July 2019


A stand-alone fantasy/SF novella.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 6 hours 44 minute
Narrator: Nancy Wu

Yên has wanted to be a scholar but when she failed her university entrance exams, she lost her passion, even though she’s hoping to retake the exams in a couple of years. Now, she’s just helping her mother, the village healer. But they live in a village where only the most useful members are allowed to survive. Because this world was used and abused by beings called the Vanishers who have now gone. They left behind an planet filled with diseases and pollution. The healers, like Yên’s mother Kim Ngoc, are doing what they can but their magic is too weak heal everyone.

When Yên’s friend falls ill, the only way for Kim to heal her is to summon the local dragon. The dragon comes in the form of a noble but cold woman. She heals Yên’s friend but in return demands a life. She expects to get the girl she healed but the village elders consider Yên to be far more expendable. By threatening Yên’s mother, they get her to volunteer.

Yên expects the dragon to kill her. But to her amazement, the dragon has two children who require a tutor. Yên agrees. She fears the dragon but is also attracted to her. The children are unruly but polite to her. The palace exists in a spirit realm and is shifting around her. It has rooms where she shouldn’t go because she could die there. And the dragons themselves have many secrets.

This story has a very complex background and it allows de Bodard to explore not just the issues of colonization but also of consent, racism, and power. The dragon, Vu Côn, turns out to be rather ethical (perhaps not surprisingly) and she tries to teach the children about the ethics of consent between people who have very different levels of power. She’s also a healer and is combating the diseases (or viruses as she sees them). On the other hand, she has a lot of power and is used to wielding it without consulting anyone else. And yet, when the Vanishers were on this planet, Vu Côn and the other dragons were their servants. So, she has seen the power imbalance on both sides.

Again, the background is very complex and needs a careful reading to pick out just what’s happening. I’m hoping de Bodard will explore this fascinating world some more. Also, there are things that aren’t explained enough, such as the magic system.

This is often pitched as a Beauty and a Beast retelling which made me uncomfortable because that story always has too much Stockholm syndrome to me. Clearly, de Bodard knows that baggage and is circumventing it by talking carefully about consent. Excellent!

The second book in a trilogy of children’s fantasy books.

Publication year: 2003
Format: print
Publisher: Atom
Page count: 182

After the events of the previous book, the Troll King, every troll in Bonespittle wants to make Rollo the king. Even the comely troll maiden Ludicra finally notices Rollo and decides to become his queen. This is all a bit much to Rollo, who is only 14, and he flees the town. He tells everyone that he wants to keep a promise to a friend and to do that he needs to return to Bonny Woods where all the scary elves and pixies live. So, he runs.

Everyone celebrates their new-found freedom so much that nothing gets done. When two weeks have gone by, Ludicra finally decides to organized the trolls and ogres a little. But mostly, she’s worried about her own declining status and to keep it, she needs Rollo back. Together with a small group of trolls, ogres, and gnomes Ludicra and Rollo’s sister Crawfleece head to the scary woods. They also need to cross the Great Charm and they don’t know how.

Meanwhile, Rollo encounters some elves. For a short while, it looks like Rollo might make some new friends, despite an elven prince who is very suspicious of him. Unfortunately, things go wrong and the elves capture Rollo. He needs to be rescued.

This was a fun continuation to the Troll King with lots of adventure. Once again, we’re shown that things aren’t what they look at first glance. This time the POV shifts between Rollo and Ludicra who even grows a little during the dangerous journey. However, it does have a lot of violence and some unnamed characters die in battle scenes. Otherwise, it’s a great read for younger fantasy readers. It doesn’t end in a cliffhanger but most likely trouble awaites our intrepid band of unlikely heroes.

A one-shot.

Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: Steve Rude, Al Milgrom

This was a far more typical meeting of characters from different comic publishers, than Fantastic Four and Superman. It came out in 1999. The story starts with Clark quickly recapping the Hulk’s origin and comparing it with his own. The actual story is set in a modern world, mostly show with the use of cell phones because the aesthetics are reminiscent of 1950s, clearly wanting the reader to connect the story with the early careers of both characters. Also, Hulk and Superman just inhabit the same world, no explanations. Almost all of the story is a flash-back which Clark is telling Lois, even though she was there.

