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?

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Gamera

I think it’s fair to say that I grew up watching a lot of media from Japan. A lot was anime such as Tetsujin 28, Mach Go, Go, Go, and Gatchaman, perhaps better known here in the United States as Gigantor, Speed Racer, and Battle of the Planets respectively. However, I can’t overlook the role of giant monsters, or kaiju. Godzilla is clearly the most famous, but when I was a kid, my hero was Gamera.

I was thrilled to find Blu-ray copies of Gamera’s first eight films a few weeks ago. I’ve slowly been working my way through them. I’ve run into some people who think Gamera is part of the menagerie who battled Godzilla during his ongoing reign as King of Monsters. In fact, Gamera was the property of an altogether different movie studio. Godzilla’s stories were filmed at Toho Studios. Gamera was competitor Daiei’s entry into the kaiju arena.

For those not familiar with Gamera, he’s a giant fire-breathing turtle with tusks awakened from arctic ice during a dogfight between US and Soviet forces. Although he goes on a rampage for energy in the first film, he seems to have a soft spot for humans, and children in particular. In later films of the series, he’s revealed to be something of a guardian for humanity, protecting them from other monsters. The first eight films take place during Japan’s Shōwa period—the reign of Emperor Hirohito.

To be perfectly honest, the first eight Gamera films are far from great cinema. There’s a good reason several of them were featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, I’ve long had the sense that the people behind the film series knew their limitations and had fun with them. At one point Gamera defeats a shark monster called Zigra, then plays a couple of bars of his own theme song on its back. Afterwards, he does a little dance. Another great moment comes in Gamera Super Monster when Gamera is ordered to go on a rampage by aliens and knocks over a sandwich board advertising a Godzilla film. Scenes like these make me think the Shōwa Gamera films have more in common with the 1960’s televised Batman than with films like Manos: The Hands of Fate filmed just down the road in El Paso, Texas.

As it turns out, Gamera was reimagined for a trilogy of really good films in the 1990s. These Heisei-era Gamera films gave a solid backstory to the titular turtle. He still attempts to protect mankind as a whole, but he’s still a giant monster and is prone to mass destruction. Not everyone likes Gamera in these films. The Heisei-era Gamera films also presented some cool glimpses into life in many different parts of Japan. I highly recommend Gamera: Guardian of the Universe and its two sequels.

My love of these films is a small part of what makes me the writer I am today. As a kid, I was drawn to the action and good-natured humor of these films. If it weren’t for these films, I probably wouldn’t have sought out more serious Japanese films like those of Akira Kurosawa, which gave me a deeper appreciation of Japanese culture and storytelling. Writing what we know is, among other things, writing what interests us. So watching Gamera films as a kid, was a first step toward writing my novel The Brazen Shark about samurai resisting cultural change in an alternate, steampunk Japan.

If you’d like to learn more about The Brazen Shark and my inspirations for the novel, I’ll be interviewed on the radio this Friday, July 13 on KTAL Community Radio from 12:30 to 1:00pm Mountain Daylight Time. My friends in Las Cruces can listen on the radio on 101.5 FM. For my friends outside the area, you can listen at: https://www.lccommunityradio.org/stream.html

Sharing Time

Susan over at Dab of Darkness gave me a shout-out in her post about being nominated for the Real Neat Blog Award. She has a wonderful review site and you can read her reviews of Owl Dance, SummersOwlDanceLightning Wolves, Culhwch and Olwen and even the very first edition of The Pirates of Sufiro. She also conducts author interviews and here’s her most recent interview with yours truly.

What I like about these award-type posts is that it gives me the opportunity to share some things I might not otherwise, plus I get to recommend some cool blogs. Although Susan didn’t “nominate” me outright, she did mention my blog and she came up with some cool questions. What’s more, one of the “rules” of this award is to bend the rules. So, I’m not treating this as the usual award post, just sharing some questions and answers, then recommending some blogs at the end of the post. Enjoy!

