March 2009


By Whedon and Jeanty

This is part of my comic book challenge 2009.

I’m a huge Buffy fan but I prefer seasons 1 through 3 instead of the subsequent seasons. I find this a bit puzzling because I tend to like books and movies with adult protagonists more than teenagers. And yet Buffy is clearly very young during the seasons 1-3. Then again, I’m of the opinion that the first three season hold together far better plotwise and thematically than the later ones. (I especially disliked witchcraft as symbol for two different things which aren’t related to each other.) Still, there are episodes in the later seasons which I just love.

Anyway, I was thrilled to hear that Buffy would continue in comic book form. Was a bit less thrilled when I realized that I had to wait for them to come out in trade paperback form. I did manage to get this first one in English but now it has been published in Finnish, too! I was a bit worried about the translation since even the quality of the subtitles, er, varied a lot. This translator seems to know something about the Buffyverse although, alas, not quite enough. (For example, “Bored now” was translated into “Are you still bored”…)

The story starts a couple of years after the end of the TV-series and the world has changed. There are many Slayers now and Buffy and the gang are trying to mold them into a fighting force against the (supernatural) evils of the world. Buffy and Xander are in Scotland leading and teaching a strike team of Slayers while Andrew is in Italy and Giles is in some Islamic country. Willow is doing her own thing with Kennedy.

Buffy and a strike team take out a nest of demons. There they find out that the demons’ victim has a strange marking on his chest. Meanwhile, General Voll and his men are watching the Slayers. The General is convinced that Buffy and the Slayers are a threat to society or at the very least to the General’s own plans. His people have been investigating the remains of Sunnydale and have found two survivors there. One of them is Amy who really wants to kill Buffy.

Meanwhile in Scotland Dawn has grown into a giant. She refuses to tell how (or doesn’t know) and only wants to talk to Willow. Rumor has it that she dated a triple witch and he transformed her. Xander is leading the operations center while Buffy goes out as the leader of the strike team. Soon, Amy attacks. She puts Buffy under a sleeping spell and has an army of undead attacking the Scottish castle where the team is staying.

It’s nice to see that much of the charm of the Buffy –series is still here: humor, pop culture references, witty dialogue, plot twists. The basic situation is, of course, rather different; instead of a small group of (teenaged) friends who try to save the world and keep the police in the dark, the Slayers are a big group with all sorts of technology and apparently even a team of witches working for them. Still, many of the new characters remain faces in the crowd and the focus is on the old gang. There are also lots of references to characters and the events in the series. Even Ethan Rayne makes a guest appearance.

The last story is about a Buffy look alike who gets a very dangerous assignment.

If you’ve never watched Buffy, I would definitely recommend starting with the TV-show and not with this comic.

Art: Art gets just a ‘meh’ from me. I didn’t hate it which is always a positive sign but I didn’t love it either. The characters don’t really look like the actors although getting that right would have been very difficult anyway. I really liked the covers, though.

Overall: There is enough of a mix of old and new to make me a happy old Buffy fan!

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This is the first book in a space opera trilogy called Trade Pact Universe. You can read an an excerpt here. This is also part of my 1st in a series challenge.

To me, the Trade Pact universe is similar to the Babylon 5 universe. While the TP universe has both humans and other sentient creatures (which for once are called different species and not erroneously races as is very common!) I got the impression that intermarriage between different species isn’t common like it is in for example Star Trek where aliens are just humans with bumps in their heads. On the other hand, the main characters of the romance are of different species. Yet, on the third hand the mixed species romance horrifies others so I’m pretty satisfied, world-building wise.

The name of the series seems to be a bit of a misnomer; while the setting is inside the Trade Pact space, the main character is a Clanswoman and the Clan is not part of the Trade Pact. The members of the Clan look exactly like humans but they have awesome psychic powers: telepathy, teleportation, and empathy. Some seem to have other powers as well. The Clan rank themselves according to personal psychic power and so they want to breed more powerful children. They have a Council which decides who are mated and when they should have children. However, the Council was formed because Clanswomen require a mate whose powers are stronger than hers. If they aren’t the prospective male is killed. So, the Council was formed to see who would be the most compatible mates. Emotions aren’t considered. This process is called the Choice which is ironic because it’s a biological imperative and any choosing is done by the Council and not the people in question.

