February 2015

A short story collection.

Publication year: 2008
Format: print
Page count: 68
Publisher: PS Publishing

The introduction to this collection is written by L. Timmel Duchamp who equates writing with martial arts and at first this seemed a strange idea to me. But then it all came clear: “To write, to practice martial arts, one must be prepared to take falls, to get bruised, to risk one’s ego – and to expect to keep learning for as long as one pursues the vocation, without regard for one’s ease or safety.”

I loved “A Mere Scutcheon”. It’s set in a world similar to the Three Musketeers, except that a woman’s honor is the same as a man’s, and not between her legs. The Queen has her guardswomen and the King his guardsmen, and they are often dueling each other. The Queen gives Anna D’Gart a mission: to get back the Queen’s necklace before the ball where the Queen is expected to wear the necklace. Anna and her loyal friend Asamir set out to retrieve it. Asamir is aiming to become a nun but not before she has lots of intimate meetings with a married count.

In “The First Condition of Immortality” the main character’s friend has just died. When she travels to the funeral, she feels a shadow following her.

“Thirty-One Rules of Fulfilling You Destiny” is a fun way of breaking pretty much all of storytelling rules.

“Homesteading” is set after the collapse of civilized society. Isabel has had to learn to survive and she’s also trying to teaching her headstrong young protégé to choose her battles and not to fight every time.

“Three O’clock in the Morning” is a horror story.

I enjoyed all of the stories, some more than others; I’m not really a horror reader. The first one is my favorite, though. Even those that start with a familiar setting have a twist I enjoyed. They all look at women characters which is still unusual in SFF books. The women are all competent at what they do, but none of them are superhuman fighters, just more or less ordinary people.

The ebook is available at BookView Café which also has an excerpt: http://bookviewcafe.com/blog/2013/05/14/bvc-announces-conscientious-inconsistencies-by-nancy-jane-moore/

A stand-alone SF book.

Publication year: 2007
Format: print
Page count: 333 + an excerpt of Dust
Publisher: Bantam Spectra

André Deschenes is an assassin but he wants to be more. He’s convinced that he has the talent for “luck” or altering the probabilities of his own actions or even somebody else’s. He lives on Greene’s World, an alien planet where humans have started a mining operation. Most of the humans on the planet are working for the Charter Trade Company which is ruthlessly exploiting the local aliens and the planet. André does assassination for them. He comes from a family of conjurers, as the people who can alter probabilities are called, but he thinks that they are charlatans and want nothing to do with them. Instead, he seeks out Jean Kroc who is supposed to be a very powerful conjurer. He wants to be Jean’s apprentice. Unfortunately, he’s also contracted to kill Jean’s lover, Lucienne. Then there’s Cricket, André’s not-girlfriend and Lucienne’s and Jean’s friend. Cricket is an archinformist who specializes in finding information and doesn’t want any attachments.

Once again, I was fascinated by the world-building. The aliens are a peaceful, aquatic, egg laying humanoids whom the humans have classified as pre-industrial and therefore the humans can use their planet. The humans call them ranids or frogs but the aliens call themselves people. The ranids don’t have social genders and instead of he/she they use “se”. However, they do have endoparents and exoparents and have two different ways of defining a family. The whole greatparents thing was also fascinating. The humans exploit them ruthlessly but don’t want anyone telling that to the wider media. Oh, and they don’t speak in human way. Instead, they use tablet like devices to write out what they want to say and some have learned to lip read humans.

Undertow uses quantum physics in as part of the world-building and I’m not sure I even understood that part. But what I understood I really liked. However, I didn’t really connect with any of the human characters but I would love to get another story about the ranids to see how the ending affected them.

The book has somewhat slow start but once the plot starts rolling, it’s a rollercoaster ride to the end.

A possible conclusion to the FF.

Writer and artist: Alan Davis
Inker: Mark Farmer

Even though the story’s name is “the end” it felt to me more like a new beginning than a possible ending to Marvel’s first family. The story starts with each of the FF doing their own thing and they don’t get together until near the end. John, not Johnny anymore, has joined the Avengers and is leading a team of Iron Man, the Vision, Thor, Captain Marvel, and the Silver Surfer. Reed is doing research on an FF asteroid all alone, Ben and Alicia are married and they’re living on Mars with their kids, and Susan is doing deep sea archeology.

