Renovations

At Kitt Peak, where I work, the 4-meter telescope is getting a new coat of paint. Also, I now have my first wave of galleys for The Astronomer’s Crypt. 4-meter-painting My editor has made a few new changes—some for the better, some I’m revising further. In all, it’s a time for renovation and renewal.

In the spirit of renovation, renewal, and hoping to make things better, I’ve been thinking about my blogs. In case you don’t know, I have two of them. On Saturday, I blog at davidleesummers.wordpress.com about steampunk, science fiction and writing. I’ve been blogging here on Mondays about horror, vampires, and writing. The lines between the topics often blur, partly because horror and vampires sneak into my steampunk from time to time, while science fiction sneaks into my horror, and so forth.

It seems to me that having two blogs is splitting my energies and my audience. Now, I’m the first to admit that not everyone who likes my steampunk will also like my vampires. Not everyone who dreams of traveling to the planet Sufiro wants to imagine the horrible nightmares I have in store in The Astronomer’s Crypt. Despite that, the lessons I learn from writing and my observations likely have a common audience.

So, my plan is to try an experiment. Starting next week, all my blog posts will be posted at davidleesummers.wordpress.com. I’ll continue on my current schedule with more steampunk and science fiction on Saturdays and more horror and paranormal fiction on Mondays.

Thanks to all those who have followed this site since I started it in 2009. If you don’t already, I encourage you to come over to my other site and follow me there, so you won’t miss a thing. Of course, another way to keep up on all my latest news is to subscribe to my newsletter. I haven’t been sending updates as often as I’d like simply because I’ve been working on several projects all at once. Not only am I working on The Astronomer’s Crypt, but I’m working on two science fiction anthologies and some new short fiction, all of which I’ll be sharing about as it comes out both on the blog and in the newsletter.

These are exciting times! Thanks for joining me on this journey!

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A Vanishing Past

I’ve been working on a new short story that deals with a topic that’s at once close to my heart and more than a little frightening in a real-world sense. Set in the world of my Old Star/New Earth series, it tells a story of space pirate Captain Ellison Firebrandt and his father. Unfortunately, his father suffers from dementia. This part of the story is inspired by my mom who suffered the same thing. Despite my mom’s dealing with dementia, I never really realized that it wasn’t “just” brain chemistry but involved a physical alteration of the brain. This public domain image from Wikipedia provides a pretty dramatic illustration of the effects that can happen.

Alzheimer's_disease_brain_comparison

In the last years of my mom’s life, she lived in fear of forgetting who she was. Her short term memory became quite poor and she would forget whether or not she’d taken medications without assistance. Although she would remember events in her distant past with some clarity, I found that she started to forget events from my past, including many of the friends I’d had in high school and college. In a way, it felt as though my own past were being slowly erased, which I think was scary for both my mom and I.

One of the challenges of the anthology I’m writing for is that I have to show the person finding a path through the disorder. Unfortunately, no cures have been identified and there are few medications or therapies that can help, which makes finding a path out difficult. Fortunately, I’m writing science fiction, so I can imagine some hope in the future.

Writing science fiction, I do give the story a bit of an additional horror angle. The company Bradbury Firebrandt works for uses nanotechnology to keep him strong. He’s been an asteroid miner for so many years, he can do it even with the impairment of dementia and the company uses technology to keep him working, almost like an enslaved zombie. This is a future that I don’t want to see, but can imagine all too easily.

As for how our character saves himself, I’ll leave that as something you can read about if and when the story gets published—and I’ll be sure to share that news. What I will say is that I’m very thankful for the final years when I got to spend time with my mom and hear the stories of the early years of her marriage to my dad and spending time living with her cousin in post-World War II Los Angeles. My own past may have vanished somewhat from her life, but I still got to know her better and hopefully as I work through the story, I’ll be able to convey at least a few of the complex emotions that go with helping an older relative through the difficulties of dementia.

How My “Day” Job Inspires My Writing

This past week, I wrote a guest post for Lachesis Publishing about how my “day” job in astronomy inspires my writing. I put day in quotes because I work from sunset to sunrise at an astronomical observatory. You can read the post at http://lachesispublishing.com/?p=7256.

4-meter

In the article, I mention three ghost stories that have rational explanations. In the first one, the police called the observatory saying they had received a 911 call. When the telescope operator checked the number where the call originated, it turned out it was from an empty elevator, locked down and closed for the night. Only someone who knew where the elevator’s power was could have made the call, which was unlikely. Needless to say, the operator was pretty freaked out and thought it must be a ghost. It turns out, what the operator didn’t know is that several of the phone lines on the mountain had recently been slaved together in a phone upgrade. The 911 call came from some kids playing a prank, who I heard ultimately ended up in a lot of trouble!

The second story was about a breaker in one of the spookiest hallways being thrown. Turns out that one wasn’t so mysterious. There were more observers than normal in the control room and they were brewing coffee, making bagels in the toaster and running the microwave all at the same time on the same circuit. Most likely they just popped the breaker from all the cooking they were doing! Still, it was awfully spooky going down that hall looking for that switch.

