March 2016

Collects Excalibur 42-50.
Writer: Alan Davis
Artists: Alan Davis, Mark Farmer

When Claremont left Excalibur and Davis took over, he brought fun back into the title and also started to tie up the plots Claremont left unresolved. These stories have a lot of funny moments, even when another subplot deals with more serious matters, such as Meggan’s quest for her family. The interdimensional police force is especially funny with various Captain Britains from alternate dimensions. So is Technet. Kylun and Kurt’s first meeting was also very funny. This is one of the best Excalibur collections. In this collection, Davis ties up Roma’s manipulations, shows us some of Meggan’s past, and introduces new members, too. All of the issues are available from Marvel Unlimited.

The collection starts with a giggle when Technet attacks the team. The team (Captain Britain, Meggan, Shadowcat, Lockheed, Phoenix, and Nightcrawler) are rather tired from rescue efforts so a talking egg which changes into a talking chick takes them by surprise and blows up the lighthouse. But Horatio Cringebottom from the Ministry for Cross-time Transport Regulation Monitor and Control freezes the villains. Horatio and his engineer Bert have come to fix Widget so that he won’t jump in time anymore. Despite Kitty’s protestations they take Widget apart and put him back together. Horatio also gives a message to Gatecrasher: the Omniversal Majestrix has cancelled the search for Phoenix and exiled Technet to Earth. In response, Technet pleads Excalibur for help and Kurt allows them to stay in the lighthouse. And Kylun is introduced.

In the next issue, Technet has pretty much taken over the lighthouse and Brian is fed up with them. The aliens are supposed to repair the damages their bomb did to the building but unfortunately, they seem to be damaging it more. Brian’s frustrations boil over and he confronts Kurt about Kurt’s feeling about Meggan. It all descends into a fist fight, Meggan flying off, and the Omniversal Police Force kidnapping Brian to answer for his crimes. Also: lots of shirtless Brian!

In the next issue, Meggan is trying to get in touch with her past and Rachel is helping her. In Otherworld, Brian faces the accusations and is sentenced to death – still shirtless. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard Commander Thomas wants Excalibur’s help with series of burglaries which apparently have a supernatural element. However, since Kurt is the only team member in residence (Kitty has left to an archeological dig with Alistaire), there’s only one solution.

Issue 45 introduces the N-Men: Technet in new uniforms and Kurt leading them! Also, Kylun’s quest to free his world, Ee’rath, kicks into high gear.

The next issue focuses on Meggan and Rachel in Germany looking for Meggan’s family. Meggan finds some answers and Rachel realizes that keeping the Phoenix dormant heals her fragmented memory. Meanwhile, Kulyn’s tale takes a tragic turn: his lady love is killed by an evil mage Necrom. Kylun follows the villain to Excalibur’s lighthouse and we finally hear Kylun’s full story.

The next issue introduces Cerise, an alien warrior woman with light/energy powers and Brian confronts Roma. Also, the team hears that the Earth apparently has only 78 hours left to exist. This starts the countdown to the explosive issue 50.

In the next issue, Necrom kills a lot of people to get himself to full power. Meanwhile, Excalibur is looking a strategy in order to survive.

In the final issue it’s Excalibur against their ultimate foe!

Collects: Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis 1-4, Indiana Jones: Thunder in the Orient 1-6, Indiana Jones and the Arms of Gold 1-4.
Writers: Hal Barwood, Noah Falstein, William Messner-Loebs, Dan Barry, Mike Richardson, Lee Marrs
Artists: Dan Barry, Karl Kesel, Dan Spiegel, Andy Mushynsky, Leo Durañona

This collection has three stories which are practically stand-alones. In the Fate of Atlantis, we’re introduced to a former archeologist, current swindle artist Sophia Hapgood who is also a major character in the second story. She seems to have some psychic powers.

The first one is apparently a video game put into a comic book form. Indy and Sophia are looking for the fabled Atlantis, looking for clues and orichalcum balls all around the world while Nazis are after them. This was a bit confusing to me because I didn’t really get the clues but I guess they’re described better in the game and nobody thought the readers haven’t played the game. (Steam seems to have it for just six euros… Anyone played it?)

