May 2016

Third book in the science fiction series Twin-Bred.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Page count: 307

I recommend reading the first two books “Twin-Bred” and “Reach” before reading this one. This review contains spoilers for both previous books. The first book is free on Amazon.

The story is divided between two planets: Tofarn, which is the home planet for the alien Tofa, and New Landing, which was introduced in “Reach”. The Tofa are similar to humans but they have some significant biological differences which lead Dr. Mara Cadell to create the LEVI project where select host mothers carried twins, one twin a human and the other a Tofa, in an effort for the species to understand each other better. However, in the end almost all of the Twin-Bred people left Tofarn in a space ship Star Seed and later found another planet, New Landing. “Leaders” starts some years afterwards.

The Twins on New Landing are keeping in touch with their old friends in Tofarn with long-distance communication devices. However, when messages stop coming, people on both worlds are worried that the deep space relays have stopped working. They need to decide if they want to try to fix it. On Tofarn, this means building another space ship. Tofarn is also facing another possible societal upheaval and some people are trying to stop it from happening.

This is not really an adventure book and it has only a minimal amount of violence. Instead it focuses on characters, families, and change in societies.

Only one Tofa Twin-Bred stayed on Tofarn. He and his offspring Lan-sol are regarded as strange among the other Tofa and some even hate them. Jak-rad-tan and his friends are trying to work with the existing government and to keep the society stable. However, Jak-rad-tan has found a way to make an innovation in the Tofa society and many Tofa are against that. Also, some other Tofa and humans think that Lan-sol is their destined leader and are trying to put the youngster in that position, no matter if he wants it or not. And one of the Twin-Breds’ enemies, who is now in prison, is plotting.

On New Landing, Mara has tried to withdraw from public life but when the communication relays fail, she’s dragged back into the limelight. Many younger people look up to her and almost worship her which makes her very uncomfortable. Meanwhile, the research into Gliders’ society and history continues. The Gliders are an alien species on New Landing.

This was a wonderful return to familiar (to-me) characters and world. “Reach” left some unfinished business at the end and “Leaders” address them well.

This is a collection of 17 fairy tales, some of them classics like Rumplestiltskin and Little Red Riding Hood.

However, surprisingly many of them were new to me which was great. For example, I’ve never heard of “Sweet Porridge” or “Rabbit Will Not Help”. Also, I’ve encountered Baba Yaga in various other fantasy tales, such as in the Fables and Hellboy comics, but I’ve never actually read that original fairy tale. However, some of these tales have been changed to suit children and shortened.

The art style is quite simple, compared to the superhero comics I’m mostly used to.

This was a charming and eclectic collection. Highly recommended for those interested in fairy tales.

Sweet Porridge! by Bobby London
The 12 Dancing Princesses by Emily Carroll
Hansel and Gretel by Gilbert Hernandez
Puss in Boots by Vanessa Davis
Little Red Riding Hood by Gigi D. G.
The Prince and the Tortoise by Ramona Fradon and Chris Duffy
Snow White by Jaime Hernandez
The Boy who Drew Cats by Luke Pearson
Rumpelstiltskin by Brett Helquist
Rabbit Will Not Help by Joseph Lambert
Rapunzel by Raina Telgemeier
The Small-Tooth Dog by Chairse Mericle Harper
Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Graham Annable
Baba Yaga by Jillian Tamaki
Bremen Town by Karl Kerschl
Give Me the Shudders by David Mazzucchelli
Azzolino’s Story Without End by Craig Thompson

The third book in her epic Aztec fantasy series.

Publication year: 2011
Format: print
Page count: 446
Publisher: Angry Robot

The book starts about three months after the end of the previous one. The Mexica Empire has a new ruler, the Revered Speaker, but he hasn’t yet consolidated his rule with the gods. In order to do that, he needs to get lots of war captives and sacrifice them. However, when he gets back from the Coronation War, his warriors have captured only a small amount of enemies and during the welcome ceremony one of the Mexica warriors falls down, dead. Acatl suspects that he died of magic and wants to see Eptli’s body but the new Revered Speaker is a paranoid and arrogant man who seems to care more for ceremony than the health of his warriors.

It turns out that Eptli isn’t well-liked at all and Acatl has more suspects than he really needs. Soon, he finds out that Eptli was indeed slain with a spell. And the magic used is contagious. The city is facing an epidemic. Also, consequences from the decisions done in the previous book comes to haunt Acatl.

Acatl is the same humble man he was in the previous books but he has learned somethings. The rift between him and his former student Teomitl is growing because Teomitl is a royal born warrior who has now taken on the responsibilities of his station. He is also far more liked among the warriors than the current Revered Speaker who doesn’t like that.

