Clearance Sale

As noted in the last two posts, I’ve released new editions of two of my novels over the last week. Unfortunately, the timing of these new editions has coincided with the Coronavirus pandemic, which means I’ve had canceled and delayed events. El Paso Comic Con has been delayed until October and Albuquerque’s Bubonicon has been canceled altogether this year. Because of that, I have a stock of the first editions of my novels that I’d like to clear out to make room for the new, updated editions and this means you can get a great bargain.

The first novel I have available is The Astronomer’s Crypt. This is my story of astronomers, drug dealers, ghosts, and a monster from Apache legend colliding on a remote mountain top during a ferocious storm. It draws a lot on my experience operating telescopes around the southwest and while it’s a good spooky story, it also gives you a sense of what it’s like behind the scenes at an observatory. There are few changes in the novel’s actual text between the two editions. The primary change in this book is a new round of proofreading. The copies I have are brand new and only have a little shelf wear from carrying them around to conventions. You can pick up a copy of the first edition for the bargain price of $4.50 plus shipping (that’s 70% off the cover price) at: http://hadrosaur.com/AstronomersCrypt.php

The other novel I have at a bargain price is Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll notice that I’ve tacked on the word Vampires to the novel’s subtitle to help audiences know more what the book is about at a glance. Dragon’s Fall tells the story of three vampires, one of them known as “the Dragon” who form a band of vampire mercenaries. Staring in ancient Greece, we follow their adventures through the Middle Ages until they find themselves in the employ of Vlad the Impaler. I edited Dragon’s Fall a little more heavily than The Astronomer’s Crypt. Part of the reason is that I have learned a little more about the Arthurian lore that forms part of the story’s background and used that to enhance the mystery surrounding the vampire Roquelaure. As with The Astronomer’s Crypt, I put effort into a new proofread of the novel and I think the prose is a bit stronger, but this first edition tells substantially the same story in the same way as the new edition. You can pick up a copy of the first edition for the bargain price of $4.50 plus shipping (that’s 72% off the cover price) at: http://hadrosaur.com/DragonsFall.php

In both of these cases, I’d be delighted to autograph the books. These autographed first editions would be a great way to treat yourself in tough times or make a great gift for someone special. To request an autograph, just click the “Contact” link at the top of hadrosaur.com after you place your order and tell me you want your book autographed. If you’d like it personalized just tell me the name to sign it to.

The Astronomer’s Crypt 2nd Edition Now Available

This has been an eventful week. I spent the early part working on a draft plan for reopening Kitt Peak National Observatory during the COVID-19 pandemic. I think the team involved came up with a good, detailed plan. It came in at 13,000 words, the length of a novella! While doing this, I’ve been listening to the news of the death of George Floyd and protests associated with this terrible event. There should be no question that black lives matter and black voices need to be heard.

While all of this was going on, the second edition of my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt was released. This edition features a new cover, new formatting, plus my wife and I have gone over the new edition with a fine-toothed comb and cleaned up many typographical errors. I won’t guarantee we got them all, but this version should be an improvement over the previous edition. What’s more, it’s a little less expensive than the previous edition. So, if you haven’t yet, this is a great time to open the crypt and see what lurks within.

The story begins two years before the novel’s main events on a stormy night, in the dead of winter. On that night, Mike Teter experienced something that would change his life forever. Mike was a telescope operator at the world renowned Carson Peak Observatory in New Mexico. That night, he saw something and experienced events so terrible they would drive him to leave his job, haunted by terrible visions. Despite those events, Mike is called back to Carson Peak and the vision he had two years before becomes a reality as ghosts, gangsters and an Apache spirit from the dawn of time collide during a terrible storm. The novel is strongly inspired by my years working at observatories in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. What’s more, Mike’s vision in the novel is very close to something that happened to me several years ago at the WIYN telescope. Fortunately, my story didn’t have the tragic consequences of Mike’s tale. If you want to read the prologue, you can for free at: http://davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt-Preview.html

In July 2017, Chris Wozny wrote a review of the novel for The Nameless Zine, which is the online newsletter of the Western Science Fiction Association. She said, “In the best tradition of horror fiction, we have courageous protagonists, characters who cross the line of good and evil in both directions, unspeakable evil from a forgotten age, and a villain behind the scenes who is attempting to bring back dark powers in the (no doubt mistaken) belief that he can control them … Strongly recommended to all who enjoy Stephen King’s novels.” You can read the entire review at: http://www.westernsfa.org/Book_Nook/Books-2017/Astronomers_Crypt.php

You can buy the print edition at Amazon.com.

