February 2012

The second book in the Gatekeeper trilogy which is set on the third season after Revelations and before Lovers’ Walk.

Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 370
Publisher: Pocket Books

The Gatekeeper in his house in Boston is responsible for keeping dimensional rifts closed and imprisoning all monsters which have managed to slip into Earth from other dimensions. However, he is getting older and weaker. A cult of robed men called the Sons of Entropy have taken advantage of that. Their feared leader Il Maestro has commanded them to attack the Gatehouse and capture Buffy for his own sinister purposes. Buffy and her friends defended the Gatehouse from the attacks earlier but now they have more important task: to find the Gatekeeper’s eleven year old son who has been kidnapped. The boy had been in a school in London and time is short, so Buffy, Angel, and Oz use the Ghost roads to get to Britain in just a few hours. There, they are contacted by a man sent by the Watchers Council. Unfortunately, the man is a spy and sends the trio to a trap. However, the boy isn’t in Britain so the trio will have to do a road trip around Continental Europe.

Meanwhile, Giles, Willow, Cordelia, and Xander defending Sunnydale. Dimensional rifts are opening up and Willow uses her spells to seal them. One rift even opens into the Summers’ house and Joyce has to confront a supernatural threat. Also, the Flying Dutchman has broken free from the Gatekeeper’s bindings and is gathering live people to kill.

However, the Sons of Entropy don’t know that their Maestero is just a pawn. Il Maestro serves a demon who demands a sacrifice: Buffy or the Master’s beloved daughter. The Master is a vile man who has served evil for centuries. He enjoyed killing and torturing other people. Yet, he loves his adopted daughter and would like her to be his successor to the all-male Sons of Entropy.

Again, there’s a lot of action. Buffy, Angel, and Oz battle various creatures and groups of Sons of Entropy. Some of the Sons are low level sorcerers but powerful enough to give our heroes a lot of trouble. There are also more horror in the book than is usual for Buffy: the Flying Dutchman flies around and kidnaps people. This is often told from the point-of-view of the kidnapped, and to-be-killed, men and women, and so it’s more horrific because they aren’t the main characters and anything can happen to them. There’s a great sequence with the Dutchman and one of the regular characters. Also, since the Sons of Entropy are human Buffy’s gang is in fact killing and brutally wounding them which is quite different from the show where the villains tend to be various monsters.

Cordelia’s, Xander’s, and Willow’s parents are talked about several times which a bit unusual. The Scooby Gang stays out long into the night, battling evil, and are worried that they are going to be grounded until graduation. Cordelia and Willow also have a nice bonding moment which we didn’t really see in the series and is very ironic considering what happens in the episode follow the book. Buffy and Oz also talk more than probably in the series as a whole.

Spike and Drusilla have kidnapped the boy and are holding him. There are a few scenes with them but putting them on the cover is almost false advertising. Again, Faith doesn’t make an appearance.

The Ghost roads weren’t used much which was a bit disappointing. Only people with a connection to the supernatural can walk them and that’s why Buffy, Angel, and Oz are the only ones to use the roads. Apparently, being a witch doesn’t count. Unfortunately, the Ghost roads are declared immediately very dangerous and not to be used lightly, so the trio uses a car most of the time. In the first book, Angel was confronted by Jenny and I would have loved to see more of that sort of character torture. Alas, it didn’t happen. The ghosts attack the trio, when they try to use the roads, and demand to be let back into the world. Of course, Buffy couldn’t let that happen. Also, there are monsters walking the Ghost roads.

This is as good Buffy entertainment as the first book and the characters are mostly themselves. However, there’s no clear attraction going on between Willow and Xander, which is a bit odd considering the next episode. I didn’t care for that plot twist at all, so I’m not complaining. 🙂

The book ends is huge cliffhanger!

The first book about little aliens the humans call the Fuzzies.

