Return to Penny Dreadful

In my post looking at the vampires who appeared in the first season of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, I mentioned that I had started the second season. I’ve finished the season, which overall, I enjoyed more than the first.

Our heroes, Vanessa Ives, Ethan Chandler, Sir Malcolm Murray, Sembene, and Dr. Victor Frankenstein, are all back. This time our villains prove not to be vampires but a coven of witches. What’s more, these witches, called nightcomers in the Penny Dreadful mythos, are servants of Lucifer with superhuman powers. In this season, Brona Croft is reincarnated by Dr. Frankenstein as Lily Frankenstein, meant as the monster’s bride but possessing a mind of her own. One of my favorite characters this season was Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle played by Sir Simon Russel Beale who was introduced in season 1 but had a nice character arc in season 2.

Reeve Carney is back this season as Dorian Grey. Mostly his story takes place in the background of season 2’s main action, but it looks like they set him up to take a bigger role in the third season. We’ll have to see what happens with that story.

Although Penny Dreadful’s second season still features many characters from classic literature, they seem freed from their origins to tell their own story this season. In many ways this season felt more like a nineteenth century penny dreadful come to life. Although the series does have better writing than a real life penny dreadful like say, Varney the Vampyre, there were moments it did make baffling turns. Some of the characters’ choices seemed more designed to serve plot than make sense for what people would do when faced with these real situations. Why, for example, do the characters often go to battle the monsters at night when its known that’s when the monsters are strongest?

Despite that, there are a lot of clever plot turns and some good character moments in this season. We learn more about Sir Malcolm Murray and his relationship with his estranged wife. We also learn more about Ethan Chandler. Danny Sapani’s Sembene actually gets stuff to do. For me the standout was Billy Piper’s Lily Frankenstein. Her arc takes her from apparently lost waif betrothed to Frankenstein’s monster to woman in control of her destiny.

I’ve been watching Penny Dreadful while working on new editions of my horror novels, Dragon’s Fall, Vampires of the Scarlet Order and The Astronomer’s Crypt. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about Penny Dreadful is that it doesn’t feel too bound by linear storytelling. One episode I thought was interesting in the current season involved Vanessa recounting how she was mentored by a witch. The episode didn’t bother to pop back into the present day, it just had a simple prologue of Vanessa starting her story, then the rest of the story just happened in the series’ past.

This approach reinforced a decision I’ve made for the new edition of Vampires of the Scarlet Order. The original edition was told in very linear order. Events that happened in 1491 happened first. Events that happened in the sixteenth century happened next. That noted, the story’s main conflict actually happens in the present day. So, I’ve decided the new edition will start in the present day and the chapters set in the past will be told when it’s natural for characters in the story to tell them. You can get a sneak peak at the new first chapter at: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO-Preview.html

Of course, the buy links still point to the original novel as released in 2008, but that will change soon after the rights revert to me next month.

Star Trek: Picard

For staying at home during a pandemic, I feel like I’ve been extremely busy the last six weeks. Some of this has been from documentation work that I’ve discussed here. Some has been because rights to three of my novels revert to me at the end of this month and I’m working to get new editions ready to go when the reversion takes effect. This past Friday, the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association invited to me to speak to them via Zoom about Kitt Peak’s DESI project. The upshot is that I haven’t had as much extra time to read or watch TV as I might even under normal circumstances. Despite that, I decided to take advantage of a CBS All Access offer of a free month to watch a series I’ve been looking forward to, Star Trek: Picard.

The series takes place twenty years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis. Admiral Picard, played admirably by Patrick Stewart, has retired to his home and vineyards in France. Meanwhile, in Seattle, black-suited agents storm the home of a young woman named Dahj and kill her boyfriend. She reveals extraordinary strength and gets away. Somehow she knows Picard is the one who can help her. Picard then figures out that she was a biological synthetic lifeform created from cells taken from Commander Data’s positronic network. In short, she’s a daughter of Commander Data, who sacrificed himself in Nemesis to save Picard.

Right away in the first episode, those black-suited agents are back and this time, they succeed in killing Dahj. However, Picard has learned that Dahj would have been one of a pair of identical twin synthetic lifeforms. From here, we go across space into Romulan territory and find out that Dahj’s twin sister, Soji, is helping to study a captured Borg ship while engaging in a romance with a Romulan named Narek, who I soon realized was played by Penny Dreadful’s Doctor Frankenstein, Harry Treadaway.

Admiral Picard now goes on a quest to find Dahj’s sister. When Starfleet refuses to help, he engages the help of Raffi Musiker, his first officer after Commander Riker left. They hire the ship, La Sirena, commanded by a former Starfleet officer, Chris Rios. They follow the clues that lead them to the Borg cube and then beyond to the planet where Soji and Dahj were created. Overall, I enjoyed the series. It was an engaging quest story with some nice moments for Star Trek: The Next Generation era characters such as Picard, Riker, Troi, and Seven of Nine.