You can buy the ebook edition at either Amazon.com or Smashwords.com.

Fun with Text-to-Speech

This week, my wife and I have been proofreading the Hadrosaur Productions editions of The Astronomer’s Crypt and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires before these books are uploaded as ebooks and sent to the print vendor. Last week, my wife presented me with the code to upgrade Microsoft Office on my desktop computer. I upgraded the edition and began to look through the menus, making sure I knew where familiar features were located. Fortunately not much has changed, but I did accidentally stumble on the text-to-speech option while I had The Astronomer’s Crypt manuscript open. So, I decided to let it read a page or two to me. My first thought was that this is what it would be like for Stephen Hawking to read me a story. It was a fairly flat reading. Despite that, I found it surprisingly listenable. As it read over a section I had already approved, I noticed it skipped over a word. I looked closer and discovered that it had not skipped. I had omitted the word. Specifically it was a small one, the article “a.”

I began to think this could be a handy tool for proofreading. So I started playing it while I read over the formatted manuscript. Now then, I normally do a “read aloud” pass when I edit my manuscripts. However, if I get too much into the flow of the story, I can “read” words that should be there but actually don’t exist on the page. Also, reading it with my inflections means that I can overlook some weak, repetitive prose by placing the emphasis where I want it. The problem is, my intention may not match what another reader will see on the page. The upshot is that the flat reading of the Text-to-Speech actually proves useful because it helps me hear how well the prose itself is doing its job.

Not surprisingly, text-to-speech has limitations. If you write fantasy or historical fiction, be prepared for the program to mispronounce names. However, there’s a neat element to this. It will mispronounce those names the same way. Every. Single. Time. While going through Dragon’s Fall, I looked at names on the page and thought they were correct, but the text-to-speech program read the misspelled version differently than the correct version. This caused me to look closer. Humans have a tendency to read with visual clues, so a name like Myrinne will look very much like Myrrine when you read it on the page, but the text-to-speech program pronounces them differently.

Text-to-speech is functionality that has been part of Word processors and operating systems for a little while, so it’s possible this may not be new to many people, but if it is new to you, I recommend you give it a try and see how you like it as a tool. If you do give this a try, I recommend reading along on the page while the program reads to you. It’s hard to “hear” the difference between commas and periods, for example, but the program will make it clear when you have one of those in the wrong spot!

I have found that Text-to-Speech is enabled in Word 2019 and in Adobe Acrobat (though I found its interface is a bit clunky to use in Acrobat.) I gather it’s also enabled in the Mac edition of Scrivener, but it does not exist in the PC edition. Word 2019 gives you a nice “play/pause” button so you can stop when you hear a problem. If you get lost while the program is reading, I recommend pausing, going back to where you last were following and start again.

I’ll wrap up today’s post with an update about the books mentioned above. Lachesis Publishing has started to pull their editions of the books from publication. Last I looked, the only vendor that hasn’t pulled them down is Apple, but hopefully that will happen soon and I can begin uploading my editions.

The Astronomer’s Crypt – 2nd Edition Cover Reveal

Next month, the rights to my novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt, revert to me. One of my jobs this month has been preparing a new edition so its ready to launch as soon as I’m clear to do so. Overall, I was happy with the novel’s first edition and my updated edit has changed very little. I caught a handful of typos that were missed the first time. I’m not sure I believe it’s possible for a truly typo-free book to exist. Also, the editorial process on any book is a discussion between the writer and the editorial team. As the author, I find I agree with many editorial suggestions wholeheartedly. There are, of course, a few editorial suggestions that just don’t work for me and I ask to leave the section as written, or I come up with an alternative revision. There are also places where an editor makes a suggestion and while I don’t agree with it 100%, I still accept it, because I don’t disagree with it or don’t feel it substantially changes things. I’ve revisited a few of those moments in the book.

The bigger change will be the cover itself. Laura Givens who did the original cover is back to do the new take. The concept for the original cover was to present an observatory enclosure on a dark, spooky night like a haunted house. The potential problem with this concept is that unless you’re familiar with observatory enclosures, you might not know what you’re looking at. In fact, tall observatory buildings bear a close resemblance to silos. So when Laura took on the new edition, she wanted to better capture what most people think of when they think “observatory” and that’s the telescope inside. We also discussed it and decided to include one of the monsters from the book. In this case, it’s a creature from Mescalero Apache lore known as Big Owl, or He Who Kills With His Eyes.