  1. If you could be an extra on a period piece (Outlander, Spartacus, etc.) what would it be and what would you be doing?

    Although I know the series finished a few months ago, I would have enjoyed appearing in Da Vinci’s Demons as someone working with period astronomical instruments such as astrolabes and armillary spheres who helps Da Vinci solve a mystery that required some knowledge of celestial motions.

  2. What makes you cringe?

    Recent wounds just starting to heal produce a strong cringe response in me. Good thing I’m not a doctor! Actually, new wounds usually don’t cause me to react that way, but I suspect that’s because the adrenaline from trying to help overrides the cringe response.

  3. What’s the most interesting gross fact you know?

    Despite what makes me cringe, I seem to have a high threshold for being grossed out and I’m not sure whether I find this fact more gross or more interesting. Apparently it’s quite natural for a woman to have a bowel movement while in labor—perhaps this shouldn’t be much of a surprise given the muscles involved in both activities. The interesting part is that it’s believed that this is actually an important part of the life process, imparting a baby with their first exposure to bacteria, helping to develop their immune system.

  4. It’s time for you to host the book club. Who do you invite (living, dead, fictional, real)? And what 3 books will you be discussing?

    I would invite Lafcadio Hearn to talk about his journey from being a newspaperman in New Orleans and collecting recipes for the first book of Creole cookery, La Cuisine Creole, to writing about life in Meiji Era Japan in Gleanings in Buddha Fields to collecting Japanese ghost stories in Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. It couldn’t help but be a fascinating journey.

  5. If you had to choose someone to rescue you from the jaws of certain death would it be a superhero, supernatural creature, or a space alien?

    Vampires of the Scarlet Order

    The most interesting superheroes often have emotional issues they’re working through, and certainly in recent superhero movies, there’s a lot of collateral damage where those guys hang out. Not sure I want to be around those guys. Looking at the space aliens I’ve written about in the Old Star/New Earth series, a lot depends on the alien. Some have been friends in need. Others have had their own agendas. So, I lean toward supernatural creature, and specifically the Scarlet Order vampires. They work quickly and quietly and most of them have good hearts as long as no one is trying to screw them over. I just hope they aren’t too hungry when they rescue me!

  6. If you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

    The tricky part about this question is that when I think about the very best books, movies, and TV series, they’re great the first time and only get better in repeated viewings as I see things I missed before. The one TV series, though, that comes to mind is Star Trek: The Animated Series which was first on when I was about eight years old. The writing by such folks as David Gerrold, Larry Niven, and D.C. Fontana still holds up and I catch things in the scripts today that I didn’t then. Although many of the cells were beautifully drawn, it was animated with the limitations of a 1970’s Saturday morning TV budget. I would be delighted to go back and experience the episodes again where I’m more captivated by the magic of the animation and less critical of the execution.

  7. If everyone came with warning labels, what would yours say?

    Caution: Requires coffee to function properly.

    DLS with Pirate Mug

Here are some of my favorite blogs:

  • Lachesis Publishing is one of my publishers and has a regular blog featuring author interviews and helpful tips for writers.
  • Wyrmflight is a blog by Deby Fredericks covering any and all aspects related to dragons.
  • Earthian Hivemind is Steph P. Bianchini’s blog that covers topics of science and science fiction.
  • Karen J. Carlisle is a steampunk writer, photographer, and costumer in Australia who presents some great stories, writing tips, and sometimes even recipes.
  • Joy V. Smith is the author of the short story collection Sugar Time that I edited. She blogs and reblogs about topics of interest to writers.
  • eSpec Books published the anthology Gaslight and Grimm. Their blog not only announces upcoming publications, but gives some great behind-the-scenes insights into the stories plus author interviews, and they sponsor a monthly writing contest.
  • D.M. Yates is an author of paranormal romance who has handy tips about grammar plus some interesting crafting and cooking tips.

