Sisters of the Wild Sage

My parents loved to watch western movies on weekend afternoons when I was a kid. As I’ve mentioned before, I never really saw the appeal until I happened upon the TV series, The Wild Wild West starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. Ostensibly, the show was a mashup of the western with spy shows that were popular in the day, but it also introduced science fictional and magic elements to the western. The Wild Wild West was my first real exposure to the weird western genre.

Another show that changed my mind about the western was the mini-series adaptation of James Michener’s Centennial. The series and book told the story of a Colorado town, showing the continuum of history from the Native Americans who lived in the area through the fur trappers to the early settlers, the farmers, the cattlemen, and ultimately finishing up in the present day, which was 1976 when the book came out. The classic western story exists in a brief moment in history, typically somewhere between about 1870 and 1890 and tends to ignore what led up to that time and what came after.

When Nicole Givens Kurtz asked me a few days ago if I’d like a preview copy of her new weird western story collection, Sisters of the Wild Sage, I jumped at the chance. I already knew Nicole’s talent. I’d published two of the collection’s stories in Tales of the Talisman Magazine. What’s more, her story “Justice” appeared in the anthology Six-Guns Straight from Hell alongside one of my stories and her story “The Wicked Wild” is in Straight Outta Tombstone.

Many of this collection’s stories are set in the mythic old west in a fictional town called Wild Sage, New Mexico. It’s not exactly that 1870-1890 time period. Instead the setting is the very early twentieth century, around the time my own family came to New Mexico, and still a time when New Mexico was very much the Wild West. These stories often tell about African American women just trying to find a peaceful existence in the world but having to deal with men who want to pull them back into the slavery they or their parents had just left behind. Fortunately, these women are often empowered by magical gifts that help them fight injustice.

My favorite of these “traditional” weird western tales was “Belly Speaker” which provides some truly scary twists to the spooky ventriloquist dummy story. “The Wicked Wild” is also a strong story about a cleaning woman who can summon wind having to battle a demon-possessed cowboy. In the collection’s title story, men come to run a pair of sisters from their land. Fortunately, one of the sisters can control plants and the other has a magically accurate aim with her six-gun.

Like Centennial, this collection spans time, giving a more complete view of the west. Stories like “Kq'” feature Native Americans, possibly even before people of European or African descent arrived in the west. Stories like “Los Lunas” and “The Trader” feature magic in the contemporary west. Nicole even takes us to the future in stories like “The Pluviophile” and “Rise.”

I highly recommend Sisters of the Wild Sage. The anthology will take you on a tour of the weird west not only as it existed in the past, but as it might exist in today’s dark shadows and also as it might exist in the future, especially if we don’t take steps to change the world we live in now. You can pre-order Sisters of the Wild Sage at: https://www.amazon.com/Sisters-Wild-Sage-Western-Collection-ebook/dp/B07PBP3S7X/

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When Cultures Meet

This week at Kitt Peak National Observatory finds me working with an astronomer logged in and observing from Kyoto, Japan. Meanwhile, on our walkie talkies, we hear French as optical scientists from France work on the new spectrographs at the Mayall Telescope. A favorite memory of working at Kitt Peak involves an astronomer who left the control room at appointed hours to face Mecca and pray. One of the things I enjoy about my “day” job is the way people of different cultures come together to work toward the common goal of understanding the universe around us.

Morning meeting in the Mayall Control Room

At Kitt Peak, our cultural differences allow people to bring different life experiences to the table when solving problems. Language differences can teach us patience as we learn to communicate our goals with members of the same team and who share the same objective. Cultural diversity is also fun as we share our tastes in such things as music, movies, and food.

As someone whose family has lived in the United States since the early days of European colonization, my own culture is defined by a blending of melding of cultural influences from places like Germany, Scotland, and Mexico. Of course, history is replete with examples of people with different cultures having conflicting goals. The results include invasion, forced relocation, and cultural appropriation. There’s more than a little of that in my ancestral background as well on all sides of the issue.

I find the meeting of different cultures inherently fascinating. It forms a big part of my Clockwork Legion books such as The Brazen Shark and Owl Riders. I find it interesting to think what might have been if different cultures met on different terms and perhaps had different perspectives. In science fiction novels such as The Solar Sea, I echo much of what I see at work, people of different cultures coming together for a common goal.