One of the challenges of including the monster on this version of the cover is that in contemporary American society, we tend to picture owls as cute or friendly. However, in many Native American traditions, owls are harbingers of death and to the Mescalero Apache, Big Owl was considered an adversary to the first humans. To get to the idea of a scary owl in the novel, I used the idea that modern birds are the descendants of dinosaurs and I began to picture a primordial, dangerous, predatory owl. I think Laura did a great job of capturing that vision on the cover.

Of course, Big Owl isn’t the only threat you’ll meet in this novel. There are drug dealers, ghosts, and a destructive storm as well. The first edition of The Astronomer’s Crypt will still be available for two more weeks. If you want to get your hands on that edition, do it now. Otherwise, I hope to release the new edition of The Astronomer’s Crypt in June.

You can learn more about the novel, watch the book trailer, and read the prologue at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt.html

Return to Penny Dreadful

In my post looking at the vampires who appeared in the first season of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, I mentioned that I had started the second season. I’ve finished the season, which overall, I enjoyed more than the first.

Our heroes, Vanessa Ives, Ethan Chandler, Sir Malcolm Murray, Sembene, and Dr. Victor Frankenstein, are all back. This time our villains prove not to be vampires but a coven of witches. What’s more, these witches, called nightcomers in the Penny Dreadful mythos, are servants of Lucifer with superhuman powers. In this season, Brona Croft is reincarnated by Dr. Frankenstein as Lily Frankenstein, meant as the monster’s bride but possessing a mind of her own. One of my favorite characters this season was Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle played by Sir Simon Russel Beale who was introduced in season 1 but had a nice character arc in season 2.

Reeve Carney is back this season as Dorian Grey. Mostly his story takes place in the background of season 2’s main action, but it looks like they set him up to take a bigger role in the third season. We’ll have to see what happens with that story.

Although Penny Dreadful’s second season still features many characters from classic literature, they seem freed from their origins to tell their own story this season. In many ways this season felt more like a nineteenth century penny dreadful come to life. Although the series does have better writing than a real life penny dreadful like say, Varney the Vampyre, there were moments it did make baffling turns. Some of the characters’ choices seemed more designed to serve plot than make sense for what people would do when faced with these real situations. Why, for example, do the characters often go to battle the monsters at night when its known that’s when the monsters are strongest?

Despite that, there are a lot of clever plot turns and some good character moments in this season. We learn more about Sir Malcolm Murray and his relationship with his estranged wife. We also learn more about Ethan Chandler. Danny Sapani’s Sembene actually gets stuff to do. For me the standout was Billy Piper’s Lily Frankenstein. Her arc takes her from apparently lost waif betrothed to Frankenstein’s monster to woman in control of her destiny.

I’ve been watching Penny Dreadful while working on new editions of my horror novels, Dragon’s Fall, Vampires of the Scarlet Order and The Astronomer’s Crypt. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about Penny Dreadful is that it doesn’t feel too bound by linear storytelling. One episode I thought was interesting in the current season involved Vanessa recounting how she was mentored by a witch. The episode didn’t bother to pop back into the present day, it just had a simple prologue of Vanessa starting her story, then the rest of the story just happened in the series’ past.

This approach reinforced a decision I’ve made for the new edition of Vampires of the Scarlet Order. The original edition was told in very linear order. Events that happened in 1491 happened first. Events that happened in the sixteenth century happened next. That noted, the story’s main conflict actually happens in the present day. So, I’ve decided the new edition will start in the present day and the chapters set in the past will be told when it’s natural for characters in the story to tell them. You can get a sneak peak at the new first chapter at: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO-Preview.html

Of course, the buy links still point to the original novel as released in 2008, but that will change soon after the rights revert to me next month.

Beards and Horror

Let’s face it, some people think bearded men are scary. In this post, I’ll introduce you to some scary, bearded men. However these men aren’t scary because of their beards. They’re scary because of the stories they’ve created.

I grew my own beard while working on my physics degree in the late 1980s. My older brother had grown a beard during his college days and I always liked way it looked. In addition to that, I attended a technical university where many of my classmates grew beards. All those factors combined to make growing a beard an easy choice.

