science fantasy


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

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

The story starts pretty slowly and strangely. Adam Reith an Earth man, sent to planet Tschai because a distress signal came from there. However, shortly after Reith’s small boat entered the atmosphere, a missile shot down his mother ship. Alone, Reith has encountered the strange human tribes and alien species on the plant.

In the previous book, Reith acquired two male companions Ankhe at afram Anacho who is a Dirdirman and teenager Traz who is a former barbarian chief. He also rescued a very beautiful princess Ylin-Ylan from the priestesses of the cult of Female Mystery who were going to sacrifice her. Ylin-Ylan is from Cath which is supposed to be a technologically advanced culture. Reith wants to return to Earth but needs a spaceship to do that. So, he’s escorting Ylin-Ylan to her father the Blue Jade Lord who is supposed to be grateful for her return, although Reith claims that he doesn’t care about that. Reith and Ylin-Ylan have been lovers but now their “erotic accommodation” had “run its course”.

The group if flying in a old sky-raft when they’re attacked. The raft breaks down during the fighting. Ankhe is able to repair it enough that they make it to a coastal city. When the group is trying to get a ship passage to Cath, they meet cavalier Dordalio who has been searching for Ylin-Ylan. She welcomes his company and he tries to make Reith pay for everything, new cloths to Ylin-Ylan suitable for her station and passages to Cath in a luxury ship. However, Reith refuses and pays only their journey on a more common ship. On the ship is also travelling a family which includes two orange haired girls and Reith has a dalliance with one of them.

Ylin-Ylan urges Dordolio to humiliate Reith but when Reith turns out to be the better swordsman, Ylin-Ylan apparently feels shamed by her association with Reith whom she considers a madman. She strips herself naked and tries to kill everyone. When she can’t she throws herself over the side and dies. Ankhe explains that this is awaile, a ceremony among the people of Cath when their social standing gone so low that they have no other choice but to kill as many people as they can (including women and children) and then die.

Reith and his companions continue to Cath, to inform Ylin-Ylan’s father about her death. Dordolio is sullen and tries to undercut them at every turn, giving them bad advice and trying to slow them down. Later he spreads malicious rumors about them. However, Reith manages to get to her father first. He’s cool and seems to be more concerned about his status and money than her fate. Since he can’t buy a spaceship, Reith tries steal one. However, he’s attacked by assassins and the trio must flee the city.

Once the group gets out of Cath, the story moves again at a brisk pace. The group comes to the territory of Wankh and their human servants, the Wankhmen. The Wankh are amphibious aliens who communicate through chiming sounds. The Wankhmen are the only ones who understand them and can translate for them.

Again, the story shines with cultures and with the aliens. This planet has many, many cultures. However, all of them are patriarchal. For example, in the nomad, barbarian culture we saw in the first book, the women and the girls are the ones who do all the boring but necessary things, like caring for the sick and injured, making food etc. Apparently, women are killed when they do something the men disapproves of. In one culture, when a man beats a woman, he’s courting her. Another is mentioned were the people worship sea scorpions. When they come to the land to spawn, a woman has been left on the beach as a sacrifice. The scorpions lay their eggs in her and when they hatch, they eat the woman. In most cultures, the women are second class citizens, at best. Mostly they seem to be killed or abused.

The Cath culture is highly conscious of status and outward appearance of status. That’s why they have developed the awaile ritual. They also have a legal assassins’ guild. They are one of the few human races on this planet which don’t serve one of the alien species, at least directly.

The story doesn’t really have character development. Reith is at turns brash or cunning as the plot demands. He’s focused on buying, stealing, or even building a spaceship to get home. His two companions are loyal and dependable but the other characters are more suspect. However, even his two companions think that he’s insane or suffering from some sort of amnesia.

This is a fast-paced adventure story but parts of it are quite dated.

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

Publication year: 1968
Format: Audio
Running time for the whole series: 23 hours 3 minutes
Narrator: Elijah Alexander

The story starts with a distress call which comes from an alien planet Tschai. A star ship is nearby. Even though the signal originated two hundred years ago, the men decide to investigate. Adam Reith and Paul Warner are scouts who are sent down in a small ship. However, only moments after they leave, a missile destroys the star ship and the scout boat is damaged. They manage to land but a group of local people approach. Reith is amazed to see that they’re humans (or men as he calls them the whole series). They casually kill Warner but Reith manages to hide.

Soon after, a sky craft comes down and scatters the men. This one is crewed by a group of blue aliens, the Chasch, and their servants the human Chaschmen. A third group of men attack the second group. However, the Chasch manage to get the boat and leave with it and Reith’s supplies.

