The Orville

Last week, I watched the first season of Seth MacFarlane’s new series, The Orville, with my daughter who’s home from college. Marketed as a science fiction comedy in the vein of Galaxy Quest, I find that the show is, in many ways, a true successor to Star Trek.

The premise of the show is that Captain Ed Mercer, played by MacFarlane, has just been given command of a mid-size exploratory vessel. To his chagrin, his ex-wife Kelly Grayson played by Adrianne Palicki serves as his first officer. Other members of the crew include Lt. Commander Bortus, the Klingon-like second officer from the Planet Moclan, Lt. Alara Kitan, the hyper-strong but young security chief from the planet Xelaya, and Lt. Gordon Malloy, Ed’s wisecracking friend who serves as the ship’s helmsman.

The first couple of episodes focused more on the humor, but as the show progressed it became decidedly more like classic Star Trek exploring themes of gender, religion, and the role of social media in society. It’s even taken on some interesting science fictional ideas such as what exploring other dimensions would mean, our interactions with life forms both more advanced and more primitive, and time travel.

Overall, the show’s exploration of science fiction themes works. This is perhaps no surprise since there’s a strong overlap of production staff not only with some of the Star Trek series, but with Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos. Although the show keeps its humor low-key, it’s still an integral part of the presentation. It keeps the show light and avoids it taking itself too seriously. That said, my most serious complaint about the show is that its humor is tied very strongly to 21st century pop-culture references. In a show set in the 24th century that is pretty decent at its science fiction, it feels a little jarring. It’s as though me and all my friends were experts in the 1600s and only read books and watched plays from that era. Okay, as an avowed Steampunk there is, perhaps, some feeling of truth in this portrayal, but I think you get what I mean!

I find I don’t always agree with the positions Seth MacFarlane and the producers present in the show, but that’s fine. He presents them in a thoughtful way that doesn’t put me off, which allows me to evaluate my own positions. In fact, he doesn’t always give us easy answers at the end of an episode or imply that what the crew did was the best choice. In this way, The Orville really does what science fiction does best: help us look at our own time with a critical eye.

As it turns out, I don’t have cable. I gave it up as an unneeded luxury back in 2001. I decided to buy the first season of The Orville on iTunes after watching those episodes that were available for free on Fox’s website. I will note that I still haven’t watched Star Trek: Discovery. Here’s the key difference: Fox allowed me to sample some episodes for free (albeit with commercials), and then gave me a means to subscribe to the series for a reasonable cost. CBS All Access, where Discovery runs will only allow me to subscribe to the channel and won’t even let me sample the series without a subscription that includes a whole lot of content I really don’t want. That’s why I gave up cable back in 2001!

I’m currently on Patreon raising funds for my collection of space pirate stories, Firebrandt’s Legacy. Like The Orville, I endeavor to mix some light-hearted humor with good science fiction to provide an entertaining mix. You can read the first story in the collection with absolutely no commitment right here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/chapter-one-for-14391922. If you like what you read, you can subscribe for any amount you like at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. In exchange for your patronage, you get to see each story in the collection as it’s written or reedited. I share behind the scenes information about the stories, and I’ll give you a “thank you” in the finished book.

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What’s Opera, Harlock?

Like many Americans of my age, my education in opera came from the wonderful 1957 Bugs Bunny short, “What’s Opera, Doc?” In the short, Bugs and Elmer Fudd satirize pieces from Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen among other operas.

It turns out, Bugs and Elmer aren’t the only characters from animation to take on Wagner’s Ring Cycle. In 1999, Leiji Matsumoto made an adaptation of Das Rheingold featuring Captain Harlock and the crew of the Arcadia called Harlock Saga. In this case, they don’t sing, but act out a loose, science fictional adaptation of the opera. I gather Matsumoto took the idea further in print and there are manga adaptations of Die Walküre and Siegfried as well as Der Rheingold.

In a way, bringing a character like Harlock into an opera closes a loop of sorts. Of course, Captain Harlock is a classic “space opera” character. So, what does “space opera” have to do with plain ol’ opera? To answer that, one has to go back to the original genre opera—the “horse opera.” The term “horse opera” goes all the way back to wild west shows of the nineteenth century. In that case, there’s a good chance that the term was a reference to the big spectacle that those shows represented.

