Characters Are What They Eat

As the old saying goes, “you are what you eat.” My post’s title though refers less to nutrition than what you can reveal about a character through scenes set at mealtimes. I thought about this last week while revising the story “Jump Point Blockade” for my collection-in-progress, Firebrandt’s Legacy. During the story, Captain Firebrandt shares bobotie with Suki, the woman he’s building a relationship with. Bobotie is a South African dish that shares characteristics of a meatloaf, shepherd’s pie, and a curry. We decided to try our hand at making it this weekend. Here’s the result.

We picked a recipe from a South African site based on the author’s family recipe. If you want to try your hand at bobotie, here’s the recipe we used: http://www.getaway.co.za/food/recipes-food/traditional-south-african-bobotie-recipe/.

Part of the reason for the choice is that this version didn’t include nuts at cook time, since our daughters are nut-allergic. Different recipes call for different types of nuts. We went with cashews to serve with our version, but almonds and pine nuts also seem to be common choices. We also used a homemade apple and pear chutney in the mix. Finally, just a note that the recipe specifies “sultanas” over raisins. It turns out that most raisins sold in the United States are, in fact, sultana raisins.

Firebrandt is South African because I created him during the time apartheid was being dismantled in South Africa. He came from a culture where his ancestors had been part of an oppressive regime and he wanted no part of belonging to one himself. What’s more South Africa is one of the few countries to have developed nuclear weapons, but voluntarily destroyed them. I see the elimination of nuclear weapons as one of the necessary paths forward for the human race. In my head, Firebrandt has always spoken with a South African accent and having him share bobotie with a friend was a way to show that on the page.

Scenes including mealtimes not only reveal what people eat, but their accepted manners while eating. How strongly they adhere to meal customs can tell you much about a character, no matter what those customs are. If someone cares a lot about protocol, they might adhere strongly to custom. Other characters might care more about conversation. Some characters might reveal themselves to be completely uncouth at the dinner table. How hosts react to good and bad manners can also be revealing.

One of the challenges in Firebrandt’s Legacy is that I wrote many of the chapters as stand-alone short stories. It could be that when I’m finished collecting the stories and read them as a whole, I might find that I’ve overused the number of times my characters have shared meals. If that’s the case, I’ll need to cut a few of them and share only those that are the most revealing and most interesting.

I invite you to share some adventures, and perhaps a few meals, with the crew of the pirate ship Legacy. I’m posting a new chapter each month. So far, most of the chapters have been revisions of stories that have appeared far and wide in the small press and aren’t always easy to find. I’m nearing a point where most of the stories will be new and unpublished. You can read these stories for just a dollar a month. Of course, this helps me fund other projects as well, such as my recent publication of The Solar Sea. This leads to surprise bonus rewards. I just gave all my wonderful patrons a free ebook copy of the new novel. (If you join my Patreon page now, you can still pick up a copy!) Click the button below to read the first chapter for free and learn how to support this fun project.

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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.

Revising the Past and the Future

Today, I’m signing books at COAS Bookstore at 317 North Main Street in Las Cruces, New Mexico from 10am until noon. I’ll have copies of all my recent releases including The Astronomer’s Crypt, Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales, and Kepler’s Cowboys. If you’re in the neighborhood, hope you’ll drop by for a good book. Don’t forget, the holidays are right around the corner and signed books make terrific gifts! The Las Cruces Farmer’s and Craft Market takes place right outside.

This week got off to a good start when my college roommate Ken Silsbee and his wife Melissa came to visit my family for an evening in Mesilla. We went to La Posta, which is something of a landmark in the area. The building was erected in the 1840s and started service as headquarters for a freight and passenger line. After the Civil War, it became a stop on the Butterfield Stage Line and during the 1870s and 1880s, it became the Corn Exchange Hotel, which is briefly mentioned in the first novel of my Clockwork Legion series, Owl Dance. Across the street is the building that housed the courthouse where Billy the Kid was tried. It was good to see Ken again. He’s currently serving as the Alumni Association President for our alma mater, New Mexico Tech, in Socorro, New Mexico.

Most of this week has been devoted to revising book four of the Clockwork Legion series, Owl Riders. I have beta reader notes which are helping to point out some of the book’s remaining rough edges. I’m a fan of good food and I like sharing that in my books, but one of my beta readers pointed out that mealtime comes just a few times too often in the novel. I’m working to cut that back. After all, we don’t want the characters to put on too much weight! Of course, I also love to give my books a sense of historical veracity, but I’ve come to realize that my book is populated with more historical characters than I absolutely need. At least a couple of them are moving off stage to give the stars of the book a little more opportunity to shine. I’m making good progress on the revisions and at this point, I plan to have the book turned into my publisher in the first week of November.

Even with revisions on the novel keeping me busy, I did make time to revise another tale for my collection of space pirate short stories, Firebrandt’s Legacy. This story was “Hot Pursuit” which first appeared in the collection A Kepler’s Dozen. It’s been fun revisiting these stories, putting them in order, and making sure the stories are consistent with each other. It’s also been fun to add in bits and pieces that show more of the characters’ growth with time. As this project goes on, I’ll be adding some new stories to the mix to make it a more complete story arc. As a reminder, you can read the first story at my Patreon site: http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. If you support me there, you can see each additional story as its revised or written. Of course, supporting me there also helps to support all my writing endeavors including this blog.

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.

Leijiverse Discoveries

As a fan of Leiji Matsumoto’s work, I was pleased to discover a new manga from him plus an anime that I hadn’t seen before. The anime was the 2012 six-episode series Ozma which is available to stream at Crunchyroll. The manga is Captain Harlock: Dimensional Voyage.

Ozma tells a story of humanity struggling to survive on a future Earth that has become a desert world. Sam Coyne is a young crewman aboard the Bardanos, a ship of the sand that scavenges the world for useful items. While searching for Ozma, the mysterious sand whale, he rescues a girl named Maya, who is being chased by the Theseus Army and takes her back to his ship. Captain Bainas of the Bardanos puts Maya under her protection. As the story proceeds, we learn that there are two factions on this future Earth: the Ideal Children who are carefully genetically engineered and live for a long time by transferring their thoughts into new, grown bodies and the Natura, who propagate as most humans have over time. The Ideal Children were hunting Maya, while she, like Sam, was seeking Ozma.

My first reaction to Ozma was that it could be summed up as Leiji Matsumoto’s Dune. That turns out not to be exactly right, but there are a few similarities. The strongest elements of this anime are the cool retrofuture look of the show along with some of the Bardanos crew. I especially liked Captain Bainas, who reminded me of a more accessible Emeraldas, and Dr. Luna who seemed like a female Dr. Zero. Also, there are some great battle scenes between the Bardanos and the Theseus Army. My sense after getting to the end of this three-hour short series was that with some judicious cutting and little rewriting, this would make an awesome two-hour movie. In particular, the series needed to work on the character of Sam, show us more of his relationship with the Captain and with his childhood friend, Mimay. Also, the ending could be strengthened with a little more information.

On looking up more information, it’s a little unclear how much Leiji Matsumoto was actually involved in this anime. I gather it was based on an unpublished manga from the 1980s, but I haven’t found out whether he had much involvement in the development of the anime or not. Call this worth a watch if you’re a Matsumoto fan and have a little spare time.

On the other end of the Leijiverse spectrum is the manga Captain Harlock: Dimensional Voyage. When I first saw this announced, I didn’t expect much. It sounded like a simple retelling of the Mazone story from the 1978 Captain Harlock series done by a new artist. I pretty much planned to give this a pass, but a coffee coupon sent me in to my local Barnes and Noble store where I happened to see it on the shelf. A brief browse convinced me to buy the first issue and I’m glad I did.

The first thing I noticed was that Kouiti Shimaboshi’s art really did Leiji Matsumoto proud. The characters look like updated versions of the classic characters from the Leijiverse. What’s more, Matsumoto and Shimaboshi pulled the best elements from some forty years of the Harlock “canon” and combined them in this story. I recognized elements not only from the original, but Harlock Saga, Endless Odyssey, Queen Emeraldas, and even the Harlock: Space Pirate movie. In the original, the prime minister felt like a broad satire. In this, the character came off as a razor-sharp critique of modern politicians. I liked seeing Chief Ilita from Endless Odyssey as Harlock’s main military opponent. He always struck me as the most dangerous of Harlock’s foes, mostly because he actually was an honorable and competent man. So far, we haven’t seen any sign of Harlock’s adopted daughter Mayu, so it’ll be interesting to see if they work her into this story. My only complaint was that the volume proved to be quite short. I definitely will give volume 2 a look and will see where they go with this.

In this last week, I’ve thought a little about my own Captain Firebrandt and how much Captain Harlock may have influenced him. The first anime I saw featuring Captain Harlock was Galaxy Express 999 when it played on the SciFi channel somewhere circa 1993, about five years after I created Captain Firebrandt in 1988. I suspect Harlock’s appearance in Galaxy Express 999 is one thing that gave me the nudge to write a novel about Captain Firebrandt and explore the character more. After that point, the next time I saw Captain Harlock was in 2015, soon after watching Space Battleship Yamato 2199 and learning about Harlock’s relationship to the original series.

I think a Harlock/Firebrandt crossover story would be fun to do, but doubt it could happen any time soon, unless I did it as fan fiction for my own enjoyment. If you want to see the latest adventures of Captain Ellison Firebrandt, please consider supporting my Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers.

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!

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.