2019 Mount TBR


A collection of six Modesty Blaise short stories.

Publication year: 1972
Format: Print
Page count: 214
Publisher: Souvenir Press

I thoroughly enjoyed these short stories; O’Donnell is in excellent form here. If you’ve read any previous Modesty books or comics, you pretty much know what to expect. Like almost all of the MB stories, they’re stand-alone and don’t require any previous knowledge about the characters. The stories are set in 1960s. Both Modesty and Willie are very competent fighters with various weapons and in hand-to-hand combat. They’re best friends for life and can always depend on each other. But they’re not lovers; in fact they often have other lovers.

In “A Better Day to Die”, Modesty and Willie are going to see a dying man who used to be part of Modesty’s criminal organization. However, their car breaks down. Willie stays in a small village to repair it together with the local men, but Modesty chooses to ride in an old bus. The bus is full of young women whom a priest it taking to city to work there. But the priest, Jimson, has heard of Modesty and her skills in violence. Jimson is a fervent believer in pacifism to the point that he think it’s better to die than to defend oneself. He lectures Modesty about the evils of every kind of violence. When a group of guerrillas stop the bus and take the passengers, Modesty is practically unarmed and must adapt to the situation.

“The Giggle-Wrecker” is set mostly in East Germany during the Cold War. Tarrant asks Modesty and Willie to smuggle out a defector – who is Japanese and therefore very easy to spot. The duo must think their way very carefully. Also, they get to do some of my favorite stuff: disguises.

“I Had a Date with Lady Janet” is remarkable because it’s the only MB story told in first person, Willie’s. He’s on a date with his sometime girlfriend Lady Janet when a killer tries to kidnap him. Willie manages to turn the tables and finds out that an old enemy has returned. He already has Modesty but wants Willie, so that he can see her die brutally. This time it’s up to Willie to save her.

“A Perfect Night to Break Your Neck” features two recurring characters from the book “I, Lucifer”: Steven Collier who is a paranormal investigator and his wife Dinah. Dinah is blind but she’s loyal, tough, and has even has a supernatural power or two. Modesty, Willie, Steven, and Dinah are vacationing when they hear about a series of robberies. During a party, they’re also robbed.

In “Salamander Four”, Modesty’s long time millionaire boyfriend John Dall wants a wooden statue of Modesty. To do that, he hires an eccentric Hungarian artist who is living in Northern Finland. When Modesty is modeling for the artist, Alex, a wounded and half-frozen man staggers in. Modesty helps him but Alex, who has suffered in war, doesn’t want to get involved. However, the wounded man turns out to be an industrial spy who has info with him. A very dangerous organization called the Salamander Four are after him. Modesty decides to help him over the border to Russia.

The final story, “The Soo Girl Charity”, is the shortest. It begins very lightheartedly but turns out to be the most disturbing of them. Modesty has been coerced into selling flags for a charity. One man turns out to be too grabby and he seems to be a really nasty man in other ways, so Willie and Modesty decide to break into his house and steal some money to give to the charity. They find out a lot more than they expected.

While these all feel pretty straightforward adventure stories, they all have some sort of twist. They were written in the 1960s, so they show the attitudes of that time, casual racism and sexism. O’Donnell tries to do better but his attitudes are dated. For example, in the first story several men rape a teenaged, sheltered girl who seems to get over it quickly. Of course, she’s a side character and this is an action story, but the attitude is still too casual. Of course, neither Modesty nor O’Donnell condone it.

Two of the stories have disabled female characters who are shown in very positive light. Both are very good in their own jobs, bright, loyal, and have partners who clearly appreciate them. Dinah was born blind and Janet lost one of her legs in a car accident. Both are recurring characters in the comics.

Overall, I really enjoyed these despite the attitudes of the times. I love Modesty and Willie and their adventure and their great camaraderie. They have good villains and a great cast of supporting characters. I was thrilled to see one of the stories set in my native Finland, although we didn’t get to see Finnish people much. I also enjoyed the humor in the stories.

The third book in the children’s fantasy trilogy about young troll Rollo.

Publication year: 2003
Format: Print
Page count: 170
Publisher: Atom

In the previous book, Troll Queen, the young troll Ludicra who has suddenly found Rollo to be very appealing and even lovable, left the troll town Bonespittle in search of Rollo and to become his queen. Ludicra and her band of trolls, ogres, and gnomes found Rollo. Now they’re at the bottom of the Great Chasm and trying to get back to Bonespittle through old tunnels. However, an old enemy returns in the tunnels. The enemy also has trollnapped Rollo’s father and mentor. He tries to force Rollo and his small band to surrender. But Rollo remembers a tale he heard about an old troll’s treasure. Rollo promises to give the treasure to the enemy in exchange for the hostages.

Rollo and his band withdraw to the Chasm and confer. The elves seem to know where the treasure is so Ludicra wants to ask them. But shortly, Rollo and his best friend Filbum are separated from the group, again. Ludicra and her band continue the search for the treasure.

This was a good ending to the series. The animosity that trolls and elves have for each other comes to a head and is resolved. The ending has a twist I didn’t see coming and in an adult book it would have been ludicrous, but it felt kind of fitting here. A few dragons even make brief appearances.

A multigenre short story collection.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: WMG Publishing

This issue of Fiction River has stories from many genres. The theme of the collection is fast paced exciting stories and most of them deliver. There are stories with no SF/F elements at all, a couple of fantasy stories, a couple of noir stories, science fiction, and urban fantasy.

I liked most of these, although the noir stories didn’t really appeal to me. The first two stories are very good.

“The Wrong Side of the Tracks” by Kelly Washington: Marlene is trying to get away from her psychotic and abusive boyfriend, who just happens to a small town sheriff.

