May 27, 2015
The first book in the pulp adventure series set in Venus.
Publication year: 1932
Page count: 183
Publisher: Del Ray (printed in 1991)
I’ve read more than a few Tarzan books, the first three Pellucidar books, and the Mars series in my youth, but this is the first time I read Burroughs’ Venus series. To my surprise, I found out that the first three Venus books have also been translated but in 1930s but there aren’t any reprints that I’m aware of. I’ve never seen the translations.
The book starts with Carson Napier contacting Burroughs himself. Carson is determined to travel to Mars in a rocket ship. In order to tell people on Earth about his adventures, Carson will keep in touch with his telepathic powers which he learned from a Hindu mystic. Carson also tells his life’s story to Burroughs. This ties the Venus series into the same world where the Tarzan and Pellucidar books happen.
Carson takes off in the rocket but the calculations were wrong and he ends up on Venus instead of Mars. There he encounters a human race which lives on gigantic trees. The humans call themselves Vepajans and they are a remnant of a once great race which invented immortality and made great technical strides. The men are armed at all times and seem to be fighting against the local animals. However, they also have human enemies and soon they capture Carson who has to find a way to escape.
The book contains many of Burroughs’ staples: a strange new world with humans who have different customs and cultures, strange beasts, and adventure. There is even a Princess whom Carson falls in love with and has to rescue. The story also contains political satire with the two human cultures: The Vepajan Empire had strict class distinctions (between merchants, wage earners, slaves, and brain workers) and even though the Vepajans claim that the classes didn’t interact at all, the empire was also so egalitarian that anyone (I presume anyone male) with sufficient skills and intelligence could rise to the thinking class of doctors and scientists. Yet, there were people who were unhappy with the empire and rose in rebellion. Their leader was Thor and so they’re called Thorans. The Vepajans are all beautiful or handsome and very courteous while the Thorans are often plain or ugly and insulting. The Thorans won and killed a lot of the Vepajans before the rest managed to escape.
The humans are now split into Vepajans and Thorans. The Vepajans still enjoy immortality and are almost free of disease but only half of the women are able to bear children. They don’t have slaves or servants; everyone is equal except for the king and his offspring who are almost revered. The Vepajans don’t have religion and when Carson tries to explain the concept to them, they find it ridiculous. In contrast, the current day Thorans are ignorant and weak willed people who are ruled by their former rebel leaders with an iron fist. The Thorans possess guns and ships which the Vepajans no longer have.
The locals again have just one language which, we are told, is a lot easier to learn than English. For example it doesn’t have irregular verbs. Therefore Carson is able to learn it in just three weeks.
Venus, or Amtor as the locals call it, has heavy cloud cover and the locals have never seen the sun, moon, or stars. The vegetation is gigantic and the climate is so warm that the locals need very little clothing.
Carson is an athlete but he isn’t a soldier and while he can fence he’s a novice and not the overwhelmingly skilled swordsman that John Carter is. But he’s a courageous, friendly man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, as is usual for a Burroughs hero. His fair hair, blue eyes, and light skin marks him as different from the Venusian people.
The beginning of the story is a bit slow when Carson is told a lot about Amtor but after that the pace picks up. It’s the first book in the series and ends in a cliffhanger.
May 24, 2015
Collects Uncanny Avengers #1-5
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: John Cassaday
After the events of Avengers vs X-Men, Captain America finally acknowledges that the Avengers haven’t done enough to help mutants. In order to help them now, he gathers an Avengers team from both mutants and Avengers. He also appoints Havok as the team leader. They’re thrown into a difficult situation right from the start: Avalanche attacks a group of humans and trashes several city blocks.
