The second book in the Jenny Casey SF trilogy.

Publication year: 2005
Format: print
Page count: 368 + an excerpt of Worldwired
Publisher: Bantam Spectra

Scardown continues right after Hammered and most of the familiar characters return. Jenny Casey has been partially reconstructed; she’s a cyborg with metal parts, enhanced reflexes and strength, and an artificial intelligence in her head. She’s also now a pilot to a spaceship. The technology comes from an alien ship found on Mars and the humans don’t really know how the faster than light drive works. However, thanks to humanity, Earth is on the brink of destruction and space seems to be our only hope. Unfortunately, Canada isn’t the only country with a spaceship – China has one as well, and both countries are determined to be the only ones who get to leave Earth.

Jenny, her lover Gabriel Castaign, and Gabriel’s children are in the middle of the space race in a very intimate manner. Gabriel’s older daughter Leah has been accepted into the pilot program along with a dozen other teenagers. Jenny is both proud of her and angry at her government for involving children. She also has to deal with the Unitek, the corporation which is sponsoring the Canadian space race but in a ruthless way. Oh, and Jenny is in around 50 years old and a Native Canadian.

We also follow one of the Chinese pilots, a former gang leader Razorface from the previous book, Elspeth Dunsay who is Gabriel’s other lover and the maker of the AI program, and various other characters. The variety of characters makes the plot quite complex and I recommend reading the books close together. I didn’t do so it was sometimes hard to remember what was in “Hammered.” But I’ve learned my lesson now and will continue with “Worldwired” very soon. This isn’t an easy comfort read, but the reader needs to pay attention and connect the dots herself. Also, the setting is quite complex and the history isn’t spelled out for the reader. I really enjoyed connecting the dots, though.

Personally, I didn’t care for the Razorface storyline which felt tacked on but otherwise I liked this book more than the first one, although it’s a bit too grim and dark for me still. Jenny’s part is written in first person present tense while all the others are in third person and past tense. It can be a bit jarring at first but it didn’t bother me.

Collects Fables 1-5.

Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists: Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha, Craig Hamilton
Publisher: Vertigo

A group of fairy tale characters live in the real world, New York to be precise. They have their own little community and don’t want to interact much with the humans, or mundies as they are called. In fact, their most important rule is to keep the existence of fables a secret from humans. If a fable can’t keep a human appearance, he or she is sent to the Farm, a closed community in the countryside, where the non-human fables, like mice, geese, dragons etc. live. The city community is called Fabletown and it’s run by Snow White and the town’s sheriff is the Big Bad Wolf, except that he’s in a human form and supposedly reformed. Snow’s sister is Rose Red and she’s apparently been murdered. Rose’s boyfriend Jack (of various stories) comes to Bigby Wolf and says that he found Rose’s apartment full of blood and trashed. Bigby starts to investigate and Snow becomes quickly involved.

Right from the start, we are introduced to various familiar characters, such as Beauty and the Beast, Prince Charming, Cinderella, and Bluebeard. Most of them have twists, such as Snow being the responsible and rather humorless administrator and Bigby the sheriff. I rather enjoyed most of the characters, and they are going to get more interesting and enjoyable in later volumes. The fables have been driven from their own lands by the Adversary and his armies. We get a couple of peeks to the fight against his horde.

The mystery plot is actually pretty predictable and seems to be mostly just an excuse to go around town and introduce us to the cast. I enjoyed it the first time I read it but now it seems quite simple. Still, this first story arc was good enough to make me read quite a bit further into the series.

I really enjoyed the various side characters, such as the talking pigs and poor Flycatcher the janitor who was the frog prince. It’s fun to track down the references. Also, Prince Charming is quite a character in this series and one of those whom I enjoy reading about but wouldn’t necessarily enjoy his company. The sex scenes might put off some readers but they’re quite effective in establishing his character. Oh, and I really love the moody covers.

Booking Through Thursday

Do you read mystery novels? If so, why? Is it the mysteries themselves that appeal to you? The puzzle-solving? The murders? Or why don’t you read them? What about them doesn’t appeal?

Yes, I read mysteries. However, I don’t read much contemporary mysteries but stories set in different settings, such as science fiction, fantasy, or a historical period.

As for what appeals to me, it’s usually a combination of characters, the setting itself, and the writing style. And also, that the characters change and grow through the series. However, the mystery is also part of the package that keeps me reading.

Two of my favorite mystery series are superficially quite similar:
Amelia Peabody series written by Elizabeth Peters is set in the Victorian era. In most of the books, Amelia and her family are in an archaeological dig in Egypt and her husband Emerson complains about her tendency to start solving mysteries instead of concentrating on the main thing, archeology.
The series is written in a very humorous style and from Amelia’s point-of-view in first person. The characters change and grow during the series which covers several decades, enough for Amelia’s son to grow to adulthood and start his own family.