By the time we get to the early twentieth century, the term “horse opera” began to be applied to movies we’d just call Westerns today. In fact, early Western star William Hart was called “the Caruso of the horse opera” in 1917. The term then migrated to western stories broadcast on the radio. When romance stories started on the radio, many sponsored by soap companies, they picked up the moniker “soap opera.” The term “space opera” started being applied to science fiction stories soon after that.

Today, when we speak of space opera, we tend to think of science fiction stories told on a grand scale, featuring larger-than-life characters, engaging in epic quests. In that sense, space opera is much the same kind of spectacle as, well, opera.

Lest one speak poorly of cartoons, I’ll note that “What’s Opera, Doc” and Harlock Saga have inspired my wife and I to finally watch Der Ring des Niberlungen. It’s definitely big and epic like a space opera. It’s also got its share of illicit romance, not unlike a soap opera. Of course, there’s the great music. Hours and hours of it. Der Ring des Niberlungen runs to some fifteen hours.

While I’m on the subject of space opera, today marks the relaunch of my space opera saga, now christened “The Space Pirates’ Legacy.” Click on the button below to visit my Patreon page and see the awesome cover Laura Givens created for the first book in the series, Firebrandt’s Legacy. If you become a Patron (and you can do so for just $1 a month), you’ll be able to read the book’s first story today. It first appeared in the collection Space Pirates, but I’ve given it a thorough edit to better line up with later stories in the book. My goal is that patrons will get to read at least one new story a month. If I get enough patrons, I’ll make sure they all get a copy of the complete book upon release. Click the button and get all the details right now.

Clearing the Decks

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of my first novel’s release. Looking back, The Pirates of Sufiro was an ambitious idea for a novel. It’s a generational tale about space pirates stranded on a distant world and those who came along afterward who joined and opposed them. The novel went on to spawn two sequels, Children of the Old Stars and Heirs of the New Earth. I cut my teeth as a writer on those books and feel like my skills grew as I wrote them.

As I mentioned in a post back in May, the publishing rights for all three novels have reverted to me. There are parts of these novels I love and parts I’d love an opportunity to revise. I plan to start that journey next week and I’ll say more about that at the end of the post. In the meantime, I’m clearing out copies of the most recent editions of the novels. Why would you pick these up if I’m creating new editions? For one thing, these editions feature illustrations by Laura Givens which cannot appear in the new editions. If Laura creates illustrations for the new editions, they will be different. It’s a great price—I’m offering these at half off the cover price. Also, I’m happy to sign the books. Just drop an email to me at hadrosaur[at]zianet[dot]com when you order and let me know you’d like the books signed and to whom.

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 our galaxy. You can order The Pirates of Sufiro at half price by visiting: http://www.hadrosaur.com/bookstore.html#pirates

In Children of the Old Stars, the Cluster is a vast alien machine that destroys starships indiscriminately in its quest for something or someone. Commander John Mark Ellis, disgraced and booted out of the service when he fails to save a merchant ship, believes the key to stopping the Cluster is communication. His mother, Suki Firebrandt Ellis is a historian who believes the very leaders of the galaxy are withholding information about the Cluster. Clyde McClintlock believes the Cluster is God incarnate, seeking retribution. G’Liat is an alien warrior whose own starship was destroyed by the Cluster. All together, they set out to solve the mystery of the Cluster before it finds the object of its quest. You can order Children of the Old Stars at half price by visiting: http://www.hadrosaur.com/bookstore.html#children

In Heirs of the New Earth, the 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. Can Ellis save the galaxy from the heirs of the new Earth? You can order Heirs of the New Earth at half price by visiting: http://www.hadrosaur.com/bookstore.html#heirs

Now onto the next chapter in this grand adventure. About ten years after I released The Pirates of Sufiro, I started writing stories about the good captain’s adventures before he was stranded on Sufiro. I’m in the process of collecting all those stories into a book called Firebrandt’s Legacy. On Monday, I invite you to drop by my brand, spanking new Patreon page at http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers to see the awesome cover for the new book. Patrons will be able to read the first story on Monday. Even though several of the stories have already been published, they’re each getting a brand new edit and there will be new, unpublished tales along the way. I hope you’ll join me for this exciting, swashbuckling journey!

