June 2017

The first book in the Supervillainy Saga.

Publication year: 2015
Format: Audio
Running time: 6 hours and 38 minutes
Narrator: Jeffrey Kafer

Gary Karkofsky is pretty much a normal guy except that he’s the brother of a deceased supervillain, Stringray. When the magical cloak of a deceased superhero Nightwalker appears at his doorstep, Gary immediately takes the cloak and decides to become Merciless, the supervillain without mercy. The magical cloak is alive and Gary talks with him (apparently it has a voice like Darth Vader) out loud. The cloak can make him intangible and levitate for a short while but it also has a major drawback: unless its powers are used every day, the dead will rise.

Gary and his wife Mandy live in Falcon Crest where many superheroes and -villains live. For his first act of villainy, Merciless decides to rob the bank. Unfortunately, the Ice Cream Man and his gang are also robbing it. Merciless and the Ice Cream Man fight and Merciless kills the Ice Cream Man who is, by the way, a murdering psychopath. Later, he tussles with the Typewriter who has kidnapped a tycoon’s daughter. Gary agrees to save her, in exchange for a half a million dollars. The Typewriter is also a killer rather than an honorable supervillain, like they used to be years ago.

This short book has lots of twists and turns and humor. But the later chapters are more serious and it ends in a cliffhanger.

This was loads of fun. Gary is more decent guy than many of the really psychotic villains but he has his heart set on becoming a supervillain rather than a hero. This world works in comic book rules and some of the characters even talk in extremely cheesy way. Phipps takes many of the genre’s convention and uses them for humor. Gary’s wife doesn’t really approve but supports him, at least as long as he promises not to get killed or kill innocent people. They have two dogs: Arwen and Galadriel.

Gary even gets two henchpersons, one of them his ex-girlfriend and the other a former evil mastermind Diablo man.

This is a fluffy pure fun and I’m looking forward to the next in the series.

Today, the topic for Top Ten Tuesdays is Best books I’ve read so far this year.

2017 reads are into a good start. Except for the rather disappointing Star Trek: TNG series, I’ve like pretty much everything I’ve read and I’ve gotten some awesome books:

1, Becky Chambers: A Closed and Common Orbit is a great continuation to The Long Way to the Small and Angry Planet even though/because it’s not a direct sequel. It’s also nominated for a Hugo this year!

2, Genevieve Cogman: The Burning Page is another great continuation to the series where magical librarians hop into various alternate timelines.

3, Lois McMaster Bujold: Penric and the Shaman is part of the wonderful, feel-good fantasy Penric series. It’s also nominated for a Hugo this year!

4, Ada Palmer: Too Like the Lighting is an awesome read from a new-to-me author. A great ideas science fiction with very good characters and extremely interesting setting. It’s also nominated for a Hugo this year!

5, Robert Jackson Bennett: City of Stairs: great and different fantasy with complex world-building and gripping characters.

6, Jim C. Hines: Revisionary is a wonderful ending to fun and funny series about magical librarians who can use (magical) objects from books.

7, Robert Jackson Bennett: City of Blades is a great, if somewhat depressing, continuation to City of Stairs set in a different city and with mostly different characters than in the first book.

8, Seanan McGuire: Indexing is a blend of police procedural and urban fantasy where a team from an US government agency tries to stop fairy tales from happening in modern world.

9, Mercedes Lackey: The Fairy Godmother also retells fairy tales but this time in a secondary world fantasy setting. Fun with a side order of romance.

10, N. K. Jemisin: The Fifth Season is set into a planet which is irregularly ravaged by volcanos and earthquakes so people try to survive as best they can.

I also read comics I quite liked, such as Mockingbird vol. 1: I can explain, X-Men: Inferno: Warzones, and Star Wars: Skywalker strikes vol. 1.

A Secret Wars miniseries. Collects Future Imperfect 1-5 and Secret Wars: Battleworld 4

Writer: Peter David
Artists: Greg Land, Jay Leisten, Daniel Valadez

Like many of the other Warzones miniseries this is an alternate version of a previous (successful) alternate universe, in this case Peter David’s Hulk: Future Imperfect where the green skinned monster called the Maestro rules over a world devastated by nuclear war.

