Full Steam Ahead

Over the last few years, one of the bestselling anthologies on the Hadrosaur Productions convention table is Gaslight and Grimm, a collection of steampunk fairy tales published by eSpec Books. I had a blast writing the story “The Steam-Powered Dragon” for that collection, which was a steampunk retelling of a lesser-known Grimm Fairy Tale, “The Dragon and his Grandmother.” Back in 2020, the editor, Danielle Ackley-McPhail asked if I would be interested in steampunking another fairy tale. I was definitely game. She told me the new anthology would be Grimm Machinations and the stories must feature a maker or some form of political machinations, or both. One of the suggested stories for the anthology was “Snow White.” Danielle mentioned she thought “Snow White” might be a stretch for this anthology’s themes. However, I love a challenge and this was a story I had translated from German back in college, plus I had the German edition of the tales, which included the Grimm Brothers’ original notes. I totally saw “Snow White” as a story that contained elements of both makers and political machinations. I began some tinkering of my own and soon “The Porcelain Princess” was born. While waiting to hear more about Danielle’s plans for this anthology, plans for a convention started to take shape.

Long time con-goers, vendors, and entertainers, Donna McClaren, aka The Baroness Alexandra, and Kolleen Kilduff from Design by Night Designs noted a lack of Steampunk festivals in the Baltimore area. Hence, Baltimore’s first Steampunk Convention, Tell-Tale Steampunk Festival was born. It is a weekend-long event and will feature workshops, vendors, entertainment, music, and educational panels. Tell-Tale Steampunk will draw its inspiration and theme from authors each year and plans on having a more hands-on/participation experience for festival goers. This year’s theme is based on the writings of Baltimore’s own Edgar Allan Poe and will feature a volume of stories based on the corax family (a nod to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”), as well as an interactive game to accompany the stories of our feather heroes. The main focus is audience participation and interaction. You can learn more about the convention at https://telltalesteampunk.com/

While I was vacationing in the Grand Canyon this past summer, I received an email from Danielle Ackley-McPhail about this anthology. Being at the canyon, I was literally surrounded by ravens. What’s more, several scenes of my novel Owl Dance were set at the Grand Canyon. I began to think about Professor Maravilla arriving at the canyon and seeing all the ravens. I also learned more about early geologists who had an eye on exploiting the canyon’s mineral wealth. All of those ideas came together to form the story “Dreams of Flight” which is now part of the game and part of the anthology A Cast of Crows.

But wait, as Ron Popiel used to say, there’s more! When this project started coming together, Danielle added a third book to the mix. This one is an anthology called Grease Monkeys: The Heart and Soul of Dieselpunk. Danielle and I discussed whether I might have a contribution to this anthology and I thought about my grandfather, who worked for the Santa Fe Railroad during the time when the railroads were transitioning from steam to diesel locomotives. I’ve also been fascinated by the history of narrow-gauge rail in the west, in part thanks to my university history professor who was a historian on one of the lines. I remembered how narrow-gauge railroads were particularly challenged by the change to diesel. Then I began to think about the outlaws of the era and I started to imagine Bonnie and Clyde as air pirates. It wasn’t long before I had a story about my grandfather fighting the famous outlaws over the mountain towns of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Soon, the story “The Falcon and the Goose” was born and after a solid rewrite based on editorial feedback, the story was added to the atnthology.

These anthologies include several authors I greatly admire and have worked with including Michelle D. Sonnier, Patrick Thomas, Christine Norris and John L. French. If you love retrofuturistic stories, or if you’re just curious about the whole steampunk and dieselpunk thing, this is a great place to dive in and find some great stories. The project has already funded, but please keep supporting. There are some great rewards for supporting the Kickstarter and if the project earns enough money, eSpec Books will create hardcover editions, which I’d love to see. Help us reach our goals and make all three of these books happen by supporting us at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/e-specbooks/full-steam-ahead

Snow, Glass, Apples

The fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” has fascinated me ever since I translated the story for a German literature class back in my university days. Since that time, I published a translation of the story in an issue of Tales of the Talisman Magazine. I then wrote a piece of flash fiction that imagined a vampiric version of Snow White called “The Tale of Blood Red” which appeared in the anthology Blood Sampler. Most recently, I gave Snow White a steampunk treatment and placed the story with the forthcoming anthology Grimm Machinations.