Flash Gordon Zeitgeist

Earlier this year, at Wild Wild West Con, I had the opportunity to meet Sam J. Jones who played the title character in the campy 1980 film Flash Gordon. At the time, I bought a beautiful poster based on the movie illustrated by comic book legend Alex Ross. The poster was quite nice and made me curious what other Flash Gordon illustrations Alex Ross had done. That led me to discover the comic Flash Gordon Zeitgeist, which was published in 2013 by Dynamite Entertainment. Alex Ross served as art director and illustrated many of the covers. The series was written by Eric Trautmann and the interior art was by Daniel Indro.

This version of the Flash Gordon story endeavors to combine the best parts of the 1980 movie and the 1979 animated film Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All. This version is set in 1934 as World War II is getting off the ground. The Earth is being subjected to natural disasters and Dr. Zarkov believes he’s found the source. Yale-educated Polo player Flash Gordon is on a mission to find the good doctor. A plane accident strands him and cartographer Dale Arden on Zarkov’s doorstep. From there the story proceeds in a familiar direction. Zarkov, Gordon, and Arden climb aboard his rocket ship and blast off to the planet Mongo to face all manner of strange creatures along with Ming the Merciless.

In this version, as with the 1979 cartoon version, Ming is using Hitler as a puppet to aid his conquest of the Earth. A new element is that a faction from Mongo has traveled to Earth and is working to stop Hitler.

There are several elements I quite like in this version of Flash Gordon. I liked the historical setting and the whole connection to World War II. In this version, Mongo is in a different universe and Ming’s plans are being executed using beams that allow him to connect his universe to ours. There’s a nice sequence where Flash goes through some of his early gladiatorial contests on Mongo and reflects back on his athletic and academic career, seeing this as a next step in his life. Flash has never been a particularly deep character, but this little extra piece of character building was a nice touch. We get some good background on Dr. Zarkov. The machinations of General Klytus and Princess Aura were fun to watch as they worked to unseat Ming from the throne and gain it for themselves.

I did feel this version suffered from some uneven pacing. That said, I’ve always imagined that pacing comic books must be a real challenge because of the protracted release schedule. Even so, some plot lines seemed to resolve very quickly, while others were given time to breathe and develop. As happens too often in versions of Flash Gordon, Dale Arden doesn’t get much to do. Making her a cartographer was a great and interesting choice. She also has an awesome ending to her story arc in this version, but in between, she mostly serves as the eyes for Dr. Zarkov. Dale Arden deserved better, but at this point, I think the best written version of Dale is in the 1980 movie where she actually gets to do (a little) more than fawn over Flash.

Comparing all these different versions of Flash Gordon has actually been a rather interesting exercise. Alex Raymond’s original comic strip was arguably one of the earliest, popular space operas and studying what works and doesn’t work in different versions helps me think about my updated Space Pirate’s Legacy series which I hope to start working on later this year. That series was always intended to have a certain “retro-future” appeal, heroes who were larger than life, and both men and women with more than a little sex appeal.

If you want to check out Flash Gordon Zeitgeist while waiting for the updated Space Pirate’s Legacy series, a graphic novel edition is available in print. Ebook editions are available through Amazon and Comixology. Unfortunately, the 1979 animated Flash Gordon was never released on video, but I found it on YouTube, just search for “Flash Gordon Filmation” and you should find it.

Westercon 70

Next weekend, I’ll be a program participant at Westercon 70 in Tempe, Arizona, also known as Conalope and LepreCon 43. Julie Dillon is the artist guest of honor, Connie Willis is the author guest of honor, Bjo and John Trimble are special media guests of honor. Sharing the spotlight with them are local author guest of honor Gini Koch and toastmaster Weston Ochse. Be sure to drop by the Westercon 70 page at westercon70.org to get details about the location, all the guests, and programming.

I will not have a dealer’s table at the event, but Duncan Rittschoff of Duncan’s Books and More will have a selection of my books in the dealer’s room. Also, it sounds like we may have copies of Straight Outta Tombstone in time for the show. I’m keeping my finger’s crossed!