All of this contributed to my excitement when Sheila Hartney proposed assembling an anthology of stories about exchange students to be published by Hadrosaur Productions. There’s a lot of potential for drama as people learn about each other and try to understand each other. Of course, since we publish science fiction and fantasy, Sheila wants to give this anthology a science fictional twist. We want to imagine exchange students coming together from other planets, across time, and across dimensions. Do you have a story of a vampire exchange student staying with a werewolf family? We want to see it? Do you have a story of someone from Earth going to Kepler-22b to study. We want to see it. Do you have a story of an elf studying in dwarven forges? I think you get the idea. The guidelines are at: http://www.hadrosaur.com/ExchangeStudents-gl.html. I hope we’ll see a submission from you.

Forbidden Planet

While re-reading some of A. Bertram Chandler’s John Grimes stories over the last couple of weeks, I found myself thinking about the 1956 MGM film, Forbidden Planet. Much of that would seem to come from the fact that both involve space opera largely concerned with military vessels. Also, the earliest Grimes short story I know, “Chance Encounter” is from 1959 and the earliest Grimes novel, Into the Alternate Universe, is from 1964. The stories are from an era just after the movie.

Based loosely on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Forbidden Planet tells the story of a spaceship crew on a rescue mission to Altair 4. They arrive to discover only one survivor from the original expedition along with his daughter who was born after the expedition landed and an amazingly cool robot named Robby. When the expedition’s sole survivor, Dr. Morbius, refuses to return to Earth, Captain Adams of the C-57D must cannibalize parts of the ship to make a long range transmitter to request further instructions. While the ship is helpless, a creature breaks into the ship and sabotages the transmitting gear. We ultimately learn that Dr. Morbius discovered the remnants of an ancient civilization on Altair 4 who had advanced far beyond humankind. The good doctor doesn’t feel humans are ready for such advanced knowledge. In the meantime, the captain and his first officer are busy trying to seduce Morbius’s daughter.

This was one of the first movies I ever bought on DVD. My copy was a transfer from an old film print with lots of scratches and hotspots. Even so, I remember my oldest daughter was captivated by the film and watched it as regularly as many kids her age would watch Disney Princess movies. In many ways, it kind of reminds me of a Disney Princess movie with Altaira Morbius serving as the princess. She even has a (mostly) happily ever after ending.

Because I had been pondering the film, I recently upgraded to a BluRay copy. My new copy is much cleaner and it amazed me how well the film holds up. It was filmed in the 1950s, but had great effects work, augmented by Disney animation. Given my love of retro-futurism, I didn’t really mind that the 1950s were reflected in the design of the C-57D or Dr. Morbius’s house on Altair 4. The two big things that really make the movie feel dated are that the C-57D is crewed by a bunch of white dudes and that Altaira Morbius exists largely as a creature to be seduced and won by a hero from the space vessel. Again, this doesn’t feel all that different from a lot of Disney Princess films.

One of the things I love about science fiction is that it’s very good at looking back with love at the works that inspire us and trying to figure out how to make them better. The John Grimes books feel like a step up from Forbidden Planet. In Chandler’s novels, we find strong women and more balanced spaceship crews and let those elements shape the stories accordingly. That said, Chandler’s novels do retain a certain amount of sexism in how he describes women. Often they seem all too content to play second fiddle to the men in the stories.

Ten years ago, I was one of the editors of the Full-Throttle Space Tales anthology series. These were anthologies that explored the space opera themes loved by the talented authors who wrote for them. Of course, we all endeavored to improve on elements we found needed some work from earlier generations of authors. In the future, I’m sure other authors will look at our works and find ways to improve the genre further.

Although the original Full-Throttle Space Tales books are out of print, the editors got together and collected the best tales from the series and assembled them into a volume called Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales. The book is available from WordFire Press and your favorite online retailers including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I hope you’ll take a moment and join us on some thrilling adventures through the darkest reaches of space.

Commodore John Grimes

I remember going to the public library when I was in elementary school and discovering that many of the people who wrote Star Trek episodes also had novels on the science fiction shelves. I discovered many great writers that way including Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, and Norman Spinrad. At one point in high school, a friend asked me if I read any science fiction written by people who didn’t write for Star Trek. I admitted there weren’t many. A few days later he gave me a book by A. Bertram Chandler. It was really two books, an Ace Double that combined Chandler’s novels The Road to the Rim and The Hard Way Up. Both were science fiction stories featuring Chandler’s hero, John Grimes.

