Carl at the Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting the 2016 Sci-fi Exprience and I’m joining it.

The 2016 Sci-Fi Experience begins December 1st and runs through January 31st, 2016.

Shall we boldly go?

Events like these are all about taking the largely solitary act of reading and viewing and gaming and adding the element of “community” to it.

The Sci-Fi Experience will hopefully give people an opportunity to:

a) Continue their love affair with science fiction
b) Return to science fiction after an absence, or
c) Experience for the first time just how exhilarating science fiction can be.

If you have ever wanted to give science fiction a try, or are already a fan of the genre and are looking for a group of kindred spirits, this is the event for you.

The review site is here.

During the next two months I’ll be reading science fiction books and comics. I already have tickets to the new Star Wars movie but I’m not so sure if I’ll write about it.

Thanks Carl for hosting!

The final book in the Clockwork Century series (at least so far).

Publication year: 2013
Format: print
Page count: 366
Publisher: TOR

This is the book where the ongoing Civil War in US comes to a head. The Union and the Confederate states have been in war for 20 long years. Texas is almost an independent state and boasts the best technology in the south.

Gideon Bardsley is a former slave and now an inventor. He’s invented and built a thinking machine called the Fiddlehead. However, some people are very threatened by the machine because men are sent to destroy it and kill him. Gideon manages to survive and most of his machine survives, too. He also manages to save most of the calculations his machine has done for the not-so-simple question of who will win this war. He seeks shelter with his patron, the former president Abraham Lincoln. He shows the Fiddlehead’s results to Lincoln. The results are frightening: neither North nor South will win because the rotters will kill everyone. Now, Gideon and his friends will have to find out who is trying to sabotage his work and also to convince people that not only are the rumors about the rotters real but they are a terrible threat.

Maria “Belle” Boyd is a former spy and now works for the Pinkerton’s detective agency, in Chicago. However, she’s nearly broke and miserable in the cold city so when Pinkerton himself gives her a mission which will take her back to the south, she’s happy to do so even though the client in none other than the former president Abraham Lincoln himself. Lincoln sends her to south, to find the evidence that proves Gideon’s machine is correct.

This is an alternate history where Lincoln survived the attack at the theatre but he’s confined to an electrical wheel chair. He’s still an educated and smart man (to say the least) and very respected by most people. The Union’s current president is Ulysses Grant, but he’s an old man who feels that he can’t trust the men closest to him, including the ministers. He drinks too much, too. But when Lincoln confronts him with the Fiddlehead’s evidence, Grant starts to really see the machinations around him and decides to stop them.

This is a more political book that than any of the previous ones, but is has no less action and adventure. Maria was introduced in the novella “Clementine” but the other POV characters are new. She’s a no-nonsense, capable woman who has acquired many un-ladylike skills in her years as a spy for the Confederacy. She uses society’s rules when they serve her and ditches them when they don’t. Gideon is brilliant but abrasive. He has little patience with politics or scheming.

Fiddlehead is a good final book. It ties up the underlying plotlines about the war and the rotters satisfyingly. However, we see only a few of the familiar characters from the previous books, so their fates are still left open. But Priest has already written another novella set in this world (Jacaranda) so we might see more of Mercy Lynch, Briar Wilkes, and the others in the future.

Publication year: 1964
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1993
Format: print
Page count: 277
Translator: Matti Rosvall
Publisher of the Finnish translation: WSOY

I’ve only read one Dick book before, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but I’ve watched several movies based on his short stories, such as Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, and of course Blade Runner. My expectations of the book were very different from the actual book. In-stead of fast-paced SF adventure, Martian Time-Slip is a study of mental illness, treatment of native people, cheating in marriage, and real estate scam.

Even though the book’s set in Mars, it’s not our Mars. That is, apparently this Mars is perfectly habitable for humans without any terraforming. The only thing different from Earth is Mars’ dryness. In fact, the UN distributes water to the settlers through the famous Marsian canals. Another thing is the relative isolation; the family houses aren’t very close to each other and the bored housewives have to desperately find something to do by themselves all day. My problem was that I’m not interested in the petty jealousies and cheating; I was rolling my eyes and thinking “You get to live on Mars and the only thing you come up with to do with your life is to be a housewife????” Of course, it’s not the women’s fault if the society doesn’t allow them to do anything else. Oh, yes there’s also the option of becoming a mistress, if you’re born with enough good looks. So yeah, in some respects this book hasn’t aged well. But the women aren’t the main characters.

The Finnish cover.