Phryne Fisher series written by Kerry Greenwood is set in the 1920s Australia. Phryne herself is a flapper. She’s an independently wealthy young woman who bucks pretty much every taboo possible for that era: she drives a fast car and flies planes, she has handsome young men as lovers and has no plans of settling down. She and the cast of characters surrounding her are highly entertaining. The books are mostly written from Phryne’s point-of-view in third person but sometimes we also get other character’s POV. However, the characters don’t change nearly as much as in the Peabody series and the books themselves don’t cover much time.

My other favorite mystery series are science fiction. Perhaps closest to Peter’s and Greenwood’s series is Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. It also covers decades of time and the main character and the people around him change quite a lot. Not all of the books have mystery plots, so it’s not a traditional mystery series as such. However, Miles Vorkosigan does more than enough of solving mysteries.
Most of the series is written in Miles’ third person POV. While Bujold has a couple of whodunnit plots, most have more in stake than just finding a murderer.

The Retrieval Artist series written by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is also science fiction. It started on the Moon, set in the domed city of Armstrong. It has multiple POV characters who are usually dealing with aliens and specifically some matter of alien law which is messing up the humans’ lives. Later books are set on other planets, like Mars.
This series again has characters who change and grow during a long period of time, but also quite alien aliens (not just humans with bumps on their heads, even though I do enjoy that kind of aliens, too), and various different planets as settings.
Also, Rusch’s books (in this series) are larger in scope than in Greenwood’s or Peters’ books: a city has been bombed and the main characters are trying to save people while finding out which group did the bombing or a mass grave has been found which affects the alien culture living near the grave in a massive way. In fact, they’re often like catastrophe movies (except good; sorry, but I don’t like catastrophe movies).

Collects Ms. Marvel vol. 2 #35-40.

Writer: Brian Reed
Artists: Patrick Olliffe, Serge LePointe, Kris Justice, Rebekah Isaacs, Sana Takeda, Luke Ross, Rob Schwager

Dark Reign continues right from the previous collection. Carol is still on the run from the Osborn-led Avengers with her two friends, Rossi and Mason. The first three issues are titled “The Death of Ms. Marvel 1-3” and events do escalate towards that point. This is not a stand-alone collection but relies heavily on storylines from the previous collection and also from other titles. I haven’t read Dark Reign.

In the first issue, Carol finds out about a mass suicide in a Church of Hala, who apparently worship the original kree Captain Marvel. When a new Captain Marvel joins the Avengers, these worshipers killed themselves in protest. Carol investigates and runs into the new CM. Neither is happy about it.

In the next two issues, Carol continues her hunt of Ghazi who is selling some doomsday weapon and also tortured her years ago. Her powers are increasingly erratic until at the end of the third issue during a confrontation with Ghazi, Carol’s powers explode seemingly killing her. We also find out a startling fact about Rossi.

Osborn takes advantage of the situation and appoints Moonstone as the new Ms. Marvel, taking Carol’s old costume. However, she has to undergo psychological evaluation which ends up being quite unusual.

Next, Moonstone investigates A.I.M. and is shown that they are trying to breed a new type of superhuman, a combination of MODOK and the storyteller whom we met in the previous collection and in the very first issue of this series. However, instead of shutting them down, Moonstone has an offer from Osborn. Unfortunately, AIM turns it down… by throwing an asteroid into New York. It turns out that Moonstone has some weird mental connection to the fetuses which AIM has and she stole them and brought them to the Avengers headquarters. However, a mysterious (but not really) female figure made of energy is also interested in the fetuses and attacks Moonstone.

This is somewhat disjointed collection where one storyline ends and another begins. In fact, it might have been better to combine first three issues with the previous collection and start a new one with Moonstone as Ms Marvel. Also, Moonstone is not introduced at all, so the change came very suddenly and unexpectedly. My feelings of disjointedness might be heightened because Carol’s story arc was well developed (even though I personally felt quite frustrated with it at times).

It’s quite ironic to see how the former villain appears to do good and gets praised for it, even though she’s actually furthering Osborn’s evil agenda and even killing people in full sight of others, while Carol has been failing pretty consistently for a couple of years now.

One thing which actually helped the transition between the different storylines was the change in artist. Isaacs’ and especially Takeda’s art is much more manga styled than Olliffe’s.

The collection ends in a cliffhanger.

I’ve always considered that my bookcases give a pretty fair representation of me as a person—they show my interests, what kind of things I like, that I have a curious mind, the kinds of things I study … all that. But with the increase of e-books, that litmus test of personality is going by the wayside. Unless someone takes my Kindle and browses through it, there isn’t an immediate, visible display of my interests … am I the only one who finds that kind of sad? Going forward, about the most we’ll be able to tell about someone is that they OWN an e-book reader … but no real idea of what they actually read. I’m going to miss that.

