August 2020

A reprint of the Modesty Blaise comic strips 51, 52, and 53.

Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1982-1983
Titan publication year: 2010

“The Balloonatic” starts as a more whimsical story than the average MB story. Modesty is in Venice. Guido Bigalzoni is an Italian reporter and an acquaintance of Modesty’s. However, she’s not eager to see him. But when Guido says that he needs Modesty’s help on a balloon ride, she can’t resist because she’s never been in a balloon before. However, the balloon ride isn’t comfortable for her because while Guido has a drop-dead gorgeous girlfriend but he still tries to hit on her constantly. Of course we all know that Modesty could maim the thin Italian with one arm tied behind her back so it’s played for laughs.

Willie and Guido’s girlfriend Aniela follow the balloon in car. When the balloon floats above a castle, Modesty and Guido see a murder. People who are wearing upper class renaissance costumes are just watching while one of them uses a floret to kill a man in a duel. They notice the balloon and shoot it down. The castle is surrounded by an electrified fence so the blood-thirsty men capture Modesty and Guido.

The rest of the adventure is in more typical MB style, however even the final battle has some whimsical elements. Apparently, Guido has appeared in some previous adventure but I haven’t read them. He’s very focused on sniffing out news and even in a battle he’s thinking about how to best write it.

“Death in Slow Motion” is a far more gruesome story. It starts with Inspector Brooke from Scotland Yard and his 19-year-old daughter. They’re prisoners in Sahara, underneath a small canvas. A woman who blames Brooke for her husband’s death has kidnapped them and will leave them to die slowly with just a pint of water daily for them both. She leaves them under the small canvas but a camera films them. She tells them that she has framed their deaths so nobody is even looking for them. But Brooke is convinced that Modesty will save them.

Meanwhile, Modesty hears that Brooke and his daughter have died while sailing. However, she had a lunch date with Brooke during that time and so she’s suspicious. But she thinks that someone has killed them both, not that they’re still alive.

The story has several short scenes of Brooke and his daughter slowly dying in the desert so the story is very intense from the start.

“The Alternative Man” is set in a tropical island. Modesty has a new boyfriend, Matt, who is a former DEA agent and now a freelance pilot. Modesty hears a plane landing in the dark and Matt tells her that it’s most likely smuggling drugs. She doesn’t want to get involved. Instead, Matt comes up with the idea that they should go to a deserted island and playact a shipwrecked couple. Modesty agrees a bit reluctantly because she knows that surviving will be hard work. Her suspicions are right: Matt doesn’t know anything about surviving. She must do all the work and he resents it.

Meanwhile, sir Tarrant has been invited to the larger island to help DEA track down a local drug lord who call himself Charon. Willie knows the DEA agent in question and tags along.

This is a pretty standard MB adventure except Modesty’s boyfriend is far more unlikable than usual.

These were fun stories. The second one is especially intense and one of the best Modesty adventures. However, the contrast between the first and the second story is big.

A SF and F short story collection with the theme of food and eating.

Publication year: 2020
Format: ebook
Page count on GoodReads: 226
Publisher: Zombies Need Brains

The collection has a surprising number of humorous and downright whimsical stories which was great. But it does have more serious stories, too, and one is borderline horror. Some mix fantasy and science fiction. All stories have food in them and some of them focus on a particular dish.

“Blue” by Paige L. Christie: Blue Eat is a diner but not just any diner. The people there want to help everyone who comes in. A man whose past weights very heavy on his conscious can’t tell his story and May must work very hard to get it out of him.

“My Brother’s Leaves” by Diana A. Hart: Mei’s brother has spent so much money on wine and women that he’s in a terrible debt. When he dies, he leaves Mei is a very difficult position. Mei has no choice but to go through her brother’s memories in the hopes of glimpsing something that will help her. But it’s very dangerous to consume too much of the tea that shows her his memories.

“Snow and Apples” by A.L. Tompkins: Ivan’s beloved Marushka has died and the only thing he can do for her is to fetch some ghost apples. But they’re well guarded. Fortunately, Ivan has friends who might be able to help him.