A decade after I first grew my beard, I experimented with writing horror. I also decided to experiment with my beard and I shaved it down to a goatee. I liked the way it looked and have, for the most part, kept it that way ever since. Some people say beards obscure a man’s appearance, but my beard has always seemed a natural part of my face. Trimming it to a goatee is a minor concession to fashion.

To write well, you must read well. Over the years I’ve read a lot of horror fiction, including many classics of the genre. It was fun to discover that many of the authors whose work influenced me and shaped the genre also had the good taste to grow beards. Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to some of the pioneers and greats of the field.


Sheridan Le Fanu

Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu was an Irish writer who lived from 1814 to 1872. His specialty was writing mysteries and ghost stories. His most famous work was undoubtedly the vampire novella “Carmilla” which he wrote in 1871 and predated Bram Stoker’s Dracula by twenty-six years.

I pay tribute to the story in my tale “Fountains of Blood” which appears in the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone edited by David Boop. In most pictures of Sheridan Le Fanu, he rocks the neck beard. However, later in life he grew a full beard. You can learn more about Straight Outta Tombstone at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1481482696/


Lafcadio Hearn

Lafcadio Hearn was a journalist who lived from 1850 to 1904. Born in Ireland, he immigrated to the United States, lived for a time in New Orleans, and finally moved to Japan. I write a lot of stories set in the nineteenth century and I find Hearn a valuable resource. He makes the people he knew and the places he saw come alive on the page.

The reason he earns a spot on this list was that he not only wrote the obituary for Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, he also assembled collections of frightening Japanese stories. One of those collections was made into the 1965 movie Kwaidan. Most photos and illustrations of Hearn show him with only a mustache, but while in New Orleans, Hearn waxed his mustache and sported a goatee. He appears as a character in my novel Owl Riders, which you can learn about at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_riders.html


Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker, who lived from 1847 to 1912, gave us Dracula. I first read his most famous novel while working at Kitt Peak National Observatory in 1994 during a fierce storm. I particularly remember reading the scene where the ship Demeter comes into Whitby harbor and the vampire, in the form of a large wolf, runs from the ship. My duties required that I had to leave my nice, comfortable reading nook periodically to check on the weather. Every time I stepped outside, I imaged the creature would run out of the shadows to attack me.

The experience of reading Dracula first led me to write my novel of vampire mercenaries called Vampires of the Scarlet Order. You can learn about this novel at http://www.davidleesummers.com/VSO.html. Years later, I would write a novel of a monster that prowled an observatory’s grounds called The Astronomer’s Crypt. You can learn about this novel at http://www.davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt.html. Mr. Stoker maintained an epic, full beard worthy of admiration!


Around the beginning of the twentieth century, beards tended to fall out of fashion. I’ve often wondered why that happened. A recent article at Vox.com suggests that beards fell victim to the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Claims were made that beards were unsanitary and led to greater rates of infection. According to the article, this isn’t necessarily true. It says shaving abrades the skin and can slightly raise the risk of infection. You can read the full article here: https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2020/3/30/21195447/beard-pandemic-coronavirus-masks-1918-spanish-flu-tuberculosis.

Of course this all makes me wonder whether the current pandemic will have an impact on beards or fashion in general. Do you have any predictions? Any favorite bearded writers? Share them in the comments.

Why Pirates?

During a quiet moment at 2018’s MileHiCon, author Jane Lindskold and I sat down and had a nice conversation. In that conversation she asked why an apparently law-abiding, nice person like me would be interested in writing about pirates. After all, I’ve not only written about space pirates, but I’ve written about airship pirates in my steampunk fiction, and pirates have appeared in my vampire fiction. The drug traffickers in The Astronomer’s Crypt could also be seen as pirates of a sort. I have a two-part answer to the question. One part is related to story potential and the other is more personal.

To summarize the United Nations definition of piracy, it is a criminal act of violence, detention or depredation committed by the crew or passengers of a ship or aircraft directed against another ship or aircraft—or directed against a ship, aircraft, persons or property outside the jurisdiction of a country.  Apply that idea to any vessel that is either in space or operating on a distant world, and you open up tremendous story potential.

In fact, when I first wrote my novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, the working title was simply Sufiro. The novel really is about the history of a planet founded by pirates, the disaffected people who follow, and the unscrupulous people who find resources on the world they can exploit. I added “Pirates” to the title because the planet is not only founded by pirates, but those unscrupulous people who come later are committing acts of violence, detention and depredation against their fellows outside the jurisdiction of a country. In a very real way, they are even more piratical than the story’s avowed pirates.

