September 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’s topic is PORTALS TO ANOTHER LAND

Fantasyland often has some unique entry points; not every traveler is born within its boundaries. It is a regular event for someone from a non-magical place to suddenly find themselves in this world of dragons, magic, and danger.
I haven’t read much portal fantasy and I associate it with children’s books.

Narnia: the first one which comes to mind is the wardrobe in “the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” which led to the world of eternal winter and talking animals where humans were just a legend.

Wonderland: Alice fell down the rabbit hole and ended up in a very strange world indeed.

Oz: Dorothy flew with a tornado into in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and found quite a magical world.

But a few books meant for adults also use an entry point to fantasy land:

The London Below: in “Neverwhere” Richard Mayhew is drawn into a side of London which is invisible for the ordinary people.

The Woerld: in “Miserere” teenagers are sometimes drawn into a rather harsh magical world through portal.

Fionavar: five ordinary students are drawn into a magical world. I’ve only the haziest of memories of this story because it’s been a very long time since I read “the Fionavar Tapestry”.

A case could be made for:

Barsoom: while Mars isn’t literally a magical place, in “A Princess of Mars” John Carter was the only Earthman to be able to fly through space to get there.

An independent sequel to the Reindeer Moon; a historical fantasy book set in the Paleolithic Age.

Publication year: 1991
Format: print
Page count: 316
Publisher: Pocket Books

This book is set among a different tribe and about 10 years after the events in the Reindeer Moon. It’s written in first person and the main character is Kori, a young man. He’s the son of Swift, who was a secondary character in the previous book, but because Swift and Aal, Kori’s mother, have divorced Kori has grown up among her mother’s people. Even though Kori thinks that he’s already a grown man, his mother’s people treat him like a child and this frustrated him. When Swift visits the tribe, Kori sees his father pretty much for the first time and immediately starts to hero worship Swift. When Swift leaves, Kori goes with him.

Swift came to Aal’s people to find a wife for himself. Swift already has a wife that she’s childless. The only person he’s interested in is Pinesinger and so he gives gifts to her parents and takes the young woman with him. However, Kori and Pinesinger had sex before so the situation is a bit awkward for them. Swift gives his son a wife, but the little girl is just a couple of years old so Kori has to wait for her to grow up which frustrated him.

So, Kori starts a new life with his father’s people. While most of the things they do are familiar to him, hunting deer, reindeer, gathering fuel and berries etc., they have some customs which are unfamiliar to him and nobody bothers to tell him, so he has to learn through mistakes. Then one day, he encounters a strange woman who is swimming in the river. Kori immediately wants her and promptly kidnaps her. However, this could start a fight between her people and Swift’s people, so the men are worried and want Kori to take her back. But Kori keeps her.

Many of the elements from the Reindeer Moon are the same as in this book: the harsh struggle for survival in an environment which can be unpredictable and sometimes starkly hostile. But there are differences, too, and I was a bit surprised by them. The biggest of them were rigid gender roles. Yanan’s tribe was just two small families so everyone had to do what they could and they sat around the same camp fire. But here men hunt and women do pretty much everything else. They even have separate camp fires: one for men and one for women. Men also talk about women disparagingly which I don’t remember reading in the first book at all. Right from the start Kori tells us that men are “open like daylight” and women are “closed as darkness” full of secrets and anger. When something goes wrong a woman is blamed and when something goes right a man gets the credit no matter who has actually done these things. Also, men own women, hunting grounds, and lodges. A man can have multiple wives but a woman can have only one husband at a time. Teaching skills seems to be pretty rigidly defined by gender. One of the women in Swift’s camp hunts, but not well; of course most of the time she does other work and so lacks the experience that the men have.

Maybe I should have expected that but I’m still disappointed. All this gave the tale an undercurrent of misogyny which rather soured the reading for me.

I think Kori is a teenager by modern standards even though he thinks of himself as an adult. He’s a good hunter and could be a lot better if he got more experience and guidance. He’s frustrated because he can’t get that with his mother’s people and much happier when he moves to his father’s people. Yet, he’s very impulsive and headstrong. When he abducts the strange woman and makes her his slave, he isn’t really interested in her; he just lusts after her and wants the children he’ll force her to bear. He doesn’t bother to learn her language or to find out anything about her customs. Nor does he bother to teach her his language. One of the other women does learn her language, so it’s not impossible. Kori even renames the woman Muskrat; she tells him her name and he refuses to use it.

