July 2008

On the basic level this is just the kind of comic I should enjoy: an epic level science fiction story with aliens and lots of explosions. However, I’m a bit of two minds about it because none of the main characters are my favorites. Quasar, however, is my one of my favorite characters grrr!

I’ve read Warlock and the Infinity Watch so I know something about Drax the Destroyer who was entertaining enough at the start. But then he got this weird personality change. I have no idea who thought this was a good idea. Did someone really think that we don’t have enough deadly serious and brooding characters? Meh. Of course, the story required one but there are quite a few other characters to choose from.

As for the “cute kid” Cammi she was okay I guess but I didn’t really care what would happen to her. I guess I’ve seen too many rebellious teenagers.

I’ve also read the New Warriors but Nova wasn’t my favorite character there, either. (Those were Namorita and the black girl with the crutches.) Nova was marginally more entraining here with his guilt and the supercomputer in his head.

I do like Annihilus though he’s never been this powerful. But I don’t mind more powerful villains. 🙂 He’s actually pretty scary here with the fleet which can destroy pretty much everything.

All in all, I wasn’t hugely impressed but I’m likely to get the next book. Despite the fact that I know what’s coming (a female Quasar who’s apparently really an average teenage boy’s wet dream. Like we don’t have enough of those…)

Booking Through Thursday

Here’s another idea about memorable first lines from books.

What are your favourite first sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its first sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the first line?

I rarely remember exact lines from books. I remember moods, characters, settings, maybe the gist of a conversation. Off hand, I can’t think of any opening lines that would have stayed with me.

Wow! This one was really good! Basically it intertwines a lot of old creatures, fairy tales, werewolves, Arthurian mythos, and the modern world. The amazing thing is that it works so well.

Even though the modern world has largely forgotten the existence of Fairie and the other supernatural creatures and clings to science, Fairie exists and tries to survive as best it can. Both the Seelie and the Unseelie Courts have to raid half-breed fairies from the modern world to make up for their dwindling numbers. They also have to tithe to Hell every seven years. However, there are some humans who still know about the Fair Folk. They are magicians who have organized themselves as the Prometheus Club and they oppose Fairie any way they can. The Prometheus Magi who we come to know in the book have all lost someone to the Fairie and so have a very personal stake in the cold war.

There are three point-of-view characters: the Seeker who is the hunter of the Daoine Sidhe Seelie Queen the Mebd, Keith MacNeill a werewolf prince of a small pack, and Matthew Szcezegielniak a Promethean Magus.

The Seeker rises as the most prominent character. We find out quickly that she’s a changeling, a human who was taken or seduced to Fairie. There she obviously thrived to become a competent the Seeker whose job it is to capture more humans or half-breeds to her Queen. However, she is also the daughter of the current leader of the Prometheans and her mother is planning something very big to save all of the captured humans, the Seeker among them. However (again) the Seeker is already a grown woman: her beloved lover betrayed her to the Fairies and so their son Ian has been raised in the Seelie Court as an Elf Knight. His father has never even seen him and the Seeker has apparently also seen him very rarely.

At the start of the book the Seeker is hunting a young girl for her Queen. The girl is first slapped around by her pimp and then a Kelpie tries to lure her away in order to kill and eat her and possibly to have sex with her first. The Seeker binds the seahorse by his true name and returns with the girl. The Kelpie Whisky is a major and complex character in the novel. Soon though, the Mebd reveals that a new Merlin has been seen in the world and sends the Seeker to find him and to bind him to the Queen. Much to everyone’s surprise the Merlin is a woman. She’s also not a young girl clueless of her power and innocent, but a woman in her thirties: a musician, a collage professor, and a mage who knows most of her powers and also knows what and who she wants. Seeker has started out thinking that she will have to do what Nimue and Vivienne did before her and to seduce the new Merlin. However, the new Merlin Carel is a lesbian. Also, the Seeker has to outbid her competition who are the Prometheus Mage Matthew and the Seeker of the Unseelie Court Kadiska who both come to court the new Merlin.