On a more personal level, pirates stir the imagination despite the fact that they steal from others to make a living and often murder to do so. If you look into the history of piracy—particularly during piracy’s “golden age” of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—you find that discipline on military and legitimate trading vessels was brutal and crews were paid almost nothing. On pirate ships, the crews had more of a voice in how things were run and the booty was split more evenly.

Today, in the 21st century, we find ourselves in a world where companies monitor our e-mails and website usage. People can be fired for saying the wrong thing in the heat of the moment. In point of fact, the corporate world of today has nothing on the day when you could be flogged to within an inch of your life for a perceived insult. Still, the idea of setting out to sea or the stars with no one watching your every move and not having to watch your every word does have a certain appeal.

In Leiji Matsumoto’s famous Captain Harlock anime series and manga, the titular pirate captain fights under the skull and crossbones flag because it’s a symbol that one should fight to the death for freedom and that one shouldn’t be subject to corrupt and decadent governments. I wrote The Pirates of Sufiro before I got to know Harlock as any more than a cameo character in Galaxy Express 999, but the idea does capture some of what I tried to capture in my novel.

As it turns out, The Pirates of Sufiro was the first novel I ever wrote and I think it’s fair to say the idea was more ambitious than my skills were ready for almost twenty-five years ago. I’ve been spending much of the last year revising The Pirates of Sufiro for a new edition. I think I’ve made it much better, but I’m in the process of taking a good hard look and deciding whether or not I’ve succeeded in making it the book I want it to be. Much of that is making sure the characters are true to themselves as they developed in the books I wrote after Pirates.

You can help me in my quest to make The Pirates of Sufiro the book it should be by joining my Patreon campaign. My fix-up novel Firebrandt’s Legacy may be read in its entirety. Also, you can read the last published edition of The Pirates of Sufiro and the draft as it stands now. It’s likely there will be even one more draft before the book is published. Once it is published, I’ll give download codes for all the novels in the Space Pirates’ Legacy universe that are in print: The Solar Sea, Firebrandt’s Legacy, and The Pirates of Sufiro. Of course, I love to hear feedback from my patrons and it’s a great way to weigh in on what you think of the books. You can become a patron for just $1.00 a month. To learn more, click the button below. It’s time for some piracy!

My novels of the 2010s

In my last post, I mentioned that I had the attitude of being a temporary employee at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Much of the reason I adopted that attitude in the first place is that then and now, I see myself first and foremost as a writer and editor. When I returned to Kitt Peak in 2008, I feared my writing output would fall off because of my job’s demands. I’m pleased to look back at the previous decade and realize that I actually produced more novels than in any previous decade.

In a very real way, the 2010s were the decade of the Clockwork Legion. These are my steampunk novels that chronicle what happens to Earth when a microscopic alien swarm arrives on Earth in 1876 and begins tampering with events in hopes of avoiding a worldwide catastrophe. Instead of averting catastrophe, the alien sets off the Russian invasion of the United States. Fortunately, a healer named Fatemeh Karimi and a disgraced sheriff named Ramon Morales are there to set things right.

The first novel was published in 2011. Although the original publisher changed focus, the series was picked up by Sky Warrior books and a new edition came out in 2014 quickly followed by the second novel, Lightning Wolves. In that novel, our characters find themselves caught between the miners of Southern Arizona, the Apache Nation, and the Clantons, all while the Russians continue their invasion from the first book.

In 2016’s The Brazen Shark, our characters travel to Japan and then to Russia where they bring the story of the alien’s visit to a conclusion. In 2018, I published Owl Riders, which is set ten years later and looks at the world in the aftermath of the alien’s interference and returns to resolve the conflicts set up in the second novel.

At this point, I don’t plan for the Clockwork Legion to be a series limited to the books created in the 2010s. I want to tell more about Ramon and Fatemeh’s adventures, but they are paused while I work on some other projects. In the meantime, you can learn more about the Clockwork Legion novels by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

The Clockwork Legion series wasn’t the only one I worked on this past decade. I also wrote a second book in my Scarlet Order vampire series. 2012’s Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order was actually a prequel to Vampires of the Scarlet Order. The Scarlet Order is a band of vampires who use their preternatural powers to fight as mercenaries. Dragon’s Fall tells the story of how the Scarlet Order was formed. We first meet Alexandra, a former Greek slave who becomes a vampire thief. Then we travel to King Arthur’s court where one of his rivals becomes a vampire and initiates the Holy Grail quest in hopes of finding redemption. Draco fails to find redemption through the Grail, but he meets Alexandra in his on-going quest. You can learn more about this novel at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

