January 2012


The topic for Top Ten Tuesdays today is Top Ten Books That Would Make Great Book Club Picks .

I presume this means books that can be discussed with some depth. There are lots of those, depending of course what the people in the group are interested in talking about.

1, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Curse of Chalion
The world building and the possible parallels to the real world give plenty of things to discuss.

2, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars
Especially for a group which knows something about revolutions, various cultures, and Mars.

3, C. J. Cherryh’s Cyteen
Themes from cloning to owning another human to how “human” is defined, just to name a few.

4, Joe Haldeman’s the Forever War
Changing culture, among other things.

5, Poul Anderson’s A Midsummer Tempest
In this story, Shakespeare’s play were real and he’s know as the Historian.

6, Jacquelin Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart
Another alternate history and an alternative culture.

7, Kirsten Imani Kasai’s Tattoo
Themes ranging from drug use to sexuality to exploitation of an entire tribe.

8, Robin McKinley’s the Blue Sword
Subversion of many epic fantasy tropes.

9, Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed
The clash between socialism and capitalism.

10, Kerry Greenwood’s Cocaine Blues
The differences and similarities of the 1920s and today.

The comic book collects two miniseries and one one-shot.

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Perchance to Dream is a four issue miniseries.

Written by Keith R. A. DeCandido
Artists: Peter Pachoumis, Lucian Rizzo
Publisher: Wildstorm
Publication date: 2000
The story starts with Data experiencing a vivid dream about being alone on the Enterprise when it’s on a collision course with a planet. The starship is destroyed and Data wakes.

The Enterprise is called to the planet Damiano which has only recently joined the Federation. The new Governor-Elect Ra’ch B’ullhy’s sexual orientation is different from the mainstream and she has been receiving death threats. The Enterprise has been sent to help the Governor-Elect’s security. While most of the Damiani apparently couldn’t care less about the Governor-Elect’s private life, there is a group which cares a lot and have vested interest in killing B’ullhy before her inauguration. B’ullhy’s chief of security is not happy about the Enterprise staff but once Worf finds a bomb in an area which should have been secure, the Damiani security chief is happy for the help.

Worf and his security team manage to block some assassination attempts and the main villain is so frustrated that he takes out his last ditch weapon: a psychic weapon which uses the victims’s own fears against them so that they dream only nightmares and see hallucinations when they are awake.

A few people come to Deanna about their nightmares but she doesn’t have time to investigate it. The last issues focuses on Captain Picard and a side of him which is hardly ever explored, and I enjoyed it more than the rest of the story.

The Damiani look like humans, except that they have horns growing from their heads. We are told that they have three biological sexes and that the norm is to have three sex partners at the same time. B’ullhy has just one and the traditionalists resent that, calling her a pervert.

I didn’t really care for the art and one of the reasons was that it was very hard to tell the various Damiani apart. There are a lot of Damiani with different agendas running around and all have the same skin color, green, the same hair color, black, and even the same hair cut, a crew cut. Also, most of them wear the same formfitting uniforms of black and blue. I understand that the security people had to wear them but the civilians wear something similar, too! When they are among the Enterprise crew with different skin tones and hair colors, the contrast is striking.

The story is about what fanaticism can drive people to do.

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Embrace the Wolf is a one-shot.

Written by Christoper Golden and Tom Sniegoski
Artists: Dan Hoover, Troy Hubbs, Jason Martin
Publisher: Wildstorm
Publication date: 2000

The Enterprise has been ordered to investigate the situation of Encoh 7. The Enochians are known for their peaceful and harmonious society but recently there has been rumors of extreme violence. When the Enterprise arrives, the crew finds out that the rumors are true: the world has been almost decimated and the people have turned against each other. An away team beams down to investigate.

The minister of interior, who has killed a lot of fellow Enochians, says that there was a cold presence in his mind. Unfortunately, the others think that he’s just raving.

Soon, Dr. Crusher beams back to the Enterprise and inside her is an energy being who has taken control of her. It moves into the computer and takes control of some of the systems.

This was a good story and the most memorable scenes were in the Holodeck. The being recreates Sherlock Holmes’ London on the Holodeck and the crew try to outwit him. Data appears as Holmes and some other bridge officers get to play in London, too. However, the story is rather bloody.

It’s a continuation to one of the classic Star Trek episodes but I haven’t seen it. The art is serviceable but it didn’t wow me.

