Sunday, May 31, 2009

Do Space Pirates Need Special Sheets

Do Space Pirates Need Special Sheets?

This Crazy Tuesday, June 2nd is all about SPACE PIRATES and regular host "Row-hard" Rowena Cherry will be joined by "Madman" Mark Terence Chapman, "Dastardly" David Lee Summers and Jacquie "jolly" Rogers to plunder the icy blackness of space.

That's the blurb up on the PIVTR site. I apologize for the dreadfully bad "pirate" names, but for an unscripted, "blogging aloud" show that begins at 10 am Eastern (which is seven am for my nightowl, West Coast friends) and runs until 12.00 noon, I prefer to set a low standard and deliver better than expected.

I'm sure we will get into deeper topics, such as cloaking; motherships that look no different from regular traffic until it is too late for their victims to respond; space barratry (scuttling ships to hide theft of cargo); corsairing and privateering; and star ship commanders who pay lip service to Star Fleet Command, but do not necessarily comply with their orders... because who is to know? And perhaps if the politicians and generals back home had real time information, their orders would be different.

All credit to my friend Jacquie Rogers for getting me thinking (again) about sheets, and the logistics of hygiene, sex, and repose in deep space. Are space pirates simply Jack Sparrow with an air lock? I think not.

If Diana Groe's historically accurate Vikings managed to sustain an unfair seductive advantage over their European sexual rivals by wearing reasonably clean underwear, I wonder what the competitive advantage would be of body odor inside the confines of a space ark. Would it tend to demoralize and depress the enemy?

I should imagine there would be a product much like Procter and Gamble's Febreze. I hear that college students are using the odor eating product to simply spray the unwashed crotches of their jeans.

David Lee Summers is the author of five novels, and here is an excerpt from a guest blog he wrote for me to promote our June 2nd show.

The first of my novels is The Pirates of Sufiro, which starts off as the story of a band of space pirates that are marooned on a distant world they name Sufiro. Over the course of the novel, the pirates who were stranded have to battle corporate pirates who try to take over the planet. Thus the book explores the idea of "piracy" from multiple angles. I have recently explored my space pirate characters even more in stories appearing in the anthologies Space Pirates and Space Sirens published by Flying Pen Press. Another of my novels, Vampires of the Scarlet Order, is a supernatural thriller, but it features a cameo by the real life pirate, Grace O'Malley.

The phrase "space pirates" conjures up images of marauding bands cruising the galaxy in space ships. Perhaps the blaster-wielding captain has a robot parrot on his shoulder and some kind of high-tech eye-patch with a heads-up display. Movies and television have invoked this image numerous times and I think such pirates can be a lot of fun, even though they're often extremely campy.

Look a little harder at the idea of space pirates, though, and an interesting picture emerges. 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.

My own love of pirates started at an early age. I grew up in Southern California and was lucky enough to visit Disneyland a few times as a kid. One of my favorite rides from the time I was about six years old was The Pirates of the Caribbean. I was also a Star Trek fan from a very young age. Though a bit too young to remember the original series when it first ran, I was exactly the right age to watch Star Trek: The Animated Series when it ran on Saturday mornings. One of those episodes was "The Pirates of Orion" written by Howard Weinstein. I already was a fan of pirates and I just fell in love with the idea of pirates in space.

In the years after that, though, most depictions of space pirates that I came across grew painful. I saw far too many actors with robot parrots on their shoulders hamming it up for the camera. As I mentioned earlier, they could be fun to watch, but they did get old. I probably would never have even tried to write a story about space pirates if I hadn't come across the Bio of a Space Tyrant novels by Piers Anthony. In the first novel, Anthony introduced space pirates that were colorful and fun, but at the same time very dangerous. These were the kinds of space pirates I was looking for.

In 1988, I set out to write my first story of space piracy for a writing workshop in Socorro, New Mexico. I wanted to create pirates that were larger than life, fun, but yet a bit dangerous, much like the good space pirates I had encountered before. That's when Ellison Firebrandt and the crew of the Legacy who appear in The Pirates of Sufiro, Space Pirates and Space Sirens were born.

As I worked to create my pirates, I spent time in the library reading historical accounts, trying to get some idea for the motivations of historical pirates and how they operated. As I read, I found the stories of Henry Avery, Bartholomew Roberts, William Kidd, Anne Bonny and Mary Read particularly captivating.

Now, I believe it's important that a writer create a world where it's believable that space pirates exist. That said, if we postulate a universe where humans are colonizing other planets in the galaxy it's reasonable to expect that pirates will exist. In my "day" job I operate telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory. It's actually hard to imagine a star empire or galactic alliance with so much money that they could patrol every possible planetary system imaginable. Likewise, it's hard to imagine a future where everyone is so well off that someone won't be motivated to try to take what someone else has. Just recently, we had the incident of Somali pirates taking an American ship not far from American warships. Even with only a small boat and a few guns, they created a very difficult situation for this country. The galaxy is a much bigger place.

In my universe, Earth recognizes that it simply cannot patrol much of its territory at all with warships of any sort. It becomes much more practical for humans to issue Letters of Marque to pirate crews and allow them to harass ships from competing systems and colony worlds.