Dragon’s Fall wasn’t my only excursion into horror. In 2016, I released The Astronomer’s Crypt, which imagines astronomers, drug dealers, ghosts, and Apache demons colliding during a terrible storm at an observatory in Southern New Mexico. Of course, this novel does pull a lot from my job at Kitt Peak National Observatory and I probably wouldn’t have been able to write it if I had not returned to telescope operations. On the surface, The Astronomer’s Crypt is a haunted house story inspired by the very labyrinthine Mayall building at Kitt Peak. However, it also imagines what might happen if different layers of existence hinted at through ancient stories collided with our contemporary and comfortable reality. You can learn more about The Astronomer’s Crypt and watch a cool book trailer at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt.html

I finished the decade by returning to a series that really had its genesis way back in the 1980s while I was still in graduate school. In the 2000s when the series was with Lachesis Publishing, I was asked to create a name for the series. On the fly, I came up with “The Old Star/New Earth Series.” I never really liked that name because it didn’t really capture what the series was about. I’ve now reinvented the series as “The Space Pirates’ Legacy” and my last book of the 2010s was a new first book in this series, Firebrandt’s Legacy. It tells the story of a space pirate named Ellison Firebrandt and his band of buccaneers as they pillage ships for Earth’s benefit. I’m currently working on rewriting the first book I ever wrote, The Pirates of Sufiro, which is also the second book of this series. I hope to release the new edition in a few weeks. You can learn more about Firebrandt’s Legacy at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/Firebrandts-Legacy.html

Looking back, that’s seven novel in ten years. I spent most of the 2000s as a freelance writer and wrote four novels. So, at some level, I needn’t have worried about about the observatory lessening my output. That said, I do find as the decade ends that I’m writing fewer short stories and poems now than I did at the beginning of the decade. One of my goals for this coming decade will be to spend more time on some of my shorter works again. Also, one of my first goals of the decade is to finish re-releasing the rest of “The Space Pirates Legacy” series. Concurrent with that, I hope to begin work on a new novel. I haven’t decided for certain what that will be. I’d love to visit Ramon and Fatemeh again. Also, The Astronomer’s Crypt was always meant to be the first book in a trilogy, so I may return to that world for a while. Either way, this promises to be another fun and productive decade.

Stars, Galaxies, and Fiber Optics

The first time I remember learning about fiber optics was in a behind-the-scenes article published in 1980 or so about the making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The article talked about how they got light to all the buttons on the bridge set and showed them illuminated with bundles of optical fiber. Nowadays, as I’ve mentioned in several earlier posts, I work with instruments that use optical fiber to carry light collected by each of the telescopes I work with to the instrumentation where its analyzed.

On the telescope side, those fibers are attached to an optical assembly that must be placed at just the right spot to catch focused light. If the star or galaxy is out of focus, not all the light goes down the optical fiber. We also have guider cameras that work to keep the object precisely aligned on the fiber so all the light gets to the spectrograph. It’s a lot of complex hardware to work right to precisely measure the the redshift of distant galaxies or look at a star and determine whether or not it has planets in orbit. This past week, we’ve been commissioning both the DESI spectrograph at the Mayall 4-meter and the NEID spectrograph at the WIYN 3.5-meter. One of the most important milestones is to get light from the object you want to measure to the spectrograph and see if you get the flux you expect. Here’s the NEID team at WIYN looking at early test results.

Yes, light leaves a star dozens of light years away, enters our telescope, goes down the optical fiber and is photographed with the spectroscope, then all that data can be viewed and analyzed on a laptop computer. When I filmed the trailer for The Astronomer’s Crypt a couple of years ago, I was asked why we didn’t use a room full of fancy computers and monitors. We just had a couple of computers, one of which was a laptop. The reason is that I’ve seen a lot of control rooms where simple computers are the only ones present!

