Bit of a slower Fables… it‘s probably me…

Fables Vol. 9: Sons of Empire
by Bill Willingham (Author), Mark Buckingham (Artist), Mike Allred (Illustrator), Joëlle Jones (Illustrator)

A very large number of artists contributed to this volume. It alternates between the main story and variously themed amusing short stories. The artwork in the short stories is hit and miss. 

Spoilers from here on… you should not proceed, if you are still reading or plan to read this series at some point.

Gepetto‘s hut and the holy grove have burned down. The emperor is angry. Where is Pinocchio in all this? Ensorceled! Forces gather in the Imperial City. The Snow Queen makes an announcement… Fabletown is in deep trouble. Permanent Winter is upon us! 

Aaaaaand…. We get a short story about Hair!? Ok, yes, the Rapunzel story was fun and kinda sad… 
Small recommendation for the author: get a beta-reader whose mother tongue is German. Just saying. It‘s weird, m‘kay?

The Four Plagues, um… “This is how the world ends.“ 😬
That is a grim plan of action! The Snow Queen is scary.

The next short story, Porky Pine Pie, has very pretty artwork. Watercolour style, my thing…

And then back to potential warfare and Burning Times and an interesting followup to the fairytale of Hänsel and Gretel. 🍭🍬🍭🍬 

And another short story, A Thorn in Their Side, about that Mundy reporter following the Fables in their tracks. Very short, pleasant artwork. I wonder if he will end up at the Farm one of these days?

Over There, Part 4 of Sons of Empire: This feels a bit like the first X-Men movie and Bigby Wolf reminds me more and more of Wolverine. The Adversary is planning an all-out war. We get some war games and adjustments to plans… well done. 🐺🐺🐺🐺🐺 

And another short story / interlude… The Road to Paradise. Three visually impaired mice… ok, that one was odd and a bit pointless… 🐁🐁🐁 
Followed by a strange Christmas triplet thing with Jack, Wolf Valley and then the farm. I like the developing friendship between Boy Blue and Rose Red. I assume this part came out around Christmas. Merry Christmas, Fables team! The Christmas story with the kids is cute, but I‘m a little disappointed how gender stereotypical they are portrayed. 🤶🎅🎄🎅🤶 

Father and Son: Aka Mr. North and Bigby Wolf. And family. The art was not my thing. 🐺🐺🐺 

Burning Questions: Snippets of 3 pages each or so, answering questions from fans. Ok… 🤷‍♀️ 🤷‍♂️ 

This volume was a mixed bag, the short stories disrupted the build-up of suspense of the main story.

Collecting: Fables 52-59

The story so far…

In 2017 I had my first go at the famous Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh with Foreigner (Foreigner, #1). I barely finished it by switching to audio halfway through and ended up giving it two stars.

Two stars, not worth it right? Well, I loved the next book, Invader, and gave it 5 ⭐️. Book #3, Inheritor, was a DNF halfway through, then I tried again three years later and ended up giving it 4 ⭐️. It really took time for me to appreciate C.J. Cherryh‘s storytelling. One of these days I might re-read the first book of the series and give it 5 stars as well… 😏 

My review for Foreigner (Foreigner, #1) from 2017, spoilers for the general storyline:

I really liked the first two sections of this novel. First the arrival in the planetary system, then a jump of several settler generation to the first contact with the indigenous population of their chosen planet, the Atevi. I enjoyed the setting in space and the glimpse at societal differences between the humans on planet and onboard the ship. Down below I had fun reading from the POV of an Atevi. His human counterpart was an interesting character as well.

Unfortunately, with the beginning of the main storyline, my enjoyment took a nosedive. Another jump to several hundred years later. Humans and Atevi have been at war and resolved it by exiling the humans on an island. 

Bren, our main character, lives among the Atevi as the sole human, a diplomat and interpreter of the sometimes incomprehensible language and cultural concepts of the Atevi. The Atevi don’t know the concepts of friendship or trust. They also don’t comprehend the idea of borders and separate nations. Instead there is loyalty, betrayal, complicated relationships with other factions, sanctioned assassinations and people with delicate sensibilities.

The culture of the Atevi reminded me of feudal Japan and made me want to re-read Shōgun by James Clavell

Could have been fantastic, but isn’t explored as much as I would have liked. Instead we are shown this world through the limited view of Bren, who is a whiny little shite that obsesses endlessly about inconsequential things like getting his mail and being perpetually worried, but never does anything. By the halfway point of the book I was annoyed, bored and skimming. 