The story is set very early in Hulk’s time line when nobody yet knew that Banner was Hulk and General Ross had hired him to track down Hulk. Banner can’t control the change, either.

Clark is also quite young, competing as a reporter against Lois who doesn’t know who he is.

Hulk has been seen in New Mexico and Lois heads out, followed shortly by Clark. Banner turns to Hulk and clashes briefly with Superman. Luthor is also at Ross’ base; he wants to direct Hulk’s strength and fury against Superman.

I very much enjoyed Rude’s art and it’s very appropriate for the early versions of both characters. However, while the story fits well with both characters and their supporting cast at the time, it’s very basic.

Collects issues Aquaman Rebirth 1-7.

Writer: Dan Abnett
Artists: Oscar Jimenez, Brad Walker, Scot Eaton, Philippe Briones, Mark Morales, Andrew Hennessy, Wayne Faucher

The first issue is an introduction to Aquaman and the way he’s torn between Atlantis and the surface world. As the king of Atlantis, he’s trying to get better relations between his country and USA. (Why he wouldn’t pick, say, Canada or Britain, well… it’s a US comic so apparently there was no chance of that??)

The plot really starts in the second issue. Arthur has built an Atlantean embassy on US soil, called Spindrift Station, and the Black Manta attacks it. Still, Arthur is blamed for the supervillain’s actions. When Arthur and Mera walk into the White House, wanting to talk, they can’t see the president. Instead his chief of staff delays them while whining about protocol and then they hear that a US ship has been attacked. An Atlantean sword is left behind, an obvious way to implicate Arthur’s people. But the US diplomats fall for this act and arrest Arthur, over Mera’s objections.

Would they have arrested any other head of state? No. But later we get a prison break and an excuse for Superman to get involved. Also, Black Manta joins a shady criminal organization.

I can appreciate that Arthur is in a very difficult situation. Some of his people don’t want anything to do with the surface world; some loath them (rightly) because of pollution. Humans fear Atlantis because they’ve attacked before. Still, I think the international politics weren’t handled well. It does show how Arthur is doing his best to keep the peace while seemingly everyone else wants a war.

The best thing about the comic was Mera. She’s clearly her own person. She doesn’t care for the surface people but agrees to work with them because Arthur wants it. She’s got a temper, too. I loved their relationship and I’m really hoping that DC isn’t just going to fridge her.

I did enjoy reading this, mostly because of Mera. I haven’t read Aquaman before so I don’t know how different it’s from previous incarnations. But anyone expecting Arthur to look like Jason Momoa is going to be disappointed.

An SF novella.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 5 hours 22 minute
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller

Dai Viet Empire is at war and it shows in lack of resources and because many of the citizens are away, at war. However, this isn’t a war story. This isn’t an adventure story, either. It’s about politics and two strong women clashing because they resent their place in society and each other.

Linh was the magistrate of the 23rd planet. When war came to that planet, Linh’s assistant managed to convince her to flee. She’s come of Prosper Station where she has kin. She’s used to being a in control and having power; now she must be humble and beg for shelter. That’s very frustrating for her. She has six ancestor’s voices in her mem-implants. They constantly interfere in her thoughts and she must be respectful of them. Linh is also full of regret, especially when she hears what happened at the planet after she left.

The Mistress of Prosper Station is Quyen. However, she feels that she’s only a minor official because she didn’t pass her examinations. In her arranged marriage, she’s the lesser partner who isn’t as educated as her greater partner. However, war has taken many of the greater partners away and now Quyen has found herself in a position which she hardly could dream of. (In this universe, gender has no bearing of if a person is a lesser or greater partner – only if they’ve passed the examinations.) Quyen resents Linh’s intrusion and her station in life, so she gives Linh the chore of teaching young women. Linh, in turn, know that this is a slight and resents Quyen.

However, the station is run by an AI, Honored Ancestress, and it is failing. Also, Quyen’s kinsman (by marriage) has sold (or otherwise lost) his memory implants. One of the “people” in the implants comes from Quyen’s family and now it’s her job to retrieve them.