This is a great ending to the series. However, the ending leaves possibilities for continuing the series. De Bodard has written some short stories in the same setting.

Collects Storm 6-11

Writer: Greg Pak
Artists: Al Barrionuevo, Tom Palmer, Neil Edwards, Ed Tadeo, Victor Ibanez

The stories continue from the previous collection.
In her adventure in Las Vegas, Storm’s ankle broke and so she takes a flight in an airplane back to New York. At the start of the flight, people recognize her and one of them doesn’t want to fly with her. However, the plane gets off with Storm in it. She just has the time to chat with a woman who is taking a donated organ to the recipient, when the plane is attacked. A senator is onboard and his guards assume that Storm is responsible and threaten her. However, Storm ends up protecting the plane from the attacker. Yet, when the plane finally lands, after a hard flight, Storm is arrested.

The next two issues delve into the consequences of the plane incident and of the previous collection. Some really powerful people are unhappy that Storm has dared to meddle in their affairs. This gives the previous stories some continuity.

Then Gambit! He’s now the boss of Thieves’ guild but he has a problem and wants Storm’s help. Apparently, some of his underlings have turned against him. Also, Gambit wants to rob a treasure which is guarded by none of other than Hermes himself. This is a light romp, but a really thin excuse to get a Gambit appearance.

In the final two issues, Storm returns to the school and a subplot kicks into high gear. Subplot involving… mold! Of course, when the X-Men are involved, it means deadly, cybernetic mold done by a former student. The student has a big chip on his shoulder and he believes that Storm’s (or rather Xavier’s) inclusive dream is only for the pretty people.

These issues apparently tie up some X-Men related stuff. A student named Marisol is a significant secondary character. Even though I’m not familiar with those stories, this collection mostly worked for me. It’s was a bit better than the previous volume, too. Still, these stories turn out to be average.

Well, it turned out that the title was cancelled after this. Too bad, it was just getting started.

One of my favorite X-Men has gotten her own comic! Collects Storm 1-5.

Writer: Greg Pak
Artists: Victor Ibanez, Matteo Buffagini, Scott Hepburn, David Baldeon, Jordi Tarragona, Roland Paris, Craig Yeung

I was very excited when I noticed (on Marvel Unlimited) that Storm has now her own comic. However, I thought that writing her as a lone character might be challenging. And I was right.

Storm is an integral part of the X-Men and doesn’t have her own rogue’s gallery or supporting characters. (Yes, she was the sidekick of Black Panther for a while but that doesn’t seem to have changed her at all – after the divorce she slipped right back into the X-Men as nothing had happened. Disclaimer: I haven’t read the Black Panther comics but that’s the impression I’ve gotten from others.) Interestingly enough, even though we have loads of X-Men, very few of them have had on-going spin-offs focusing on just one character, although some have had one-shots and limited series. Of course, a one-off or a limited series has a focus written in: such as the Wolverine/Kitty Pryde limited series decades ago. Storm actually had a limited series, before the wedding, which focused on her youth. However, over the years there have been significant storylines focusing on Storm, such as her second youth with Gambit, her fight with Callisto and Morlocks, and her romance with Forge. Callisto makes an appearance in this collection, too.

This collection feels somewhat disjointed at first. The first issue has Storm rushing to help people living under dictatorship in Santo Marco where the officials want her to leave. But the people want her to stay and she does. In the second issue, she deals with the consequences of that and looks for some missing orphan kids in New York. She also has lunch with Wolverine (whom she’s now apparently dating). In the third issue she confronts Forge which was inevitable, considering their past relationship. However, Forge has been portrayed as pretty nutty in recent years and Storm acknowledged that by not trusting him.

Then we get a two-parter centering on Yukio. She’s Storm’s and Logan’s friend and in part inspired Storm’s first Mohawk style and change into a harder person and a leader from the original gentle goddess. But first, we’re supposed to believe that Wolverine is really dead and Storm grieves him. But then she pulls herself together and rushes to Las Vegas to help Yukio. She’s in a wheelchair – and the boss of a large criminal organization. Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with our heroine.

It seems that these are part of a larger plot which gets into high gear in the next collection.

The writing is somewhat different from the average loner hero because Storm has a lot of responsibilities at the school and with her friends. But she also gets help when she needs it. Overall, I liked this beginning and I’m eager to see where it will go.

Booking Through Thursday

Last week’s question was: What do you do with books you weed out of your library? If you’re like me, you find this VERY hard to do, but you want your old books to have a good, happy life somewhere … so where do you send them? What do you do with them?