Here’s my schedule for the event, which of course is subject to last minute change. Also, apologies if I missed a fellow panelist in the program grid.

Saturday, July 1

  • 3:30-4:30pm – The Return of Space Opera – Room: Jojake. With the return of Star Wars, the success of The Expanse on TV and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, the space opera has returned. The panelists look at the appeal of these action-filled adventures where the science doesn’t get too hard and the characters have plenty of drama and romance. On the panel with me are Colette Black, H. Paul Honsinger, and Michael D’Ambrosio.

Sunday, July 2

  • 9:30-10:30am – The Science of Steampunk: What Makes the Gears Go Round? – Room: Jojake. Steampunk style is filled with all sorts of clockwork creatures and fantastical machines. Scientists and authors look at the science and tech behind airships, submarines, and giant mechanical spiders. On the panel with me are Ashley R. Carlson, Bruce Davis, Suzanne Lazear and Steve Howe.
  • 11:00-noon – The Future of Steampunk Writing – Room: Jojake. Vaughn Treude and Arlys Holloway will join me to discuss our thoughts on the future of steampunk writing.
  • 12:30-1:30pm – Autographs – Room: Cloister. Drop by the autograph table and I’ll be happy to sign books for you! Jenn Czep, T.L. Smith, Thomas Watson, and Natalie Wright will also be signing at the same time.
  • 3:30-4:30pm – Jackalopes and Other Cryptids – Room: Sand Lotus. In honor of Conalope’s mascot, authors will pay tribute to the strange creatures that may or may not inhabit the dark corners of the world. On the panel with me are Weston Ochse, Thomas Watson, and Ernest Hogan.
  • 5:00-6:00pm – Alien Autopsy of ET – Room: Dolores. Would it be possible for an alien species which found water poisonous to even land on Earth? How would two hearts work? What does green Vulcan blood say about their circulatory system? Join scientific experts and authors as they get to the guts of creature creation and make sure that “damned alien biology” is more than just a vague explanation. On the panel with me are Syd Logsdon, Bruce Davis, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, and Thomas Watson.

Monday, July 3

  • 9:00-10:00am – Exoplanets – Room: Augustine. In this presentation, I discuss how exoplanets are discovered and present some highlights about the kinds of exoplanets that have been discovered.
  • 3:30-4:30pm – Steampunk Roundtable – Room: Jojake. What is it that makes Steampunk an enduring pop-culture phenomenon? Attend this roundtable discussion of steampunk represented by contributors in a variety of fields. On the panel with me are Katherine Stewart, Dirk Folmer, and Madame Askew.

Tuesday, July 4

  • 9:30-10:30am – Bullets in Space: Putting the “Sci” in “SciFi – Room: Campanile. Hard sci-fi requires intensive research and lots of math to make sure everything adds up. We talk about that process, where to find the scientific answers and how to make sure your story doesn’t get bogged down in physics calculations. On the panel with me are Michael D’Ambrosio, Steve Howe, Amy K. Nichols, and Thomas Watson.
  • 11:00am – noon – Autographs – Room: Cloister. Another opportunity for you to get your wares signed by me and other panelists! Those other panelists would be Michael D’Ambrosio, T.L. Smith, Thomas Watson, Stephine Weippert, and Connie Willis.
  • 3:30-4:30pm – Reading – Room: Boardroom. In honor of release day, I plan to read my short story “Fountains of Blood” from Straight Outta Tombstone. There’s also a good chance, I’ll be able to give attendees a special, early, sneak peak at a very exciting short movie project I’ve been working on. Also reading during this session will be Cynthia Ward and Thomas Watson.

It looks like it’s going to be a busy weekend, but I can’t wait. Also, just for fun, if you come to the convention and cosplay a character from one of my books, I’ll give you a free book from those I have in stock at hadrosaur.com. Since I won’t have a dealer’s table, I may have to send it to you afterwards, but we’ll make it happen!

Kepler’s Cowboys

In March 2009, the Kepler space telescope was launched on a mission to monitor a section of our galaxy in order to see how many planets it could find. As the spacecraft has aged, it’s no longer able to point to one part of the sky. However, the science team was able to re-purpose the craft for a mission called K2, which is ongoing. A few weeks ago, it looked as though the craft’s life may have come to an end, but engineers were able to restore communication and the mission will continue. The graphic below is a year old, but it gives you a good idea of just how successful the mission has been so far.

