The first book in a science fantasy series.

Publication year: 1974
Format: print
Page count: 186
Publisher: Ballantine Books

Brackett’s pulp hero Eric John Stark returns. His parents are from Earth but he spent his childhood on Mercury. After his parents died, a native tribe adopted and raised him, and he doesn’t consider himself a civilized man. After his foster parents were killed, Simon Ashton took the young, barbaric Eric in. Ashton works for the galactic government and now he’s missing. He went to a newly found planet, Skaith, and hasn’t been heard from since. Stark goes after him.

Much like Brackett’s Mars, Skaith is also an ancient, dying planet where the current people live among the ruins of old civilizations, killing and robbing each other. Off-worlders aren’t welcome and are confined to stay in just one of the city-states. Indeed, most of the population has trouble with the whole concept of other people living on other planets. Some of them consider the whole idea blasphemy. However, when Stark finds out that the local equivalent of law, the Wandsmen, have taken Ashton, he’s determined to search the whole planet if need be. Much to his surprise, he hears that he is now the focus of a local prophesy: he’s the Dark Man who will destroy the Lords Protector and lead people away from Skaith. But the mythical and tyrannical Lords Protector and their Wandsmen want to stop anyone from leaving Skaith. Stark must defend himself from constant attacks while looking for Ashton. Some locals could be allies but can he trust them?

The Ginger Star is a grim book. The people on Skaith are oppressed by the Wandsmen and by their own limiting beliefs. They’re often hungry and cold. The Wandsmen’s minions are the Farers who keep the other people in check with violence. The Farers are often naked and don’t do any other work. The planet has several humanoid races which are apparently results of human groups inbreeding too much and/or genetic engineering. The children of the sea live in waters and have gills. They’re also cannibals and make any use of water very dangerous. The human groups practice human sacrifice. Some throw sacrifices to the sea creatures, other sacrifice humans to the Old Sun.

The book has several named female characters. They all have lives away from Stark and some have even high social standing. Almost all of them are naked when we meet them.

After Stark lands on Skaith, we don’t see much use of science. His weapons are taken away so he has to use knife and sword and his bare hands to fight.

This is a fast-paced book and a good addition to the pulp genre. Considering the shortness of the book, the world-building is amazing. Again, people aren’t described much but the places and the setting is vivid. It doesn’t end in a cliffhanger but it’s definitely not the end of Stark’s adventures on Skaith.

Collects miniseries issues 1-6.

Writers: Timothy Zahn, Michael Stackpole
Artist: Carlos Ezquerra
Publisher: Titan Books

This series gives us Mara Jade’s background. It’s mostly set during and right after Return of the Jedi.

Mara Jade is one of the best characters in the Star Wars expanded universe novels and she was created by Zahn in the book Heir to the Empire. She was the Emperor’s Hand: an assassin and spy who did Emperor’s most secret jobs. She’s also able to use Force even though she isn’t a Jedi or a Sith.

In this collected edition, we see her final mission for Emperor Palpatine shortly before he died at the hands of Vader and Luke. He also gave her a mission she will try to fulfill in Zahn’s books: to kill Luke Skywalker. Right at the start, we also see a glimpse of her trying to assassinate Luke at Jabba’s Palace.

But in this story, she goes after the boss of criminal organization called Black Nebula and then survives as best she can the death of the Emperor. General Isard tries to take over the Empire and she doesn’t trust Mara at all.

Mara is fanatically loyal to the Emperor because she genuinely believes that the galaxy is better off with laws. But she doesn’t discriminate against aliens, like we see many imperial officers doing. She’s also very insular: she doesn’t have a team and she doesn’t even talk with the crew when she has to travel by space ship. The only person she works with is a droid. The only person she trusts is the Emperor and she doesn’t expect backup from anyone. It’s a very lonely existence but she doesn’t seem to really mind; work was everything to her. And when she really needs it, she has the security clearance to force co-operation from imperial forces. Well, she has it at the start of the story, anyway.
She’s more of a villain in this series but she does also protect people from criminals.

Recommended for people who like Mara Jade in the books. It’s not the best SW comic I’ve read but it’s decent. It’s not focused on battles because Mara is usually more subtle than that.

A stand-alone SF/planetary romance book.

Publication year: 1955
Format: print
Page count: 141
Publisher: Ace Books

Matthew Carse was born on Earth but spent most of his life on Mars. He’s a former archeologist and now more of a treasure hunter on the hot, dry, dying plains of Mars. When a native Martian, Penkawr, follows him, he ambushes the Martian who then shows Carse a great treasure: the Sword of Rhiannon, the ancient Martian god, the Cursed One. Penkawr is afraid that if he shows the sword to anyone else, that other person would rob him. Instead, Carse realizes that Penkawr must have gotten the sword out of the legendary Tomb of Rhiannon which should be filled with treasures. So, Carse forces Penkawr to guide them into the tomb. However, once inside Penkawr finds a way to pay back: he shoves Carse into a strange, dark ball of energy.