The Brazen Shark Available in Print

My third Clockwork Legion novel, The Brazen Shark is now available in print from Amazon.com. Here’s what Drake and McTrowell have to say about the novel: “Pack your goggles and your telescope and your atlas because the Clockwork Legion is taking us on another whirlwind adventure. And this one covers the globe in the air, on the sea, on terra firma, undersea … and even into space!”

Drake and McTrowell

Drake and McTrowell know their globe-spanning adventure. In the photo above, I crossed their path aboard the Queen Mary as they were bound for another exciting destination. You can read about their adventures at drakeandmctrowell.com. There, you’ll find five books of their adventures available to read on-line absolutely free. However, if you’re willing to send them some money, and I strongly recommend you do, you can pick up the hardcover edition of their first book featuring illustrations by Brian Kessinger and an introduction by Professor Elemental, or you can buy the audio version of their first adventure, which is fabulous.

Brazen Shark-300x450 The Brazen Shark is the third novel of my Clockwork Legion series. However, if you haven’t read the first two books, feel free to dive in right here. If you like what you read, you can always go back and read the first two! Set in 1877, this novel tells the story of a one-time sheriff named Ramon Morales who gave up his career in law enforcement to save an outspoken Persian healer named Fatemeh Karimi from a witchcraft trial. We’ve watched their romance develop over the last two books and this is the story of their honeymoon. However, it’s a honeymoon unlike any other when they find themselves embroiled in a plot by samurai warriors who have stolen a Russian airship to overthrow the Japanese emperor. The cover art is by the ever-talented Laura Givens.

The Brazen Shark is available in paperback and ebook. The paperback is ready to ship now. The ebook will be sent to your Kindle on February 1, 2016.

While I’m discussing steampunk writing, I’ll remind you there’s still time to support the Kickstarter for Gaslight and Grimm. This awesome anthology project is already funded, so there’s no risk in supporting it at any level. The book features my story “The Steam-Powered Dragon and His Grandmother.” It also features steampunked retellings of “The Three Little Pigs,” “The Nightingale”, “Red Riding Hood” and more by such authors as James Chambers, Jean Marie Ward, and Christine Norris. Lots of great stretch goal bonuses have been added already and if we receive enough funding, we’ll also have stories by Jody Lynn Nye and Gail Z. Martin in the anthology as well. So drop by and reserve your copy of Gaslight and Grimm today!

The Brazen Shark Available for Pre-Order

Brazen Shark-300x450 I am proud to announce that the ebook edition of my ninth novel, The Brazen Shark, is now available for pre-order from Amazon.com! The Brazen Shark is the third novel of the Clockwork Legion series which began in Owl Dance and continues in Lightning Wolves. In this latest chapter, pirate captain, inventor, and entrepreneur Onofre Cisneros sweeps his friends Fatemeh and Ramon Morales off to Hawaii for their honeymoon. Once there, a British agent makes Cisneros an offer he can’t refuse and the captain must travel to Japan. Wanting to see more of the world, Ramon and Fatemeh ask to accompany the captain only to find themselves embroiled in a plot by samurai who steal a Russian airship, hoping to overthrow the Japanese emperor. I hope you’ll join me for this thrilling ride!

Back when the first Star Trek movie came out, Pocket Books acquired the rights to release the tie-in novels. I read each new one ravenously and one of my favorite authors was Robert E. Vardeman. In the years since, I’ve discovered Bob’s other series and my respect for his work has grown. He’s written more than fifty science fiction and fantasy novels and he writes amazing historical westerns under the pen name Karl Lassiter. He’s combined his love of science fiction and history in his steampunk novella Gateway to Rust and Ruin and you can find his story “The Transmogrification Ray” in Steampunk’d edited by Jean Rabe and Martin Greenberg. I was honored when Bob agreed to read The Brazen Shark. This is what he says: “Airships battling! Samurai fomenting war with Russia! Historical characters and powerfully drawn fictional ones mixing it up with political intrigues make David Lee Summers’ The Brazen Shark a steampunk novel not to be missed. Put it at the top of your reading list. Now!”