Meanwhile, Xavier’s grave is opened and his body is stolen. Rogue and the Scarlet Witch try to defend the body but unsuccessfully; instead they are kidnapped. Rogue loathes Wanda because of the things Wanda has done to the mutants but Wanda shields Rogue during the attack and is wounded. The attackers are a new group of villains under the leadership of Red Skull who has a pretty frightening new power. (I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t read it.) The rest of the team (Cap, Thor, Havok, and Wolverine) are trying to calm down humans who are attacking mutants on the streets. A villain called Honest John seems to be causing this with his propaganda powers.
Red Skull’s S-Men were a bit cheesy start for the series and it seemed to me that Wanda confessed that she was actually thinking of joining Red Skull’s group! This was really disappointing! Otherwise, I think that it’s good that the Avengers have finally woken up to the difficulties mutants have and are actively trying to help them. The story references both Nazis and the Days of the Future Past comic in the X-Men, even having that iconic poster of the terminated heroes behind two fugitives, only this time the hunted ones are Havok and Wanda.
The final issue in the collection is a start to the next storyline. Twins are born and they’re called Apocalypse Twins. Both Kang and Immortus are involved. Meanwhile, back in the Avengers Mansion, Wonder Man, Wasp, and Sunfire are the newest members. Since Wonder Man doesn’t fight anymore, he’s in mostly for PR. But during a press conference, the Grim Reaper attacks. The Reaper claims that he can’t die but Rogue absorbs his powers and seems to kill him.
I’m a sucker for a good Kang story and I have high hopes for this storyline. Both Simon and Sunfire seem to have been through a lot of traumatic events which brings conflict into the team. Loved the early glimpse to (alternative?) future at the end of issue 4. Havok was great at the press conference; he took off his mask and told everyone his real name – then again he doesn’t have a secret identity as such.
Overall, I enjoyed this new team and I’m looking forward to that Kang story.
May 23, 2015
A historical retelling of the Robin Hood and Maid Marion story. I’m counting it as part of the Once Upon a Time read.
Publication year: 1992
Running time: 30 hours, 47 minutes including an excerpt from the next book Lady of Sherwood
Narrator: Roger Davis
This isn’t a fantasy book but rather historical romance. The book has lots and lots of point-of-view characters. One of them is Maid Marion FitzWalter, the heir to Ravenskeep lands near Nottingham. Her father was a crusader knight and died in the Holy Land about a year ago. Her mother and brother are also dead so she holds the lands, for now. But she wants to know how her father died. Robert of Loxley was also a knight on the Crusade. He was thought to be dead, too, but he returned somewhat unexpectedly, and his father gathers all the nobles near and far to celebrate his return. Marion goes to the party as well, to get any information about her father.
Robert doesn’t want a party. He has gone through horrible stuff and has even been a prisoner of the Turks for over a year. If Richard the Lionheart hadn’t paid for his release, he would still be a prisoner. He has deep scars, both mental and physical. But his father the Earl of Huntingdon has his own plans and the Earl also expects his son to carry them out, no matter what Robert might want. King Richard is now in prison in Germany and Robert wants to buy him out of there. But the Earl thinks that Prince John will be the next king and he wants to prevent that. Robert’s mother called him Robin and that’s a nickname that Robert eventually adapts as his name.
The main antagonists are the Earl of Huntingdon, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and Prince John. The sheriff, William the DeLacey, is a master manipulator. He’s unhappy with his station of life and wants to rise higher. All his children are women and, except for the youngest Eleanor, already married. He has some faint hope of marrying Eleanor to Huntingdon’s heir. He’s a widow but at the start of the book he isn’t yet looking for another wife, until he realizes that he might be able to get Marion’s lands and the girl herself. Then he’s fixated in his obsession. He’s also in league with Prince John. The Earl is another cold man. While the sheriff is prepared to manipulate everyone, the earl expects everyone to obey him because of his rank. He still treats Robert like a boy and doesn’t want to see how he has changed. As usual for Robin Hood tales, Prince John is portrayed as highly corrupt, gathering extravagant taxes from peasants and the Jewish people claiming that the money will be used to buy Richard free, but actually he keep the money for himself. He’s an arrogant and selfish man and at the start of the book he attempts to rape Marion. They are all POV characters.