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Killing Shadows is a four issue miniseries and set on Enterprise E, after the series ended.

Written by Scott Sienin
Artists: Andrew Currie, Bryan Hitch, Chris Chuckry
Publisher: Wildstorm
Publication date: 2000

Several hidden Starfleet science bases have been attacked without any survivors. However, now Starfleet knows that the attackers were the legendary assassin group called the Bodai Shin and they have targeted another Starfleet scientist. The Enterprise is orders to keep Dr. Norugi safe. Unfortunately, the doctor refuses to come on board, fearing that the isolated environment of a starship would make it easy to kill him. So, a team has to beam down to the planet Nydaris to protect him. Data and Picard meet the doctor and try to persuade him but the doctor will not change his mind. Instead, they are attacked in a crowded restaurant. Fortunately, Picard has a few allies on the surface. One of them is quite familiar but the other is unexpected. At the same time, the Enterprise is attacked by several smaller but powerful vessels. Also, the Bodai Shin can beam aboard the Enterprise, through their shields.

The story centers around a huge team of assassins called the Killing Shadows, Bodai Shin. They are feared around the galaxy but most believe that they are just a legend. Quite soon, they are said to be modeled after the ninja. I agree that ninja are cool; however, as far as we can tell, the members of aren’t human. Why would a non-humans species copy the ninja? I’m also in the dark about the motivations of the unexpected ally although I was delighted to see that person. The secondary story line is about Data getting used to his working emotion chip. He explores various human feelings, such as grief and anger.

I would have liked to know more about the small planet where the story is set. Nydaris has a rotation which keeps one side of the planet to the sun and the other towards space at all times. The city where the story takes place is on the night side and it’s said in the story that the city never sleeps, that while some colonists are sleeping, the others are working normally. Without a day cycle, this makes sense to me. The away team also uses civilian clothing instead of their uniforms.

In my opinion, this story has the best art; most of the characters are easily recognizable.

Overall, this was an ok collection but nothing special with the possible exception of the last issue of the first story. Travis Charest did some gorgeous covers for the first miniseries and the one-shot.

Booking Through Thursday

What’s more important: Good writing? Or a good story?

(Of course, a book should have BOTH, but…)

A good story for me, please.

As long as the story is readable, I tend to prefer riveting characters and stories.
Of course, there are writing style which I just don’t like so it’s not necessarily a question about the quality of the writing.

The fourth book in the fantasy series Unfinished Song which is set in a fantastical Stone Age.

Publication year: 2011
Format: ebook, pdf
Page count: 150
Publisher: Misque Press

Some time seems to have gone by after then end of the previous book, Sacrifice. The group of Initiate Tavaedis, magical dancers, have been formed into a performance troop under their teacher Abiono and they have traveled away from the Yellow Bear clan. Unfortunately, Abiono is an old man and unable to control the young dancers. Dindi is working as the Tavaedi’s serving maiden and has been given permission to learn the dances openly. However, a spoiled girl from the previous book, Kemla, is part of the group and as the most popular girl is apparently leading the women of the group. She seems to hate Dindi because the red fae, whom only Kemla and Dindi can see, constantly tease Kemla that Dindi is a better dancer than Kemla and that Dindi should take Kemla’s place as the star performer. Since Kemla can’t punish the fae or make them silent, she takes her rage out on poor Dindi, treating her as a slave. She takes things so far that she urges Tamio to sleep with Dindi so that Kemla can reveal it publicly and Dindi will be thrown out of the party. Apparently, there are no consequences for Tamio?

Now Dindi she can practice as much as she wants even though the others are pretty cruel to her (and once again the adults just stand by and let this happen). However, she was forced into a bargain with the fae in the previous book; she will have to find a way to lift the Curse from the Aelfae and bring them back from the dead. Dindi is using her corncob doll to find a way to do that. However, Tamio is hounding her so there’s not much time to do it. She also found out that there’s a hex on her family and she’d like to find a way to undo that, as well.

Meanwhile Kavio’s fae mother Vessia, known as the fae White Lady, is determined to help her son by finding women who could become the next Vaedi, the wife of the war chief. However, she’s being held captive by her own nephew. She manages to escape with the help of a young warrior and they set out to flee Vessia’s own tribe. They come across the Lost Swan tribe looking like a pair of beggars. Kemla denies them hospitality but Dindi shares her meager food and shelter with them.

Then, a group of warriors attack. They ride on big birds and kill some of the people before the nearby tribes come on horseback to aid them.

Umbral is a new characters and so is his group. He is a leader of a group of Deathsworn; those who serve the Lady Death. They all seem to have some sort of physical deformity and so they have been sent to the Deathsworn. Even the women have physical deformities and this was a refreshing change form the “flawless skin” princesses of fantasy. They are eager to kill people and are investigating a magical plague which devours people’s spirits. They also want to kill Vessia and the next Vaedi. Umbral comes across traces of a magic both ancient and fresh. Quickly, he becomes obsessed with the maiden who has left such traces behind her.

Dindi’s visions with the Corn Maiden seem to be over and she now sees into the life of Mayara, who is the last survivor of an Aelfae settlement. As a little girl, Mayara suffers horrible things: her mother cuts off her wings so that the humans wouldn’t kill her. Then her mother hides her just before the humans come and little Mayara sees her people slaughtered. Later, she wanders alone in the woods until a human finds her and takes her home, to live among his family.

Even though the group is performing and working magic in the Lost Swan tribe, Dindi’s tribe, she’s treated poorly. She is sent to sleep in a very cold hut and given only a small amount of food. However, this doesn’t seem to be her home tribe because we don’t see her parents or other close family.

There are some differences in the setting. Specifically, riding mounts. The Raptor Riders have large predatory birds which they use to ride on and the Broken Basket and Full Basket clans have horses. Unfortunately, the inclusion of horse made the setting less unique to me. Part of my enjoyment of the books have been their setting which is rather different from all the pseudo-medieval settings which are very common in fantasy. The use of horses makes the setting more familiar and less unique. In the previous book, there was a mention of gold and jewelry so the people have the means to smelt metals and work them quite intricately.

Two of the point-of-view characters are unfortunately pretty insufferable to me: Kemla and Tamio. They both start as arrogant and self absorbed to the point that they have no compassion or empathy to anyone else. We get to know more about them but they never really reform. Tamio is a unabashed womanizer and the best thing that can be said about him is that he isn’t a rapist. The Deathsworn are interesting and I hope we get see more of them.

I also found it a bit weird that while there are lots of talk about sexual conquests, none of the women worry about getting pregnant. However, in the previous book there was a brief mention that illegitimate kids are “unwelcome” and that a man will have to either marry a girl he gets pregnant or pay with foods and other stuff. The latter seems to be more common. Yet, the woman is expected to care for the kid and surely a poor woman without much kin, such as Dindi, or an ambitious Tavaedi such as Kemla, should be worried about being able to rise a kid. Of course, dwelling over such things would slow down the pace and possibly bore the reader. Unfortunately, this society too has the sexual double standard for women and men.

There are two new tribes in the book, the Green Woods tribe and Raptor Riders. Both are warrior clans which have quite different customs than the tribes we’ve seen so far. For example, both men and women can be warriors in both clans. They also have shape shifters. The Raptor Riders use huge birds and enslave them while some of the Green Woods people can turn into wolves. However, these wolflings aren’t tolerated until they can control themselves. They are banished into the woods to presumably learn control but, not surprisingly, most seem to live in the woods all their lives, and attack people occasionally. A bit disappointingly, at least in the Green Woods tribe the women have to tend to their chores in addition to being warriors while the men sit and talk.

The plot is again fast paced and full of twists, some of them unexpected. The book ends in a cliffhanger. More things happen in every short book than some established writers manage to put into 600 page books.

The topic for Top Ten Tuesdays today is Freebie so I chose

Top Ten Fantasy Comic Book Series

These are the comics I’ve enjoyed over the years. Some of them, such as Asterix, Tintin, and Spirou and Fantasio, I’ve read since childhood.

1, Sandman written by Neil Gaiman
Sandman is one long series of graphic novels. It’s based on the secret history concept. The Endless and the other mythical creatures, such as the various gods and fairies, influence events in the then current times and also throughout history. The main character Dream lives in his own world, the Dreaming, where all sleeping humans visit.

2, Elfquest by Wendy and Richard Pini
Another long running comics series. Elfquest follows the journey of a small band of elves, the Wolfriders, and their friends and enemies. The humans burned down the Wolfriders’ forest and they are forced to leave. All of the comics are available for free at their website: http://www.elfquest.com/

3, Bone by Jeff Smith
Three series of trilogies which follow the Bone cousins in a quite a fantastic land. The three cousins flee an angry mob and end up in the Valley where a group of rather unique people live. Not to mention the dragons and the Rat Creatures.