Trade Pact Enforcer P’tr wit ‘Whix is following two Clan members to spy on them and to report their doing to his Commander Lydis Bowman. Unfortunately, the pair is attacked. The Clansman is arrested but the Clanswoman slips away in the confusion.

The woman’s point-of-view is written in the first person. She has no idea who she is or where she is and she doesn’t know much about the world around her. But she learns quickly and we readers learn with her. However, there is a strong compulsion in her mind which practically forces her to stay hidden and to seek escape from the planet. She obeys it as best she can while searching for any clues about her identity. She encounters space ship Captain Jason Morgan and is convinced that he can take her off the planet. Unfortunately, he doesn’t agree at first and in short order a press gang captures our heroine. A reptilian pirate captain takes a liking to her (as a moving snack or a possible hostage worth some money) and gives her the name Kissue.

However, she manages to escape and flee to Morgan’s ship, the Silver Fox. Morgan takes pity on her and agrees to take her off the planet. Morgan also gives her the name Sira Morgan.

Almost every other chapter is in third person and also in different font. These chapters concentrate on matters that concern our heroine but which she can’t know. We find out quite a bit about the Clan, the world, and Sira through the other characters in these chapters. The arrested Clansman Barac du Sarc turns out to be Sira’s cousin and her intended lifemate. He is intent on finding Sira even after the Enforcers tell him that his brother has been murdered. Barac contacts another Clanswoman, Rael, who is also intent on finding Sira. Apparently, Sira had agreed to the blocking of her memories but now her condition is, of course, rather dangerous. Barac also contacts Captain Morgan who seems to have some dealings with the Clan. Reluctantly, Morgan agrees to search for Sira but when he finds her, he doesn’t tell that to the Clan.

During the days that it takes for the Silver Fox to get to another planet, Sira tries to adjust to a space faring life. She also feels a need to have a connection with Morgan which confuses her.

The book contains a few intriguing details about the setting such as the obvious rivalry between the Enforcers and the local police forces and few things that we get to know about various non-human species. Hopefully, we get to see more of these in the upcoming books.

I rather liked the cast of characters. Sira is quite a sympathetic heroine who is doing her best to survive and understand what is happening to her. However, we do find out that she is very special among her own kind. Jason Morgan is a human telepath and has isolated himself from others because he finds his talents hard to control enough to interact normally with non-telepathic humans. However, he starts to grow very fond of Sira. There’s also Huido who runs a restaurant and is Morgan’s blood brother. Huido belongs to an alien species who resembles a robot more than a human. Neither human nor Clan telepathy can affect him. The only human food or drink he can digest is beer. He’s very loyal to Morgan. Clansman Barac is also a sympathetic character and I rather enjoyed the brisk and efficient Commander Bowman, too.

Humans have managed to research technology which blocks the abilities of Clan members so naturally, the Clan is rather suspicious of humans. The Clan is quite small so they don’t have their own planet. Instead, they want to live anonymously among humans and other species. This often means that any non-Clan beings who know about them are killed. While the Clan seems rather ruthless they are trying to survive as best they can.

The book has two central plots: the mystery of Sira’s condition and the romance. The mystery is pretty intriguing and it changes along the way. First, Sira wants to know who took away her memories and why. Then she starts to question who was the earlier Sira and if she was restored, would there be anything left of Sira Morgan? The mystery plot is well done and I rather enjoyed it. While the romance isn’t as appealing to me personally, it’s not annoying either. However, there is one aspect which might be problematic: before the Choice Clanswomen are prepubescent in appearance. When she Chooses a lifemate, she will instantly look like a mature woman. However, because she can’t age before the Choice she can be many decades old by that time. So, even though an unChosen Clanswoman can look like 9 years old girl, she can actually be forty or so years old. Sira felt like emotionally mature woman to me. But it did squick me a little when I remembered that she looked like a prepubescent girl to Morgan.

Overall: I liked Czerneda’s writing style, characters, and the universe enough to get the next two books in the series.

Grimspace is the first in the science fiction series called after its main character: Sirantha Jax. It can be read as a stand-alone. I’ve read so many good reviews about this book that I was interested to read it. Also, it has a fully clothed woman on the cover.

“The world opens up to me, an orchid unfurling at accelerated speed. I think of it as the primeval soup from whence all life originally came, a maelstrom of chaos and energy, sights the human mind isn’t supposed to be able to parse, let alone convert into coherent images that can be used to navigate.