I agree, that I’m going to miss seeing actual books, too, if and when ebooks become that common. But I honestly don’t see it, at least here in Finland where fiction ebooks cost at least as much as a hardback (and have a higher VAT, too).

However, it’s possible that by then we’ll have customized ereader covers. Perhaps a melange of covers from the books inside or a cover of just one book or something.

The fifth book in the Barsoom series.

Publication year: 1922
Format: an ebook from project Gutenberg
Page count: not in a Kindle book

This was one of my favorite Barsoom books when I first read them as a teenager. Alas, I can’t reread it without any knowledge of what the book contains but it still ended up as one of my favorites because of two elements: the strange species and customs of the enemy peoples and Tara.

The book starts with John Carter visiting the author. Supposedly, John has now learned to travel between Mars and Earth at will. He tells Edgar about his daughter’s adventures. Two young people adventure in lands not well-known to Helium encountering wicked villains, steadfast friends, and strange places and people. It’s a Barsoom book, alright.

Tara is Dejah’s and John’s daughter and she has always known that she’s going to marry the son of her father’s great friend, Kantos Kan. Tara doesn’t love the young Djor Kantos but when Djor starts to pay a lot of attention to another woman, Tara becomes jealous. She also meet Gahan, the jed of far Gathol at her father’s party. Gahan is instantly smitten with her and declares his love for her. She, however, isn’t impressed. In fact, she’s so furious that she leaves the party and in the morning, she flies her one-man flier into a storm. At first, it’s just an exciting adventure, but she soon realizes that she’s caught in a terrible storm which whisks her away into a strange land. Without any food or water, she’s in a bad situation.

Fortunately, she’s a resourceful woman and at first she manages to hide for a while but soon she’s captured by strange creatures called kaldanes. Unfortunately, the kaldanes eat only meat and so they intend to fatten Tara and eat her. The kaldanes practically worship intelligence to the point that they don’t even have much emotions anymore. However, Tara manages to charm one of them, Ghek, with her sweet singing. She’s kept a prisoner for weeks. Then she tries to escape but doesn’t succeed.

Meanwhile, Gahan takes his own vessel into the storm and tries to find her. However, the vessel is caught in the same storm and Gahan goes overboard. After wandering around for weeks, he ends up near the place where Tara is imprisoned. Tara, Gahan, and Ghek manage to escape but end up in another strange city, Manador. Tara doesn’t recognize Gahan so he calls himself Turan, a soldier of fortune so that she wouldn’t be uncomfortable.

Tara gets to do lot more than Burroughs’ usual women, most likely because for most of the book she adventures alone. Even after Gahan finds her, they’re kept apart most of the time. Although she still is captured and imprisoned a lot. However, she’s quite selfless, thinking of the worry she has caused to her parents and others, and as duty bound as the rest of the (good) Martians. She also doesn’t hesitate to use her slim blade on others. It’s also said a couple of times in the book that John has taught her to use a sword. So, it’s frustrating that she isn’t allowed to use her skills, even when she could have just snapped up a weapon and used it. She just her knowledge to judge the fighting skills of the men.

Once again, I loved the eerie Kaldanes and the Rykors. Kaldenes are essentially brains with spiderlike legs and crablike pincers. They live below ground and have a loathing for sun and fresh air. Much like the Lotharians in the previous book, they love intelligence to the exclusion of everything else. However, the Kaldenes have taken it even further: their aim is to produce a pure brain which will alone survive the dying Mars. Their servants are the Rykors, people who are flawless Red Martians except that they don’t have heads. Instead, the Kaldanes attach themselves to the Rykors and use them as bodies. Alone, the Rykors don’t seem to be sentient and without a Rykor, it’s hard for a Kaldane to survive above ground. I used to have nightmares about these and they’re still mightily impressive. Also, John describes the Kaldene rulers as very similar to queen bees; they lay the eggs from which all of the others hatch from but they don’t have drones. Essentially, they seem to be hermaphrodite queen bees. John insist on calling them kings and using the male pronoun for them. In a society which literally doesn’t have biological sex and neither social gender. The Kaldanes also use male and female Rykors for the same jobs equally.

In contrast, mostly the culture of Manator isn’t very different from the other evil cultures we’ve seen in previous books. Indeed, their arrogance and tendency to capture slaves from nearby cities (including Gathol) seems quite similar to the way that the Black Martians lived. However, as a teenager I was fascinated by the idea of playing chess (or jetan in this case) with living pieces where the pieces had to battle each other. It’s still a great idea but I was a bit disappointed when I found out how little time was actually devoted to the living chess games. (Now I want to get a computer game where the chess piece battle each other. Surely there must be some?)