Another strange thing about this Mars is that some of the children born there are strange: some are autistic, some schizophrenic, and some deformed. These children are reared in separate camps with healthcare professionals. The native marsians are called Bleekmen (translated as “Greys”) and they don’t really mesh with the humans. Apparently, the natives had once a great civilization but now they’re degenerated to hunter-gatherers who wander around begging for food and water from humans. Many humans despise them and call them the N-word.

The book has several male point-of-view characters: Jack Bohlen is a repairman who travels around in his helicopter. He’s only home at weekends and his wife Silvia is one the bored housewives in question. Jack has suffered from schizophrenia but hasn’t had an episode in years until he comes into contact with an autistic boy. Another POV is Supreme Goodmember Arnie Kott of the Water Worker’s union who is struggling to maintain his power and his union’s power. He hits on the idea that he can use an autistic child to predict the future if only he could communicate with the boy. He enlists Jack’s help in that. The boy is 10 years old Manfred Steiner, and his family lives next door to Jack’s family. Then there’s Manfred’s father Norbert who’s a door-to-door salesman. He travels in his own helicopter and sells health foods and smuggled luxury foods. His partner in crime is Otto Zitte, a former repairman who has slept with a lot of bored housewives and wants that lifestyle back.

The schizophrenic POV characters experience vivid and horrible hallucinations.

Dick also tells us about the schooling system which doesn’t have human teachers but lifelike robots, males from Western history (alright, there was one female robot but we see it only briefly and whose name the POV character doesn’t know). The whole system causes anxiety to the POV character there, because of his mental illness but also because “For the entire Public School was geared to a task which went contrary to his grain: the school was there not to inform or educate, but to mold, and along severely limited lines. It was the link to their inherited culture, and it peddled that culture, in its entirety, to the young. It bent its pupils to it; perpetuation of the culture was the goal, and any special quirks in the children which might lead them in another direction had to be ironed out.” And the children who couldn’t be molded ended up diagnosed as mentally ill.

On the whole, this was quite a depressing read for me and I fully admit that I had different expectations of it. I have another Dick book in my TBR, Valis, which seems to be more of the depressing SF coupled with drugs so I think I’ll pass on that one. Maybe a short story collection is more to my taste.

Tough Travelling hosted by Fantasy Review Barn.

This week’s topic is Tricksters

A great prank is always amusing. Many an adventure start with a well placed trick. They are even more amusing when performed by those with god like powers.

Sadly, this will be the last Tough Travels post. I came to the meme late and I didn’t always manage to post but I really enjoyed this meme. Thanks, Nathan!

Tricksters are some of my favorite characters, so onwards:

Loki: of course I have to start with the main trickster in the Marvel Universe, both on screen and the comics. Loki is one of the major villains in the MU.

The Joker from DC Comics, of course.

Pretty much every pantheon of ancient gods have their tricksters: some Native American tribes have the Coyote, Roman gods have Mercury, and the Egyptians have Set. Greeks had more: clever Odysseus, Eris the Discord goddess, Hermes the messenger/ trickster god, along with Prometheus who stole the fire from gods to humans. Pretty much every Greek god was known for tricking humans one way or another, and each other, as well.

Robin Hood
plays often tricks on the Sheriff of Nottingham and his minions. Admittedly, the adult versions of Robin’s legends don’t always emphasize that side of him.

The Bastard god from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Curse of Chalion, Palading of Souls, and Hallowed Hunt.

Puck, from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream was Fairy King Oberon’s court trickster.

from fairy tales and to a degree in the Once Upon a Time TV-show.

Puss in Boots from fairy tales. One of my favorites. Loved him in the Shrek movies, too.

Jack from the comic book Fables was so good a trickster than few people want him to stick around long.

Bugs Bunny is a cartoon character always playing tricks on others and many cartoons are fantasy.

Q from Star Trek: the Next Generation. One of my favorite tricksters ever!

Early Science Fiction by women writers. A SF short story collection from 1887-1930.

Publication year: 2015
Format: print
Page count: 228
Publisher: Dover Publications

As the subtitle says this is a collection of SF short stories. Most of them have written other stuff and have been regular contributors to the early SF magazine. But these days they aren’t known. Next time, when someone claims that women don’t write SF, or haven’t written SF until modern times, this is the book to wave at them. Of course, the stories reflect their times and can feel outdated. Some of them use science which seems fantasy today and some use clichés, like beautiful=good, ugly=evil. They also have racism and sexism. But they’re readable and I enjoyed most of them but I tend to enjoy Weird Science. I also found Ashley’s introductions to the writers very interesting since they were all new to me.

Most of the stories have strong atmospheres and some of them resemble ghost stories or horror more than modern SF. Most have male narrators and some use a device that might grate on modern read-ers: another character tells his story to the narrator.