“The Ex” by Michael Kowal: The POV character of this first-person story is friends with a former president of US. He’s trying to save the Ex from very determined assassins.

“The Demon from Hell Walks into a Speakeasy” by Ron Collins: A noir urban fantasy story, complete with the slang of the era. The main character is a demon who meets the wrong elf princess in a Chicago speakeasy. Her dad is the city’s most feared gangster.

“Blood Storm” by Bob Sojka: The crew of a M-1 Abrams tank is trying to get home (in the tank) from a mission in Iraq. They can hardly believe their eyes when a group of flying creatures attack.

“So Many Ways to Die” by Dayle A. Dermatis: Vera is a medic on a small space ship. She’s there because her husband is the chief engineer. Now, a meteorite has struck the ship and damaged it terribly. Vera is the only one left unwounded. She must deal with her fears and go outside to repair the ship and quickly, or people will die.

“Egg Thief” by Debbie Mumford: Dragon eggs, or rather their contents, fetch a very rich rewards. One bold thief has decided to try their luck and sneak into a dragon’s lair.

“Dust to Dust” by Annie Reed: Mickie’s master has sent her after yet another despicable man. She must find him or her own life is lost. But then she sees a little girl who reminds her of her own daughter and things go wrong.

“O’Casey’s War” by Patrick O’Sullivan: Another noir story. John O’Casey returns to New York to finish what his friend Preston tried to do. But instead, he gets framed for murder and must find a way out.

“Looting Dirt” by David Stier: In Iraq, new private Nick Varlan is shooting “rag heads” as he calls them. Then he’s picked for a dangerous mission.

“The Mark of Blackfriar Street” by Scott T. Barnes: Doug Mayhew is a bounty hunter. When he spots a man in a peasant dress but with a rich man’s cap, he deduces that he’s worth capturing. He and his trusty horse Pickles manage to capture the man but holding on to him is another matter.

“Death in the Serengeti” by David H. Hendrickson: Jakaya Makinda is a Senior Park Ranger in Tanzania. When he sees a group of slaughtered elephants, he knows that poachers are near. But these poachers are more ruthless and prepared that ever before.

“Rude Awakening” by Kevin J. Anderson: This story starts with the main character literally awakening when a madman tries to kill him in his own coffin. He remembers hearing about a serial killer who is murdering his kind.

“Cleaning up the Neighborhood” by Dæmon Crowe: Jerome has finally gotten his big break and he’s heading to a university. Unfortunately, his old car dies right when he’s in a narrow alley in a big city. Desperate, he runs off to get gas. Meanwhile, Tom from Neighborhood Patrol is convinced that the abandoned car belongs to a criminal.

“Redline” by Travis Heermann: Troy’s big brother Jake and his best friend are always in trouble. When Jake and Beaver promise to take Troy along for a ride to the city, Troy’s very happy. However, they run into a large dog and Jake shoots it. That turns out to be terrible mistake and the trio is soon driving for their lives.

“L.I.V.E.” by Eric Kent Edstrom: Cassie’s dad is the CEO of a very large company and she’s in danger of being kidnapped. So, he forces her to learn to defend herself and to deal in a possible kidnap situation. Good thing, too, because when two armed men barge into the coffee shop were she is, she needs those skills.

My favorites where the first two, “Death in the Serengeti” and “L.I.V.E.”. “Cleaning up the Neighborhood” was also a fun and quirky read. All of these are short and very fast-paced with not much time to introduce or develop the characters. Yet, most of them worked very well.

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.

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.

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.

This book brings together some of my favorite franchises: Star Trek TNG and the X-Men.

Publication year: 1998
Format: print
Publisher: Pocket Books
Page count: 265

Based on the premise, this sounded either terrible or wonderful. A bit surprisingly, it was just okay. Apparently, the heroes have met before but in a comic book I haven’t been able to find.

An admiral on Starbase 88 contacts captain Picard because all of a sudden seven X-Men have appeared on the Starbase. The mutants tell the admiral that Picard knows them. Apparently, they have met before because of the machinations of Kang, the time (and now universe) traveling conqueror. Enterprise-E is taking Commander Worf to a conference with the Klingons. But now the conference will have to wait until Picard picks up the X-Men.

At the same time, on planet Xhaldia, which isn’t a member of the Federation but on friendly terms, young people all over the planet have changed in strange ways and have strange, very powerful powers. The government is scared of these youths and confine them to a prison, for the safety of the other people. One of the changed people is a brother to a man who serves on the Enterprise. Not surprisingly, the youths feel that they’re treated unjustly and plan a break out.

The X-Men in this book are Storm, Shadowcat, Wolverine, Banshee, Arcangel, Colossus, and Nightcrawler. I was really looking forward to their interactions with the various TNG crew, such as Geordi and Kurt or Kitty and Data. Also, Federation pretty much is what the X-Men have been fighting for their whole lives so it would have been interesting to see their reactions.

Unfortunately, quite a large part of the book is devoted to unknown characters on Xhaldia. I understand that Friedman had to establish the conflict which the Enterprise-E crew and the X-Men are solving together but the book is quite short and so there wasn’t more than a couple of all too brief interactions between the crews. Most notably, Picard and Storm hit it off very well and so did Worf and Wolverine, while Warren rubbed pretty much everyone the wrong way. He loathes being confined to small corridors of the ship. Guinan and Wolverine also talk a little which was fun.

Of course, the whole plot of mutants appearing on a Star Trek planet at the same time as the X-Men visit, is very contrived. It was fun to read about the X-Men and the TNG crew fighting side by side, though.

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