Exploring Galaxies

This past week, I’ve been working at Kitt Peak National Observatory’s WIYN telescope using one of the workhorse instruments called HexPak to help astronomers better understand how galaxies work. At left is a photo I took of the galaxy M51 with the New Mexico State University 1-meter telescope. While we can learn a lot studying photos like this, wouldn’t it be nice if we could learn more, and understand what chemical elements make up the different parts of a galaxy? The instrument HexPak is designed to do just that.

One of the best tools we have for understanding the chemistry of objects in space is spectroscopy. Back in the nineteenth century, it was discovered that if you looked at heated elements through a spectroscope, you would see a characteristic set of lines in the rainbow-like spectrum. These lines are like a fingerprint for each element. It turns out that stars are really good at heating up elements! Below is a photo of the WIYN telescope with HexPak mounted.

HexPak is the white hose-like thing on the right plugged into side of the telescope. Inside that hose-like unit is a bundle of optical fibers arrayed in a hexagonal pattern. They look like this:

We can then align those fibers with a galaxy like M51 above, so different parts of the galaxy line up with different fibers. When that’s done, it looks something like this:

Now, I should note, this image was created just for illustration purposes. I haven’t tried to match the scale or alignment of my NMSU 1-meter image of M51 with the HexPak fiber array. However, you will see that different parts of the galaxy now line up with different fibers. That light is now sent downstairs to a bench spectrograph where it’s broken into its component parts. Here’s WIYN’s bench spectrograph. You can even see the rainbow like spectra on the grating at left we use to analyze the light from galaxies.

Light from each of the fibers in the array becomes a single spectrum and the image of that spectrum is recorded on a camera, shown at the right of the image above. Each one of those spectra will tell us about the elements present in each of the parts of the galaxy as lined up above. So, for example, you can figure out if the spiral arms have different amounts of a certain element than the bulge in the center. You can see what’s going on in the space between the galactic arms. If you look closely at my photo of M51, you’ll see it has bright regions that line up with parts of the spiral arm. An instrument like HexPak can help an astronomer learn if those parts of the spiral arm are different from other parts of the spiral arm, and maybe see what those regions are made of.

As I’ve mentioned in other blog posts, this work does inspire my writing. Sometimes I look at a galaxy like one we study with HexPak and think what it would be like travel between the different parts of a galaxy. M51 has a lot in common with our own galaxy. What’s it like in the arms? What’s it like between the arms? What’s it like the galaxy’s center? What’s more, working with astronomers in the control room sometimes does feel like being a crewmember on a spaceship exploring uncharted reaches. All of these elements have influenced science fiction stories like Firebrandt’s Legacy and The Pirates of Sufiro. I’m getting ready to release the former and I’m rewriting the latter with help from supporters at my Patreon site.

You can get involved in the fun by becoming a patron. My patrons are the first people who get to read new stories in my science fiction universe and they get to download complete books when they’re available. What’s more, one of my goals at my Patreon site is to make this blog ad free. If you like behind-the-scenes looks into astronomy like this one, but don’t like the ads at the blog, please consider supporting my Patreon site at: http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

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First Responder Training

This past week at Kitt Peak National Observatory, I renewed my first responder certification. As I mentioned in my Saturday blog post, observatories are in remote locations and bad things do happen. I’ve been fortunate enough that I haven’t had to deal with much in the way of criminal activity at an observatory. I’m often asked if I have ever seen aliens at the observatory. My answer to that is that the law enforcement agency I’ve interacted most with at the observatory is the U.S. Border Patrol.

That said, things can be bad enough without people engaged in illegal activities. I have had to treat an astronomer who was stung by a scorpion. I also know of a time a person on the mountain suffered a heart attack, though did not go into cardiac arrest. As I approach the age my father suffered a fatal heart attack, I find myself grateful that many of my co-workers know CPR and have been trained in the use of Automated Electronic Defibrillators.

Even without worrying about heart conditions, I have also had more than my share of accidents. About a month before my oldest daughter was born, I was working on a telescope when I accidentally knocked a 15-pound weight off a ladder and it fell right into my jaw, puncturing my lower lip. Luckily I didn’t lose any teeth. More recently, an elevator became stuck. We were able to open the door and I jumped to the floor below to go find a ladder to get my fellow passengers out. I managed to sprain my knee in the process.

At Kitt Peak National Observatory, once we dial 911, it will take 45 minutes for the closest ambulance to make it to the observatory summit. Many observatories are even further from emergency response. Having a staff where many people have first responder training means we can help each other and help visitors during emergencies.

I strongly encourage you to get first responder training if it’s at all available. I have to admit, I don’t always remember all the lessons from the videos and practice sessions, but the training does give me the confidence to follow instructions from a 911 dispatcher when I call. I’ve also found that in those rare emergency situations, I’m surprised by how much I do remember.

