February 2020


A dystopic science fiction series of six volumes.

The series is set in a future Japan where the computer system Sibylla oversees everyone. Using psychometric scanners it scans the moods, emotions and thoughts to find out if the person is stressed enough to possibly commit a crime. It does it all the time and the results are seen in that person’s Pscyho Pass which everyone must wear at all times. If the indicator number is too high, the person is classified as a latent criminal and they must either submit to therapy or go to jail.

The Sibylla system is also in charge of figuring out which job each person is best suited for, and therefore the happiest doing just that. People can’t apply for jobs which the system doesn’t assign for them. In theory, Japanese people are happier than ever and crime, especially violent crime, is very low or non-existent. Of course, this is a dystopia, so things don’t work like they should.

The Public Safety Department is responsible for capturing any latent criminals. They have inspectors who are the equivalent of detectives and the enforces who are responsible for capturing the (latent) criminals, usually with violence. Enforces are usually themselves former inspectors who over the years have started to resemble too much like the criminals they’re trying to capture. This, of course, creates friction between the enforces and the inspectors.

Akane Tsunemori is the only one of her class who got the perfect score and so she can choose any vocation, including the inspector. Which she does. Capturing criminals is a very demanding job; most criminals seem to be devilishly ingenious murderers or serial murderers.

She’s immediately put to the field where she meets her team: one experienced inspector, four enforces, and one tech. Also, Akane’s immediate boss and a couple of other people from the department have significant roles in the story.

This is a pretty violent, grim and almost hopeless story. It calls into question the role of Sibylla but also the roles of inspectors and enforces and their relationships to the criminals. On the other hand, the violence isn’t an end for itself: the criminals are murderers and their victims are a necessary part of the story. Also, the characters, some of the criminals included, think about their world and their role a lot. The ending is good and appropriate.

This is a very high-tech world. The enforces use weapons called dominators which kill or stun a latent criminal. The weapons themselves need to scan a high indicator number before they function. Also, hologram characters and virtual reality are a big part in a couple of the chapters. Akane’s apartment can also change how it looks whenever she wants.

The manga is based on anime called Psycho Pass which I haven’t seen. I read the Finnish edition which is called Tarkastaja Akane Tsunemori and translated by Suvi Mäkelä.

I recommend this series for anyone interested in grim detective stories and dystopia lovers.

A ten-volume manga comedy series.

Nichijou (which apparently means Everyday in English) is a surreal comedy manga series set in a Japanese high school. It doesn’t have plot lines, but rather strips of varying length. Most of the time the strips have an ensemble cast of character but sometimes focus on just one character. We’re first introduced to trio of friends: the class clown Yukio who is often late and dodges doing her homework, quiet and industrious Mai, and Mio who is often cheerful and has a real drawing talent. We’re also introduced to Nano who is a robot girl but doesn’t want anyone to know that she’s a robot… except that she has a giant wind-up key in her back, and her eight-year old creator the Prof who loves sweets and building sneakily more stuff inside Nano. They later adopt (or are adopted by) a cat who can talk because of one of the Prof’s inventions. Later, the cast grows a lot larger.

Many of the strips start with an ordinary situation but either something surreal happens or something escalates to surreal proportions. It’s easy to read a strip now and then because there’s not much continuity between them. The further the series continues, the more absurd the humor becomes. However, if you like the first volume, you’re likely to like the rest, too. One of the strips has a science fiction / science fantasy feel and it was one of the few which actually had continuity. I enjoyed it and thought at first that is was some sort of weird video game one of the characters was playing. But no. The end left me quite baffled.

I read the Finnish editions and the translator has put in some notes about Japanese customs, foods, and other things which are shown in the series. They were very helpful. Here, it’s translated under the name Arki (ordinary days in a life).

The balance between the first three friends (Yukio, Mio, Mai) is quite good. Yukio tries to get the other two to do funny things with her, not always succeeding. She tried to copy off the other’s homework, also not always succeeding. At one point Yukio and Mio fight, which starts off a bit uncomfortable but end sweetly. Mio draws mostly handsome boys and is afraid that someone else sees her work.

