July 2016

This is a planetary romance book which has two novellas: “The Secret of Sinharat” and “People of the Talisman”.

Publication year: 1964 for the stories, 1982 for the book
Format: Audio
Running time: 8 hours and 31 minutes
Narrator: Kirby Heyborne
Publisher: Del Rey

Dying Mars! This Mars has both Earth humans and aboriginal humans, just like Venus and Mercury. Terrans have apparently often come to exploit the other planets, and their peoples. The aboriginals on Mars seem to be barbarian tribes which wander in the deserts looking for water and loot.

This has two quite straight forward adventure stories: Stark is a loner type, a hardened fighter who still has his own honor code. He was raised by aborigines in Mercury and others consider him a barbarian. But he’s very loyal to his friends and once he gives his word, he’ll keep it. He’s also very practical. But he knows what it’s like to be the underdog and at the start of the first story he’s running from a prison sentence which he earned by smuggling guns to Venusian aborigines who use them against a mining company run by Earth humans.

In the first story Stark agrees to spy on Delgon who is apparently raising a large army of Martians. In exchange, the Earth Police Control will forget his crimes. Stark arrives to the city where many tribes of Martians have gathered. Unfortunately, one of his old enemies, Luhar, is also there and wanting Stark’s blood. Delgon agrees to take Stark on as a mercenary but on the condition that he fights only with Delgon’s enemies. Luhar and Stark aren’t happy about it but agree – for now.

Then Kynon appears. He’s a young man but already a leader. Stark is amazed when he speaks: Kynon claims to know the secret of the Ramas and is willing to share it with his followers. The Ramas were a legendary, ancient race of Martians who had discovered a means of immortality: they can put their own consciousness to others, younger bodies. Kynon has two circlets and a rod. He puts one circlet on a young man and the other on an old man. Their personalities seem to change bodies. But Stark isn’t convinced; he thinks it’s just a trick. But the alternative troubles him.

Stark tries to spy on Kynon but finds out more than he would have thought possible. Also, Kynon has a beautiful mistress who pleases Stark’s eye – and so does her maid servant.

In the second story, Stark is traveling to the city of Kushat with Camar the thief. Camar is badly wounded and wants to return to his home and Stark has promised to take him there. However, Camar realizes that his death is near and takes out a talisman which he has stolen. It’s supposed to keep the city of Kushat safe. Camar makes Stark promise to take it back. Stark sees strange visions through it but he agrees. Soon, he’s captured by riders of Mekh, a barbarian tribe which lives near the city. Their leader Cianan questions Stark and reveals that he intends to conquer Kushat. He tortures Stark but Stark manages to escape to Kushat.

Unfortunately, the city’s leaders don’t believe that the tribe will attack; instead the commander of the city even threatens to jail Stark. They boast that the holy talisman of Ban Cruach will protect them. Stark realizes that if he reveals that he has the talisman, they will kill him, so he says nothing. But he has to stay and wait for the attack even though he knows that the city can’t hold.

Both stories have wonderful, vivid atmosphere of the dying Mars and the people on it, trying to carve out their own existence and fighting each other. Apparently, Brackett was doing a pastiche of Burroughs, and she does it very well. The tribes are full of fighting men and have rigid gender roles. And yet, the women in these stories don’t feel just ornaments, even though the society around them clearly wants them to be so.

I enjoyed these stories a lot.

Collects Thor (vol. 1) issues 154-174

Writer: Stan Lee
Artists: Jack Kirby with various inkers

Note: I read the Finnish edition which contains issues 158-170 and the rest from Marvel Unlimited.

In these stories Thor, often accompanied by other, less powerful companions, battles and defeats foes who are first called invincible. The stories are truly epic in scope; taking us to Asgard, deep space, and to other realms, too. The stories focus on fighting except for a few sub-plots. Here, Lee and Kirby are laying on the foundations of the modern Marvel Universe. The stories are enjoyable as old-school epic adventure comics.

The collection starts with a four issue story “To Wake the Mangog”. Mangog is the last of his race who has the power of billion billion creatures. Odin destroyed his race and imprisoned Mangog but now Ulik the troll sets him free. Ulik hoped to get someone who he could command but he was wrong. Mangog rampages on his way to Asgard and people fear him. Ragnarok looms!

Meanwhile, Odin has fallen into the Odinsleep and since Thor is on Earth, Loki takes the throne. Unfortunately for Asgard, Loki is more interested in trapping Thor than defending Asgard. Also, Karnilla the Norn Queen confesses her love for Balder the Brave but he spurns her. So, Karnilla swears to kill Balder.

