Making Life Better Through Astronomy #SHaW

The first stirrings of what would become my interest in steampunk happened the year K.W. Jeter coined the word in a letter to Locus Magazine. During the summer of 1987, I worked at Maria Mitchell Observatory on Nantucket, observing pulsating variable stars with an early twentieth-century telescope driven by a wind-up clock drive.

clark-cooke-1

I would go on to publish those results and present them at Harvard College Observatory. The idea that I could explore the universe with equipment built in the Victorian era stuck with me through the years and eventually blossomed when I started writing steampunk and weird western stories.

When I started attending steampunk events about five years ago, the maker culture reminded me of my introduction to astronomy. A few years before I worked at Maria Mitchell Observatory, I joined an amateur astronomy club and was encouraged to build a Dobsonian telescopes. Designed by amateur astronomer John Dobson, these inexpensive, easy-to-build telescopes allow anyone with an interest to look at planets, stars, and beyond. This history combined with some extra motivation from one of my daughter’s science projects, led us to build a little steampunk Dobsonian telescope.

steampunk dobsonian

The telescope’s tube is, in fact, cardboard, but I gave it a coat of brass paint as a tribute to the Alvan Clarke and Sons telescopes I worked with on Nantucket and which drove so much science through the Victorian era. Having built this telescope, we have since taken it to steampunk and science fiction conventions where we’ve viewed planets and nebulae. Here’s my daughter setting up the telescope on the deck of the Queen Mary at Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium in 2015.

verity-hrm-steam

I’ve also conducted workshops, using the steampunk telescope as an example of how easy and satisfying it is to build your own small telescope.

telescope-building1

It’s exciting when people look through a telescope like this and realize they can peer into moon craters, see the rings of Saturn, or the ghostly Orion Nebula. For them, science has left the textbook and become something they can access. There’s even more magic when people realize they can get those kinds of views with something they built themselves. If you’re interested in building a telescope like this for your own enjoyment, I wrote two posts that should help you get started and include links to more detailed information.

This post is part of Steampunk Hands Around the World. Visit the Airship Ambassador for more information and to visit more great posts on the topic!

steampunk-hands3-2017-xpk

Steampunk Award and Poem

This week finds me hard at work on book four of my Clockwork Legion steampunk series, Owl Riders. The novel is set about eight years after the events of The Brazen Shark and takes a look at how the world has changed after the events of the first three books of the series. In Chapter One of Owl Riders, we learn that Ramon and Fatemeh now live in New Orleans with their young daughter. Meanwhile, back in Arizona, Geronimo has captured a large swath of territory using battle wagons suspiciously similar to Professor Maravilla’s javelina mining machine captured by Curly Billy Bresnahan in Lightning Wolves.

I’ve had some great motivation getting started on the new novel this week. novelsteam-2016 On Monday, I learned The Brazen Shark was voted Best Steampunk Novel in the Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll run annually at Critters.org, a critique and workshop site founded by Dr. Andrew Burt, a former vice president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I’m deeply touched by the award and would like to thank everyone who voted for The Brazen Shark. For those who have not read the novel yet, you can get copies at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. An omnibus edition of the Clockwork Legion books written to date is available at Barnes and Noble and Kobo.

As it turns out, “The Steam-Powered Dragon” from the Gaslight and Grimm was in the running for best steampunk short story. Although it didn’t win, it was a top-ten finisher. Of interest, the story that did win the category was “The Complications of Avery Vane” by my friend Bryce Raffle, which appears in Den of Antiquity, another anthology I’m in! You can learn about both anthologies by visiting my short story page.

For a little steampunkery you can read right now for free, go visit the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s online zine Eye to the Telescope. The January 2017 issue, which is available as of this writing includes my poem “The Medicine Show.” I wrote the first draft of this poem when I gave a poetry work at Tucson’s Wild Wild West Con in 2015. The theme of the issue is robots and explores that idea from many angles. In addition to my poem, you’ll find works by Tales of the Talisman contributors F.J. Bergmann, Beth Cato, Mary Soon Lee, and G.O. Clark. I was also excited to see that my poem is followed by a poem by one of my heroes, the extremely talented Jane Yolen.