The third story was about a rocking chair in the lounge rocking all by itself. This one is the hardest one to be sure about. The dome at the top of the 4-meter enclosure rotates so the telescope can look out and weighs some 500 tons. When it moves, it’s like a freight train. If the dome moves, things vibrate, so I could believe the chair would rock if that happened. That said, the people who’ve seen this say the dome was not moving. It’s hard to miss, so I don’t doubt them. If I had to guess, it has more to do with the building being something of a skyscraper, as you can see in the photo above. When the wind blows, it sways slightly, which might have set the chair to rocking. This is the one incident that I don’t have direct personal knowledge about, so who knows. What I do know is that they’re moving our control room into that room, so there will be plenty of opportunities to see if chairs move on their own.

As you can no doubt tell from this post, I am something of a skeptic. However, at the observatory we often look at stars hundreds of light years away, to see how their atoms and molecules behave. Some people who first learn about the vastness of the universe begin to wonder at how insignificant we humans are. However, if you look long enough, you really begin to wonder where we came from and what happens to the little spark of energy that keeps us alive after we go. When stars blow up, they don’t vanish. Their material is recycled and becomes the material for a new generation of stars. Does our life force simply vanish? It’s not so hard to believe it might still exist in some form. Being a skeptic only means that I require hard evidence to believe in ghosts and I haven’t seen that evidence yet. Nevertheless, I’ll keep wondering and I’ll keep exploring these ideas in my fiction.

Sudden Death

There’s a morbid joke that goes like this: I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather, not screaming in terror like the passengers in his car.

One of the things that makes early October challenging for me is that it’s the anniversary of my father’s death. He died many years ago of a heart attack surrounded by doctors and nurses fighting to save his life.

My dad’s death has never really stopped haunting me and I think it goes a long way to explain my interest in vampire fiction. After all, vampires are immortal. However, I’ve come to realize there’s another dimension to the appeal of vampires. Anne Rice introduced me to the idea of vampires who don’t necessarily want their victims to suffer. In effect, they’re companions in those last, terrifying moments of death. A vampire can create a death that’s not only peaceful, but almost pleasurable. Even in Nosferatu, Lucy doesn’t die alone. Orlock is with her, almost loving her. Her death has purpose in that she’s sacrificing herself for her village.

Nosferatu-Lucy

Death is inevitable and it’s often an important component in horror fiction. Sometimes, the subject is explored in depth as in the vampire stories I discussed. The vampire might prove to be a tragic figure, denied the death he’s able to grant. Other times, it’s the shocking tragedy of death that motivates the characters into action and provides the adrenaline rush for the reader. A vampire who rips people’s throats out is likely to be seen more as a monster to be hunted rather than a sympathetic character in his own right.

Dragons Fall

When I wrote Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order and Vampires of the Scarlet Order, I was most interested in exploring vampires coming to terms with their immortality and living in a world where death not only happens all around them but where they are often the cause of death. The vampires use their power to be mercenaries so they can exist in a world with humans. Because they want to coexist with humans, they endeavor not to be cruel when they kill. When they can, they place a pleasant fantasy in the mind of the victim. Otherwise, they endeavor to be merciful and quick.

Death in The Astronomer’s Crypt is more sudden and horrific. The creature who deals death has no interest in humans, perhaps even actively hates them. In that sense, the monster is more like a force of nature. You don’t know who the monster is going to kill or why. The only choices are get out of its way or try to stop it, and the latter may prove futile.

The way death is addressed in the story sets the tone. Even a story where no one dies can raise questions about death. For example, a story of torture might not have death, but the reader may question whether it would be better for the tortured character to die. In a psychological horror story, the question may be whether or not madness is a type of death.

Unfortunately, we don’t get out of this life alive, but this aspect of horror has allowed me to explore this difficult subject and to find ways to appreciate the time I have with those I love.

A Round of Tag

I was at Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium this past weekend and fell behind with this week’s Scarlet Order blog post. What’s more, I dropped my Kindle yesterday, damaging the screen, which put me all out of sorts. Fortunately, Susan over at Dab of Darkness tagged me in a round of questions, so this is your chance to learn a little more about the man behind the vampires, zombies, and other scary things that get discussed at this blog. What’s more, the graphic fits last weekend’s whole steampunk-vibe!

mustache-questions

Four Names That People Call Me (Besides My Real Name)

  1. Dave – Yeah, I know it’s short for “David” but it never quite feels like my real name.
  2. Captain – My spontaneous college nickname.
  3. Angus – The character I played in Brigadoon, which also became my SCA name.
  4. Dad – The name I wear with the most pride.

