Publication year: 2017
Format: print
Publisher: Quirk Books
Page count: 240

From the 1930s to 2010s, this book offers a variety of heroines from the US comics. Most of them are actually pretty obscure and haven’t been reprinted, which is a shame because they sound fascinating. The book is arranged by decades and each decade has a short essay about what was going in the US comics industry at the time. Each heroine has about a page of text and most have pictures, too.

I was expecting a lot more superheroes but they are a distinct minority. Instead the book is filled with early science heroines, intrepid journalists, and private detectives. This was good! It would have been great if their stories were readily available. Maybe the writer wants to shy away from more popular characters but it’s quite frustrating to read about a potentially fascinating character and not be able to read her adventures. Also, I’m not so sure how influential the character was, even when they were published, if they appear in only a couple of issues.

I was at first baffled by the absence of heroines like Modesty Blaise and Laureline, until I realized that only characters from US and Canada are in the book. Also, the book has far more DC superheroines than from Marvel. Over here in Finland, Marvel comics were, and still are, published far more than DC.

There are even a few characters who start out as exploited pin-ups but end up having adventures of their own, which was great. Overall, I enjoyed visiting these heroines and it was great to see that interesting female characters have always been part of comics, even a small part.

The third Babylon 5 book, set during the middle of the second season, before “Coming of the Shadows”. It draws heavily on the first season episode “The Parliament of Dreams”.

Publication year: 1995
Format: print
Publisher: Boxtree
Page count: 232

G’Kar receives a data message where the daughter of his old enemy Du’Rog swears the blood oath against him. The Shon’Kar is a powerful part of the Narn culture and G’Kar is very much afraid. Shortly, he leaves the station in a one-man craft which explodes before reaching the jump gate. Garibaldi suspects murder and it seems that G’Kar’s craft was tampered with. He investigates but before any conclusions can be drawn, Sheridan sends Garibaldi and Ivanova to the Narn Homeworld, to participate in G’Kar’s funeral and to tell everything they know about the ambassador’s death to the Narn ruling body, the Kha’Ri. Na’Toth will travel with them and also a new character Al Vernon whom Garibaldi meets just before he leaves. Vernon used to live in the Homeworld and offers up himself as a guide to the two humans. Garibaldi accepts but is determined to keep a close eye on him.

Of course, G’Kar isn’t dead. He faked his own death in the hopes of resolving things with Du’Rog’s family, one way or the other, before he’s really killed. He travels to the Homeworld, too.

Most of the book is set in the Homeworld, which was a fascinating place. Temperatures are really cold during the night and really hot during the day, in the same place. This doesn’t seem to bother the Narns but does bother the humans a great deal. We’re shown the rigid caste system of the Narns; people who don’t make it are shunned and live in horrible slums which are practically lawless. The Rangers who are supposed to keep up the law are bullies.

We also meet G’Kar’s wife Da’Kal who is apparently a well-connected woman whom G’Kar loves – but whom he just cast aside when he moved to B5. I don’t think there was ever a mention of G’Kar being married in the series.

This was another quick read. It was mostly enjoyable but there were pretty significant typos, like Garibaldi’s and G’Kar’s names exchanging places. Also, I rather liked Da’Kal but G’Kar’s abandonment of her made him a really callous character. I also really like Mi’Ra who was Du’Rog’s spirited daughter hellbent on getting her revenge on G’Kar. So, interesting alternate version of G’Kar.

Collects B:tVS 1-8, 12, 16, Annual ’99, Play with Fire.

Writers: Christopher Golden, Andi Watson, Tom Sniegoski
Artists: Hector Gomez, Sandu Florea, Christian Zanier, Marvin Mariano, Draxhall Jump, Jason Pearson, Cliff Richards, Joe Pimentel

Apparently, these stories take place after during third season. But they’re some of the first Buffy comics ever. They are pretty short and quick reads, nothing Earth-shattering. Of course, they can’t be. Oz is in many of the stories but Angel is only in two of them. The art isn’t too bad but not great, either. In fact, Xander and Giles don’t look like themselves at all.

“Wu-Tang Fang”: the gang is coming home from Bronze when they’re attacked by vampires. But one vampire hangs back, observing the fight and finally saying: “You’ll make a worthy adversary”. Then he disappears. Giles is nervous about him. Meanwhile, Xander doesn’t want to be a damsel in distress anymore and he enrolls to a martial arts class.