Gahan is a stalwart hero, not really different from other heroes. In fact, Ghek was more interesting to me, although “he” seems similar to other strange culture sidekicks Burroughs’ heroes seem to collect.

Despite slight frustrations and disappointments, this is still one of my favorite Barsoom books.

A short story collection. The stories are all set on a moon, either our own or some other planet’s moon.

Publication year: 2014
Format: audiobook
Running time: 8 hours, 1 minute
Narrated by: Jerimy Colbert, Jane Kennedy
Publisher: WMG Publishing

I’ve been wanting to read this since I heard about it because of the setting but also because it has Rusch’s new novella set in the Retrieval Artist universe. But a bit to my surprise I ended up enjoying all of the stories in this collection. The stories:

“Hot Jupiters” by Steven Mohan, Jr.
Saxton and Monica are lovers and they traveled together to an alien planet’s moon. They’ve been in cryosleep for a long time and their journy is coming to an end. However, it turns out that Monica’s reasons to come along were different than Saxton thought. And in the middle of their confrontation, their ship is hit.

“The Old Guy” by Annie Reed
It’s harder and harder for older people to get jobs these days and this story’s main character feels like nobody on Earth wants to hire him. So, he applies elsewhere.

“The Toy That Ran Away” by Scott William Carter
Dexter Duff is a PI on the terraformed alien planet Venga 7. A powerful and wealthy senator asks Dexter to find his daughter’s favorite toy. It has an AI and it has ran away. At first Dexter’s only interest is in the money but after meeting the senator’s young daughter, his heart melts and he decides to find the toy.

“The Payment” by Maggie Jaimeson
This was a very interesting story about a convict who has a very unusual punishment for the crime. Carrie James is isolated into a small space pod which orbits Charon. She’s even confined to a small, coffin like sleeping couch and is essentially forced to do scientific work, exploring the moon and the space around it. However, she finds an usual way to cope with her situation.

“Caressing Charon” by Ryan M. Williams
A group of scientists is exploring Charon. One of the, Sharon, finds something quite unusual.

“Moon Shine” by Matthew Lieber Buchman
This was a fun short story! It’s written in first person. The main character is essentially a space trucker but a woman. Her space ship breaks down and she needs to get to Europa to get it fixed. But the Jupiter’s moon is gone…

“Dreams of a Moon” by Dean Wesley Smith
Narrated by the author. A Brian Saber story. I haven’t read any of the others but these sound like fun. Apparently, Brian is actually a retirement home resident and in a bad condition. However, when he goes on a mission for Earth Protection League, he’s beamed to an intergalactic ship and made young again. This time, he and his group have to save Earth… from the Moon.

“The Moon Was Bitter and Hungry” by JC Andrijeski
Another interesting and strange story, where the main character is… well, an alien who has made a huge mistake and is stranded on the Moon, watching Earth and salivating over prey which was so far away.

“The Verdant Gene” by Marcelle Dubé
Another great story. Verdant is an alien planet where human colony has landed. Unfortunately, the planet has quite a different cycle than Earth and the two moons, Castor and Pollux seemed to cause madness in humans.

“Moonfall” by Lisa Silverthorne
Humans have sent a new moon lander to Io. “Dove” is the first robotic lander with an AI and it’s soon going to make moonfall. Cassie is the engineer who designed Dove and her whole career depends on a successful mission.

And finally Rusch’s new novella, “A Murder of Clones”. It doesn’t have any familiar characters and I think it can be well read on it own. It introduces new characters and new situations and even a new alien race. I loved it! The novella even contains problem in translation! The humans haven’t had much contact with the Io-fuzz, so there aren’t many translators to go around and the mechanical translation doesn’t do well, either. Their culture is also not well known. Gomez is forced to deal with a translator who is a member of a different alien species who first has to translate its conversation with Gomez, in English, into its own language and then to the Io-fuzz language to speak with that alien. You can guess how well that goes in a potential criminal investigation.

Judith Gomez is part of Earth Alliance Fronter Squad and the leader of her group, which has two other officers. They are supposed to police and investigate the frontier planets. The Io-fuzz have sent for the EAFS and Gomez was the officer closest to their habited moon. So, she has the deal with the situation, which is that the Io-fuzz moon has a human enclosure. The humans have started to behave violently towards each other and the aliens want them gone. Their evidence are three dead human bodies, boys who are barely even 14. When the bodies are autopsied, it’s found that they are in fact clones and even worse, illegal clones. Gomez is not happy.

I think I’ll get more of Fiction River issues, when I get more credits. Timestreams looks very interesting and so do Fantastic Detectives, Unnatural Worlds, and How to save the world.

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