I enjoyed the series and enjoyed most of the strips and the characters. However, some left me baffled. There’s also an anime series based on this manga, but I haven’t seen it.

The first in a spy/adventure series.

Publication year: 1966
Format: Print
Page count: 238
Publisher: Corgi books

Mrs. Emily Pollifax is a sixty-year old widow with two grown children. She’s been a very proper wife and mother her whole life but now she’s grown weary of her boring life. After confessing to her doctor that she almost walked of the roof of a house, he recommends that she do something which she’s always wanted. She’s always wanted to be a spy. So, she travels to Langley, Virginia, and calmly tells the young man on duty that she wants to become a spy. The man is about to send her on her way when something unexpected happens.

Carstairs is one of the big shots in the CIA and he needs someone to play tourist in Mexico City. The job shouldn’t be dangerous; it’s just picking up a microfilm from a bookstore. But the person playing the tourist must be perfect. Accidentally, Carstairs meets Mrs. Pollifax, thinking that she’s an actual agent and realizes that she’s the perfect tourist. He gives her the job. She’s a bit disappointed at how easy it is, but accepts.

The next week, Mrs. Pollifax flies to Mexico City (for the first time in her life) and plays a tourist. She’s there for three weeks and at the end of it, she’s picks up the book, with the microfilm which she doesn’t know about. However, she goes to the store a week early and likes the owner a lot. On the appointed time, she visits the store again only to be met by a different man who offers her tea. She just starts to suspect that something’s wrong when she falls down, drugged. Mrs. Pollifax and another spy have been kidnapped and they’re taken to another country.

This is a rather an exciting and charming book. Pollifax is clearly out of her depth but does her best to adapt and do what must be done. She’s also a decent and kind person, someone rather, well, unexpected as a spy. I also loved that she’s old and so very far way from the stunningly beautiful, seductive female spy role, which seem the only one that women spies get to have today.

This is set during the height of Cold War with lots of spies on both sides. For most of the book, Mrs. P and the another spy are prisoners, which I didn’t expect. The writing style has a lot of humor.

Talk of communism as the enemy and of of Red China is quite dated, now, and also it doesn’t have any advanced gadgets. Both fit the book’s atmosphere very well.

The first book in the Eric Steele action/thriller series.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 9 hours 19 minutes
Narrator: R. C. Bray

Eric Steele is a former Special Forces soldier who has served US in many countries and wars. Now, he’s an Alpha – a soldier with a special mandate answerable only the US president. He usually works only with his handler, Demo. But when a nuclear missile is stolen from a military convoy, he must team up with Meg Harden, a former Army soldier and current CIA operative. Unknown to Steele, matters are very complicated at Washington: president Cole has terminal cancer and CIA’s director Robin Styles is ruthless in pursuing more power.

The book has five main POV characters: Steele, Meg, vice president Rockford who is a former soldier, Nate West who has stolen the missile, and CIA director Styles. A couple of minor characters also get a POV chapter. The first chapter is written from a minor character’s POV.

Steele is a loner, a patriot, and extremely capable. His enemies also know that he’s one of the best and try to eliminate him. Meg is also a loner but more because the men around her push her away. She’s very beautiful, very good with computers, and a fighter. She’s also attracted to Steele from the first. Rockford is very loyal to the president and is doing his best conceal Cole’s illness.

Nate West is a former Special Forces solider who has grown bitter because the government couldn’t prevent his family’s deaths. He enjoys torturing and killing people. He’s Steele’s former mentor and when Steele finds that out, he wants to take out West any way he can. Styles is also a very nasty enemy. She’s the first female CIA director so she’s under a lot of pressure. She knows how to manipulate people and is very ambitious. She even chose her girlfriend because she can manipulate her easily.

For the most part, this was a very fast-paced read with lots of action. The fight scenes are detailed and we got a lot of information about the various guns. The enemies are vicious and there are a couple of detailed torture scenes, as well.

I enjoyed most of the book but the torture scenes were a bit much for me. The narrator fit the book very well and did a great job.