Another aspect of first responder trainer that’s important to me is that it gives me experience I can draw on as a writer. Aspects of both Kitt Peak’s remote location and the training I’ve received as a first responder have gone into such novels as The Pirates of Sufiro. The novel is currently out of print, but I’m about to launch into a full rewrite in preparation of a fourth edition at my Patreon site. My Patreon site also helps to fund this blog and I currently have an initiative to raise enough money to upgrade this to an ad-free site. Drop over to my Patreon site and read two free stories of my new collection Firebrandt’s Legacy. If you sign on, you can read the rest of the collection for free, plus you can see how The Pirates of Sufiro develops in its new edition. I bet you’ll even see some examples of how I put my first responder training to use in my fiction writing. My Patreon site is at: http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers.

Steampunk in the Wild

In many ways, steampunk is more than a literary genre and more than a fandom. It can be a lifestyle and it can be a community. I experienced this when I joined the Tucson Steampunk Society to invade the mining town of Bisbee, Arizona, just a few miles south of Tombstone. The Society secured lodgings at the Bisbee Inn, also known as the Hotel La More, at one edge of Bisbee, overlooking Brewery Gulch, a home to saloons in the old west days and still a home to some fine breweries today. The Bisbee Inn is a lovely building that still feels very much like a nineteenth century hotel, even with its modernized plumbing and kitchen.

Unlike a convention, this outing was not jammed full of scheduled items. Most events happened on Saturday, August 18. We started with a meetup at the Cafe Cornucopia for an informal lunch. Afterwards, from 1-5pm, the League of Pythean Metachronists and Explorers of the Paraverse welcomed participants to a High … very High Tea in the far reaches of the Mule Mountains. Many participants hiked into the Mule Mountains for tea and adventure. Some remained below at the base camp, still others took the time to explore the shops and attractions of Bisbee.

My wife, daughter, and I decided to take the Queen Mine Tour, which is quite an adventure in itself. The Queen Mine was a copper mine that operated as recently as 1975 and our tour guide was one of the miners who worked there. The people who take the tour are loaded on a little train that rides along the old mining cart tracks deep into the Earth. There, the guide gave us a look at the equipment used in the mining operation and regaled us with anecdotes of his days working in the mines. I last took the tour circa 1994 and information I gained was used when I described the Erdonium mines in my novel The Pirates of Sufiro. I’m getting ready to start my rewrite of that novel at my Patreon page, so you can bet the fresh visit will be useful!

After the mine tour, I joined the family for a visit of the shops. Va Voom near the Bisbee Inn specializes in many steampunk items and held a no-purchase-necessary raffle for a beautiful leather parasol holder. All of us found treasures in the store to take home with us. After that, we took a break until dinner time and had a nice, quiet dinner as a family. Bisbee is the kind of town where you can walk into a fine restaurant in your steampunk best and be welcomed with open arms. The group did elicit a few comments, and though a few were puzzled or curious, most were complimentary.

After dinner, my family and I visited a few more shops before rejoining members of the Society for gelato. We then returned to the hotel for the PG PJ Potluck Parlour Party. This was a chance for steampunks to gather and mingle. I was invited to read and the hotel, like many old hotels, is said to have its share of ghosts, so I read a sampling from my story “The Sun Worshiper” about a mummy-unwrapping party gone wrong, which appears in the anthology After Punk published by eSpec Books.

You might notice in the photo that I wore a top hat and tails to a PJ party. Of course, as an astronomer, that is viable late night wear! After the reading, the party moved on to a mix of tarot and tea leaf readings plus some party games. The whole thing wound down between midnight and one in the morning.

All in all, it proved to be a wonderful and relaxed time. It gave me a chance to know members of the Tucson Steampunk Society better than I would have at a convention. What’s more, when I go to a convention in a town, I rarely have time to actually explore the town. I loved that I got to spend time in Bisbee, visit its shops and see some of the people who weren’t part of the event, including a dear friend who lives there and another friend who was in town for a different event. I would certainly be happy to return for another such event either in Bisbee or in a new and different location.

I can tell many people worked behind the scenes to make this a wonderful event. At the risk of leaving someone out, I want to give kudos to Andie Ruiz, Kathleen Hill, John and Sabrina Floyd, and Jim Spring. And of course a very special thank you to Madame Askew who invited me to read at the event and is the vibrant and delightful personality at the center of many outstanding steampunk events. You should visit her Patreon page at: https://www.patreon.com/MadameAskew

The Circle of (a Writer’s) Life

On Friday, I typed “The End” at the bottom of the last page of my latest book, Firebrandt’s Legacy. The book collects previously published stories of a space pirate captain named Ellison Firebrandt and his crew and adds some new stories to create what amounts to a “fix-up novel.” Each chapter is a short story, but the whole thing forms a complete story arc.