2016: A Personal Perspective

2016 has been one wild ride. On the political front, Britain voted to leave the European Union and the United States had the most divisive presidential election I’ve ever seen. We lost a lot of talented people this year ranging from Vera Rubin, the astronomer who discovered dark matter, to entertainers that touched many of us including David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, Gene Wilder, and Anton Yelchin. Despite all that, 2016 has actually been a rather good year, personally.

Brazen Shark-300x450

This year, I published two novels. In February, Sky Warrior Publishing released the third of my Clockwork Legion series, The Brazen Shark in which a ship captain takes two dear friends on a special honeymoon getaway, only to have it interrupted by samurai air pirates attempting to overthrow the Japanese emperor. In December, Lachesis Publishing released my horror novel The Astronomer’s Crypt, which tells the story of astronomers, ghosts, drug dealers, and a monster from the beginning of time who collide at a remote observatory during a violent thunderstorm. You can learn about both novel on the books page at my website.

In addition to the novels, four of my short stories appeared in anthologies. “Arachne’s Stepchildren” about the potential hazards of discovering new life appeared in The Martian Anthology. “Reckoning at the Alamo” which tells about Marshall Larissa Seaton and Professor Maravilla battling a Lovecraftian entity from across space appeared in Lost Trails 2: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West. “The Jackalope Bandit” which tells about one of Professor Maravilla’s jackalope harvesters being used to rob banks and payrolls appeared in Den of Antiquity. Finally, my retelling of Grimm’s “The Dragon and his Grandmother” appeared in the anthology Gaslight and Grimm which was funded through a very successful Kickstarter campaign. You can learn about all these books at the short story page of my website.

astronomers-crypt-453x680

I feel privileged to continue my work at Kitt Peak National Observatory where I operate the Mayall 4-meter and the WIYN 3.5-meter telescopes. This year, preparations began for the installation of a new cutting-edge instrument at the Mayall. This will be an instrument that will take spectra of 5000 objects at one time. Starting in 2018, the telescope will be used to survey the entire sky in hopes of better understanding the phenomenon known as dark energy. Part of this year’s preparations included deployment of a prototype instrument, the beginning of a new imaging survey to identify targets for the spectrographic survey, and work on a new control system for the Mayall. As it turns out, I’ll be ringing in the new year at the Mayall, helping with a program looking at a sample of galaxies from the early universe.

Over the course of the year, I had the opportunity to make several nice trips. In April, I spent time with two friends at Vermillion Cliffs in Northern Arizona. In May, I traveled to Baltimore for Balticon and the release of the Gaslight and Grimm anthology. In July, I traveled with my family to California for my nephew’s wedding.

G&GRed-Gold Leaf-150

Speaking of family, my oldest daughter started a paid computer internship at Tulane University this year and opened her own Etsy shop. Meanwhile my youngest daughter has embarked on the adventure of high school. I couldn’t be more proud of these two young women.

Perhaps the year’s scariest moment came in November when my wife’s tire blew out on the way home from TusCon in Tucson, Arizona. The car spun on the interstate and went into the mesquite bushes between Texas Canyon and Wilcox on I-10. Fortunately my wife and youngest daughter who were in the car were all right, but the car was totaled. The story had a happy ending when my wife was able to use the insurance money to pay for a nice, albeit used, replacement car.

As I say, this year has been something of a wild ride. Although I am admittedly apprehensive about some things happening on the world and national stages, I have several good things on the horizon as well. Come back on Monday and learn about some things to look forward to in 2017. In the meantime, I wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year.

Women Marshals of the Old West

Marshal Larissa Seaton is a character who appears in my novel The Brazen Shark from the Clockwork Legion steampunk series. Brazen Shark-300x450 She also appears in some of my short stories set in the same universe, including the story “Fountains of Blood” which will be in the upcoming Straight Outta Tombstone anthology. In my world, President Rutherford B. Hayes appoints her to be a U.S. Marshal after her work recovering a lightning gun from Curly Bill Bresnahan in the novel Lightning Wolves. It’s a fair question to look back at history and ask whether it’s realistic to imagine a woman marshal in 1877.