This Dystopia is also ruled by the Maestro. He’s hounded by a small group of rebels who want him out. The rebels include Janis and Scooter from the previous miniseries but also new characters. Ruby Summers is the daughter of Cyclops and Emma Frost. She’s also a rebel and seems to be the only superhero still living in Dystopia. The Maestro has killed all the others and keeps a trophy room near his harem of beautiful, nearly naked girls.

Ruby is wandering in the sandy deserts around the city of Dystopia. She encounters an old man who calls himself Odin and decides to take him back to the rebels. Unfortunately, the old man isn’t Odin. Soon, the rebels are fighting against the Maestro himself and the rebel’s leader, the Thing, tries to save them. Instead, Maestro manages to capture the Thing and now the rebels have to save him from the Maestro’s palace. Fortunately, a couple of the Maestro’s troops want to get rid of him, too, and are helping rebels. However, things don’t go as the rebels expect.

This was a fun, quick read with an actual plot. However, it doesn’t really tie into the Maestro’s appearance in the main series which was a little confusing. I liked this one more than the original FI miniseries because there aren’t nearly as much naked women everywhere as in the original. Oh and the Thing isn’t Ben.

In the Battleworld issue, the Silver Surfer comes to get his board from the Maestro’s trophy room.

The first in an epic fantasy trilogy. It won the Hugo award in 2016. The second book is nominated this year.

Publication year: 2015
Format: print
Page count: 449 + two appendixes and an excerpt from another book
Publisher: Orbit

Much like Jemisin’s Dreamblood duology, I enjoyed this one a lot. It’s got intricate world building, excellent pacing, some revelations I didn’t see coming, and engaging characters. I’ve wanted to read this series but wanted to wait until it’s complete. However, because of the Hugos I’ve plunged in and will be now eagerly waiting for the final book (for a year…). On the negative side, it’s got a culture where people do terrible things to other people routinely, child abuse, and rather horrible stuff happening.

While this is indeed secondary world epic fantasy, it’s not set in a Middle Age world. Instead, the Stillness (as the continent is called) has had many civilizations but most of them are dead now, because of the wrath of Father Earth, or volcanos and earthquakes. They devastate the land irregularly and people try to prepare. Those deadcivs have left artifacts around and also stonelore which will (hopefully) tell the survivors how to continue to survive. The cultures are therefore geared towards survival in ruthless ways. On the other hand, useful info can get lost.

The clearest fantasy elements are the orogenes who use orogeny, or magic (or genetic trait) which allows them to feel and manipulate heat and earth (or rather the energy related to them). Because of this, most of the ordinary people hate and fear them, thinking that they are responsible for earthquakes and volcanos. If an orogene can’t control his or her powers, they can kill people or even destroy whole cities. But if they can control their powers, they can sooth away earthquakes.

The ordinary people kill them, even their own children who manifest this ability. But the Sanzed empire (the dominant nation on the continent) has a way to corral the orogenes: to train them and make them useful. But the Empire has ruled that the orogenes aren’t fully human: therefore, the orogenes they can get their hands on are treated as slaves: trained from a young age to obey their Guardians unquestioningly and they don’t even have a choice on if they have kids or with who. And always, always they need to control themselves.

The book has three POV characters, all female. The first person we encounter in Essun, who has just found her murdered son, who was three years old. She’s an orogene but hasn’t told anyone in her village: she realizes that the boy must have shown his orogeny powers and his father has beaten him to death. Understandably, she devastated. But when she finds out that her husband has left the small community with his and Essun’s daughter, Essun is determined to find them.

The second person is young girl Damaya who has shown her powers in public a couple of weeks ago and her parents have locked her up. She believes that her parents are going to sell her. Instead, they are giving her to a Guardian who will take her to the place where the orogenes are trained. On the way there, the Guardian will teach her a lot about duty and why she must be controlled and be in control.

