Sunday, November 30, 2008

.hack//G.U.+ Volume 2 by Tatsuya Hamazaki and Yuzuka Morita

Haseo, now in possession of the Avatar "Terror of Death" battles Endrance for the title in the Arena and discovers, upon the defeat of Endrance, that the AIDA are controlling their users by manipulating their memories of loved ones. For Endrance's player, it was his cat, Mia. Although he's not quite sure what to do with this information, Haseo finds that his defeat of Endrance but his player into a coma, just like the rest of the Lost Ones that Haseo is fighting to bring back.

However, as Haseo, Pi and Yata work out what Tri-Edge is after, he pulls another trick on the whole server, leaving everyone inside unable to log out, trapping them in the game. As the players panic, Pi and Yata try to reverse the trick, but are unable. Haseo, learning that the AIDA probably did this, takes off after Tri-Edge to try and draw him out. He issues a challenge to Tri-Edge to meet him at the Arch Koeln Waterfall, but the only person who shows up is a woman named Bordeaux.

She can't see the Avatars, but doesn't want to say how she got the power of an AIDA. Haseo forces the story out of her. After being beaten by Haseo, she wanted to beat him. She recieved an e-mail with an unknown sender who told her there was an item that could help her. She wanted it, and a throwaway level 1 character delivered her a healing potion. But when she used it... she could feel the effects like a drug. That's how she became infected.

Meanwhile the players are still freaking out and are now getting short of sleep. Some of them want to take out the others, but a player named Sakaki is trying to keep the peace, along with her guild. She meets Haseo and tells him the Atoli recieved a message from him to meet her somewhere. Haseo denies sending the message, but returns to Pi and Yata to trace her. He learns she is not in the world... but there is no sign of her logging out, so she must be lost.

Haseo, Pi and Kuhn return to where her avatar was last and have an encounter with another old friend of Haseo's, Ovan. Ovan also has an Avatar, the Rebirth, whose weapon contains information from the CC Corp's old servers. He says that this part of the world has been shunted to a server run by an AIDA, who has been observing them, observing humanity. Haseo realizes that Yata has known how to reverse the problem all along. But when the area they are in begins disappearing, Haseo realizes that Tri-Edge has come to call and eagerly leaps into battle against him, along with Kuhn and Ovan. But Tri-Edge simply disappears.

The three return to the G.U. Operations area where Kuhn and Yata argue about why Yata didn't simply reverse the operation and free all the players. Finally, fed up with Yata's manipulations, Kuhn leaves to protect the players in his own way. As Yata prepares to reverse the trick that got them into the AIDA server, Haseo's friend Shino wakes up a bit, not knowing where she is, but seeing that it is very, very dark.

In this second installation of .hack//G.U.+, not much really happens. Characters argue about what they are going to do, and yes, the biggest thing that happens is that the players on the server cannot log out. Some information is gained, but slowly, and the big confrontation between Haeso and Tri-Edge is hinted at, but never really comes off. We still have no idea why the AIDA are studying the humans in the game or what it all means as yet. But there is a third volume coming...

Honstly, if I hadn't gotten this and the third volume at the same time, I don't think I would have bothered buying #3. It's like Shakespeare's line about the rantings of an idiot "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". At most, it's 90% filler and not really worth the money.

Royal Babylon by Karl Shaw

Everyone is fascinated with the doings of Royalty, but few people know the true histories of the royals, or their deepest secrets: Drug use, Philandering, Kleptomania, Gross incompetence, Naivety and the worst of all, madness, compunded out of a brew that includes a limited gene pool and inbreeding caused by the conviction that only Royals were fit to breed with other Royals.

What this led to was families massively inbred, where madness reigned and genetic diseases such as Hemophillia were passed around through the marriage of one royal carrier to others. Queen Victoria was a carrier of the Hemophilliac gene, and her aggressive marrying of her daughters into other royal families, themselves carriers of the gene deadly in males, had consequences that affected the Royal families of at least three other countries, including Russia and Spain.

But Hemophillia isn't the only thing to be passed down through Royal families, and the amount of covering up of Royal legacies is nearly criminal. From rulers who were certifiably insane to those who viewed the world as their brothel and any woman they saw as fair game, to those who drank and debauched their way through the world, dying at early ages of dissipation and worn out bodies from their heroically profligate lifestyle, Royal Babylon outs them all, telling their stories of life and death in ways that will shock, titilate and horrify readers who only usually get to hear the sanitized versions of royal lives.

