Galactic Steampunk Federation

It’s hard to believe, but Wild Wild West Con 8 is just around the corner. I will be returning to the convention as a panelist and a vendor. The convention is primarily held at Old Tucson Studios outside of Tucson, Arizona. These are the studios where such famous westerns as John Wayne’s Rio Bravo and the original 3:10 to Yuma with Glenn Ford were filmed. Special guests this year include numerous steampunk builders and costumers who will be showing off their craft. Madame Askew and the Grand Arbiter will be holding court over such events as tea dueling and teapot racing. The featured musical guest is Professor Elemental. I am also pleased to note that Hadrosaur Productions authors and artists such as David B. Riley, Laura Givens, and David Drake will also be on hand. You can get more information about the convention at http://wildwestcon.com

I’m also very excited about this year’s theme: The Galactic Steampunk Federation. It encompasses much of my work from my astronomy to my space opera with a space western flavor in addition to my steampunk and you’ll see that reflected in this year’s schedule.

My schedule at the event is as follows. Of course this is subject to change, and I’ll attempt to update this as a result of last-minute shuffling, but, as always, if you’re at the event be sure to check your program books for the official schedule.

Friday, March 8

  • 11am-Noon. Chapel. Drake and McTrowell’s Hot Potato School of Writing. The authors of “The Adventures of Drake & McTrowell” will lead two guest authors and the audience in a madcap improvisational writing game show. Rumor has it, I will be there as a “celebrity” guest contestant.
  • Noon-1pm. Arizona Theater. Victorian Astronomy – How the Universe Changed Through Time. The Victorian age was a time when people were getting to know the planets in our solar system as places and beginning to explore them with telescopes. Astronomers were getting a better idea of what stars were made of and got the first clues that galaxies were made of stars. A look at how our conception of the universe changed.
  • 4pm. Panel Tent. Weird Westerns: The Greatest Genre Nobody Ever Heard Of. David B. Riley will lead this panel discussion introducing weird western fiction and present some recommendations for good stuff to read. I’ll be joining him to contribute my two cents.

Saturday, March 9

  • Noon-1pm. Chapel. Victorian Science and Science Fiction. Paleontology, astronomy, engineering, and biology all made great strides in the Victorian age. How did these sciences influence the rise of writers like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells? What other lesser known authors are worth seeking out? On the panel with me are David B. Riley, CI Erasmus P. Drake and Dr. Sparky McTrowell.

Sunday, March 10

  • 1pm-2pm. Chapel. Space Cowboys! Many steampunks embrace the idea of the space cowboy. Where did the idea come from? How are space opera and steampunk different? How far can we stretch the idea of the space cowboy before it’s no longer “retro” future and just plain future? On the panel with me are CI Erasmus P. Drake and Robert E. Vardeman.
  • 3pm-4pm. Meet and Greet at the Aristocrat’s Lounge. An opportunity to come meet me and join in informal discussion. At this point, the plan is that Drake and McTrowell plan to join in the fun as well. Sock puppets may be involved.

When I’m not at these events, I’ll be at the Hadrosaur Productions Booth in the Stage 2 Vendor’s Barn where we’ll have copies of my books, including my newest, Firebrandt’s Legacy, David B. Riley’s Fallen Angel, and also Legends of the Dragon Cowboys by David B. Riley and Laura Givens. We’re sharing the booth with CI Erasmus P. Drake and Dr. Sparky McTrowell whose own “Adventures of Drake and McTrowell are outstanding and worth reading as well. So, saddle up and head out to Old Tucson next weekend as your first stop to explore the Galactic Steampunk Federation!

Advertisements

A New Cover for The Pirates of Sufiro

As I mentioned in Tuesday’s post, my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, is now 25 years old. I gave Laura Givens the challenge of creating the cover for the anniversary edition. As we spoke about it, we decided to return to the idea I first had for the book’s cover, we decided that it should feature Suki, Firebrandt, and Roberts, the three people for whom the planet Sufiro is named.

