September 2014


Collects the Illuminati miniseries 1-5 of of 5.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Reed
Artists: Jim Cheung, Mark Morales, John Dell, David Meikes

The mini series starts Reed Richards, Black Bolt, Namor, Iron Man, Professor X, and Stephen Stange who are, apparently, the most powerful heroes on Earth. In the series they tackle some of the biggest threats against Earth and the series ends with a lead in to the Secret Invasion. The group are said to be a secret cabal, affecting events from the shadows without telling about them to anyone else, even their families.

The first issue is set right after the Kree/Skrull war. Our intrepid heroes go to the Skrull homeworld and warn them against any further attempt on Earth. They might have made an excellent impression, if they had managed to get away. Unfortunately, the skrulls capture them and do some scientific experiments – in other words torture. After a while, Tony is able to get the upper hand and help the others to escape. The skrulls had dismissed him as “just human” and concentrated their efforts to the others.

The second issue is set after the heroes tackle the Infinity Gauntlet for the second time. Reed was one of the heroes who was simply disintegrated and he doesn’t want it to happen again. So, he revels to the others that he has the Gauntlet and three of the Gems. The others are horrified but agree to find the rest of the gems.

The third issue deals with the Beyonder. Xavier and Reed have come back from the Secret Wars and Xavier has concentrated on finding the Beyonder and solving the question of who he really is. The Beyonder’s identity is retconned here. (No, I’m not gonna spoil it here but it’s in the Wiki entry.) Xavier also traces the Beyonder to the moon Ceres and the group flies there and confronts the Beyonder.

In the fourth issue the group gathers because of Noh-Varr, a young Kree warrior who has declared war on Earth but has been imprisoned. There, the group tries to talk him into following in the footsteps of the first Captain Marvel, Mar-Vell). Also, Namor hits him a lot.

In the final issue, the group is again confronted with the skrulls. The issue is set after Civil War leads directly into Secret Invasion. Tony gathers the group after he finds out that a skrull has been impersonating Elektra (as seen in New Avengers issues) and he also thinks that the Illuminati are responsible because they went to the skrull home world and got imprisoned and experimented on. The group don’t trust each other, in fact Strange is now part of a new Avengers group which opposes Tony. One of the Illuminati reveals himself to be a skrull, further driving a wedge between the others and leaving them wondering if that man is still alive.

Each of the men go their own way in the end.

This was a great idea and I enjoyed most of the issues. However, I do have a big problem with these eggheds deciding things behind everyone else’s back. Also, the fourth issue started with, essentially, the men whining about their women or lack of women. Maybe this was Bendis’ idea of humor or maybe he wanted to make the characters more human but they actually appeared to me pretty pathetic. Except for Namor who really told Reed off.

Namor and Black Bolt are both monarchs who are apparently used to deciding things on behalf of everyone else and Strange is mostly a loner, but Tony, Xavier, and Reed are all supposedly part of groups of people they love and trust. Sadly, this sort of secretive behavior isn’t unknown for any of them, so they are in character, all right.

Enjoyable but not a must-have comic.

Sixth book in the series. Mad science on Barsoom!

Publication year: 1927
Format: ebook from Gutenberg
Page count: 145

It’s a Barsoom book where the intrepid hero and his group of mismatched allies run around Mars to save the heroine, the most beautiful girl on the planet. What more do you need to know?

This time the hero is a US army officer Ulysses Paxton who is wounded grievously in WWI. He’s read about John Carter and a fan of his, so he delighted when he wakes up in Mars. He writes a letter to Burroughs from Mars and tells about his adventures.

Paxton woke up in the company of Ras Thavas, Barsoom’s greatest scientist and surgeon. After the initial confusion is cleared out and Paxton saves old Ras Thavas from the hands of an assassin, the surgeon teaches the Earth man Barsoom’s language and even takes him as an apprentice and a bodyguard. Paxton is at first horrified when he witnesses Ras Thavas at work because he can change a human brain to another body. His patrons are rich people who want young and beautiful bodies for themselves. Ras Thavas had bought beautiful slaves and the bodies of the recently dead whom he can repair so well that they can be brought back to life. Paxton witnesses Ras Thavas put an ugly old woman’s brain into the body of a young and beautiful woman, and he is very attracted to the young body. Later, Ras Thavas revives the old body who now contains the brain and mind of the young woman, Valla Dia. Paxton talks a lot with her and falls in love with her. He concocts a plan to retrieve her rightful body, which is now used by Xaxa, a cruel jeddara who rules her own city state, so the task isn’t easy.

To help him, Paxton recruits three other men: a man who was betrayed by Xaxa and is now in another man’s body, an assassin, and a man whose brain is now in the body of a ferocious white ape.

