Space Pirates’ Legacy Update, March 2021

Children of the Old Stars

This month marks the third anniversary of the re-release of The Solar Sea, which is the prequel to my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. I’m also nearing completion of updates to Children of the Old Stars, which is book three of the series in its current incarnation. I thought this was a good moment to take stock of where I am in this project and look ahead at what’s left to accomplish.

The Space Pirates’ Legacy series was originally released by LBF Books as the Old Star/New Earth series. The series consisted of The Pirates of Sufiro, Children of the Old Stars, and Heirs of the New Earth. The series title was something quickly cobbled together from the last two books. My publisher billed The Solar Sea as book four of the series. However, as I mentioned before, it’s more a prequel to the series and a standalone story. It’s been released as such in its current incarnation.

After the books of the Old Star/New Earth series had been released, I wrote several short stories about pirate captain Ellison Firebrandt and his crew before they are stranded on the planet Sufiro. I decided to put those stories together with new material and, once the rights to the other books in the series reverted to me, I decided Firebrandt’s Legacy was a logical, new first book in the series. I also decided to give the series a catchier name. Long before I came up with the name “The Space Pirates’ Legacy” series, I’d been referring to the Old Star/New Earth series as my legacy series because it was my first series published. Thing is, there actually is a space ship called the Legacy in these books and it has a prominent role in three of the four novels. What’s more, as you might imagine with books called “Children” and “Heirs” these are books about the heirs to the original space pirates. Space Pirates’ Legacy suddenly seemed like a good fit.

Firebrandt’s Legacy

Back in May 2020, Lynn Moorer of the radio show “All About Books” interviewed me about the new first book in the series. In this universe, most ships have to jump to speeds greater than light at gravitational nodal points near stars. An important element of Firebrandt’s Legacy is how pirate captain Ellison Firebrandt lays his hands on a special kind of engine that allows him to jump to speeds faster than light without jump points. In her interview, Lynn asked me about the drives and how they work, plus she had me read some excerpts from the novel. The interview is archived on the Las Cruces Community Radio site at: https://www.lccommunityradio.org/archives/all-about-books-david-lee-summers9615141

I assembled Firebrandt’s Legacy with the help of my Patreon supporters. Each month, I shared one of the stories from the novel along with some commentary about how it fit in the story arc I was assembling, then shared the finished, polished chapter. Overall, I ended up with a book that pleased me. Once the novel was finished, I took my Patreon supporters on a deep dive as I tore my novel The Pirates of Sufiro apart and put it back together again. I shared each chapter as it originally appeared along with commentary about the chapter, then I shared the revised chapter. The Pirates of Sufiro was the first novel I ever wrote and it took quite a bit of work to bring it up to the standard of Firebrandt’s Legacy. Still, I think I succeeded and I believe The Pirates of Sufiro now works as a strong follow-up to Firebrandt’s Legacy.

The Pirates of Sufiro

Lynn Moorer interviewed me about The Pirates of Sufiro last month. This time, her interview focused on both the characters and the gadgets the characters used. She had me read three excerpts from the novel. You can listen to this new interview at: https://www.lccommunityradio.org/archives/all-about-books-david-lee-summers8108468

About a year ago, as I was wrapping up the first pass of The Pirates of Sufiro with my Patreon subscribers, I re-read the last two novels of the series. I didn’t feel those novels needed as much work as Pirates, but they still needed some work. In Children of the Old Stars, Ellison Firebrandt’s grandson, John Mark Ellis goes on a quest and seeks help from a warrior named Arepno. I felt like Arepno’s teachings needed to be fleshed out. The novel’s quest involves understanding an alien called the Cluster. Children of the Old Stars was probably my most “seat of the pants” novel. I didn’t outline. I didn’t work out exactly what the Cluster was beforehand, I just started writing until I came to what I thought was a satisfactory conclusion to the quest, which then created bigger problems and lead us into the final novel of the series. Looking back at it, I realized I needed more hints in Children of the Old Stars about what the Cluster really was.

At this point, I expect to wrap up Children of the Old Stars by early May. Once it’s complete, I’ll set a release date and format the novel for publication. I’ll give it one more proofread to assure that it’s still internally consistent. The novel should be out by this summer. Once that’s finished, I’ll turn my attention the final novel in the series, Heirs of the New Earth. This final novel doesn’t need as much work as the others in the series. I’m not certain yet whether I’ll give it the same “deep dive” as the other novels in the series. What I do know is that my patrons at Patreon will get the first look at the new edition and I’ll be discussing the process of its creation with them. If you’d like to join us, you can sign on at https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

Is It Worthwhile to Create New Editions?

This question has come up a couple of times in recent weeks, so I thought it worthwhile to address the reasons I decided to revise some of my novels for new editions and the way I’m going about it. In May 2017, the publishing rights to my space opera novels—The Solar Sea, The Pirates of Sufiro, Children of the Old Stars, and Heirs of the New Earth—reverted to me and I faced the decision about whether or not to republish them as they originally appeared, or update the novels and publish them in new editions. The Pirates of Sufiro was my first novel, originally published in paperback in 1995. Children of the Old Stars followed in 2000. The Solar Sea was the final novel of this set. It was published in 2005 and was a prequel to the other three.