My main complaint with the series had to do with the ending, and I’ll try to describe it in as spoiler-free a way as possible. When they get to the planet where Dahj and Soji were created, a beacon is built to summon a destructive force. We are then treated to some scenes of a hole opening in the sky and metallic tentacles flailing about. It’s a moment that feels all too much like the ending of modern superhero fare. It’s become tired there and it really had no place in a Star Trek episode. What’s more, Star Trek’s best scary moments have never involved big bad explicit threats, but threats like the Borg or the bug-like invaders in the Next Generation episode, “Conspiracy.” These are the things that feel like they could walk in and dismantle Starfleet and the Federation with ease if our heroes aren’t very careful.

I’m glad to have seen the series and I would recommend it to fellow Star Trek fans. Besides the nostalgia factor, I was also pleased to see the series embrace elements of Star Trek canon that haven’t felt terribly popular with fans such as the Romulan supernova from the 2009 Star Trek movie and the events of Star Trek: Nemesis itself. I will admit these are not among the highlights of the franchise, but I’ve long found it baffling how willing Star Trek fans are to cherry-pick their favorite bits of canon and try to imagine the rest didn’t happen.

I’m still a little on the fence about CBS All Access itself. I’m delighted they made a free month available to people during this difficult time. Still, episodes themselves were plagued by the occasional stutter that would be more upsetting if I had paid for it. While that could be my internet, I was also a little frustrated that the service wouldn’t let me watch the end credits of episodes without getting ready to play the next episode right away. Star Trek features some good music and I like the opportunity to hear it and I like being able to see who was in the guest cast of an episode without necessarily having to look it up later.

The Vampires of Penny Dreadful

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic closed down businesses in New Mexico, I found copies of the first two seasons of the Showtime series Penny Dreadful on the shelf of one of my favorite local businesses, COAS Books. I had watched the first season back in 2016 and enjoyed it. You can read my thoughts on my old Scarlet Order Web Journal. I’ve finished re-watching the first season and I’ve just started watching the second.

It was interesting to re-watch Penny Dreadful while re-editing and re-formatting my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires for republication this summer since the first season is ostensibly the story of how Sir Malcolm Murray and Vanessa Ives attempt to rescue Sir Malcolm’s daughter Mina from a nest of vampires. Sharp eyed readers will likely recognize Mina Murray as the woman seduced by Dracula in Bram Stoker’s famous novel, which fits since the series is full of references to Victorian horror. However, this time around, I realized there is no explicit reference to Dracula at all. Mina only ever refers to her captor as “the Master.”

When I’m at book signings, readers often ask me about my particular vampire mythos. They’re curious about the “rules” my vampires follow. Do they only go out at night? Are they bothered by crosses? Can they transform into other creatures? Are they more monstrous, or more romantic? One of the things I found interesting in Penny Dreadful was that in addition to never bringing up Dracula, they never discuss the vampires’ “rules.” The closest they come to this is a brief appearance by Van Helsing, played wonderfully by David Warner. One of my favorite moments in the show comes when Van Helsing is talking to Dr. Frankenstein about vampires and hands him a copy of the first installment of the penny dreadful, Varney the Vampyre.

The vampires themselves were essentially portrayed as a nest of vermin. The vampire we are led to assume is the master seemed inspired by F.W. Murnau’s famous Nosferatu, but with fewer clothes. This vampire is surrounded by a number of women, all with light hair, red eyes and similar white dresses. For the most part, they are portrayed like a rat pack. The only “power” they seem to possess is either some ability for rapid movement or projecting their image over long distance. Mina in her vampire form appears to Vanessa a few times, then rapidly is pulled away.

Both Murnau’s original Nosferatu and Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake not only inspired the producers of Penny Dreadful, but they have inspired my Scarlet Order vampires. In Dragon’s Fall, some vampires shave their heads, making them look a little like Max Schreck in the original movie. In the novel, it’s a practical decision since the vampires can’t be out in sunlight. In primitive times, often their best defense is to bury themselves in the ground. Can you imagine what state your hair would be in if you had to do that?

In Vampires of the Scarlet Order, the antagonists are creating their own vampire-like super soldiers. These creatures end up looking like Max Schreck and Klaus Kinski’s interpretation of Nosferatu. To me, that image of the vampire is still one of the most frightening and I like using it when I want a creature that poses a real threat to my heroes.

Will we learn more about the vampire mythology of Penny Dreadful in the second season? I’m three episodes in as of this writing and while our primary villain does seem inspired by Elizabeth Bathory, she’s portrayed as more of a witch. I suspect the vampires and witches are more an extension of the greater evil the heroes are facing than separate forces. If you’ve seen the rest of the series, please don’t send me spoilers. I’ll likely write a review of the second season once I’ve finished.

In the meantime, you can explore the world of the Scarlet Order in the current editions of the books:

Or, you can help me bring the new editions to life by supporting my Patreon campaign. If you join, you will be among the first to get downloadable copies of the novels, sneak peeks of the new covers, and I’ll be sharing a way for you to shape the tone of the new editions soon. Click on the button below to learn more about my Patreon campaign.

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!