Susan and Reed have been torn apart by a tragedy: their kids were killed in a confrontation with rather mechanoid Dr. Doom. While Earth and the surviving characters live in near Paradise like world, it’s underscored by tragedy: the mutant wars during which apparently all mutants died. So, even though Reed has come up with the Metuselah treatment which prolongs the lives of humans (or at least the character we’ve grown to love) and other technology which has greatly enhanced the lives of humans, it has a bitter sweet tinge, to me at least. Johnny and the Avengers are faced with a gang of criminals, the She-Hulk is trying to talk to Reed about his survivor’s guilt, and Susan runs into Namor. Together Sue and Namor explore some ruins deep in the sea.

All of the FF are still very much the same characters, even though this story seems to take place at least two decades from now. In fact, all the characters are pretty much the same, older but not more mature nor wiser, with the possible exception of Johnny. Also, the book is full of familiar characters from the FFs past both allies and criminals. This seemed to irritate some reviewers; I rather liked it.

I was actually more interested in the science fiction setting than in the plot. Humans have developed space travel and have colonies off planet but the solar system has been quarantined on the joint decision of humans and other species. In John’s storyline some supervillains are trying to break through the quarantine devices. Iron Man has apparently lost his physical body but is able to download his consciousness to different armors. The heroes wear Personal Environment Generators which allow John, and other heroes and criminals, to use their powers in space. And Reed works on an asteroid which is orbiting Earth, with the FF logo on its side.

This is a fun story, full of the technological wonders I tend to associate with the FF.

Booking Through Thursday

Do you prefer to read collections that are all of works by the same author? Or collections by different writers? Consistency or variety?

I read both just as happily. I just have different expectations for them. In the same author, I’ll either already enjoy the author’s work and want more or he or she is someone recommended to me and I look forward to sampling their work. With different authors, I’m interested in the theme of the collection and different interpretations of it.

Recently I’ve really enjoyed the Fiction River short story collections.

So far I’ve read three TBR books:
1, Scott E. Tabert: A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk
2, Karen Lowachee: Warchild
3, Jacqueline Garlick: Lumiere

Warchild has been on my TBR for several years and turned out to be quite intense and dark book. The other two are from the Steampunk bundle I bought just before Christmas. Both were light hearted and fun.

The ninth book in the series.

Publication year: 1940
Format: ebook from Gutenberg
Page count: 192

The incomparable Dejah Thoris has been in a flier accident and was injured terribly. Helium’s best doctors can keep her alive but not cure her; only one man can do that: Ras Thavas, the Master Mind of Mars. But he has disappeared and John Carter leaves Helium to search for him. His friends and family (clearly remembering previous times…) plead him not to go alone and he takes with him one man from his guard: young warrior called Vor Daj. Together, they fly towards Ptarth where Ras Thavas’ erstwhile apprentice lives because they hope that he has some clues to the great surgeons’ whereabouts. However, (and extremely fortunately for our heroes) their miraculous compass is just a bit off and the flier takes them near the Toonolian Marshes which is rumored to be full of savages. Strange creatures take John and Vor Daj captive and transport them on the backs of huge birds to the city of Morbus.

The strange creatures are hormads and live in Morbus. They are vat grown red men (and indeed all seem to be male) who are grotesque and hideous in appearance. They’re also slow-witted. The most intelligent of them have formed the Council of Jeds and have imprisoned Ras Thavas and forced him to work for them. The hormad jeds intend to conquer whole Mars with their rapidly grown synthetic men. They aren’t good with the sword but because they can’t be killed, the jeds intend to just grow so many of them that they will take down everyone else with sheer numbers.

This time the narrator is Vor Daj. Early on, he sees a beautiful girl and falls in love with her. The girl, Janai, is also imprisoned in Morbus and Vor Daj wants to free her. In order to do that, he realizes that he has to put his brain into a body of a hormad so that he can be near her and protect her until he and John figure out a way to escape. So, he asks Ras Thavas to do that and the great surgeon agrees. So, Vor Daj’s body is hidden while he starts his adventures in a horribly deformed body. Of course, things go wrong and soon Vor Daj is in danger of losing his real body. He also keeps his real identity a secret from Janai, fearing that she will forever see him as a hormad.

The hormads are an interesting invention. Their bodies and faces are usually twisted; one might not have legs and another might have an ear growing in the middle of his face. Yet, they’re unkillable; parts just go on moving and a new body can be grown to a head. They can only be destroyed with fire.

Vor Daj meets another new culture which is a described as a group of primitive savages. They are not tharks nor red men but marsupial Martians who hop around with their tails and hind legs. In contrast to the other Barsoomians, they don’t show bravery in war but instead only attack when they have overwhelming numbers on their side.

The hormads are imaginative and quite horrible in their desires. The most intelligent ones want red men bodies and force Ras Thavas put their brains into the bodies of captured red men. So, it’s not possible to know who is who. The book even has a little philosophy about it.