On a recent trip to a bookstore, I found the 2019 graphic novel Snow, Glass, Apples written by Neil Gaiman with art by Colleen Doran. Reading the back and then browsing the interior, I soon discovered this was also a retelling of Snow White. Not only that, it looked like Snow White was portrayed as a vampire. Of course, I picked up the book right away. In this case, the fairy tale is told from the point of view of Snow White’s stepmother, the queen. We learn that the former king went to the woods and fell in love with a beautiful young woman after his wife had died. The king marries the young woman and brings her home. There, she discovers his vampire daughter, who mostly keeps to herself. Over time, the king fades and dies, which is how the young woman becomes queen. She sees Snow White for the danger she is, orders her heart cut out and her body taken to the woods. The years pass, but fewer and fewer people cross the woods to visit the spring fair. Looking in her scrying mirror, the queen realizes that Snow White is still alive. When people enter the woods, she attacks and kills them. The queen sets a plan in motion to save her land and the fair from Snow White. She’ll create blood-laced poison apples for her stepdaughter.

You might wonder how Neil Gaiman and I would independently come up with the idea of a vampire Snow White. I would argue many of the ingredients are right there in the fairy tale. In the original, Snow White’s mother pricks her fingers and sees the blood drop onto a snow-covered, ebony window frame. She wishes for a child with skin white as snow, lips red as blood, and hair black as ebony. Also, in the original story, Snow White’s stepmother succeeds in killing Snow White three times, only to have Snow White return from the dead each time. When Snow White dies the third time, the dwarfs place her in a glass coffin and the prince at the end wakes her, not with a kiss, but having his bumbling entourage drop the coffin, dislodging the poisoned apple piece. And, there’s also the bit near the opening where the wicked queen wants to destroy Snow White’s heart. It’s not a big leap to go from the story as commonly read to the idea of Snow White being a magical, undead creature.

It turns out Snow, Glass, Apples is actually based on a 1994 short story by Gaiman. The story along with Colleen Doran’s art has a distinctly erotic feel. This may feel like a departure from a classic fairy tale, but again, it has roots in the original story. I’m fortunate enough to have a German copy of Grimms’ tales which include notes by the Grimm brothers. They mention that some versions of the story do relay not just the wish of Snow White’s mother, but tell the story of Snow White’s conception during a sleigh ride.

I was glad to discover Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran’s Snow, Glass, Apples. The story is an interesting twist on the original and Doran’s art is lush and gorgeous, adding to Gaiman’s story. The graphic novel was published by Dark Horse Books and you should be able to find copies online or at your local bookstore. The original story appears in Gaiman’s collection Smoke and Mirrors.

My translation of “Snow White” appeared in Tales of the Talisman, volume 2, issue 2, which is sadly out of print. My vampire story, “The Tale of Blood Red” is available in Blood Sampler, which you can pick up here: https://www.hiraethsffh.com/product-page/blood-sampler-by-david-lee-summers-lee-clark-zumpe

My steampunk story “The Porcelain Princess” will appear in Grimm Machinations from eSpec Books. Although that version of Snow White isn’t a vampire, I still explore some of the darker, spookier aspects of the character. The Kickstarter for the book should be launching soon. I’ll be sure to keep people posted.

One Thousand Monsters

This new year finds me about halfway through the first draft of my vampire novel Ordeal of the Scarlet Order. When I’m not writing, I’m often reading and one of the books I recently enjoyed is Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters by Kim Newman. I’ve read and discussed two of the books in this series already—three if you count Kim Newman’s graphic novel set in the same world. In this case, I technically skipped ahead to book 5 of the series because I wanted to return to the nineteenth century and continue the story of Geneviève Dieudonné before continuing to march through the twentieth century with Newman’s own vampires.

If I hadn’t already become a fan of Kim Newman’s work from Anno Dracula, this novel would have won me over by opening with a quote by Lafcadio Hearn. Hearn’s essays and collections have long been an influence on me and I even paid tribute to him by making him a character in my novel Owl Riders. Among the works Hearn collected are spooky and strange folktales from Japan. Stories from his collection Kwaidan were even filmed for a movie of the same name. One of the truly memorable stories from that collection features the snow maiden, or Yuki-Onna, a phantom-like figure of cold winter nights who lures men to their deaths. Yuki-Onna looms large in One Thousand Monsters.