4, Uncle Scrooge stories by Don Rosa
Don Rosa’s stories are extremely popular here in Finland and they have all been collected into hard back collections. Don Rosa has a fine eye for detail and his long adventure stories often have a historical element to them which he has meticulously researched. He also often has gags in the background as well as part of the story.

5, Prince Valiant by Hal Foster
A long running series of comics strips which were originally published in newspapers and collected later. The strip follows Val’s life from a headstrong young prince of Thule to a Knight in the Court of King Arthur and to his old age. He travels to exotic locations and encounters staunch allies as well as hideous villains. Most of the time, the stories have a humorous side to them.

6, Tintin by Herge
Another very famous and popular comic book here in Finland. The young journalist Tintin is himself rather a colorless character when compared the the cast of characters around him. The first collections focus on Tintin and don’t have as much humor as the later ones where Capitan Haddock, Professor Calculus, and the identical, bumbling police officers are at their comedic best.

7, Fables by Bill Willingham
Various characters from various famous fairy tales have been forced to leave their own lands and flee to the modern world. Characters such as the Snow White, Prince Charming, Goldilocks, and the Big Bad Wolf re-imagined.

8, Asterix by Rène Goscinny
Another really popular comics in Finland. Asterix and his friends live in the last free village in Gaul and they constantly have to defend it from the invading Romans. Luckily, the Romans are often stupid and the village’s druid can brew a magical potion which gives everyone supernatural strength.

9, Spirou and Fantasio by various
Yup, another very popular comic in Finland and one of my favorites. Originally from Belgium. Spirou and Fantasio are journalists who get into all kinds of trouble. While Tintin has his loyal dog and Asterix’ best friend Obelix has his dog, Spriou has a squirrel who sometimes seems to have more common sense than his master. The series started with short comical comics and short adventures which didn’t have much fantasy content; the journalist go to America and butt heads with the mafia or become cowboys, for example. However, Franquin’s longer adventure stories have clear fantasy elements and resemble somewhat the Tintin comics. I’m particularily fond of the mad scientist Zorglub who is possibly the most unluckiest genius ever.

10, Hellboy by Mike Mignola
I’ve read only a couple of Hellboy comics but I want to read more. Hellboy actually feels more like X-Files than traditional fantasy but all of the collections I’ve read so far have mythical creatures and sometimes even places. Two live action movies have been made of the comics and while they have the core cast I liked the comics better. Hellboy and his friends work for Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, and they investigate anything and everything paranormal.

Today the topic of Top 5 Sundays at Larissa’s Bookish Life is Series You Plan to Start in 2012.

I have a lot of first in the series book in my to-read mountain but these are the ones I’m looking forward to starting very soon:

1, The Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne
Lots of people are saying that this series is tons of fun.

2, The Blood series by Tanya Huff

3, The Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep
I love assassins and lots of people have written favorable reviews about this series.

4, Icarus project by Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittridge
A superhero series!

5, A Time to… Star Trek TNG series
I’m way behind on my Star Trek TNG reading.

Written by Alan Moore, Leah Moore (Bad to the Bone)
Artists: Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, and various artists
Collects Tom Strong 15-19 with the original covers and concept art.
Publisher: America’s Best Comics
Publication date: 2004

The first issue has one story and the last one has three stand alone stories. The other three issues are a long and mightily epic story arch.

Tom Strong is a “science hero” who protects Millennium City from all sorts of nasty people. He’s also a scientist, and invents and engineers a lot of handy stuff. Dhalua is his wife and Tesla is their adult daughter. Solomon is Tom’s old friend and a gorilla.

Ring of Fire!” starts when a large hole is blown from the ground up into the middle of the Stronghold. Poor Pneuman has partly melted trying to save Tesla from being kidnapped. Tom is able to salvage his memory tapes and sees a burning man taking Tesla down the hole. Tom, Solomon, and Dhalua put on the transparent but really tough gemsuits which were last seen in issue eight. They descend down to the hole for quite a while until they reach the bottom where a rock wall has collapsed. Tom uses his molecular agitators which allow them to just go through. On the other side, they encounter lava people and Dhalua theorizes that they have evolved there just like their own life evolved on the surface. They have kidnapped Tesla.