After that story arc comes a couple of issues with less excitement: an issue which recounts how Donald Blake found the hammer of Thor. He wonders which one of them is real, Donald or Thor. Interestingly enough, when Donald falls asleep he can go to Asgard as Thor.

In the next issue, Odin answers the Donald/Thor dilemma and we see some of Thor’s history, when he was younger and more impulsive. Odin also explains why Thor is now also Blake.

And then: Galactus, the devourer of planets! Recorder 211 is an android who was created to record events and recount them back to his creators on Rigel. He comes to warn Asgard about a terrible threat. Of course, Thor leaves to face the threat which turns out to be Galactus. In a two-part story Thor, Recorder, and survivors from planets which Galactus has eaten battle Galactus. On the balance is the fate of Ego, the Living Planet.

After that battle, Thor encounters various other threats, even the early incarnation of a being who will be known as Adam Warlock. For a brief while, Thor has to leave Earth and the Warriors Three are left to defend it with Balder. Fandral, Volstaff, and Hogun are always entertaining, although their comedic scenes are too brief.

The collection ends with a couple of one issue stories. This clearly limits the story too much.

For the most part, Thor’s supporting characters are entertaining. However, they don’t develop really and there are far fewer female characters than males. Poor Sif is just a plot device, used to spur Thor to action. But to be honest, so are pretty much all characters; but at least the Warriors Three get to fight and have a few amusing scenes before they get into trouble and Thor has to rescue them.

For the most part I enjoyed this collection.

A non-fiction book about all things Steampunk: fashion, art, sub-culture, books.

Publication year: 2011
Format: print
Page count: 224
Publisher: Abrams Image

This book showcases the Steampunk sub-culture with lots of gorgeous pictures. It’s divided into six categories: the origin of steampunk, literature, art & craft, fashion & music, movies & tv, and the future.

For fiction, it covers only the basics. But the chapter of past gives a lot of information about H. G. Wells and Jules Verne who wrote the first books which can be described as Steampunk. Some other writers are included as well. I was particularly fascinated by the pulp stories written in American magazines because I’ve never heard of them before.

The fiction chapter gives an insight into how writers came up with steam powered Victorian stories in the first place. Not all writers can be in the book, so VanderMeer selected the most important ones, such as Blaylock, Michael Moorcock, Tim Powers, and K. W. Jeter. Others, such as Cherie Priest and Ekaterina Sedia, are also included.

This is a gorgeous book with lots of pictures of art, fashion, book covers, and more. The TV section brought to my attention a lot of TV shows and movies which I hadn’t know about. It was great to see that many fans, no matter if they’re writers or fashion tinkerers, like the punk, or revolution, of the movement and not just the aesthetics. After all, Victorian England did have its problems, too.

I think this would most interest people new to steampunk. While I’ve read or know about most of the books mentioned, I didn’t know much about the sub-culture, either in Japan or USA. There are a few Steampunk enthusiasts here in Finland, too, but I think they’re quite a small group.

This is a collection of four fun Voyager comics.

False Colors
Writer: Nathan Archer
Artists: Jeffrey Moy, Philip Moy, W.C Carani

The Voyager encounters debris which could be from the Borg. Seven of Nine investigates and confirms that they are from the Borg. She also realizes that she’s receiving signals through her implants. But they’re not from the Borg. Still, they make her uneasy. The crew finds out that someone else is using Borg parts.

This was a fun story focusing on Seven who got to use her Borg side more than usual.

Avalon Rising
Writers: Janine Ellen Young, Doselle Young
Artist: David Roach
Tales of Captain Janeway and her crew have reached very human-like people who live in a mediaeval society. Tonight the people want to hear a tale about the Doctor.

The Doctor comes across Weylyn who is a troubled squire: a dragon has attacked his knight. The dragon attacks again but Weylyn and the Doctor manage to kill it. Unfortunately, it kills the knight. Also, some of the Doctor’s equipment are destroyed and he has to accept help from Weylyn.
Weylyn takes the Doctor to his liege and the Doctor finds out that Weylyn has been disgraced because he couldn’t defend his knight. It turns out that even though the knights talk about courage and honor, they are in reality ruthless and vicious. The Doctor tells tales about Starfleet and its “knights” to the young squire.
It’s sort of interesting to see the Voyager crew described for other people, but the story doesn’t have anything new.

Elite Force
Writer: Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning
Artists: Jeffrey Moy, W. C. Carani
This story centers on a new minor character Ensign Munro. He’s from Elite Teams computer game which I haven’t played. He and four other ensigns are part of a Hazard Team which Janeway and Tuvok have put together in order to fight the Borg. They’re led by Lieutenant Foster.