On top of Bren being an annoying character, the writing was repetitive and progressed glacially slow. I like my stories plot-driven, endless navel-gazing over the same points and ideas for pages after pages holds little interest for me. Also much of the story happened in the off. Bren spent most of his time sitting around, agonizing over one thing or another. There was very little doing. Except for the last 50 pages or so, when we got a little action.

The other characters were even shallower than Bren. Not much character development. Little humour.

The last 20 pages were not bad, I just wish the rest of the book had been that lively. Mostly it dragged, I was bored. I did not connect to any of the characters, the story was pretty bloodless. 

Nonetheless I am actually interested to find out what happens next. Maybe I will get the next book at some point. Considering that there are about a million sequels after this book, I think it is safe to say that this first book is set-up. One can hope, that there will be more plot development in the next installments…?

Progress report: (all links lead to Goodreads)

First sub-trilogy
Foreigner #1 ⭐️⭐️☆☆☆
Invader #2 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ My review 
Inheritor #3 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️☆ My review 

2nd sub-trilogy — my highest rated sub-trilogy so far.
Precursor #4 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️☆ My review 
Defender #5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️☆ My review 
Explorer #6 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ My review 

3rd sub-trilogy
Destroyer #7 ⭐️⭐️⭐️☆☆ My review 
Pretender #8 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️☆ My lazy almost-no-review 
Deliverer #9 — planned for June 2023

Cherryh is still writing, book #22 has an expected publishing date for October of this year. Cherryh is 80 years old now, it‘s going to be interesting to see how her age, experience and the changing times impact her writing. The first book was published in 1994, so the series spans 29 years now…

Top Ten Tuesday — I‘d rather be reading

“Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.“ Head over there to link your TTT, if you take part!

May 16: Things Getting in the Way of Reading (what’s taking up your time right now?) (lovingly stolen from A Cocoon of Books during freebie week)

  1. Memes like Top Ten Tuesday can take an amazing amount of time away from reading…
  2. I definitely spend quite a lot of time with my favourite group on Goodreads. Talking about books instead of reading them!
  3. Work, unfortunately I need to earn money to support my habit!
  4. Sometimes there is just not enough brainpower left for reading, so I watch TV. With all those streaming services there is almost always something too watch, even if it end up being Youtube!
  5. Housework is a necessary evil, I need clean clothes every now and then, my plants need watering, etc. Audiobooks to the recue!
  6. Grocery shopping and cooking. I need to eat… if I can, I will listen to an audiobook at the same time.
  7. Bread Baking! I grew my own sourdough during the first Covid19 lockdown early in 2020. Hermann (yes, he has a name) is alive and well. Actually, he is a Roger. Anyway, I lost my baking steam a little this year, so I made Hermann Roger a little more durable by crumbling him up and sticking him into the coldest corner of my fridge.
  8. Walkies… Every now and then I join a friend when she walks her dog.
  9. Spending time with friends and family. Real life is important and takes the front seat.
  10. Holidays! That usually means travelling with friends. Although I managed to get some reading squeezed in this time…

Light SF for the beach.

Ascending (The Vardeshi Saga, #1)
by Meg Pechenick

The description reminded me of A Memory Called Empire(read in 2019). That‘s where the similarities end though. This is not a complex or very inventive story.

”Twenty-five years ago the Vardeshi came to Earth. Then they vanished without a trace. Graduate student Avery Alcott always knew they would return. When they do, she’s the only one who can speak their language. She’s quickly recruited to join the crew of an 11-man starship on a one-year mission into the depths of space. Avery leaps at the chance to leave behind everything she’s ever known.”

Avery is a fairly naive college student, who puts up a relatively good fight against the problems she faces during that mission. First there is the language difficulties, then there is her struggle with the cultural immersion and then the problems really start. Careful, we are pretty light on the culture. We are pretty light on everything. This is not hard SF, there is very little science in this fiction. It‘s an entertaining enough story, but hardcore SF readers will find it very wanting. The linguistics part is also not terribly deep. As a beach read this is nice.

I had some issues. Well, a lot, actually, considering the length of this paragraph…
Avery‘s teacher builds a language program based on a few transmission, which I find highly unlikely. I am not a linguistics expert though, so whatever. 
The home planet of the Vardeshi can be reached with a Vardeshi ship in 6 months. No info about actual distance or what propulsion they are using, just that their ships are really fast. 
There are all these beautiful humans and aliens with blonde hair and blue eyes. Ok, ok, there is also grey hair and grey eyes, but still… quite the fixation.
The aliens have blue blood. Why is their blood blue?
How do they generate gravity?
At one point Avery looses a lot of her provisions. In the next paragraph she cooks a lavish dinner. What? And why the heck does she have to use a camping stove?
The aliens use FTL travel (I assume, it‘s never mentioned), but don‘t have a set-up in their kitchen where a human could prepare food?
And isn‘t it kinda unusual on a ship to not have different duty watches? They all go to sleep at the same time and put the ship on autopilot or how does that work?
Ship‘s special interior decorations are mentioned once and then never again. A special sickness among the Vardeshi is explained and researched by Avery, but never makes a direct appearance in the book.
To top it all off, the book pretty much stops in the middle of the storyline. Good thing that the sequel is on Kindle Unlimited and that I currently have a subscription, otherwise I would have been very miffed. And if the next book stops in the middle of things again, I will not be happy. 