The world of Anno Dracula assumes that Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was largely a factual account until the end. Instead of Professor Van Helsing leading a pursuit of the good count through the Carpathians, Dracula eludes his pursuers and marries Queen Victoria, becoming the prince regent and bringing vampires out into the open. In the aftermath of the struggle against Dracula’s corruption, a handful of vampires including Geneviève Dieudonné are exiled from Great Britain and travel to Japan. They settle in Yokai Town, a district of Tokyo set aside for Japan’s own vampires. Newman dives extensively into Asian vampire lore to populate Yokai Town with a wide variety of strange, frightening, tragic, and even sometimes humorous vampires. As the British vampires attempt to settle in, they find the district is under the watchful eye of Lieutenant Majin, who runs the district like a prison. What’s more, sinister things are afoot as vampires make plots in the shadows.

In addition to Geneviève Dieudonné, we get to know several interesting vampires from both European and Asian stories and movies. Leading the European vampire contingent is Princess Casamassina, a vampire who can literally become light. Two soldiers, Danny Dravot and Kostaki work with Geneviève to unravel the mysteries of Yokai Town. Fans of Rudyard Kipling will recognize Dravot from the story “The Man Who Would be King.” There’s even a sailor named Popejoy, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the sailor of Elzie Segar’s comic strip. Among the Asian vampires are a Chinese jiang shi, the cat-like bakeneko, and a child-vampire who controls creepy puppets. There’s even a brief reference to Dance in the Vampire Bund.

All in all, Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters was a great romp. We got to know some familiar characters better and were introduced to some new characters. Newman deftly juggles the many types of vampires from world lore and draws us in to believe they’re all part of one big shared universe. Not only does the book start with a quote by Lafcadio Hearn, but Hearn makes a cameo appearance at the end of the novel. There aren’t many series that I feel compelled to read every book, but the more I read, the more I want the next Anno Dracula in line.

I introduce Lafcadio Hearn in my novel Owl Riders. Although it’s not a vampire novel like One Thousand Monsters, I debuted the book at Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans, in part because the store sits on the site where Ramon and Fatemeh live in the novel. What’s more the Scarlet Order vampires have a way of weaving in and out of the Clockwork Legion stories. In Ordeal of the Scarlet Order, I have a scene where the vampire Desmond Drake is in New Orleans and finds himself at the house where Lafcadio Hearn lived. You can learn about Owl Riders and all my novels at http://www.davidleesummers.com

Don’t Stop at Book One

On Saturday, I offered the first book from three different series for free. The second book in each of those series is available for 75% through January 1 off as part of the Smashwords End of Year sale. The coupon codes for these discounts are automatically applied at checkout. One of the things I love about Smashwords is that they provide ebooks in all popular formats and they’re DRM free, so you can download them to your favorite device or gift them to friends without worrying about what e-reader they prefer. If you are shopping for a friend, just click “Give as a Gift” when you visit the Smashwords links!


The Pirates of Sufiro

The second book of my Space Pirates’ Legacy series is The Pirates of Sufiro.

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, a man from the streets of Earth looking to make a fresh start for himself and his wife on a new world; of Peter Stone, the geologist 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.

Jane Lindskold, author of the Firekeeper Saga says, “When I first ‘met’ Ellison Firebrandt in Firebrandt’s Legacy, the last thing I even imagined was a future where our hero and his devoted crew did not immerse themselves in swashbuckling space battles with clever intrigues played out against challenging opponents within the dark reaches of outer space. Firebrandt’s creator, author David Lee Summers, was far more ambitious in the future he envisioned for his hero.

“In The Pirates of Sufiro Firebrandt faces challenges that press even his courageous heart and clever mind to the limit, as well as testing the loyalty of those he loves and trusts most deeply. This dynamic generational saga provides enough twists and turns to satisfy the most devoted space opera fan.”

The book is available for 99 cents at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1031018. The coupon code SEY75 should be applied automatically at checkout.


Vampires of the Scarlet Order

Vampires of the Scarlet Order is the second novel in my Scarlet Order vampires series. As I mentioned last time, book three will be out in 2023. If you haven’t read this series, this is a great opportunity to catch up before the new book comes out.

A new generation of vampires embarks on a quest to save humanity.

Opening a forgotten crypt during a military exercise, Dr. Jane Heckman is made a vampire and begins a journey to unlock the secret origins of her new kindred.

Elsewhere, solitary vampire Marcella DuBois emerges from the shadows and uncovers a government plot to create vampire-like super soldiers.

Daniel McKee, a vampire working as an astronomer, moves to a new town where he’s adopted by a family, only to have government agents strip those he loves away from him.

All three vampires discover the government is dabbling in technologies so advanced they’ll tap into realms and dimensions they don’t understand. To save humans and vampires alike, Jane, Marcella, and Daniel must seek out the legendary master vampire Desmond, Lord Draco and encourage him to resurrect his band of mercenaries, the Scarlet Order.