Most of the time I take them to a second-hand bookstore… and get more books from them. Or DVDs. Some I’ve donated to the library and some given to people I know. I also use BookMooch.

When I love a book (or series) I get it from Audible as an audio book (when its available) and put the book on BookMooch or take it to a second hand bookstore.

And today: How often (if ever) do you weed out your library?

I used to weed my printed books and comics before moving. However, now I live in a smaller place so in order to buy more I should get rid of others. (But I’m terrible at weeding.) I haven’t yet weeded ebooks or comics.

The fourth in the Smokey Dalton historical mystery series.

Publication year: 2005
Format: Audio
Running time: 12 hours and 41 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Mirron Willis

Smokey is a black man in 1969 Chicago and a private detective. He has continued his romance with Laura Hathaway, a rich white woman, and it brings some problems with it. The story starts with Laura and Smokey taking part in a charity fundraiser for orphaned black children. Laura’s suggestion of white families adopting them isn’t received well, to say the least.

On their way to Smokey’s apartment, Smokey hears a woman calling for help from his neighbor’s apartment. He and Laura investigate and find an unknown black woman bleeding heavily. They get her to a hospital where the doctors refuse to help her because they suspect that she’d done an abortion, which is illegal. Laura won’t stand for that, though. Smokey tries to find out the strange woman’s identity and ends up investigating on who is responsible for the botched abortion the stranger suffered through. In another plot thread, Smokey works for Laura inspecting the buildings her company owns. When he finds the remains of a baby, he just has to find out who is responsible.

Also, Black Stone Rangers and the Panthers play a significant role in the story.

Several plot threats make this book is bit more sprawling that the previous ones but no less enjoyable. Many familiar characters return and Smokey’s adoptive son Jimmy starts to act out on his teenaged impulses. Jimmy feels left out of Smokey’s life when Smokey deals with problems he doesn’t want Jimmy to know about. The boy’s also afraid that Smokey will be injured or even killed. Even though Smokey’s friends would no doubt take care of the boy if that happened, it’s not enough for the boy.

Nelscott describes Chicago wonderfully even though the racism is hard to read about. And racism does worm its way into pretty much everything. As far as I can tell, the characters are realistic for their time.

The story is a chilling reminder that women’s current rights haven’t existed for long and people are again, or still, working to diminish or destroy them altogether. Even here in Finland.

Another excellent book in the series.

The second book in her epic Aztec fantasy series.

Publication year: 2011
Format: print
Page count: 416
Publisher: Angry Robot

Acatl-tzin is the High Priest of the Dead, but in the Aztec society where warriors and the glory of warfare is the most valued, he’s not actually in a powerful position. After all, Mitctlantecuhtli governs over people who have not died in battle or as a sacrifice. Even his two fellow high priests look down on Acatl because the Lord of the Dead doesn’t have much influence and Acatl’s parents were peasants. In addition to doing the rites for the dead, Acatl investigates murders.

When the story starts, the ruler of the Mexica empire, the Revered Speaker Axayacatl-tzin, has just died from wounds in battle. The Reverend Speaker is also the representative of his god on Earth which means that his death weakens the magical protections of the capital and in time star-demons can break through to travel to Earth and start killing people.

But the politically (and religiously) powerful people are far more interested in fighting for earthly power than appointing the next ruler before the protections fail. The just dead ruler had been a respected warrior but his chosen heir, his older brother, is a weak man who has wanted the throne his whole life and schemed to get it. Other men desire the throne, too, and poor Acatl is caught in the middle, trying to warn people about the magical consequences if the next ruler isn’t appointed quickly.

Also, the same day when the Revered Speaker dies, another man is found dead, brutally torn to pieces, right in the royal palace. Acatl is convinced that it’s the work of the star-demons which means that someone is summoning these enemies of humanity right inside the palace. The summonings weaken the buckling protections so Acatl wants to find the sorcerer as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have political clout or diplomatic skills so questioning the most powerful men in the Empire is rather difficult. However, he has a couple of trusted friend he can rely on. One of them is his student Teomitl, the younger brother of the former Revered Speaker.

This is a setting where the gods are very much alive and sometimes even walk among humans. Almost all of them are cruel and hungry for blood; they require blood sacrifices to work magic. I found the explanation for this (near the end) fascinating.

