Carl invites all of us to take part in his 2018 Sci-Fi Experience.

The 2018 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.

This is a very laid back event. There are no challenges to meet, no limits to how little or much you can participate. You can read short stories, novels, comics, art books…anything with a science fictional bent. You can read nonfiction about space, space travel, other planets, etc. You can watch television shows, films, YouTube series. You can play video or table top games. You can also just fire up your blog and wax eloquent about those science fiction artists whose work you admire.

I’m delighted to see this event back. I love SF and I love to read reviews, musings, anything with an SF twist. I’m joining but I don’t know yet with how many posts.

Currently I’m in the middle of two fantasy books and also one which is set in modern day but in an alternate reality. So, I guess that last book can be categorized as SF. It’s Alison Morton’s “Inceptio” the first book in the Roma Nova series. I’ll have the review up soon. Otherwise, I’ve downloaded quite a few free books this year and while most of them are fantasy, there are also many science fiction books among them. Of course, Christmas time is a busy time otherwise so I’m hoping that I’ll have time to read more in January.

Of course, I’m going to watch the new Star Wars movie (tomorrow!) but the net is going to be full of reviews and opinions about it. I’m also watching the third season of Flash and some other superhero shows, but I don’t know if I’ll write about them.

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The novelization of the first Underworld movie.

Publication year: 2003
Format: print
Publisher: Pocket star books
Page count: 375

I really enjoyed Selene, the gothic setting, and the world building in the movie Underworld. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for the romance which was the linchpin to the plot.

In the novelization the romance is present right at the start. Right at the beginning, before the gunfight at the subway station, Selene and Michael notice each other among the crowds and are immediately taken by each other. Unfortunately, I don’t find their romance in the book any more convincing than in the movie. Oh, I can just about believe that Selene, who has been a stoic werewolf hunter for 600 years without any romantic feelings at all, could find Michael attractive. But for her to quite suddenly abandon her coven for him in just an afternoon… is less believable. Then again, I’d also want any excuse to get away from Kraven, if I were Selene.

The book is very faithful to the movie, for the most part. There are some scenes which aren’t in the movie though it could be that they were cut afterwards or cut from the script. Since the book has multiple POV characters, we get to see the thoughts of most of the characters who appear in the film. Even though Selene is outwardly calm, she goes through more emotions in the book than in the movie. I understand that a stoic character can be difficult to make appealing to a reader. Unfortunately, her stoic get-the-job done attitude is one of the things I really liked in the movie, so the book kind of undermines that.

The book has around dozen different POV characters and unfortunately Selene was the only one who appealed to me. I didn’t care for Kraven in the movie either but his POV here is almost excruciating. He lusts after Selene but abuses her and everyone else around him.

The scenes are short with rapidly changing POVs. We do find out a few interesting details about vampire life which weren’t in the movie but otherwise it’s just a movie in a book form.

The continuation novella to Penric’s Mission.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 3 and 25 minutes
Narrator: Grover Gardner

Penric, General Adelis Arisaydua and his widowed sister Nikys are on the run from Cedonia’s forces. Penric is a sorcerer in the Bastard’s order and he’s grievously wounded. His demon, Desdemona, is healing him but it takes time and energy. But they have to get away from Cedonia and a safe place. However, they are quite a distinct party so they have to find a way to disguise themselves. Unexpectedly, one of Desdemona’s previous hosts comes to the rescue, and so Penric disguises himself as Mira, a high-class courtesan. However, this tactic brings them some unexpected attention, too.

Another short Penric novella which ends rather abruptly and leaves personal matters unsolved. Unfortunately, this novella feels very much like part of a story instead a complete story. I also strongly suggest reading the previous novellas first.

Penric and his small party are fleeing to Cedonia’s border and to a possible safe place. However, they’re trying not to attract attention and have resorted to various disguises. Adelis’ disfigurement makes him easy to spot so he has to disguise himself pretty much all the time which frustrates him. Like in the previous novella, Nikys is a caretaker but this time more for Penric than her brother.