As it turns out, Larissa of my fictional world was only appointed marshal seven years before it happened in real life. phoebe_couzins In 1884, John Couzins was appointed marshal for the Eastern district of Missouri and he appointed his daughter Phoebe as one of his deputies. When John Couzins was killed in 1887, President Grover Cleveland appointed Phoebe interim marshal. However, she only held the position for two months before a man was appointed as her full-time replacement. Not only was Phoebe Couzins the first woman to become a U.S. Marshal, she was the first woman in the United States to get a law degree and the first woman to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis. She was an early supporter of both women’s suffrage and the temperance movement. In later years, she actually renounced both and became an active lobbyist for the American Brewers Association.

There were several notable women deputies marshals with longer careers. ada-carnutt Perhaps the most famous was Ada Carnutt of Oklahoma. In 1893, she arrested nineteen men at the Black and Roger saloon in Oklahoma City for perjury. Shortly before Christmas that same year, she single-handedly arrested two forgers and escorted them to jail. The two heavily armed men supposedly scoffed at being arrested by an unarmed woman, but she pointed to the crowd around and told them she was willing to deputize every one of them to help her. Newspapers of the day noted that after the arrest she went back to her favorite hobby: china painting.

Even before Ada Carnutt, Mrs. F.M. Miller was making a name for herself as a deputy marshal in Paris, Texas. Unlike Ada Carnutt, Mrs. Miller had no problem carrying weapons. According to the November 6, 1891 issue of the Fort Smith Elevator, “The woman carries a pistol buckled around her and has a Winchester strapped to her saddle. She is an expert shot and a superb horsewoman, and brave to the verge of recklessness.” The article also noted that she was a “charming brunette” and wore a sombrero.

So, while true Larissa Seaton would have been the first woman U.S. Marshal in history if she existed, it wouldn’t be long before more brave women would stand alongside her. You can find Marshal Larissa in the following books:

Twisting History

This month has started off with some good news. I have official word that my story “Fountains of Blood” has been accepted for an anthology called Straight Outta Tombstone tentatively scheduled to appear in summer 2017 from Baen Books. Editor David Boop invited me to submit to the anthology a little over a year ago.

fountain

My story idea came quickly and I was inspired by a tombstone in the cemetery behind my house. No one’s buried underneath this tombstone. Rather it’s a memorial to a former cavalryman, governor of Texas, and attorney named Albert Jennings Fountain who disappeared near White Sands along with his son Henry on February 1, 1896. Among other things, Fountain operated the Fountain Opera House in Mesilla, New Mexico. Although that building no longer stands, his family rebuilt the building in 1905 as the Fountain Theater, which now shows films selected by the Mesilla Valley Film Society. As it tuns out, for a time they used stationary with a letterhead I designed for them, giving me a thread of connection back to Fountain himself.

Perhaps Fountain’s most famous client as an attorney was Billy the Kid. Most sources cite Billy’s real name as William Henry McCarty. In my Clockwork Legion novels, William McCarty’s life path is changed when he encounters Ramon Morales and Fatemeh Karimi. Instead of getting caught up in an ugly feud known as the Lincoln County War, McCarty becomes one of the Owl Riders, helping to defend the United States against the Russians.

Brazen Shark-300x450

Back in our timeline, after defending Billy the Kid, Fountain would go on to launch an investigation into the Lincoln County War. He was on his way home from Lincoln County when he and his son disappeared. In The Brazen Shark, Fountain still defends Billy. This time it’s not for murder, but for helping his friends Ramon and Fatemeh evade soldiers so they could understand why the Russians were invading the United States in the first place. In the Clockwork Legion series, Billy doesn’t die at twenty-one, and Fountain hires him as a bodyguard for his fateful trip. The problem is, even Billy the Kid can’t stand up to the forces out to stop Albert J. Fountain.

After getting ambushed near White Sands and left for dead, Billy awakens and goes for help. After the long journey, he seeks solace from a “soiled dove” in Las Cruces named Marcella who turns out to know more than he would have suspected and provides Billy with essential clues about the disappearance. Those familiar with my books may recognize Marcella from Vampires of the Scarlet Order.

Of course, my short story stands alone and you will be able to read it without being familiar with my novels. However, for readers who want the fun of seeing the connections and how I’ve bent and twisted history in both universes, I recommend starting with the first books in each series Owl Dance and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. Of course, I’d love it if you would keep right on reading all the books in the two series. That would keep you busy for the months waiting for the new anthology. I hear the author list is pretty amazing and hope I can share the full table of contents soon.

Den of Antiquity

Today is the release day for an exciting new anthology I’m proud to be part of called Den of Antiquity. This anthology was dreamed up by members of an online writing community I belong to called The Scribbler’s Den, which is part of The Steampunk Empire. The project was curated and edited by the group under the direction of Scribbler’s Den member, Bryce Raffle. Volunteer members peer reviewed the stories and other volunteers proofread the book. I’m writing this just as I finished reading the book in a breathless rush and I have to say, I think it turned out well. It was a lot of fun to see the worlds dreamed up by my fellow steampunk writers and people I’ve come to think of as an online family over the last year and half.

printmockup

Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

    When one thinks of a den, one tends to think of comfort. A cozy room in the house—a quiet, comfortable place, a room for conversation, reading, or writing. One doesn’t tend to think of high adventure, dragons, vampires, airships, or paranormal creatures. And yet, that’s just what you’ll find in these pages. Stories of adventure and mystery! Paranormal, dark, and atmospheric tales! The fantastical and the imaginative, the dystopian and post-apocalyptic, and everything in between! So settle in to the coziest room in your house, plop down into your favourite armchair, and dive in to the Den of Antiquity.

    Featuring stories by Jack Tyler, E.C. Jarvis, Kate Philbrick, Neale Green, Bryce Raffle, N.O.A. Rawle, David Lee Summers, William J. Jackson, Steve Moore, Karen J. Carlisle, B.A. Sinclair and Alice E. Keyes.

My story in the anthology is a brand new Clockwork Legion story. Someone has taken one of Professor Maravilla’s mechanical jackalope harvesters and turned it to evil purposes, robbing banks. Can Marshall Larissa Seaton stop the machine before it absconds with all the gold in the New Mexico Territory? Be sure to read Den of Antiquity to find out! What’s more you’ll get a lot of other great stories as well.

I loved the fact that this anthology spanned the world, had protagonists of many different social classes, and really showed the diversity that makes steampunk a wonderful world to play in as a writer. Not only were there vampires, dragons, and airships, but paranormal investigators, dinosaurs, superheroes and gods. Some stories depicted worlds I’d enjoy living in, others not so much, but I general enjoyed making the acquaintance of the characters inhabiting those worlds and whether you’re an ardent steampunk or new the genre, I bet you’ll agree.

Proceeds from this anthology will be donated to help disaster relief, because even though we’re writing about the most comfortable room in the home, we recognize that people going through a disaster no longer have comforts.

You can order Den of Antiquity at the following online bookstores:

Time Traveling through Books

Susan over at the Dab of Darkness blog tagged me in a post about books and time travel. This seemed like a fun topic near and dear to my heart and a good way to start a new week.

What is your favorite historical setting for a book?

jani-greater-game

The hard part about this one is that I love history and I usually find something to enjoy in any historical setting I explore. However, I think if I had to pin down one era it would be the Victorian era that’s so near and dear to the steampunk I write. In fact, I’m delighted to have added a signed copy of Gail Carriger’s Changeless to my collection. That said, although I do enjoy a good novel set in Victorian England itself, my favorite books are ones set in other places of the world at the time, including the Wild West such as Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century novels or India, such as Eric Brown’s Jani and the Greater Game or even the Africa of Jack Tyler’s Beyond the Rails series.

What writers would you like to travel back in time to meet?

There are lots of writers whose work I admire, but two of the writers who most interest me are Robert Louis Stevenson and Lafcadio Hearn. Stevenson and I share share two initials, a birthday, and a love of pirate stories. Hearn was captivated by the stories of the places he immersed himself in from New Orleans to Japan. Not only have their writings inspired me, they both traveled extensively at a time when it was not always easy to do so and I’d love to hear some of the stories they didn’t have a chance to write down.