Carse feels he’s falling for a long time and that even something strange is messing with his brain. When the fall ends, he finds himself back in the tomb but it doesn’t take long for him to realize that he’s traveled to the past. A million years to the past where Mars is verdantly green and the Sea Kings sail the milky oceans. Carse is now in a strange land whose people and customs he doesn’t know. (Thankfully, they all still speak High Martian so Carse only has a strange accent…)

This is pulp fiction with sea pirates on Mars, ancient gods, and curses. Carse explores the old world together with the reader. He’s also a pulp hero, very sure of himself and without much depth. He even gets a thief side-kick for comic relief.

The book has two named female characters. They both are women of power in their respective societies but I got the feeling that the societies are otherwise patriarchal. Ywain is a proud and cruel woman, ruler of her country while the other woman is a seer.

The storyline was different than I expected, which is usually a good thing. Carse is quickly arrested and spends time as a galley slave.

Brackett has a very sparse style. While she does describe places, we don’t get much description of people. For example, Earth humans and Martian humans can tell each other apart with a glance. I don’t know what their differences are. Indeed, individual people aren’t described at all.

This million-year-old Mars has three humanoid races collectively called Halflings. They’ve evolved from different species than apes. I found them fascinating but we don’t spend much time with them.

If you enjoy fast-paced pulp science fiction, you could enjoy this book but don’t expect it to be anything else.

The second book in the six-part Double Helix series. A Star Trek: TNG series but this part is set on Terok Nor.

Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 260 + an excerpt of Red Sector, the next book in the series
Publisher: Pocket Books

The mysterious General has sent another minion on Cardassian space station Terok Nor to spread a new designer virus to both the Cardassians and their Bajoran slaves. Gul Dukat, who commands the station, has allowed a Bajoran doctor, Kellec Ton, to come to the station. When it becomes clear that the disease affects both races, and quickly, Kellec Ton demands that his ex-wife is brought to the station to research it. Gul Dukat is reluctant because that ex-wife is Federation’s Dr. Pulaski. But rather quickly Dukat agrees for Pulaski to come with a small team. However, if any of the Federation team is caught spying they could all be killed.

Dr. Pulaski is leaving Enterprise-D when Kellec’s message reaches her. She realizes immediately how dangerous the mission will be but gathers three volunteers and goes to the station. On Terok Nor, she battles not only the disease but also the attitudes between the Cardassians and the Bajorans which make it difficult for the Cardassian and Bajoran doctors to work together. And gul Dukat seems to care only for the ore quotas and keeping the Federation agents from seeing the conditions that the Bajoran workers are forced to live in.

At the same time, Quark is trying to run a bar and cope with his newly arrived brother Rom and nephew Nog. Also, resistance fighter Kira Nerys is trying to find out if the rumors about a plague engineered by the Cardassians is true.

This was an excellent continuation of the series. This time, the characters deal with complex racial issues, which were pretty quickly swept aside in the first book, and also wonder how they can cure people who are just sent back to slavery. Kellec Ton is a stubborn and brilliant man who constantly butts heads with Dukat. We get to really know Pulaski in a way that I don’t think we saw her in the second season of TNG. To be fair, I haven’t much rewatched that season and I took an instant dislike to her because of her attitude towards my favorite TNG character, Data. Here, she really gets to shine.

While it was nice to see Kira, she wasn’t integral to the story. In fact, I go the impression that the studio ordered her to be in the book. Her attitude towards Federation was a bit surprising, considering how much she loathed them in the first episodes of DS9.

I really liked the writing style, but that’s no surprise; Rusch is one of my favorite authors. Rusch and Smith also weave in Kira’s and Odo’s backstory from DS9 season two.

Collects the first Xena comics from issues 1, 2, 0.

Writers: Roy Thomas, Robert Trebor, Aaron Lopresti
Artists: Joyce Chin, Andy Lanning, Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Aaron Lopresti, Hilary Barta, Jordi Ensign, Gary Martin, Tom Simmons,

This collection has three fun comics. Apparently, they’re some of the first Xena comics ever.

Revenge of the Gorgons is a two-part story where Xena has to go on a quest to save Gabrielle’s life.
This one guest-stars Hercules, Iolaus, and Joxer. The story starts at the festival held by the aging King Perseus. However, Medusa’s sisters have come for revenge and Gabrielle is caught in the cross-fire. A mysterious stranger offers Xena a way to cure Gabrielle. They, and Joxer, go on an epic quest.