Buy Vampires of the Scarlet Order for just 99 cents until January 1 at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1038560. The discount code SEY75 should be applied automatically at checkout.


Lightning Wolves

Lightning Wolves is the second novel in the Clockwork Legion series.

It’s 1877. Russians have invaded the Pacific Northwest and are advancing into California. New weapons have proven ineffective or dangerously unstable and the one man who can help has disappeared into Apache Country, hunting ghosts. A healer and a former sheriff lead a band into the heart of the invasion to determine what makes the Russian forces so unstoppable while a young inventor attempts to unleash the power of the lightning wolves.

Deby Fredericks, author of the Minstrels of Skaythe series says: “The Old West as we wish it had been. Full of adventure and crazy inventions but with some honesty about the prejudices and mores of the day. This is as much alternate history as adventure tale, with an ethnically diverse cast fighting battles that never were. Appearances by a few historical figures, like Geromino, add spice. There’s a poignant undercurrent on how inventions meant to lift humanity up can draw us into the same old quagmire of ambition and greed, plus an intriguing alien race trying to find its way through First Contact with humans. Nicely done.”

Get Lightning Wolves for 99 cents until January 1 at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1119716. Coupon code SEY75 should be applied automatically at checkout.

A Visit from Santa

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas if you celebrate! If you celebrate another winter holiday, I hope it’s wonderful. At the very least, I hope you’re having a pleasant Saturday! As I’ve mentioned in recent posts, I have discounted many of the books Hadrosaur Productions has listed with Smashwords for their annual end-of-year sale. To really show my appreciation to my readers, I’m offering the first books of three of my series absolutely free for the duration of the sale. If you’re already a fan, this is a great opportunity to try out a new series. If you’ve already read these books and love them, why not give one to a friend? Read on to find the books I’m offering for free through January 1, 2023.


Firebrandt’s Legacy

Firebrandt’s Legacy is the first book of my Space Pirates’ Legacy series.

In the 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!

Midwest Book Review says, “A grand space opera filled with high adventure from cover to cover, Firebrandt’s Legacy is highly recommended.”

Get the book for free at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/916916. The coupon SW100 should be applied automatically at checkout.


Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires

Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires is the first book of my Scarlet Order Vampires series. What’s more, it’s the series I’m currently working on. I’m approaching the half-way point on my novel Ordeal of the Scarlet Order and hope to release it in 2023.

Three vampires. Three lives. Three stories intertwined.

Bearing the guilt of destroying the holiest of books after becoming a vampire, the Dragon, Lord Desmond searches the world for lost knowledge, but instead, discovers truth in love.

Born a slave in Ancient Greece, Alexandra craves freedom above all else, until a vampire sets her free, and then, she must pay the highest price of all … her human soul.

An assassin who lives in the shadows, Roquelaure is cloaked even from himself, until he discovers the power of friendship and loyalty.

Three vampires, traveling the world by moonlight—one woman and two men who forge a bond made in love and blood. Together they form a band of mercenaries called the Scarlet Order, and recruit others who are like them. Their mission is to protect kings and emperors against marauders, invaders, and rogue vampires as the world descends into the chaos of the Dark Ages.

Marita Wowod Crandle, author of New Orleans Vampires—History and Legend calls the novel, “A journey into the time of lords, battles, sailing the seas, and vampires. A wonderful escape into historical adventure.”

Get Dragon’s Fall for free until January 1 at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1025606. Coupon code SW100 should be applied automatically at checkout.


Owl Dance

Owl Dance is the first book in my Clockwork Legion Steampunk series.

The year is 1876 and Sheriff Ramon Morales of Socorro, New Mexico meets a beguiling woman named Fatemeh Karimi of Persia, escaping oppression in her homeland. When an ancient lifeform called Legion comes to Earth, they are pulled into a series of events that will change the history of the world as we know it. In their journeys, Ramon and Fatemeh encounter mad inventors, dangerous outlaws and pirates. Their resources are Ramon’s fast draw and Fatemeh’s uncanny ability to communicate with owls. The question is, will that be enough to save them when a fleet of dirigibles from Czarist Russia invades the United States?

Richard Harland, author of Wordshaker and Liberator says, “Owl Dance has everything. Airships, owl-ornithopters, a clockwork wolf, a multiple alien entity, a fast-shooting sheriff, a Russian plot to conquer America, and a very sexy, eco-aware, Bahá’í Persian healer-woman – I mean everything! Heaps of fun!”