Mira is a delightful character; too bad that according to the title she’ll never been seen again. Penric’s discomfort with Mira’s antics was very humorous to listen to but he’s also willing to trust her completely. Nikys’ discomfort with the same was less great. Nikys’ musings about what it would be like to live with Penric are very grounded but puts obstacles in their way. Of course, it’s far better to have actual obstacles in a romance rather than those that can be solved by having a truthful conversation for 10 minutes…

Overall, this was a light and fun read with some adventure and romance.

The sixth collection of Busiek’s superhero comics, issues 1-4 of Book one and 1-4 of Book two. It doesn’t require reading the previous collections.

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Eric Anderson

This is the tale of two brothers who were both greatly influenced by the superheroes and villains around them as well as the social upheaval in 1970s. They’re black and seeing a black superhero had profound impact. Also, an incident which killed their parents when they were young, was also very influential, of course. But that is shown to us slower over the first issues

The comic is divided into two books and both have several storylines. One follows the brothers’ lives and the other shows us the various heroes and what little we see of their adventures.

When they grow up, Charles becomes a police officer who tries to save and help people, especially in the devastating wake of the battles between super groups. But Royal becomes a petty criminal, taking advantage of people in any way he can. Neither of them likes superheroes much; they both cope in their own way with the disasters the heroes (inadvertently) bring to the human bystanders.

In the first book, the other storyline tells us the tale of Silver Agent who appears to have been one of the first superheroes. He’s caught on camera killing a foreign head of state as well as a few US soldiers. The book is set in 1972, so this incident throws the Vietnam peace talks into chaos and the US government arrests the Silver agent. Watergate and the peace talks color people’s perception of super heroes who make ordinary people, as especially their leaders, feel powerless and therefore resentful.

The second book is set in 1977 during a war between various mobster gang in Astro City. Royal gets a chance to climb the mobster ranks and Charles’ integrity gets a mighty blow when he finds out about police corruption.

The superheroes are also grittier. Some of the new heroes kill ordinary criminals, something that the previous wave of heroes didn’t do. The super hero storyline follows Street Angel and his new partner Black Velvet. Street Angel transforms into far more violent hero and Black Velvet can actually rip out people’s souls, so she’s violent to start with. Also, a new superpowered being hunts and kills ordinary criminals. People start to wonder just what is the difference between heroes and villains.

This isn’t a self-contained album, though. The brothers’ tale will continue in the next collection: book 7, Brothers in Arms.
Astro City showcases superheroes in a more ordinary setting than usual. They’re seen through the eyes of normal people who often don’t know what’s going on and are still victims of various large-scale attacks. Their attitude also changes with times and events. Nixon turns attention from Watergate to Silver Agent’s trial and the racial tensions are seen also among the heroes because there are very few non-white heroes and also very few female heroes, usually just one in a team. (yes, I know this book’s style deliberately first shows us the heroes of 60s and then 70s. But we did get Storm and Ms. Marvel in the seventies and I miss heroines like them. Maybe in the next book… Then again, we do get glimpses of several white female heroines while there seems to be only two black heroes in the whole story.) It was fun to compare the idealistic 60s heroes with the “tougher” (seeming) revenge based 70s heroes, though.

Personally, I tend to enjoy the four-color comics more, especially when they have more female and non-white characters. But this is very ambitious and well-told tale of grittier superheroing than usual.

Definitely recommended for people who want more realism in superhero stories.

The first book in a science fiction series but can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook, kindle
Publisher: Parvus Press

Victoria Marlin is the captain of a privateer starship Condor. She and her crew of vultures (as they call themselves) has the task of capturing alien technology from starships crippled in battle (or I assume by accidents but that seems to be very rare). United Earth is the newest player in the very crowed space and it’s also one of the smallest, so they want to get every edge they can get.