The story starts with a training exercise where we find out that it’s very hard to think of assimilated crew members as the enemies. (No doubt the feeling is magnified in the stranded Voyager.) Munro fails to fire on his team which have been turned into Borg and loses the game. However, soon he and his team are called into real action when an unknown starship attacks the Voyager and pulls it and its crew out of normal space and into a place which is full of derelict ship… and a Borg cube which still has the energy to fight. They want to make Voyager into spare parts.

This was an interesting little tale. Unfortunately, since I don’t know the Hazard team members, it wasn’t really memorable.

Planet Killer
Writers: Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith
Artists: Robert Teranishi, Claude St. Aubin

It’s no surprise that the best story of the group comes from Rusch and Smith. It’s Voyager versus the Planet Killer from the original series. Voyager detects several solar systems empty of anything but debris from their planets. They follow the trail and find a machine destroying the planets. Harry Kim realizes that they’re facing the Planet Killer and they review Kirk’s files. But the old method doesn’t work and they have to improvise.
This is an intense story which I could see made into an episode. The story uses well the various strengths of the characters, such as Seven and the Doctor. The panel lay-out is also more imaginative and varied than in the other stories and the characters look like the actors.
An entertaining collection.

The first in the fantasy series Magic Ex Libris set in modern times. And with magic that needs books!

Publication year: 2012
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours and 33 minutes
Narrator: David DeVries
Publisher: DAW

Isaac Vainio is a libriomancer; he can pull out objects out of books. And that means fantasy and SF books, too! Johannes Gutenberg founded their organization which has been secretly protecting humans from vampires and other baddies for centuries. Gutenberg is still alive and running them.

Isaac was a field agent once but two years ago he was forbidden to use magic and demoted to a “mere” librarian. However, when three vampires attack him in his library, he’s forced to use magic again. Thanks to the timely arrival of his butt-kicking friend Lena Greenwood, Isaac survives the attack and finds out that Gutenberg himself has disappeared and that the libriomancers and the vampires are apparently at war with each other, each side blaming the other for starting it all. Worse, Lena’s lover has been kidnapped and she asks Isaac for help. Of course he has to help.

I enjoyed Hines’ Princess series a lot and so the siren call of this book, too, lured me in. I loved the idea of libriomancy and it was used fully in the first chapter. Isaac is huge fan of SF and fantasy so he uses items from those books. One of the first items used is Lois McMaster Bujold’s truth drug, fast-penta! He also uses disruptors from Star Trek and other various items. However, there are limits. For example, the item must be small enough to physically fit through the covers, so no Enterprise or Millennium Falcon. (Well, ok, Paramount’s and Disney’s copyright lawyers are also scary.) Also, intelligent creatures shouldn’t be brought through, either. They tend to go insane. Also, Libriomancers themselves can’t just write books with all the cool toys they want to. Books also need enough enthusiastic readers until they’re magical enough to function.

Isaac is an earnest young man who wants to help the people he likes. He loves SF and fantasy and even dresses in a long brown coat, because of Captain Mal! On the other hand, he can be ruthless towards other people.

Lena has a… very interesting backstory and I was a bit concerned at first at how Hines would handle it, but I shouldn’t had been. He handled it tastefully. She uses two bokken, wooden swords, and since she’s a dryad, a tree spirit, she can do interesting things with them. She’s an awesome fighter, going toe-to-toe with vampires. And she’s bisexual. We find out early on that Isaac has a huge crush on her and this made me cringe, too, but for the most part, Hines dealt nicely with that, too. Oh, and she’s not thin.

Smudge is Isaac’s pet fire spider. It did come through from a book but since it’s an animal, it was able to adapt. It’s very loyal to Isaac and functions as an early warning system, too.

One of Isaac’s friends is Ponce deLeon who knows quite a lot about magic, since he’s several hundred years ago, like Gutenberg.

On the minus side, the world required a lot of explaining so there are numerous info dumps.

This was fun ride. And the ending had a twist which makes me eager for the next book.

Part of the Star Trek comic bundle I bought from Humble Bundle.

Writers: Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta
Artist: Igor Kordey

The story is set during the Dominion War. Starfleet is desperate for allies and the Enterprise-E has been sent to the Gorn Empire in hopes of getting a powerful military ally. However, the negations have stopped and no wonder: there has been a coup in the Gorn capital. The group which is now in power refuses to fear Starfleet and instead wants to crush humans.

Meanwhile, Riker has lead a group of engineers to a nearby Klingon outpost on Elkauron II. They are going there on a Klingon ship to enhance the outpost’s defenses. However, at the outpost Riker encounters a disgraced commander who tries to keep order among his bored men.