This time we meet the people at the very top of Aztec society – and they’re not nice men. Pretty much all of them scheme and backstab to their heart’s content. (In fact, I felt rather sorry for Axayacatl who seemed like a decent person and had to deal with this lot on a daily basis. Or maybe he fought in wars so often to get away from them?) Also, magical, religious, and political power is intertwined and inseparable. This is quite a dark society and the storyline is also very dark, punctuated by human and animal sacrifice. The Lord of the Dead doesn’t require human sacrifices, though, but Acatl does have to use his own blood for spells and worship.

The Aztec society in this book has just as strong a division between the worlds of men and women as the Greeks did; women don’t participate in public life. I find this curious because I didn’t see similar division between the male and female deities; all seem equally aggressive, cruel, and bloody. But the book has only three named mortal women and I strongly suspect that only one of them (if any) is going to be seen again.

De Bodard has created a fascinating culture. Interesting enough, the book doesn’t have much violence at all but blood rituals are used often. Unfortunately, the omnibus version I’m reading doesn’t have her notes but her website has some background stuff. The mystery is pretty convoluted and because of the unfamiliar setting I don’t think the reader has a chance to solve it before Acatl.

Acatl is mostly comfortable with his life and his position as a humble priest. But now he’s taken far out of his comfort zone and forced to deal with people he comes to despise and distrust. He’s determined to do what he feels is right and to protect the people near him, and also the whole Empire. Teomitl is another honorable character trying to do the right thing, but he can also be arrogant and overconfident. After all, he is a warrior and also part of the emperor’s family. Most of the other characters have their own agendas but because of their high positions they also tend to be rather arrogant.

This is a great continuation to the series. It doesn’t end in a cliffhanger but it’s clear that the solutions are only temporary. I recommend reading the first book, Servant of the Underworld, first because it introduces the characters and the setting.

A retelling of the Norse Edda sagas from Loki’s point of view.

Publication year: 2014
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours and 7 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrators: Allan Corduner

“Loki, that’s me. Loki, the Light-Bringer, the misunderstood, the elusive, the handsome and modest hero of this particular tissue of lies.”

Apparently, this is a prequel to a YA series which I haven’t read. So it stands alone.

Loki is clearly telling his story to a modern audience because the book is full of modern, USAian sayings which have sometimes been twisted lightly to fit into Loki’s mouth (nobody in Nine Worlds rather than nobody in the world). While the adventures the gods have are from the Eddas, the voice, the motivations, and sometimes the consequences have been changed to a modern view. The stories start with the forming of the world, before Loki’s time, and end with Raknarök.

Some details have been changed, as well. For example, in the Eddas, Loki is the son of a chaos goddess and the god of the frost giants. But here, Loki forms himself from pure chaos and his true form is wildfire. In the Eddas, Loki was married and divorced several times but here he’s married against his will to a goddess he loathes and then he cheats on her repeatedly. The other deities don’t fare much better. Loki insults them as often as he can and goes out of his way to show how stupid they all are. And everything, in the end, is the fault of Loki’s blood brother, Odin.

The voice Harris gives to her Loki is pretty much flawless: arrogant, sly, devious, innocent of almost everything. Wonderful. He thinks of himself as an outsider, a scapegoat for the deities. This makes him feel lonely and justifies his actions, to himself at least.

Some of the stories are very funny, some less so. But our humble narrator is always entertaining.

The reader is also great. He has a conversational style which suits the story very well. Unfortunately, he has the habit of lowering his voice every once in a while which made it sometimes hard to hear those parts when I was driving.

A science fiction short story collection. Part of the Women in SF bundle I bought last year.

Publication year: 2012
Format: ebook
Page count: 291

The first collection (Near) contains stories set in the near future and the second one (Far) has stories set in the far future. Many of the stories focus on subtle but effective human relationships. The SF element is integral to the story and it can be a living fur coat or superhero powers. The world-building in every story ranges from great to amazing and I really enjoyed most of the stories.

The near future stories range from cyperpunk to superheroes and to just weird. It’s just amazing how easily she can write in several sub genres. Most stories also have more than one layer. The first one is a great example of multiple layers.

The Mermaids Singing, Each to Each: A few decades ago, a genetic scientist changed some willing people into mermaids. But their kids, the natural born mermaids, are savage creatures who attack humans and eat them. Lulu and the crew salvage ships, or parts of them, from earlier times and survive on the money from them. The crew just has to steer clear of the mermaids. Oh and Lulu used to be female but has changed to gender neutral.

Peaches of Immortality: Four people in high school were already cool and hip and they all went to live their own dreams. Or at least that’s what it looked like to Glen who has always been attracted to one of the cool people but never actually dated her. Then some really strange things start to happen.

Close Your Eyes: Amber is a very successful children’s book author. But she has to support her brother Lewis who is terminally ill and his medication costs a fortune. They live together in a shabby house and start to loath each other. Then Lewis finds a new hobby and for while things starts to look better.

Therapy Buddha: Lyle has just turned 40. He’s a data-seller for corporation and while he’s a loner, he’s not too unhappy with his life. But then the Buddha starts to talk. It’s a toy, really, something that tells koans and uses kitchen psychology questions. But somehow it really affects Lyle.

Ms. Liberty gets a Haircut: A superhero story! Ms. Liberty, X, Dr. Arcane, and Kilroy are looking for some new members for their still nameless group.

10 New Metaphors for Cyberspace: Exactly what the title says.

Memories of Moments, Bright as Falling Stars: The protagonist and his girlfriend Grizz find some unused memory chips and use them so that they can get out of the streets and into a better life. But it’s harder than they thought.

RealFur: The protagonist lives with her brother Larry and sister-in-law Libby. One day, Larry buys her and Libby a RealFur, a long, wearable fur which is alive. Larry is often away, working, and Libby gets more and more attached to her RealFur.

Nor Waving, But Drowining: The protagonist’s husband Emilio decides to join PsyKorps. Emilio isn’t a telepath so he’ll have to undergo surgery for an implant which will make him a telepath. His wife Jamie doesn’t understand the choice, especially because a marriage with a telepath always ends in divorce. But Emilio says that their marriage will last.

Vocobox TM: The Vocobox gives a cat an intelligence augmentation and a voicebox but the only thing Dora’s cat ever says is his own name, Raven. Dora’s children are grown and gone and her husband works long hours.

Long Enough and Just So long: Kayne runs a courier ship between Earth, Moon, Mars, and other places. Her favorite place to stay for a longer time is the Moon where her best friend lives. Together they also salvage “junk” which might turn out to be valuable. One day, they see an emancipated sexbot and become interested in him.

Legends of the Gone: Most of the human race has vanished without a trace and those left behind can’t get children anymore. The survivors live as best they can.

Futures: Flash fiction about possible futures.

Kallakak’s Cousins: Kallakak is a merchant on a space station. He’s in danger of losing his small shop and on top of things, his wife’s idiot cousins come to visit, or rather to stay as he quickly realizes.

Amid the Words of War: This is the tale of a small, insect like alien who works in a humanoid whorehouse.

Timesnip: Victoria has been timesnipped; she has been taken from the past and brought to the future. Or rather she was copied in the past: the original still stays in the past. Now, she works for the timesnip company. Her newest assignment takes her to a society which she loathes.

Angry Rose’s Lament: Paul Rutter is a former addict and a company representative. He owns the company along with other former addicts and their future is depended on the next contract. Paul is negotiating a business contract with an alien species which hasn’t made a contract with humans before. There’s a very good reason for that: they’re brain eaters.

Seeking Nothing: Sean grew up on a very old Testament settlement and now he’s gotten a job outside the planet. He’s going to be working with clones, which are labeled subhumans. He has a hobby which has never been accepted at his home: perfume making. However, that’s exactly the skill he requires in his new job. But the people, the real humans, in the new job shun him.

A Querulous Flute of Bone: Ector is an alien who is so obsessed with one thing that it hasn’t even chosen a gender yet. It is looking for objects which are metaphors for certain emotions. It travels widely in search of the artifacts and even has a rival. Then one day, it finds something better than its quest.

Zeppelin Follies: Adelaine writes code for romance novels. She has an unassuming BodySuit with only one enchantment but still a younger woman with a Kali BodySuit takes an interest in her. Adelaine’s boss is also thinking about selling the business to GE (General Emotions) which means that the coding will be outsourced to Mars and Addie will have to look for a new job.

Space Elevator Music: Flash fiction about space age elevator.

Surrogates: Belinda and Barry have just gotten married. Belinda has an Insanity Chip which makes her see things. She loves it but Barry hates it.

Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain: Tikka is a Minor Propagandist working for the Bureau for Tourism on the planet Procelain. She’s supposed to write things which entice humans to visit the planet. But then a human takes interest in her.

Bus Ride to Mars: Djanga is traveling to Mars. On the way, she overhears the stories of some of her fellow travelers.

My favorites were “Ms. Liberty gets a haircut”, “Kallakak’s Cousins”, “Timesnip”, “Angry Rose’s Lament”, “Amid the Words of War”, and “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain”. They all have strong world-building and most have non-human main characters. Sometimes I could see the way the story would end but that didn’t bother me.

A great read.

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