Bertram Chandler was born in England and worked as a sailor aboard merchant ships. When World War II broke out, he joined the British Navy. During the war, he was stationed for a time in New York, where he met editor John W. Campbell Jr. of Astounding Stories Magazine. Campbell encouraged Chandler to write science fiction stories for him. After the war, Chandler immigrated to Australia and served in the merchant navy.

Chandler’s science fiction, especially the stories featuring John Grimes, are strongly influenced by his own life experiences. The upshot is that John Grimes is very reminiscent of C.S. Forrester’s famous hero Horatio Hornblower, except that the stories are set in the distant future instead of being set during the Napoleonic wars. Of course, another character I’d heard described as a Hornblower in space was none other than Star Trek’s Captain Kirk. As such, it’s perhaps no surprise that I found the John Grimes stories appealing.

That said, there was a big difference Kirk and Grimes. Captain Kirk rarely made a bad decision. Every now and then a red shirted security officer would die and he would mourn for a moment on screen before solving the mystery or defeating the villain. Grimes sometimes screwed up. Sometimes he did the right thing and people took advantage of him. Grimes often did things that had life-altering consequences. He started out as an officer for Earth, got booted out of the service, became a privateer, and ultimately made a new life out to galaxy’s rim. This less-than-perfect hero appealed to me and I liked the people he met in his adventures.

I took a lot of lessons from Chandler’s John Grimes stories when I sat down to write space opera. I created a world that wasn’t too perfect for my characters to inhabit. I created a captain with a moral compass, but who could be pushed into extreme action by his circumstances. I saw a universe where most of the wealthy moved to other worlds leaving Earth somewhat destitute, relying on privateers to fight for economic superiority. This is the world of Captain Ellison Firebrandt and his ship, the Legacy. The first novel I wrote featuring Captain Firebrandt was The Pirates of Sufiro. However, a little over a decade after publishing that first novel, I started exploring the character before he was stranded on the planet Sufiro. As time marched on, Firebrandt’s Legacy was born.

With all of this background, you can imagine that I was thrilled when Robert E. Vardeman, who wrote one of my favorite Star Trek novels, The Klingon Gambit, said, “Commodore John Grimes move over. Captain Ellison Firebrandt is coming at ftl to take away your claim to best space opera. Firebrandt’s Legacy by David Lee Summers combines explosive space battles with political intrigue, conniving alien races and the human need to love and belong and serve. The Firebrandt universe is complex and wrapped up in astronomy with careful thought about human expansion and out of this world cosmic science. Join the privateer and his crew on their journey of adventure.”

If you want to take Bob’s advice, you can pre-order Firebrandt’s Legacy right now! The ebook will be released on Monday, January 28. The print edition should appear about the same time. Here are the places where you can pre-order the book:

2019 Hadrosaur Books

New Year’s Eve is a time for resolutions and making plans for the coming year. I thought this might be a great time to take a look ahead and see what books we have planned for release in 2019.

We will kick things off with my own book, Firebrandt’s Legacy. This short story collection follows an arc of tales about space pirate, Captain Ellison Firebrandt. These can be read as individual short stories or as an episodic novel.  Ellison Firebrandt fights the good fight for Earth. Under a letter of marque, he raids the ships of Earth’s opponents, slowing down their progress and ability to compete with the home system. On the planet Epsilon Indi 2, he rescues a woman named Suki Mori from a drug lord, only to find she isn’t so happy about living a pirate’s life. However, when the captain finds a new engine that will make him the most successful pirate of all, Suki is the only one who can make it work. Now Firebrandt must find a way to keep his crew fed and his ship supplied while relying on a woman who barely trusts him and while every government in the galaxy hunts him to get the engine back! This book has been created with generous support from my Patreon supporters and we’re now working on a revision of my first novel featuring Captain Firebrandt, The Pirates of Sufiro. You can join the crew and get great perks and early news at http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers.

I’m also very excited to be publishing two novels by Greg Ballan titled Armageddon’s Son and Battle Lines. These novels are set in the world of Greg’s thrilling Hybrid series and tell the story of how Erik Knight, a former CIA operative who gained tremendous powers from a long gone alien race, gets embroiled in a cosmic war between good and evil. Armageddon’s Son starts off when the forces of evil capture an ancient artifact which is said to be the relic that will trigger the very rapture itself. Erik must recover this relic while fighting demons who not only threaten himself, but his family. In the process, Erik learns disturbing truths about his only son. In Battle Lines, Erik takes the war to the demons and fights for the future of his son and the Earth itself.