Burroughs criticizes religion quite a lot in the story and uses religion as a plot device, too. This time we’re introduced to a city where Issus wasn’t worshiped. Instead, Phuandal’s citizens worship Turgan. They chant out words which they don’t know and it’s heresy to ask what they mean and their religion teaches that certain scientific principles don’t exist, so the worshipers can’t acknowledge them (like basic human biology). Also, their gullibility is used as a plot point.

While the worshipers of Turgan are said to be overly emotional, the citizens of a neighboring city of Toonol, and Ras Thavas himself, is said to be overly rational. Thavas has no problem swapping people’s bodies because he needs the money to continue his scientific experiments. However, he knows that his own slaves and helps hate him, so he can’t trust any of them. Paxton is the only one he trusts.

Once again, the narrator prefers a balance of both rather than an extreme in either, just like in ”Thuvia, Maid of Mars”.

I’m a bit troubled that both women of power which we’ve seen in this series have been ugly and evil: Issus and Xaxa. Yes, the books need villains but they have plenty of male jed and jeddaks who are heroic in addition to the villainous males. The ”good” women don’t seem to have any power at all and are stunningly beautiful. We don’t see much of Valla Dia but she seems rather intelligent and even refuses to have any other body than her own because she doesn’t want to steal one from another and also because Ras Thavas could sell it anyway any time he wants to.

This was another very enjoyable science fantasy adventure. The swapping of brains was almost as creepy as the races in ”Thuvia” were one race was a head another was the body. However, the start of the tale is quite a bit slower than in the previous books.

Booking Through Thursday

Okay, show of hands … who has read Shakespeare OUTSIDE of school required reading? Do you watch the plays? How about movies? Do you love him? Think he’s overrated?

Raises hand. Of course I live in Finland so Shakespeare has never been required reading for me. We read Kalevala. Out loud. In the original rhymes. I’ve never read that after school. Also “gritty realism” books about teenagers who live in the capital, do drugs and crimes. I’ve never read those after school either.

Shakespeare’s plays aren’t shown much, either. I’ve managed to see Hamlet here in Finland and one other play years ago when I was in Britain. I think I’ve watched all of Branagh’s movies and a couple of others. I’ve also seen Shakespeare in love and read a couple of fiction books where he’s a character.

I like his plays and the movies made from them. Overrated? I don’t know.

The short story.

Publication year: 1820
Format: audio
Narrator: Tom Mison
Running Time: 1 hrs 16 mins

I’ve seen the movie starring Johnny Depp and the first season of the TV show, and enjoyed both, so it was high time to read (or listen) the original. The audio book is narrated by Tom Mison, a British actor who plays the part of Ichabod Crane in the TV show Sleepy Hollow. The story is available for free in several places on-line, for example: http://www.bartleby.com/310/2/2.html

The story is written in the style of the times, which might make it a bit difficult for a modern reader. Also, the story has a clear narrator who reminisces about his time in the town and interjects his own opinions to the story but we never find out who the narrator is.

Ichabod Crane is a school master and a music teacher in a small town called Tarry Town or Greensburgh but the valley itself is known as Sleepy Hollow because of its haunting atmosphere and several ghost stories related to it. The people also seem to walk around ”in reverie”.

Ichabod is tall and lanky and quite poor. However, the townspeople like him because he always helps out on the farm he’s staying and has a lovely singing voice. He’s also considered to be very educated because he’s read several books. But by today’s standard he would be considered superstitious because he believes in ghosts and magic.

One day he sees Katrina van Tassel who is the only daughter of a wealthy Dutch farmer. She’s only 18 years old and ”plump as a partridge; ripe and melting and rosy cheeked as one of her father’s peaches” and because of her beauty and her father’s wealth, Crane starts to woo her. However, Katrina has another suitor: Brom van Brunt also called Brom Bones. He’s the leader of a local gang of rascals, an excellent horseman, and very strong. Apparently, Katrina’s father doesn’t favor either suitor but Brom’s lads starts making all sorts of mischief on poor Ichabod.

The story is told in a haunting way, but the Headless Horseman himself enters the story quite late (if at all). Irving also uses irony to exaggerate things, just as the characters’ appearances and Icabod’s lust for food and other things he will get by marrying Katrina. But Katrina is also described as a coquette who plays with the affections of men. Greed seems to be the central theme of the story. Also, while there’s no actual violence in the story, Ichabod’s suit and the rivalry between him and Bram Bones is described with knightly terms.

The story is quite different from either the movie or the show.

A collection of urban fantasy short stories.


Publication year: 2009
Format: ebook
Page count: 320
Publisher: Daw

This collection has 16 stories, all in some way related to UF. Most of them were a twist on a familiar story. Most of the have been written in first person.