The third POV character is a young woman Syenite who is very close to being a fully trained Fulcrum orogene. She longs to rise higher in the hierarchy so that she can finally decide even a few things for herself. Instead, she’s sent on a small errant to a coastal city of Allia. But the point of the trip is that she’s making it with another orogene who is one of the most powerful ones alive currently. Even though nobody says it out loud, Syenite has to get a child with him. Problem is that she loathes him on first sight but they both have no choice but to obey. And not, it’s not a romance story.

All of the characters are finding out a lot of new things, about the world and their place in it. We readers also get to explore alongside them. I was fascinated by all the characters and the world. Most of the book is in third person, except for Essun’s chapters, they’re in second person which felt strange at first, but fit the character. And it’s written in present tense. Essun is the only character who clearly wants something and goes for it. To Damaya and Syenite, things happen and they must cope with them.

At first, I was a bit skeptical about how normal people could keep such powerful people in line, but in the end, I think the control was believable. After all, the kids are raise with duty and control pounded into their heads and the Guardians turned out not to be ordinary. There’s a lot of ruthlessness in the book, people doing terrible things because they believe they must do it. All of the POV characters are hurt a lot, so this isn’t a feel-good book by any means. It explores what people do to other people whom they don’t believe are truly human.

The ending leaves everything wide open and raises more questions which will hopefully be answered in the next two books.

Oh yeah, the book has bisexual and gay characters.

Collects Captain Marvel 1-5 (2016).

Writer: Michele Fazekas, Tara Butters
Artists: Kris Anka, Felipe Smith

Marvel is clearly concentrating more on Carol and I’m happy about it. Carol’s life after Secret Wars continues as high-profile as before, but this time in space!

Alpha Flight is now serving aboard Alpha Flight space station and Carol has been asked to command the station. She was (mostly) happy to take a two-year assignment. She thinks that the job is mostly going to be a desk job. But she’s wrong: immediately she has to start being a diplomat and a combat leader. The diplomat role she’s happy to hand to Agent Abigail Brand while she leads the Alpha Flight into a battle against a mysterious space ship – which carries Carol’s Hala star. When Carol leads a small group to investigate the ship, it turns out to be organic. And that’s when the troubles start.

I’ve no idea why the Alpha Flight has become a space organization, or rather a part of it. Sasquatch, Puck, and Aurora are the only members left and none of them have powers usable in space. Instead, they use small space fighters. I also really enjoyed a new character Wendy Kawasaki who is the lead scientist on the station and she thinks her commander and job are very cool. Agent Brand I’m less thrilled about but she is a formidable character and of course we need someone to bring in friction, jump to conclusions, and challenge Carol all the time.

This is basically Star Trek: DS9 with superheroes. And for me, that a good thing! Pretty much the only thing I didn’t like was that Carol’s powers started to diminish. It’s such an old plot device and more often used on female characters. But hopefully that’s now done and we’ll see other adventures. The space station is Earth’s first line of defense against threats from space so there’s no shortage of possible plots.

The sequel to Indexing.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 12 hours and 18 minutes
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal

Henrietta “Henry” Marchen and her team continue their fight against story lines who encroach on people’s lives. This story continues right after the ending of “Indexing” so Henry is in some hot water with the ATI Management Bureau with the things she had to do in “Indexing”. But when their previous foe escapes from the Bureau’s supposedly secure prison, the team has to be ready again. However, Henry’s unorthodox strategy means that a new character joins the team: Sierra who is Bluebeard’s wife and has a few peculiar abilities. The team isn’t thrilled.

Most of the book is narrated by Henry in first person but a couple of chapters are from Sloane’s point-of-view in third person. We also get to know Sloane’ backstory and see more about Henry’s and her brother’s relationship. McGuire also digs deep into the Snow White story. We get a few new stories, such as “the House that Jack built” but mostly we revisit most of the ones in the first book, such as “Cinderella”, “Snow White”, and “Hansel and Gretel”.

This was a great continuation to Indexing but you need to read the first book first.

The first book in a sci-fi series.

Publication year: 2008
Format: print
Page count: 350
Publisher: Tor

I wanted to like this book more than I did. It’s the book of the month for the Space Opera Fans group in GoodReads.

The January Dancer begins with a frame story: a nameless female harper in the Bar talks with a scarred man who tells her the story of the Dancer or Twisting Stone. They are on Jehovah, a planet which seems to be populated by religious humans who are against liquor but allow this one Bar to exist.