I guess this is another tribute to pulp age comics where a girl is kidnapped and she ends up swooning over her kidnapper. Tesla didn’t swoon, though, but it’s still quite cheesy. However, I quite like the character of Val Var Garm so I guess I can forgive this one. 😉 Last time I was irritated with the gemsuits because Tesla was wearing one and it was transparent and she was kneeling inside it with very little clothes on. This time, the whole group is doing the same, although both Tom and Solomon are wearing full t-shirts while Dhalua’s shirt leaves her midriff bare. Sigh.

The next issue says that is has “the most outrageous new America’s Best character yet”, the Weird Rider. The story “Some call him the space cowboy” introduces a space faring Old West character. The start of the story is told from his point of view when he’s parked in Venus and meets the Modular Man (who was last seen in issue two). After a brief fight, the discussion establishes that the Weird Rider is from Earth, despite having a third eye and riding a small, motorcycle like space craft. He mentions that Earth is in danger.

Meanwhile on Earth, Tom is getting used to the idea that he’s no longer the only man in his daughter’s life (and since she’s in her sixties, that a lot of getting used to); she now has a boyfriend Val. Val is just learning English and the customs around him. Tom is frustrated and when a strange man sets down into the city and seems to be threatening the locals, he takes out his frustrations on the new guy. However, it turns out that the Weird Rider is in fact friendly. Tom apologizes and takes him, and some members of his Strongmen fan club, to Stronghold and they talk. A massive army of ant people is coming to Earth to conquer it!

In the next issue, Ant Fugue!, Tom gathers up allies against the onslaught. We get to see some familiar faces from previous issues and Tom even goes to Venus to talk to the Modular Man. Near the end of the issue, the five kids from the Strongmen club decide that they want to help somehow and mess with the one small space ship which was left over.

The battle is joined in the next issue, The Last Roundup.

I throughly enjoyed the three issues. The story is, of course, simplistic; the ants aren’t given a voice at all. Our heroes speculate that they simply want to use Earth as a plantation with humans as slaves but we don’t really know that. They are essentially a faceless enemy. Still, our heroes rally against them and get to be heroic. I also found it great that the idiot kids are in fact behaving idiotically and not saving the day, as I briefly feared. I also enjoy a large cast of familiar characters and here almost every character we’ve met comes back and work together. Although I don’t remember Svetlana X who seems to be Russian’s defender. I really enjoyed her character; she’s very strong and durable, and adventurous. The comic doesn’t have many characters like her.

The small space craft which are used in this story are, of course, absolutely ridiculous. They usually seat just one but can accommodate five kids when they have to. They resemble space motorcycles but the Weird Rider talks about them as if they were horses. In fact, this story has several characters who talk weirdly; the Weird Rider talks all the time in supposedly Old West accent and word choices, Svetlana has a Russian accent and doesn’t really grasp the idioms correctly (“Tom, I hope Dhalua is not urinated with me, for coming with you while she keeps to the saucer.”), and Val has trouble with English word order. (By the way, considering that the first two times we saw Val he didn’t speak a world of English, it’s really unlikely that he would have learned it so quickly. Of course, this is a comic book.) Still, this doesn’t make the comic harder to read, but to me at least, is highlighted the differences of the characters.

The last issue has three stories. “Electric Ladyland! ” is drawn by Howard Chaykin. Dhalua is kidnapped by a robot when the Strongs are having their one night out. Of course, Tom follows her and finds a secret underground society of women.

”Tom Strong’s Nemesis Paul Saveen: Bad To The Bone ” is written by Leah Moore and focuses on Saveen’s last day out in the desert. It’s rather poignant and fitting to the character.

The Hero-Hoard Of Horatio Hogg!” is made completely of cheese! Tesla and Tom are signing comics starring themselves when they are sucked into a comic book. It’s actually an interdimentional prison which just looks like a comic book and several other science heroes are already trapped in there. It’s cheesy fun with very cheesy dialog: ”Ha, ha, ha! Why not look closer, moppet of might, and see for yourself!” ”Fools! You’ve clearly reckoned without the dimensional dexterity and super science of Horatio Hogg, collector of champions, and now you must serve your time in my pulp paper prison!”

The collection is great fun for anyone who likes classic super heroes in a science fiction setting. I would recommend reading the two previous collections first, though.

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