The tribes seems to be very xenophobic. When Muskrat has different skills and uses them, the others make fun of her and Kori feels that she shames him. They also constantly compare her to an animal just because she has different customs. Especially different religious customs frighten them.

In the Reindeer Moon, Swift saw that it’s possible for a wolf to help humans to hunt. However, that wolf befriended a young girl and Swift abused the wolf so that wolf wouldn’t work with Swift. Now, he tries again but again he doesn’t seem to understand that an animal will work only with the person who is kind to it and feeds it. Swift doesn’t bother to do that. This subplot interested me a lot but it was just a small part of the book.

The book has very little magic in it, far less than in the first book.

Again, the book is very well researched.

A stand-alone fantasy set in the Paleolithic Age.

Publication year: 1988
Format: print
Page count: 393
Publisher: Pocket Books

Yanan is a young girl living with a small group of people, including her mother, father, and little sister Meri. They live in tundra where part of the year their world is covered in snow and survival becomes even more of a struggle than during the summer. The people have to rely on each other and work hard to survive. Most of their days are spent setting traps, hunting (and often coming back empty handed), and gathering berries, roots, and even pine corns to eat. Because the group have several people, some of them have the time and energy to make clothing, too. It’s written in first person.

This is Yanan’s coming of age story. She’s a willful girl whose life isn’t easy, admittedly sometimes because she defies customs and is punished for it. The people she lives with form an extended family and it’s important to get along with everyone. But that’s not easy for a teenager.

The book has some fantasy elements, too. In the second chapter Yanan reveals to us that when she died, her group’s shaman (her aunt Teal) captured her spirit so that Yanan could help her people after death, too. She can take the form of an animal and rematerialize into the world. As an animal, she needs to eat and sleep, and mates sometimes, too. Teal and the group’s other shaman command her to help the tribe but it seem to me that the spirits can’t really do much. The group has another servitor spirit who was also part of the tribe before he died. However, when the sprits take animal form, they often seem to forget who they are and just live as animals until the shamans call them back.

The authors has done a lot of research and notes the sources at the back. I think it’s an excellent glimpse into the world where our ancestors could have lived in (excluding the magic, of course).

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’s topic is MAGIC SYSTEMS

A system. For Magic. Don’t pretend y’all were not waiting for this one.

There are lots of magic systems so I’m going to list just the ones I’m most familiar with or which most impressed me.

I’m a long time paper and pen roleplayer so the most familiar system to me is the one used in the original Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game where the wizard or priest learned spell and then “forgot” it. It could only be used again after he or she slept. I believe this was originally from Jack Vance’s books.

Inherited magic is used by lots of books, comics, and games. I think I was introduced to it by the ElfQuest comics: a person is born with certain kind of magic and can use it with concentration. It’s kind of the superpower type magic. Lots of fantasy books use this magic, for example Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye.

Another one is true names: if you know the true name of someone (or something) you can command it. This is also used in ElfQuest where most of the elfs have secret soul names and also in LeGuin’s Earthsea books.

Headology is the magic used by Granny Weatherwax – and very successfully.

Magic schools: in these universes you go to school to learn spells just like any other school subject or are an apprentice to a wizard. Diane Duane’s Young Wizard series is an example.

Learning from books without formal education system: Buffy, of course, and some other fantasy TV shows, such as Sleepy Hollow.

Casting spells with music: The most recent example I can think of is Carol Berg’s Song of the Beast.

In the newest books, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series has very intricate system where the magic user can eat certain types of metals and get certain powers from them. Most people are born with the ability to use only one or two types of metals, though.

Sci-fi thriller.

Publication year: 2014
Format: Audio
Running time: 13 hours and 46 minutes

Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Jeff Gurner

John Grady is a brilliant scientist who has just invented a way to manipulate gravity. However, when he and his team shares the news with John’s mentor, a retired physicist, a group of apparent religious fanatics attacks the lab. However, they turn out to work for a shadowy group called the Bureau of Technology Control. The Bureau’s aim is to control any tech which could change the world. They capture Grady (and his team but Grady is separated from them) and give him a choice: join them or become their prisoner for the rest of his life.

The Bureau has fantastic tech: various very advanced weapons and communication methods but also the cure for cancer and the ability to end hunger. Yet, they don’t share the tech because they claim that the tech will cause chaos and even the collapse of the civilized world. They themselves use it, though. Grady doesn’t want to join them so he’s sent on an island all alone. After some weeks of isolation, the Bureau sends an agent in a robot body to ask if Grady now wants to join them. Again, he refuses and this time he’s sentenced to a secret facility where he’s tortured by an A.I. until he agrees to co-operate.

