science fantasy


The first book in the Stan Lee’s Alliances superhero series.

Publication year: 2019
Format: Audio
Running time:11 hours 47 minutes
Narrator: Yara Shahidi

Nia is the loneliest girl in the world. She lives with her father in the middle of nowhere. Her father is the only person she’s ever seen. He schools her in a room where holograms can create anything. Nia wants to go out, to meet other people, and see other places. But he insists that the world outside is too dangerous and keeps her inside all the time. However, he allows her to have an internet connection and she has lots of internet friends on her social media accounts. But she doesn’t feel any real connection with them. So, she plans to escape.

Cameron Ackerson wants to be a YouTube star but his account has only 16 followers. So, he’s taking his boat right into the heart of a storm. But inside the storm, a lighting hits him. He survives and in the hospital he realizes that he has strange powers: he can connect with any computer without touching it.

Now, he’s famous as the lighting bolt survivor. He can also beat any game without really trying. But one day, he meets Nia, a girl who is just as good with computers as he is. Nia captivates him and he wants to spend more and more time with her.

Cameron’s father was a software engineer but he vanished years ago.

Juaquo is Cameron’s best friend. His mom died recently and he hasn’t been the same. When Cameron’s dad disappeared, Juaquo was there for Cameron, but Cameron hasn’t been able to do that same to Juaquo. Cameron feels guilty about it.

The story is told through multiple POV characters, mostly Nia and Cameron but also others. It’s told in present tense. The last third is much more action packed than the rest of the story.

I’m a Marvel fan so I was eager to get my hands on Stan Lee’s last creation. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my expectations. However, it was mostly an entertaining adventure but people who like YA romance would probably like it more.

This is a story of loneliness and trying to connect with others. It’s also about how internet supposedly brings us together but also divides us. The main characters are teenagers who are having their first crush and that takes over about half of the book. The bad guys include a mysterious government organization and an alien from another planet who takes over a human body.

I really enjoyed the narration. It fit the story very well. The audiobook has also music in the beginning of chapters and also to highlight the more dramatic moments.

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.

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.”

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.

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