Sail 25

As we come to the end of summer, my convention season has shifted into full swing. This weekend finds me in Phoenix, Arizona at CoKoCon. If you’re in town, I hope you’ll drop by. It’s a great event. You can find more information about the convention at http://cokocon.org/. A week ago, I was at Bubonicon, celebrating its 50th anniversary and the Golden Age of Science Fiction. To get ready for the event, I decided to read some Golden Age SF. One of the stories I encountered was an early story about solar sailing called “Sail 25” by Jack Vance.

“Sail 25” was originally published in 1962 in Amazing Stories under the title “Gateway to Strangeness.” It was retitled for Vance’s collection Dust of Far Suns. I read it in the anthology The Seven Deadly Sins and Cardinal Virtues of Science Fiction edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh. It tells the story of a group of cadets who must make a voyage on a solar sail space craft under the watchful eye of a notorious instructor named Henry Bolt. Those who survive Bolt’s training expeditions often go on to the top ranks of the space service.

This may sound as though Bolt is a rigorous taskmaster. In fact, he seems completely the opposite. He all but ignores the cadets while he sits in his cabin getting drunk on whiskey he smuggled aboard in a box labeled “radio parts.” He only appears to give them demerits for talking out of turn or showing signs of hopelessness. At one point in the journey, the mechanical computer—which felt like it would be more at home in a steampunk story than a science fiction tale—malfunctions and the cadets go sailing past Mars. Their only hope is to repair the computer before they also go past Jupiter. They do repair the computer, but make a mistake in the gear alignment, so they pass Jupiter after all. At this point, they have to keep their wits about them to find a way back home.

I’ve been interested in solar sails since I first heard about them in the 1980s and I’ve been following more recent solar sail projects such as the Planetary Society’s Lightsail 2 experiment with great interest. I was impressed to see how much this early story about solar sailing got right about the process. Admittedly, the sail proves very easy to deploy and it sometimes behaves a bit more like a sail on Earth than a thin sheet of reflective material under little gravitational influence. Still, Vance correctly talks about the sail as being pushed by light and correctly talks about the sheer size required for such a craft while at the same time requiring as small a mass as possible.

Aspects of the story remind me of my own novel, The Solar Sea. Vance talks about needing a crew who can perform calculations themselves without reliance on a computer. In fact, as I mentioned before, the “computer” is really more a mechanical adding machine than a modern electronic computer, but I like how the character of Henry Bolt insists the characters know how to fix it. Like The Solar Sea, Vance’s characters sail past Mars and Jupiter and attempt to use the gravity to help them navigate. In my book, I actually let my characters have a chance to explore. Both stories bring our characters to a point where things appear to be hopeless. I can’t say much more without risking minor spoilers. While the stories have similar elements, they’re also quite different. Vance’s story is about the journey and my story is more about the destinations. It’s just that our characters use similar modes of transportation and take a similar route.

If you want to voyage through the solar system with my characters, you can pick up a copy of The Solar Sea in print at:

You can pick up the ebook at:

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Sailing the Solar Sea

The Planetary Society was founded by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman in 1980 as a voice in support of planetary exploration. I was in high school at the time and joined soon after it was founded. I remember an article in the society’s magazine The Planetary Report that discussed solar sails as vehicles for planetary exploration. The idea immediately grabbed me and I had an idea for a book about astronauts who traveled aboard a solar sail and made a sort of grand tour of the solar system much as NASA’s Voyager space craft was doing at the time. The novel was to be called Sailors on the Solar Sea. It took over twenty-five years for me to see a draft through to completion and the novel was finally published in 2009 with a shortened title: The Solar Sea. Now in 2018, I’m pleased to announce the release of the second, updated edition.

In the novel, whales around the world changed their songs the day scientists announced the discovery of powerful new particles around Saturn’s largest moon which could solve Earth’s energy needs. 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.

I started the novel soon after my mom bought me my first typewriter. It was a Smith-Corona electric and man that thing was nice. I remember sitting down for a couple of hours every weekend and savoring the hum of the typewriter and the tap-tapping as the ball hit the ribbon. I carefully saved those pages for many years. Jonathan Jefferson goes all the way back to the beginning. Natalie Freeman started as Nathaniel Freeman. I remember finding those early pages sometime in the early 1990s and feeling like there wasn’t enough of a plot to preserve, so I tossed the whole thing out. Around 2000, I made another attempt at the novel. I think I only succeeded in hammering out four chapters. That’s when Myra Lee and the whales came into the story. I grew up in Southern California and visited Marineland as a kid. My first job in astronomy was on Nantucket Island. Long before Captain Kirk saved the whales in Star Trek IV, I’ve been captivated by the idea of whale intelligence.

