Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: May 2020

1979 and 2015 covers for "The Doppelganger Gambit," and a photo of author Lee Killough.

Knocking off the zeerust

Science fiction writers with long careers may be forced to decide about knocking off the zeerust from some of their older works. 

What is “zeerust“? 

We’ve all seen it–it’s what you might call “retro futuristic” ideas, looks, or concepts. It’s “zeerusty” if at some point in the past it seemed futuristic, but now it just looks quaint or dated. We can thank Douglas Adams of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (and so much more!), for this word.

A black-and-white still photo from the 1927 movie "Metropolis," showing an Art Deco cityscape at night with lights.
A city scene from the 1927 movie Metropolis. (photo courtesy of CCNY Libraries).

Another description might be “Raygun Gothic,” which refers to the tropes and idiosyncracies found in “Golden Age” pulp science fiction. You know it when you see it. “From about Metropolis till the dawn of Star Trek’s original series. For example, the Hugo Award is an example of a classic Retro Rocket.

I did a whole series of posts on this phenomenon back in October 2018, although I didn’t know the word “zeerust” at the time. The posts highlighted videos from the 1920s through the 1950s that featured “Futuristic” visions of “Tomorrow” in general, of kitchen technology, of automotive technology, and the kind of houses we might live in

As the opening line indicates, I was reflecting on writing careers that have lasted long enough for earlier works to have acquired some zeerust. For writers in my age range, their book could date to the 1970s or 1980s. “Knocking off the zeerust” in this case implies a fiction-remaking process not unlike what my husband did last weekend for an old iron patio table, using some emery paper, a wire brush, and a can of Rustoleum

Knocking off the zeerust . . . from what?

This whole question of zeerust arose because I’m currently reading Lee Killough‘s 2015 edition of The Doppelgänger Gambit. It’s a fresh re-envisioning of her 1979 novel by the same name, published by Ballantine (and well received, at the time). 

From right to left are the 1979 cover for "The Doppelgänger Gambit," the 2015 cover, and a photo of Lee Killough with her miniature schnauzer.
The original 1979 cover of The Doppelgänger Gambit reflected the time it was published. The 2015 cover looks much different. Author Lee Killough masterminded the remake. (Photos courtesy of James Nicoll Reviews, Amazon, and Books We Love).

Early in the 2010s, when I was first thinking aboutpolice dogs on a space station, Lee and I had a conversation at one of the many SoonerCons we’ve both attended. She told me about her research into new, cutting-edge forensics, and a few of the cool things she’d learned.

I’m one of those weird folk who like actual, physical, dead-trees-type books. I’ve been waiting for her publisher, Books We Love, to come out with a trade paperback, but after five years I figure that’s a doomed effort. So I grudgingly caved, and bought the Kindle edition.

Is knocking off the zeerust a good idea?

There’s a valid case to be made for leaving “vintage” works as they are. Respecting the author’s original vision, and viewing it in its historical context is never wrong. But any number of good reasons do exist for an author to go for a reprint, a revised edition, or even a whole new “remake,” as Lee did.

This artwork by Frank Kelly Freas is a dynamic masterwork of its genre: a spacesuited raygun-wielder (or welder?) with four fellow spacewalkers, imagined in 1953--12 years before the first spacewalk.
Some things need no re-imagining. This artwork by Frank Kelly Freas is a dynamic masterwork of its Golden Age Pulp Science Fiction genre. The illustration was created for a story by Leigh Brackett in the September 1953 issue of Planet Stories–12 years before the first spacewalk. (Image courtesy of Scanzen on Tumblr.)

In Lee’s case, she felt it was absolutely necessary–and I have to respect her artistic choice. The updates are fascinating. I read the original version not long after I first became aware of it, back in the early 1980s. And yes, in the intervening years it definitely had accumulated some zeerust. It’s “near future” science fiction, set in 2091, and thus perilously prone to that kind of thing.

When the rights reverted, she wanted to re-release it, but couldn’t live with the zeerustRemakes can be a huge risk, but sometimes they’re worth it. I haven’t finished reading this one, so I can’t tell you (yet) if I think it was worth it in this case. But so far I’m enjoying myself.

Zeerust and Weird Sisters Publishing

The “zeerust” question is relevant to Weird Sisters Publishing. My sister and I plan to re-release several novels by G.’s late husband, Warren C. Norwood. We also plan to dust off several of the novels she wrote in the 1990s, that didn’t quite fit what the romance editors were looking for at the time. 