This is a complex world where familial relationships are honored above anything else. Many people interact very formally. For example, children shouldn’t criticize their parents, not matter what the parents have done. Also, kin is expected to help each other, no matter what. While others find comfort in that, and also in the AI who watches over everyone, others find it very confining. Also, the culture is very class oriented, although they don’t really call it class.

I felt the ending was a bit abrupt.

Linh and Quyen are both flawed people but very human because of their flaws. The world was fascinating and I’m happy to read more about it.

FF one-shot. Part of DC/Marvel cross-over classics vol 4.

Writer and artist: Dan Jurgens
Supporting Illustrator: Art Thibert
Cover Illustrator: Alex Ross

While cleaning up, I found a stack of old comics and decided to read through them to see what I’d keep.

This was short, fun read. It came out in 1999. Frustratingly, this doesn’t seem to be the first time that the FF and Superman have met because they already know each other.

While Superman is dealing with a bunch of terrorists who have brought a nuclear bomb to Metropolis (not a bright group), he receives a message crystal from his father, Jor-El. Jor- El reveals that Galactus was responsible for Kryton’s destruction! Superman wants answers and he heads to Access where he can apparently cross-over to the Marvel universe.

The Fantastic Four are happy to see him again, especially Franklin who loves to watch Superman cartoons and is very happy to really meet his hero. The FF are no longer living in Baxter Building but on Pier Four in the harbor. Suddenly, a bright light comes from the crystal and the FF’s equipment start attacking everyone. Also, the Cyborg Superman appears, boasting that he took over the machines. Before the machines can be smashed, a strange satellite appears and bathes Superman is a clear light and makes him into Galactus’ herald! Reed tries to interfere and the satellite kidnaps them both. Cyborg Superman has a way to modify the FF’s space ship so that they can travel to Galactus. Very reluctantly, Susan, Johnny, and Ben agree to work together with the metallic villain and they head into space.

Hank Henshaw, the Cyborg Superman, craves Galactus’ power and thinks that he can get that by becoming Galactus’ herald. He’s furious that Galactus chose Superman instead of him. He constantly taunts the FF. Susan and the rest of the FF are determined to get Reed back and also to rescue Superman, if they can.

This was a fun little story. It was very nice to the heroes working together rather than fighting against each other, usually over some silly misunderstanding, as they’re far more likely to do in cross-overs, both inside a company and especially between companies.

The first book in the humorous historical mystery series Her Spyness set in Britain in the 1930s.

Publication year: 2007
Format: Audio
Running time: 8 hours 4 minute
Narrator: Katharine Kellgren

Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, or Georgie as she’s known to her friends, is a cousin of King George V of England but she doesn’t have much money. Her brother has cut off her allowance and she doesn’t want to marry a boorish foreign prince. Of course, her brother the Duke is also penniless because their father gambled away almost everything and then killed himself. Georgie’s fed up living as an unwanted house guest with her brother and his wife in the Rannoch castle in Scotland. So, she heads to London. She stays in the family’s London house but she doesn’t have enough money to hire even one maid. She tries to work for a living but knows that the royal family wouldn’t put up with that if they found out so she tries to keep it a secret. Even her own mother doesn’t like it and sabotages her first job right at the start. Fortunately, she meets her old friend from school, Belinda, who is now a famous fashion designer. Or at least she aspires to be famous. Meanwhile, she tries to get paying customers. But she’s happy to help out Georgie. As a good royal girl, Georgie doesn’t have much experience with men but in this story she meets a penniless but charming Darcy and Tristram whom she’s known as a child.

This was a fun book. It’s written in first person from Georgie’s POV and it was fun to follow her when she tries to live on her own. She’s smart and knows that she’s been born to privileges even though she’s currently hard on money. Her family and the other side characters are also fun. Her mother used to be an actress before she managed to snare a Duke. But her mother divorced her father rather soon and is now found with one rich man or another. She doesn’t support Georgie, though. Georgie’s brother Binky is quite hopeless at looking after himself and couldn’t support himself at all. His wife, Whiffy, is very proper. Georgie also meets Queen Mary a couple of times. Georgie’s grandfather is a retired police officer who doesn’t get along at all with Georgie’s father’s family.