If you want serious, atmospheric and believable SF, this is not it. If you are looking for a light, entertaining read with a spaceship and some pretty, fairy-like aliens, this could be it. You might have to suspend belief a few times. I am not quite sure how I talked myself into reading the sequel, I guess I need some closure to the story.

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher or author through NetGalley ages ago. Sorry about the very late review. All opinions are my own and I was not required to give a positive review.

Cleaning up that TBR pile — The Fortress

The Fortress
by S.A. Jones

I requested this book from NetGalley in 2019. It sounded interesting at first glance. But every time I picked it up and had a look at the book blurb, I felt more and more uncomfortable. Reading reviews made that worse. It sounds like this: The male main character is made into a slave under the rule of women that sexually assault and abuse him, to educate him in how he should treat women. I don‘t want to read that. It doesn‘t matter who abuses whom, it‘s horrible. And an eye for an eye is not a philosophy I buy into. Finally kicking this off my shelf.

Jonathon Bridge has a corner office in a top-tier law firm, tailored suits and an impeccable pedigree. He has a fascinating wife, Adalia, a child on the way, and a string of pretty young interns as lovers on the side. He’s a man who’s going places. His world is our world: the same chaos and sprawl, haves and have-nots, men and women, skyscrapers and billboards. But it also exists alongside a vast, self-sustaining city-state called The Fortress where the indigenous inhabitants–the Vaik, a society run and populated exclusively by women–live in isolation.

  When Adalia discovers his indiscretions and the ugly sexual violence pervading his firm, she agrees to continue their fractured marriage only on the condition that Jonathan voluntarily offers himself to The Fortress as a supplicant and stay there for a year. Jonathon’s arrival at The Fortress begins with a recitation of the conditions of his stay: He is forbidden to ask questions, to raise his hand in anger, and to refuse sex.

  Jonathon is utterly unprepared for what will happen to him over the course of the year–not only to his body, but to his mind and his heart. This absorbing, confronting and moving novel asks questions about consent, power, love and fulfilment. It asks what it takes for a man to change, and whether change is possible without a radical reversal of the conditions that seem normal.

Book blurb

Boldly going into that alternate timeline

The Unsettling Stars
by Alan Dean Foster

From the start I was convinced that Alan Dean Foster wanted to screw with our minds and show us how wrong our usual perception are. In retrospect I don‘t think he was trying to be particularly inventive or trying to open our minds. This was a pretty straight forward story with a very predictable outcome, set shortly after the events of the first Abrams Star Trek reboot movie. 

It was not a gripping read for me, I started to lightly skim from a third into the book, wanting Foster to just get on with the story and make his point. There wasn‘t much of a point though. This felt like one of the more amusing episodes of the old Enterprise, set in the new universe. I have read quite a few ST:AOS fanfiction stories with a lot more depth, suspense and more complex plots and characterizations. It’s all very superficial. Kirk is a bit more insecure than Shatner‘s Kirk would have been, due to his rapid ascension to the center chair and Spock mentions his refugee status a few times, that‘s as deep as it goes.

Nonetheless, there were some goods points as well. The creatures on the moon of DiBor and the aliens were colourful and entertaining. Foster has always been good at that. And it was a nice touch to incorporate Voyager into the story, considering that Foster came up with the narrative for ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’, including the tie-in novel.

Bottomline, this book put me to sleep quickly in the evenings. I am going to give any other Foster movie tie-in novels a wide berth from now on. And my plans to re-read his original fiction have taken an indefinite backseat now. 

🚀🚀½☆☆ — Another more positive review

Mowgli channels his inner Tarzan to go and see about a Wolf…

Fables Vol. 8: Wolves (Fables (Graphic Novels))
by Bill Willingham (Author), Mark Buckingham (Illustrator), Shawn McManus (Illustrator)

A bit on the spoilerish side… Wolves starts off with Mowgli, still tracking Bigby Wolf. This alternates with the kids at the farm, learnig to control their shapeshifting and flying.