The book has a couple of other POV characters. One of them is Hedrick, the head of the Bureau. He’s pretty much straight-forward villain hungry for power. Another is an FBI agent who was investigating the attack at Grady’s lab. She’s a hard working agent loyal to her bosses. Another is Alexis who is the Bureau’s creature. Literally because she’s an advanced human created by the Bureau. Her lifespan is much longer than a normal human’s and she’s also more beautiful, faster, and stronger. She also emits pheromones which make her irresistible to most men and some women. But she’s also literally the property of the Bureau which means that her whole life is constantly monitored and she can’t have children. She’s grown up thinking that the Bureau is really a benevolent organization.

This is a fast-paced SF thriller. The first few chapters have a lot of tech jargon but it’s definitely worth getting past it. Grady is in a horrible situation, tortured and isolated by a very powerful organization which is led by paranoid, megalomaniac Hedrick. The Bureau was started as a US institution but is by now deeply undercover and influences the whole world.

Grady never thinks that the Bureau might have some sort of point and the Bureau is shown as unrepentant, manipulative bad guys. I was also a bit disappointed in how stereotypical Alexis turned up to be: she’s a woman so of course she wants to have kids. Her “superpower” is… being very beautiful and desirable to all guys and yet she apparently doesn’t have sex because she can’t know if a guy wants her only because of the pheromones.

But these things aside, I really enjoyed this book and might look up Suarez’s earlier work. This book was in Audible’s 2 books for 1 credit promotion so I got it almost at random. Turned out to be a good choice!

Collects X-Men Forever vol.2 issues 6-10

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: Mike Grell, Greg Adams, Tom Grummett, Ron Lim, Cory Hamscher, Nelson, Hennessy

The Marauders are back! Mr. Sinister is supposedly dead but isn’t. And he’s a different person in this world. He sends the cloned Marauders to get Scott’s son Nathan from the Summers’ Cove in Canada. Fortunately, the Starjammers, Havok, and Polaris are there to protect him. Wounded Corsair manages to teleport to the mansion and brings the X-Men to the fight, too.

One-handed, blind Sabertooth fights against his clone. But Mr. Sinister has another dirty trick up his sleeve: he’s also cloned Wolverine. Kitty faces him and during the battle the clone wounds her grievously. But she seems to have more and more of old Logan in her: besides being more bloodthirsty than ever and having one adamantium claw, Kitty now has a healing factor, sharper sense of smell, and manifests long claws in her left hand.

After the fight, Kitty, li’ Ro, Jean, and Gambit stay with Corsair while the rest return to the mansion. Jean is worried about Kitty who behaves more and more like Logan. She has nightmares about the clone and thinks in Japanese. She realizes that the clone Wolverine isn’t dead and that he’s gone to Japan, so Kitty follows him there. Ro and Lockheed have hidden in the shuttle which Kitty uses and so they come accidentally along.

The final issue in the collection is set in Japan. Clan Yashida and the assassin guild the Hand are now allies, as Kitty sees when skulking around the Yashida mansion. Then Wolverine attacks and chases Kitty, li’ Ro, and Lockheed around Japan. In the end, he’s defeated for now but Mariko Yashida, Wolverine’s former love, captures li’ Ro to use her as leverage. Mariko is now part of Consortium because Logan’s betrayal wounded her so deeply that she now wants to destroy all mutants. The Consortium wants to ally themselves with Ororo who is now the Queen of Wakanda, after T’Challa’s death. However, Ororo isn’t keen on working with people who have betrayed her. So, Mariko offers her little ‘Ro.

The collection ends in a cliffhanger.

Mr. Sinister is my least favorite X-Men enemy so I wasn’t happy to see him back. But I like the Marauders, the cloned Wolverine and Mariko so I ended up really liking this collection. Another subplot has Ghost Panther who is a new character in Genosha. This all leads to the next, and final, collection, where Ororo’s mystery is finally solved.