Unfortunately, there are some sloppy errors in the book. The worst of them is perhaps the mix up with two characters but the ending is also less satisfactory than the other Barsoom books because we don’t know the fates of the major antagonists. They can be assumed but we don’t see them.

Also, even though the Martians spring fully grown from eggs, which we are told in this very book, there is a slave boy in this book.

Still, this is a very imaginative book and worth reading if you’ve enjoyed the previous books.

The first book in a YA Steampunk series called the Illumination Paradox.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook
Publisher: Amazemo Books

This was part of the steampunk bundle I bought and I didn’t realize that was YA so I had different expectations for it.

The main character is Eyelet. We first encounter her as an eight year old girl who is wandering in a carnival. She has seizures, epileptic fits, so her mother is very concerned about her. But Eyelet knows that her father will cure her with his Illuminator machine – he’s promised to do so. However, she realizes that the carnival folks use the Illuminator as a carnival trick and to sell miniaturized copies of it. She thinks that they’ve stolen it. When she confronts the carnies, they call the guards and chase her. But everything changes when the Illuminator causes an eternal twilight to decent over the city.

Nine years later Eyelet is a student at the Academy and she’s secretly reading her father’s notebooks in order to find the Illuminator which was supposed to cure her seizures. She and her mother have kept her fits a secret because otherwise Eyelet could be accused of Madness or Wickedry, and she would be either sent to an asylum or hanged. Her father died years ago without telling her what he had done with the Illuminator.

However, one of the professors tell Eyelet that her mother has been sentenced for Wickedry and has been hanged and Eyelet herself is to be taken into custody. But she flees and managed to find her mother. Just before her mother dies, she gives Eyelet a mysterious pendant and says that it’s the key to everyone’s future. Eyelet barely escapes the guards called the Brigsmen.

From her father’s notebook, she gets an address to a warehouse and is convinced that the Illuminator is there. She races to the warehouse but the Brigsmen are at her heels. When she gets there, a man is loading a large machine into a carriage. Eyelet can’t let him escape so she grabs onto the carriage while it’s moving. The man has no choice but to haul Eyelet aboard or let her be crushed under. But the man is very strange indeed – he has red eyes and chalk white skin and one side of his face has large birthmark. It turns out that his name is Urlick and he lives in the far Follies with his eccentric father and a mute maid called Iris. He has lots of secrets.

The pace of the book is quick with chases and plot twists following quickly. The book is written in first person, present tense. Most of the time the POV character is Eyelet but in a few chapters it’s Urlick.

Eyelet is a very plucky heroine: she’s quick to draw conclusions and act on them. She’s also determined to find the Illuminator and cure her condition. When she meets Urlick, she’s at first afraid of him because of his looks. But when she gets to know his secrets, she quickly starts to find him attractive and starts to trust him, more than she has any reason to. She’s also very curious and doesn’t follow rules well.

By contrast, Urlick is a more patient person. He has good reasons to keep lots of secrets. He’s attracted to Eyelet from the first time he sees her but is convinced that nobody could ever find him attractive. Urlick’s mother died giving birth to him and his father accused Urlick of it. He also knows that people consider him a monster because of his odd looks. But he’s very brave and loyal to his friends. He’s also very interested in the sciences and has invented a number of gadgets.

Of the two main characters, I found Urlick to be more appealing, heroic even. They’re both damaged, by their own estimates and in the eyes of their society, and they both harbor secrets, even from each other. Iris is also an interesting, tragic character. I also really liked some of the gadgets. And the ravens.

Unfortunately, there were some irritating things in the book, too. Both Urlick and Eyelet ask the other “How much do you trust me?” when they barely know each other and don’t have much of a reason to trust each other. Especially at the start of the story, this is asked after some big revelation which is forced out of the character, demonstrating that the other, indeed, doesn’t have any reason to trust. I also thought that the characters behaved sometimes in unnecessarily melodramatic fashion jumping to strange conclusions and having teenage angst. Also, the romance is more pronounced in the first part of the book, when the characters are just getting to know each other. Also, Eyelet’s mother’s death didn’t seem to be a big deal to her.

The setting has some interesting features which aren’t really explored. One of them is the constant twilight which has fallen on to Earth. Also, outside the Brethren, which is the city where the rich people live, women are literally owned by men. If a woman is caught alone outside, she belongs to the man who caught her. Yet, this is only used once in the book, to threaten Eyelet, and never even talked about afterwards. None of the males behave according to that sort of culture. However, the Vapors are a constant threat to everyone. They are poisonous clouds which force people to stay indoors or die. They can also mutate some people.

Still, this is a fun, fast-paced book and ends in a cliffhanger.

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