Among the many POV characters is also Sir Guy of Guisbourne who has bought his knighthood and is the sheriff’s seneschal; essentially a glorified paper pusher. He wants to do great deeds but don’t have the skills or the courage for it. Marion treats him with kindness and he realizes that he could get her and her lands.
Adam Bell and his group are one of the outlaw groups in Sherwood. They rob pretty much everyone they meet and even blackmail people into their group.
Many familiar characters, such as Little John, Much the Miller’s son, and Will Scarlett are also POV characters.
Among the many male POV characters, there are also two women: Marion and Eleanor, the Sheriff’s youngest daughter. At least in the beginning, they are almost polar opposites of each other. Marion has been reared in Ravenskeep, surrounded by loving parents and familiar servants. She’s been alone a lot and she’s pretty innocent about her way the world works. She’s also a kind and gentle spirit, willing to believe the best of everyone. She pleads with the sheriff for the lives of peasants who have wronged him. But she’s also practical, the way that many women have to be in a world where they don’t have much say in their own lives. In contrast, Eleanor has lived her life in the Sheriff’s household watching her father, the master manipulator. He’s been quite cold towards both of his wives whom he married for practical and political reasons. Both are dead now and he has only daughters; Eleanor’s older sisters are all married respectably but not in higher stations, as the sheriff would have preferred. Eleanor is a plain girl (as is repeatedly told to her) but also independent and stubborn; she loves sex and chooses the men she sleeps with. However, she’s not very discreet and that costs her. A lot. She wants to be free to make her own choices at a time when women don’t have that luxury.
The characters are well developed and, as far as I know, typical of the era. There’s a deep gulf between the well-off and the poor, between men and women. The people are divided into the Norman overlords who disdain the conquered Saxons who in turn hate the Normans.
At times, the pace is very slow. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of repetition; the same characters thinking the same things over and over. One scene which could have been an action scene was seen from at least five different POVs which managed to suck out any excitement from it and I was very impatient to get to know what happens next. Then again, the part of Robin Hood legend I’m most interested in is the part where they live in the forest and rob rich people. There was very little of that in this book so I ended up wondering when the “real” story would begin. This is not that story.
I’ve read the Cheysuli series from Roberson before and liked that more. Her writing style here is very flowery and descriptive but sometimes the descriptions just don’t make sense. For example: “Better to itch than to die for want of a scratch.” “The earl held himself very erect, superficially a younger man, until one looked farther and saw that he was old.”
The reader made various accents to the characters; the Normans have slight French accents and the Saxons English ones. They were just strong enough to spice the story but not too strong. In fact, the voice and accent he gave to Little John brought to my mind Clive Mantle (who was Little John in BBC’s Robin of Sherwood). His reading was clear and I enjoyed it a lot.
The book has a sequel, Lady of Sherwood, but it doesn’t end in a cliffhanger.
May 21, 2015
Tough Travelling hosted by Fantasy Review Barn.
Each Thursday, inspired by ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ we have in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.
This week we look at DEAD GODS
Fantasyland had gods, right? And now they are dead. Dead Gods are not forgotten though, often they are still just influential to the land as they were when living.
This turned out to be almost as difficult as the previous topic but I managed to think of a few examples:
Uranos of Greek legend. Cronos killed him to become the ruler of gods. (Of course, the next generation of gods overthrew him and his fellow gods and goddesses.)
Osiris of Egyptian legend. Of course, he doesn’t stay dead but becomes the ruler of underworld instead.
Almost all Norse deities: Elizabeth Bear’s All the Windwracked Stars is set after Ragnarok and only four characters from the Norse legends survive. Sort of. In some incarnation of Thor comics the pantheon is also wiped out (and then resurrected).
In Thor storyline collected in The God Butcher and Godbomb, a lot of deities from other planets are wiped out.
Greek gods except for Ares (and Aphrodite and a few others I think?) in Xena, the Warrior Princess.