In the second story, Indy, a small Indian boy Khamal, and Sophie are looking for scrolls left by Buddha. They travel around Asia looking for clues while a Japanese General is tracking them. He wants the scrolls so that Japan can rule Asia with them. This focuses very much on running around and ducking armies and has more violence than I expected. It also feels disjointed because of that running around. On the other hand, the secondary characters are better than in the first story. I particularly liked Khamal.

In the third story, Indy meets Francisca Uribe del Arco who is a guest lecturer at Barnett Collage. But instead of teaching students, Indy and Francisca head to Buenos Aires looking for Incan gold treasure. Mysterious people attack them along the way. This is the shortest one but it holds together much better than the previous two. It was also most fun to me with Indy breaking into a museum (gasp!).

All of the stories are pretty racists and the female characters are threatened with rape in all of them; which isn’t unusual for Indy adventure. Overall, I think the Young Indiana Jones series was much better than these stories.

Today the topic of Top 10 Tuesdays is Ten Of The Best Books I’ve Read Recently.

Happily, I’ve read these in recent months:
1, Catherynne M. Valente: The Habitation of the Blessed
I loved Valente’s Orphan’s Tales series. The Prester John duology seems to be just as good.

2, Kris Nelscott: Thin Walls
I also love Rusch’s historical mystery series set in 1960s overtly racist USA.

3, Judith Tarr: Queen of the Amazons
Alexander the Great and amazons!

4, Terry Pratchett: Hogfather
Christmas in Ankh-Morpok.

5, Emmi Itäranta: Memory of Water
A haunting dystopia book about a future where clean water is strictly rationed.

6, Jeff VanderMeer: Annihilation
I ended up liking the whole trilogy despite having some minor quibbles with the ending, but I liked the first book the best.

7, Lois McMaster Bujold: Penric’s Demon
Bujold’s new fantasy novella was charming.

8, Nancy Kress: The Probability Moon
The first book in her science fiction series has a fascinating alien culture.

9, Seanan McGuire: A Rose-Red Chain
The latest in the Toby Daye series isn’t the best in the series but it was very enjoyable.

10, N. K. Jemisin: The Shadowed Sun
The second book in the duology is vivid fantasy with deep, rich world-building.

Third in the Smokey Dalton historical mystery series.

Publication year: 2004
Format: Audio
Running time: 13 hours and 16 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Mirron Willis

Set in 1968 Chicago, the racial tensions are very high and when black people are murdered, the police don’t really investigate, just mark it as gang violence. Also, the Blackstone Rangers are recruiting black boys and rising in prominence.

Smokey Dalton is living under the assumed name of Bill Grimshaw and essentially he has adopted a young boy, Jimmy. Smokey was a black detective in Memphis before he and Jimmy had to flee to Chicago and he returns to his old profession, although without any official papers.

Mrs. Alice Foster asks Smokey to find out who killed her husband, a respectable dentist. Two young people found Foster’s body and when Smokey talks to them, he realizes that something is indeed strange. At the same time, Smokey’s love Laura Hathaway is trying to get control of the company which her father left behind. But the men in control don’t want her there. Laura is white so despite a strong mutual attraction she and Smokey have decided that they can’t be together. Also, the Blackstone Rangers are trying to get Jimmy to join them. Smokey and the local parents are looking for a way to keep their kids away from the gang.

There are a lot of things going on in this book but they’re unified by the central theme: racism and the way the blacks were treated. This is not an easy read but I think it’s an excellent portrayal of the times.

The reader is great. His rich voice suits Smokey and the series very well.

The third and final book in the Southern reach horror/SF trilogy.

Publication year: 2014
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2016
Translator: Einari Aaltonen
Format: print
Page count: 368
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Like

The final book answers some questions about Area X but not all. In fact, it can frustrate readers (like me) who want a resolution, rather than a story where the journey is more important than the destination. Still, it’s well written and has a creepy and wonderful atmosphere and very good characters.

