December 2009

The last one of my 1st in the series challenge! Huray! This is the first in a duology of books. I already have the second book.

Stephen is a young orphan boy who has joined a gang of thieves so that he can survive. One night he’s so hungry that he tries to steal from a Lord of the land: Lord Elseth. However, the attempt fails and Lord Elseth sends two of his hounds to chase after Stephen. The boy is terrified and is caught. Lord Elseth carries him away. Stephen thinks that something terrible is going to happen to him.

Instead, he’s clothed and fed. He meets Lord Elseth’s son Gilliam and it is dislike at first sight. Later he finds out that the Lord wants him to become Gilliam’s Huntbrother. Stephen doesn’t want to lose the better life he’s gained and when he has to swear the oath, at the tender age of five, he lies. However, later he grows to understand his role and life-to-be as the brother of a Hunter.

Through the years, Gilliam and Stephen learn to trust each other and even love each other like brothers. They are taught together even though Stephen is the scholarly of them while Gilliam thinks of nothing more than the hounds and the hunt. However, the servants of the dark god are making their plans and the two young men are going play a big role in them even though the boys don’t know that yet. The boys seem to have even a couple of allies: the seer Evayne e’Nolan who travels through time and the former assassin Kallindros.

In this world the Hunters are the Hunter God’s chosen ones. The men receive strength, speed, endurance, and a hunting trance during which they have a mental bond with their own pack of hounds. They also get a Huntbrother who is a normal human male except that a Huntbrother and his Hunter have a mental bond; they can see through each other’s eyes and feel what the other feels. Huntbrother’s job is to ground the Hunter who might become inhuman without the brother’s influence. Hunters are always noble males and Huntbrothers are common males.

The Hunters and Huntbrothers have also a grimmer duty: once a year they must gather for the Sacred Hunt during which one of the Hunters or Huntbrothers must die in order to satisfy the bloodthirsty Hunter God. This is the only way to keep the balance of power between the humans and the Hunter God. This is the fate that Stephen is terrified of and he’s convinced that he’s going to die during his first Sacred Hunt (at the tender age of 15).

My main problem with this book is the same as with many, many (fantasy) books; males are the cool people who do all the cool stuff, and women are the uncool people who will have to do all the uncool stuff men are too cool to do. I don’t want to be one of the uncool people. 😦 Here the difference is even more pronounced because only men can be born to be hunters (the cool people) and women are completely excluded from ever being as cool.

While it’s the job of the Hunters to keep the people fed and to risk death during the Sacred Hunt, their women are the ones who do most, if not all, of the ruling. The Ladies sit in judgment of grievances and keep the noble households running. This might be considered cool except that most of the women are described as airheads who think mostly about their clothing. Also, the ruling part is never shown in the story.

Evayne is one of the few female characters and one might think of her as cool. Alas, she’s the complete opposite of the Hunters. The Hunters’ power is control. They must be in control of their own instincts and their pack of hunting dogs. Evayne is not in control of her powers; she has no control over where she travels in the past or future. She’s often frustrated at how she’s lead to places she doesn’t want to go. When she comes back to the world after walking the future paths, she’s disoriented and doesn’t know where she is. Also, she can’t tell other people what she knows. All this makes her seem quite weak compared to the Hunters.

I quite enjoyed Kallandros. He’s a former assassin and current bard. The assassins are a close-knit brotherhood (again, the cool assassins are all male…) and he had to betray them in order to get out. He’s tormented by his decision and afraid that one day he must confront his assassin brothers in battle. At the same time, he controls his emotions very tightly except when he sings. Frankly, I found him to be far more interesting than the other characters.

This is very much a growing up story. At the start of the book Stephen and Gilliam are five and at the end in their twenties. They have to overcome their fears and their first dislike of each other. In the end, they come to love each other like brothers. Or perhaps more? When one of them has a crush on a woman, the other is clearly jealous. I’m rather surprised if none of the “brothers” turn out to be lovers.

I liked the book enough to read the second part of the duology.

One of the books in my first in a series-challenge.

The newest Rusch book! This seems to be the first in a new science fiction series about a space ship wreck diver. The main character is a woman in her forties. Her name is never given but the others call her Boss. The book is almost a collection of three novellas; however, each of the stories starts where the previous one ends.

