May 2014

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.

Writer: Len Wein
Artist: Jae Lee, John Higgins, Steve Rude
Publisher: DC

The Ozymandias part of this collection was better than the pirate story. It’s Adrian’s story from early childhood to the start of the Watchmen story. In fact, Adrian Weidt is narrating his life just in his Karnak base. In this story he’s obsessed with Alexander the Great instead of Ramses. He was bullied in school and he learned to fight in order to strike back to his tormentors. The teachers did nothing about the bullying but when Adrian struck back, he would have been expelled if his father hadn’t donated a lot of money to the school. Adrian learned that day not to keep his smarts a secret and instead breezed through school. After that he gave away his inheritance and built his own business empire.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing really new or revolutionary about the story. It’s a quick read and the art is gorgeous. But even the art underlines his arrogance and superiority complex. We also don’t get any tips about how to build our own business empire. 🙂

The Curse of the Crimson Corsair seems to be only tangentially related to Watchmen. In the original graphic novel, one of the side characters was reading a pirate horror comic. This is a pirate horror comic full of curses, undead, and the awful evil men do to each other. The art is again very nice but I’m not a fan of horror so it was perhaps a mistake to read this one right before going to sleep. It’s the story of a Scottish midshipman, Gordon McClachlan who made the mistake of get a job from a cruel captain and after a Naval battle finds himself aboard the Flying Dutchman. The Dutchman’s captain, the Crimson Corsair, offers Gordon a deal so that he might save his soul. That’s just beginning of his ordeal.

The final comic is the story of the Dollar Bill. This feels like classic superhero story and is quite different in mood from the other two. Just like the majority of the superheroes in Watchmen, Dollar Bill doesn’t have any superpowers. He doesn’t even want to be hero at first.

I ended up enjoying the last story the most.

Publication year: 2008
Format: Audio
Narrator: Suzanne Toren
Running Time: 9 hrs, 23 m

Another funny stand-alone book from Martinez.

Margle the Horrendous is a powerful wizard. He’s also pretty obnoxious and enjoys bullying the people under his power. On the other hand, he makes a point of never killing his enemies. Instead he transforms them and keeps them in his tower. They are quite an interesting and entertaining group.

Sir Thedeus is one of Margle’s enemies, an aggressive (Scottish) warrior. Now, he’s a fruit bat flying around in the tower and swearing he will kill Margle one day. To everyone’s surprise he, and a powerful creature called nurgax, manage to kill Margle by accident but that’s only the beginning of their problems. Everyone assumed that the transformed people would change back after Margle’s death but that doesn’t happen. So everyone is afraid that he isn’t really dead and just want a quick way to transform back so that they can flee before the wizard will return, presumably pretty angry. Instead, another dark wizard comes knocking on the tower door, claiming that she has an appointment with him. The denizens don’t want to start serving Tiama the Scarred so they try to keep up the appearance that Margle is still alive and well.

Nessy is Margle’s assistant and a kobold. She serves his diligently sweeping floors and polishing statues. Sometimes she steals a glance in his spell books and has learned a few small spells. After Margle’s death, it falls on her to learn enough magic that she could transform the other back into their original selves. However, because Nessy and the others live in the tower, she also has to keep on doing all of the chores, such as feeding the various creatures. So, she doesn’t have much time to learn the magic involved. Fortunately, Margle’s brother offers to teach her. Starting with levitating potatoes.

This is a fun book and just about the right length. I wouldn’t mind reading more about the characters, though, they were very entertaining. The plot is fast-paced with lot of twists, even though some of them are rather predictable. Martinez makes fun of a lot of fantasy cliches.

The book shines most with the eccentric cast. Echo is only a voice. Margle’s brother Yazpib is a brain, eye and other bits in a jar full of yellow fluid. Yet he’s still arrogant and thinks that he’s the most powerful wizard around. The castle is also haunted by apparitions which don’t have material forms. Then there are the really strange beings, such as the Thing that Devours and the Door At the End of the Hall which even Margle fears. One poor soul is cursed with eternal alliteration. The vampire king is cursed into just a stumbling corpse and he chimes every time he moves. And various other creatures.

I really enjoyed Toren’s performance. She made different voices for different characters wonderfully.

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