This book is again somewhat different from the previous two. It has several point-of-view characters, mostly in third person. One is also written in the second person and one in first person. Some continue the story from the previous books but a couple show us the beginning, the people who lived on the place which became the mysterious Area X. We still get surprised about characters which have been in the previous books, which I rather liked. It’s also set in Area X which I loved.

I was sucked in quickly and read the book in just a few days.

I’m still knee-deep in snow here in Finland but it’s already time for Once Upon a Time X. Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting the event:

Monday, March 21st (my wife Mary’s birthday) marks the official start date of the tenth annual Once Upon a Time Challenge. This is a reading and viewing and gaming event that encompasses four broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology, including the seemingly countless sub-genres and blending of genres that fall within this spectrum. The challenge continues through June 21st and allows for very minor (1 book only) participation as well as more immersion depending on your reading/viewing/gaming whims.

Don’t like the word “challenge”? We have something special just for you.

Come away, and I’ll tell you more…

“I felt a curious thrill, as if something had stirred in me, half wakened from sleep. There was something very remote and strange and beautiful behind those words, if I could grasp it, far beyond ancient English.”

~J.R.R. Tolkien, on reading the Cynewulf lines about the star Earendel

Now, for the particulars:

The Once Upon a Time X Challenge has a few rules:

Rule #1: Have fun.

Rule #2: HAVE FUN.

Rule #3: Don’t keep the fun to yourself, share it with us, please!

Rule #4: Do not be put off by the word “challenge”.

I’ve had lots of fun in the previous events and I’m joining this year, too.

The review site is here.

Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time categories. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology… or your five books might be a combination from the four genres.

I still have lots of fantasy in my shelves and I’m determined to read as much of them as I have the time. So five books should be easy. 🙂

My TBR includes:
Aliette de Bodard’s Aztec inspired fantasy, Anne Lyle’s Elizabethian alternate history/fantasy, The Drawing of the Dark by Timothy Powers, and Dawn’s Early Light by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris, a steampunk book.

Of course, I’ll also read comics. Recently, I found out that the Finnish library system has some of the collected editions of Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant strips. I read them when I was growing up but not all of them were translated. Now, I’ll have the chance to revisit them and also read strips I haven’t read before.

Has anyone else read them?

Books read:
1, Anne Lyle: Merchant of Dreams (fantasy)
2, Anne Lyle: The Prince of Lies (fantasy)
3, Patricia C. Wrede: Snow White and Rose Red (fairy tale)
4, Prince Valiant vol. 1: 1937-1938 (historical fantasy)
5, Catherynne M. Valente: the Folded World
6, Jordanna Max Brodsky: The Immortals
7, Sebastien de Castell: Traitor’s Blade
8, Prince Valiant vol. 2: 1939-1940
9, Joanna M. Harris: The Gospel of Loki
10, Aliette de Bodard: Harbinger of the Storm
11, Aliette de Bodard: Master of the House of Darts
12, Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists edited by Chris Duffy
13, Tim Powers: The Drawing of the Dark
14, Fritz Leiber: The Swords of Lankhmar
15, Laura Resnick: Maybe You’ve Heard of Me?
16, Leslie Anderson ed.: Steampunk Fairy Tales
17, Elizabeth Wayland Barber and Paul T. Barber: When they severed Earth from the sky: How the human mind shapes myth

Collects Excalibur 51-58 and Excalibur XX Crossing

Writers: Alan Davies, Scott Lobdell
Artists: Doug Braithwaite, Will Simpson, James Frye, Steve Lightle, Ron Lim, Dwayne Turner, Joe Madueira, Jae Lee, Malcolm Jones, Rick Leonardi, Alan Davis

Mostly this was a fun collection but it has too many inconsequential one-shots and too much stuff not done by Alan Davies (for a visionary collection). But it also ties up dangling plotlines from the start of the series so that was great.