Boss dives old wrecks because she’s interested in the past. To her, an undived, old space ship is a mystery she can’t ignore. So, when she finds a ship which is old enough that it shouldn’t exist at all at the place where she found it, she gathers together a team who can explore it. The ship she found is all a Dignity Vessel from old Earth. According to legends it could travel through time but at a terrible cost. The technology to build Dignity Vessels was lost and Earth’s military has tried for a long time to rebuild it. It seems the Boss has found something that a lot of people are looking for.

In the second story, a woman hires Boss to look for a legendary place called the Room of Lost Souls. Boss knows that it exists because she has been it, as a child. She also lost both of her parents to the Room – her mother stepped into it and vanished while her dad devoted his life looking for her mom. Boss is reluctant at first to look for the place but in the end she has to agree. The mysterious woman tells Boss that she has a way into the Room.

The third story continues straight from the second one.

Boss is an interesting woman and quite an unusual character. She’s a woman in her forties who prefers to live and work alone. Her only family is her estranged father that’s the way she prefers to be. There’s no romance in the book. She’s a professional and very good at her job. On the other hand, she cares for her crew and has extensive safety procedures in place.

Her crew members are also professional who are focused on the job and staying alive on the job. Wreck diving is a dangerous job; not just because of the vacuum of space but because there can be a lot of unexpected things in the wreck.

Among her first crew is a team of father and son who can work almost instinctively together. There’s also a lesbian couple who also seem to be in their forties. Others work alone or in temporary crews, like Boss. None of them are beginners.

The setting has no aliens, so far, so it’s different from Rusch’s previous SF work. Instead, humans are the only ones populating space. They seem to have been in space for a long time and there has been a bitter war in the recent past.

The story is told in first person and present tense. It’s quite straight forward; there are no romances and very little other personnel problems. It’s a mystery story although the mysteries change through out the story.

The third book in the Temeraire –series continues the adventures of Captain William Laurence of His Majesty’s Aerial Corps and Temeraire, his dragon.

The book starts soon after the previous one ends so here there be spoilers for the previous books.

Temeraire and Laurence are still in China and homesick. Alas, their ship Allegiance is badly burned and it looks like they are stuck in China for three more months. However, when Laurence receives an urgent mission to Istanbul from the Aerial corps, he has no choice but to try to go overland. He tries his best to map a course and even hires a guide Tharkey to help their journey.

The journey is hard. Even though Temeraire can at first fly the men for quite a long way but the dragon needs also quite a lot of water and meat every day which means that the crossing of the deserts become difficult. They also encounter a group of wild dragons much to Temeraire’s delight and are attacked by bandits. When they reach Istanbul matters become muddier to Laurence’s surprise. He had been sent to recover three dragon eggs which England has supposedly bought from the Ottoman Empire. However, the only Ottoman minister who deigns to welcome the English crew, claims that the English have not paid for them. Laurence don’t know what to believe.

This book again broadens our view of the world. In addition to the China and the Ottoman Empire we also see the Russians and the Prussians, and the way they treat their respective dragons. While the latter two nations seem to treat their dragons much the same way as the English, in the Ottoman Empire some dragons are Muslims. Alas, we are often given just a glimpse to this fascinating culture.

His time in China has inspired Temeraire to have plans to raise the status of dragons in England. He wants to be able to own things legally and to be paid for the work he does. He even suggests to Laurence that dragons should have a voice in the government. While Laurence agrees with Temeraire, he strongly suspects that that’s not going to happen. Most English don’t want to view dragons as more than animals and would not want to be governed by them. His suspicions haunt him and he almost feels like he’s lying to Temeraire. He also suspects that Temeraire would have been better off if he had stayed in China. I’m curious to see what Temeraire will do when he realized that his dreams cannot be come true.

The wild dragons are on the surface mostly a comic relief. However, they are a mirror to Temeraire and the whole episode is reminiscent of how older books treated non-white people. In essence, Temeraire is the “tamed” non-white person who is a slave or a servant to his masters. Yet, he sees his place as better than the wild ones who are to him uneducated and uncivilized. Also, the episode challenges the humans’ knowledge of wild dragons who are thought to really be animals. Tharkey is another non-white person. He’s father is an Englishman but her mother is a native woman and so, he’s a loner accepted by no one. He also doesn’t want acceptance but instead expects rejection no matter what he does. I rather liked him.

The structure of this book is closer to the first in the series unlike the second one. The plot is mostly a journey with a lot of battles and some mysteries as well. There are a lot of characters which we meet in different locations and yet they tend to be more than just faces in the crowd.