The Dancer is an artefact made by prehuman aliens (supposedly). We follow Amos January and his crew when they find the Dancer and three other prehuman objects. The others can’t be moved but January takes the Dancer. It seems that death and destruction follows the object because soon everyone wants it.

But January doesn’t have it anymore. He traded it to New Eireann’s planetary manager in exchange for repairs and promise of a percentage from future sale of the object to the director of the Interstellar Cargo Company. January and his crew are seen a couple of more times but we actually follow other characters.

Little Hugh O’Carroll is a former rebel leader, or the leader of the actual planetary government, depending on your point of view. But he’s in exile, at least until a mysterious figure calling himself the Fundir offers Hugh a chance to get his planet, the New Eireann, back without bloodshed. The Fundir is apparently an agent of much more powerful people.

The other POV characters are servants of na Fir Li. They are sort of policemen. One of them is an expert in moving without being seen and the other is the only woman POV character. She’s drop-dead gorgeous and uses sex as a weapon, leaving broken hearts in her wake (eye roll). Their boss sends them out for other jobs but they are drawn to the Dancer.

The setting is far into the future. Humanity has spread into the stars. The biggest powers currently are Confederation of Central Worlds and the United League of the Periphery. Something has happened to old Earth and a group of people, called the Terrans, want to return to it but can’t. They live in slums (called the Terran Corners) and the others look down on them. Also, apparently people don’t invent new technology anymore. Newton and Einstein are gods and science is religion.

Other human groups seem to be based on cultures from India and old Celts. Some of the cultural stuff I rather enjoyed and I would have want to know more about the setting and the prehumans. Unfortunately, the characters didn’t grab me at all and the plot felt needlessly complicated. Also, there are heavy infodumps when introducing Hugh and later the interstellar police. But on the other hand, some stuff is left (I suspect intentionally but frustratingly) unclear. And the characters speak in a variety of pidgin English. While most of it was clear, some of it was pretty hard to understand.

Interesting ideas and structure but it just didn’t fully work for me.

Today, the topic for Top Ten Tuesdays is All About Dads.

There are plenty of horrible or absent fathers in media, so I decided to concentrate on the good dads:

Aral Vorkosigan by Lois McMaster Bujold
When Miles was little, Aral was the Regent of a whole planet so he had his hands full. Still, he apparently made time for little Miles. He also parented both Ivan and the young Emperor Gregor.

Cutter (and quite a few of the other Elfquest elves)
Since Elfquest follows the characters for hundreds of years most of them will become parents at some point. The elves are good parents: teaching and protecting the kids but also letting them learn themselves.

Jonathan Kent from DC comics
Martha and Johnathan Kent are the reason we have a Superman.

Ben Parker from DC comics
May and Ben raised Peter to believe that with great power comes great responsibility.

From tv:
Ruper Giles (Buffy)
We only see Buffy’s biological father a couple of times because he’s divorced and lives in another city. But Giles is the real father figure in Buffy’s life.

Benjamin Sisko (Star Trek: Deep Space 9)
Sisko and his son Jake go through some pretty terrible times in the show but also good times.

Rick Castle (Castle)
Rick and Alexis’ relationship is reversed from the way fathers and daughters usually behave. Alexis is the responsible, reliable one while Rick is the one who has strange adventures, plays poker, and stays out all night. They clearly love and support each other and I love their shared geekiness.

Jack Bristow (Alias)
Jack also supports her daughter, especially because they both work as spies and in the same organization. But sometimes he lies and keeps secrets from her.

Walter Bishop (Fringe)
Despite being a, well, not quite right in his mind, Walter, too, loves and supports his son.

Part of Marvel’s Secret Wars event. Collects Guardians of Knowhere 1-4 and New Avengers: Illuminati 3

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Mike Deodato, Jim Cheun, Mark Morales

Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon, and Lady Gamora are the Guardians of Knowhere, the giant Celestial head floating in space. However, Gamora has now cosmic powers and cosmic knowledge so she’s a heretic: she doesn’t believe that Doom is God Emperor. Also, she doesn’t stay on her own Warzone but travels to others, looking for Thanos and Quill (who aren’t supposed to exist in this world). So, Angela is now part of the Thor corps and she’s looking for Gamora to arrest her for heresy. While Angela and Drax are fighting, Yatot comes along and starts a fight with Drax, wanting to become the local crime boss.

Who’s Yatot? His backstory is told in the second issue. Also, the Nova Corps so up. In addition to Nova, they have Captain Marvel, Adam Warlock, Venom, and Iron Man. Also, a giant blue woman appears and battles the Guardians and the Nova corps. Who is she? Apparently Kree. Nothing else is told about her.

Characters hit each other. A lot. The end. I think the biggest draw to this series is supposed to be that Gamora is apparently naked most of the time. There was some set up at the end, but er… the Guardians didn’t make it to the main series. Or at least I don’t remember what they did.

I have no idea why one issue of New Avengers: Illuminati is included. Maybe because Xavier was wrong. Because in this issue, he claims that the Beyonder is a mutant Inhuman. But Doom battled many Beyonders who wanted to destroy the whole universe. Clearly, they weren’t mutant Inhumans.

I was really curious to read this one because I play Marvel’s Legendary deck-building game and these Guardians are one of the villain groups from the Secret Wars expansion. Sadly, it didn’t live up to my expectations.

The first book in the Five Hundred Kingdoms fantasy series. Each seems to be a separate story with different characters.

Publication year: 2004
Format: Audio
Running time: 12 hours and 59 minutes
Narrator: Gabra Zackman

Elena Klovis’ mother died some years ago and her father married a woman who already had two daughters. When Elena’s father died, her stepmother took over the household and promptly made her stepdaughter a servant. Elena was forced to become a maid, a cook, and a cleaner while her stepmother refused her even a pair of shoes. Her stepsisters only made her more miserable. Her only friends were the two older women living next door; they help her when they can. The others in the town call her Ella Cinders.

Elena waited for a prince, or any man, to take her away. But the current prince is only eleven years old, and other men are not interested in her. And Elena’s 21st birthday went by without a prince in sight. The story starts when the stepmother and her daughters are leaving. They are heavily in debt and take everything they can from Elena’s home, leaving her behind destitute.

And Elena concocts a plan: she will sell herself as a servant to anyone (kind) who will take her. But nobody wants to cross her stepmother so nobody will hire here. But then a strange woman asks for her services. She turns out to be Madam Bella, her Fairy Godmother. Bella is the Godmother to whole kingdoms, too, so she has a lot on her plate. But she has been following Elena’s life and thinks that Elena will be a capable apprentice and eventually a Godmother on her own. Elena is used to hard work which is good because she will have her work cut out for her, even though it’s different sort of work than before. As she grows more accustomed to fairy servants, flying horses, and all sorts of magic, the only thing still bothering her is that there isn’t a Tradition for a Godmother having a consort. Will she have to be alone all her life?

This was a fun read! I haven’t read Mercedes Lackey before, but I’ve of course heard of her. I didn’t know quite what to expect but thankfully I liked this book quite a lot. It’s a Luna imprint so there’s a romance and couple of sex scenes, too, but they’re later in the book. This sort of romance, where we get to really know the characters well first, suits me much better than an ordinary romance book.

The first half we spend with Elena and learning about the Tradition, which is the power of fairy tales. The Tradition steers appropriate people into traditional (heh) storylines but sometimes something goes wrong. Elena was supposed to be Cinderella but her prince is too young for his role so magic just built around her without any place to go. If Bella had not rescued Elena, she could have become an evil sorceress. (Although I doubt it: Elena is too good-natured for that. But perhaps if she had grown bitter later.)

I really enjoyed the Tradition and the various side characters, such as Madame Arachnia. The unicorns were a lot of fun, too, and the various fairy characters. Elena is also in charge of testing Questers and rewarding the kind knights and teaching a lesson to the arrogant and cruel. If only we could have something like that in the real world!

Gerda Zackman was a great narrator and captured Elena well.

It seems that each book in this series has a different main character. I’ll certainly try the next one which is apparently based on Saint George and the dragon.

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