Get Owl Dance free until January 1 at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1116949. Discount code SW100 should be applied automatically at checkout.

Discover Hadrosaur Productions

The annual Smashwords End of Year Sale is underway. Many of Hadrosaur’s titles are on sale and I’ll be highlighting them over the course of the next two weeks here at the Web Journal. The coupon codes for these discounts are automatically applied at checkout. One of the things I love about Smashwords is that they provide ebooks in all popular formats and they’re DRM free, so you can download them to your favorite device or gift them to friends without worrying about what e-reader they prefer. If you are shopping for a friend, just click “Give as a Gift” when you visit the Smashwords links!

My company, Hadrosaur Productions, has long sought to introduce readers to great writers, but we understand choices about where to start when trying a new writer can be difficult. Today, I’m featuring some great books by our authors which serve as an introduction to their worlds. All of these books are 75% off the cover price.


Hybrid

Hybrid tells the story of Erik Knight, a small time private investigator, who always knew he was different from everybody else. Keener senses, heightened awareness and an enhanced physical strength that could be called upon by his sheer will. Erik becomes involved with a team of high profile investigators and local police trying to locate a girl who was kidnapped in the middle of a playground amongst dozens of adults and children. None of the adults saw anything and what the children claim to have seen is too farfetched to be believed. The search evolves into a full-scale manhunt into the dark and desolate woodlands of the Hopedale Mountain. After a lethal encounter and a fatality, Erik, the investigators and police realize that what they’re dealing with isn’t a man and possibly isn’t of this world. What they’re dealing with is a sentient evil that has an appetite for young children.

Hybrid is available at Smashwords all this month for 75% off the cover price at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1086387. Coupon code SEY75 should be applied automatically on checkout.


Upstart Mystique

On its way to a distant colony world, the space vessel Marco P loses all power and an unknown force convinces the navigator that a distant, dead world is the vessel’s true destination. Commander Malcolm Carpenter orders the crew to abandon ship to protect them and to learn how to defeat whatever force has intercepted his ship. The crew discovers a small group of inhabitants, the only people on the planet who were not uploaded into a vast computer network—a computer network captivated by upstart humans and their imaginations. To free his crew and his navigator from the planetary network’s grip, Commander Carpenter must face a moral dilemma. Can he save his crew without condemning a planet’s inhabitants and their digital ancestors to death?

Get Upstart Mystique for 75% off the cover price at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1010602. Coupon code SEY75 should be applied automatically on checkout.


The Way-Out Wild West

Lyn McConchie’s The Way-Out Wild West is a short story collection set in Bodie, Arizona along with a handful of other western locales.

Bodie, Arizona can be a difficult place to locate on a map. Some say it’s because Bodie has been home to inventors who meddled in things humans weren’t meant to know. Others say it’s the visitors from the stars who seem to frequent Bodie. It’s just possible Bodie has become unstuck in time, making it a difficult place to pinpoint. Being unstuck in time, Bodie may have drifted close to the boundaries between life and afterlife. Whatever the case, Bodie is a wild place. In this collection, Lyn McConchie chronicles the adventures of Bodie’s denizens and those of nearby towns, counties and states from the nineteenth century to the present. Saddle up for this collection of twenty-two tales where you will glimpse the way-out, wild west.

The Way-Out Wild West is available for 75% off the cover price at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1125221. Coupon code SEY75 should be applied automatically on checkout.

Daniel the Vampire Astronomer

The first vampire story I sold was “Vampire in the City of Crosses,” which appeared in a 2001 issue of The Vampire’s Crypt edited by Margaret L. Carter. One of the things that brought that story to life was the character of Daniel the vampire astronomer. In the story, Daniel tells us about his history in two paragraphs:

“One cold night in 1899 I was walking from the dome of the 24-inch telescope to my sleeping quarters when I heard a low growl. Wary, I thought I’d stumbled upon a mountain lion. Seemingly, my fears were confirmed when something pounced on me in the darkness. I felt the teeth tear into my jugular and my own blood leave my body for the last time. The body on me was not covered in fur as I expected and it was not a mountain lion. It was more like a man. I was euphoric as the creature’s blood passed to my body. I became a vampire there in the snow, on a clear winter’s night on a hill outside Flagstaff.

“The vampire that attacked me taught me how to feed and how to sleep during the day so that others would not find me. Coffins come in handy, but I really do prefer a soft bed. He taught me the basics and little more. I’ve met only a few other vampires. We have conversed some, but for the most part we leave each other alone. We seem to be creatures of solitude. Maybe it’s just me but there are times I long for a new master.”