“Sense and Sensitivity” by Esther Friesner: This is a slapstick comedy in written form. Midge is an agent of Department of Extraterrestrial Respect and Protocol which was formed shortly after the Malkyoh came to Earth. The aliens are ravenous gluttons who demand constant feasts but unfortunately they’re also allergic to various Earth foods. Midge is trying to both protect humans and be properly subservient to the aliens.

“The Silence that Consumes Us” by Derrick Boden: A military pilot crashes her space fighter with one of her enemies’ fighters. They end up on a moon which has barely breathable air. But no food.

“The All Go Hungry Hash House” by Andy Duncan: Three musicians go to a famous Hash House… and things go downhill from there. Another comedy story.

“Pickled Roots and Peeled Shoots and a Bowl of Farflower Tea” by Chaz Brenchley: A woman has founded a monastery in a remote location. A group of soldiers comes to the monastery with a mission their leader is determined to see through, no matter what.

“Course of Blood” by Howard Andrew Jones: This fantasy story begins with a feast. Three soldiers are looking for an enemy general, Hanuvar, who is apparently hiding in the town. Hanuvar has such a fearsome reputation that the soldiers say that they’re looking for someone who claims to be the general.

“A Real Llwelyn Scone” by Mike Jack Stoumbos: The small village of Llwelyn is famous for its scones and a couple of heroes a generation ago. Then a new lord comes to the village and demands to sample the famous scones. The trouble is that they require dragon’s tears to make and nobody in the town now is a hero. So they draw lots to see who will face the dragon.

“Tender” by R.S. Belcher: Monster living among modern humanity need to eat, too. They can order their very specific meals through an app called Tender. The main character is the man who delivers the orders.

“That Final Touch of Salt” by Mia Moss: The narrator is the spirit of a child. A witch, Mirror, cursed the spirit and trapped her to a phial and now forces her to work for Mirror and her family. The poor little spirit tries to escape but in vain.

“Alien Capers” by Gini Koch: This story is set in Koch’s humorous SF world. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really introduce the characters. The main character is a journalist and for a short time he acts as a bodyguard to a 19-year old prince. They are on a planet where all the aliens look like apes but are intelligent. The narrator and the prince are caught holding the crown jewels of a lot of worlds. It all starts in a banquet.

“Magick on the Half Shell” by D.B. Jackson: A fantasy history story set in Boston in 1761. Ethan Kaille is a thieftaker. He can use magic so he often catches thieves who use magic themselves. Sephira Pryce is one of the leaders of Boston’s underworld and a very dangerous women. When she has an offer for Ethan, he’s suspicious.

“Apocalypse Chow” by Jason Palmatier: The apocalypse happened and most humans are dead. But two people are still left and they hate each other’s guts. For now, they must stick together for shelter and food.

“Six Sandwiches to Place Inside a Pentagram to Summon Me to Your Presence” by Gabriela Santiago: This story is six letterd from Elle to her younger brother Kam. They instruct him on how to make various sandwiches and also reminisce on the past, her own and their shared past.

This was a fun collection which several funny stories mixed with more serious ones.

A stand-alone epic fantasy book.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 21 hours 44 minutes
Narrator: Caitlin Davies

This fantasy book has a lush, rich history and deep characters. The writing style is also lush and beautiful, much like in Carey’s Kushiel books. However, it doesn’t have any sex scenes, unlike the Kushiel books.

This is a world without stars: only one sun and three moons are on the sky. However, once the world had stars who were also gods. But the gods grew rebellious against the four original gods and were cast out. Now they live among humans and on occasion walk among humans. The world has also several cultures, some of them sea-fearing, other living in desert.

As long as he can remember, Khai has known his duty and his destiny. He was born at the same moment as the youngest member of the house of the Endless, Princess Zariya, and so he’ll train to become her bodyguard, her Shadow. He is reared among the Brotherhood of Pahrkun (the god of the Scouring Wind) who are warrior monks. When he, and the Princess, will turn sixteen he will journey to Zarkhum’s capital and start his duty. He will also then meet the Princess for the first time.