“Halloween”: the Halloween episodes are some of my favorites! Unfortunately, this one wasn’t as good as the TV episodes but it did have a few comedic moments. The Principle volunteers Buffy, Xander, and Willow to take some kids out trick or treating. However, right before Halloween Willow has a huge fight with her parents about Oz and goes missing.

“Cold Turkey” is set right before Thanksgiving. Joyce is away and Buffy has to shop for the Thanksgiving meal ingredients. Even then, vampires give her trouble.

“Dance with me” is only a few pages long. One boy asked Buffy to dance dozens to times, but in vain. Now, he’s a vampire.

In “White Christmas” Buffy’s broke and has to get a job at the Popsicle Parlor. Even though she’s very embarrassed about the outfit, it’s a good thing because strange things happen at the Parlor.

In “Happy New Year” a hell hound attacks the library. While the gang investigates, Willow is angry at Buffy and Cordelia finds a surprising skill: she’s really good with the crossbow.

In “New Kid at the Block” a new girl, Cynthia, joins the high school and befriends the gang. She doesn’t know about the Slayer and the gang tries to keep things that way.

In “Food Chain” Buffy tries to help a girl from her school who seem to end up with bad company.

“Play with Fire” is another very short comic. Buffy, Willow, and Giles chase green skinned vampires to a seemingly abandoned house.

In “Food Chain part 2” loose ends from the previous story come back to haunt the gang again.

“The Final Cut” is my favorite story in this collection. Marty is big into movies and then he finds a really strange movie and a deal he can’t resist. He recruits the gang to his movie, Willow to write the script, Oz for the sound, Cordelia to lead etc. but of course things to south.

In “The Latest Craze” young people in Sunnydale start buying ugly little dolls called the Hooligans. Everyone must have one, or better yet the newest limited edition doll. When fighting starts to break out, Buffy suspects something strange.

These are fun little story for the most part. The last two stories are better than the rest, though.

The first book in an apocalyptic SF/Western pulp series. Can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook, Kindle
Publisher: Dioscuri Press
Page count: 208

The Wild North is an unforgiving land where people die quickly without water or other equipment. Criminals also go there because the only law are the bounty hunters. The Coilhunter, Nox, is the most feared bounty hunter of them all. It’s his mission to punish the criminals and the coils he gets from them are just a necessary resource. He always uses a breathing mask and enjoys shooting the men who deserve it. Instead of a horse, he rides a monowheel.

But he’s also a man with a personal mission: he’s looking for the man who killed his wife and children. When he finds a possible clue, he lets nothing stand on his way to find the guilty party.

This is a fast-paced short book which very successfully brings to mind many Westerns (and their clichés). It even begins with Nox stepping into a bar where the people recoil from him and the proceeds to a shoot-out between Nox and Old Mad Jack. There are some intriguing glimpses to a larger world-building with sentient clockwork machines and the ruling Iron Empire is apparently run by demons. There’s also a group of other bounty hunters, including two women, so the women in the book don’t fall completely into the two categories allowed to women in most Westerns. In fact, for me one woman in the story is a more interesting character than Nox.

Some of the sentence structures can be confusing. I also think that the story could have been more poignant with just a couple of tweaks but overall this was a quick and quite enjoyable read. It feels like a pulp book with emphasis on action and fast pace.

Where has July gone?? Lakes here in Finland are cold, barely warm enough for a quick swim. And it’s not just my imagination: apparently this July has been coldest in 10 years. Luckily, I have Worldcon to look forward to in August (and my birthday)! Also, in the action heroine front Atomic Blonde starring Charlize Theron has just hit the theatres.

My Hugo reading continued in July; I read the rest of the Hugo novellas. I reviewed 6 books and novellas. Once again it’s hard to choose the best book, especially between Jemisin and McGuire. Neither of them are feel-good or easy reads. ”The Obelisk Gate” is the second book of a trilogy with massive Earth-shattering events while ”Every Heart a Doorway” is far more personal and intimate novella and also a stand-alone story. I also really enjoyed Kij Johnson’s ”The Dream-Quest of Vellitte Boe” and the two other Huge novellas I read this month. Both Lackey’s fairy-tale twisting fantasy book and Tilton’s Babylon 5 book were very good entertainment.

Challenges: 4 for Pick&Mix and one action heroine book (that’s Susan Ivanova taking the Raiders head-on)

Seanan McGuire: Every Heart a Doorway
N. K. Jemisin: The Obelisk Gate
Kij Johnson: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe
Mercedes Lackey: One Good Knight
Charlie Jane Anders: All the Birds in the Sky
Lois Tilton: Accusations

Best of the month: I’m going to go with

The first book in a space opera series.