What books would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?

salems-lot

The books I’d point my younger self to actually existed back then, but I’d kick myself and actually get myself to read them! I would go back and hand myself Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot. I had preconceived notions that I wouldn’t enjoy King’s work because it was horror, but I would have loved his spooky tale of vampires and I would have been captivated by his great use of characters. I could have learned a lot from reading that book which took my many years to figure out on my own—that I’m still figuring out. Discovering King at a younger age would have started that process a lot earlier!

I’d also encourage myself to read Heinlein’s young adult novels. I remember them on the bookstore shelves when I was a kid, but for some reason never took them home. I would have had a blast with them and their sense of adventure.

If I had to pick a contemporary novel to take back in time, it would have to be a steampunk novel. Clementine or Ganymede by Cherie Priest would have been good choices that my younger self would have liked. It might have kickstarted the idea that I could write steampunk earlier than I did. (Although arguably I started pretty early since I sold “The Slayers” in 2001!)

What book would you travel forward in time and give your older self?

I’d give myself a copy of James Cloyd Bowman’s Pecos Bill: The Greatest Cowboy of All Time. That’s the book that started my love of tall tales and strange stories set in the wild west. It’s actually a book I don’t own, but have recently discovered it’s still in print, so I do need to remedy that. It would be fun to go back and see how Bowman’s version of the Pecos Bill story and the wild west inspired me.

What is your favorite futuristic setting for a book?

It depends on what your asking. Would I like to live in that futuristic setting, or do I think a good story is told there? There’s lots of futuristic settings that make a good story, but I wouldn’t want to live in that world! The Star Trek universe is an example of a futuristic setting which both has great stories, including many great novels, and where I’d like to live. The same is true of A. Bertram Chandler’s John Grimes novels. Both give generally optimistic visions of the future while suggesting plenty of adventures and many worlds to explore. I’m also fond of Ray Bradbury’s Mars, where the past meets the future in a kind of rustic setting on an alien world.

What is your favorite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?

moon-harsh-mistress

The hard part about this question is that so much of what I read is set in a different time period, it’s hard to pick just one! However, I’m going to pick The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein. I love its mix of engaging characters, politics, and attempt at examining the hard realities of making a colony on another world. This is one I remember enjoying a great deal and is one of the books that inspired me to sit down at the keyboard and actually try my hand at writing. It has been a long time since I’ve read it and it’s one of the books I’d like to go back to and see how well the book stands up to my memory.

Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book to see what happens?

I used to do this all the time when I was a kid, but I stopped. I’m not exactly sure when that happened. My best guess would be during my college and graduate school days when most of my reading swapped over to comics and graphic novels for a time. In those, a glance at the end can be a major spoiler!

If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?

It would be seriously tempting to go back and “fix” painful incidents in my life. For example, I could take some modern textbooks on cardiac care back to doctors who were tending my dad in the 1980s. However, I’ve read enough books cautioning about the dangers of time travel to know how fraught with peril these kinds of well-meaning things can be! Even Hermione Granger was cautioned about interfering with her own time stream.

So, with that in mind, I’d probably use the time turner to give myself some extra time to work on writing at home while I’m also operating telescopes at Kitt Peak. Heck, using the time turner to go back a few hours and get some extra sleep would be pretty amazing.

Favorite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods.

man-who-folded-himself

Of course, the original and classic is The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, but perhaps my favorite is The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold. Instead of avoiding possible time travel paradoxes, Gerrold embraces them and looks at what happens when someone tampers with time, including his own timeline. The book’s open discussion of sexuality kind of freaked me out as a kid raised in a conservative, Christian household, but it also opened my eyes to other lifestyles than the one I was told was “correct.”

What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?

I think it would be Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series. I hate to admit, but I still haven’t read all of them and those I’ve read have been in kind of a haphazard fashion, so I’d love to go back and make a real dedicated reading of the complete series.

Inviting others to play along.

I’m always a little hesitant to tag lots of people in these kinds of posts since I don’t want to make anyone feel obliged to play along. Also, it’s always possible someone was already tagged by someone else and I just missed their post. That said, if you’ve read this post and would like to take a crack at the answers, you’re more than welcome. If you tag me as the guy who inspired you and let me know, I’ll mention you here.

The following people have tagged me back, so go check out their answers!