into space before sending humans. This seemed right up my alley! Effectively it’s an atompunk alternate history with vampires. After a little more searching, I discovered the light novel series inspired an anime of the same name and the anime had recently been released in the United States via Funimation.

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut

In the world of this story, the space race is between the Zirnitra Union of the East and the United Kingdom of Arnack in the West. The reason these countries arose instead of the superpowers we know from our history is never discussed. The UZSR has a red flag with snakes. The United Kingdom has a flag with stars and stripes, so it’s not hard to guess who stands in for whom. This world also contains vampires who live predominantly in Eastern Europe. These vampires aren’t the monsters of our mythology, but simply another race of people who happen to be sensitive to sunlight, have pointed ears, and sharp teeth. They eat normal food, but they can gain an energy boost from drinking blood. It’s almost as though Neanderthals survived into the modern world. In the alternate world of the anime, the vampire legends arose as a kind of propaganda to stir hatred and revulsion of vampire kind, and to justify invasions into their lands. It becomes a rather clever way to discuss hatred and bigotry without invoking the all-too-numerous examples we can draw from our real history.

In 1960, the UZSR recruits a vampire to be trained as a cosmonaut. This vampire is the Irina Luminesk of the title. She’s to be trained by Lev Leps, a reserve cosmonaut candidate. Lev was supposed to be one of the regular cosmonaut candidates except that he has a temper and attacked a man who abused one of his fellow cosmonaut candidates. The anime follows Irina’s training along with Lev and Irina’s growing affection for one another. As a fan of the world’s space programs, I found it delightful to see space craft based on early Soviet designs, rather than the oft seen American designs. Characters in the story seem to have historical parallels as well. Party Chairman Fyodor Gergiev is clearly based on Nikita Khrushchev. Lev Leps is basically Yuri Gagarin and his chief rival Mikhail seems based on Gherman Titov. One fun thing I noticed is that while the writing on shops and containers in the anime appears to be in Cyrillic script, the words are actually in English.

Of course, the vampire Irina is the focus of the show. We watch as she trains to be every bit as capable as the human cosmonaut candidates, even when many of the scientists testing and training her buy into the superstitions about vampires. I found myself cheering as she overcame her fear of heights to master parachuting. Given that she’s treated as an animal by many of the scientists and politicians, there’s a real tension about whether or not she’ll survive her first space flight and I won’t spoil things by saying whether or not she does.

It’s a shame this anime came out so close to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I suspect many will shun it because of a perceived connection with Russia even though I suspect no such connection actually exists. In some ways, the series is actually rather critical of the Soviets and their treatment of those countries they took control of. What’s more, one of the themes of the anime is that people can change and become better. In a very real way, it reflects the spirit of Yuri Gagarin who said, “Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!”

I enjoyed the anime enough that I decided to pre-order the light novel so I can get to know the characters better. It will be released on June 23. While waiting for the light novel’s release, you can check out my vampire novels at http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order