Khai trains hard. At the age of seven, when the book starts, he’s already an accomplished warrior. The book has several parts but it’s clearly divided to three: one follows Khai until he’s sixteen and meets the Princess. In the capital, he will live with her in the women’s quarters among scheming and gossiping which are alien to him. The final third of the book is a more traditional epic fantasy.

Khai never wavers in his duty; never questions it. However, there is a twist which I didn’t know about and won’t spoil here. It’s a good one, though. Zariya is quite a different character than I expected but I really enjoyed reading about her, too.

The biggest drawback, I think, is that all three parts of the book have a different cast of supporting characters. I also felt that each of the casts was larger than the one before it. It was a bit harder to follow who is each character as the story when along. The first part has the all male Brotherhood. I was surprised how different they were from each other. While some of the monks come to the monastery of their own will, or presumably like Khai sent there at an early age, they also have another tradition: any man convicted of a crime so hideous he would be executed, can instead choose to take the Trial of Pahrkun. He fights three of the Brotherhood’s members in the Hall of Proving. If he survives them, his sins are forgotten and he joins the Brotherhood. Three of the monks are quite memorable.

The second part is set in the city with both male and female members of the royal court. Because Zariya and Khai live in the women’s quarters, many of the cast here are women. In the third part they travel away from the city and gather a ragtag gang of accidental heroes around them. However, each of the casts stand surprising well, a testament to Carey’s skills with characters.

Yet, I didn’t feel as connected with the third or second group as I did with the first group of characters. It’s been too many years since I read Kushiel to really compare Carey’s writing style here but it felt similar with the lushness and some repetitions. The book does have quite a lot of tropes: Khai is literally the Chosen One, better at what he does than adults, he has a clear destiny, and we get a Prophecy, too, which they follow in the last third of the book. Still, Carey used them well and they were fun.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The characters were great and I adored Khai and Zariya and their developing relationship. The world was also vivid.

Robert Jeschonek has a very cool sounding Kickstarter project: Space 1975 anthology.

“Every story in this new book will feature the distinctive style of the 70s, transported to thrilling new worlds, fleets, and conflicts in the farthest and most exciting reaches of the universe. Groove to tales of cosmic heroes in bellbottoms and platform shoes…alien ships like glittering mirror balls…soundtracks of gritty soul, disco, and hard rock. You’ll find everything from kung fu fighting to streetwise private dicks…all souped up with incredible ray gun/rocketship action brought to sizzling life by some of the most talented scifi scribes of today and tomorrow.”

Writers include Marc Scott Zicree, Peter David, Dean Wesley Smith, and Cat Rambo.

A reprint of the Modesty Blaise comic strips 48, 49, and 50.

Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1981-1982
Titan publication year: 2009

This is a fun collection of stories.

“The Scarlet Maiden” is the most lighthearted MB story I’ve ever read. It starts with a glimpse to a pirate ship in 1730. It’s the Scarlet Maiden and it sank supposedly with a big treasure. In the current day comic, lots of people have tried to locate the wreck. Modesty is vacationing in the Caribbeans and hears the story. She’s also diving and has found another, smaller wreck. However, local criminals think that she’s trying to muscle in on their business and attack her. In the middle of the attack, Willie arrives. Modesty takes care of the two goons. Afterward, Modesty takes Willie diving to see the wreck.

Meanwhile, three young people are watching anxiously. They have found the Scarlet Maiden and they think that Modesty has also found it. They’re desperate to get the treasure first, so they hatch up a silly scheme: they kidnap Modesty and Willie to make sure that Willie and Modesty don’t get the treasure and the trio also gets two experienced divers more. Modesty realizes instantly that the trio aren’t hardened criminals, because they try very hard to act like they are. But she goes along with it. She and Willie have a lot of fun pretending to be scared by the trio. Later, some real tough criminals get involved.

Modesty and Willie have so much fun pretending to be scared that I greatly enjoyed this story. The story has also a comical side character, an elderly gentleman who is a decendent of the Scarlet Maiden’s pirate captain.