The mystery is quite on the light side and doesn’t even start until about halfway through when Georgie finds a man murdered in the London house’s bathtub. Despite the title, there’s not much actual spying in the book.

The first book in a trilogy of children’s fantasy books.

Publication year: 2002
Format: print
Publisher: Atom
Page count: 216

This is book for older children. It’s set in a fantasy world with ghouls, gnomes, trolls, ogres, and faeries. But it’s set in the land of the “bad guys”, so that’s a bit different than usual.

For centuries, sorcerer Stygius Rex has ruled ogres, trolls, the ghouls, and gnomes in fear. Now, Rex has seen a vision and has decided that he’s going to build a bridge over the Great Chasm, from his land Bonespittle to the Bonny Woods which is home to the ferocious elves and pixies. Of course, Rex intends to conquer that disgustingly forested land. To do that, he needs workers.

Enter our hero Rollo. He’s a fourteen year old troll and one of the apprentices of a master bridge builder. Trolls live under bridges and that’s why the Troll Town has a lot of bridges. Sadly, trolls are also the most oppressed race in this nation and so Rex sends his ogres to kidnap trolls and force them to work. Unfortunate Rollo is the first one to be kidnapped.

Despite being a troll, Rollo is quite a typical main character. He’s not very brave but when needed, he will do the right thing. He’s scared of Rex but he’s basically a good-natured boy who doesn’t like the sorcerer’s plans. The ghoul General Drool also frightens him. And there’s a young troll girl whom he admires and tries to talk to.

It’s a fun, quick read. It’s rather a straightforward story of finding out that things aren’t necessarily as you have been told they are (hmmm… maybe some adults need to (re)learn that as well…) It doesn’t quite end in a cliffhanger but definitely has a hook to the next book.

The third novella in the SF Murderbot Diaries series.

Publication year: 2018
Format: print
Publisher: TOR
Page count: 150

After the events of the previous novella, “Artificial Condition”, Murderbot (SecUnit) as it calls itself, is returning to the planet where the huge company GrayCris, which owned SecUnit, first attacked the scientists. SecUnit is trying to get evidence about GrayCris’ wrongdoings. However, to get to the planet where it all started, SecUnit must travel with humans. It poses as a security consultant, an augmented human. Unfortunately, it also is called in when the humans do something stupid, which is too often.

After the emotionally harrowing ride with the humans and another ride with just a bot controlled transport, where it can concentrate on what it loves the most: watching entertainment, it arrives on the station orbiting the planet. The station is supposed to be abandoned but an independent research team is just arriving. SecUnit decides to hide from them, which isn’t very hard. However, the team has with them a bot, called Miki. SecUnit talks with Miki through a feed and so it keep it’s true nature, as a rogue Security Unit, hidden from Miki. However, things go drastically wrong.

I really enjoyed this installment, too. SecUnit is much the same, making sarcastic comments (to itself) and trying to evade dealing with humans. But it now sees how Miki is treated. As a SecUnit, it has been always treated as a thing, either ignored or feared. But Miki is treated very differently and Miki’s personality is quite different from SecUnit’s. Miki is trusting, almost naive (or that’s how SecUnit sees it). We don’t know if that’s the result of original programming or treatment: we don’t know how long Miki has been with these humans or if it has been treated differently in the past. SecUnit makes a very interesting decision at the end so I can hard wait to get my hands on the next book.

Oh, yes and I quite enjoyed the plot of humans and bots running around scared on a supposedly empty space station with a couple of twists thrown in.

A short story collection of steampunk tales. Most are reprints.

Publication year: 2015
Format: print
Publisher: Robinson
Page count: 518

Many steampunk stories are set in Victorian England but I’ve read some set in the Wild West settings and of course those set in fantasy worlds with steampunk machines and magic side-by-side and alternate worlds without actual magic. This collection has wide variety of settings from imaginary worlds to Mongolian steppes and rain forests of South-America.

The characters are also quite varied. Some of the stories are from “SteamPowered II: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories” so we also get lesbian lovers (no sex scenes), along with the usual spies, adventurers, detectives, and apprentices. The moods of the stories range from adventurous to horror to contemplative. However, especially those stories that are set in the past, racism and sexism is shown affecting the main character. Also, I don’t consider all stories to be adventure but they do have social conscience, so they definitely have a “punk” attitude. In some stories that conscience is hidden, rather than overt and some explore the evils of tech (such as genetic engineering) slightly sideways. A couple of the stories are about the horrors of war.