I adapted the short story “Vampire in the City of Crosses” into a chapter of my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. In the years since the novel’s publication, people have cited the idea of a vampire astronomer as one of the aspects that made them pick up the book. When I revised the book for Hadrosaur Productions in 2020 and hired Chaz Kemp to do the cover, he asked if one of the characters could be black. I realized I never specified Daniel’s ethnicity, so we agreed Daniel should be black. I added language to the new edition to affirm that choice and I believe it added a new dimension to the character.

Two years later, I’m working on a new Scarlet Order novel where I spend more time getting to know the vampires even better. I began to think about those two paragraphs describing Daniel’s origin and wondered what impact his ethnicity might have had on that story. I decided to flesh out Daniel’s origin into a full short story of its own, which is titled “The Older Worlds of Space” and it has just appeared in the Samhain 2022 issue of The Hungur Chronicles Magazine. The story’s title is a reference to The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, a tribute to the fact that Daniel McKee and Percival Lowell were observing Mars at the end of the nineteenth century.

The Hungur Chronicles focuses on vampires in or from outer space as well as those encountered on Earth. Published twice a year, on Walpurgisnacht and Samhain, it features stories, articles, illustrations, and poetry by new voices as well as familiar ones. In addition to my story, the issue contains a novelette by Tyree Campbell along with short stories by such folks as Kelly A. Harmon, Joe Whitlow, and Gary Davis. There are feature articles by Tales of the Talisman alumni Robert E. Porter and Gary Davis plus poems by such folks as Sandy DeLuca, Guy Belleranti, and Juleigh Howard-Hobson. As of this writing, I’m still reading the issue, but so far, the poem “Vampire Visit” by Guy Belleranti, the article “Severed Heads and Omens of Death: The Horror Origins of Halloween” by Gary Davis, and the story “The Cure is in the Blood” by JR Blanes are particular standouts for me. If you’re a vampire fan and looking for some new stories, be sure to check out The Hungur Chronicles.

You can pick up a copy of the current issue of The Hungur Chronicles at: https://www.amazon.com/Hungur-Chronicles-Samhain-2022/dp/1088075428/

Hugo

Starting in 2020, a friend started running a virtual happy hour on Friday nights as a way to give us all a little human interaction outside of work during the COVID Pandemic. We’ve enjoyed these gatherings so much, they’ve now been going on for two years. During one of these sessions, a friend recommended the movie Hugo directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Ben Kingsley. My wife chimed in that she’d seen it and strongly suggested we should get a copy. We finally did and I finally had a chance to sit down and watch it.

I think Hugo is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a mainstream steampunk film. Hugo Cabret is an orphaned boy living in the Paris train station in 1931. When his father died in a fire, Hugo had been taken in by his uncle, who maintained the station’s clocks. The only thing Hugo had of his fathers was a broken-down automaton, like the ones used in magic shows at the end of the Victorian era. It appeared this particular automaton could write. Hugo sets about finding parts to make the automaton work again, which means occasionally stealing parts from a toy seller at the station. The toy seller catches Hugo in the act and makes him empty his pockets. In the process he discovers the boys notes about the automaton. Soon after this, Hugo meets and befriends the toy seller’s goddaughter, Isabelle. She helps Hugo and the toy seller reach an understanding and Hugo starts working for him to pay the toy seller back for the parts he took.

As the movie progresses, we eventually learn that the toy seller is none other than Geoges Méliès, the filmmaker who made A Trip to the Moon in 1902. Méliès fell on hard times after World War I. He’s depressed and has no interest in talking about his films. Working together Hugo and Isabelle do manage to get the automaton working and they eventually learn that the automaton once belonged to Méliès. In short, the film tells the story of Hugo coming to terms with the loss of his father and it’s also the story of how Méliès vanished from public view because of World War I and how he came to terms with his legacy in the 1930s. My only real complaint about the film is that the scenes of Méliès directing his films looked a little too much like modern filmmaking. The glimpses of early filmmaking we saw in E. Elias Merhige’s Shadow of the Vampire felt a little more true to the period than what we saw in Hugo.