I’m not familiar with the Gorn so this wasn’t a nostalgia trip to me. The storylines are a bit predictable but in the spirit of Star Trek. The art is painting instead of the drawings I’m used to so at time it looked a bit strange. But the characters looked a lot like the actors which is always a bonus. The Gorn culture seemed interesting but we didn’t get much of it.

This was an ok read; nothing special but not terrible, either.

The third book in the delightful Thursday Next series. She’s a literary detective.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Page count: 365
Publisher: Hodder and Stougthon

Goliath Corporation has erased Thursday’s husband from existence. However, she still remembers him. But after the events in the previous book, she decided to take a break from Goliath and other dangers. So, she participates in the Character Exchange Programme and settles into some relaxing quiet time in an unpublished crime novel “Caversham Heights”.

However, she gets two Generic Characters as roommates. At first, they don’t have personality, sense of humor, or… much of anything else, really. But not for long, with Thursday’s guidance. Also, her Grandmother moves in and at a good time, too, because Thursday’s enemies are closing in. The book is under threat of being demolished and the characters are trying to stop that. Thursday promises to do what she can. And then, the three witches appear, with prophesies.

This was a wacky ride, perhaps even funnier than the two previous ones, because it happens completely inside books. Thursday’s career at Jurisfiction (they police fiction books) takes off in earnest and her trainer, Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, becomes a major character in this book.

I rather liked the characters and loved the references to various other books (and other media). For example, Havisham and Thursday take part in rage counseling session for characters in “Wuthering Heights” which was a hoot. And there’s an exchange at a bar which sounds suspiciously similar to a one in a certain hive of scum and villainy.

Humor is hard to write and not everyone enjoys the same brand of humor. But I really like Fforde’s!

There are some inconsistences, of course, (like how can you at the same time expect characters to behave only as written and sue them for the same things?) but I had too good time to really care about them. However, the plot line about Thursday’s husband isn’t resolved in this book.

“Failure concentrates the mind wonderfully. If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough.”
“We all aspire to be ourselves, an original character in a litany of fiction so vast that we know we cannot.”
“To take so much punctuation in one hit initially sounds audacious, but perhaps the thief thought no one would notice as most readers never get that far into Ulysses—you will recall the theft of chapter sixty-two from Moby-Dick, where no one noticed?”
“Books may look like nothing more than words on a page, but they are actually an infinitely complex imaginotransference technology that translates odd, inky squiggles into pictures inside your head.”

A stand-alone sci-fi book.

Publication year: 1956
Format: ebook, pdf
Page count: 94

Lorenzo Smythe, “The Great Lorezo”, is an actor down on his luck. But then he meets a space pilot, or a voyager as they’re called, in a bar. The pilot, Dak Broadbent, says he might have a job for Smythe and they meet at Broadbent’s hotel room. But the job offer turns out too strange for even Smythe’s tastes: to impersonate someone, but the spacer won’t tell him who. Initially, Smythe turns the offer down but then a human and a Martian come in the door and start shooting. Smythe helps kill them and then covers the whole thing up with the pilot. Smythe tries to run away but Broadbent essentially kidnaps him and they’re off to Mars. It turns out that Smythe has to impersonate a powerful politician, Bonforte, who leads the Expansionist party and wants full rights to Martians.

The first person voice works well even though Smythe is quite full of himself – or perhaps because of it. Unfortunately, some things haven’t aged well: all the politicians are male and apparently only males vote; there’s a line about promising two women to every voter. They also have an Emperor who has mostly a ceremonial office. The whole book has only one female character; she’s an assistant. Also, files are stored on physical microfilms which take a lot of space, and people use slide rules.

This world has native Martians and Venerians (in Venus). The latter is only mentioned and the Martians are seen only briefly. Apparently, they aren’t on equal standing with humans; that’s one of the main issues in politics.

Politics is at the center of this tale. Bonforte seems like an honest man who wants to do good and so he has a lot of enemies. In fact, Smythe seems the opposite of Bonforte: arrogant, full of himself, and xenophobic. He gets to know the people around Bonforte and they, too, seem a nice bunch.

This was a quick and light read. The plot moves along at a brisk pace.

This book is based on a Russian fairy tale and set in the Soviet Union.

Publication year: 2011
Format: print
Page count: 375
Publisher: TOR

Marya Morevna was born in St. Petersburg but the name of the city was soon changed to Leningrad. All of her three older sisters married to men who were birds. Marya saw the birds fall from a tree and change into men. But she didn’t see the man who came to propose to her to fall out of the tree and change into a man. That man is Koschei the Deathless, the Tsar of Life.

He, and the others like him, are essentially trapped in the stories told about them. Koschei’s story will always end with betrayal and death. Marya knows that but thinks at first that she can avoid that fate.

Marya leaves with Koschei into his country, Buyan, where many strange fairy tale creatures live. Marya even befriends some of them. But Kochei is at war with the Tsar of Death and soon the war starts again in earnest. This time, the humans are also at war with each other, too.

The book is split into several parts and the first half of the book is more fairy tale -like, so to speak. The second half is set in war-time Leningrad where people are starving and dying. This part was hard for me to read because I wasn’t expecting it at all.

The Russian faeries have adopted the Soviet Union’s ways to themselves. They call each other comrades or chairmen and they form committees. However, the various creatures aren’t really introduced.

Deathless deals with war and death but at the same time it’s an intimate book about love and marriage.

I’m not familiar with the Russian tales so I can’t really compare it to the original. But I believe some of the tropes have been turned onto their ear: Ivan apparently rescues Koschei’s bride in the tales. But in this one, the bride loves Koschei. But that doesn’t mean that their relationship is easy.

While this is marked as the first in a series in GoodReads, it can be read as a stand-alone.

“A war story is a black space. On the one side is before and on the other side is after, and what is inside belongs only to the dead.”

“That’s how you get deathless, volchitsa. Walk the same tale over and over, until you wear a groove in the world, until even if you vanished, the tale would keep turning, keep playing, like a phonograph, and you’d have to get up again, even with a bullet through your eye, to play your part and say your lines.”

“Lebedeva’s eyes shone. “Masha, listen to me. Cosmetics are an extension of the will. Why do you think all men paint themselves when they go to fight? When I paint my eyes to match my soup, it is not because I have nothing better to do than worry over trifles. It says, I belong here, and you will not deny me. When I streak my lips red as foxgloves, I say, Come here, male. I am your mate, and you will not deny me. When I pinch my cheeks and dust them with mother-of-pearl, I say, Death, keep off, I am your enemy, and you will not deny me. I say these things, and the world listens, Masha. Because my magic is as strong as an arm. I am never denied.”

A stand-alone superhero book.

Publication year: 2007
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours and 17 minutes
Narrators: Coleen Marlo, Paul Boehmer

This was great fun and highly entertaining! But it is a comic book in a book format. If you like the troupes and clichés, you’ll most likely love this one. But don’t look for anything else.

Doctor Impossible is a supervillain, an evil genius who wants to conquer the world. His nemesis is Corefire, who is indestructible. Dr. Impossible has even kidnapped Corefire’s journalist girlfriend from time to time. He’s fought superheroes for years with various gadgets but he’s been in prison for the last five years. As we soon find out, he carries a lot of baggage: he was bullied in grade school and he was a loner in collage, always misunderstood by his peers and teachers. His bitterness and determination come from his past.

Fatale is a new superheroine. After an accident, she was turned into a cyborg and then employed by the NSA. Now, she’s on her own and eager to join a super team. The Champions were the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes before they broke up some years ago. But now some of them are getting back together and Fatale has been invited to join. She’s thrilled: she has looked up to these people for years. She’s also a bit intimidated to work with them. She doesn’t remember anything about her past before the accident and that disturbs her somewhat. But mostly she’s looking forward to the future, and especially working with Blackwolf.

The reason the heroes are back together is that Corefire is missing and the heroes immediately suspect that Dr. Impossible is behind it. Unfortunately, a pair of junior heroes interrogate the villain who manages to escape.

Dr. Impossible and Fatale are narrators in alternating chapters. Both are written in first person but in the audiobook they have different narrators so it’s easy to tell them apart. The book’s present is in present tense, but the many, many flashback aren’t. Some parts are fast-paced, but others very slow. One chapter tells the history of the Champions. Fatale sits down to watch a DVD about it. Both narrators also reminisce about their past in detail.

The New Champions’ lineup: Blackwolf (no superpowers, supreme athlete and detective), Damsel (flight, strength, invulnerability), Feral (part tiger), Rainbow Triumph (teenagers with strength, speed, flight), Lily (a former villain who was born in the far future, translucent, strength, invulnerability), Mr. Mystic (magic), Elphin (very old elven warrior), Fatale (cyborg).

These heroes aren’t unique and the book doesn’t bring anything new. This world is used to supers and both villains and heroes have their own culture. There’s not character development; the heroes have their past but nothing is resolved in their personal lives. The dialog can be corny, something straight out a comic book. But it was highly entertaining to me.

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