Our fourth book is a novella from David B. Riley called Fallen Angel. This novel is set in the same world as David’s novella, The Venerable Travels of Ling Fung, and tells the story of Mabel, an angel from hell who accompanies General Grant’s army during the last days of the Civil War only to discover that Martians are watching the Earth with envious eyes and slowly drawing their plans against us. Not only that, but Mabel has to contend with her evil sister, Kevin, who wants to have humans for dinner. Although Mabel and Grant get the upper hand before the war ends, the battle of good against evil isn’t won so quickly. Several years later, in San Francisco, Mabel just wants to have fun with her friend Miles O’Malley, when she discovers Kevin and the Martians have joined forces with a fraternity at U.C. Berkeley. You can get your hands on David’s other book with Hadrosaur by visiting http://hadrosaur.com/bookstore.html#Dragon-Cowboys.

Our fifth book of the year depends on those of you out there reading this post. That’s our anthology, Exchange Students. We’ll start reading for that book in February. Remember, you can find the guidelines at: http://hadrosaur.com/ExchangeStudents-gl.html.

Here’s wishing you and yours a joyous and prosperous 2019.

2018 Publishing Year in Review

As we approach the end of 2018, I wanted to take the opportunity to look back at my books and stories released over the previous year. First and foremost, is my novel Owl Riders, which is the fourth novel in my Clockwork Legion steampunk series. When Fatemeh Karimi married Ramon Morales at the end of Lightning Wolves, she neglected to share one small detail. She was already betrothed to a merchant named Hamid Farzan. She had no interest in Hamid or an arranged marriage. She wanted to live life on her own terms. Eight years after marrying Ramon, she assumed Hamid had long forgotten about her, as she had him.

Settled in New Orleans, Ramon works as an attorney, Fatemeh owns a pharmacy, and they’re proud parents of a precocious daughter. Out west, Apaches armed with powerful battle wagons have captured Fort Bowie and threaten Tucson. Businessmen with an interest in a peaceful solution ask Ramon to come west and settle the conflict. Meanwhile Hamid arrives in New Orleans and he has not forgotten Fatemeh or her vows to him. Now, the famed Owl Riders must assemble once again to reunite Ramon and Fatemeh so they can tame the Wild West. You can learn more or get your very own copy of Owl Riders at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_riders.html.

2018 also saw the release of a new edition of my novel The Solar Sea. This novel is set in the universe of my Space Pirates’ Legacy series and serves as an origin story of sorts for that world. As the novel opens, scientists announce the discovery of powerful new particles around Saturn’s largest moon which could solve Earth’s energy needs. At the same time, whales around the world change their songs. The Quinn Corporation rushes to build a solar sail space craft to unlock the secrets of these strange new particles. They gather the best and brightest to pilot the ship: Jonathan Jefferson, an aging astronaut known as the last man on Mars; Natalie Freeman, a distinguished Navy captain; Myra Lee, a biologist who believes the whales are communicating with Saturn; and John O’Connell, the technician who first discovered the particles. Charting the course is the mysterious Pilot who seems determined to keep secrets from the rest of the crew. Together they make a grand tour of the solar system and discover not only wonders but dangers beyond their imagination. You can learn more and purchase your own copy at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html.

I also had two new short stories appear in anthologies. My story, “The Sun Worshiper,” is about a spiritualist named Dinela Stanton who is invited to a mummy unwrapping party in London hosted by a prominent scientist. When she arrives, she finds all her fellow guests are scientists who have denounced her as a fraud. To make matters worse, it would appear that the scientist who invited Dinela is attempting to perpetrate a deception of his own. The story appears in the anthology After Punk published by eSpec Books.  Featuring stories by Jody Lynn Nye, David Sherman, Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, James Chambers, Michelle D. Sonnier, Jeffrey Lyman, Bernie Mojzes, and more, these tales explore voodoo death cults to the Day of the Dead, mummy parties, the wheel of reincarnation, the practice of death portraits, and so much more. No gravestone is left unturned. Check out the book at: https://www.amazon.com/After-Punk-Steampowered-Tales-Afterlife-ebook/dp/B07CW3S8R8/.