Tobias S. Buckell: “Love Comes to Abyssal City”: Tia is a young diplomat whose job is to meet the people who come to Abyssal City. However, that job demands that she spends time away from her social duties, spending time with the travelers when they’re quarantined before letting them into the city. Even the day when she’s supposed to meet her future cardmate, she instead spends three days together with a young traveler from another city. She’s fascinated by his stories and him. Perhaps more than she should be because the city itself notices the anomaly when she doesn’t like the man the city has computed to be her perfect match.

A.C. Wise’s “A Mouse Ran up the Clock” is set in Nazi Germany. Simon Shulewitz can build mechanics inside animals and they don’t die. Unfortunately, his skills attract attention from the ruling Nazis.

Cherie Priest: “Tanglefoot” is set in her Clockwork Century series, even though you don’t need to know anything about the series. Dr. Archibald Smeeks is an inventor and a builder but is now quite elderly and lives in the basement of a sanitarium. Edwin is one of the orphans there and does his best to assist the doctor both in work and in remembering. Edwin has his own job, too; he’s building a mechanical boy as a new friend.

Jay Lake: “Benedicte Te”: Algernon Black-Smith is a secret agent for Her Majesty. But someone tries to murder him quite spectacularly with a runaway steam train. Then the Consul-General sends him to a secret mission into the Republic of Texas. However, Algernon strongly suspects that the Consul-General himself tried to assassinate him. So, he must be very careful.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew: “Five Hundred And Ninety-Nine”: This story starts in the modern day Krungthep (Bangkok). Nathamol and Rinnapha are roommates in a university. At first, Nathmol’s biggest problem is that she’s in love with Rinnapha. But when China and America go to war, electricity and other modern comforts are stripped away.

Christopher Barzak: “Smoke City”: The main character of this story has two lives. She lives in the modern world with her husband and kids. But she’s from Smoke City where she has another husband who must work in the steam factories. She also has other children whose destiny is to work, too, in those same factories.

Carrie Vaughn: “Harry and Marlowe and the Talisman of the Cult of Egil”: This is essentially a female Indiana Jones story. Harry (a woman) steals the talisman and then must try to take it back to England in Marlowe’s airship. However, while she and her handsome partner Marlowe have been getting the talisman, the Germans have blockaded the whole island.

Jonathan Wood: “Anna In The Moonlight”: In this world, England has been torn by civil war because some people have had animal parts ingrafted into them and others think that’s against god’s will. Frank is a soldier in that war. The killing hardens him. Until he meets a woman.

Chris Roberson: “Edison’s Frankenstein”: Set in the Chicago World Fair and in a world where prometheic matter has replaced the fledgling electricity as the main power source for steam engines and “Antediluvian” machinery. Archibald Cahabane is the leader of the Algerian Exhibit and he’s trying to get the Exhibit to be built in time. But then a strange man is found and Archibald hears that someone has been murdered.

C.S.E. Cooney: “The Canary of Candletown”: The coal to power steam engines must come from somewhere. Candletown is a coal town where the children born are automatically put to work, with barely enough food to survive. Canary is one of those children. One day she meets with a woman from outside the town.

E. Catherine Tobler: “Green-Eyed Monsters In The Valley Of Sky, An Opera”: Dinosaurs! Opera! Mechanical dinosaurs! In South America.

Alex Dally MacFarlane: “Selin That Has Grown in the Desert” in set on the Mongolian plain. Dursun’s parents are talking about finding a husband for her. But she doesn’t want that because she isn’t attracted to men. However, no other woman is like that and she knows she must do her duty. But then the traders come and with them is a strange looking woman who has many secrets.

Gord Sellar: “The Clockworks Of Hanyang”: MacMillan is a brilliant and famous English detective. He and his long-time friend Lasher are in Hanyang, Korea. They’re disturbed by the local mechanical constructs, the mechanika, which can’t speak and which are built without the knowledge of language. That and the fact that they’re built with the five relationships of Confusious are supposed to ensure that they never rebel, unlike the Western mechanika. However, a mysterious young lady asks MacMillan to investigate on her behalf and he agrees, even though Lasher has more doubts than usual.