Image credit: NASA Ames/W Stenzel

Image credit: NASA Ames/W Stenzel

The graphic shows eight small planets in the habitable zone of their stars, but that only tells part of the story. Moons of giant planets in the habitable zone could harbor life and there could be exotic life on water worlds or in the atmospheres of gas giant planets like Jupiter. Steve Howell, Project Scientist for the Kepler Mission notes there are literally hundreds of planets in the habitable zones of their stars.

In 2013, Steve and I collaborated to edit an anthology called A Kepler’s Dozen. Our goal was to have a group of science fiction writers and astronomers write stories set on planets discovered by Kepler to bring them to life for people. Three years later, the number of planets has literally exploded and we find ourselves looking at a proverbial wild west. So, we want to continue exploring what Kepler’s worlds might be like by telling stories of the rugged men and women who either might explore those worlds, or might come exploring Earth from those worlds. The anthology is tentatively titled Kepler’s Cowboys and you can click here for the detailed guidelines. Submissions will open on June 15, 2016 and we’ll remain open until we’ve filled the anthology.

We’re looking for stories about space cowboys—people like Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek, Spike Spiegel and Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop, or Malcolm Reynolds and Zoe Washburne from Firefly—those brave, independent people who make a living among the stars. In the first anthology, we worked with the authors before they wrote their stories, helping them pick the planets. However, the frontier is now so vast that we’re changing the approach. This time, we’re challenging the writers to tell a great story involving a distant world in our galaxy without worrying about which Kepler planet it might be. If we choose the story, we’ll note in the story introduction, which Kepler planets are like the one or ones in the story. Also, note, this anthology will also be open to poetry. We’re excited to see where this will lead us. Steve has prepared an information page to inspire you and help you build realistic worlds based on those known to exist.

A Kepler's Dozen

If you would like to get a good idea of the editors’ tastes, the first anthology is available at Hadrosaur Productions and Amazon. A Kepler’s Dozen is an anthology of action-packed, mysterious, and humorous stories all based on real planets discovered by the NASA Kepler mission. Kepler Project Scientist Steve B. Howell and I edited the anthology and contributed stories. Whether on a prison colony, in a fast escape from the authorities, or encircling a binary star, thirteen exoplanet stories written by authors such as Mike Brotherton, Laura Givens, and J Alan Erwine will amuse, frighten, and intrigue you while you share fantasy adventures among Kepler’s real-life planets.

Holiday Book Sale

Today, I’m signing copies of my books at Bookmans on Speedway in Tucson, Arizona from noon until 2pm along with a number of other great, local authors. If you’re in Tucson, I hope you’ll drop by and shop a great collection of books from local authors.

Lachesis Black Friday ad

If you’re not local to Tucson, you can still take advantage of some great deals on my books. Lachesis Publishing, who publishes my space opera and my vampire novels has put all the ebook editions on sale for 99 cents through Monday, November 30. Click the banner to get to a search page for all my books at Lachesis, or follow the links to specific novels below. If you already have all of these books, I have have two new novels coming soon. I’m making the final proofreading pass on my horror novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt, and will be sending it back to my editor, Joanna D’Angelo, at Lachesis Publishing within the next two weeks. My steampunk novel, The Brazen Shark, is in the queue for publication at Sky Warrior Books. I hope to have more news about that soon.

Lachesis-Cover-Banner

Old Star/New Earth Series

The Scarlet Order Vampires

Ad-Astra

One of my favorite elements of the holidays is sharing good food with friends and family. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have produced a fun cookbook full of food for parties which includes information about how the recipes relate to the authors and their work. The cookbook features recipes by such folks as Larry Niven, Gail Carriger, David Brin, Connie Willis, John Scalzi, Vonda N. McIntyre, and many, many more. I’m honored that my recipe for Caldo de Pollo, which appears in Lightning Wolves is included. You can learn more about this fun cookbook and order a copy at: http://www.sfwa.org/sfwa-publications/preorder-your-sfwa-cookbook-now/