In the last few months, well-meaning folks have asked if it matters when they buy my book, or in what format. For the most part, the money to me is about the same no matter how you buy it, but this is one of those times it does matter. When you pre-order a book it sends a message to my publisher, Amazon, and really the entire industry if the sales rank goes high enough, that this is a book that matters to you. So, if you were going to buy the ebook and you’re a fan of the series, I hope you will pre-order the book. It’s only about the cost of a grande or venti mocha at Starbucks, and it’ll last longer!

Here are the links to all the books in the series:

And, if you want any of these autographed, I can! There’s a cool, free service called Authorgraph and you can find all my novels there. If you request an autograph through them, they will send me an email and I’ll send you a personalized PDF inscription you can store on your ereader. How cool is that! Request an Authorgraph today!

Now, I know a number of you out there don’t do ebooks and that’s cool. I love print, too! Never fear, the print edition is on its way. A little owl told a friend of mine that it might even be out a little before the February 1 ebook release. I’ll be sure to announce here when the print edition is available.

Brazen Shark Cover Reveal

It’s now official, I have a cover and a release date for the third novel in my Clockwork Legion steampunk series. The Brazen Shark is scheduled for release on February 1, 2016. Brazen Shark-300x450 In The Brazen Shark, pirate captain, inventor, and entrepreneur Onofre Cisneros sweeps his friends Fatemeh and Ramon Morales off to Hawaii for their honeymoon. Once there, a British agent makes Cisneros an offer he can’t refuse and the captain must travel to Japan. Wanting to see more of the world, Ramon and Fatemeh ask to accompany the captain only to find themselves embroiled in a plot by samurai who steal a Russian airship, hoping to overthrow the Japanese emperor.

Not only can you get a look at the cover, but you can click here to read the novel’s entire first chapter. This is a bit of a departure from the first two books in the series in that it’s not set in the wild west. However, I assure you, Ramon Morales can’t travel overseas without taking his brand of wild west justice along with him even as he confronts such historical figures as Katsu Kaishū and Czar Alexander II. His new wife Fatemeh will encourage him to seek peaceful solutions, but her resolve will be strongly tested by the samurai Imagawa Masako.

If you haven’t read the other books in the Clockwork Legion series, this is a great time to start. The links below take you to the books’ pages on my website, which include links to most popular retailers.

Here’s wishing you and yours a very happy holiday season!

Women Samurai

This weekend, I’m at the ConDor Science Fiction convention in San Diego, California. Once I get home, I’ll be entering the home stretch on my novel The Brazen Shark, which is the third of my Clockwork Legion steampunk novels. One of the characters I’ve introduced in this novel is Imagawa Masako, a woman samurai who resists the Japanese imperial restoration.

Although somewhat rare, there were several notable women samurai. Typically referred to as “onna-bugeisha,” women warriors came from the bushi class, same as samurai. If a woman showed interest and ability as a warrior, she would be trained just as a man. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that more women were encouraged to become warriors in times of war than in peacetime.

Tomoe Gozen

One notable samurai was Tomoe Gozen who would have lived between about 1157 and 1247. In the “Tale of the Heike” it was written, “Tomoe was especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair, and charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors.”

There’s some question whether Tomoe was a real historical figure or not. However, many other characters from the “Tales of the Heiki” are known to have existed. What’s more, there are other documented women who became samurai such as Lady Hangaku and Hōjō Masako, who lent her given name to my samurai character.

Nakano Takeko

Once Japan became unified under the Tokagawa regime, fewer women were encouraged to become samurai, but there still are notable examples even as late as the nineteenth century. One example is Nakano Takebo. She fought in the Boshin War, which was part of the samurai struggle against the Meiji Restoration. She specialized in the naginata, the Japanese version of the polearm, and led a corps of onna-bugeisha. She died during a charge against Imperial Japanese forces. Today during the Aiza Autumn festival, girls wear hakama—the pants worn over kimonos—and white headbands in her honor.

While you’re waiting for The Brazen Shark, be sure to read Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves to get caught up on the story so far!