Keith MacNeill’s father wants him to inherit the leadership of the pack. However, Keith doesn’t want it. He doesn’t feel like a leader and doesn’t want the responsibility. There is also another wolf in the pack whom Keith thinks would make a much better leader: a black wolf who has come recently from Russia. However, according to the ancient rules of the werewolves Keith and Fyodor will have to fight for the position of the leader. Keith was also the Seeker’s lover and still loves her deeply. He also wants very much to see his son and to be a part of Seeker’s life again.

Matthew Magus is a human mage who has lost his brother to the Fairies. Kelly was taken when he was in his twenties and when he came back only a few human years had passed but Kelly had become an old man and his feet are ruined. Worst of all to the eyes of Matthew, Kelly considers Fairie his home and would like to go back. At least on his lucid moments. Matthew is trying to prevent Fairies from taking anyone else and also he tries very hard to convince the Merlin to fight alongside the humans. His archmage is Jane Adraste, the Seeker’s mother, and they try to convince the Seeker to return.

There is whole tapestry of other characters; some bad, some good, and most of them complex and fascinating. All of them have their own motivations to do what they do.

The Arthurian angle of the book is interesting. There is a Merlin who is bound to the Dragon (not a Dragon but the Mother of all Dragons) and when there is a Merlin there is also a Dragon Prince who is also bound to the Dragon. The Dragon Prince will be betrayed by someone near him every time. The Dragon Prince comes around about every five hundred years. The ones after Arthur were Harold Godwineson and Vlad Tepesh. The Prince’s purpose is to kill in the name of the Dragon to satisfy her hunger. Unlike Arthur and the people close to him, this time the people tangled into the Arthurian tale know what is coming and they can either accept it or try their best to avoid it.

Morgan Le Fay is a prominent character. Here she is not the feminist icon that some writers have made her but neither is she an evil witch. In fact, she comes across as very human; someone who has made mistakes and is trying her best to live with them. I’d like very much to get a book focusing on her. Probably not during the Arthurian times but some other time.

There are a lot of references to many, many old myths, tales, songs, and poems. Tam Lin is the most obvious one. The Mebd has forbidden it from her court so it appears that that did happen one way or another in her court. Arthuriana is of course also obvious one.

The fairies themselves acknowledge that they are made from stories. When the stories change so can they and their memories of what really happened. That’s the reason why it’s hard to fight against the legend of the Dragon Prince.

The mood of the book is not happy. It’s very much not a happy ending book, also. But it’s not entirely depressing either. People just have to do a lot of hard choices and then live with them.

Many of the plots start with a familiar way (a prophesied leader, your parent isn’t who you thought s/he was, the reluctant prince/ss, even rules say we have to fight to the death) but Bear twists them out of the familiar ruts that many, many fantasy writers put them through. In the end we’re in a far different place than where we started and that’s a huge plus.

I also like her writing; it’s not as sparse as Brust’s but it’s far from the overflowery prose that many fantasy writers use. Just enough but not too much.

Ron Sanders’ Signature.

Rather thoughtful science fiction. Four and a half stars from five.

Booking Through Thursday

What would you do if, all of a sudden, your favorite source of books was unavailable?

Whether it’s a local book shop, your town library, or an internet shop … what would you do if, suddenly, they were out of business? Devastatingly, and with no warning? Where would you go for books instead? What would you do? If it was a local business you would try to help out the owners? Would you just calmly start buying from some other store? Visit the library in the next town instead? Would it be devastating? Or just a blip in your reading habit?

I usually buy my books either from the on-line AdLibris or from the Finnish brick-and-mortar chain Akateeminen. If either of them would go out of business, it would be more difficult for me to buy English books and probably more expensive, as well. However, AdLibris going out of business would hurt me more than Akateeminen. I also have enough unread books that I’d still have my reading set out for at least two years and probably more.

In fact, if AdLibris goes out of business, comic book trades would be far more expensive get. So, it would hurt my trades reading far more than book reading.

I saw this one at Julia’s blog.

Do you remember how you developed a love for reading?
Not really. I’ve read as long I can remember.

What are some books you read as a child?
Quite a lot. 🙂
Nancy Drew books.
The Three Detectives books.
The Detective Twins, which were written by Sivar Alhrud in Swedish and translated into Finnish. I remember that they were really funny.
Quite a few horse centered books by Finnish authors such as Merja Jalo.
Walter Farley’s the Black Stallion and the two sequels. As far as I know the rest haven’t been translated although some comics based on them have been published.
A lot of comics about horses or Native Americans.
Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising books.
Asimov’s Empire trilogy which I think bored me quite a bit.
Swedish writer Merri Vik’s translated Lotta-series.