In 2007, Jacqueline Druga-Johnston, who was then the owner of LBF Books, challenged me to try my hand at the National Novel Writing Month. I looked at what I had written before and didn’t like the direction I had been going with The Solar Sea, tossed that draft aside, and made a third go at it. In 2007, my youngest daughter was just getting ready to start Kindergarten. I wrote the novel in the evenings after the kids went to bed. I succeeded in writing 50,000 words in a month and felt satisfied that I had, essentially, a complete story. I took the next three months and revised the novel, adding about 13,000 more words and then submitted it to LBF for publication. The novel was published in early 2009. In the subsequent years, LBF was acquired by Lachesis Publishing.

The novel is set in the near future, less than a hundred years hence. Despite that, the novel has mostly aged well and not become too dated, though there were a couple of places where I saw time rapidly encroaching on the novel. Also, in the years since the novel’s release, I’ve continued to learn more about solar sails and realized I could do better. Lachesis, for their own business reasons, didn’t want to invest in a new edition, so when the contract came up for renewal in 2017, I requested a reversion of the rights. The upshot is that I’m proud to announce the release of the newest edition this week.

Although the new edition has been re-edited, I haven’t introduced any new plot points. Readers of the first edition should recognize it as the same novel with just a few updates to the science and technology. One nice new feature is that I worked with artist Laura Givens to create diagrams of the Solar Sail Aristarchus for the book.

Print copies of The Solar Sea are available at:

Ebook copies of The Solar Sea are available at:

Saying Goodbye to a Website

I have to confess, I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with the idea that an author is “a brand.” Part of this is discomfort with the fact that many Americans seem obsessed with celebrities for no other reason than they’re celebrities. I’ve always believed recognition is something that must be earned because of one’s skills and accomplishments. What’s more, given my background in the sciences, judging good writing feels very subjective. Another aspect of my discomfort with author branding is the fact that I write in several different speculative subgenres including horror, science fiction, and steampunk. While I know and respect many authors who change pseudonym with each genre they write, I’ve never felt comfortable doing that. I feel like I’m hiding behind the name of someone I’m not.

I mention all this to explain why I created a website especially for my novel The Solar Sea when it was released nearly ten years ago. I wrote the novel during NaNoWriMo in 2004 and I succeeded in part because the novel captures much of my passion about exploring the solar system and the possible use of solar sailing as a technology. I wrote this as a novel that could be enjoyed by people of all ages and I thought a website that provided some additional background would be fun and would also satisfy my publisher’s desire for me to find new and innovative ways to market the novel.

As it turns out, the web and the way people look for information about novels has evolved since 2008. Few people seem to seek out websites about specific books. Instead, they go to online book retailers, review sites, and yes, author websites and blogs. I have both of those latter items, but I maintained the TheSolarSea.com because, quite simply, the website was promoted in the print and ebook editions of the novel itself and it seemed like bad form to advertise a website that no longer existed.

Earlier this year, Lachesis Publishing returned the publishing rights to The Solar Sea to me. In 2018, I plan to release a new edition of the novel from Hadrosaur Productions. I’ve decided to take this opportunity to retire the website. This is a little sad because the website includes a page about solar sailing, a reader’s guide, and some cool supplemental illustrations by cover artist Laura Givens. Here’s her illustration of the Aristarchus Bridge:

I do plan to move much of this information over to my page about the book: http://www.davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html. In fact, I’ve already copied over my page with information about solar sails. I’ll copy the reader’s guide once the new edition nears completion.

In the meantime, this is a great opportunity to grab the original edition of the novel for only half price. If you’re with me at TusCon this weekend, I have my last copies in the dealer’s room. Otherwise, you can grab a copy at: http://www.hadrosaur.com/bookstore.html#solarsea. Just a note, I only have three copies left as of this writing.

Bodacious Space Pirates

Let’s just get this out of the way. When I first saw the title “Bodacious Space Pirates” and the Blu-ray cover on a website, I thought this might be the kind of anime that creepy old guys watch with the shades drawn and the lights down low. Fortunately, being a fan of space pirates, I took time to learn a little more and discovered several positive reviews of the series by women. It turns out this is actually a fun space opera about a high school girl in the future, living on a planet orbiting Tau Ceti who has inherited the captaincy of a pirate ship, the Bentenmaru, from her long lost father.

bodacious-space-pirates In this world, space pirates are a holdover from a war in the distant past. They’ve mostly been forgotten by the time our protagonist, Marika Kato, is in high school, but they still exist, largely to perform courier runs or entertain posh passenger liners with mock pirate raids. Two members of her father’s pirate crew have come to watch over her at school and begin her training as the new captain. In her life as a high school student, Marika is a member of the school yacht club, who have an old solar sailing ship they can use to travel around the Tau Ceti system. As a member of yacht club, Marika begins learning many of the skills she needs to be a ship captain.