Because of the J-gene I can sense the beacons, feel them pulsing like sentient life, and perhaps they are, for all I know. Perhaps if we could find their frequency, we could converse with them, and discover we’ve long been diving down the gullets of cosmic dragons and shooting out their cloacae to somewhere else, and guess what, they aren’t exactly happy about it. On second thought, some mysteries simply shouldn’t be delved.”

Sirantha Jax is a jumper; she has the J-gene which allows her and her ship to jump into a kind of hyper space which makes space travel easier. Apparently, she can’t jump on her own. Jumpers are rare and they tend to burn out quickly. Jax is therefore even more rare than usual: she’s over thirty and has survived many more jumps than any other jumper before her. Yet, something has gone catastrophically wrong.

The book starts with Jax in custody and waiting further psychological questioning and conditioning by the Farwan Corporation which employs all of the legal jumpers. She was the navigator on a ship which crashed and killed everyone else on board, including Jax’s pilot and long-time lover Kai. Everyone blames Jax for the crash. So, she’s rather surprised when a strange man comes to her locked cabin to rescue her. After a brief hesitation, she leaves with him to the rescue ship. Unfortunately, their jumper died during the voyage and their pilot died when the Corps start shooting at the ship. So, Jax and the mystery man called March have to step in. The pilot and the navigator are mind-linked during the grimspace jump and Jax is not ready to open her mind to anyone else let alone March who seems to loath her. But they have no choice.

During the jump, Jax finds out some things about March but that doesn’t really stop their mutual dislike. However, March and some other people have a proposition to Jax which might change not just her life but maybe the face of the galaxy as well. Or at least the face of the interstellar trade and voyages.

Grimspace is a fast-paced space adventure written in quite a humorous way. It has short chapters and there’s rarely time for the characters, or the reader, to take a breather. It’s written in first person and present tense which makes the action even more immediate.

Jax is a complex and flawed character; she has the habit of shutting off any emotional pain and just continuing like nothing happened. Even so, she mourns for Kai and blames herself for the crash. She’s afraid of the day when she can’t jump anymore and at the same time she can’t imagine herself staying in one place. She’s also a survivor who can and does put her own needs above the needs of others. This quirk makes her almost unique among the heroes and heroines I’ve read about because Jax isn’t an antihero or a coward.

There is a small cast of other characters who make an interesting and entertaining mix: March is the leader of the group. He’s very secretive and reserved but at the same time tender towards the people he can let himself care about. He argues constantly with Jax. Dina is the engineer of the ship. She mourns for her partner who was the ship’s jumper and blames Jax because the jumper died so that the small group could come and rescue Jax. Dina is very emotionally tough and also argues a lot with both Jax and March. She’s also a lesbian. The doctor of the ship is the gentlest one of the crew. There’s also one alien aboard: Loras. He looks like a human but has somewhat different way of thinking.

The plot turns rather sharply near the end and the book has a rather surprising ending in some ways. There’s also a romance but it doesn’t take over the story. I didn’t much care for the pairing but it wasn’t such a big deal that it would have ruined the book for me.

Overall: It’s a good, light-hearted read and I’m likely to get the next one in the series, too.

Here’s my latest review: Dave Duncan’s Ill met in the Arena.

I gave it five stars from five although I had some minor quibbles with things like genetics not working that way. But since we’re talking about the genetics of psionic abilities I guess it doesn’t really matter.

Over at Suvudu Free Library there are five free ebooks to download in .pdf:

T. A. Pratt: Blood Engine (urban fantasy)
Naomi Novik: His Majesty’s Dragon (alternate history with dragons)
Harry Turledove: Settling Accounts: Return Engagements (alternative history)
Kim Stanley Robinson: Red Mars (hard science fiction)
Robin Hobb: Assassin’s Apprentice (epic fantasy)

Booking Through Thursday

How about, “What’s the worst ‘best’ book you’ve ever read — the one everyone says is so great, but you can’t figure out why?”

Just one? That’s though. I’ve suffered through quite a few literary classes in my time. Perhaps Hemingway’s Sun Also Rises which to me was absolutely pointless and yet I had to say and write something semi-coherent about it.

This is part of my 9 book challenge and 1st in a series challenge.

First of all, this book has a horrid cover. I would never have picked up this one if it hadn’t been recommended again and again. I have no idea which book the cover was commissioned for but it’s a very poor fit for the story. The cover sells sex and the book contains no sex at all. Even the romance subplot is very much a *sub*plot. (By the way, poor Moon Called suffers from the same problem; the cover tells us that it’s about sex, sex, sex, and yet there’s no sex in the story. Enough already with the phony sexy covers!)