When Time Turned by Ethel Watts Mumford (1901): The main character encounters a man who claims that he is living his life backwards.
The Painter of Dead Women by Edna W. Underwood (1910): A terribly powerful and evil man lures a beautiful socialite woman to his castle where he intends to kill her and preserve her body forever in its youthful beauty.

The Automaton Ear by Florence McLandburgh (1873): A brilliant professor gets the idea that he can build a device which can enable him to hear all sounds ever made. His obsession with the device takes over his life more and more.

Ely’s Automatic Housemaid by Elizabeth W. Bellamy (1899): The most fun story in the collection. The main character’s friend has invented automaton devices (Automatic Household Beneficent Genius) and the MC orders two of them. Chaos and hilarity ensues.

The Ray of Displacement by Harriet Prescott Spofford (1903): The main character has invented a device which allows him to pass through solid objects. Another use of the devise makes the user also invisible. The MC accidentally dematerializes a judge’s diamond and even though he brings the diamond back, the judge throws him in jail. The corrupt judge wants to use the device for profit but the MC refuses.

Those Fatal Filaments by Mabel Ernestine Abbott (1903): The main character invents a device which allows him to hear other people’s thoughts.

The Third Drug by Edith Nesbit (1908): Roger Wroxham is so depressed that he wants to die. However, when he comes face to face with ruffians, he finds that he was too hasty and wants to live after all. He’s wounded but manages to flee into a large house. A kind old man living there alone helps him. But the old man has a chilling reason to appear to help.

A Divided Republic: An Allegory of the Future by Lillie Devereux Blake (1887): Perhaps the most badly aged of these stories. Women get fed up for asking for the same rights that men have and they up and leave. Women form their own two states and men are left to their own devices. This feels satirical to me so it’s not meant to be realistic. Still, both men and women are shown as stereotypes; all men gamble, drink, and smoke to their heart’s content and are planning wars while the women live in “calm monotony” building schools and tending gardens.

Via the Hewitt Ray by M.F. Rupert (1930): This is pure pulp. Fun but in a E. R. Burroughs way. Lucile is an airline pilot. Her inventor father disappears leaving behind a letter where he explains that he’s going to use his Hewlett Ray device to beam himself into another dimension. Lucile is frantic with worry but she’s not a scientist. However, she contacts her friend Marion and together they build another ray device and send Lucile into the other dimension, looking for her father. There, she finds strange lands and stranger creatures, including a society where women rule over men.

The Great Beast of Kafue by Clotide Graves (1917): An African hunter tells his son about the time he hunted the terrible beast and why his young son must promise not to kill it.

Friend Island by Francis Stevens (1917): Set in a future where women “naturally” rule over men. An old, weathered female sailor tells the story of how she was stranded to a very strange island.

The Artificial Man by Clare Winger Harris (1929): George Gregory is a great athlete and also a scholar. One day he loses his leg and has it replaced with an artificial one. In the next accident he loses his arm and some internal organs, and those too are replaced with artificial ones. But he starts to think that he loses a part of his soul along with his body.

Creatures of the Light by Sophie Wenzel Ellis (1930): Another longer pulp story with Weird Science. John Northwood is an athlete and a very handsome man. One day he sees a hunchback and a very handsome man together. The hunchback drops a wallet to John’s feet and the handsome man warns him not to get mixed up with the hunchback and then disappears into thin air. However, it turns out that the hunchback a famous doctor who wants something from John. The story also has people falling in love based on a picture and a very creepy romance.

The Flying Teuton by Alice Brown (1917): A sort of ghost story set in after the end of WWI (but written before the end of the war).

Many of the stories have technological advancements which have gone wrong and even in “Via the Hewitt Ray” the working ray tech reveals unexpected results. Many of the stories have the inventor as a main character, something which isn’t too common today (except for Tony Stark). On the whole, these aren’t terribly feminist stories; in most of them the main character is a man doing manly stuff in a world full of males. But these were written for early SF magazines where the readership were, presumably, mostly males. But is there any way to find out if most readers were, indeed, males?

Surprisingly many of the stories also had rather disturbing themes or tech. Some of them were horror in atmosphere and some had eugenics in one fashion or another. Most of them also have more spir-itual or religious themes than modern SF.

While the stories aren’t without their flaws, they’re an interesting glimpse into the history of SF and women SF writers.

This is a stand-alone fantasy novella set in the world of Chalion (Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, Hallowed Hunt). Only available to Kindle, as far as I know.

Publication year: 2015
Format: ebook

I’m a fan of Bujold so I can’t be objective about her work. However, this is a very entertaining fan-tasy novella with a young and somewhat naïve protagonist.