The gods in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife books. People sometimes curse the dead gods but they aren’t mentioned otherwise. The first book is “Beguilement”.
I also have vague memories of a book or perhaps a comic book where a whole city was built inside (or on top of) the body of a dead god. But I can’t remember where! Has anyone else read it, please?
May 20, 2015
A humorous fantasy book.
Publication year: 2004
Page count: 246
The book is part of my TBR challenge and for once I got a book with the monthly theme. This month it’s books which were published over 10 years ago. I’ve already read 12 books from my TBR this year!
Kevin is the Prince of Rassendas and like many unmarried Princes of the Twenty Kingdoms, he’s come to woo Princess Rebecca of Deserae. The Princess is blond, beautiful, and buxom but also nicknamed the Ice Princess. To Kevin’s dismay, the Prince most likely to marry Rebecca is Lord Logan, a military hero. While Kevin has also served in the military, he was a supply officer. He also has a great disadvantage to begin with: his father in known as Eric the Cool and Kevin is desperately trying to earn a better nickname. Still, Kevin knows Rebecca because he’s been to Deserae before and they’re already in love. But the princess has to marry according to her father’s wishes and the king of Deserae is hugely influenced by his Council of mostly businessmen. So, Kevin and Rebecca are trying to make Kevin the best choice for the council.
However, when Deserae’s Ancient Artifact Model Seven is stolen by the local Evil Overlord, the king declares that whomever returns the Artifact, will marry Rebecca. Everyone thinks it will be Lord Logan who, after all, leads the Black Guards. But Kevin grabs “the Handbook of Practical Heroics” (not to be confused with the “Handbook of Practical Fly-Fishing” by the same author) and heads towards the Fortress of Doom. Meanwhile, Rebecca, or Becky as she’s referred to most of the book, thinks that if she can return the Artifact, she can marry whomever she wants.
The book pokes fun at many fantasy clichés. There’s discussion on if the Comic Sidekick has to actually be funny and how many dogs one has to kick to be declared evil. The Fortress of Doom has guided tours for tourists and the gift shop is almost inescapable. The book also pokes fun at clichés about male and female characters: a man will always (try to) sleep with other women no matter how in love he is and a woman will always lie to her man, even (especially?) when she’s furious about his lies to her.
Still, I think that best jokes center on the Evil Overlord, Lord Voltmeter (He Who Must Be Named). He muses about heredity governing systems vs (male) democracy:
That was not such a bad thing. When power went to the eldest heir, there was a pretty good chance that the man who inherited it would not be a complete lunatic. Whereas when men competed for positions of power, it was generally acknowledged that the ones who got it were invariably the ones who could least be trusted with it.
Men like Voltmeter.
and about his evil stance:
He stood in the center of the room, his head thrown back in silent laughter, his arms raised above his head, his fists clenched in that famous, overtly dramatic gesture known to theatre students everywhere as “milking the giant cow”. Yes, it was hokey and clichéd, and Voltmeter knew it, but he loved doing that gesture anyway, the quintessential stance of a man mad with power. He practiced it several times a week.
This gesture is actually more familiar to me from comics than fantasy; it immediately brought to my mind Dr. Doom, Ultron, and Kang.
Lord Voltmeter has the Evil Assistant and lots of minions, not to mention the Diabolical Plan to take over the world. While Kevin is somewhat unusual protagonist (a diplomat, not a fighter) and Becky is a plucky heroine, I think that Lord Voltmeter steals the show.
May 16, 2015
Collects AVX: Consequences 1- 5
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artists: Tom Raney, Jim Charalampidis, Steve Kruth, Allen Martinez, Scott Eaton, Andrew Hennessy, Gabriel Hernandez Valta
Spoilers to Avengers vs. X-Men!