Reith is wounded and taken captive by the third group. He’s given food and allowed to heal. He also learns their language and how the local humans thought they’re originally from the moon. A girl catches his eye but the tribesmen don’t want her to have anything to do with him, so they kill her. Reith is considered a slave but he’s not happy with that, of course. He finds a way to escape and starts his journey to get his scout boat back so that he can return to Earth.

This is very much reminiscent of Burroughs’ Barsoom, with strange locals and somewhat different local customs that Reith needs to navigate. While the aliens have flying craft, the local humans must ride jump horses and use swords to fight. The humans have divided into several tribes, according to which alien species they serve. They all practice slavery and are pretty violent. Some even kidnap women who are then considered property. When Reith tells the first tribe he encounters that he’s from Earth, the local priests, the magicians, think that he’s a dangerous heretic. After that, he’s more close-mouthed about where he comes. In the course of his travels, Reith gets two male companions who tell him more about the local customs and wonder about Reith’s ignorance.

The book has two named female characters, both romance interests. The first girl is killed for showing interest in Reith and the second is beautiful beyond measure and already a kidnap victim when Reith meets her. The kidnappers are from the cult of Female Mystery and are all women, only referred to as priestesses. They hate all men and sacrifice beautiful women. Of course Reith decides to rescue her because everyone else considers her property and even show disdain at Reith rescuing her.

Vance creates vivid alien landscapes and creatures:
“The non-human creatures – Blue Chasch, as Reith was to learn – walked on short heavy legs, moving with a stiff-legged strut. The typical individual was massive and powerful, scaled like a pangolin with blue pointed tablets. The torso was wedge-shaped, with exoskeletal epaulettes of chitin curving over into a dorsal carapace. The skull rose to a bony point; a heavy brow jutted over the ocular holes, glittering metallic eyes and the complicated nasal orifice.”

The story is fast-paced, except perhaps for the passages dealing with the history of the various human tribes and how they got to this planet. Reith isn’t happy about their status are servants of the aliens and decides that he should encourage them to rise up.

The end isn’t a cliffhanger but leaves everything open.

The third book in the Pellucidar (science) fantasy series.

Publication year: 1929
Format: print
Publisher: Tandem
Page count: 219

I read the first two Pellucidar books decades ago and clearly they’ve (also) left an impression because I remembered surprising much about them.

Burroughs himself and a young man Jason Gridley, who is wealthy and a radio enthusiast, receives a strange radio signal. It turns out to come from the underground world of Pellucidar and from Perry, one of the two first Western man to find Pellucidar. He sends them the strange tale of Tanar.

Tanar is the young son of a chief who is allied with David Innes who has declared himself the emperor of Pellucidar. However, Tanar was caught when the cruel Korsars raided David’s lands and when the Korsars sailed away, they took Tanar with them.

The Korsar chief The Cid spares Tanars’ life because he believes that Tanar can show the Korsars how to make the more effective weapons that David’s men use. Tanar doesn’t know how to make them but plays along, hoping for a chance to escape from the ship. He meets The Cid’s lovely daughter Stellara who is destined to be the mate of The Cid’s second-in-command, an ugly but very strong man. She loathes him.

However, a terrible storm drives all of the Korsars from the ship, leaving Tanar and Stellara behind. Stellara tells him that her mother was a captive from another island and that she’s really not The Cid’s daughter but that her mother’s original mate is her father. The ship drifts to an island which turns out to be Stellara’s mother’s home. However, the people there don’t believe Stellara and the two are again captured. By chance they are able to flee and Tanar tried to find a way home through dangerous country with hostile people.

The book is mostly action/adventure although it does have Burroughs-style romance. That means jealousy, misunderstandings, and rivals. No less that three women declare their love for Tanar and Stellara, too, has four other suitors in addition to Tanar (most of them brutish louts). Almost the moment Tanar realizes that he loves Stellara, she’s kidnapped.

Tanar’s people are cavemen but David has brought them better weapons. Still, Tanar mostly uses spears and bow and arrows. Many of the animals are prehistorical, such as saber-tooth tigers. In addition, we’re introduced to the Buried People, the terrible Coripies who live underground and have no eyes. They live very unhappy lives, filled with violence, just like another tribe of humans which Tanar meets. Yet, a woman are able to rise above her abusive culture and Tanara credits her blood for that; her mother was captured from another culture. Similarly, Tanar notes that Stellara doesn’t behave like the brutish Korsars because of her parents’ blood.

Tanar is a native Pellacidarian and knows how to live in that world, of course. He’s mostly driven by desire to survive and later to find Stellara. He’s not eager to help other people, except when it’s in his own best interests. In that way, he’s different from most of Burroughs’ heroes. Stellara is a typical Burroughs heroine: proud and stubborn. She isn’t afraid to tell her opinions but she’s also liable to jump to conclusions, when given half a chance. She’s more compassionate than the Korsars which attracts Tanar to her in the first place. Yet, she’s helpless to fight against any of her kidnappers.