Publication year: 1962
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Peter Ganim
Running Time: 6 hrs and 28 minute

Jack Holloway is an old prospector looking for valuable sunstones on the alien planet Zarathustra. The sunstones are fossilized jellyfish and the arid planet also has land prawns which Jack detests. One day when he returns to his shack, he finds a small, hairy, and cute being in his house. Jack calls it “Little Fuzzy” and feeds it. The Fuzzy has taken Jack’s chisel and uses it as a tool. The Fuzzy also brings his family to meet “Pappy Jack”. Jack tells about them to his friends and the local xenobiologist who are fascinated by the little creatures. They seem to be very intelligent and so the humans are trying to prove that they are sapient.

Unfortunately, the company can exploit the planet only as long as the planet doesn’t have any native sapient people. So Victor Gregor, the owner of the company, wants to keep the fuzzies classification as animals.

The book centers around the question of if the Fuzzies are sapient or not. The humans don’t have an official definition of sapience but many think that being able to use fire and communicate with speech should be the main requirements. Interestingly (because it’s in a book and not real), there’s been a case where a woman who killed her baby had tried to prove that the infant hadn’t been sapient yet, but that didn’t work.

Jack Halloway is a paternal figure to the fuzzies and he’s very protective of them. He’s got loyal friends who are also very concerned about the fuzzies’ future. All of these people seem to be kind and benevolent. They are curious about the creatures but don’t want to harm them or even annoy them. They just want to at first to study the fuzzies and then to prove them sapient. In contrast, the company people are only interested in the fuzzies’ possible impact to their bottom line and are willing to do anything, including murder, to prevent the fuzzies being found sapient.

The humans have a way to know when a person is telling the truth. The device is called a veridicator and is used in courts instead of swearing an oath. It’s, of course, very convenient but was used interestingly with witnesses who have to first be honest with themselves before being able to be honest to the court.

Unfortunately, for me some of the things near the ending were very convenient. Otherwise, this is a charming and thoughtful, if simplistic, short book and I might look up the sequels.

Booking Through Thursday

What do you look for when reading a book blog? Does the blogger have to read the same genre? Do you like reviews? Personal posts? Memes? Giveaways? What attracts you to a book blog?

Interesting questions. I think the answer it mostly “I know it when I see it”. 🙂

I like to read reviews, memes, and some personal posts. Of course, people are cautious about posting personal stuff and they shouldn’t post anything they aren’t comfortable with. I love dogs so I like posts about them.

One of the essential things is that the blogger reads at least one genre I’m interested it. (Why would I read about books I’m not interested in?) However, most of the book bloggers I follow these days review books (increasingly?) about genres I’m not terribly interested in. I just visit them less often when that happens. For example, the Book Smugglers have a great, chatty, pop culture book blog which I adore. Increasingly, they’ve reviewed YA and I just skim those posts. Come to think of it, my favorite posts from the Smugglers aren’t reviews but other stuff such as the yearly review and airing of grievances, and when they talk about current events, such as the “relationship” between publishers and bloggers. I also enjoyed their posts about Lost.

So, what attracts me to a blog is: genres, chatty style, humor, pop culture old and current. I also loved a couple of Book clubs last year, the Women of science fiction and Women of fantasy, reading other readers thoughts about the same books. Unfortunately, the bloggers stopped posting. Creating good content and especially consistently is hard work for little or no reward. Thank you, all of you!

And–what are your favorite book blogs?
Book Smugglers, Book Chick City, Fantasy book Critic, Stainless Steel Droppings, ScifiGuy, Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations… check out the sidebar.

First book in the Gatekeeper trilogy which is set on the third season after Revelations and before Lovers’ Walk.

Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 369
Publisher: Pocket Books

Buffy, Willow, Oz, Xander, and Cordelia are “enjoying” the Amateurs night at the Bronze. When Angel joins them, Buffy is feeling lonely and leaves. The rest of the gang follows her. Outside, they are attacked by a large creature which breaths fire. Xander tries to protect Cordelia from it but Buffy shoves him to the ground. Cordelia’s hair is burned and Xander is really mad at Buffy because apparently he still wants to be the big man around. The creature flees. Giles is in New York in a Librarians’ meeting so the gang start to research with out him. They find out that the creature is a demon called the Springheel Jack. Then clear skies start to thunder so loud that it feels like the sky is falling.

Meanwhile in New York, Giles meets a beautiful, intelligent, and sophisticated Micaela Tomasi and enjoys an evening with her. He’s starting to think that he might get over Jenny’s death. Then, his room is ransacked and he’s pushed down stairs so that he’s in hospital for several days. When Buffy finds out, she seriously considers flying to NY but reluctantly decides to defend Sunnydale against more than the usual monsters. Trolls are kidnapping people and the Kraken has attacked local fishermen. There’s also a rain of toads.

Micaela confesses to Giles that she’s a Watcher and she’s been sent to keep an eye out for Giles because several Watchers have been killed. Giles is disappointed and concerned. Then Micaela disappears and Giles returns to Sunnydale. However, Giles is convinced that all of the chaos has been happening because something nasty has happened to the Gatehouse in Boston. The Gatekeeper is the man who is supposed to imprison creatures from other dimensions. Giles, Buffy, Xander, and Cordelia fly to Boston while Willow, Oz, and Angel defend Sunnydale.

Out of the Madhouse has a lot of fighting and action scenes. Most of the time the gang is split up so that effectively doubles the fight scenes. However, there’s time for a few character scenes as well. Most of the time Xander makes it obvious that he hates Angel but there’s one scene where they sort of bond over fighting a troll. Except when Xander calls Angel “Dead Boy”. There’s also a great scene between Willow and Joyce, Buffy’s mother. They don’t interact much at all in the series so it was great to have them together, even though they ended up worrying about Buffy.

The characterization is mostly spot on. The gang is pretty focused on the upcoming graduation and Buffy is depressed because she can’t have a life after graduation. It’s also disappointing to her mother, even though Joyce seems to be mostly in denial about Buffy being the Slayer.

I have only a couple of complaints. Oz talked too much but this could be because it’s harder to convey just body language in a book. The gang was a bit too accepting of Angel; the book is set right after Revelations where the gang finds out that Buffy has been harboring Angel, and yet everything is pretty much the same as before Angel went Angelus. Willow has a few angsty thoughts but that’s it. Also, no Faith! Surely, she should have been in the thick of things, fighting.

The Gatehouse is an interesting concept but it’s perhaps a bit too big for something which is never spoken of before or after. The same goes for some monsters, too. I really enjoyed the concept of the Ghost Roads where the spirits of (some?) of the dead are waiting for their passage to afterlife. I can’t wait to see more of in the next book. But once again, it’s very uncanonical.

The book has a handful of short historical scenes, which are integrated into the story. The first is set in 1539 in the Court of King Francis I. Two sorcerers are trying to get power in the court by influencing the Daphine, Catherine de’ Medici. She’s still childless and desperate to try anything. One of the sorcerers kills a Slayer in order to get power. Later, we get diary entries from one of the sorcerers. I enjoyed these.

This is definitely a book for Buffy fans, though. There’s not much explanations for people who’ve never watched the show.

Written by Mark Schultz, Steve Aylett, Brian K. Vaughan, Ed Brubaker
Artists: Pascal Ferry, Shawn McManus, Peter Snejberg, Duncan Fegredo
Collects Tom Strong 26-30 with the original covers and concept art.
Publisher: America’s Best Comics
Publication date: 2005

The first story is “The Day Tom Strong Renegotiated the Friendly Skies” and starts with Tom firing up the first motorized plane built by the Bumpfoli brothers. He’s agreed to fly it in festivities celebrating a hundred years of powered flight. Unfortunately, the plane crashes only seconds afer take off. In fact, planes all over the world are coming down and not getting up again.

Tom remembers his father’s notes about flight. Sinclair, Tom’s father, had been fascinated with powered flight but nobody had been successful with it until 1903 when Sinclair ingested massive amounts of goloko and rose to the skies in his high altitude balloon. When he came back, he claimed that he’d made some sort of pact which would make flight possible for humans. Tom and Dhalua have no choice but to try the same thing.

This was a very interesting concept and made Tom’s world clearly different from our own. I would have wanted to know more about the people introduced here. The story has a strong environment message.

Jenny Panic & the Bible of Dreams” introduces a new antagonist who doesn’t even know she has powers. The Millennium City police finds a skeleton stuffed with money. Apparently, he was a rich guy who insulted a waitress. When the rich guy is walking home, he’s confronted by a see-through woman who transports him into a place where there’s nothing else than dollar bills. Eventually, he dies.

A man with a flower bud for a face, asks to see Tom and his wife Dhalua. Mr. Hatfill tells that he’s from a dream dimension which was created by a woman who doesn’t even know she’s done it. She’s a gateway to that dream dimension. Tom agrees to find the mystery woman.

This is another surreal story with dream like logic. The woman is angry about how people treat her and is defending herself with her unconscious power. However, she’s quite powerful and needs to be stopped.

A Fire in His Belly” focuses on Pneuman. The story starts when Pneuman is considering killing Tom. Pneuman claims to access his memories randomly, remembering his life first with the Strongs and then with Tom’s family. Sinclair seems to have treated Pneuman like a robot. When Susan talks to Pneuman in a friendly manner, Sinclair forbids it. Then Sinclair tells Susan that he intends to raise Tom in the high-gravity nursery and that Pneuman will have to do most of Tom’s raising because the gravity will be too high for the parents to enter the nursery. Susan has no choice but to trust to Pneuman. On the day Susan dies, she makes Pneuman promise her something which will drive the poor creature to contemplate killing.

Pneuman also remembers a fight with the science villain the Eye-Opener who can bring characters from paintings into life. This was an interesting concept but probably not worth more stories unless Tom takes to heart the Eye-Opener’s claim that all painted characters are really alive and trapped inside paintings, and decides to do something about it.

Pneuman is often just a side character in Tom’s stories. This is a sad story about the conflict in Pneuman’s life. However, he isn’t particularly original or interesting character. He seems to be fully alive and have a conscience but he’s not as complex as, for example, Data. Here, he wrestles with his conscience but doesn’t really talk about it with his friends.

The last two issues are a two part story “The Terrible True Life of Tom Strong part 1 and 2”. Tom, Tesla, and Solomon are chasing Eldon Morovia who’s another genius science villain. Morovia is a treasure hunter looking for powerful artifacts from ancient civilizations. This time, he in the Andes. Tom and Tesla attack Morovia’s underlings while Solomon stays on the flying saucer to research the secret history logs.

Tom and Tesla find a tomb opening and Solomon identifies it as a Mayan tomb of the Shaman King Kukulkan. Of course, the Andes are Incan territory so the tomb shouldn’t be there.

Near the end of the first issue, it’s reveled that Tom Strong is just a figment of imagination and the real Tom is Tom Samson, a bitter and depressed construction worker. He’s married to a woman he doesn’t even like and stuck in a dead end job with no friends.

Another one I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, most of the first issue had an excellent Indiana Jones like feeling going on when Tom and Tesla are crawling though the dusty corridors and avoiding traps, and I adore that. But I really, really don’t like the stories where the hero/ine is just an imaginary construct thing. At all. The story gives a more real life origin story for Tom and I guess that’s great for people who prefer that.

Overall, I really liked only the first story. These are stand-alone stories without much continuity so they can be easily skipped unless you really like Tom Strong.

A stand-alone scifi book which is a re-imagining of H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy. I haven’t read Little Fuzzy but it’s part of the audio book so I will listend it soon.

Publication year: 2011
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Running Time: 7 hrs and 19 minutes

Jack Holloway is an independent contractor for ZaraCorps. He and Carl are looking for valuable minerals to mine from a planet without natural intelligent life. The planet does, however, have a lot of various animals, some of them quite dangerous. Jack is a disbarred lawyer who enjoys working all by himself, with Carl. He tends to speak before thinking so he doesn’t really have any friends and has pretty much alienated everyone at ZaraCorps’ local base, even his ex-girlfriend.

Jack has trained Carl, his dog, to set off explosives against ZaraCorps’s regulations and when Carl blows up yet another site, the whole cliff wall collapses. This is against all environmental regulations which ZaraCorps has to follow. Chad Borne, a ZaraCorps’s representative, is furious and fires Jack. However, the collapsed cliff wall has a big stash of sunstones, one of the most highly prized luxury items in the universe. They come from fossilized jellyfish. Because Jack isn’t working for ZaraCorps anymore, technically he owns the find. Borne agrees to give Jack 0,4% of the profits instead of usual 0,05% as a contract prospector.

When Jack returns to his house, which is outside the base, he realizes that a cat like creature has somehow gotten into his house. Except that the cat thing walks on two legs. Jack dubs the creature a fuzzy. Soon, the fuzzy brings more of its kind with it to Jack’s house and Jack decides that they are a family and names them accordingly. The fuzzies seem to be very intelligent. Jack talks about them to his ex-girlfriend Isabelle who is a biologist for the company. She thinks that the fuzzies could be intelligent. If they are, they would be a huge problem for the company because it can mine the planet only so long as there’s no native intelligent life forms on it.

The story is written in a very humorous way in tight third POV. Jack is a witty main character which is a good thing because he isn’t very likable. He seems to enjoy irritating other people, he lies when it suits him, he has no problem undermining his ex’s career, and he’s greedy (well, okay, who wouldn’t be?). Yet because of the humor, this isn’t obvious.

Sometimes he does inexplicable acts of kindness such as feeding the first fuzzy and saving it from Carl. He himself doesn’t know why he did it. Later, we see that he has some morals and lines he doesn’t cross which makes him a bit more palatable.

Most of the secondary characters are corporate employers who want to protect their job or who bully other people because they can. Most of them are quite unlikable. Isabelle is a notable exception to this with her idealistic views of environment and treatment of other people. And Carl is of course a great character, loyal to his master and friendly with others.

Near the start of the book there are a few infodumps. However, they are entertaining to listen to, so they didn’t slow the book down much. We’re told about the human workers on the planet and about the various laws ZaraCorps has to obey. For example, ZaraCorps doesn’t do science as such, just exploitation of the various planets because scientific research doesn’t produce money.

We are told the humans have encountered a few alien species but only two of them have been proven to be intelligent. With both of them the key was that they could talk. I find this fascinating and possibly very human-centric because it’s possible for species to communicate in other ways than speech. Of course, it’s a completely different issue if humans want to give intelligent status to species which doesn’t communicate via speech or how effective such communication would be when building an (advanced) society.

One of the book’s themes is how humans would treat other planets (strip mining) or other species (badly). Then again, people also treat each other miserably. There are glimmers of hope but as a whole it give rather a pessimistic view of the human race as focused on themselves only and on the individual level, getting as much money as they can and the rest of the universe can go to hell.

I enjoyed Wheaton’s narration. He reads quicker than many of the other narrators I’ve listened to so far and sounds very enthusiastic. However, at time it was a bit surreal because I was reading Star Trek books at the same time. 🙂

Booking Through Thursday

Have you every written any fan-fiction? If yes, why and for which book(s)? If no, would you like to and for which books(s)?

For that matter, do you ever READ fan-fiction??

Well, that depends. If you change the names but everything is still recognizable, is it fan fiction?

I’ve read a few short stories at FanFiction.net about Drizzt and company, Star Trek: TNG and DS9, and Stargate. Most of them were ok but nothing spectacular.

The second in a nine book series about Star Trek: TNG crew before the movie Nemesis.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Page count: 296 plus an excerpt from the next book in the series
Publisher: Pocket Books

At the start of the book the crew of Enterprise-E is in a bad place after their return from the disastrous tour on the Rashanar Battle Site. Captain Picard has been relieved of command and is in the custody of Counselor Colleen Cabot of the Medical Mental Health department. Riker is the acting captain but he’s unable to keep the crew’s spirits up and many have requested reassignment. LaForge is thinking of retiring and Data has been ordered to hand over his emotion ship because the Admiralty is afraid that the chip will unbalance him. The Ontailians want Picard to admit to murder or they will leave the Federation.

Picard is stationed on the Medical Mental Health’s holodeck where he has lived like a recluse. He accepts a deal so that he won’t be sent to prison and that Starfleet will avoid a public trial. However, Wesley is determined to help with his Traveler powers. Wesley visits a few key people and tries to convince them that Picard did the right thing and that something very dangerous is lurking in the Rashanar Battle Site. Wesley is concerned that his meddling will cause the other Travelers to strip him of his powers but he can’t just observe dispassionately. He goes so far that he takes Picard’s accuser at the inquiry, in the previous book, to Rashanar to show him what is going on there. He also takes Cabot to a similar journey and soon enough they persuade the Admiralty to send the Enterprise back to Rashanar to investigate it, unofficially. However, Riker is still the acting captain during this undercover operation and Picard is just a passenger. Cabot is also going because Picard is still her patient.

The Ontailians aren’t happy to see Starfleet, or especially the Enterprise, to return to the site, so the crew must disguise themselves. They end up getting an old shuttle and sending four people in it to scout the site. Picard, Cabot, tactical officer Vale, and Wesley in disguise as Ensign Brewster put on civilian clothes and try to blend in with the looters on the battle site. It’s very dangerous.

There’s also a side plot with Data. One of the admirals wants to insert a chip in his head to replace the emotion chip. The Admiral doesn’t tell Data what the chip will do and it’s all really fishy. LaForge is rightly very concerned and Wesley interferes to get Data out of the Engineering section intact. Maybe this will be explored further later.

Cabot has a passionate romance with one of the established characters. She’s also a significant point-of-view character to the point that she seems to be the main character. She starts out the book as a competent Counselor who doubts Picard’s story but not his sanity or capability as a captain. As far as I can tell, she’s never left Earth. However, once she’s on the Enterprise, she quickly shows a strong adventurous spirit and she has no trouble handling the suspicious and rowdy looters of various races. This seemed quite abrupt change to me. I had no problem with the romance but I wished to see more of the regular cast.

I tend to love stories where the (highly capable) Starfleet officers are out of their element (such as Gambit 1 and 2) and this was definitely such a book. Picard and Vale disguise themselves as looters and try to get information out of the other looters. I enjoyed this even though Cabot steals their thunder somewhat. I also enjoyed Wesley’s reluctance to show himself to his friends because he feared that the more he showed himself, the sooner his powers would be gone. In that respect, the ending wasn’t satisfying.

I was a bit surprised that the Ontailians apparently got no trial and no punishment even though they destroyed a Starfleet ship in the previous book. It just wasn’t mentioned and somehow Picard got accused for that. We did get to know more of the Ontailians in this book and their culture seems to be, for once, quite different from the modern Western one, which was a pleasant surprise. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of them.

The plot is wrapped up in this book, except possibly the issue with Data’s emotion chip.

Today the topic of Top Ten Tuesdays is Books That Broke My Heart A Little.

I haven’t read many of these lately but here goes:

1, Khaled Hosseini: A Thousand Splendid Suns
2, Daniel Keyes: Flowers for Algernon
3, Lois McMaster Bujold: Cryoburn
4, Marie Brennan: A Star Shall Fall
5, Rachel Caine: Thin Air
6, Jaqueline Carey: Kushiel’s Avatar
7, Seanan McGuire: One Salt Sea
8, Robin McKinley: Deerskin
9, Brandon Sanderson: the Hero of Ages

In most of these books very bad things happen to characters I love or the plot is set in a way that you can see the train wreck coming but have to read anyway.

I reviewed Karen Wyle’s Twin-Bred in October and liked it a lot. Now Twin-Bred is part of KDP Select. Amazon Prime members can borrow the book for free, at least from now until May 10, 2012 or so, and everyone will be able to download it for free from Amazon on this coming Wednesday and Thursday, February 15th and 16th.

Next Page »