The pirate ship Bentenmaru operates under a letter of marque that will expire if the ship doesn’t go on any missions for a period of time. Because of that, Marika’s crew guide her by the hand on her first few missions. On one of the early missions, a princess stows away and asks Marika for help tracking down an ancient ghost ship.

My only real criticism of the show is that its meticulous plotting leads to a few episodes where little happens besides Marika learning new skills. However, this also solves one of the biggest criticisms I have of the 2009 Star Trek by J.J. Abrams, which is how in the world are we expected to believe talented but inexperienced Jim Kirk is given command of the Federation’s best ship right out of the academy? In this case, we have a reason for Marika being given a command despite her inexperience and we follow her as she gains experience, knowledge and confidence.

As a science fiction fan, I’m often on the lookout for good shows to share with my daughters. Of course, one of the downsides of classic science fiction, Star Trek included, is that it’s very male-heavy in the presentation. My daughters have never seen that as implying that exploration and adventure are things only for boys, but still, it’s nice to see a space opera where most of the cast are women and girls. In fact, what this show reminds me of very much are the “Boy Scout” novels of Robert A. Heinlein, except instead of boy’s adventure, this is girl’s adventure. And there are a few cool boys along for the ride include the helmsman, mechanic, and security chief of the Bentenmaru. So boys need not feel left out of the fun! Despite the mini-skirted school uniforms, there’s nary a fanservice shot in this anime, making it appropriate for pretty much all ages.

So, I’ve been watching the series with my 14-year-old daughter who loves it. When I asked her what she thought of the title, she told me it sounded like a fun, space pirate adventure with girls and just the kind of thing she wanted to watch. So much for my first impression of the title. It seems to be just right for the series’ target audience after all. The series is free to watch on Crunchyroll and you can buy downloads of the English dub on iTunes.

Las Cruces Comic Con and a Birthday Sale

Next weekend, I’ll have a table at Las Cruces Comic Con in my home town of Las Cruces, New Mexico from September 9-11, 2016. I’ll be selling my novels plus copies of recent anthologies I’ve been in. New products available this year include my novel The Brazen Shark and the anthologies Gaslight and Grimm, The Martian Anthology, and Gears and Levers 2. I’ve also been thinking about a special autumn giveaway to hold at the convention to whet people’s appetites for The Astronomer’s Crypt.

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The guests of honor this year include: Seth Gilliam from Starship Troopers, Teen Wolf, and The Walking Dead; Casper Van Diem, from Starship Troopers and Sleepy Hollow; plus I’m excited to see that Camille and Kimerly Kitt, the Harp Twins will be performing this year. If you’re in Las Cruces next weekend, I hope I’ll see you at Comic Con! You’ll find me at booth E23 in the Exhibitor Hall.

LACHESIS PUBLISHING SALE POSTCARD 2

Also, this month, Lachesis Publishing celebrates its 11th birthday! All of their books priced above 99 cents are on sale for 50% off. This includes two of my science fiction novels.

The Solar Sea The Solar Sea tells the story of humanity’s first voyage through the solar system aboard a solar sail spacecraft. As it turns out, solar sails are real technology that organizations such as NASA and the Planetary Society are testing now. In my story, the Quinn Corporation discovers particles orbiting Saturn’s moon Titan that appear to travel through time. They build a solar sail to investigate these particles, which could have strong implications for humanity’s future. On their way to Saturn, they stop off at Mars and Jupiter and find clues that humanity may not be as isolated as SETI scientists have led us to believe. Author Nicole Givens Kurtz says, “The Solar Sea captures the thrill, threats, and theories of exploring the unknown. Summers does what explorers have done for centuries, inspire us to look beyond our own backyards out into the vast possibilities of our imaginations.” All month long, The Solar Sea is only $1.49 at Lachesis Publishing.

Heirs of the New Earth In Heirs of the New Earth, Earth has gone silent. John Mark Ellis and the crew of the Sanson are sent to investigate. When they arrive, they find vast alien machines known as Clusters in orbit. Fearing the worst, they land and discover that the once overcrowded, polluted Earth has become a paradise of sorts. The problem is over half the population is dead or missing and the planet’s leaders don’t seem to care. As Ellis works to unravel the mystery, sudden gravitational shifts from the galaxy’s center indicate something even worse is in the offing. Author Greg Ballan writes, ” A warning to every reader…block off a good chunk of time, pour your favorite beverage and sit down in your favorite comfort space. Once you start reading, the story jumps out and grabs hold, drawing you into a world one thousand years in the future where mankind has spread across the universe, contacted other intelligent life and colonized new worlds.” Although this is book three of a series, it is designed to stand alone. You can pick it up for $1.49 for the entire month of September.