We also discussed the background and how the book has a space western kind of vibe. Laura took that idea and created something that looks both futuristic and rough-hewn. I imagine this is Sufiro around chapter four of the previous edition. (In my rewrite, I’ve added a chapter, so it would be chapter five of the new version). This is when settlers from Earth have joined our three marooned pirates and have started to build a town called Succor. Without further ado, here’s a look at the new cover:

Here’s the description from the back of the previous edition: The Pirates of Sufiro is the story of a planet and its people—of Ellison Firebrandt the pirate captain living in exile; of Espedie Raton, the con-man looking to make a fresh start for himself and his wife on a new world; of Peter Stone, the ruthless bank executive who discovers a fortune and will do anything to keep it; and of the lawman, Edmund Ray Swan who travels to Sufiro seeking the quiet life but finds a dark secret. It is the story of privateers, farmers, miners, entrepreneurs, and soldiers—all caught up in dramatic events and violent conflicts that will shape the destiny of the galaxy.

I don’t really expect to make any changes to this description. I am making changes in the new edition, but all of this will still happen. My goal is that if this is the edition of The Pirates of Sufiro that you read, you can still pick up a previous edition of the sequels and not be lost or confused about what happened before. I’m filling in details and I’m hoping the new edition will have a more satisfying structure and be told from more effective points of view.

One of my big realizations while working on the new edition is to see that The Pirates of Sufiro is really a compilation of three novellas. This has helped a lot when thinking about the structure. The first novella tells the story of Firebrandt, Roberts and Suki exploring the planet and making a life there along with the first settlers who join them. The second novella is set a couple of decades later when a new wave of settlers discovers a rare mineral on the other planet’s other major continent and upsets the balance of life there. The third novella happens twenty years later when Edmund Swan arrives, a little like the classic western hero, to set things right.

At this point, I expect the new print and ebook editions will be out around the beginning of 2020. However, you don’t have to wait that long. I’m posting chapters as I revise them to my Patreon site. If you sign on as a patron, you can read the chapters as they’re completed and I’ll give you a link to download the finished ebook when it’s done. What’s more, I’ve been sharing some old artwork and photos from the days when I first wrote the book with my patrons. Check it out at: http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

Stamp Collecting

One thing astronomers do is attempt to classify the objects they see by common properties. For example, stars that display similar chemical fingerprints in their spectra will be assigned a certain spectral type. Galaxies can be grouped by shape such as spiral, barred spiral, elliptical, and my favorite, irregular. Here’s a chart from NASA showing the numbers of exoplanets discovered as grouped by size of planet.

Back in my college days, we called this “stamp collecting.” It’s a somewhat derogatory term because it’s not necessarily the most exciting work in astronomy and its significance can be somewhat misleading. A great example is the whole “is Pluto a planet” debate which was sparked by classifying Pluto a dwarf planet. To my mind a “dwarf planet” is just a type of planet. After all, we orbit a dwarf star! (A G2V yellow dwarf main sequence star if you want more of the taxonomy.)

That said, this process of stamp collecting does serve an important purpose. By seeing how many of what types of objects are out in the universe, it helps us understand how the universe evolved. It helps us see patterns that show us how particular objects might have changed. For example, when I mentioned that the sun is a G2V main sequence star, that not only tells me what it is, but gives me some idea where the star is in its life cycle.

We do stamp collecting in the writing world as well. We classify books broadly by subject: science fiction, horror, romance, adventure, etc. We often take these individual classifications down even finer. A science fiction book can be described as hard science fiction, space opera, military science fiction and more. Like stamp collecting in astronomy, this can be an important process. It helps readers find what they want to read. However, it can also get overblown.

It’s become a reality in the publishing industry that an author’s name is a sort of brand, and authors often get classified right along with their books. Mary Smith writes military science fiction while John Jones writes space opera. Some writers even go so far as to pick different pseudonyms each time they explore not just a new genre, but a new subgenre.

I’ve been thinking about this lately in terms of my own writing career. For most of the last decade, I’ve been very focused on my Clockwork Legion steampunk novels. Now, I’m turning my focus more to my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. To my mind, the two series actually have a lot in common. There’s a real space cowboy vibe in the Space Pirates series that echoes the retrofuturism of the steampunk. Of course, this does cause some people to ask if I’ve finished the Clockwork Legion series or won’t do more steampunk. The answer to both is absolutely not. I think I have many more steampunk stories to tell and many of those will feature Ramon, Fatemeh, Larissa, and the rest of the gang. However, I also like telling stories about Captain Firebrandt, Roberts, and Manuel Raton.

For what it’s worth, I classify myself as a writer of fantastic tales with a retrofuturistic vibe. That captures my steampunk, my space cowboys, and even my vampires, especially when I write stories set in a historical context.