“The Moon Man” has a few wacky moments, too, especially near the end and right at the start, with a film crew. In this story, Modesty has a new boyfriend Alex Varna who is a painter. He’s from Hungary but five years earlier he defected to the West with his young daughter. But he’s still a sleeper agent. Now, the Hungarians have arranged for sir Tarrant to give a list of his agents in Balkan to Modesty and they activate Varna. Varna must steal the list. However, he refuses and the enemies kidnap his young daughter.

The most unusual element in this story is the Moon Man. He’s an enemy agent in Britain and pretends to be an UFO expert who regularity talks with space aliens. The side characters have nice symmetry: the Moon Man is a British citizen who betrays his country by working with Eastern agents. On the other hand, Varna was born in Hungary but has grown to love Britain so much he refuses to betray it.

“A Few Flowers for the Colonel” is a quite poignant MB story. An old friend contact Modesty for help and of course she and Willie hurry to Venezuela. On their way to the airport, they tell the story to sir Tarrant. Five years ago, when Modesty was still running the criminal Network, she was attacked by another criminal. A local taxi driver, who was in his fifties, gave Modesty enough time to defeat the attackers. So now, Modesty has a debt to pay.

In Venezuela, the elderly former taxi driver, now a farmer, asks Modesty to rescue his daughter Luisa. Luisa is a nun and runs an orphanage for girls in a small country beside Venezuela. But civil war has broken out and a bandit chief El Toro is taking advantage of the situation, terrorizing the countryside. Modesty and Willie will, of course, try to get the girl to safety. Luisa’s younger brother Anselmo goes with the as a guide.

I think this was the first MB story I ever read years ago. I remembered it still pretty well and enjoyed rereading it. It’s got all the good MB story elements: high stakes, tight places, and dastardly villains. The bandits are bloodthirsty and eager to get Modesty to their hands. Anselmo is a teenaged boy who has lived his whole life in a very macho culture and he’s very reluctant to obey Modesty. He even questions why Willie should take orders from her. He’s hotheaded and seems more eager to avenge his sister than save her. The story has also a retired Army officer who is also quite chauvinist.

I enjoyed these stories a lot and had a blast reading them.

Zombies Need Brains has a Kickstarter project for “three science fiction and fantasy anthologies, titled the Modern Deity’s Guide to Surviving Humanity, Derelict, and When Worlds Collide containing approximately 14 all-original (no reprint) short stories each from established SF&F authors in the field and new voices found through an open call.”

It needs about a six thousand bucks to reach the goal and there’s 23 days to go. Author lists include Laura Resnick, Kate Elliott, Tanya Huff, Kristine Smith, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Steven Harper, and Esther Friesner. They also have quirky “zombie packages” as pledges.

This is the last full Modesty Blaise novel.

Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1998
Format: print
Page count: 329
Finnish publisher: Otava
Finnish translator: Jukka Kemppinen

Many MB books, and comic strips of course, are stand-alone stories. However, this one has lots of recurring characters who make reference to previous events. It’s perfectly readable without reading the others, but you get more out of it if you read the other first, especially Last Day in Limbo.

The story starts with the first time Modesty and Willie meet! We’ve been told about it but never really shown. It managed to be both what we were told but at the same time also surprising.

This time Modesty and Willie, and their friends, are pitted against the Hostel of Righteousness on a small island of Kalivari in the Aegean sea. They pretend to be a holy order that focuses on praying but in reality they’re headed by Thaddeus Pilgrim. He used to be a missionary until his family was killed horribly. Now he’s a Satanist who runs a group of assassins.

They try to kill one of Willie’s girls merely as a precaution but instead Willie kills one of them. Pilgrim thinks that this is just an interesting opportunity and decides that his group will kidnap Willie if they get a chance. Weeks later, the assassins manage to kill the girl and when Willie comes over to meet her, they kidnap him. Modesty, of course, does everything she can to find him. However, Pilgrim has ordered that Willie must be brainwashed to kill Modesty.