Pretty standard Burroughs tale. It’s ends in a cliffhanger, but not for Tanar and Stellara. Poor David is left as a captive at the end of the book.

The second book in the five-part Vatta’s War science fiction series.

Publication year: 2005
Format: Audio
Running time: 14 hours and 21 minutes
Narrators: Cynthia Holloway

This book starts soon after then first book, “Trading in Danger”. After she was drummed out of military academy, Kylara Vatta, Ky, is now the captain of a small and old trade space ship. She survived her first voyage on it, but not without losses. Ky refuses to return to the arms of her family, the wealthy Vatta who have made their fortune through interstellar trade. Instead, she’s determined to make it on her own, no matter how boring it’s going to be. But then someone tries to rob her ship and she’s attacked in public.

Someone has launched an attack against Vatta Transport Ltd. Their home is bombed killing many of the family members, including some very close to Ky. The attacks also sever interstellar communications, the ansibles. Furthermore, the government of Slotter Key is blaming the Vatta family and so shutting down their resources. Many of the other trading companies also feel that Vatta is to blame and refuse to deal with them.

The surviving family sends one of the own to find Ky and to find out who their enemy is. Ten years ago, Stella made a grievous error and was branded as the family black sheep ever since. She’s the most unlikely person to investigate anything, so she’s sent. However, she’s a determined and level-headed woman. She has already learned to work undercover, as a spy of sorts, and now her skills are put to a test. Her former lover Rafe soon joins her. He’s a lovable rogue with plenty of talents and secrets of his own.

Ky’s familiar cast returns. I enjoyed them more this time around although their attitudes towards Ky don’t change. She hires a couple of new men and while I could see what’s going to happen with (at least) one of them, it was still a nice ride. I also really enjoyed Ky and Stella’s interactions. However, Ky doesn’t really have time to mourn her family and the story has very convenient coincidences.

This was a nice continuation to the series and definitely raises the stakes for Ky and the surviving Vatta family. Now, Ky has to work with no safety net which she had in the first book.

Collects Marvel’s Star Wars: Princess Leia issues 1-5.

Writer: Mark Weid
Artists: Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson

The comic starts right at the end of A New Hope. Leia has just given a very short eulogy to her own world, Alderaan, and her adoptive parents. One of the fighter pilots, Evaan, who is also from Alderaan, doesn’t like how cold Leia seems. There’s a large price on Leia’s head and the generals wants to keep her safe on the new base. Also, the Empire wants to round out all the surviving Aldraanians. But Leia has a plan of her own: she’s going to travel around and gather all the remaining Alderaanians and take them to someplace safe where they can continue their life style of peace and arts. To do that she needs to sneak off the Rebel base. She recruits the reluctant pilot Evaan and R2-D2.

Some of the Aldraanians are happy to see their princess, but not all. And the Empire is dogging them at every turn.

This was a nice quick read which moves at a decent clip. However, we don’t get any new insight about Leia. Which is fine by me, I enjoy reading about her anyway. But the ending was too abrupt and it’s clear that a mission like this isn’t going to be accomplished in just five issues. The story has a nice subplot about two sisters.

We don’t actually know much about Alderaan through the movies. Just that it’s a peaceful place which doesn’t have any weapons. Yet, Leia is no pacifist: she fights right alongside the others and is clearly trained to use weapons. And since this is a Star Wars comic, there’s a quite a bit of fighting in the story line, in addition to sneaking around.

The Alderaan in this comic is noted for arts. Many of the surviving Aldraanians are peaceful artists. But some of them are far from peaceful and defend themselves aggressively. A few of them are even traitors, so we get quite a variety of Alderaanins in the story. We also get a small glimpse into Leia’s childhood where she was reared to be a hereditary monarch. Her parents are shown as wise and respected, which we already knew from the prequels.

Evaan is the other notable Alderaanian in the comic. As a fighter pilot, she’s clearly no pacifist, either. It was nice to see her development in the story. She starts with reluctantly honoring Leia because of her parents and status. Of course, this being an SW comic, you know that’s not the case at the end.

Oh, I really like Dodsons’ art. It flows smoothly. However, the Dodsons have their own style with faces and Leia doesn’t look much like Carrie Fisher.

The third and final book in the Eric John Stark sword and planet trilogy.

Another very nice Steranko cover but Stark still isn’t white.

Publication year: 1976
Format: print
Page count: 208
Publisher: Ballantine Books

Betrayed!

The previous book, the Hounds of Skaith, ended in hopeful tones because a starship captain had agreed to take Stark and his friends to the stars. But the captain, Penkawr-Che, was overcome with greed. He kidnapped Stark and Ashton, and demanded ransoms for the others.