The Old Star/New Earth Series in 2017

In the ten years between 1995 and 2005, I made a lot of progress in finding my “voice” and honing my writing style. In 1995, I hadn’t yet taken Stephen King’s adage “the road to hell is paved with adverbs” to heart. I wasn’t using the strongest verbs and I had a tendency to add in unnecessary hedging or distancing words. Also, while some readers seemed to honestly enjoy these novels, I noticed a few common themes cropping up in reader reviews in places like Amazon and Goodreads, where the novels hadn’t quite lived up to reader expectations. What I realized about those reviews as time passed was those points were, for the most part, fixable. They came about because I rushed certain scenes or didn’t describe things fully. Sometimes emotions weren’t quite genuine or characters didn’t seem quite fully formed. What’s more, the worst issues were in the earlier books, which is a great way to keep people from continuing on to the later, better books. It seemed important to bring the entire series up to a consistent level.

So that’s why I thought of this as a worthwhile exercise.

Executing the edits is a multi-stage process. The first part involves re-reading each chapter with both my own critical eyes and with reader reviews in mind. I start by making some notes on the manuscript as a whole and then I go through chapter-by-chapter. Followers of my Patreon page are familiar with my posts that include an original version of a chapter headed by my notes and impression of the chapter. I then make a first pass and revise the chapter according to my notes. In my second pass, I follow the guidelines recommended in Ken Rand’s book, The Ten-Percent Solution. The book presents a method of looking for common problem words and evaluating whether you can make the sentence they’re in clearer by tightening the language. Finally, I read the chapter aloud, doing my best to keep my critical mind engaged. “Would people really say that?” “Does it make sense that a character took a particular action?” “Is it clear why something happened when it did?” Finally, I pass it to my wife for one more round of proofreading. At this point, I post the updated chapter to Patreon.

But wait, there’s more! Once I get the whole book done, I read the whole book one more time to make sure everything still holds together and that I didn’t miss something between one chapter and the next. I’ve even started using text-to-speech as yet another tool. This allows the computer to read the book to me, which has helped me catch errors I’d miss other ways.

So, is this a worthwhile exercise or should I have spent my time writing something new instead? At a personal level, it has been worthwhile. I feel like each book is significantly improved. I’ll have a better sense whether this was lucrative after I finish both Children of the Old Stars and Heirs of the New Earth. If most people who read Firebrandt’s Legacy and The Pirates of Sufiro are sufficiently intrigued to keep following the series, then this experiment will have been an unqualified success. If you want to join me as I continue this experiment and see how it turns out, sign up over at https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. There you can see me put these steps into practice and get some fun reading the books along the way.

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.

The Space Pirate’s Legacy

As of today, all rights for the so-called “Old Star/New Earth” series have been reverted to me from Lachesis Publishing. This includes my novels The Solar Sea, The Pirates of Sufiro, Children of the Old Stars, and Heirs of the New Earth. For the time being, this means that ebook editions are no longer available and the only print copies available are copies retailers have in stock, or used copies.

It’s a little sad to see these titles go out of print, but in the long run, I think this will be for the best. Also, I should mention that Lachesis did offer to renew my contracts, but I’m the one who terminated them, not because I’m unhappy with Lachesis, but because I think the time has come for new editions of these books. In fact, I still have three titles with Lachesis: The Astronomer’s Crypt, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order, and Vampires of the Scarlet Order. I still have a good relationship with them and nothing but respect and goodwill toward the company.

To better explain the reason I terminated my contracts, I should step back and give you some history. All four of these novels were originally acquired and published by LBF Books. Lachesis Publishing acquired LBF and Lachesis itself has gone through a couple of ownership changes since then.

When I sold The Pirates of Sufiro and Children of the Old Stars to LBF, they asked me for a series title. The obvious title to me at the time was “The Cluster series” because the series is about solving the mystery of the alien known as the “the Cluster.” The problem is that a series of that title already existed and I wanted to avoid confusion. So, in a rush to come up with something, I called it “The Old Star Saga” based on the title of the second book. I never was happy with the title but LBF’s editorial team didn’t question it, so it stuck.

Another issue was that I was not satisfied with the ebook editions generated soon after ebooks started taking off in popularity. The books were converted directly from the PDF files using optical character recognition software. The work was adequate for the time, but the process introduced numerous typos and formatting errors. I spoke to the current owners a while back about correcting these editions and they decided the errors weren’t serious enough to warrant the work needed to make corrections.

Finally, The Solar Sea was never intended to be part of this series. I wrote it as a standalone novel set in the same universe, but much earlier in time. Despite that, Lachesis marketed The Solar Sea as “Book 4,” which I think created some confusion.

So, by getting the rights to these books back, I hope to correct these issues. Over the coming months, I plan to re-edit the books and put out new editions through my company, Hadrosaur Productions. Since publishing the Old Star Saga, I’ve written numerous short stories featuring Captain Firebrandt of The Pirates of Sufiro. I want to put those stories together in a standalone book. To my mind, it makes sense that this new book should be “Book 1” of the rebranded series.

The revised series will be called “The Space Pirate’s Legacy Series” because it’s about Captain Firebrandt and his descendants. There’s also a play on the fact that Firebrandt’s ship is the Legacy. My goal in the re-edit will simply be to correct faults, update the science, improve the prose a bit, and clarify some things. If you already have the original editions, I don’t want you to feel you need to buy the updates unless you just want to! And of course, there will be a whole new book 1.

I want to take a moment and thank everyone who has read these books, written reviews, and shared them. Later this year, I’ll share ways you can help with the revised series. There will be opportunities to help shape the revisions, bonus perks and more pirate loot to come! I hope you’ll join me for this exciting voyage to the galaxy’s far side and back!