This almost feels like the pay-off for the huge cross-over. (I really don’t have anything against mindless, super powered fisticuff! Really!) Wakanda is now closed to all mutants when Black Panther tries to rebuild his nation (Hmm… I’m not aware of any Wakandan mutants. Surely there must be some?)
Scott is in prison after the things he’s done and he’s in a private prison which has a whole cell block just for mutants. Only Scott and one other mutant are there but apparently the plan is to eventually populate it with other mutants. Scott has an inhibitor on so he can’t use his powers. In fact, if he tries to activate them, he gets zapped with pain. Still, putting Cyclops into a prison built for humans is a big mistake. He’s also convinced that he did the right thing, except for the killing. Of course, the Phoenix force did restore mutants to the world so it turned out that he was right, after all.
Wolverine, Iron Man, and Captain America try to talk sense into him with varying success. In the end, Cyclops is a wanted murderer on the run from the law and Wolverine runs a school for mutant kids. Who could have predicted that one?
Meanwhile, Hope is trying to find her dad, Cable. He’s left a note saying that she shouldn’t look for him but she does anyway. She tries a little taste of “ordinary life”, too.
In the end, this leads to the All-New X-Men comic.
Each issue has a different artist but their styles aren’t drastically different so it wasn’t a problem for me.
May 14, 2015
Collects Avengers vs. X-Men #0–12, Material from Marvel Point One
Writers: Matt Fraction, Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Frank Cho, Jason Keith, John Romita Jr., Scott Hanna, Adam Kubert, Jim Mahfood, Oliver Coipel, Mark Morales, Adam Kubert, Kohn Dell
Once again, I read the Finnish issues which included also the A vs X issues, which essentially have just a fight between two characters, so they don’t really add anything to the storyline, with the exception of Hope vs Wanda.
The Phoenix Force is coming back to Earth and the Avengers are worried and want to stop it. But for some reason Cyclops thinks that it will bring rebirth to the mutant race. Everyone is convinced that the new host will be Hope Summers. Cyclops wants to train her and Captain America wants to get Hope to safety to, er, Avengers Tower I guess. Why he would think it’s a safer place than Utopia, I don’t know. And it turns out that Wolverine is so terrified of Phoenix that he’s preparing to kill Hope.
The Avengers come to the Utopia Island and, surprising no-one, an epic battle between the two super hero groups starts. After, Hope heads to the Moon… and both teams send a group to grab her. But they’re too late. While the two hero groups wound each other with fists, powers, and words, the Phoenix force reaches Hope whom everyone seems to have forgotten in their eagerness to pummel each other. But she rejects it and Tony Stark hits Phoenix with his disruptor weapon which he hopes will kill the force. Instead, the force is split into five fragments which bond with Cyclops, Emma Frost, Magik, Colossus, and Namor.
The Phoenix Five (and Hope) head back to Earth and proceed to make it a paradise. The Avengers, well, are suspicious of them and continue to, er, fight back against such generosity. Of course, everything goes horribly wrong.
Usually cross-over events end without anything changing. This one’s different. It launched the Marvel NOW line which changed the X-Men and the Avengers teams.
The storyline is essentially interesting: Cyclops is fighting for the survival of his species while Cap wants to keep the whole world safe. I for one don’t really understand why Scott thinks that Phoenix would do that. Of course, this is his batshit insane phase (I’m firmly convinced that somewhere before he started to cheat on Jean with Emma, he was switched with an evil/insane version from one of the other Earths) so who knows why he does anything anymore. The characterization of many characters is weird here; apparently they just follow their designated leader without any questions asked until near the end. Does that sound like the X-Men for you? Or the Avengers? In addition to Pietro and Wanda, the Beast and Wolverine and his whole school is on the Avengers’ side. So this is a very exiting plotting, at least on paper, and has great artists but it feels a forced confrontation to me, just an excuse to get a lot of hero versus hero fights. Much like Civil War felt to me, earlier. The last parts have some better characterization, though.
But it brought about interesting changes to the Marvel universe and that’s (usually) a good thing.
Next Page »