As you can imagine, it’s quite a relief to see all the work pay off in a spectrum that shows the flux level you expect. All of this is pretty exciting stuff and, as it turns out, my birthday fell during this past week’s tests. Seeing NEID as it nears readiness for scientific use is pretty exciting in its own right, but we had another surprise on the day of my birthday. Ethan Peck, who plays Spock on Star Trek Discovery, was on a road trip and decided to visit the observatory. A tour was arranged and he spent the beginning of the night at the WIYN telescope. For me, it was quite a thrill to have Spock, of all people, wish me a happy birthday! He brought a Polaroid camera with him and we snapped a photo of us standing by my control station. Here we are at WIYN. Ethan Peck is in the center (in white) and I’m to the left.

Meanwhile, across the mountain at the Mayall 4-meter, commissioning has continued on the DESI instrument. The instrument had its official “first light” a couple of weeks ago and a wonderful image was released that, I think, really illustrates the power of DESI.

Image credit: DESI Collaboration, Legacy Surveys; NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory/NSF/AURA

Here you see an image of all 5000 DESI fibers superimposed on the sky. At the bottom of the fiber array is M33, the Triangulum Galaxy. Below that is a view of the spectrum from just one of the 5000 fibers showing the light from that little piece of the galaxy. In it, you can see the lines labeled that denote the presence of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and even sulfur. Now remember that each fiber in that picture gives the same kind of data for the piece of sky its on. You can read the full press release about DESI’s first light at: https://nationalastro.org/news/desis-5000-eyes-open-as-kitt-peak-telescope-prepares-to-map-space-and-time/

All of the robotic positioners moving those fibers at the top of the Mayall telescope get hot and there’s a chiller system to keep them cool. This week, that chiller system will be automated, but last week, we had to monitor it by eye and it requires a person to turn the system on and off by hand. The person doing that remarked how spooky it is to be in the depths of the Mayall with all the lights out and remarked how she kept looking over her shoulder, wondering if someone was there. This is another aspect of my job that definitely helped to inspire The Astronomer’s Crypt. You can learn more about the novel and see the trailer I mentioned earlier at http://www.davidleesummers/Astronomers-Crypt.html.

The Inevitable Cycle Revisited

This past summer, I paid a return visit to one of my favorite places, Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. In light of that visit, I thought I’d revisit a post I originally wrote for my Scarlet Order Journal three years ago on the occasion of another visit and share some new photos. Lowell Observatory is famous as the site where Percival Lowell observed Mars for many years, recording his observations of the canals he—and most mainstream scientists of the day—believed they saw. It’s also the observatory where Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto. Of course, in mythology, Pluto is the Roman god of the underworld and a figure closely associated with the spirits of the dead. Lowell Observatory on Mars Hill is also the site of Percival Lowell’s Crypt. The photo here is from my 2019 visit.

If you look carefully at the tomb, there is an epigraph, to the right of the door. It reads, in part, “Everything around this Earth we see is subject to one inevitable cycle of birth, growth, decay … nothing begins but comes at last to an end … though our own lives are too busy to mark the slow nearing to that eventual goal …” The words on this astronomer’s crypt go a long way to explaining what draws me to horror. Birth, growth, and decay are not only inevitable, but all can be frightening. Horror provides a mechanism for taking a look at the things that frighten us and getting a handle on them.

The epigraph continues: “Today what we already know is helping to comprehension of another world. In a not distant future we shall be repaid with interest and what that other world shall have taught us will redound to a better knowledge of our own and of the cosmos of which the two form a part.” The quote comes from Percival Lowell’s book, The Evolution of Worlds. Horror might be scary, but it reminds me that humans can overcome even the worst terrors to accomplish great things. In fiction that can be defeating a villain or a monster. In real life, we might conquer our fears to expand the borders of human understanding.

Right next to Lowell’s crypt is the telescope where he observed Mars for many years. This year, we arrived on the weekend of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. It was my second opportunity to go in, and see the telescope. I got to ask questions about the building, the original clock drive and whether the original f-stop is still on the telescope. My daughter even had a chance to move the dome around. They had a public night scheduled, but our schedule didn’t allow us to return. Back in 2016, we were able to visit at night and we had a terrific view of Saturn. We could see resolution in the clouds and the rings were sharp and beautiful. If the ghost of Percival Lowell wanders the observatory grounds, I suspect he’s proud of the job the people there do of giving the public a glimpse at the universe, which can be at once scary and beautiful.

I hope my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt scares you when you read it. I also hope you’ll see how people overcome fear and accomplish great things. Even though I hope to show you scary things in that novel, I also hope to show you some of the beauty that this universe and the people who inhabit it possess.

The Astronomer’s Crypt is on sale for just 99 cents this month of October 2019. You can get copies at: