June 2012

My latest review: Elizabeth Bear’s The Sea Thy Mistress.

The third and final book in the Edda of Burdens trilogy based on Norse mythology. It has a different tone than the previous books but I loved it.

Collects Avengers vol. 1 #89 – 97 (June 1971 – March 1972).

Writer: Roy Thomas
Artists: Sal Buscema, Neal Adams, Tom Palmer, John Buscema

This classic Avengers story has several story lines and is a clear inspiration to Busiek’s work. In addition to being a super hero adventure ins space, it’s a commentary on the Cold War.

The story starts with the Kree warrior Captain Marvel, Mar-Vell. The Avengers (the Vision, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch) are trying to capture him and succeed. He has a link to Rick Jones who is a young rocker kid here. They can change places so that the other is in the Negative Zone while the other is on Earth. Rick has concentrated on his coming career and left Mar-Vell to the Zone. Not surprising, Mar-Vell is unhappy about it and finds a way to return through the Fantastic Four’s Negative Zone device. However, because of his long stay on the Zone, he’s suffering from Nega radiation poisoning. The Avengers and Rick capture him and try to treat him.

Meanwhile, in the Kree home world, Ronan the Accuser is after his hated enemy Mar-Vell. Ronan usurped the leadership of the mighty star spanning empire, the Kree. He activates a Sentry robot on Earth. It captures Mar-Vell and bring him to the Kree base on Alaska. The Avengers, with Goliath, the Wasp, and the Yellowjacket, follow the Sentry there and battle it. However, the battle is near US science station and even though the three scientist at first agree to keep silent about the matter, they end up telling to the media that hostile aliens are on Earth. This starts a witch hunt spearheaded by Senator H. Warren Craddock. He even unleashes Mandroids against the Avengers because the heroes refuse to give up Captain Marvel. The Avengers stand by their friends and don’t give in to threats.

Much of the action is on Earth against various enemies until the last two issues. However, pretty early on, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are kidnapped and taken to the Skrull throneworld, so they are out of the action for most of the story. Later, the Avengers travel to the Kree home world and confront the Kree Intelligence Supreme.

Unfortunately, the writing shows its time. At the start of the story there are two active women Avengers, the Scarlet Witch and the Wasp, who, alas, aren’t very effective members. They tend to state the obvious and play peace maker. Even though they need to be protected in battle, they are often captured and used as hostages or bait for the other heroes. In the second issue Yellowjacket has disappeared and all the Wasp can do, is tearfully beg for Goliath to come rescue him. When the Yellowjacket retires from the team, the Wasp immediately does the same. This story also introduces the Vision/Scarlet Witch romance. However, later both Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are kidnapped by the Skrulls and used as hostages. The Wasp retires in the third and Wanda is soon kidnapped so for most of the story the Avengers have an all male (and white except for the red skinned android) team: the Vision, Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, and Goliath.

Quicksilver shows appalling sexism by telling Wanda “it ill becomes you to flaunt your carefully acquired colloquialism at your male betters”. And a couple of pages later he tells the Vision not to insult his sister!

However, the story introduces Carol Danvers as the head of security at Cape Canaveral. Nobody questions her right for the job and she’s a very no-nonsense woman. But she’s seen only briefly.

The other signs of the times is the pretty pompous dialog and the chatty narrator.

If you can stomach the sexism, this is great early super hero adventure.

A fantasy Inuit/Wild West book. Despite the name, it’s not steampunk.

Publication year: 2010
Format: print
Page count: 341 plus the author’s interview
Publisher: Orbit

The book ends in a way that makes it clearly the first in a series but there’s no information about a sequel. Hopefully, it will be released at some point. Secondly, I feel that the name is misleading because this is not steampunk. There are guns and a railway in the book but they aren’t steam powered.

Sjennonirk is a young ankago to her people, the Aniw who live in the frozen North. An ankago has with herself, or himself as the previous ankago was Sjennonirk’s father, the spirit of the Dog who is an ancestor to the tribe. The ankago can manifest her Dog physically but during that time her body is helplessly in a trance and she will need another ankago’s help to get the spirit back to her body. The ankago might remember what the spirit did. The ankago also see spirits in their dreams and receive instructions from them.

The Kabliw, the people from the south, have come to the Aniw tribes for years trading and bringing priests who sometimes want to know about the Aniw way of life and teach about their own gods. However, now the Kabliw have brought war and guns. One of the soldiers comes armed to Sjennonirk’s family’s house and Sjennonirk kills him. She’s caught and sent to south on a ship.

However, the book’s true main character is Captain Jannett Fawle. He’s out with his group of soldiers tracking abos who have been attacking nearby settlements. But in the middle of the night, he’s attacked magically by something he doesn’t want to believe in. Then, his father the great General calls him back home. Jannett is not on good terms with his domineering father but has to obey. The General shows him a captured Aniw girl who can bring forth a big silvery wolf. General Fawle commands the girl Sjenn to teach Jannett to do the same. At first Sjenn says that it can’t be done but then, to Jannett’s horror, Sjenn says that Jannett has a spirit inside him, too.

I was looking forward to reading a fantasy set in an Inuit culture but to my mild disappointment, after a few scenes in the North, the book moved firmly to much southern setting. However, I was still interested in the fantasy Wild West and found the world building interesting. Apparently, Fawle’s people have come from another continent and are now battling the local people, called abos, whom the newcomers find savage and impossible to comprehend. Some of the native tribes work with the newcomers and even battle the other tribes, just like the Native Americans did when the Europeans came to America. The locals are said to have witches whom can use magic, but Jannett doesn’t believe that.

The newcomers, the Ciracusans after the first town they settled, seem to be much like the European settlers with stone buildings and tall fences. They have dark skinned people as servants. Their religion is the Church of the Seven Deities and a few of them are mentioned in passing. However, Jannett isn’t a believer and we aren’t told much about them. The Ciracusans also seem to be fighting two wars; one against the local tribes and another against their earlier homeland, Sairland.

The plot was quite slow in the middle of the book and most of it centered around Jannett’s disbelief in any magic, even after he’s witnessed it several times. He’s also very bitter towards his father and distrustful of pretty much anyone who isn’t a brother soldier. He doesn’t want anything to do with Sjenn and is afraid of her Dog. Also, I wasn’t convinced of the General’s plan because what magic we see don’t seem to be very useful in battle.

A major secondary character is Keeley, a native man who has the General’s trust and is ordered to help Sjenn teach Jannett. Keeley is a scout and belongs to tribe which is hostile to the tribes that the Ciracusans are fighting against. Jannett finds it strange that his father can trust a native man. Even the major bad guy, General Fawle, becomes understandable once we know more about the situation. He’s looking for a way to win two wars and is getting desperate.

Sjennonirk is an interesting heroine but unfortunately for much of the book she’s imprisoned and when the Dog is out and roaming, she’s unconscious. Still, she struggles to find out whom she can trust, if anyone, and to please the General so much that he allows her to return home. She yearns for wide open spaces and finds the jails horrible. She even finds the houses, where the Ciracusans live in, too confining and the clothes too lights and strange. But she tries her best.

The end feels like a set up of for the next book and doesn’t really resolve things. The mood of the book is quite somber. Both Sjenn and Jannett feel trapped by their circumstances and they can’t really trust anyone. The book’s theme of conquest and colonization is also quite dark.

A short story on TOR.com.

A Spell of Vengeance introduces Ethan Kaille who is a thieftaker, a former convict, and a conjurer in Colonial Boston. Using magic is illegal, not to mention feared by the masses, so Ethan does his best to conceal his skills. However, Suffolk County’s sheriff Stephen Greenleaf has strong suspicions about him, but no proof, yet. So, Ethan is very surprised when the sheriff brings two merchants to meet him. A witch is thretening the men and they are looking for someone to protect them. They pay well and even the sheriff agrees not to arrest him, so Ethan agrees. However, things are not as they seem.

The story is set in Colonial America which is currently at war with the French. Magic works but it’s illegal which is no wonder because the magic we see in this story works with conjuring dead spirits with blood. For each spell Ethan conjures his spirit guide whom he calls Uncle Reg and speaks a phrase in Latin.

Ethan is an unusual protagonist. He’s definitely an adult and has a limp from his years in prison. Some people don’t want anything to do with him because he’s a former convict. He’s a thieftaker which seems to mean that he can find objects which have been stolen. I was very intrigued to find out that his chief rival thieftaker is a woman “and her thugs”. Jackson’s novel Thieftaker will come out next month so I’m hoping to see more of the rivalry. Ethan seems like a likable protagonist (although I must confess that my mental image of him is of Ethan Rayne, from Buffy. But this Ethan seems to have a backbone. For one thing, he keeps his word even if it’s not the wisest thing to do.)

Arc is a new quarterly magazine from the New Scientiest magazine. Their blog. The links have samples to the articles and short stories.

Editor Simon Ings kindly offered me access to a review copy. As I understand it, the 160 page magazine is only available on-line. Some of the articles have hyperlinks embedded and I found these very helpful.

In Forward, Frederick Pohl reminiscences about how he became a fan of Science Fiction and a member of the World Future Organization.

In Present Tense‘s article “Nobody Knows You’re a Dog”, Anne Galloway and Submit Paul-Choudhury discuss about technology which is now used on animals, from pets to livestock to wildlife. Concerned pet owners have been tagging their pets because they can know just where their pets are but also for uploading their pets’ funny moments on the Internet. Canada has passed a law that all farm animals must be tagged with a RFID chip but USAian farmers have bitterly protested a similar law. However, is it possible that soon consumers will require food animals to have the tags so that the consumers can know how the animals are being treated and where they are really from? But do consumers really want such an intimate relationship with their food? Personally, I’ve often been baffled and saddened by the attitudes that big businesses have and it seems that it really is up to the individual consumer to force the businesses to treat the animals (and employees and us sub contractors!) humanely. But it takes a lot of time and effort, so many people don’t even bother. This sort of tagging could help with that. Of course, I’m sure plenty of people would be very uncomfortable with knowing more about their food sources.

In Prior Art Sonja Vesterholt and Simon Ings remember Pavel Klushantsev. I haven’t even heard of this Russian filmmaker so it was interesting to find out that he influenced many of the famous SF films, including Prometheus.

The issue has four short stories with the theme of post-humanism. I enjoyed them all but my favorites were VanderMeer’s and McAuley’s stories.

Nick Harkaway’s Attenuation: Sonny Hall has just returned to consciousness after his trip from his original body on Earth to his new body on Waystation. But something has gone wrong: he’s old body is still alive and about which causes Sonny pain and his mind is stretched between the two bodies until it will snap. Also, he has amnesia so he can’t remember if someone else has done this to him or if he has been part of some scheme. He has to find out.

I found the world interesting. The bodies, even the original ones, are called corpses. It seems that people who are able to travel, have a more cavalier attitude towards their bodies that those of us who have just one. The new bodies are apparently grown and the basic stock is Caucasian; you have to pay extra for other type of bodies. Unfortunately, I didn’t really connect with Sonny. We get to find his background a little by little while he solves the mystery. The story is written in present tense.

Paul McAuley’s The Man: The Jackaroo have gifted planets to humans. Yanos is one of them, circling the M class red dwarf sun Sauron. The planet doesn’t turn, so one side of it is always towards the sun and the other away from it. Human settlements are in the twilight area where it’s bearable to live. Cho Ziyi lives in a small cabin with her two huskies. They live as best they can in a world of perpetual snow salvaging what she can from nearby ruins of a factory, although she doesn’t actually know what the place had been and who had built it. One day, a naked man appears on her door. At first Ziyi thinks he’s human maybe a survivor from a bandit attack. But quickly she realizes that’s not the case.

Ziyi is an old woman who has lived a hard life. But she’s not bitter, just tired of humans. Although that might be because the few humans around her aren’t very likable; they, too, have hard lives and do whatever they need to survive and get a better life. Ziyi lives alone and only goes to town to get gasoline and food.

I found the world quite intriguing. The Jackaroo are an alien race which came to Earth after several countries had nuked each other’s cities. Some humans wanted to stay and fix the Earth, and maybe they did, but some wanted to get off the planet and start a new life. However, the planets given to humans don’t appear to be easy to live on and this seemed to have been a surprise to the people who won the lottery and got off Earth.

T. D. Edge: Big Dave’s in Love: Big Dave is the heart and leader of Gaffville but he’s been under the weather for a while. His underlings, the bio-toys, have been worried that he won’t be able to protect them anymore. But then, his batman Jack brings the joyous news that Big Dave has seen an soulled woman and is in love, and all is well again. The town celebrates. Unfortunately, Dave himself isn’t so sure of it.

This story is written in present tense and with some slang. Fortunately, the slang isn’t broad enough to make the reading difficult but brings a certain rustic charm to the tale. In this story almost all of humanity has been wiped out, this time nine years ago by sludge-flood which is still threatening the remaining people. Having a soul seems to keep it back and falling in love expands one’s soul, so it’s a big deal. Especially since the bio-toys believe that soulled humans can share their souls with the toys.

In Komodo by Jeff VanderMeer the story’s protagonist tells their story to a child, who doesn’t necessary even understand the language the protagonist is using, and to everyone else who are listening. The story starts inside a giant green alien plastic head and will take you for a wild ride with angels and King Komodos and celestial bears, and not in a linear structure.

Arc is also looking for new short stories.

In Inner Space column, Regina Peldszuz talks about the problems that space travelers will have to face; namely isolation and boredom. Even though a lot of fiction dealing with space flight tends to center on action/adventure, some have dealt with this problem, too, such as movies Moon and Dark Star. While the space travelers can take entertainment with them, the problem is to have something that all of the travelers enjoy – or don’t easily come bored with.

In the Unevenly Distributed column, Gord Stellar examines South Koreans. They were propelled to the space age when most of them were just farmers (with oxen, not tractors) but they have adapted. Their old customs and religions can be seen just below the surface. Many seems to cling to the old ways as a shield against the modern alienation. I don’t know anything about South Korean so this small look into their culture was fascinating.

In the Spaces column, P. D. Smith discusses about the fun and pleasure that cities provide. City dwellers seems to have a tendency to want places just for fun, from theater to sports stadiums. This goes as far back as the original Olympics and people throughout ages have taken part in various urban entertainments. In the future, it’s possible that entertainment places are even more in demand.

In the Play column Holly Gramazio examines the way that adults are playing in modern cities. Geocaching is perhaps the most famous example of this (and the only one I’m familiar with). It uses modern technology to let adults come out and play. However, it seems that more and more games are designed to take advantage of the in-between places of cities rather than demanding that cities be built specifically for play.

In the Games column Kyle Munkittrick muses about the narrative power of modern video games. Most of them give the player the power to choose different actions but only a few makes the player question the morality of those choices. They can also point out that the player has only a limited number of choices and none of them are palatable, like sometimes in the real world. All of the examples sound like interesting games but unfortunately I haven’t played any of them.

I found almost all of the articles interesting and it was particularly nice that they all were optimistic and hopeful about the future, and even about today’s world. We’re currently almost flooded with bad news so it’s a refreshing change.

Collects Avengers vol. 3 #41–55 (Vol. 1 #456–470), and Annual 2001
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artists: Alan Davis and Mark Farmer (issues 41-43), Manuel Garcia and Bob Layton (issues 44-47), Kieron Dwyer and Rick Remender (issues 48-55), and Patrick Zircher and Scott Koblish (issue 55).

The final Busiek run! He goes out with a bang.
I consider this one of the best Avengers space adventures and also one of the best Kang adventures ever. As a time traveler, Kang is notoriously hard to write but Busiek manages.

Kang and his son the Scarlet Centurion have been watching Avengers for a some issues now and in issue 41 they finally attack from their sword shaped space station the Damocles Base.

In the next issue Kang shows the Avengers various futures where Earth’s fate is bleak: humanity will fall from various attacks. Kang offers to save the Earth from all of them – after he has conquered the whole planet, of course. Earth, in the person of UN’s Secretary-General, refuses. However, Kang has a ploy up his sleeve; he has broad casted an offer to everyone: anyone who will help subdue Earth will have a place in Kang’s new order. Not surprising, various groups take up on that offer. Avengers and various governments are plagued by attacks ranging from supervillains to the Deviants. The stage is set for multi-issue story lines.

Issue 41, “High Ground”, sets up several subplots: Hank (who is still the fake Hank) suffers from sudden seizures and a small group of Avengers (Thor, Cap, the Black Knight, Firebird, and the Quicksilver) head out to Siberia to investigate alarming reports of high radiation levels. Meanwhile Wanda and Simon are taking a small vacation and Simon tells that he’s heading out to L.A. Wanda doesn’t want to leave her position as the deputy leader of the Avengers and so they depart. It’s not hard for either of them even though earlier they were professing love stronger that death. Also, in the middle of fighting the Avengers in front of the UN building, the Scarlet Centurion feels powerfully attracted to Warbird. All of these will have consequences in coming issues.

Then the Avengers start the fight in several fronts and a lot of reserve Avengers are called in.

In addition to Kang and his army, the Avengers have to deal with the Presence and his “mate” Starlight who are turning people into radioactive zombies, a surge of various groups who want to get to Kang’s good side, the Triune Understanding’s endgame, and the Master of the World. So their hands are more than full.

The Triune Understanding is waiting for a Triple Evil to come from space and they have built a space ship to fight against it. We get to finally know the whole story behind Triune’s leader Tremont and the whole movement. Triathlon’s connection to the 3D-Man is also revealed. I thought the storyline was ended well here.

Yet, Busiek has time to do characters stories, as well. Thor loses his temper big time when he sees that Captain America has become one of the radioactive zombies and only Starlight’s interference stops Thor from killing the Presence right there. Later, Thor realizes that he’s become too close to the mortal Avengers and wants to leave when the Kang situation is under control. However, Firebird had once again inexplicably survived damage that should have killed her and Thor remarks that she might be immortal, too. Firebird wants to convince Thor to stay on the team and says that the fleeting relationship are all the more precious because we know that some day they will be gone.

Carol gets a lot of screen time. The Scarlet Centurion is apparently attracted to her and Carol suspects from the start that he’s Marcus; the man who mind controlled her to leave the Avengers and did some pretty hideous things to her. One of the issues (47) is dedicated to telling us the Scarlet Centurion’s back story and circumstances force Carol and the Centurion to work together. Carol remains suspicions of him the whole time. Later, she also kills a villain in desperation and demands that she be court-martialed over it.

Issue 49 is written without any dialog. Considering that the issue has a crucial turning point to the story, it works amazingly well.

The last issue is dedicated to the aftermath and we find out about a surprising casualty.

I thought this was a very good story with several story lines. Considering how much is going on, it’s perhaps a bit surprising but this is probably the best album for new readers to get. There’s not much back story about the members to know about, and Carol’s and Marcus’ history is retold.

This is a collection of six fantasy short stories. Part of the Lean Times in Lankhmar collection.

Publication year: 1996, 1947-1968 for the stories
Format: print
Page count: 143
Publisher: White Wolf Publishing

The third collection that chronicles Fafhrd’s and the Grey Mouser’s further adventures.

In “The Cloud of Hate” (1963) the worshipers at the Temple of Hates manage to conjure a mist which is the Hate given physical form. The mist billows around Lankhmar looking for suitable people to kill or corrupt. Then it meets our adventurous duo, down on their luck.

At the start of “Lean Times in Lankhmar” (1959) the twain are separated because of lack of money. There are several amusing theories why this happened but none of them are confirmed. The Mouser ends up as an enforcer to Pulg who extorts money from small time priests while Fafhrd gets a religious awakening and becomes the only acolyte of Issek of the Jug. Fafhrd uses his skills as a skald to invent interesting adventures to the minor god and lots of people start to follow Issek’s pacifist ways. Of course, that means conflict with Pulg and his chief enforcer.

“Their Mistress, the Sea” (1968) is a very short story, only a couple of pages, where the duo recuperate from their previous adventures by doing a spot of pirating.

In “When the Sea-King’s Away” (1960) Fafhrd and the Mouser have been on the sea for a long time when Fafhrd starts to babble about the Sea-King’s wives and concubines who are lonely and looking for mortal lovers when the King himself is away. At first the Mouser thinks that his northern companion has lost his mind because of too long in the sun but then a passageway into the sea opens underneath their boat. The Mouser is hesitant to enter it but Fafhrd descends, looking for women and treasures. The Mouser has no choice but to follow his friend.

“The Wrong Branch” (1968): After their underwater adventure, the friends are convinced that the Sea-King has put a curse on them and they decide to consult Ningauble of the Seven Eyes for a cure. However, they find themselves in a whole new world: the Ancient Earth.

“Adept’s Gambit” (1947): The duo are quite at home in the new world, in Tyre. However, they are plagued by a new curse: when Fafhrd kisses a girl, she’s transformed into a sow. At first Fafhrd suspects the Mouser is playing a horrible prank. But then almost all of the girls the Mouser kisses are turned into slugs and they decided to consult Ningauble. The Gossiper of Gods tells them, after beating around the bush, that an adept is targeting them, and in order to fight the adept the duo will need various items. While lots of modern writers would have made an entire book out of each item, Leiber takes just a funny paragraph or two, and then the actual adventure begins. The story starts out funny but soon feels more like horror. The Elder Gods are mentioned a couple of times.
All of these stories are funny with lots of witty but long sentences. When the Sea-King’s Away especially has great descriptions. The second story makes fun of religions.

I found it a bit strange that Leiber brought the duo to Earth but then didn’t involve them in any historical or mythic stuff. There are a few references to myths created by deeds they had done, for example, Fafhrd and the Mouser supposedly defended a city against Alexander the Great, but they were actually a bit frustrating to me. I’d have preferred to read that story!

Still, the stories are funny and entertaining, especially the second one which pits Fafhrd and the Mouser against each other, sort of. And makes a point about the gods in Lankhmar and the gods of Lankhmar (you just don’t piss off the latter).

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