If you’re in Tucson, I hope you’ll join me tomorrow, Sunday, February 10 at 3:30pm at Antigone Books for the Tucson Steampunk Society’s book club meeting where I’ve been invited to discuss my fourth Clockwork Legion novel, Owl Riders, which recently was a top-ten finisher in the Predators and Editors Reader’s Poll for best steampunk novel of 2018. Copies of the novel are available at Antigone and if you let us know you haven’t read it yet, we’ll try not to give away too many spoilers. Antigone Books is located at 411 N. 4th Avenue in Tucson. If you can’t make it, the book club posts videos of the meeting that will be shared on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TucsonSteampunkSociety/

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.

Rodeo Day

I’ve been working days this past week at the Mayall 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak. The telescope is undergoing a roughly year-long refit to equip it with a 5000-fiber spectrograph which will be used to obtain optical spectra for tens of millions of galaxies and quasars, constructing a three-dimensional map spanning the nearby universe to 10 billion light years. This week, much of our work has been disassembling the telescope to prep it for new parts coming this year. In the photo below, you see the top end of the telescope with all the optics removed. That entire top end will be removed and replaced with the fiber optics which will then direct light to spectrographs some four floors below.

This past week was also a short work week. For most people in the United States that was because Monday, February 19 was President’s Day. Even though Kitt Peak is a federal contractor, we actually don’t take President’s Day as a holiday. Instead, we get Rodeo Day the Friday after President’s Day.

Before I continue, allow me to make a brief aside. I’ve mentioned before that at Kitt Peak, we work through most holidays. I should clarify that we are on sky, observing almost every night of the year. Telescope support staff such as telescope operators, electronic maintenance technicians, and even kitchen staff only take off Christmas Eve and Christmas. However, Kitt Peak also maintains a large support staff of mechanics, electricians, carpenters, and heavy equipment operators, most of which get weekends and regular holidays off. The refit work at the Mayall mostly requires this larger team of employees, so it follows a more familiar weekday schedule.

So, where did Rodeo Day come from and why is it so important in Tucson? Apparently, it started in 1925 when the president of the Arizona Polo Association, a fellow named Leighton Kramer, paraded a group of trick riders, folk dancers, and marching bands through downtown Tucson to the University of Arizona’s polo field where they held a community sponsored Wild West show and rodeo. That first rodeo featured steer wrestling, steer tying, calf roping, and saddle bronc riding. The rodeo’s official name is La Fiesta de los Vaqueros.

Over the years the event grew and it became tradition for Tucson schools to give kids the Thursday and Friday of rodeo weekend off. I think it goes to show the importance of rodeo in the Southwestern United States that it can supplant even President’s Day in some communities.

The Spanish name for the Tucson Rodeo, La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, reminds us that rodeo’s popularity isn’t limited to the Southwestern United States. It’s actually quite popular throughout central and South America. When I visited Chile in 1998, the driver for Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory made a point of taking me by the rodeo grounds in La Serena. He noted that it was perhaps the second most popular sport in La Serena, right behind Soccer. I’ll also note that CTIO is actually a United States Observatory in Chile and the Blanco 4-meter outside of La Serena is, for all intents and purposes a twin of the Mayall 4-meter on Kitt Peak.

As it turns out, this whole business of rodeo being important to the people I work with in the astronomy business is one of the influences on my story “Calamari Rodeo” which appears in the anthology Kepler’s Cowboys. You can learn more about the anthology at http://www.davidleesummers.com/Keplers-Cowboys.html.

Firebrandt’s Legacy at Patreon

I’m releasing chapter two of Firebrandt’s Legacy for patrons to read at my Patreon page today. Firebrandt’s Legacy is a book that collects my short stories about space pirate Ellison Firebrandt and his crew in one volume. These short stories have been released in several anthologies over the years published by several different publishers. I suspect it’s unlikely anyone besides me and my wife have read them all! Even if I’m wrong about that, I do plan to add some new short stories to the mix. What’s more, each of the short stories is being completely re-edited for this volume and I’m also doing “Behind the Scenes” posts for each story to give patrons a glimpse into the history and my inspirations for each story.

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!

I have unlocked the first story at my Patreon page. Without paying anything, you can check out Laura Givens’ beautiful cover in full resolution and read the first story to decide if you want to support this project. Once this project is complete, I plan to continue with the other three books in the Space Pirates’ Legacy series, so you’ll find good stuff there for a while.