Like typing “The End” on most books, this really represents the beginning of the road to publication for this book. In this case, I don’t expect editing to be quite as arduous as some books I’ve worked on. Many of the original stories have been edited by such people as Hugo-nominated editors Jennifer Brozek and Bryan Thomas Schmidt. Of course, the new stories will need a critical eye and care will need to be taken to make sure the stories all work together as a whole. For those who want an early look, chapters 1 and 12 are available for anyone to read at my Patreon site. Thirteen chapters are available to read for all patrons—and it only costs $1.00 per month to be a patron. You may cancel at any time. I plan to share the last two stories this month. The site is: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

Now these chapters are likely to get tweaked as beta readers and my editor work their way through it, but your support will help me pay cover artist Laura Givens and help pay the costs of editing and typesetting the book. What’s more, to show my appreciation, I plan to share a gift code with my patrons that will allow them to download the complete book once finished. I’ve also adjusted my Patreon goals. One of those goals is that with sufficient support, I can make this blog ad free.

As it turns out, I finished this book the day after I received news that I had been promoted from “Observing Associate” at Kitt Peak National Observatory to “Senior Observing Associate.” In essence, the promotion recognizes my seniority at the observatory plus the work I’ve been doing with the on-line manuals for my fellow operations’ staff.

These moments coming together do cause me to reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m going. I worked in astronomy full time from 1990 until 2000. At which point, I decided to devote myself to writing and editing full time. I did that until 2008 when staff members at Kitt Peak asked me if I wanted to return. I agreed under the provision that writing was recognized as my primary career. So far, my supervisors have been very supportive of this. I also returned because I feel astronomy is a way that I contribute to the larger body of human knowledge. My position as an astronomer and a writer allows me to communicate some of what we learn to the public through appearances at conventions and through this blog. This broader support mission is not part of my job, though, it’s supported through sales of my books and Patreon supporters.

My schedule at the observatory is not all that flexible, it involves working long nights, and those nights often require full concentration. My pay is pretty good for living in the southwest, but even with the most recent raise, it’s still below the average salary in the US according the Census Bureau. I note this just to point out that despite my full-time job, I’m not a well-to-do hobbyist. I do need support from sources like book sales and Patreon to continue publishing and to afford travel to events.

So, looking ahead, I’ll spend this fall polishing Firebrandt’s Legacy for publication. I’m scheduled to appear at several events including Bubonicon in Albuquerque, CoKoCon in Phoenix, TusCon in Tucson plus I’ll be signing books next month at a local bookstore. More about each of those soon.

I’m also working on some projects that I can’t discuss yet and am not entirely sure when I’ll be able to announce them or whether they’ll bear fruit at all. I say this less to tease you and more to say I am working on things in the background. In the meantime, as I announced on July 21, after Firebrandt’s Legacy is complete, I do plan to turn my attention to a new edition of The Pirates of Sufiro, which was my very first novel. In a way, “The End” on Firebrandt’s Legacy has caused me to spiral back to the first book I wrote and I hope to take what I’ve learned on life’s journey so far and make it an even better book. Whether it’s through my books, appearances at conventions, Patreon, the web journal or some combination, I hope you’ll come along with me for this exciting journey.

End Game and New Beginnings

I’m currently working on the final chapters of my collection Firebrandt’s Legacy. This book collects space pirate stories that have appeared in numerous anthologies over the years alongside several new stories. The whole collection is an arc of related stories, so the book may be read as an episodic novel. I’ve been sharing the new and revised stories with my Patreon subscribers since September 2017.

Based on my current outline, I have about three stories to go to bring events up to the beginning of my novel The Pirates of Sufiro and to bring the collection up to the length I want. I will release the first story of the final three to my Patreon subscribers on Thursday, July 26.

My approach to Patreon has been pretty simple. I only have one tier and it only costs $1.00 per month to subscribe. Of course, patrons are welcome to pay more per month if they feel sufficiently moved by my work to support me at a higher level. My first goal is to use this money to pay the costs associated with publishing Firebrandt’s Legacy. My second goal is to print new editions of the other related books including The Pirates of Sufiro, Children of the Old Stars, and Heirs of the New Earth. Patreon support has already helped me publish the new edition of The Solar Sea, which is a prequel to my Space Pirates’ Legacy series that tells the story of how humans became a space faring society. I shared a free download of the ebook with all my Patreon subscribers. Patreon support also helps support this blog and helps support my travel to conventions where I give both writing and science presentations.

For the duration of Firebrandt’s Legacy, I have been posting at least one new or revised story to the site per month along with a “Behind the Scenes” look at where the story first appeared (if it had been previously published) and what influenced me to write the story. Of course, I plan to share a free download of the complete ebook to all my Patreon subscribers when it’s complete.