The first book in a fantasy series. It’s a murder mystery but can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2019
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 306

This was a fascinating read. It’s set in a fantasy world where magic is taught and not an inborn talent. The world has also technology although it’s somewhat tied to the magic. Using magic is called cyphering. Women rule societies and men are considered too emotional and weak-willed to serve the state, even though that attitude is waning, so the world has reverse sexism. The characters aren’t human. I got the sense that they’re cat-like creatures. (I freely admit this could come from my inordinant fondness for C. J. Cherryh’s hani.) Their faces are muzzles and they have fur but also skin. But they behave mostly in human ways and have very human motivations. Otherwise, of course, it would be hard for us readers to understand them.

Jhee is a middle-aged woman who has been working as a magistrate, a justicar for years. Now, she’s been called to the capital and she’s taking her family with her. Shep is her primary husband, a former soldier, and they’ve been happily married for a long time. Just before they left, Jhee married two others, but more out of sense of duty than any passion. Both new spouses are young and she’s constantly thinking that she’ll get them better spouses, more appropriate for the youngsters’ tempers and ambitions, when they get to the capital. Mirrei’s mother was Jhee’s old friend and Jhee has some sense of duty toward her. Mirrei is a healer but her own health is fragile because she’s suffering from a disease which is becoming increasingly common. Kanto is a handsome young man and he’s interested in fashion and the arts. He’s also a musician and artist. He feels that Jhee favors the other spouses over him. Jhee is somewhat uncomfortable with this new arrangement: she tries to make time to her new spouses and not show too much fondness for Shep.

Their ship hits a coral reef and is wrecked. Fortunately, there’s an abbey nearby and the crew and Jhee’s family are welcomed there.

The abbey’s previous abbess, Saheli, died just a few days before. Apparently, she translated straight to a spiritual plane. Jhee is more distressed when she finds out that three prospectives, young male attendants, have also died: one fell during an earthquake, one died from a disease, and one apparently killed himself. Even though Jhee’s the area’s justiciar, she hasn’t heard about the deaths before. With the ship needing repairs, she starts to investigate.

All the regular staff in the abbey are women and many of them think men are beneath them. Saheli was the one exception so her death is starting to look increasingly suspicious to Jhee. Jhee enjoys reading, but the abbey’s archivist takes an immediate dislike to her. The current abbess, Pyrmo, is apparently a drunkard and soon Jhee suspects her of murder, too. With the locals whispering about the ghostly Mist Abbess, she has her hands full both with the investigation and trying to balance her new, and more complicated, family life.

The abbey is full of strange characters and the more we learn about them, the less spiritual they seem. Lady Bathseba is a retired vizier. She still lives in luxury in the abbey. She’s quite snobbish but seems to know a lot about what’s going on. Then there’s a poetess who pretends to be drunk so that she can snoop around. The others snub her. The abbey’s doctor is also a drunk and the others no longer trust her but go to the herbalist to get medicines. The cast of characters is large and the book would’ve benefited from a list.
Jhee is the major POV character with a couple of chapters from another character’s POVs. It’s not particularly fast-paced but has a solid mystery.

For the most part, I really enjoyed the story. Jhee and her spouses are interesting characters and I also enjoyed most of the supporting cast. The world-building was mostly good, too, without info dumps. However, the magic wasn’t explained much and sometimes I wanted more descriptions of places and people. Jhee’s spouses all have public names and private names. Shep, for example is Dawn Wolf publicly. But none of the other people, male or female, have names that mean something. So I didn’t get the name system. Also, the book could have done with another round of editing. But these are small concerns.

I loved the different culture and I’m definitely reading the next book.

The second book in the Miss Fortune humorous mystery series.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 7 hours 20 minutes
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell

Fortune Redding is CIA assassin but because there’s now a price on her head, she’s been sent deep undercover to a small town called Sinful in Louisiana. She’s posing as a former beauty queen and a current librarian but she isn’t a reader and she’s never even seen a beauty pageant on TV. In the first book, she became fast friends with the Sinful Ladies Society: Gertie and Ida Belle who were undercover agents during Vietnam. Now, they’re retirees and also solve murders.