Booking Through Thursday

What items have you ever used as a bookmark? What is the most unusual item you’ve ever used or seen used?

I usually use cardboard bookmarks (my trust old Han Solo bookmark, a wolf themed one, one featuring the statue of David, and one that has the Colosseum in it) and one bookmark which looks like a medallion. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen anyone use anything more exotic than a receipt or a bill as a bookmark. And bending the corner of the book, of course.

By Michael Mignola

The second Hellboy trade is dedicated to Dracula which is appropriate considering that one of the main baddies in this trade is a vampire. Here Mignola continues his mythic tale of Hellboy and adds Norse and Russian myths to the mix. Most of the story is set in Romania in a quite Draculan setting.

Roderico Zinco, a very rich entrepreneur, offers sanctuary to the three Nazis whom we saw emerging from their life preservation bods at the end of the previous story. Their mysterious master had appeared to Zinco and recruited him.

One year later, the trio is in New York and Ilsa kills the curator of a wax museum. Later, the BPRD investigates and finds out that the seemingly simple murder gives a clue to a far larger conspiracy; the owner used to hold the body of Vladimir Giurescu. According to the Romanian folk tales, Giurescu could never die; that the moonlight would revive him when he was in a specific room in his castle. The Nazis made an effort to recruit him but after meeting Giurescu, Hilter ordered him and his family (six women) to be killed and burned. However, it’s possible that one of the Nazis preserved Giurescu’s body and brought it to the US. In fact, the murdered curator turns out to be German.

The BPRD sends three teams to Romania to investigate. Hellboy has the honor to check out Giurescu’s castle all by himself. Meanwhile, Ilsa has brought the crate where Giurescu’s corpse is supposed to be, back to the castle. When Hellboy shows up she makes a cyborg Nazi fight him.

Later, the Nazi trio’s Master from the previous trade appears as a ghost-like being and Ilsa follows him without question. The Master (I’m trying very hard not to spoiler here) is again the main villain of the story. We learn his history and connections to a famous Russian fairy tale character. Also, Hellboy finds out why he’s on Earth and to fight against his inner demonic being.

The art is again very distinctive. It borrows from the ancient mythologies and the more modern vampire mythology. I also liked the close-ups where we could see just how many of the equipment that the BPRD uses are made by the Zinco Corporation. The enemy was nearer than the BPRD agents ever knew.

The story continues from Seed of Destruction and I recommend starting with that trade. The main villain is the same and story of Hellboy’s origin continues here.

Some of the characters get more flesh in their bones. Ironically, they are mostly the villains, the Master and Ilsa, whom we’ll hopefully see in the future. I also enjoyed the return of the old Greek goddess and the way that the people in the village near Giurescu’s castle reacted to his return. Dracula came strongly to mind with the latter.

I found it quite remarkable how well Mignola was able to mix the different myths. Hecate, Baba Yaga, Lovecraftian monsters, the seven-in-one, and vampires can co-exist in the same world without it feeling forced. Not to mention all of the other characters from their respective myths. Impressive.

However, the ending was somewhat disappointing especially if the three people stay dead. Giurescu didn’t really get a chance to do anything; the Master and the Nazis got to do pretty much everything.

The story has also been published with the name “… and call me Conrad”.

It’s part of my 9 books for 2009 –challenge.

In this story Zelazny mixed post-apocalyptical world with ancient myths and a dash of space opera.

Conrad Nomikos is an immortal. How long he’s lived isn’t clear but he could have been around since ancient Greece. He’s cagey about it, though. He has lived through the Three Days, when a lot of the Earth turned into radioactive sludge. Later, he resisted the blue skinned alien Vegans when they turned Earth into their amusement park and he’s still trying to resist them in his own way.

Currently, he’s the Commissioner of the Earthoffice Department of Arts, Monuments, and Archives. He’s been put into a position he loathes; a tour guide to a rich Vegan, Cort Myshtigo, who wants to visit select places on Earth. When other people around the small office hear where the Vegan and Conrad are headed, they want to come along, too. Among them are Conrad’s ex girlfriend, his best friend, and Hasan who is called the Assassin. But first, the Vegan wants to see a voodoo ceremony. Reluctantly, Conrad agrees even though he’s not sure if there are any genuine voudoun priests anymore. However, the ceremony was a bit more than any of them expected.