What is your favorite genre?
Fantasy followed closely by mystery and science fiction.

Do you have a favorite novel?
Not just one!

Where do you usually read?
In my studio apartment. I usually listen to audio books when I’m out walking or taking a bus.

When do you usually read?
Evening and afternoons unless it’s a weekend, I don’t have any work, or am sick.

Do you usually have more than one book you are reading at a time?
I usually have one fiction and one non-fiction book. Although I haven’t read my current non-fiction one now for, er, two months, I guess.

Do you read nonfiction in a different way or place than you read fiction?
Well, now that I don’t have to study anymore, the answer in usually no unless I’m researching something.

Do you buy most of the books you read, or borrow them, or check them out of the library?
Hmmm. Most of the Finnish language books I read I check out of the library. The English language ones I either buy or get through BookMooch.

Do you keep most of the books you buy?
Yes. If I don’t like them for some reason or they take up too much space, I put them to BookMooch or donate to the library.

If you have children, what are some of the favorite books you have shared with them? Were they some of the same ones you read as a child?
I don’t have any and I haven’t really thought about it. Then again, I’m waiting patiently to get my niece into fantasy. 😉

What are you reading now?
Spyware by R.J. Pineiro.

Do you keep a TBR (to be read) list?
Several. I have lists on my computer sorted by genre. But these days it’s easier to just add books to the wishlist on the on-line bookstore which I use most. However, my to-be-read-piles are so high that I don’t know when I’ll be able get anything from the list.

What’s next?
Well, I have around 10 unread books around my bed so I’ll choose one from them. Probably Robinson’s Murder at the Feast of Rejoicing or Brust’s Jhereg.

What books would you like to reread?
Most of the one’s I’ve really enjoyed, of course. Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, Carey’s Kushiel-series, Elfquest, Sandman…

Who are your favorite authors?
Lois McMaster Bujold, Steven Brust, Jacqueline Carey, Jeff VanderMeer, Anne Logston in the fantasy/SF side. In mystery Elizabeth Peters and Lynda S. Robinson. In comics I really like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest, Willingham’s Fables, and Kurt Busiek’s Avengers.

These are the voyages of Captain William Riker and his crew aboard the U.S.S. Titan. The crew consists of many, many species and even has a few non-humanoid members. Long-time TNG fans are also treated with TNG minor character Alyssa Ogawa as the chief nurse and the Romulan Tomalak as one of the opponents. However, I was a bit distressed when I found out that apparently there are a quite a few TNG books which are set in the time before Nemesis. 1 Some of this book’s characters seem to be from these TNG books and so, unfortunately were unfamiliar to me, such as the First Officer Commander Christine Vale and Lieutenant Commander Ranul Keru.

Taking Wing is clearly a starting book in a series: it introduces the numerous crew, has back story for those who didn’t see Nemesis, and at the end it also sets up the coming conflict. And it does all of this competently. However, I probably wouldn’t recommend it to someone not already familiar with the TNG universe.

Captain Riker is getting ready to take his new ship out to explore the galaxy. He persuades Vale to become his first officer and gets introduced to the new chief medical officer who is basically a dinosaur and distresses quite a few crew members. However, Admiral Akaar gives him another assignment: to go to Romulus as the head of the Federation humanitarian envoy to the Romulan Star Empire who is near chaos after Shinzon killed the Senate and the got himself killed, too. Riker is not happy about this change of plans especially since he has picked his crew to be explorers and not diplomats but has no choice but to agree. However, Akaar has not told him everything about the envoy and reveals the rest only when he’s forced to do so: the Klingons have also sent three ships as an answer to the cry of help from the Remans. The Klingon ships are also part of the envoy.