We think all of them are still good books. Sadly, Warren isn’t here anymore to defend himself, so his works stand as they are. G. may make some adjustments, but she intends to keep them grounded in the decade when they were written.

Warren C. Norwood, with the decidedly "retro future" cover of his first novel, "An Image of Voices."
Warren C. Norwood never loved the covers he got–but in 1982 a first-time novelist had no say over the images his publisher chose to slap on his books. In Jan’s opinion, the best of the lot was the one at right–a stock cover they’d bought beforehand, based on nothing in the story. We hope to do better when we re-issue his books! (Photos courtesy of G.S. Norwood and Amazon.)

And yes, I have a couple of novels that date to the 1980s and 1990s, too. Both are science fiction, and both could stand to have a little zeerust brushed off and be touched up. Both came very close to being published “back in the day,”  but I have no current plans to revisit them. 

No, I’d rather stay focused on Rana Station and the XK9s, for now, thanks!


Many thanks to CCNY Libraries, for the still from the movie Metropolis. The photos in the Lee Killough/Doppelgänger Gambit montage are courtesy of courtesy of James Nicoll Reviews, Amazon, and Books We Love. The beautiful reproduction of Frank Kelly Freas’s masterful “The Ark of Mars” illustration is courtesy of Scanzen on Tumblr. The photo of Warren C. Norwood is courtesy G. S. Norwood. The cover image for An Image of Voices is courtesy of Amazon.

The Veggie Project on the ISS

Growing Rana Station’s agriculture

the cover of "What's Bred in the Bone."
What’s Bred in the Bone
Cover art © 2019 by Jody A. Lee

Rana Station‘s agriculture is a big part of my vision for the primary backdrop of my characters’ lives. If you’ve read my first novel, What’s Bred in the Bone, you’ve possibly gotten an inkling that very little arable soil inside the tori of my characters’ habitat space station home lies fallow. Even small spaces are nearly all devoted to growing food.

I’ve blogged in the past about how humans will feed themselves and provide enough protein to live permanently in space. I’ve long been an interested follower of efforts to grow food crops on the International Space Station,as well as intensive gardening efforts here on earth.

Gardening sisters

Last week, my sister G. S. Norwood wrote on The Weird Blog about the joy, beauty, and health benefits of her gardening projects. Having grown up under the same influences, I’ve long been a gardener, too.

But while G. specializes in flowers, I’ve always been more of a fruits and veggies woman, myself. Having grown up in the ’60s and ’70s, I was always half-convinced I’d better hone my skills at organic gardening, in case I survived the coming nuclear armageddon, and needed to feed myself and others afterwards (unlike a prepper, I figured learning how to can the food I grow would feed me longer than squirreling away canned foods like Spam and beans).

Jan, in her garden in 1974, with her new bike and her sister's Irish setter.
I’d worked most of the summer of 1974 to buy that bicycle. I posed for it (with G.’s dog Finnian) in my garden. (photo probably taken by G. or our mother, to send to my then-boyfriend, now-husband, who was working in Colorado).

Eventually, worries about nuclear Armageddon receded as a real possibility in my maturing brain. But I still followed organic gardening methods. They appealed to my evolving environmentally-friendly consciousness.

More recently, in a concession to knee injuries, I’ve taken up container gardening. This has led to some interesting experiences–and inspired more ideas to use for Rana Station’s agriculture.

Lettuce and marigolds grow in Jan's cedar planter-box in 2019.
New in 2019: I added a cedar planter to my patio container garden, seen here dominated by lettuce and marigolds. (photo by Jan S. Gephardt)

My thought-experiment world

These influences all combined in my world-building efforts on Rana Station. Years of watching how our world and its societies work, years of teaching, and years of gardening have given me some strong opinions. How better (or more sfnal!) to explore their possibilities and shortfalls than to test them out in a “thought-experiment” world?

In my concept, Rana Station’s agriculture is not only necessary for their own consumption. It’s also a key export that is vital to their economy. A problem every space-based habitat faces is how to feed its inhabitants. The more I looked at the possibilities, the clearer it became to me that the early NASA developers were not gardeners or farmers.