Penric is the younger son of a minor lord. He wants to study but the family can’t afford it. He’s studious, curious, generous, and kind. When the family finds him a marriage match with the daugh-ter of a cheese merchant, he agrees to it and while he doesn’t love his bride, he can easily imagine that he will in time. However, on the way to the betrothal party, he meets a group of people: a cou-ple of servants and an old woman clearly in distress. He offers to help the woman and receives more than he ever imagine: a demon.

In this world, demons are intelligent creatures but they don’t have bodies. Instead, they have to take over another body, animal or human. They’re also not evil but have, of course, very different experi-ences from any human which means that humans don’t necessarily understand them or their reac-tions. Also, if the host has a weak will, the demon can take over completely. Penric has no knowledge of demons or how to control them, so he has to learn it all from scratch. But he’s curious and willing to learn.

This world has five gods: the Mother, the Father, the Daughter, the Son, and the Bastard. They all have their own areas and the Bastard is “the master of all disasters out of Season”, including de-mons and the humans who have one inside, called sorcerers. They’re quite active in the world, in their own way, and they’re a central part of the cultures.

I really enjoyed this gentle tale. It’s very humane, funny, and character-focused. Penric is just look-ing for his place in the world and he’s not a violent young man, at all.

Technically, you can read this before any of the three books set in this world. None of the characters from the books appear here. However, the world is quite complex so it might be a good idea to see it explained more first.

The first book in Sign of the Zodiac series where superheroes battle supervillains in Las Vegas.

Publication year: 2007
Format: print
Page count: 455
Publisher: Eos

I love superheroes and I wanted to like this book. But I’ve read my fill of “grim” superhero stories and they just don’t excite me anymore. And this is grim: rape, murder, screwed up family relations, and cursing, cursing left and right. It felt like those early years of Image comics with the slogan “dead stays dead” and heroes killing people.

Joanna Archer has had a pretty sucky life. Even though she’s the daughter of a Las Vegas gambling mogul Xavier Archer, and so didn’t lack for money, she’s always had a cold relationship with her dad, and her mother Zoe disappeared ten years ago. In fact, Zoe vanished on the night when an unknown man attacked and raped Joanna and left her for dead. But Jo didn’t die. Instead she vowed never to be a victim again and started training martial arts. Pretty much the only decent thing in her life has been her sister Olivia. In fact, their interaction raised the hope in me that this would a book where sisters fight crime together. That turned out to be the wrong impression.

At the start of the book Jo is on a really sucky date which ends with her date, Ajax, showing her a glimpse of another, a paranormal world, and then trying to kill her. Luckily, Joanna has been training martial arts for the past 10 years and isn’t an easy target even when the attacker has powers she doesn’t have. After escaping her attacker, she runs into her ex-boyfriend whom she still has feelings for. But the highlight of the evening, the eve of her 25th birthday, is a meeting with her sister Olivia and their dad Xavier Archer. Xavier promptly reveals that he’s been informed that Jo isn’t his child. So he has disinherited her and wants nothing more to do with her. Jo is actually relieved to hear it. She has no problem cutting ties with Xavier. Later, Jo runs over a homeless man who heals right in front of her and rants about being part of a superhero group who’s going to help Joanna but not be-fore she turns 25 – if she lives that long.

After reigniting her relationship with her ex-boyfriend Ben, Jo goes to her sister’s apartment expect-ing a quiet birthday party. Instead, they’re attacked and Jo goes through a transformation.

Essentially in this world there are heroes who have been literally born into Light side and villains who have been born into Shadows. While it’s possible to change sides, it’s done very rarely and Joanna is the first ever child born whose one parent was Light side and the other Shadow side. The heroes and villains track each other by scent. They all also heal really fast and are very quick. Every-one has a signature weapon and can only be killed with their own signature weapon. Also, their ad-ventures are recorded in actual comic books which are called manuals. And Light side people can’t read Shadow comics and vice versa.

Joanna is an abrasive MC. She’s angry and hurting and just looking for a target to lash out on. But she’s also a survivor and quick to adapt to situations. She’s a loner and has been since the attack. But when she finds out her true inheritance, she’s expected to work in a group of complete strangers. She’s also the prophesied Chosen one. She’s by no means likable but I ended up caring for her and I liked her toughness.

But I had some issues, too. I went through a phase reading “dark” comics and I’ve bounced back from them. I really disliked the way that the Zodiac troop, the heroes, kept her in the dark and just waited her to survive a situation which nobody else would have. I liked the ideas but the whole Light/Shadow split was too dualistically simple for me and a bit strange considering how “adult” and “edgy” the rest of the book was.


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