Meanwhile in Romulus several factions are doing their best to wrest power for themselves. The current praetor is Tal’Aura, the former Senator who was the only one to survive Shinzon’s purge of the Senate. Her main ally is the proconsul and former military Commander Tomalak. The military leaders are Commanders Donatra and Suran who don’t trust even each other. Senator Pardek leads a faction which wants to attack Federation. The Tal’Shiar’s young, new commander Rehaek would rather have an easily controlled puppet ruler on the throne. The Remans want water, food, and a place to live without Romulan overlords. And while Ambassador Spock’s Unification movement has suffered under the unrest, Spock is determined to stop Romulan civil war at all costs. There’s also a Federation undercover agent on Romulus. Unfortunately, he was injured during the riots after Senate’s death and thrown into jail.

Riker and his crew are heading to a very volatile situation which is made even worse by the fact the Pardek is murdered a few days before the first peace conference with all sides and everyone is blaming all of the others. Even though Commander Donatra helped Captain Picard to defeat Shinzon, Riker isn’t sure how far he can count on her.

The book is pretty fast-paced even though its plot is centered on politics and intrigue, and I’m planning on reading the next one.

However, I did have three small complaints:

-A huge cast of characters. I wasn’t familiar with Riker’s crew except for Troi, Riker, and Alyssa and occasionally I wasn’t sure who the characters were. On the other hand, I’ve often wanted to know more about the crews of the Enterprise- D, Voyager, and even DS9, so I guess I shouldn’t complain. 🙂

-A huge cast of species. Again, I’m often thought that the alien species aren’t used enough. The only ones which we have seen enough to really know something about are the Bajorans, Klingons, and the Ferengi. We know a little bit about the Vulcans, too. But what about the rest, even the ones that have been part of the crews: Trills 2, the Bolians, Romulans, Orions, Benzite, or even Betazoids. I’d love to see more about individual (and different from each other!) members of theses species and about their customs. On the other hand, I’m afraid that ST can’t do anything really radical with them so they will all turn out to be hierarchical (of course, a member of a non-hierarchical species might have a very hard time adjusting to Starfleet), patriarchal, have-Christmas-but-only-with-another-name “aliens” whose emotional make-up doesn’t really differ from modern Western humans. But maybe I’m too pessimistic. However, the vast majority of the species used here are ones that I’ve never even heard of and so it was difficult to get a mental picture of them.

-And third: “lifemate”? Keru and one of the crew members from Star Trek: First Contact were two men who were pair-bonded. And they couldn’t be called husbands because they weren’t hetero? They couldn’t even be called spouses but instead they had to be called “lifemates”?? Now, Keru is a Trill but I don’t recall that Jadzia had any difficulties calling her (hetero) “lifemate” a husband. If they weren’t married, the term you’re shying away from is boyfriend. Then again, maybe the writers just didn’t feel comfortable making him mourn a “mere” boyfriend for eight years.

Once again I see that I’ve stressed the bad thing more than the good ones. As a long-time TNG fan, I really enjoyed this book and the bad things are really just quibbles.

And I really like the cover art, for once.

1, Reading Steven Brust has been an antidote for my desire to read every series in the internal chronological order. But apparently not enough. I’m currently thinking if I should get the first of the Time to… series. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m going to get it eventually.

2, I play currently a Trill in the table-top RPG and it’s sometimes a source of some frustration to me because of how very little we actually know about Trill culture. Religion? (I know that the rule book claims that they are all atheists but that’s just very lazy writing) Arts? Courtship? Are there reviled professions? Or is everything just hunky-dory, equal, accepted, and happy? We know something about the customs related to the symbiots but what about the rest? Apparently the majority of the Trill doesn’t have symbiots after all.

Booking Through Thursday

It’s a holiday weekend here in the U.S., so let’s keep today’s question simple–What are you reading? Anything special? Any particularly juicy summer reading?

While July is a traditional summer vacation time for Finns, I’m working one and a half jobs. My next vacation is likely to be in Christmas. So, unfortunately I don’t have much time to read right now.

My reading habits during the summer aren’t really different from my reading during the other times of the year, genre-wise. I do have a habit of rereading favorites while sitting in the sun eating strawberries. (So far, it’s been quite a chilly summer, too. So no sitting in the sun for me.) Currently I’m reading Taking Wing, a Star Trek novel about Captain William Riker and his crew aboard the U.S.S. Titan. Next I’ll have to continue my reread of Vlad Taltos-series in anticipation of the new novel, Jhegaala. I’m reading some comics, too.