The collection starts with the latter: what ever happened to that small human group which disappeared in the first issues? And also what happened to the small dinosaur family which was seen in a couple of scenes here and there? Well, it turns out that the human group disappeared into a parallel world where dinosaurs are the major species. This was a fun issue with a dinosaur Excalibur and Fantastic Five.

In the next issue we finally get to know everything about Rachel and Phoenix. The X-Men are called in to help Rachel who is catatonic after what happened in the previous collection. However, Rachel leaves the group to (possibly) recover in peace and isn’t seen in the rest of the collection. It has a lot of exposition but I think it was needed to clear by the situation with just how Rachel got Phoenix force.

Next is one of those inconsequential one-shots: Brian tells Meggan about his adventure with Spider-Man when they were both in collage.

Then a goofy and funny one-shot where Brian, Meggan, Kulyn, and Cerise investigate a missing people case. Lots of references to Alice in Wonderland.

Then X-Men and Excalibur special which is possibly the worst story in the collection. A new supervillain hopeful shows off his powers to Dr. Doom in an attempt to get a job as an assassin. He actually has pretty nifty powers which could have been serious trouble: he can pick people out of the time stream and put them into elsewhen. Unfortunately, he’s very bad as using them: he picks Excalibur versus the original X-Men (plus Xavier) and puts them into one-on-one fights against each other in various time lines. I actually liked the idea a lot and if he had picked more formidable opponents, it could have worked. But it didn’t. (The best thing about it was Gladiator Hank). And the fact that each fight had a different artist didn’t help.

In the next two issues, Excalibur throws a party but gets gatecrashers. Finally, the secrets behind Courtney Ross are revealed and Jamie Braddock’s situation is (mostly) cleared. Psylocke guest-stars.

In the final two issues, Excalibur finds some people turned into gold and finds out that there really are trolls under London. X-Men’s blue team (Cyclops, Psylocke, Rogue, Gambit, Jubilee, Beast) drops by as well.

The Davis issues actually have some character development with Brian realizing that he’s using violence too much and Kurt worrying about if he’s capable of leading the team (and the X-Men somewhat undermining him). Kulyn also leaves the group before the party (issue 55) which further saps Kurt’s confidence.

Fun but uneven collection.

The first book in the fantasy duology A Dirge for Prester John.

Publication year: 2010
Format: print
Page count: 270
Publisher: Night Shade Books

This book, too, has an unusual structure: it includes alternating chapters from three different books with occasional reflections from the transcriber. It has each book’s first chapters, then the second chapters etc.

Hiob von Luzern is a priest who together with other priests has searched for the legendary Prester John, a rich and pious Christian king who supposedly ruled a Nestorian Christian nation somewhere in the Orient. But when Hiob and his compatriots arrive to the Hindus River they find at first a small village. But it turns out to be far stranger place because it has a tree which instead of fruits grows books. Hiob is allowed to choose three of the books based on their covers alone and they happened to be the right ones for him. Or perhaps the wrong ones because the poor priest is plunged into heresy many times over. Unfortunately, the books also rot away quickly. As he transcribes them, parts of each book begin to molder and he’s unable to decipher them or their ends.

The first book tells of a naïve monk from Constantinople who arrives half-dead through a sea of sand to a land where he’s the only human and none have even heard of Christianity. He’s greeted by a talking lion, a woman with a snake’s body, a gryphon (talking one, of course), and a blemmyae: a woman who doesn’t have a head but instead her eyes are on her nipples and her mouth on her stomach. John is quite overwhelmed. He’s looking for the Tomb of St. Thomas the Doubter who is supposed to have come here. He tries to preach to these strange creatures but they aren’t receptive. Confused, he tries to fit this world into his own world view.

The second book tells the tale of the blemmyae woman, Hagia. She’s young by the standards of this country but this country has the Fountain of Youth and everyone is required to imbibe, so they’re all immortal. She was born to parents who plant and care for trees which grow books, that is covers and pages. The family writes down the books. She’ll have a complex relationship with John.

The third book has the stories which a nursemaid tells her three children in her care. The children’s mother rules this land of immortals.