A collection of SF, fantasy, and horror short stories by women about female characters.
Publication year: 2014
Format: ebook
Page count: 420
Publisher: Silence in the Library

Mary Robinette Kowal: “First Flight”. This was a time travel story. In this world, people can be sent back only during their own lifetime. So the time traveler is a very old woman who has been sent back in time to record the first flight.
Sherwood Smith: “Commando Bats”. Athena gives superpowers to three old women who don’t even know each other. What will they do with the powers? The main character has suffered a stroke and is in wheelchair.
C. A. Verstraete: “The Songbird’s Search”. Marietta is a plain woman but her voice and talent for singing is without an equal.
Alma Alexander: “Vision”. How history become religion and myth.
Cleolinda Jones: “The World to Come”. In 1860, a female doctor and her friends explore a haunted house and the story behind the haunting.
Kelly Swails: “The Destruction of Society by the Fairer Sex, volume 2”. This is a “scholarly article” exploring the Watership Incident during election day 1893. It has a lot of footnotes and rather condescending attitude towards women, intentional, of course.

Nisi Shawl: “White Dawn”. The setting here was fascinating. Animals such as cats, dogs, and elephants have been modified so that they are now sentient. There are some people who don’t like that but the animals and humans who love them have formed their own community.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail: “Looking back”. The Countess Chardworth is in a difficult position and she tries to solve it with science. But she got far more than she wanted.

Cynthia Ward: “Whoever fights monsters”. Set in London 1891, the main character is looking for someone who wronged her.
Janine Spendlove: “Millie”. I’m a sucker for good time travel stories and while this was a bit predictable, it was well written and enjoyable.
Vicki Johnson-Steger: “Burly and Cavendish Blend”. This was fun adventure set in Victorian times and in Egypt. Abigail Watts is a very plainspoken young American woman. She’s also an inventor and has spent a lot of time in Egypt. So, when her cousin Dawson Willoughby finds a threat against Britain brewing in Egypt, he wastes no time in commandeering his cousin and going to Egypt to ferret out the rebels.

Tricia Barr: “Mission Accomplished”. Gemini Reed is a soldier in a war against alien invaders. While drafted into a new mission, she struggles with her memories of a previous mission.
D.L. Stever: “Vernon’s Angel”. A short and cute story about Little One who is a very little spirit trying to earn her wings to become a guardian angel.
Tera Fulbright: “Not Broken, Just Bent”. Many soldiers were broken in a war against alien creatures and Anna Chase is one of them. But she has a new job now: recruiting other former soldiers for the continuing war. She doesn’t like it, but has to earn her living.
Conley Lyons: “Oh Sisters Let’s Go Down to the River”. Mary is one of several children who leave in a homestead. One day, it’s her turn to wash the well and she finds a something quite unexpected.
Jean Rabe: “Visage”. Devon’s father owns a cosmetics company and he’s gone missing on a trip in Amazon to find new plants. Devon hires a crew and goes after him.

Tanya Spackman: “Moon Fall”. Amaia Bradley’s mother has just died and while going through her things, Amaia finds out that she has an older half-sister who was given to adoption. Then the whole world finds out that about five months from now a giant meteorite is going to hit the Moon and all life will end on Earth.

Jennifer Brozek: “Janera”. Jan Surta is a young girl living on a farm with her mother. One day, she finds her mother shot in their home and Jan finds out that she’s now who she thinks she is. Apparently, this is the opening of a new YA book.
Maggie Allen: “Lunar Camp.” Bee’s parents force her to go on a summer camp on the Moon. Bee hates it because she loves plants and Moon doesn’t have them.

Gail Z. Martin: “Retribution”. Cassidy Kincaid owns an antique and curio shop but in reality she and her friends hunt dangerous magical and supernatural items and take them away before the wrong people can get them. In this story they find a deck of cards and a flask from the 1920s.
Diana Peterfreund: “Huntress Sinister”. Set in a Cloister of (former) unicorn hunters, Melissende Holtz is one of the young women training there. She detests the Chosen One whom she thinks gets all the credit for no reason.

Jean Marie Ward: “A Gap in the Fence”. Ana is a ten-year-old girl and she thinks that she can see fairies. Her best friend is Shari and her dog has been ill for a long time. Ana overhears that Shari’s mother intends to secretly put down the dog. Maybe the fairies can heal the dog?

Short story collection can be a mixed bag sometimes. However, all of the stories were at least entertaining and I quite liked most of them. My favorites were Kowal’s time travel story, Ward’s (“Whoever fights monsters”) very short tale with familiar characters in new a situation, Lyons’ ghostly western flavored story, Spackman’s very intimate end-of-the-world story, and Allen’s “Lunar Camp”. Quite a few of the stories are part of a larger world, so the reader can sample them here.

The main characters are quite diverse. Most of them fall into the usual 20-30 years old women but there were also several children and a couple of old women, one of them disabled. That was great.

Genres range from urban fantasy to military science fiction and a couple of horror stories.

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