"Torus agriculture," as envisioned by NASA engineers in the 1970s.
A year or so after my garden photo with Finnian and the bike, this was NASA’s idea of farming on a space colony. Note the stark division between agricultural and residential areas. (detail of uncredited NASA photo found on Socks Studio.)

What if a gardener from farm country did take a whack at figuring out how to feed the 8.4 million humans and 2.4 million ozzirikkians I wanted on Rana? What would such an effort take?

Thinking outside of strict divisions

First, I eliminated the to-me-strange division between “agricultural” and “residential” areas that seemed endemic in many of the space colony concepts (Designed by men who never got food anywhere but a grocery store?). 

Intensive plantings make the most of a small space, including a "salad wall" vertical garden.
“Salad wall” and raised bed give good examples of food grown intensively in a small amount of space. (Photo courtesy of QuickCrop).

Why not grow “veggie walls” in commercial buildings? Why not cultivate vine crops that hang from baskets or planter boxes on the residence towers’ balconies?

Then I conceived my living area not as a broad, relatively flat plain, but more like the agricultural terraces of YemenAsia, and the Incas. I envisioned a convex/concave profile of the Ranan hillsides would maximize arable surface area

Rice terraces create flat areas in hilly places, for rice paddies.
Rice terraces of Longsheng (Longji) in China (Photo by Anna Frodesiak – Own work, Public Domain)

This also creates an endless, undulating river valley that accommodates natural patterns of water flow. Yes, they still have to dredge parts of it occasionally. But they’ll have prepared for it.

Rana Station’s agriculture and its economy

In my universe, Rana Stationers have made a name for themselves as an interstellar farmers market of the first order. Not being required to haul their fresh produce up from a planetary gravity wellthey have a pricing and freshness advantage to offer the interstellar transports that stop over at the station to restock between transits through the local jump point.

Root crops, leaf crops, and squash at a farmer's market.
Fresh produce from the Fresh and Local Farmers Market, near Arizona State University (photo courtesy of Facebook/Fresh and Local at ASU, via Phoenix New Times)

I think it’s likely space environments will be dominated by utilitarian freeze-dried, frozen, and reconstituted foods in the form of microgravity-friendly ration bars, packets, or bulbs. In light of that, what sybaritic joy might fresh produce offerI can imagine captains who plot their course through the Chayko System’s jump point specifically to access the fruits of Rana Station’s agriculture.

ISS Space food, on a tray.
Taken in the Food Tasting lab in building 17: Bags of International Space Station food and utensils on tray, 2003. (Photo courtesy of NASA, via Wikimedia Commons).

Visions to come

I’m currently working with illustrators, and also on my own artwork, to come up with better ways to envision the station. I plan to share those efforts in future blog posts, and once I get my newsletter off the ground, they’ll also show up there on occasion. I hope you’ll join my explorations.


What’s Bred in the Bone cover art © 2019 by Jody A. Lee. The 1974 photo of me was probably taken by G. or our mother, to show off the bike to my then-boyfriend, now-husband. I took the photo of my most recent container-gardening addition. 

Many thanks to Socks Studio for the uncredited NASA photo of agriculture on a space colony. I appreciate QuickCrop, for the intensive planting photo, and Anna Frodesiak – Own work, Public Domain for the rice terraces photo. Thank you, to the Phoenix New Times for the farmers market photo, and to NASA and Wikimedia Commons for the ISS food photo. The featured image shows NASA’s Veggie Project on the ISS. I appreciate you all!

4-book Aces High, Jokers Wild pubishing.

For the characters

I’ve heard it said that people pick up the first book of a series for the plot, but they stay with the series for the characters. This is true in spades (sorry: pun intended), when it comes to the “Aces High, Jokers Wild” series by O. E. Tearmann.

Book Four is Aces and
Eights. Available now.
(Photo courtesy of Amazon.)

If you’re already a fan of this series, I have excellent news! The fourth book, Aces and Eightsis now available in e-book format (here’s hoping a paperback and audio version are released soon!).

If you’re not already a fan of this series, I have even MORE excellent news! There is a wonderful series awaiting your discovery–and it’s now four books long! (plus a Christmas-themed novelette, After Hours Game, that ideally should be read between Books 2 and 3).

If you’re not reading the XK9 books, why not these?

Dystopian warm fuzzies?

Personally, I tend to steer clear of fictional dystopias, although I have a dear friend, Lynette M. Burrows, who writes a great dystopian series. (Scroll down her homepage for a list of great dystopian novels, if you love to read them).