And then, in part 2, Mowgli does his Tarzan thing and finally finds the big, bad wolf… 

Nice intro into Happily Ever After. Bigby is straight off into a mission, going up a beanstalk to meet a wizard in the cloud kingdom about something… and then he is off behind enemy lines. Fun sequence, Mission Impossible style! And he has an extraction bean with him, lol… That mission is very well told. 

And then there is the longed for reunion with Snow. Awww…. Happily ever after! 

Aaand we get another short story, Big and Small. Cinderella being Small and the guys at the top of the beanstalk being Big. Comic relief. The art is a simpler and flatter style, but I liked it. Everything in this caper takes three days… 😂 

Next is a Special Travel Supplement. Maps! Well, ok, two maps… one for Fabletown and one for the Farm. And then we get the complete script of Happily Ever After. Nope, I did not read the whole thing, but it was interesting to see what a comic script looks like. Skim-skimmity-skim.

Collecting: Fables 48-51

Murder, revenge and demons

The Puppetmaster
by Kemi Ashing-Giwa

A story of revenge and of demons from another universe. Best guess, inspired by Japanese culture. Short, grim and good.

“Uduak IX may have ordered an assassin to gut his niece in a holy monastery, but he is still a man of honor. As emperor of Johari IX, the greatest human-ruled planet in the Known Worlds, honor is an attribute to be expected. And so before he had her butchered, he gave the order that she would be allowed a single sheet of solar parchment and a holographic brush so she might write her last words.“

15 pages, from 👹 👹 👹 👹 👹
Can be read for free here

Added to my TBR pile: The Sufficient Loss Protocol

    “When an alien entity sneaks aboard a corporate spaceship, with no motive besides sabotaging the mission and murdering those aboard, commander Uzoma Ifiok launches an investigation—despite knowing that the real danger isn’t the one picking off her crew.”

    And read previously: Fruiting Bodies

    “An alien fungal infection has ravaged a faraway planet, turning all but six of the colonists into ravenous arinkiris. Inyama, a mycologist, is her species’ last hope. But it’s not expertise her fellow survivors want from her.”

    I liked it. Well written, tightly plotted. Very short, but with a nice plot bunny at the end.

    East and West clash and then Wood and Meat…

    Fables Vol. 7: Arabian Nights (and Days)
    by Bill Willingham (Author), Mark Buckingham (Illustrator)

    The Adversary has started his campaign against the Arabian fables. Sindbad arrives in Fabletown. And Mowgli is tracking Bigby Wolf. Sinbad brings a Djinn, which means big trouble…

    The tale of how the fables deal with the Djinn is entertaining and leads to a very gruesome ending for someone. Unexpected romance vibes at the end. The search for Bigby Wolf was in the sidelines and did not lead to much. Overall good. 🧞‍♀️🧞‍♂️🧞🧞‍♀️ 

    And then we get The Ballad of Rodney and June, I assume as an additional short story and a glimpse at the Arabian campaign, seen from the POV of a wooden soldier of the Adversary‘s forces. Plus we get some forbidden love and another road trip through the Homelands. And a second life. Oh wow, this part was really, really good. Excellent story telling. This is where this volume really shines. 🪵🪵🪵🪵🪵 

    Collecting: Fables 42-47

    Classic SF in translation for a change…

    Planet of the Apes 🦍🦧🙊🙈
    by Pierre Boulle

    Classic SF, translated from the original French version. Only slightly dated, thin on science, but still worth reading.

    Unexpected beginning, considering that I see Charlton Heston in my head, when I hear the book title. But he appears in chapter 2. Well, a French equivalent of a sort… Interesting propulsion method for the spaceship in chapter 1. The science is generally pretty wonky. Yes, that‘s a technical term. 

    Anyway, back to the account of the main character‘s travel. Together with two others he is headed to Betelgeuse. First stop in this audio for me, because I had to read up on Betelgeuse. Meeting humans and primates on another planet is a conundrum, obviously. The same evolutionary development in another star system? Convergent evolution to this degree?

    I want to discuss a few things, but it would mean spoiling the story, so I won‘t. It‘s pretty short, give it a go, especially if you have seen and liked any of the movies. 

    Written in 1963 from a typically white, male perspective of the time, women having to be beautiful to be attractive, some light racist vibes to it, etc. Mild though. The author is generally a little obsessed with beauty. And the main character is pretty full of himself and his superiority.

    Ignoring all that, the story is simple, but quite smart. There are a lot of parallels to our own history strewn in. Coming close to the end of the story, all kinds of alarm bells went off in my head. Well done. I would have liked to get more of an explanation of how all of this happened, aka what triggered it.

    I listened to the audio narrated by Greg Wise. It was pretty good.