Marlin hadn’t had much luck in many months when they suddenly pick up a distress call from a ship which belongs to one of the Big Three alien species: the Malagath. They head for that ship, hoping for a good catch but get more than they bargained for because the commander of the ship is still alive with a handful of his followers. The First Prince Tavram is disdainful of all the lesser races but wants to survive. Trouble is that his enemy is still in ruthless pursuit, and Marlin and her crew will have to use every trick they have to stay alive.

I enjoyed this book very much. It’s fast-paced with multiple POV characters in a very interesting setting. Earth is a definite underdog in space and it’s trying to get their hands on alien tech whenever they can. Humans have spread to many planets but apparently need friendly aliens to vouch for them. But humans have a couple of aces up their sleeves and they’re using every chance they get.

Marlin is a hard-drinking and cursing captain who still has a strong streak of honor. She’s also eager to bed any good looking human man, no matter if he’s married or not. She pushes her crew hard, but she also does everything she can to keep them alive and safe. She doesn’t get much support from United Earth itself. However, she has good relations with a few alien races who deal with the humans regularly. She’s also made one race an enemy, as well.

First Prince and his enemy Best Wishes are also POV characters and it’s very interesting to see the humans from their POV. They are part of very big and powerful empires and know it. However, the First Prince is a bit of an anomaly among his kind and so is Best Wishes, so they also have enemies among their own kind.

We also get other POV characters, as the story unfolds. One of them is a marine who has become an engineer. However, the characterization was rather light except for the First Prince and Best Wishes. Ironically, I don’t know if they’re going make another appearance.

Still, an interesting crew and a fast-paced story.

A novella in the Diving universe sci-fi series. Set before the series started.

Publication year: 2014
Format: Audio
Running time: 2 and 21 minutes
Narrator: Flora Plumb

Tory Sabin is the captain of the anacapa space ship Geneva. She’s extremely capable and she knows the dangers of the anacapa drive personally: when she was young, her father disappeared into the fold space with his ship.

When Sabin hears the distress call from captain Jonathan “Coop” Cooper from the Ivoire, she knows that he’s in real trouble. Coop is very reluctant to ask for help. She whips the other captains into helping Coop but they arrive just in time to see strange smaller ships firing on the Ivoire which then slips into the fold space. And doesn’t return.

Sabin is a driven character. For many years, she was focused on finding her father and became a fold space specialist because of it. Now, she’s a captain and extremely good with that.

This was a great novella, set among the Fleet. We get to know more about the Fleet itself and about Coop’s background. It’s very short and focused on Sabin’s story.

The sixth book in the Diving universe sci-fi series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 4 and 57 minutes
Narrators: Jennifer Van Dyck

Boss and her crew are exploring the Boneyards, the graveyard of ships which the Fleet left behind years, maybe hundreds of years ago. Many, if not all, of the ships have the dangerous anacapa drives. She and her team are diving one of the ships when they realize that one of the drives on a nearby ships is still in operation. Anacapa drives are unpredictable and this one affects Boss herself and one of the crew very badly. Still, the crew needs to find out more.

As in the previous books focusing on Boss, this book is written in the first person and present tense, which adds to the tension and immediacy of the story. It has a lot of tensions between the crew and highly experienced people trying to anticipate problems. Both are things I really enjoy in this series.

On the other hand, if you’ve read the previous book in the series (the Falls) you already know what the runabout it, so the story has less surprises than in previous books. Still, it was great to return to Boss and her crew. It’s clear that the series will continue and I’m looking forward to their further adventures.

Boss is a very independent character: in the first book she works alone and very reluctantly hires others only when absolutely necessary. Now, she’s the leader of this team and she’s still sometimes rather uncomfortable with all that.

Other reviewers have remarked that it’s possible to start with this book, but personally I recommend starting with the first one “Diving into the Wreck”.