The Hands We're Given  (Book One) was a tour de force introduction to this world. (Image courtesy of Goodreads.)
The Hands We’re Given  (Book One) was 
a tour de force introduction to this world.
(Image courtesy of Goodreads.)

But I made an exception for the “Aces High, Jokers Wild” books–and I’m very glad I did. The people in these books are all their own kind of special. Talented, broken. Abused by the brutality of the world in which they live. But they rise above. They pull together. And, bit by bit, the oddballs and misfits of Base 1407, AKA The Wildcards, triumph. They use their unique talents and diverse strengths to succeed where more conventional approaches fail.

I love these people so much, I will gladly read anything Tearmann writes about them. Strictly for the characters, this series has become an “insta-buy” for me. 

I love them because they’re smart. They’re perceptive–about their situation, and about each other. They love first, and while they may quarrel about details, their love is unconditional. Put to the most severe tests, they stay true to themselves and their team.

If you haven’t discovered this series, you’re in for a treat (Image courtesy of the Aces High Jokers Wild website).

The world they inhabit

Raise the Stakes leads the Wildcards
into newrealms of possibility, and sees a promising new turn in the fight against the Corps. (Photo courtesyof Goodreads).
Call the Bluff, Book Two,
is a bit shorter, but every
bit as riveting. New dangers threaten,
and cherished lives are endangered.
(Photo courtesy of Amazon.)

Tearmann has done some interesting world-building in these books. The Unites States of America that we know has been overrun and subsumed. In this world, seven corporations rule much of North America, each with its own territory, its own rules, and its own moral code. Codes which are imposed on the subject-citizens, although the “Corps” themselves follow an amoral code of self-interest and absolute control to the greatest extent possible.

Climate change has wreaked its havoc on the world, and most of the formerly-verdant plains states are now desolate near-deserts. Only the areas farmed by AgCo, with its patented, genetically engineered food crops that can’t reproduce on their own (no seeds but those controlled by AgCorp will grow) feeds the nation.

The Co-Wy Grid (contemporary Colorado and Wyoming, where the Wildcards of Base 1407 stay on the run) is a patchwork of danger and sanctuary, respite and conflict. For the past 60-some years, the Democratic State Force (on the Co-Wy Grid they’re informally known as the “Dusters”) has sought to restore democracy.

The LGBTQ angle

Raise the Stakes leads the Wildcards
into newrealms of possibility, and sees a promising new turn in the fight against the Corps. (Photo courtesy of Goodreads).
Raise the Stakes leads the
Wildcards into new
realms of possibility, and
sees a promising new turn
in the fight against
the Corps. (Photo courtesy
of Goodreads).

If you’re not normally a reader of LGBTQ fiction, this series may take you by surprise. As with everything they do, the Wildcards don’t particularly adhere to conventional gender norms.

That starts with the protagonist of the very first book, Commander Aidan Headly (born Andrea), who gradually transitions into his true self over the course of several volumes.

The books include a fair number of rather graphic sexual interactions. They may or may not be your “cup of tea,” but as I noted in my review of the first book, I’ve never read a book in which such scenes were more essential to the plot, or more appropriately used to express character growth.

If you’re willing to roll with it and let your hair down, these scenes are pleasantly steamy no matter what your orientation. After all, love is love. And it’s masterfully handled here.

For the characters

But there’s also a lot of plot between the steamy sex scenes

Do you like suspense? Join Kevin and his team when they go on the Grid. Do you enjoy sticking it to “the man” and triumphing over the machine-like inhumanity of large corporate entities? Then Tweak and her unique talents are your sweet spot. She’ll have you cackling with glee.

Do you love the drama of bringing a traumatized human being into an accepting space, then helping him or her understand they are finally, finally safe? (Or as safe as it’s possible to be, in this world.) Then you will love these books.

Buy them. Read them. Do it for the characters. You will not regret it.


Many thanks to Amazon for the cover images for Call the Bluff and Aces and EightsThanks to Goodreads for the cover images for The Hands We’re Given and Raise the Stakes. And many thanks to O. E. Tearmann’s website for the four-book series image. I appreciate all of you!

Information card for Jan's reading

My first original video

What more auspicious day to post my first original video on my own YouTube channel, than on Star Wars Day

What’s my first original video about?