Publication year: 2004
Format: Audio
Running time: 13 hours and 45 minutes
Narrator: Cynthia Holloway

Kylara Vatta is the youngest of the Vatta family who owns a very successful space shipping firm. But Ky wants to be a soldier and so she goes to the military academy even over her family’s objections. However, another cadet tricks her and she’s kicked out in disgrace. She’s now an embarrassment to her family so they want her out of sight. At least until everyone forgets her troubles and her mother can marry her off.

However, her father and brother conspire to give her a star ship to captain. The ship is an old one and in fact Ky is expected to take it to a scrapyard. But along the way, she finds opportunities to trade and takes them. Unfortunately, the ship breaks down and leaves her and her crew in the middle of a war, without a functioning FTL drive, so Ky will have to grow up fast and think quick.

This is Ky’s coming of age story as a captain. For her maiden voyage, she’s been given a very experienced crew. She knows that and learns to rely on them, even though at first she wants to do herself everything she can. Her previous experience at the academy serves her well and even though she isn’t a teenager, she still has some flaws to overcome. Other people don’t expect much from her because of her youth and those who know about her previous blunders think that she wants too much to help other people. But she’s very resourceful and a no-nonsense character. She also has a dark side.

The other major characters are the crew members. One of them Ky has known off and on her whole life. I also rather enjoyed a certain senior Vatta captain when he made an appearance later in the book. Ky’s family is very supportive of her but they definitely treat her like a little princess who needs to be rescued. But that did mean that even if Ky had screwed up, her family would have bailed her out which diminished the danger somewhat.

However, only Ky herself is really a memorable character. Also, the story devotes more time to business dealings and trying to get enough money for repairs than action. I was a bit thrown by the fact that this universe uses ansibles for communication because I though Ursula Le Guin invented them.

Even though this is the first book in the series, it doesn’t end in a cliffhanger. But I enjoyed the book enough that I’ll continue with the series.

Back in 2014, Nathan Barnhart created a weekly feature called ‘Tough Travels’, which he hosted over on Fantasy Review Barn. Inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones – a tongue-in-cheek parody of the fantasy genre – it would spotlight a different trope every week, and invite other bloggers to compile their own lists of examples. Despite being put to rest eighty-three (83!) weeks later, ‘Tough Travels’ was widely successful, with over fifty blogs participating at one time or another. On April 1, 2017, Fantasy-Faction received Nathan’s permission to revive Tough Travels once more…

This week the topic is strongholds:

The Tough Guide offers information on various kinds of fantasy strongholds. For example, you might be looking for CASTLES, complete with ‘frowning battlements, slit windows and multiple defensible spiral stairways inside’ and which ‘occasionally adorn the heights for pictorial effect’. Or perhaps TOWERS, which ‘stand alone in WASTE AREAS and almost always belong to wizards.’ Towers are often ‘several storeys high, round, doorless, virtually windowless, and composed of smooth blocks of masonry that make them very hard to climb. The Rule is that there is also a strong no-entry SPELL, often backed up by a guardian DEMON.’

Strongholds are indeed a staple of both sf and fantasy. Here a few my favorites:

Asgard
The home of the Norse deities and heroes in myths and Marvel universe.

Olympus mountain
The home of the Greek deities.

Camelot
The castle of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.

Sherwood forest
The home of Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

The invisible, multi-dimensional Library by Genevieve Cogman
Only very specific people can get inside the Library and from very specific doors.

City and Castle of Amber by Roger Zelazny
Amber is the home for the royal family of Amber and it sits in one of the two real worlds. All other worlds are just reflections of the two true cities.

Lothlórien by J. R. R. Tolkien
The well-guarded forest which is the home of elves and their rulers Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn.

Menzoberranzan by R. A. Salvatore
One of the most forbidden, and exciting for some adventurers, is the underground dark elven city of Menzoberranzan where the first good dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden was born. He also managed to escape the clutches of his evil matriarch mother, Malice.

From comics:
Baxter Building from Marvel
The Fantastic Four have had a couple of other bases but the most familiar to me is the Baxter Building. Even though they had tenant living on the lower floors, the upper floors were heavily secured against intruders.

The Watchtower from DC
Justice League’s Moon base might seem impenetrable at first glance, especially that on, you know, the Moon. Or in some stories a floating space station.

Blue Mountain by Wendy and Ricard Pini
The ancient glider elves lived in the Blue Mountain for thousands of years until the Wolfriders came to unite them with the other elves. It’s a whole mountain and the elves live in caves near the peak.