If you do want to get the entire series, the first book, The Pirates of Sufiro, is Free at Lachesis Publishing while the second, Children of the Old Stars, is 99 cents. That’s a three-book series for just $2.48!

Going Back to the Classics

martian-anthology This week saw the release of The Martian Anthology edited by David B. Riley, which includes my story “Arachne’s Stepchildren.” The story imagines that the crew of a Martian colony discovers dangerous microbial life in an underground cavern. The supplies they need to study and possibly neutralize that life are coming aboard a solar sail from Earth. However, something has gone wrong with the spider robots that maintain the solar sail, hence the title of the story.

A lot is made of coming up with the idea for science fictional stories, but in this case, the science fictional ideas all came together rather quickly. I knew I wanted to tell a story about Martian life. I’ve loved the idea of solar sails ever since I first heard about them in the 80s and The Planetary Society’s LightSail Project had me thinking about cool uses for small, unmanned solar sails. What eluded me for a while in this story wasn’t the science fictional idea, but discovering what the characters learned about themselves in the story. In this case, Greek Mythology turned out to be a great source of inspiration.

One way of making the fabric for solar sails is to weave very light fibers together. Because of that, I had the idea of little nano “spiders” that could be deployed on solar sails to repair them en route. They would extrude and weave new reflective sail material. That sent me to the story of Arachne, most famous for winning a weaving contest with Athena. However, Athena proved to be a sore loser and turned Arachne into the first spider. That story didn’t quite mesh with the tale I was telling, but another story about Athena did. That was the story of how Athena adopted the son of Gaia and Hephaestus and raised him to be the first king of Athens. To see how I weaved that legend into the story, pick up a copy of the anthology at Amazon. In addition to my story, you’ll find great stories about Mars by such writers as J.A. Campbell, Sam Knight, Carol Hightshoe, and Nicole Givens Kurtz.

Grimm-tales

In addition to the release of The Martian Anthology, the Kickstarter for Gaslight and Grimm also went live this week. This is a very exciting project for me, since fairy tales are near and dear to my heart. I talk about that in detail in an interview I did with eSpec books. Also, there are some awesome people associated with the project including Jody Lynn Nye, Gail Z. Martin, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Christine Norris, and Jeff Young. I’ve been a fan of the Grimm Brothers’ faerie tales since I was a kid and I gained a deeper appreciation during my college days when I read “Little Snow White” in the original German. When Disney’s Snow White came out on DVD, I was inspired to buy the complete German language collection shown here. This collection is special to me because it not only has the stories, but the Grimms’ notes about the stories.

My story in Gaslight and Grimm is called “The Dragon and his Grandmother” and I started the story by translating it myself from the German. This helped me get very familiar with the tale, which then allowed me to re-imagine the characters in a steampunk reality. You’ll also find steampunked retellings of “Little Red Riding Hood,” “The Three Little Pigs,” “Cinderella,” and the Baba Yaga legend. I look forward to reading it. If you haven’t supported this project, please drop by the Kickstarter page and giving it some support. Only $5.00 will get you the ebook plus there are lots of bonuses at higher levels. If you have supported the project, thank you!!! The Kickstarter has been live for less than a week and we’re over halfway funded. Still, we can use any additional help. Even if you have pledged, take another look, maybe there’s something that can entice you to another reward level, or maybe there’s an add-on gift you’d like. Let’s help this project fly!

Science Fiction Titles 25% Off Today – #AReBlast

All my science fiction titles at OmniLit are 25% off today to celebrate the first day of summer!

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This post will give you links to those books they have available. I hope you’ll add one or more of my books to your summer reading list.

The Solar Sea

The Solar Sea A new energy source is discovered around Saturn. The Quinn Corporation builds a solar sail to investigate. Along the way, they discover humans may not be alone in the solar system. Get it at:
https://www.omnilit.com/product-thesolarsea-184660-235.html

Children of the Old Stars

Children of the Old Stars A disgraced starship captain, an alien warrior, and a cult leader go on a quest to learn about a mysterious space vessel that destroys everything in its path. Get it at: https://www.omnilit.com/product-childrenoftheoldstars-90549-245.html

Heirs of the New Earth

Heirs of the New Earth Captain John Mark Ellis must race against time to free the Earth from invasion and stop aliens from altering the structure of the galaxy itself. Get it at: https://www.omnilit.com/product-heirsofthenewearth-183797-235.html



My vampire titles are also on sale! Visit the post at the Scarlet Order blog for a list of titles and links to them.