This story has a bit of mystery thrown in and I liked it a lot.

In Temple of the Dragon God, Xena fights the Dragon God for Gabrielle’s soul. The Dragon God has killed all other heroes who have dared to challenge him, and keeps the souls of many people to himself. This one was a bit strange because it skipped the final battle.

Theft of the Young Lovelies is also a three-part story but this time Xena and Gabrielle go undercover at Salmoneus’ School of Poise, Polish, and Pleasing your future husband. Some of the young ladies at the school have started to disappear so our intrepid duo has to endure a short stay at said school. It’s similar to the more light-hearted episodes where a modern concept is transported to Xena’s world and made fun of.

Over all, a fun collection for Xena fans, but has a lot of cheese cake pictures (but I guess it could have been a lot worse; no bathing scenes are included, for example). The characters are in character and in the first story we get to see some mythical figures through the Xena lens.

Stand-alone time travel novel.

Publication year: 1955
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1987
Translator: Aulikki and Markus Lehkonen, with a foreword by Juhani Hinkkanen
Format: print
Page count: 190
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Ursa

Eternity is an organization which oversees time travel which is only possible through devices held by Eternity. All Eternity’s employees (called Eternals) are male humans and for the most part they are supposed to live umarried and never have kids. A few can apply for a relationship with temporal (normal) women (who don’t know much or anything about Eternity) from the council. The council chooses the women in question. Eternity’s offices start from the 27th century and stretch all the way until the Sun goes nova and beyond. However, there are some centuries which aren’t accessible to the Eternals. They can go past them but not visit them.

The men have strict hierarchies according to their jobs. Their main job is to increase humanity’s harmony and wellbeing through small changes in reality. These changes are calculated very carefully in advance. Unfortunately, individual humans’ lives don’t count. That’s why the Eternals are supposed to live apart from the normal humans. However, the general populace, or the upper class, on some centuries do know about the general existence of Eternity and even buy or sell stuff from other centuries, under the strict supervision of the Eternals.

The Eternals are originally normal men from various centuries who were picked around age 15 and educated in the Eternity. They were chosen because the fact that they’re missing from reality didn’t cause temporal changes.

Finnish cover

Finnish cover

Andrew Harlan is a Technician, one of the people who do the actual reality changes and are despised by the other Eternals because of it. Harlan has grown pretty emotionless over the years and he’s also caught the eye of Laban Twissell who is the leader of the council. However, right at the start of the book, Harlan is doing something forbidden and we’re quick shown why: a woman.

The concepts in this book are very interesting and I can see how the story has influenced a lot of writers. Unfortunately, the characters didn’t appeal to me at all so, emotionally the book left me cold. Indeed, even though this book spans history until the very end, there’s apparently not a single reality where women are engineers or scientists. That makes me very sad and angry. Apparently, in this world women can only be seducers or objects of lust. The book has only one named female character. I’m reminded of why I don’t generally read these older SF books.

We saw small glimpses into several centuries and they seemed pretty similar. Of course, Eternity’s job is to iron out all big negatives, like wars, famines, and slavery so that’s intentional. The characters talk about, and experience, nearly all time travel paradoxes imaginable, such as seeing themselves. In this book, time travel can affect the past.

The 10th annual graphic novel and manga reading challenge has started and I’m joining it.

Please write a sign-up post on your blog and then sign-up below with a link to your specific sign-up post (NOT to your home page).

What counts: graphic novels, collected trade editions, manga, comic strip collections, comic books or combinations of text and bubbles all in the same book. In print or digital. Anything else you feel is suitable. My personal criteria is if it has either frames OR speech bubbles it counts. I’m not going to be the comic police but if you are unsure, ask me in the comments any given month.

You must write a review and link to it for it to count towards the challenge. Reviews may be posted on your blog or goodreads or similar places. Several reviews may be gathered and posted in one link on your blog, but each book must be linked back here in the monthly linkies to count. Come back every month to record your progress.

Here is how the Challenge plays out:

runs from Jan.1 – Dec. 31, 2017
Levels

Modern Age: read and review 12 books during the year (that’s only 1 book a month)
Bronze Age: read and review 24 books during the year (Can you handle 2 books a month.)
Silver Age: read and review 52 books during the year (Are you up to a book a week!)

Golden Age: read and review 104 books during the year (Are you addicted? 2 books a week!)

I’m joining at the Modern age level. Last year I managed to reach Bronze Age and I’m hoping to do the same this year. I’m going to start with Xena, Star Trek, and Star Wars collections.

Comics read:
1, Xena: Warrior Princess
2, Star Wars: Mara Jade: By the Emperor’s Hand
3,