Four Jobs That I Have Had

  1. Car Detailer for Toyota
  2. Ice Cream Shop Soda-Jerk
  3. Physics Tutor
  4. Web Developer

Four Movies I Have Watched More Than Once

  1. Plan 9 From Outer Space
  2. Nosferatu
  3. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
  4. Seven Samurai

Four Books I’d Recommend

  1. The Shining by Stephen King
  2. The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas
  3. The Naval Institute Press edition of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelly

Four Places I Have Lived

  1. San Bernardino, California – The place I grew up.
  2. Nantucket, Massachusetts – There once was a man from…
  3. Tucson, Arizona – I love the beauty of the Sonoran desert. The heat, not so much.
  4. Moriarty, New Mexico – I once heard Arthur Conan Doyle picked the name for Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis by seeing this town on a map.

Four Place I Have Been

  1. La Serena, Chile – Just after a few days observing the Large Magellenic Cloud from Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory.
  2. New Orleans, Louisiana – In the full sultry, summer heat to deliver my daughter to college.
  3. Times Square in New York – As part of a wedding party.
  4. Dinosaur National Monument – An amazing window into Earth’s past.

Four Places I’d Rather Be Right Now

  1. On the planet Sufiro after the war between New Granada and Tejo.
  2. Aboard the solar sail Aristarchus en route to Saturn.
  3. Back aboard the Queen Mary for Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium. The weekend was over far too fast!
  4. At home with my family. I enjoy my work at the observatory, but I miss them when I’m here.

Four Things I Don’t Eat

  1. Olives – never acquired a taste, though I do like to cook with olive oil.
  2. Pickled cucumbers – I would just say “pickles” but strangely enough I do like other vegetables pickled, including pickled beets.
  3. Fugu – I prefer my sushi when it’s very fresh and not going to kill me if the chef made a slight mistake in preparation.
  4. Veal – I have no problem eating meat, but I want it to have grown up first.

Four of My Favorite Foods

  1. Chicken and sausage gumbo
  2. Chicken mole enchiladas – In this case, mole is Mexican chocolate, chile sauce
  3. Posole – A stew of pork, hominy, and red chile
  4. Crawfish etouffe – When they were open, Cajun Kitchen in Albuquerque used to serve this over catfish. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Four TV Shows That I Have Watched

  1. Star Trek
  2. Firefly
  3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  4. Doctor Who

Four Things I Am Looking Forward to This year (The Next Twelve Months)

  1. Twenty-fifth Wedding Anniversary
  2. Several different conventions, including Wild Wild West Con, Bubonicon, and TusCon
  3. Finishing The Brazen Shark
  4. The release of The Astronomer’s Crypt

Four Things I Am Always Saying

  1. “Basically…” – This seems to be an astronomer thing or maybe a scientist thing. Anyway, it’s the need to sum things up.
  2. “Craptastic” – Great for spectacular failures.
  3. “Awesome” – As an acknowledgement and an affirmation, particularly when everyone benefits.
  4. “No problem” – If it sounds interesting, necessary, or kind of fun, it usually is.

Four People I Tag

I’m going to be a bit of a rebel and not tag anyone. Sometimes I find the person I’ve tagged has already played. Sometimes life is in the way and the last thing someone wants is to be tagged in a silly blog post. That said, if this looks like fun, drop a note with your blog address in the comments and I’ll tag you here!

Terror from the Skies

Working at an observatory, perhaps the question I’m asked most frequently is whether or not I’ve seen anything strange in the sky. By strange, they usually mean alien spacecraft or something coming down from the heavens to threaten life and limb. I can honestly say I’ve never seen an alien spacecraft, but this past week I did work with a pair of astronomers whose job it is to watch for asteroids that provide an all too real threat from above.

4-meter

The astronomers work for Spacewatch, a group at the University of Arizona’s Lunar Planetary Lab whose job is to search for and study the various populations of small objects in the solar system. In the photo above, the two Spacewatch telescopes on Kitt Peak are in the two foreground domes. One contains a 0.9-meter telescope. The other contains a 1.8-meter telescope. Although great telescopes, they aren’t quite large enough to see the smallest or most distant objects. Every now and then the Spacewatch team gets time on the 4-meter telescope, the big one on the top of the hill, which I operate.

At this point, I don’t know of any objects definitely destined to strike the Earth. Back in 2013, I did help an observer use the Kitt Peak 2.1-meter telescope watch as an asteroid called 2012 DA14 pass near the Earth. At that point, it was the closest observed approach by an asteroid of that size. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Earth, a meteor that no one had observed previously struck Russia. It was one of the most amazing coincidences imaginable and and a reminder of how much work is needed to catalog the small objects of the solar system.

An asteroid strike is a very real and terrifying idea. At this time, we have no way to defend against such a possibility, and even if we could defend ourselves, we still have a lot to learn about exactly what is out in space. A few years ago I wrote a story called “An Asteroid By Any Other Name” which imagined an asteroid-hunting team in the future identifying an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. Although they successfully destroy the asteroid, debris rains down on the jungles of the Amazon. The real problems start when the asteroid remnants start to move on their own, devouring the plant life.

www7

The story was nominated for the James Award and appears in the anthology Wondrous Web Worlds 7. It’s available at the Sam’s Dot Publishing On-Line Bookstore and at Hadrosaur Productions.