This is the first book in the Hollows Urban Fantasy –series. It’s set (as usual) in the US but in a post apocalyptic world. Or at least that’s what I call a world were half of the population has died of a virus.

Some years back, scientists were genetically engineering a brand of tomatoes and the virus got loose from the laboratories. It killed about a half of the normal human population and so gave the non-humans a chance to come out of the shadows. The non-humans pretty much saved the infrastructure of various Western countries but still (or because of it) the normal humans are often afraid of them. Even though now the non-humans live openly they often have their own part of the town where normal humans don’t much visit. The paranormal folk include pixies, fairies, vampires, leprechauns, various weres, witches, warlocks, and other fairy tale folks. In Cincinnati, their part of the town is called the Hollows.

Rachel Morgan is a witch and a runner for I. S. I. S is Inderland Security who is supposed to keep the paranormals, or Inderlanders, honest. As a runner, Rachel’s job is to bring in the non-lawful kinds of paranormals. Alas, the job isn’t as exciting as it sounds because Rachel has mostly brought in folks who try to avoid paying their taxes. She’s convinced that her boss hates her and is just looking for an excuse to fire her. She’s also thought of just quitting except then she would breach her contract with the I. S. and they can send assassins after her unless she can pay off her contract and she doesn’t have that kind of money. But if her boss, Denon, hates her, shouldn’t he be just relieved to be rid of her?

When Rachel talks about quitting with her co-workers, pixie Jenks and living vampire Ivy Tamwood, much to her surprise they not only encourage her but want to quit also and to form an independent agency with her. Denon isn’t happy that one of his best runners, Ivy, leaves. Ivy has so much money that she can pay off her contract so I.S can’t (officially) send anyone after her. So Denon decides to send assassins after Rachel.

While Rachel is in the office during her last day, she hears that a Councilman’s secretary has been murdered and that there’s a rumor that the secretary had been running drugs. Rachel is suddenly convinced that if she can get solid evidence that the Councilman in question, Trenton Kalamack, is dealing in illegal drugs that would big enough favor for I. S. and they would leave her alone. So, she decides to investigate Kalamack.

Of course, that’s not easy. Even if the Councilman wasn’t well guarded Rachel’s own life has been turned upside down. She has been evicted from her apartment and all of her stuff has a curse on it. Fortunately, Ivy was able to find them an office at Hollows so at least Rachel has a place to stay. The office turns out to be a former church which Rachel isn’t too happy about. Ivy had to also move into the church and a vampire isn’t the easiest roommate. Fortunately, the church has an excellent herb garden and the priest used to be a witch himself. When he fled with a woman he left behind many old spell books. This all seems almost too good to be true and maybe it is.

Dead Witch Walking is a highly entertaining first book in the series. It’s not tightly plotted nor is it very fast paced but it has charming characters and a very interesting setting. It also has humor which tends to be sadly missing from UF and from the fantasy genre in general.

I really liked the characters. Rachel herself is willful, impulsive, and brash. She doesn’t listen advice well (just like some people I know :)). On the other hand, she’s loyal, always means well and has a good sense of humor. The pixie Jenks is perhaps the best character in the book. He’s smart mouthed but what do you expect when he’s six inches tall and has to live in the human world? Pixies also have a fierce rivalry with fairies over gardens because they both live in gardens. Jenks has a wife and a dozen children who help him in his duties and his wife patches him up after fights. The living vampire Ivy is a more mysterious and tragic figure – what else would you expect from a vampire… She swears that she hasn’t fed on human blood for three years but can Rachel trust her word? After all they have only worked together but don’t know much about each other beyond that.

I liked the relationships and friendships in the book and Harrison takes the time to introduce the relationships and the characters to us instead of keeping up a furious pace all the time. There’s also humor in both the characters and the events themselves and I felt that Harrison didn’t take everything too seriously which is a good thing. I really liked the shapeshifting sequences.

Rachel doesn’t have a big repertoire with spells and she’s used to buying her spells from stores. So far I’m impressed with the way the supernatural works although it would seem that it’s quite easy to do all sorts of illegal activity with spells. Of course, then the I. S. steps in.

Overall: I’ll definitely continue with the series.

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