It’s a reading, of the kind I love to do–and attend–at science fiction conventions (Ah! Remember back when it was safe to hold science fiction conventions in person?). The video is about 27 minutes long. It features me, reading Chapter One of The Other Side of Fear.

Alongside a picture of the cover, this information card says, "Jan S. Gephardt reads Chapter 1, 'Planet-Bound,' from her novella 'The Other Side of Fear.' Story  © 2020 by Jan S. Gephardt. Cover artwork  © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk. Published by Weird Sisters Publishing LLC."
Here’s the information that accompanies my video reading.

I owe Virtual DemiCon, and the amazing Joe Struss, a lot of thanks. They premiered this video during their event

They also got me off my butt! I’ve known I probably should do a video reading for a long time, but it’s hard to get off “square one.” Especially when it’s your first foray into a new medium. They provided the needed motivation. Thanks very much! You guys are awesome.

While Virtual DemiCon is still available, please do yourself a favor! Check in, then take in as many of the events as still remain online!

This T-shirt design from Virtual DemiCon has a black background and neon-colored words that read, "Welcome to a world without heroes . . .", "CONTAMINATED," "Legions of DemiCon," and  "HA HA" to suggest an evil laugh.
Thank you to DemiCon for this image.

What makes Star Wars Day appropriate?

The original Star Wars movie made a huge impression on me when it came out in theaters in 1977. I may have lived in Kansas City for more than 40 years, but I didn’t move here till my marriage in 1978. So I managed to miss MidAmeriCon I in 1976, where there was a big display and all the stars came to talk about this movie they were making.

In 1977 I lived and taught in tiny Lockwood, MO. I’d watched and enjoyed Star Trek reruns on TV by then. My soon-to-be husband had turned me on to Frank Herbert’s Dune, and the librarians at the Ash Grove Library had by then gotten me intrigued in science fiction stories from Poul Anderson and Isaac Asimov.
But I had never seen anything like like that movie before

I paid the at-the-time-exorbitant price of $3.00 for a ticket multiple times to see it over and over again (No VHS, no Betamaxnot on my horizon till years later! No Blockbuster Video, and certainly no NetflixHulu, or Disney Plus, back in those ancient days!).

I didn’t go back again and again for the plot. I didn’t go to critique the space physics. No, I went to bask in the spectacle (Artist. Visual creature. I drank it in.)

And not long after that, I started writing my first science fiction novel. I still have the typescript somewhere–typed on a manual Underwood in the evenings, after I finished my lesson plans for the day. It’s horrifying dreck, but it’s the first novel-length fiction I ever actually finished.

A gray 1952 Underwood "Rhythm Touch" manual typewriter like the one I used. Many thanks to Machines of Loving Grace for this photo.
A 1952 Underwood “Rhythm Touch,” like the one I used. Many thanks to Machines of Loving Grace for this photo.

Does that make me a “Warrior,” not a “Trekkie”?

Well, no. As time went on, I came to enjoy lots of different science fiction stories, shows, and films. I love Star Trek, too. And–sorry, diehard “Warriors”–a lot of the Star Wars movies make little to no “real-world” sense (don’t get me started on things I find cringeworthy). 

But the visuals, the droids, other-world creatures, the exotic vistas, the sheer spectacle of the Star Wars moviesthose, I still enjoy. They attracted me in formative ways, during my early days of writing sf. And they bring a nostalgic smile to my lips to this day (well, some of them. Give me Darth Vader in a TIE fighter, but leave Jar-Jar in the closet where he belongs).

So my first original video–my own “mini movie”–that opens a glimpse of my science fictional world, is an appropriate thing to release on Star Wars Day. It’s not too long on spectacle. But I hope you enjoy it, nonetheless.

Here's the villainous Darth Vader in his iconic TIE fighter, hot on Luke Skywalker's tail.
Give me that quintessential villain Darth Vader in his TIE fighter! Many thanks ImgFlip.


My video may be found on my YouTube channel.  I created the information card with the Cover for The Other Side of Fear,  plus copyright information, etc. Many thanks to Virtual DemiCon for the “CONTAMINATED” design, to Wikipedia, for the original 1977 Star Wars movie poster image, and to Machines of Loving Grace for the photo of the 1952 Underwood “Rhythm Touch” manual typewriter.  Many thanks also to ImgFlip, for the photo of Darth Vader in his TIE fighter.

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