Now that I’m about to finish Firebrandt’s Legacy, I’m thinking about the best way to share my progress revising The Pirates of Sufiro for a new edition. I expect that I’ll be heavily revising this novel for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is that this was my very first novel and I’ve learned a lot since I first published it. I’ve also received a lot of feedback on the novel over the years and plan to take those comments into account. Sharing “reedited chapters” may not sound like much value to anyone who has already read the book and people may wonder why they should subscribe instead of just buying a cheap used copy of the book.

My current plan is that when I start The Pirates of Sufiro, instead of doing the “Behind the Scenes” segments, I’ll share the chapter as it appeared in the most recent edition, perhaps along with some notes about the inspirations and the origins of the ideas. I’ll wait a couple of weeks, then present the revised chapter, so people can see what I’m doing with this edit. In both cases, I’m delighted for people to comment on what I’m doing as the project progresses.

To prepare for this transition, I’ve recorded a brief intro video and posted it to my Patreon site. Also, I have made two of the Firebrandt’s Legacy stories/chapters available for anyone to read whether or not they’re a patron. They’re the first chapter, “For a Job Well Done”, and Chapter Twelve, “Calamari Rodeo.” I encourage you to drop over to the site, watch the intro video and read the two free stories. If you like these characters, please sign on as a patron. My Patreon site is: http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

One last thing before signing off. Speaking of used copies of The Pirates of Sufiro, Children of the Old Stars, and Heirs of the New Earth, Hadrosaur Productions is running an auction at eBay for the last complete set of the LBF/Hadrosaur editions of the Old Star Saga in their stock. Drop by and place a bid at eBay!

Clearing the Decks

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of my first novel’s release. Looking back, The Pirates of Sufiro was an ambitious idea for a novel. It’s a generational tale about space pirates stranded on a distant world and those who came along afterward who joined and opposed them. The novel went on to spawn two sequels, Children of the Old Stars and Heirs of the New Earth. I cut my teeth as a writer on those books and feel like my skills grew as I wrote them.

As I mentioned in a post back in May, the publishing rights for all three novels have reverted to me. There are parts of these novels I love and parts I’d love an opportunity to revise. I plan to start that journey next week and I’ll say more about that at the end of the post. In the meantime, I’m clearing out copies of the most recent editions of the novels. Why would you pick these up if I’m creating new editions? For one thing, these editions feature illustrations by Laura Givens which cannot appear in the new editions. If Laura creates illustrations for the new editions, they will be different. It’s a great price—I’m offering these at half off the cover price. Also, I’m happy to sign the books. Just drop an email to me at hadrosaur[at]zianet[dot]com when you order and let me know you’d like the books signed and to whom.

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, the con-man looking to make a fresh start for himself and his wife on a new world; of Peter Stone, the ruthless bank executive 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. You can order The Pirates of Sufiro at half price by visiting: http://www.hadrosaur.com/bookstore.html#pirates

In Children of the Old Stars, the Cluster is a vast alien machine that destroys starships indiscriminately in its quest for something or someone. Commander John Mark Ellis, disgraced and booted out of the service when he fails to save a merchant ship, believes the key to stopping the Cluster is communication. His mother, Suki Firebrandt Ellis is a historian who believes the very leaders of the galaxy are withholding information about the Cluster. Clyde McClintlock believes the Cluster is God incarnate, seeking retribution. G’Liat is an alien warrior whose own starship was destroyed by the Cluster. All together, they set out to solve the mystery of the Cluster before it finds the object of its quest. You can order Children of the Old Stars at half price by visiting: http://www.hadrosaur.com/bookstore.html#children

In Heirs of the New Earth, the Earth has gone silent. John Mark Ellis and the crew of the Sanson are sent to investigate. When they arrive, they find vast alien machines known as Clusters in orbit. Fearing the worst, they land and discover that the once overcrowded, polluted Earth has become a paradise of sorts. The problem is over half the population is dead or missing and the planet’s leaders don’t seem to care. As Ellis works to unravel the mystery, sudden gravitational shifts from the galaxy’s center indicate something even worse is in the offing. Can Ellis save the galaxy from the heirs of the new Earth? You can order Heirs of the New Earth at half price by visiting: http://www.hadrosaur.com/bookstore.html#heirs

Now onto the next chapter in this grand adventure. About ten years after I released The Pirates of Sufiro, I started writing stories about the good captain’s adventures before he was stranded on Sufiro. I’m in the process of collecting all those stories into a book called Firebrandt’s Legacy. On Monday, I invite you to drop by my brand, spanking new Patreon page at http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers to see the awesome cover for the new book. Patrons will be able to read the first story on Monday. Even though several of the stories have already been published, they’re each getting a brand new edit and there will be new, unpublished tales along the way. I hope you’ll join me for this exciting, swashbuckling journey!

The Space Pirate’s Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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