”Web Ginn House” by Phaedra Weldon: Zoe Martinique earn her living by astral projection. She spies on people or places and gets paid for it. She’s sent to spy on a haunted house but when a ghost busters type of people are in at the same time, things go terribly wrong. It’s written in a Valley Girl type of language and the main character doesn’t seem to be terribly bright.

”The Hex Is In” by Mike Resnick: Someone is using magic and making improbable things happen in various sports events. This isn’t good for the bookies. So, they’re going to find out who that person is and make him pay. Written in a pulp crime style.

”If Vanity Doesn’t Kill Me” by Michael A. Stackpole: The main character is called to a crime scene because his mother’s husband has been killed. The main character is a former detective and he uses his inborn talent to investigate even though he’s not in good standing with his family. They’re religious and think that all people with magical talent are devil’s spawn.

”Witness to the Fall” by Jay Lake: A man has been murdered in a small village. The local preacher has been accused of it and the preacher’s daughter asks for the local Truthsayer to listen to the winds and decide if he is guilty or not. A pretty story with a lot of flowery language but unsatisfying to mystery fans.

”The Best Defense” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: John Lundgren is a public defender and despite his huge case load, he’s assigned to defending Mr. Palmer who is accused of arson. When John hears of Palmer’s poor treatment by the police, he thinks it’s easy to win the case. However, Palmer claims to be a wizard.

”Call of the Second Wolf” by Steven Mohan, Jr.: Valeri Kozlov works for to the Russian Mafia as the boss’s right hand. Unfortunately, a war is brewing between the Chinese Mafia and the Russian Mob, and Valeri is sent to smooth things out and figure out who is behind it.

”The Old Girlfriend of Doom” by Dean Wesley Smith: One of Poker Boy’s adventures. Poker Boy has superpowers which can be only used in a Casino. An old girlfriend comes asking for help: gray aliens are trying to steal her fake boobs. Poker Boy knows about the threat and it’s real but the only way to get out of it is by taking the silicon off and the former girlfriend doesn’t want to do that. Very funny and not a mystery.

”Second Sight” by Ilsa J. Bick: Jason Saunders is a detective who has the Sight. However, he hasn’t been trained to use it so it not entirely under his control. A young white slave and prostitute Lily has apparently gone berserk and killed her pimp. When Jason is sent to the hospital, he sees a drunk man with strange tattoos and even weirder things. This story had quite a complicated magic system which seems to use Jewish mysticism.

”The True Secret of Magic, Only $1.98, Write Box 47, Portland, ORE” by Joe Edwards: This is a sweet and melancholy story set in 1963. Ella Redheart is a mail-order fortune teller and quite an old woman. A postal inspector catches her in a fraud but he isn’t interested in busting her; instead he wants some information from her. Ella’s father’s spirit tells her some things some time in answer to questions and she’s learned to be cautious in what to tell other people.

”The Sweet Smell of Cherries” by Devon Monk: An Allison Beckstrom story. I haven’t read her books but I’ve heard about them. Allie tries to decline a job to track down a missing person but ends up being involved anyway.

”Eye Opening” by Jason Schmetzer: Eddie Timmer has the ability to see through solid objects and he’s using it for crime. He’s tried to go to the straight and narrow but something always happens to stop that. This time, he and his partner have been hired to ”retrieve” some rings but things go so badly wrong that Eddie’s partner ends up killed and when Eddie runs to his employer, the person he was trying to steal from, follows him. And is quite angry.

”Faith’s Curse” by Randall Bills: Adrian Kohl is a magus, a sorcerer, who gets his powers from belief. Therefore he has to act in a way that causes shock and awe in other people and always to reinforce his image. He even has a bumbling assistant he doesn’t like nor respect. So, when he finds a man killed by magical but mysterious means, he’s not happy.

”The Wish of a Wish” by Robert T. Jeschonek: An IRS agent pays a visit to a man who as genie and he has wished himself very rich. It turns out though, that he’s also a sadist and the agent is actually trying to save the genie. This turned out to be a far darker story than the beginning led me to expect.

”RPG Reunion” by Peter Orullian: A table top roleplayer gets really angry about what happened in a game. So angry in fact, that he makes it his business to learn real magic. And then, the group is called back together. I’m a roleplayer and I don’t like these ”roleplayers are insane” stories.

”Treasure” by Leslie Claire Walker: Addie is a old woman, who did a deal with a Fae some fifty years ago to get out of a desperate life. Now, she’s a pawn shop owner and also accepts magical items, although she doesn’t sell them. Unfortunately, her deal comes back to haunt her. Interestingly, Addie’s not a very likable character but for me she was far more interesting than most of the characters in this collection.