It would be fair to ask why you should support this effort on Patreon. After all, I have a good job operating telescopes and I make income from my other books. Can’t I just assemble this book and sell it like the others? My goal here is two-fold. First of all, this isn’t the only project I’m working on. I’m also finishing off edits on my steampunk novel Owl Riders and I need to start work on my second Wilderness of the Dead novel. Knowing that I have patrons who expect to see at least one story from me each month is a great motivator for me to actually make sure I keep this project moving forward while I work on those other projects. What’s more, my “day” job’s salary is paid through government agencies whose budgets are set by congress each year. People in my position can and have been laid off with minimal notice in times of budget shortfalls. While my job is quite compatible with my writing and I have little desire to leave, I never know when I might find myself unemployed. While I have no complaints about my salary, it’s hardly extravagant. Money from my books and sources such as Patreon are necessary for me to afford travel to conventions and give presentations about writing and even astronomy.

Also, getting money through Patreon allows me to pay other artists, such as Laura Givens, who did the wonderful cover for Firebrandt’s Legacy. I’m also hoping to put together a full-cast audiobook of Firebrandt’s Legacy and support on Patreon helps me pay actors a fair wage to do that. In other words, lots of fun things can happen through your support. I’m honored by those who’ve already decided to support me and I hope others will join them.

Click the button below to visit my page, read the first chapter, see the high resolution cover and decide if you’re brave enough to join the crew of the Legacy on its voyage of adventure.

Seven Samurai … In Space!

I’m a big fan of both Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai and John Sturges’s American remake with gunfighters instead of swordsmen, The Magnificent Seven. Here at the Web Journal, I’ve discussed both the anime series Samurai 7 and the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven. However, I’ve never discussed the first version of Seven Samurai I remember seeing—Roger Corman’s 1980 film Battle Beyond the Stars. This cheezy, but fun film is arguably a classic of the “space cowboy” genre.

The movie stars Richard Thomas as Shad from the planet Akir. Thomas is most famous as John Boy from the the critically acclaimed TV series The Waltons. The planet’s name is a clear nod to Akira Kurosawa. The peaceful world has been threatened by the villainous Sador, played by John Saxon. Shad must go out and recruit fighters to help him. In this version, the seven are: Gelt, a mercenary played by Robert Vaughn who like his character in the original Magnificent Seven must always watch his back; Cowboy played by George Peppard, a literal space cowboy who is also a gun runner; Nanelia played by Darlanne Fluegel, a technician who provides the Akira with sensors; Cayman, a reptilian captain who has a vendetta against Sador played by Morgan Woodward, who I fondly remember as Captain Tracy of the Exeter in the original Star Trek; Nestor, five members of a race of clones—their leader is played by Earl Boen; St. Exmin, a Valkerie played by Sybil Danning; and Kelvin, a pair of beings who communicate through heat. The seven of Battle Beyond the Stars actually provide a nice preview of the diverse cast we would get in the 2016 Magnificent Seven. One thing that was especially gratifying in this version is that it’s the only one to date that includes women among the seven.

Of some note, Battle Beyond the Stars features one of the first film scores by James Horner. As it turns out, the 2016 Magnificent Seven would feature Horner’s final film score. That said, Horner’s score from Battle Beyond the Stars reminds me more of his score for Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan than his score for The Magnificent Seven.

If you’ve seen any version of The Magnificent Seven or Seven Samurai, there will be few plot surprises in Battle Beyond the Stars. Like most remakes, the fun is in the details. Even though the effects are clearly low budget, there are several interesting space ships including Shad’s ship, Nell, who is a sentient AI. Nell proves to be a great character in her own right—something of a smart-ass, but genuinely helpful. Befitting the low budget, this film doesn’t take itself as seriously as its more earnest cousins. The actors clearly deliver their lines with tongues fully in cheek.

Have I missed a remake of Seven Samurai? If there’s one you know of that I haven’t mentioned in this post, let me know in the comments!

As I said at the outset, I believe this would have been the first version of Seven Samurai I actually saw. I believe I first saw this in 1985 at college, about five years after the original release. It’s clearly one of the films that gave rise to my love of space cowboys—a theme Steve Howell and I explored on planets discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope in the anthology Kepler’s Cowboys. In the book, Steve even does his own space-based retelling of a western classic: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. If you’d like to check out our anthology of space cowboy stories, visit: http://www.davidleesummers/Keplers-Cowboys.html