A former beauty queen and an aspiring actress Pansy Arceneaux returns to Sinful. She has lots of skeletons in her closet, because she seems to be in the habit of sleeping with other women’s boyfriends and husbands. She and Fortune get in a very public fight which ends with Fortune threatening to kill her. The next morning, Pansy is found dead and everyone in the small town are convinced that Fortune did it.

Well, everyone except Gertie and Ida Bell who want to help prove Fortune innocent. The handsome deputy sheriff Carter is under of lot of pressure to arrest Fortune even though there’s no actual proof that she did it.

This was a fun, fast-paced adventure with quirky characters and lots and lots of coincidences. Gertie and Ida are very funny. Fortune hasn’t actually done any homework about her supposed cover so I’m not sure how good a spy she actually is. She doesn’t read or watch TV so she’s pretty clueless about lots of ordinary life stuff. It’s not very realistic but it’s lots of fun.

Collects issues 1-6 of the miniseries.

Writer: David Tischman
Artists: Casey Maloney, Aaron Leach, Stacie Ponder

This is a collection of one-shot TNG adventures from various seasons.

The first story is called “History Lesson” and it’s set during the first season, with Tasha Yar as security chief. A traditionally isolated planet called Tigan wants to join the Federation. Riker, Yar, and Data beam down to talk with the chancellor. Data notices that their escort has a computer interface implanted on him. Apparently everyone on Tigan has one. When the trio reaches the chancellor, problems begin. The chancellor is a different person than whom they were supposed to meet and an energy pulse attacks the Enterprise.

The second story, “Captain’s Pleasure”, is set during the fifth season, after Unification I and II. For a week, Picard has joined an archaeological group led by an old friend Dr. Marjorie Devarona. The dig is on a planet with unique atmosphere so that the ships can’t get good readings from orbit. The group finds an old Federation shuttle pod and a few skeletons. They also find five strange diamonds which emit a harmonic sound. Immediately, everyone except Picard begins to dream what they could do with the money they could get from the gems. (Apparently even in “money free” Federation you need the equivalent of money to finance archaeological digs and hospitals. Well, ok, the hospitals will be on Bajor. But still…) The next morning, Marjorie has been murdered, phasers are gone, and the com isn’t working.

Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise-D Deanna finds Beverly’s hobby: dancing disco on the holodeck.

The third story “Strategy” is set during the seventh season, near the end of it. An unknown vessel attacks Enterprise out of the blue. Both Enterprise and the other vessel are heavily damaged and end up staying near each other to make repairs. Deanna was almost fatally injured in the fight. The alien ship seems to be made up of several different cultures’ parts and the Enterprise isn’t able to scan it.

In “Light of the Day”, Ro Laren, Geordi, and Worf are returning to the Enterprise on a shuttle. Of course, a massive solar wave hit the shuttle, they crash on an icy part of a planet. They find a monastery nearby but it’s omniously empty and start to investigate. Meanwhile, the Enterprise is taking general Ghud to stand trial for murder of millions of people. Ghud claims that’s he’s “seen the light” or had a philosophical transformation which makes his crimes irrelevant. However, when he hears about the missing crewmen, he volunteers to search for them because he was an engineer before he became a despot. The increased solar activity makes it very hard for the Enterprise’s sensors to find the mission trio and they can’t miss the beginning of the trial or Ghud would be automatically set free. But can Picard trust him?

“Space Seeds” is set during the second season. It starts with one of my favorite recurring scenes: a poker game. The Enterprise has been called to the Armada, which is an agricultural colony in an asteroid belt. Their crops have started to fail. While Picard and Data investigate the problem, Wesley meets some of the very bored local kids.

The final issue “An Inconvenient Truth” tries to tie up these stories together. It’s an interesting idea but unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. Besides, it leaves open a conspiracy inside Federation and on the highest levels of Starfleet. Truthfully, I prefer Trek to be optimistic and idealized, so I usually don’t like the conspiracy nor do I care for Section 31. (I’d actually very much like someone to follow up on the first season episode “Conspiracy” but nobody ever does.)

This was mostly enjoyable, if mostly forgettable collection of one shots. I loved seeing Tasha Yar, though.

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