This is an interesting parallel to one of the comics, “The Puppet Master”, where Modesty is kidnapped and brainwashed to kill Willie. But in the comics, the main bad guy had very personal reasons to hate Modesty and want to destroy her. This time, Pilgrim just thinks that it would be an interesting program. However, he’s ruthless and calculating.

The story becomes very intense when Molly is killed and Willie is kidnapped. Before that point, it has rather comedic and even heart-warming moments. Modesty is spending time with her friends Steve Collier and his blind wife Dinah. Steve is a very eccentric character but I mostly like him. Dinah is a sweet and endearing character. Modesty’s lover in this book is Danny Chavasse, an old Network man whom Modesty and Willie rescued from Limbo. At one point, Modesty and Willie perform in the circus Willie partly owns. I enjoy the circus scenes and this was no exception.

Pilgrim isn’t one of O’Donnell’s best villains but he’s pretty strange. His mind has partly shut down and he can’t enjoy anything. In fact, he seems like he can barely focus on anything. He has an oddly rambling speech patter. Yet, the people around him either fear him or worship him, or both. He has a group of international murderers around him.

This was another great Modesty adventure with plenty of intense fights.

Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch are running again a very interesting Kickstarter. This time they’re doing The Return of Boss in the Diving universe novel series. 13 more days to go.

It’s got two books in Rusch’s Diving universe, “Thieves” and “Squishy’s teams”.

It’s already funded and almost reached the third stretch goal which will be Rusch’s novella “End of the World”. The first stretch goal is a new Diving universe novella Maelstrom.

The project has several very interesting pledges for both writers and readers, including How to Write Space Opera writing workshop!

The fourth novella in the delightful Murderbot series.

Publication year: 2018
Format: ebook
Page count on GoodReads: 176
Publisher: Tor

After it found some information that would condemn the multiplanet corporation GrayCris, Murderbot is returning to its former… well, Dr. Mensah might be its only friend but also its former owner, so it has quite conflicting feelings about her. However, the humans think that Murderbot is a rogue security android so it must pretend to be human so that it’s not arrested immediately. This causes our hero quite a bit of stress. Then it finds out that GrayCris has apparently kidnapped Dr. Mensah so that she couldn’t testify against them.

Against its better judgement, Murderbot decides to rescue her.

This was a great ending to the series where the story comes to a full circle, returning to the people in All Systems Red. Both the story and the character are very funny and snarky but Murderbot must also confront its own feelings which isn’t something it was built to do.

Excellent series and I’m really looking forward to reading the book.

Collects miniseries House of X issues 1-6 and Powers of X issues 1-6.

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Pepe Larraz, R. B. Silva

So, this is apparently the newest reboot of the X-Men. I enjoyed Hickman’s Fantastic Four and mostly enjoyed his Avengers, too. I also enjoy alternate worlds and time-travel. And yet… this didn’t quite work for me.

Hickman gives us four timelines. One is year 0 (for X-Men) where Xavier comes up with his dream and meets with Moira MacTaggart who is very different character. Year 10 is closest to our “current” timeline except that Cyclops, Wolverine, and Xavier (and various other mutants) are alive and well. Year 100 is (yet another) depressing future where mutants are a hunted minority trying to survive. In year 1000, post-humanity is trying to make a deal with advanced aliens.

I can’t really talk much about year 0 without massive spoilers. In the “now” of the continuity, Xavier has allied himself with a sentient island Krakoa and is creating it as a paradise to all mutants. And he’s inviting every mutant on Earth, including all the villains. Magneto is his right hand man.

This is a sprawling epic. Magneto, Moira, and Xavier are in the middle of it all, the others are really on the sidelines. Hickman has crammed the two miniseries full of plot. We get short flashes of story which is then interrupted by page or two of text, explaining plot elements. This didn’t work for me.

At first, I didn’t really care for this. It felt confusing and too convoluted. But in the end, it did hold up. It also changed the status quo of the mutants. I guess it reminded me too much of Utopia which I didn’t really care for. My golden age of X-Men is the Claremont/Byrne/Romita JR era and this is very different to say the least. Yet, I’m eager to see where Marvel will continue with the X-Men.