2020 pick&mix


The fourth and final volume in the Planet of Adventure science fantasy series.

Publication year: 1970
Format: Audio
Running time for the whole box set: 23 hours 3 minutes
Narrator: Elijah Alexander

The previous book ended when Earth man Adam Reith and his two companions, barbarian teenager Traz and renegade Dirdirman Ankhe at afram Anacho, captured a shady businessman Woudiver who sold them out to their enemies. Even though Woudiver is their captive, he manages to signal the fourth alien race on the planet, the Pnume, about Reith and arrange his kidnapping. Reith is captured and taken to the vast underground tunnels where the aliens and their human slaves live. He manages to free himself but now has the task of avoiding the Pnume and their human slaves, the Pnumekin, and finding a way to the surface. To do that, he in turn captures a young Pnumekin woman and forces her to show him the way.

This time the book has distinctive two parts: the first part is set in the underground tunnels exploring the Pnumekin culture and the other is set on the surface where Reith must educate the woman about the surface culture. For me, the first part was more fun: I like characters sneaking around and it wasn’t easy to make several chapters of it fun.

The Pnumekin were weird. The Pnume strip them of personality and sexuality with culture and drugs. The woman Reith kidnaps doesn’t even have a name; he calls her Zap 210 based on the area where he found her. Her growth has been stunted with drugs and she has no knowledge of human sexuality or how different genders behave toward each other. She calls it “boisterous conduct” and doesn’t want to even hear about it. Reith must educate her and while he’s considerate enough, I found myself rolling my eyes at the scenes.

The Pnume themselves are curious and collect samples of life, including humans.

Still, this was a good ending to the series, even if the wrap-up was pretty abrupt.

A stand-alone fantasy / steampunk novella.

Publication year: 2019
Format: Print
Page count: 130
Publisher: Tor

The story is set in an alternative 1912 Cairo. Around 1860, djinns were set loose on the world and the world hasn’t been the same. Egypt is now an independent republic and their representatives are about to vote if women should get the vote.

Against this backdrop, senior agent Hamed al-Nasr and his fresh off the academy partner agent Onsi, both from the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, are handed a case of the haunted tram car. Hamed is convinced that the culprit isn’t a ghost but an irate djinn. But when Ramses Station’s superintendent refuses to pay for the agents’ services, Hamed and Onsi must come up with something different than the usual exorcism.

This was a charming short book. The background is fascinating and I’d love to read more stories in this world. Happily, I haven’t yet read the first short story, A Dead Djinn in Cairo, so I have that to look forward to. I’m a fan of Amelia Peabody books so one fictional Cairo is somewhat familiar to me. Clark describes the city and the people vividly.

Hamed is an experienced agent and while he at first resents his new partner, he quickly realizes how necessary it is for Onsi to get more field experience. Onsi is also a useful agent and not just there to wonder what’s going on. Both are very rational agents, used to dealing with magical beings.

The suffragette side plot runs parallel to the main plot and introduces us to many colorful female characters. Novella length was perfect for the story.

The third book in the science fantasy series Planet of Adventure.

Publication year: 1969
Format: Audio
Running time for the whole box set: 23 hours 3 minutes
Narrator: Elijah Alexander

Human Adam Reith from Earth was stranded on the alien world Tschai in the first book “the City of the Chasch”. He’s still trying to get a space ship and return to Earth. However, that’s very difficult. He’s failed twice and now he’s going to build a space ship from scratch. His previous adventures have brought him to the attention of the Dirdir, panther-like aliens who hunt and kill men for sport. They’ve taken exception to Reith’s successes and his claim that humans originate from another planet. So, they’ve sent a murder squad called the “Initiative” after him. Reith manages kill them but his friend, and a renegade Dirdirman, Ankhe at afram Anacho tells him that more will come.

Reith needs a lot of money for the spaceship and what better place to gather them than where the crystals, from which the local money is made, grow. However, that place is the Dirdir hunting preserve where they hunt the men who try to get the crystals. So, Reith, Anacho, and teenager Traz, who is a former barbarian chief, head to the preserve. They, in turn, do what the local humans thought would be impossible: hunt and kill the Dirdir and take the money they’ve gathered from their victims.

However, Reith still needs to build the spaceship. They go to a huge city and engage the services of an unscrupulous businessman Woudiver who doesn’t miss a chance to squeeze every penny out of them. Woudiver also threatens to give them over to the Dirdir who are now furious at Reith.

The first half of the book is pretty solid, if violent, adventure with Reith and his two companions fighting Dirdir and their henchmen. However, the rest of the book is quite different, mostly Reith dealing with Woudiver.

Most humans regard Reith insane because he claims that he, and humans in general, come from another planet. This time Reith doesn’t encourage the various human societies to revolt against their alien masters, but he claims that humans are superior to the aliens.

We don’t actually get to know much about the Dirdir. Anacho tells us that they have multiple sexes of both males and females. Not all of them are compatible. We also know that they hunt in packs despite being a space faring species. They also think of men as subhumans who can be killed and exploited at will and they keep the Dirdirmen in thrall by telling them that they might be able to become actual Dirdir some day. But most of this was explained in the previous books, so not much is new. The Dirdir seem to exist just to be the enemies. At least they look impressive:

“impressive creatures, harsh, mercurial, decisive. They stood approximately at human height, and moved with sinister quickness, like lizards on a hot day. Their dermal surfaces suggested polished bone; their crania raised into sharp blade-like crests, with incandescent antennae streaming back at either side. The contours of the faces were oddly human, with deep eye-sockets, the scalp crests descending to suggest nasal ridges. They half-hopped, half-loped, like leopards walking erect.”

I’m again joining the Pick&Mix reading challenge but my initial goal is only 10 books.

I’ve quite a few books for the Mount TBR challenge so I’m aiming to read less from the library. However, any new audiobooks or ebooks will go to this challenge, too.

Books read:
1, Jack Vance: The Dirdir
2, P. Djèlí Clark: The Haunting of Tram Car 015
3, Jack Vance: The Pnume
4,