With its automata, its look at the magic of early film making, and the great clockworks of the Paris train station, the film Hugo feels very much like a steampunk or maybe even dieselpunk story (it is set in the 1930s, after all). However, it isn’t quite steampunk. Instead, it’s historical fiction. After all, automata who danced, wrote notes, or did other tricks really existed. The master maker of such automata was none other than Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, a magician who was one of Méliès’s real-life mentors. Robert-Houdin, incidentally, also inspired magician Erik Weisz, who took the stage name Harry Houdini in Robert-Houdin’s honor. Still, it’s astonishing to see a film which feels so steampunk directed by such a mainstream director as Martin Scorsese and which was taken seriously enough to win four Academy Awards.

The film Hugo reminded me of my approach to steampunk and other, similar historical fantasy. I start with meticulous research about what happened in history. Within the true story, I find the tale I want to tell, usually by asking “what if” about some set of real world events. The “what if” might involve some fantastic element like asking what if airships had been present? Or, what if the automata had miniaturized analytic engines and could do complex calculations, becoming more like modern robots than simply sophisticated clockwork toys.

Hugo came out in 2011 and it feels like a lot has happened since then and steampunk has faded in mainstream popularity. Georges Méliès was fortunate enough to see the magic of his films be rediscovered during his lifetime. I suspect steampunk and historical fantasy are far from the end of their life. There’s still much magic for audiences to discover. If you want to delve into my steampunk worlds, just visit http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

Lavender Castle

I enjoy listening to the Gerry Anderson podcast hosted by Gerry’s son, Jamie Anderson, along with Richard James and Chris Dale. the podcast discusses the television shows Gerry Anderson produced over a nearly 50-year career in television and includes such well known shows as Thunderbirds and Space: 1999. Chris Dale’s segment on the show is called “The Randomiser” and in it, he watches a random episode from a random Gerry Anderson show. In an episode a few weeks ago, he discussed a show called Lavender Castle, which I’d not heard of before.

Now, when I first heard the title, I pictured something very different from Gerry Anderson’s usual oeuvre of action shows, often with a science fictional element. To me, the title brought to mind princesses, ponies, and an idyllic fantasy land possibly under threat from a comical villain. While listing to the Randomiser, it became clear this was something different. I finally decided I needed to learn more about this show.

Lavender Castle tells the story of the crew of a space vessel called the Paradox, commanded by Captain Thrice, an elf-like grandfatherly being with an eye on his nose in addition to the two on either side. He’s accompanied by a sentient walking stick and a Scottish-accented engineer named Isembard. The Paradox is built like an English cottage with a thatch roof. In the first episode, they land aboard a pirate ship called the Cutting Snark, which floats in a magical glowing river between planets. There they rescue several would-be slaves and recruit them for their crew. The other crew members are a dog-like hero named Roger, a medical student named Lyca, who has butterfly wings, a robot called Sir Squeakalot, and Sproggle, a lovable, lizard-like goofball.

The mission of the Paradox is to prevent a villain named Dr. Agon and his minions from destroying the titular Lavender Castle, which is the source of light and goodness in the universe. Dr. Agon flies through the universe in a monstrous ship called the Dark Station and has an elephant-like landing craft called the Mammoth. Agon’s primary minion is a pterodactyl-like creature called Trump, and I’m especially amused that they all consider the name a horrible insult. Occasionally teaming up with Dr. Agon is the pirate Short Fred Ledd.

The character designs and premise are the brainchild of British illustrator Rodney Matthews, who I wasn’t familiar with. While his style is very much its own, it reminded me of Brian Froud’s illustration work, which inspired movies like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. The series ran for 26 10-minute episodes in 1999. Many of the episodes were scripted by Gerry Anderson himself. The show features a mix of stop motion and computer animation.

Given that the entire series has a run time of about four and a half hours, it’s an easy show to binge watch. I love stop motion animation and this was nicely done, especially for something that was produced on a television budget in the 1990s. They pack a lot of story into each 10-minute episode and I didn’t feel like I ran into too much repetitive material. Because the episodes are so short, we never get much back story for the characters.

I’ve always hated reviews that say something to the effect, “this show will bore adults, but it’s great for children.” Although children are very much the target audience, I found myself thoroughly enchanted by the show. My only complaints, particularly since this is a children’s show, are that almost all the characters are male and the characters can merrily breathe in space. Admittedly that latter point is something of a nitpick since these are clearly fantasy creatures existing in more of a magical realm than a scientific one, but I think a nod could have been given to the real world without slowing things down too much or sounding like a science lesson.