”She’s Not There” by Steve Perry: In this story, the main character, Darla, is a conwoman and a thief. She can use Glamour to change her appearance but only to people whom she has touched. She also, can’t mimic a voice so that limits the ways she can use her power. She robs rich people but usually from stuff which they don’t use much and don’t necessarily miss soon, if ever. She’s just completed a score and gotten the money from her fence, but then she’s robbed and needs to get more money, quickly. I’m a sucker for a likable rogue.

This was a somewhat mixed collection but I enjoyed most of the stories. My favorites were by Bick, Walker, Perry, Jeschonek, and Rusch. Perhaps a bit surprising, most of these were more reflective than action/thriller stories.

Booking Through Thursday

Do other people in your family also like to read? Or are you in this on your own?

Yes, all of them read at least newspapers and some magazines when they have the time.

Also, my brother reads fiction and comics and mostly in the same genres as I do. My father reads mostly non-fiction.

A very entertaining Discworld book.

Publication year: 2007
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2013
Format: print
Page count: 373
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Karisto
Finnish translator: Mika Kivimäki

A fantasy book about banking, the concept of money, and conmen. If you like other Discworld books you’ll most likely like this one, too. More specifically, if you’ve read Going Postal and liked it, you’ll like this one, too.

Moist von Lipwig is a (former) conman and now a most respectable man, the Postmaster General of the Ankh-Morpork Post Office. However, the Post Office is now running smoothly and Moist is looking for other challenges, such as breaking into his own office in the middle of the night. Of course, he’s no longer a criminal and a conman so he can’t really want to return to his old life. He has just taken to carrying a set of lockpicks and rubber baton for his own protection. Right.

So, when Patrician takes him to Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork, which includes the Royal Mint, and wants him to take over, Moist refuses. However, he meets the current chair Topsy Lavish who is an old woman. She sees right through Moist and still likes him. Her little dog, Mr. Fusspot, likes Moist, too. When Topsy Lavish dies the next night, to his horror Moist finds out that she’s given him her dog – and the dog now owns 51% of the bank, making Moist the actual chairman. So, no matter if he wants it or not, Moist is now the chairman of the dysfunctional bank.

The first thing he notices is that the bank doesn’t actually want many clients, just a few of the most wealthiest ones but definitely not any of the poor (just like some banks right here in Finland. Alas, they aren’t as much fun as Ankh-Morpork banks). Also, the smallest coins are made at a loss by extremely poor people and that people in general don’t trust banks. Additionally, people have started to use stamps as currency.

The bank’s employees are a funny lot, chief among them Mr. Bent who never goes out during the daytime and trusts numbers but never people. The men who work in the Mint are a class in their own. The Lavish family wants Moist removed as soon as possible and the bank returned to its rightful owners: which ever one of them is still standing. Cosmo Lavish thinks that he’s the automatic leader of the family and is trying to become Havelock Vetinari – literally.

A subplot involves Moist’s fiancee Adora Belle Dearheart. She runs the Golem Trust and is trying to dig out some of the very oldest golems from dwarven lands. Also, a greedy man from Moist’s past shows up. With really strange false teeth.

The book’s philosophical ruminations are about money and banking: money, coins, gold don’t have any intricate value to humans, unlike, say air, water, and food, and so the whole money system is in fact imaginary and yet pretty much everyone is enslaved to it.

Making Money is similar to Going Postal (Moist is forced to take over a place and make it better using his quick thinking and conman instincts. Of course, the bank isn’t nearly as run down as the post office was) but I don’t think it’s quite as good, or perhaps I just enjoyed Moist more the first time.

As usual, Making Money has lots of memorable and/or funny lines:
“A weapon you held and didn’t know how to use belonged to your enemy.”
”My late husband always said that the only way to make money out of poor people is by keeping them poor.”

“He sighed. It had come to this. He was a responsible authority, and people could use terms like “core values” at him with impunity. ”

“But what’s worth more than gold?”
”Practically everything. You, for example. Gold is heavy. Your weight in gold is not very much gold at all. Aren’t you worth more than that?”

“Igor?’ said Moist. ‘You have an Igor?’
‘Oh, yes,’ said Hubert. ‘That’s how I get this wonderful light. They know the secret of storing lightning in jars! But don’t let that worry you, Mr Lipspick. Just because I’m employing an Igor and working in a cellar doesn’t mean I’m some sort of madman, ha ha ha!’
‘Ha ha,’ agreed Moist.
‘Ha hah hah!,’ said Hubert. ‘Hahahahahaha!! Ahahahahahahhhhh!!!!!-‘
Bent slapped him on the back. Hubert coughed.
‘Sorry about that, it’s the air down here,’ he mumbled.”

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