Tony Pi: “The Curse of Chimère”: Professor Tremaine Voss has been invited to the screening of one of the first color films, an new invention by alchemists. However, when he arrives, people are running away from the cinema in panic or unable to move and bleeding from the eyes. Luckily, Voss is a very experienced investigator of supernatural things gone wrong. The story’s available for free online at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Aliette de Bodard: “Memories In Bronze, Feathers And Blood”: Nezahual used to be a Jaguar Knight. Now he builds mechanical creatures and some of them even come alive. Then Acamapixtli tries to convince Nezahual to start building a different, more peaceful world with his machines. Even the idea is threatening to some. The story is told from the POV of one of Nezahual’s mechanical creatures. The story’s available for free online at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Nisi Shawl: “The Return of Chérie”: Lisette is an agent of Kalima, an independent African state. She returns with secret offers of alliance from two different nations to the head of state. She also meets Daisy, who is a secret agent for Kalima and Lisette’s former lover. Oh, they’re both over 50.

Lisa L. Hannett: “On The Lot And In The Air”: A mechanical crow is part of an carnival show where people try to throw rocks at him to make him drop the golden cog in his beak.

Genevieve Valentine: “Terrain”: A steampunk Western. Fa Liang, who builds mechanics, Shoshune siblings Faye and Frank, freedman Joseph and his wife Maria, and Elijah, who is the only one of them who can own land legally, are living and working together on a small farm. They also run a message service where the boys ride mechanical dogs instead of horse. But the railroad is coming and threatening their livelihood and their very lives. Available for free at Tor.com

Sofia Samatar: “I Stole the DC’s Eyeglass”: Pai-te is a servant in the DC’s household. One day she steals his eyeglass. She gives it to her sister who develops a “spirit eye” and starts to build strange things.

Caitlín R. Kiernan: “The Colliers’ Venus (1893)”: Professor Jeremiah Ogilvy is a curator of his own museum and a geologist. When the local miners find a woman trapped inside a mineral deposit, the professor demands to speak with her even though she has killed two men.

Cat Rambo: “Ticktock Girl” is told from the POV of an automata which was built to by wheelchair-bound Lady Sybil to be her legs and fists. A reporter is asking the robot to remember her life and she remembers snippets of it.

K.W. Jeter: “La Valse”: The wealthy with long, long pedigrees are preparing for their annual New Year Eve Ball. Herr Doktor Pavel and his young assistant Anton are making sure the mechanical orchestra functions and that the aristocrats of both genders are property tightened into their mechanical body cages which will make them seem somewhat younger. Then something goes wrong.

Margaret Ronald: “The Governess And The Lobster”: Rosalie has come to Hakuma as a governess for four orphan children. She’s also required to find out if a school should be started in that town. However, Hakuma is a city of transients; both humans and automata rarely stay there for longer than a few months. Apparently, the automata have their own city nearby. The children have had no formal education and pretty much left to their own devices.

Samantha Henderson: “Beside Calais”: In this world, flying machines roam wild, like a cross between birds and horses. Some have been captured and tamed to work and when war threatens, humans start breeding the flying machines for war. In France, the breeding is planned to begin on a seaside farm where éoles and a couple of other breeds of machines still fly wild. Ian Chance has taken a commission to oversee it. On the farm is Ian’s previous lover Claire. When Claire was grievously hurt, crippled, four years ago, Ian ran away. Now he must face her again.

Ken Liu: “Good Hunting”: Liang’s father is a monster hunter and when Liang turns 13, his father takes him along to hunt a hulijing, a fox woman. Young Liang finds out that his father doesn’t know everyone. But the British are building a railroad through China and the old magic is disappearing. Both monsters and their hunters must find new ways to survive.

All of the stories have fascinating worlds. I liked all of the stories although not all of them have adventure. My favorites were “Beside Calais”, “The Governess and the Lobster”, and of course Carrie Vaughn’s story. The stories set in other countries than US or Britain brought a whole new angle to steampunk which I very much enjoyed.

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