Several episodes are really top-notch. Favorites include: “Dueling Banjos” in which Captain Thrice must have a banjo duel with a crawfish-like swamp creature to get fuel for the Paradox; “Galactic Park” where the crew is lured to a theme park, but it proves to be an elaborate trap by Dr. Agon; and “Interface” where the Paradox responds to a distress call, only to be knocked out by sleeping gas and attacked by a giant mechanical spider. In that episode, Sir Squeakalot must find a way to save the crew by himself.

The entire series can currently be found on YouTube, but less because it’s legal to be there and more because no one is really enforcing the rights. The show was financed by Carrington Productions Incorporated, which was ultimately absorbed by Entertainment Rights Incorporated. Entertainment Rights was eventually purchased by Dreamworks Classics. I gather Anderson Entertainment is currently working on the rights issues with hopes of eventually producing a home video release and perhaps even some tie-in media. I hope they’re successful because this would be an amazing series to watch remastered on Blu-ray. While it may be little more than wishful thinking at this stage, I enjoyed this show so much, I would love to pitch a story for tie-in media if the opportunity ever arose.

While we’re waiting for a home video release of Lavender Castle, you can check out some of my whimsical and sometimes scary retrofuturistic fiction by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com

Story and History

While my wife and I were in Tombstone the first weekend of October, we realized we’d never seen the 1957 film, Gunfight at the OK Corral starring Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday. The movie also features DeForest Kelley, best known for playing Dr. McCoy in Star Trek, as Morgan Earp and Earl Holliman as Wyatt’s deputy, Charles Bassett. The year before Gunfight at the OK Corral, Holliman had appeared in Forbidden Planet as the cook on the spaceship C-57D. Much of The Gunfight at the OK Corral was filmed at Old Tucson Studios, where we’ve spent quite a bit of time at the Wild Wild West Con steampunk convention. We bought a copy of the Blu-ray at the OK Corral gift shop and brought it home.

Gunfight at the OK Corral Blu-Ray

I wasn’t expecting a historically accurate retelling of the real gunfight. After all, right there on the cover, Burt Lancaster lacked Wyatt Earp’s epic mustache! What’s more, the real gunfight was a messy thirty-second shootout that resulted from tensions brewing between two factions in Tombstone over the previous months. Most of the story’s drama is in the lead-up and the aftermath. When the movie is titled Gunfight at the OK Corral, you essentially know the gunfight itself is going to be the story’s big climactic scene. What surprised me was how much the movie diverged from history.

The movie opens with Wyatt Earp as a US Marshal on the trail of bad guy Johnny Ringo. In a small town in Texas, he finds a sheriff has let him get away. However, the sheriff points Earp to Doc Holliday, who happens to be in town, for more information. It turns out a gunman has come to town to get revenge for Doc killing his brother after cheating at cards, which gives us the setup for our opening confrontation. After this is resolved, Wyatt returns home to Dodge City, Kansas and continues searching for clues about Ringo. In the meantime, he has a run-in with a lady gambler named Laura Denbow and a romance blossoms between them. Eventually, Wyatt gets a telegram from his brother Virgil in Tombstone. Johnny Ringo has joined forces with a group of ranchers called the Clantons.

I’m not really interested in nitpicking the movie for historical accuracy. It tells a solid, tight-knit tale about a good lawman doggedly chasing down his opponent culminating in a satisfying, cinematic gunfight. What did strike me was how it used a handful of carefully placed historical details to give it the sense of historical veracity, even though it diverged from history at many key points.

Because I spent my weekend in Tombstone working on a dieselpunk story, which was a work of historical fantasy based in a real location and inspired by a true story, I realized this movie did a lot of what I do when I’m writing these kinds of his historical fantasy stories. History may have served as a foundation, but the movie’s writer and director made sure that it told a solid, self-contained story. History is often messy with many unresolved threads. Real-life romances and relationships aren’t always easy to understand. The big difference between Gunfight at the OK Corral and the stories I write is that I typically signal my story isn’t literal history by including fantastical or science fictional elements such as airships that didn’t exist at the time or wandering alien travelers. I enjoyed Gunfight at the OK Corral, but might have enjoyed a fantastical take based, for example, on Emma Bull’s novel Territory, even more.

As it turns out, I set a portion of my Clockwork Legion series in the area around Tombstone, but I deliberately decided I didn’t want to retell the story of the gunfight at the OK Corral. Instead, in my alternate version of history, the Clantons and the Earps are barely aware of each other because the events in this world conspire to keep them on separate paths. Part of the novel Lightning Wolves is based on the story of the Clantons before Tombstone was founded. By Owl Riders, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday have shown up, but their business interests are unrelated to the Clantons. You can learn more about the series at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion