May 2014

A stand-alone humorous fantasy book.

Publication year: 2009
Format: Audio
Narrator: Eric Michael Summerer
Running Time: 8 hrs, 37 m

Judy Hynes works the night shift in the local Food Plus Mart. She knows that it’s a dead end job but it’s still a job. Then she sees a yeti eating the ice cream. She doesn’t know what else to do, so she calls Animal Control. To her surprise, they take her seriously and send a guy. A blue guy whose name is Monster and his helper, the live paper gnome named Chester. Judy takes this all in stride and even notices herself that she’s surprisingly calm about the whole thing. Monster tells her about the supernatural world and says that she will forget it very soon. She doubts it but she has forgotten the whole thing next morning and it would have stayed forgotten except that the next day, she has an infestation of trolls. Repeated exposure to the supernatural means that she starts to remember it. And she realizes that she could get a better job in the supernatural world.

Despite his coloring which changes every time he wakes up, Monster is human. He even wallows in self-pity, because he has a crappy job as an animal control agent for crypto-biological animals. His girlfriend Liz is a succubus and the fire has definitely gone out of their relationship but because of the contract Monster signed when he summoned Liz from hell, he can’t break up with her. So, Monster is forced to endure such hard ships as daily sex, picking up Liz’s dry cleaning at inconvenient times, and screaming fits coupled with scorched carpets. The last thing he wants is to have a human tagging along, eager to learn everything. But his van was ruined and he needs Judy to drive him around, so he doesn’t really have a choice. And he’s convinced that something strange happens around Judy.

The book has a lot of humorous elements but for me it never got as laugh-out loud funny as the first Martinez book I read, Emperor Mollusk. It’s still a good blend of various fantasy and urban fantasy stuff. The writing doesn’t really have puns, so it’s quite different from Pratchett’s style.

The final book in the Blood series.

Publication year: 1997
Format: print
Page count: 310 in the Blood Books omnibus volume thee
Publisher: Daw

After the events in the previous book, Blood Pact, Vicki has been relearning her life. Henry has moved to Vancouver but they still keep in touch with email and phone. Vicki is staying with Celluci in Toronto.

However, Henry’s normal, well as normal as you can call he as a romance writer and a vampire, is interrupted when he wakes up at sundown and is confronted by a ghost. It can’t hurt him but it can, and does, hurt others around him. When Henry asks it a question and the answer is ”no” or if Henry doesn’t ask it anything, the ghost lets out such a terrible psychic wailing which can cause heart attacks near him. The ghost is a young man whose hands have been cut off.

Quickly, Henry realizes that he needs help from an experienced detective and of course he knows one. Unfortunately, his basic nature won’t allow him and Vicki to coexist in the same city at the same time. So, Henry’s solution is to travel away from Vancouver for the time that Vicki needs to solve the mystery of the ghost. Vicki agrees to help, and she and Celluci drive to Vancouver.

When Vicki and Henry meet each other again, Henry is proved right; it’s very difficult for them to be in the same room without attacking each other. Unfortunately, it turns out that the ghosts travel with Henry so he has to come back. Vicki and Henry have to try to suppress their natures in order to work together and solve the case.

The first half of the book is spent exploring the relationships between Henry, Vicki, and Celluci. Vicki seems to be even more angry all the time than before. She’s also determined that her nature will not rule her, 500 years of tradition be damned.

The mystery plot really kicks in during the latter half of the book. Right from the start, we hear about a supposedly philanthropic millionaire who might be mixed up with organ-legging. When the ghost’s body is found, he’s missing a kidney but he might have been a victim of gang violence because of the missing hands. Vicki also suspects organized crime, so she and Henry go after them, first.

Vicki, Celluci and Henry are all in fine form. It’s an interesting look into how Vicki is coping and a fine end to the series. There are also sad notes, nods to the losses Vicki is going to suffer in the future. Celluci isn’t yet 40 but he already has some gray hairs and Vicki is starting to get far more concerned about him than she ever was before. He’s also not happy about being Vicki’s sidekick.

Today, the topic of Top 5 Sundays at Larissa’s Bookish Life is Movies I’m Dying to see in 2014, part II.

Two of the three movies I’m most looking forward to this year have already come out. Luckily, both X-Men and Captain America were great and I really enjoyed them. Hobbit is still a long way off. I already mentioned Maleficent and Guardians of the Galaxy in my previous post so the rest of my top 5:

1, Jupiter Ascending
This looks like very cool super effects CGI movie. Sadly, the plot doesn’t seem so cool but I’ll likely see it anyway.

2, Interstellar
Nolan’s SF movie seems interesting, too.

3, How to Train Your Dragon 2
The first one was surprisingly entertaining so I’m willing to give the sequel a chance, too.

4, Hunger Games: Mockingjay part 2
I enjoyed the first two.

5, Maze Runner
Another SF movie which could be interesting.

This is a collection of five novellas/short stories of detectives in various genres. Some of them have no speculative fiction elements. However, since one of the stories has a dragon detective, I’ve adding this to my Once Upon a Time reads. I’ve read two of the stories before.

”Blind” is set in Seavy Village, Oregon and it’s told in a first person POV. Scott didn’t have the happiest of childhoods and he thinks that his brother is wasting his life by living in the small town tied down to his wife and three daughters. Scott moved away as soon as he could and became a millionaire working for Microsoft. But when his brother dies in strange circumstances, Scott returns to the village to find out what has happened. He has to confront his brother’s family and a mystery from his past.

In ”Discovery” Pita Cardenas is a lawyer in a small town and because she’s desperate for work, she takes on a case against the rich and powerful, which means this time a railway company. She has to become a detective in addition to a lawyer in order to win the case.

”Stomping Mad” is set in Los Angeles during a movie SF convention, Jurassic Parkathon. The main character is called Sam Spade of science fiction because he has successfully helped out the police a few times. He is part of the convention’s staff and clearly an SF fan. When something goes wrong, the con’s staff turn to him.

The main character in ”Dragon Slayer” is a dragon. Humans have been killing more and more dragons in the recent years and the dragons have become worried about it. The main character has gone to see all of victims and so when another dragon is found dead, he is consulted even though he is young and insignificant.

The last one is ”Retrieval Artist”, the short story which inspired Rusch to write a whole series in that world. In this story, we meet Miles Flint, a former police officer who is now a Retrieval Artist. In this world humans and aliens are trying to live side by side peacefully but in order to do that, the humans have to follow alien laws which don’t always make sense to humans. A Retrieval Artist hides humans who have broken alien laws. Flint gives his clients new identities but he also charges exorbitant rates and have to know that he’s doing the right thing. That’s not easy.

Rusch is one of my favorite authors so it’s no surprise that I liked all of the stories. The last two were my favorites, though. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like the dragon society and I’d like to see more of it. I love the Retrieval Artist series and this story is a good introduction to it.

The first season ran originally on BBC in 1984. It has six episodes.

This is one of the first Robin Hood adaptations I ever saw and it’s still my favorite. It’s an interesting blend of mystical and gritty.

Robin (played by Michael Praed) is from the village of Loxley which the Sheriff of Nottingham (played by Nikolas Grace) destroys in the first episode. He also kills Robin’s father. But this isn’t a tale of revenge. In fact during the show, Robin has several opportunities to kill the Sheriff but he doesn’t. I think mostly it’s because Grace was an excellent actor in his part and they didn’t want to replace him.

In the first two part episode, ”Robin Hood and the Sorcerer”, Robin gathers his band of Merry Men and Marion. He’s also chosen by Herne the Hunter as an agent of light and fights the forces of darkness, represented by Baron de Belleme. The magic in this first episode is mostly visions but Belleme is able to do some sort of telekinesis, as well, and put people under his control. Robin is called Herne’s son and the ”Hooded Man”. The pagan religious element isn’t overwhelming in the series but is present in almost every episode.

The first episode has several classic elements. Robin fights Little John over a river, just as the old tales say. However, in this version, Baron Belleme has bewitched Little John to be his servant and Robin frees John. Another element is the archery contest which Robin wins by shooting an arrow which splits another arrow. He wins the silver arrow which is here a magical artifact.

Much the Miller’s son is Robin’s foster brother and after Guy of Gisbourne kills Much’s father, Much has no choice but to follow Robin as an outlaw. He is the youngest of the group and a little naive. Will Scarlett is found in Nottingham’s dungeons. He’s a hot tempered Saxon who hates the nobility and is the quickest to argue with Robin. Marion is the Sheriff’s ward and Tuck is her confidante. A completely new character is brought in and people liked him so much that in later adaptations, too, the Merry men include a Saracen. Nasier is another of Belleme’s servants. After Robin kills Belleme, Nasir joins forces with the Merry Men. He doesn’t talk much but nobody ever doubts his loyalty. Also, the group seems to be always recruiting more men so most episodes have some extra Merry Men around.

Other episodes:
”The Witch of Elsdon”, ”Seven Poor Knights from Acre”, ”Alan A Dale”, and ”The King’s Fool”.

Right from the start, the series’ main villains, Gisbourne and the Sheriff, are established as very nasty men. They are both bullies with short tempers. The Sheriff also bullies and belittles Gisbourne constantly. They both treat the villagers like, well, like Norman overlords most likely treated the Saxon serfs. The Sheriff is a supreme opportunist who grabs at any chance to make his life easier or make Robin’s life harder, as is seen in the ”Seven Poor Knights from Acre” or ”Allan A Dale”. Gisbourne (played by Robert Addie) is the muscle of the pair and commands the men-at-arms. A third recurring villain is Abbot Huge the Rainault, the Sheriff’s land-greedy brother. I think all three were superbly cast. Also, the camaraderie between the Merry Men is shown in stark contrast to the way that the villains behave towards the people around them and to each other.

The show doesn’t glamorize the outlaws’ life: they literally live in the forest, and people are killed often. In ”Allan A Dale” we are shown how difficult it is for any of the band to have a family or even a lover. Little John is found in the village of Wickham where he has been visiting his lover. Even just seeing the outlaw fleeing from the village is enough for the Sheriff to charge extra taxes from the village.

Oh and I really enjoyed the portrayal of Marion. In the first episode, ”Witch of Elsdon”, the men try to make her just ”a nurse and a cook” and leave her in the camp ”safe” when the men go out to rob the rich, but she won’t have it. She shows them that she’s a valuable member of the group and the writing supports this. So, she’s always in the thick of things. And she’s a terrible cook. 🙂

A strong part of the show’s atmosphere comes from the haunting music which is done by Clannad.

Apparently, the show was quite expensive to make and it was canceled one season sooner than was planned.

I don’t know if it looks dated to someone who is seeing it now for the first time, but it doesn’t to me. I believe it was filmed outdoors in England so the places are authentic. I noticed that they used the same three or four horses everywhere which was a bit distracting.

I think this first season might be the strongest of the show. The writing is good and the stories are highly entertaining. In the first episode, a pretty woman is accused of sorcery and to save her and her husband’s life, she agrees to poison the outlaws. In the second episode, the Merry Men are pitted against the Knights Templar. In the third, the Sheriff is getting married because a large dowry and Robin is persuaded to save the poor, young bride. In the final episode, King Richard returns home and wants to see the famous Wolfshead.

A collection of short stories.

Publication year: 2006
Format: print
Page count: 390
Publisher: Daw

This book is the second half of the third collected Blood books. It has nine fun short stories about Vicki and her friends. They are set after Vicki’s transformation but she’s already gotten used to her new life, mostly. Six of them star Vicki and Mike Celluci. They’re quite funny and have a lot of their banter.

In ”This Town Isn’t Big Enough” Vicki returns to Toronto, only to find that another vampire is hunting in ”her” city. Unfortunately, the other vampire is also a lot older than Vicki and more powerful.

In ”The Cards Also Say” a Romani fortune teller warns Vicki that someone is hunting her.

In ”The Vengeful Spirit of Nepeakea” Vicki is hired to find out who vandalized a real estate agent’s car. Which is parked next to Lake Nepeakea, in forest. Both Vicki and Mike are very much city people which makes this otherwise a bit shallow story funny.

In ”Another Fine Nest” Vicki finds out that giant bugs are infesting Toronto’s subway system.

”Critical Analysis” is a locked door mystery. Sort of.

And finally Vicki is confronted by the three ghosts of Christmas in “So This Is Christmas” .

The rest are about Henry, the four hundred year old vampire.
”What Manner of Man” is set in England, in Henry’s past. He finds out that a spy is selling state secrets to France… and Henry realizes that he still thinks of himself as an Englishman and also an English Prince.

In “Someone to Share the Night” he’s looking for company. He misses Vicki terribly but can’t find anyone to fill that hole in his life, so he puts an ad into the paper. That gives a very… interesting result.

“Sceleratus” is a much darker tale where Henry confronts the Spanish Inquisition.

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Lee Bermejo
Publisher: DC

This is one of Rorschach’s earlier cases and the comic is very violent. He already has a dark reputation but he isn’t yet as psychotic as he will be. He hates the city but at the same time, he’s driven to protect the people in it. The story is told through Rorschach’s journal entries and dialog. He is hunting Rawhead, the leader of a gang who does prostitution and drugs, but he also strikes up a friendship with a waitress in a diner where he frequents. When he’s hunting down leads and fighting just one man at the time, he clearly knows what he’s doing. Unfortunately, against more than one opponent, he isn’t so good. Twice he’s beaten until he’s almost dead but manages to escape, mostly through his enemies’ arrogance. This is, of course, very realistic for a man without any superpowers.

The story starts with the shocking image of a serial killer carving up his prey. However, the killer is just a sub plot. The killer, nick-named Bard, carves into his victims his idea that the city is a terrible place, echoing Rorschah’s thoughts in his journal.

This can be a depressing comic; people are either lazy and stupid or down right evil, and there are no heroes.

The artwork is very realistic and I think it’s close to Gibbons’ work in the original comic. Great!

The second book in the planetary romance series about Barsoom.
Publication year: 1912
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1974, reprinted 2012
Format: print
Finnish translator: Seppo Ilmari
Page count: 226
Finnish Publisher: WSOY, reprinted by Into kustannus

The previous book ended in a cliffhanger with John Carter back on Earth and separated from his beloved Dejah Thoris. This book starts with Edgar’s meeting with his uncle John who has written another manuscript and claims that he can now travel from Earth to Mars at will. However, that explanation has to wait as we start to follow John’s adventures from the moment he returns to Barsoom.

But he returns to such a weird place that at first he doubts that he’s even on Mars. He’s near an open ocean and he sees monstrous plant-like creatures. But then the monsters attack a group of green tharks and John knows that he’s indeed on Mars. Only one thark survives and he turns out to be none other than Tars Tarkas who has come to the Martian equivalent of an afterlife to look for Carter himself. John has been away for long years (10 in Earth years and 5 in Barsoomian years) and everyone thinks that he has left voluntarily to the Valley of Dor, perhaps thinking that Dejah Thoris is dead. So finally Tars has also journeyed to the Valley.

It turns out that the Valley and everything in it are not the paradise-like afterlife that the Barsoomians believe in, but a horrible place of death and slavery. But even if Tars Tarkas and John can escape it, they will most likely be executed because that is the Martian custom for those blasphemers who ”return from death”.
Two additional Barsoomian races live in the Valley: the black Martians and the white Martians who are called the thern. They are both cruel and savage people who exploit and enslave others for their own pleasure. They are also set in their ways after living thousands of years in the same way. The black people even have the goddess Issus among them whom they worship.

This book reveals the Barsoomians’ religion as a cruel sham. Yet, Burroughs doesn’t preach his own beliefs or mock the Barsoomians for being too gullible. Even though John swears by the Christian God’s name, he has neither intention nor interest in trying to push his religion to anyone. In the first book, he also accepted the worship of Issus as matter of course and didn’t even privately think ill of the religion or people following it.

If there’s one thing that bothers me, it’s that one of the people we meet turns against his customs and religion a bit too easily. However, he becomes one of John’s loyal friends.

However, the main focus is again on adventure, wondrous new places, and getting out of tight situations with the help of friends. Also, in the best traditions of the genre, John seems to be very attractive to the Martian women, because two more gorgeous Barsoomian women fall in love with him. The book ends in even more frustrating cliffhanger than the first book.

Booking Through Thursday

Which is more important when you read — the actual story or the characters? I’ve read books with great plots, but two-dimensional characters, and I’ve read multi-layered characters stuck in clunky stories, and I’m sure you have, too. So which would you rather focus on, if you couldn’t have both?

It somewhat depends on the genre but usually I go with characters. I love books with interesting, quirky characters.

Even tightly-plotted detective stories can fail to interest me if the characters are boring.

Publication year: 2004
Format: Audio
Narrator: Grover Gardner
Running Time: 2 hrs, 31 m

This is a novella set between A Civil Campaign and Diplomatic Immunity. It’s part of Bujold’s space opera Vorkosigan series and a treat for fans but I don’t think a new reader should start here. I recommend starting with the ”Cordelia’s Honor” omnibus.

The Winterfair festival is approaching and with it the wedding. The only POV character is Roic, Miles’ youngest and newest armsman. Most armsmen are former soldiers but Roic is ”just” a former municipal guard and he has an inferiority complex because of it. Also, in ACC he was involved in the butterbug incident so senior Armsman Pym is keeping a close eye on Roic. He is usually on night duty but now he’s greeting Miles’ galactic guests who are arriving for Miles and Ekaterin’s wedding. Roic has never gone off-planet so he has some surprises in store. He knows that Miles has galactic friends, though, and thinks he’s prepared to greet them. Then he meets Taura, the genetically engineered super soldier and current mercenary who towers over him and looks rather scary. Oh, and she’s female.

This is a fun little story with most of the familiar cast in it. Yet, because Roic is the POV character, we see them from the outside and this keeps the story fresh. We also get to see how Ekaterin and Miles ”work” together and they seem well suited to each other.

I also enjoyed Taura a lot. Especially the scene where she meets Alys is great.

Plot is rather thin, though, this is clearly a character piece. And that’s not a complaint but an observation because I adore these characters.

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