My second short story that appeared this year is “The Power in Unity” and it’s the first new story I’ve written set on the planet Sufiro since the publication of Heirs of the New Earth in 2007. The events of this story take place between the end of part 2 and the beginning of part 3 of The Pirates of Sufiro. In Pirates I mention an incident where the people of the Tejan continent attempt to capture people from the New Granadan continent to work in their mines. When the Tejans attempted to take the New Granadans by force, a lawman named Manuel Raton stopped them at a place named for the final battle of Arthurian legend, Camlan Pass. This is the story of how Camlan Pass got its name. The story of Manuel Raton and Mary Hill bears a striking resemblance to the story of Mordred and Arthur as told in The History of the Kings of Britain written by Geoffrey of Monmouth. In that story, Mordred married Guinevere while Arthur journeyed across Europe. I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the anthology to see how I twisted this tale from the dark ages into one of interplanetary intrigue, mining rites, and strange aliens with tentacles. Camelot 13 features stories by Michael A. Black & Dave Case, John G. Hartness, Hildy Silverman, Diane Raetz, Russ Colchamiro, Austin Camacho, Quintin Peterson, Patrick Thomas, D. C. Brod, Susanne Wolf & John L. French, Edward J. McFadden III, and Robert E. Waters. You can pick up your own copy at: https://www.amazon.com/Camelot-13-Celebrating-Knights-Padwolf/dp/1890096776/.

Finally, I wrap up this report with mentions of two important reprints. The first is a reprint of my story “A Specter in the Light” which tells a story of mysterious experiments with Tesla Coils and things raised from the dark in the early days of the New Mexico School of Mines. That story appears in the anthology DeadSteam, edited by Bryce Raffle. It’s available at: https://www.amazon.com/DeadSteam-Bryce-Raffle/dp/0995276749/.

Last but not least, is the mass market release of Straight Outta Tombstone edited by David Boop, which includes my vampire story “Fountains of Blood.” This anthology features so many authors I admire, including Alan Dean Foster, Robert E. Vardeman, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Phil Foglio, Jim Butcher and more. This book is almost certainly on the shelf of a store near you. Otherwise, you can pick it up at: https://www.amazon.com/Straight-Outta-Tombstone-David-Boop-ebook/dp/B071JGTN3H/.

Thank you to all the readers out there who have supported me and helped to make 2018 a great year!

Always Available

It occurs to me that a central theme in many of my stories is communication. Some of my stories are set in the past, well before the advent of modern communication, or they’re set in the distant future, when communication becomes a technical challenge again because of the constraints imposed both by the speed of light and signal degradation over distance. This proves to be an interesting time to write about these challenges, because most of us have some form or another of this device.

Most of us are available to get a call or receive a text 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We might be inconvenienced by the occasional dead time during a flight where we’re instructed to turn off our phones to avoid interfering with navigation equipment, but that’s about it.

That said, I work in a world where I’m not so easily available. I work at an observatory with radio telescopes and the spread spectrum signals from cell phones interfere with their observing. So, I’m required to turn off my phone while at work. Because my work shifts require me to be on the mountain for up to six days at a time, I can be out of cell phone contact that whole time. Even observatories without radio telescopes are often in remote mountain areas, out of range of cell service. Because of this, the whole lack of cell service became a plot point in my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. This is a nice feature for a horror novel where you don’t want help to arrive at a moment’s notice.

In my novel The Solar Sea, a valiant crew of explorers take a solar sail to Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Even on relatively short distances like within the solar system, communication can be a challenge. On average, it takes about 15 minutes for a signal traveling at the speed of light to reach Mars, about 30 minutes for a signal to reach Jupiter, and almost an hour and a half to reach Saturn. This assumes the planets are aligned on the same side of the sun as Earth. Still, imagine having a conversation where you speak and wait 15 minutes for your voice to get to Earth, then wait 15 minutes for a reply. Your messages would be more like voice mails. Or you might resort to something like email or texts for communication, which is what they do in my novel.

Back in the nineteenth century, inventors were working on ways to use electromagnetism to speed up communication. The upshot was the development of the telegraph and then the telephone. I have long found it interesting how delays in news affected events before these inventions, and even before these inventions became widely available. This allows for some fun what-if games when writing steampunk. What if instant communication was available to some? How would people view it in the 19th century. In Lightning Wolves, bounty hunter Larissa Crimson asks Professor Maravilla to devise a way for her lightning wolf corps to communicate as they spread out across San Francisco. He devises something he calls a clacker, essentially a portable, wireless telegraph that acts like a messaging device. Eight years later, in Owl Riders, clackers are much more widespread to Ramon Morales’s chagrin. At one point, he hands his clacker to his wife and pretends he didn’t get a message, an action perhaps not unlike what some of us are tempted to do today when certain texts come in.

Remember, all of these books make great last-minute holiday gifts. You can find these and more at http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html.