Zelazny takes his readers for a wild ride considering how thin the book is; the old paperback I have is little over 200 pages. Most of the Earth is covered in radiation which gives birth to weird creatures which even resemble beings out of old Greek myths such as satyrs and centaurs. Some other myths have come to live, too; wild people who live in the forests and capture and eat others, and even a Dead Man walking and killing.

Most of the humans don’t live on Earth anymore. There’s a mention of colonies in our solar system and some live on Vega as poor workers. It turned out that Vegan males and human females are attracted to each other and so some of the women wanted to move to Vega. The Vegan senses are different from humans and so the humans on the alien planet can’t really integrate into the Vegan society. The Vegans were the ones who rescued humans from their nuclear war and gave humans another place to live.

Conrad himself is a striking figure; he’s taller than most humans and he’s also stronger. On the other hand, he has a limp and half of his face is incredibly ugly. I think there’s even some fungus growing on his face. Despite that, he manages to attract beautiful women to himself (of course…). During the fight against the Vegans he was a terrorist and he’s still a formidable fighter.

The rest of the party seems like archetypes. There’s the Assassin who is also a formidable fighter. He keeps to himself and talks little. Phil is Conrad’s best friend and married to Conrad’s ex-girlfriend. There’s Diane who hates Vegans passionately and tries to persuade Conrad to kill Myshtigo. Myshtigo himself doesn’t feel very alien but he’s also not talkative.

However, when these are mixed together they feel like a new interpretation of the old myths. The book is definitely worth reading.

Booking Through Thursday

What’s your favorite part of Booking Through Thursday? Why do you participate (or not)?

I like answering most of the questions. Because reading is such a large part of my life, I like to think about reading related questions. I also definitely like to read others’ answers and see how different we can all be even though we have at least one common interest.

By Michael Mignola and John Byrne

This is the collection of the first Hellboy miniseries. It’s also part of the first Finnish Hellboy trade.

The first chapter is set in the final years of WWII when the Nazis are trying to get magical help. A mysterious magician performs a mighty spell which seems to go somewhat wrong.

He was supposed to summon a miracle for the Nazis but nothing happens. Meanwhile, a group of British and USAians are in East Bromwich where something magical is supposed to happen. The group consists of soldiers and three paranormal people. In the end, a scary looking little boy appears. The boy is taken in by the paranormals who are members of BPRD, the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

The next chapter opens 50 years later. The little boy has grown up to be Hellboy, one of BPRD’s best agents. He still doesn’t know where he came from or why.

Hellboy’s old adoptive father, professor Trevor Bruttenholm, has taken part in an expedition which was seeking something mystical from the Northern Polar Regions. It was believed that the expedition perished just like all the previous ones. However, Bruttenholm survived. He tells Hellboy about a weird statue and how he has lost some of his memories. Soon, a group of frogs appears and Bruttenholm is killed. Hellboy battles a human-sized frog creature whose tongue can make his arm go numb. Even though Hellboy kills the creature, he’s only clues are the other members of the expedition. They were three young men from a famous explorer family of Cavendish. Hellboy’s small team goes to the Cavendish Hall which is rumored to have been built on cursed land.

The story is told mostly from the point-of-view of Hellboy who has to face not only the death of the only parent he has ever known but also the possibility of knowing more about his purpose on Earth – which is likely not a benevolent one. However, he has had a long time to live with the uncertainty. He’s not a brooding teenager but a professional who has a job to do.

His team mates are interesting and I hope we get to know more about them in the later stories. This time we barely got a glimpse of them. Abe Sapien, the amphibian paranormal, was found in an underground tube where he could have been a long time. He seems to be a consummate professional as well. Liz Sherman is a pyrokinetic whose power was first so uncontrolled that she burned her family to death when she was ten. That must have left a lot of traumas and yet she has a job where she probably has to use her powers. She spends most of the comic off-screen so we don’t learn much about her.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the comic is the atmosphere. There are quite a few Lovecraftian monsters around and magic is real. I could even compare Hellboy to sword and sorcery –type fantasy stories where the magicians are almost always evil. There are some references to real myths, especially in the artwork, and Hellboy himself seems to have come out of one, as well.

The artwork is different than the current manga-style or the sleek superhero -style which I’m mostly used to, but that’s good. It emphasizes the setting, the feeling of mythology, and creates a unique feel to the comic.

The first Finnish trade contains Seed of Destruction, Wake the Devil, and one of the later short stories. It’s in black and white which gives the stories perhaps a more intense atmosphere than the standard four color comics.