The story begins when the captain tortures Stark for information about a huge treasure trove of artifacts from Skaith’s ancient past. But Stark and his foster father Ashton manage to escape. The starship crews plunder nearby towns and temples while Stark and Ashton try to find another way to contact off-worlders. Meanwhile, the wise woman Gerrith and Stark’s loyal Northhounds are far away. But Gerrith has had a vision: they must reach Stark and Ashton before the duo reaches the sea. If not, Stark will die and Skatih is doomed. So, Gerrith and the few allies Stark have start a dangerous journey towards Stark and Ashton.

We get to see again the places and peoples we saw in the previous books but somewhat changed. Again, Stark gathers allies where he can, even from former enemies. They know that one Wandsman has an off-word communications device and they must try to get it.

We also see briefly how Penkwar-Che’s crew deals with some other familiar characters when Starks isn’t there to witness it. Also, the whole climate on the planet is changing: winters getting longer and harsher, summers shorter. This makes the people more ruthless and desperate.

The book starts with three maps and glossaries of places, peoples, and characters. There’s also enough recapping to maybe start the story here but I recommend reading the previous volumes first.

The Reavers of Skaith has more named female characters than either of the previous books. Some of them are only seen briefly but they all (except one) have life beyond their encounter with Stark. Interestingly enough, Stark’s foster father Simon Ashton often fills the role of a typical female romantic interest: the series starts when the Wandsmen have kidnapped Ashton and Stark comes to the planet to rescue him, and Ashton isn’t a warrior and has to rely on Stark to protect him. Ashton is an accomplished diplomat but rarely has a chance to use his skills on this violent planet.

The Skaith trilogy is a very good sword and planet story with a satisfying ending. Stark is a relentless (and humorless) main character with deep loyalty to people he likes. He doesn’t trust easily and he doesn’t consider himself a civilized man. He also has to rely on his “beast side” to survive, especially with the hounds.

However, there’s a brutality to the story, in the people, the environment, and Stark himself which makes this story feel very different from the light-hearted (if with a high body count) adventures in Barsoom. I wouldn’t want to read books like these all the time and I don’t think anyone would categorize these stories in the children section, as Barsoom books are now (at least here in Finland).

The second book in the Eric John Stark sword and planet trilogy.

Impressive cover from Steranko, but Stark is a black man

Publication year: 1974
Format: print
Page count: 184
Publisher: Ballantine Books

In the first book, the Ginger Star, former mercenary Eric John Stark followed his adopted father Simon Ashton to the planet Skaith which is at the fringes of the Galactic Union. The people on the planet don’t allow advanced technology, indeed many of them don’t believe that other planets exist, and so Stark couldn’t bring any with him. The local rulers, who don’t want new people coming to Skaith and giving the local oppressed people any ideas, kidnapped Ashton, and Stark had to fight his way to the Citadel where Ashton was held captive. Along the way, Stark made many enemies and a few allies. Now, Stark has reached Ashton and destroyed the Citadel, but the local rules, called the Lords Protector, have fled and taken some of Stark’s allies captive: the wise woman Gerrith and a wounded warrior Halk. Stark still has the nine huge Northhounds and with them and Ashton he follows the Lords Protector to the sandy but cold desert.

Skaith has ruins of old, fallen civilizations and among them live many unhappy groups of humans. The planet also has near-humans who are apparently the results of genetic engineering long ago. The Wandsmen are the minions of the Lords Protector and rule over everyone. They also want to keep their power and so are enemies of Stark. The Hooded Men are in turn the Wandsmen’s minions intent on keeping their own power. The planet has also winged humans who control the winds, a group of people who live underground, and a couple of people who live in the sea. It also has Runners, people who are mostly skin and bones and apparently nearly mindless, just wanting to hunt and kill.

The book has many big battles. Stark is grim and relentless in chasing his goals. At first, he wants to free his two friends but soon it becomes clear that he will have to plan big if he intends to keep all of them alive. So he does what he must.

Even though the story is set on a planet and the first book had some planetary travel, Stark had to give up all of his advanced tech and the fighting is done hand-to-hand with swords. This gives a very archaic or fantasy feeling to the book.

The fights are written very clearly, and now and then Brackett uses quite poetical language. But this a very harsh book; no humor at all and lot of violence.

My favorite things in the book were the hounds. They live like wolf packs, led by the strongest hound. But they also obey the Wandsmen and can’t hurt them. Stark defeated the previous pack leader and now leads them like a hound. If he is wounded, the next strongest will challenge him. The hounds can send fear telepathically and then bring down their pray, no matter if it’s a man or an animal. Stark survived the fear sent to him because he’s not a civilized man; he was able to reach inside for strength to endure it. The hounds can also communicate with him and some others telepathically.

The female characters are very much sidelined this time. Men decide the fate of their cultures through swords.

The ending gives some closure but it’s clear that the story continues.

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