My pirate captain, Ellison Firebrandt, comes from a poor family. His father was a miner in the asteroid belt and it looked like Ellison's fate would either be to follow in his father's footsteps or go into some other hard labor for the rest of his life. As with the pirates of old, life aboard a pirate ship seemed to offer more freedom and opportunity for young Firebrandt than a life wasting away as a miner or a laborer for one of the giant corporations of Earth. Because Firebrandt is the protagonist of the stories in which he appears, I felt it necessary to give him a moral compass. He is loyal to Earth because the government provided his Letter of Marque. He kills and robs, but he does so with the intention of aiding Earth.

In the story "For a Job Well Done", which appears in the anthology Space Pirates, Firebrandt tries to fence stolen items through a gang that secretly pulls the strings on one of Earth's colony worlds. The gang maintains control through the torture of the planet's populace. In the process of discovering this, Firebrandt meets a woman named Suki Mori and a romance is born. Though Firebrandt is, himself, a criminal, his moral compass can't abide the self-serving interests of the gang he encounters and he feels compelled to stop them. Even though the story is science fiction, it was heavily influenced by contemporary headlines.

In the follow-up story entitled "Hijacking the Legacy" that appears in the anthology Space Sirens, Suki Mori discovers the cold hard reality that her new-found "friends" really are bloodthirsty pirates. She tries to escape but throws herself and the pirate crew right into the hands of a military captain that doesn't recognize Firebrandt's Letter of Marque. This puts Suki into a crisis of conscience. She recognizes that the crew of the Legacy is composed of criminals, but she also realizes that they're the ones who saved her from an even worse criminal gang. Can she simply let the pirates be killed?

Historically, not all pirates were clear-cut villains. They often came to piracy through a series of circumstances and choices. Often times there were no good choices for these people. Sometimes it was live as a slave or live as a pirate. Sometimes being a pirate seemed less horrible than being a crewman for a ship of the "legitimate" military. In creating my space pirates, I worked to create a universe that presented my characters with many of those kinds of difficult choices from history. I worked to create characters with enough of a moral compass that those choices were interesting ones to explore. Hopefully the stories are an exciting, fun ride as well!

If you would care to learn more about my novels and the anthologies where my stories appear, please visit and click on the links for "Books and Audio Books" and "Short Stories and Poems."

Or, visit David Lee Summers's blog on barratry

Mark Terence Chapman adds:

Rowena: Here's the premise behind the pirates in My Other Car is a Spaceship.

In my "universe", there are a number of alien civilizations in our sector of space, but none of them large enough or wealthy enough to patrol the space outside their respective territories. So pirates run amok in the "in-between" places, attacking remote settlements, mining colonies, and cargo ships traversing deep space. In addition to swag, some of the pirates trade in slaves.

Seeing the growing threat to commerce, a number of commercial outfits formed the Merchants' Unity, a sort of police force funded by the member merchants and tasked with the mission of suppressing the pirates and keeping them from disrupting interstellar commerce.

For many years, this worked. The Unity held the pirates to a nuisance-level only. Then one day, a pirate leader (a human ex-slave, whose grandparents were kidnapped from Earth) got a number of the pirate chieftains together and formed a corporation (BAE, Inc., short for Buck-an-Ear). Now organized (with stockholders and profit sharing), the pirates begin to attack in swarms instead of individually, overwhelming the Unity patrol ships and pushing the Unity to the brink of defeat.

Present-day Earth is unaware of any of this. But when a Unity ship patrolling our solar system (a pre-interstellar, and therefore embargoed system) loses both its pilots, it's forced to scour Earth for someone suitable, someone with the rare hypertasking gene that gives his mind the ability to handle thousands of simultaneous inputs.

It's into this universe that Colonel Hal Nellis, retired USAF fighter jock, is thrown. As pilot of Adventurer, he, along with Captain Kalen Jefffries (a son of human slaves), must find a way to defeat the seemingly overwhelming might of the pirates, or face the destruction of the Unity and the pillaging of a defenseless Earth.

[Bio: Mark is the author of three published science ficiton novels: The Mars Imperative, The Tesserene Imperative, and the just-released Sunrise Destiny. My Other Car is a Spaceship is his fourth, recently-completed, novel.)

As for the sheets question.... That is a matter of individual taste. Jacquie Rogers's pirates in her yet-to-be published novel that predated Fifth Element have special sheets to cope with bedding (verb) in zero gravity. Mark Terence Chapman's spacefarers are to be a surprise (to me). Some don't. In my first alien romance, Forced Mate, my high and mighty hero Tarrant-Arragon steals the love of his life's bedding from Earth to encourage her to feel more at home in his bed.

I've never visited a pirate's bed (in my books), but my Scythian pirates are a bit like downsized Chewbaccas with claws so with all that reddish hair, there's little need for modesty in bed.

Rowena Cherry
Space Snark

By the way, for those who do not know, you can download royalty free wallpaper and fabulous images from


  1. I can tell we'll have a good time Tuesday morning. What a bunch. I'll have to take another look at my book and see if there are more interesting gadgets we can talk about, although I thought anti-gravity sheets were pretty interesting. :)

    Jacquie1st Turning Point

  2. Anti-gravity sheets are indeed fascinating, and I cannot wait to find out how they work.

    Magnets? Crampons?

  3. Fun post! I've been thinking about getting that Space Pirates anthology--this post only increased my motivation to do so.

    I like the idea of taking space pirates deadly seriously. While a swashbuckling tale can't be beat, I'm all over stories that explore the darker sides of these characters.

    I wish I could start my day with the Crazy Tuesday event, but alas, a child is not something that can be rescheduled. It sounds great, though!