Much like the “Orphan’s Tales” duology this is also a strange and wonderful book, inspired by ancient and medieval myths rather than Tolkien. It also looks at Christianity’s tales as just another collection of legends. It has various creatures which aren’t explained much. (That seems to frustrate some readers.) It’s wildly imaginative and wonderful.

First in a dystopian time travel series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: Audio
Running time: 15 hours and 37 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Kevin T. Collins

James Griffin-Mars comes from the far future where the Earth is a horrible place to live, suffering from a plague that affects not only humans but plants and animals, as well. Those who can afford it, have moved off-planet. But James is one of the elite who doesn’t have to worry about that. He’s a chronman who travels to the past in order to salvage technology, information, and other resources needed in the present to ChronoCom, the corporation which owns the time traveling technology. James is forbidden to bring anyone back from the past and so he’s used to thinking about the people he inevitably meets, and can’t help, as long dead. There are other rules, too, but that’s the most important one. The Chronmen suffer from lag-sickness if they jump too often but ChronoCom takes care of that by scheduling the jumps far enough apart. Also, jumping to the past can be directly dangerous, too.

James and his handler Smit have gotten a gig which should bring them enough riches that they can retire. But on James’ final mission he meets Elise Kim and is fatally smitten. Elise is going to die so James brings her back with him. After that, they’re fugitives. Both ChronoCom and Volta, the very powerful corporation behind it, are going to hunt them down.

There are several POV characters. In addition to James and Elise, there’s handler Smit and an antagonist Levin Javier Oberon who has a personal grudge against James and also works for the Evil corporation.

James isn’t a nice protagonist; he’s cynical and seen far too much death and destruction to be anything else. He’s had to bury any instinct of wanting to help other people deep. His past also troubles him; he had a mother and a younger sister who died when James was young. He’s forbidden to help them with time travel. Elise is pretty much his opposite. She’s a scientist who was working in the 21st century to fix the pollution in the seas. She was working for a non-profit organization so the world she’s yanked into is pretty horrible to her. Also, everyone she’s known are dead. She’s not sure if she can trust James.

Compared to “Just One Damned Thing After Another”, “Time Salvager” is much grimmer and less fun. But the world-building holds together better. Most of the cast are also… well, assholes. The book does have a lot of clichés: the most groan worthy might be the evil megacorporation whose employees are also evil… to everyone all the time or James’ decision to save Elise at the expense of his career and possibly life… after literally knowing her for just one day. After that scene I seriously considered just dropping it. I won’t regret finishing it but I won’t continue with the series.

I was also not a fan of the narrator. It’s hard to say what it was specifically. I just had hard time concentrating on the book.

Today the topic of Top 10 Tuesdays is Ten Books On My Spring TBR .

I’m concentrating on reading the books I already own and specifically completing the series I’ve started. So, the majority of the books I’ll be reading in spring and summer will be those.

1, Acceptance by Jeff Vandermeer
The third book in the Southern Reach horror/SF trilogy.

2, The Merchant of Dreams by Anne Lyle

3, The Prince of Lies by Anne Lyle
The second and the third books in her Elizabethian alternate history/fantasy trilogy

4, Last Day in Limbo by Peter O’Donnell

5, Dead Man’s Handle by Peter O’Donnell
The last two Modesty Blaise mysteries I own and haven’t read yet. I’m highly tempted to get the rest from the library.

6, Harbinger of the Storm by Aliette de Bodard

7, Master of the House of Darts by Aliette de Bodard
Her Aztec fantasy series books 2 and 3.

8, Dawn’s Early Light by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
The next in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences steampunk series

9, The Drawing of the Dark by Timothy Powers
I’ve got one more Powers book in my shelves, still unread

10, The Folded World by Catherynne Valente
The second book in Dirge for Prester John series. I’m reading the first one right now. Valente is coming to Finncon, our only national large SF/F convention, in July so I’m reading some of her stuff before it. I’ve also really liked the books I’ve already read from her.

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