The last chapters of the book are dedicated to the British Royal Family, and show how a group of mostly-German monarchs managed to remake themselves to seem completely British after World War I. Names were changed (The House of Hanover became the House of Windsor, the Von Battenbergs became the Mountbatten Family) and lies were told to make the ruse complete, which has then been accepted by the world at large.

Reading this book is titilating, yes, but it's also sickening. Sadly, for most Royals, by the time they realized the problem, it was already too late to change the family legacy of madness and inbreeding. There were no royal families unaffected by problems with sanity, and since most, if not all, royal males must pass on their genes by siring children, even the most insane, ugly, inbred royal families are able to pass on the genes that in a normal family would die out for lack of issue. Even trying to pick the less insane or inbred members of the family, even if they are extremely ugly, dwarfish and have the manners and morals of a ravenous dog in heat, don't change the genes that they came from, which will be passed on to their children.

The chapters on the British Royal Family are the most enlightening, since these are the ones that are still mostly extant in the world today, or at least the most visible, being that they still have a place in British Government (albeit a mostly ceremonial one). In this book, you will learn things about the Royal Family that you never knew nor expected existed, from Queen Mary's Kleptomania to the abdicated King Edward's admiration for Adolf Hitler, and his belief that if he had been on the throne at the time of World War II, Britain would have supported Hitler, not the Allies. Although he and his wife Wallace Simpson lived in France when the Nazis invaded, they fled to Spain, and would have stayed there had not Winston Churchill threatened them. In the end, they went to Jamaica for the duration of the War, but kept in contact with Hitler through a Spanish Ambassador up until the very end of the War. Unbeknownst to many, if Hitler had won the war, he would have placed Edward back on the throne of England as a puppet king, with Wallace as his Queen.

This is a fascinating, if in a horrible way, book, and anyone who enjoys reading about the Royal Family of Britain, or even any royals at all, will find lots of fascinating stuff in it. I highly recommend it, even if reading it gives you the mental equivalent of a stomachache. While most of it is highly repellent, seeing what the Royal Families of Europe were really like is a true eye-opener, and will make you glad that most of them have gone the way of the Dodo.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cyndere's Midnight by Jeffery Overstreet

Cyndere is a young Princess who has lost nearly everyone who ever mattered to her. Her bold, seafaring father died when his ship capsized in a violent storm at sea. Her brother, an accomplished musician, died in an attack by Beastmen. And her husband, the Lawyer Deuneroi, is also killed by Beastmen when he goes to the aid of the fellow house of Abascar, which was recently destroyed by fire and collapse.

The only person to survive was Deuneroi's bodyguard, a man named Ryllion, who survived almost unscathed when Deuneroi was killed. Thought dead, he pulled himself out of the ruins of the house, and was promptly sent to the nearest garrison to the beastmen, with the orders to reduce their numbers. He chafes under this duty, feeling that he may have once been buried literally, but now he feels buried metaphorically under his duty to kill as many Beastmen as he can.

But Cyndere has come to the same Garrison with her friend, Emerienne, a sisterly who was Cyndere's closest childhood friend. They have come here to set fire to a Remembrance Tree in Deuneroi's name, to give Cyndere a small measure of peace after the death of her husband. But Cyndere has a plan she cannot even tell her closest friend: She and Deuneroi had a plan to heal the Beastmen and make them human once more, and she has really come in pursuit of that goal.

Jordam is a Beastman, one of four brothers. His oldest brother, Mordafey, is unsatisfied with the amount of power he has now and has a plan to gather himself more, one that involves not only Jordam, but his two other prothers Jorn and Goreth. Unbeknownst to the others, though, Jordam was touched by Auralia, a worker in colors, and is much less feral and prone to violence than the others. He also suffered an accident that broke off part of his scalp and has found it easier to think since then. But when Jordam and Cyndere finally meet, it has profound implications for both of them... and for the houses of Abascar, the House of Cent Regus (that of the beastmen) and Cyndere's own house of Bel Amis.

As the Beastmen go to war against the Garrison and the Houses of Bel Amis and Abascar, Ryllion reveals his treachery, working for the seers who almost completely run the people through their beliefs. And the seers have access to potions that seem the same as the essence that makes the Beastmen what they are. Is the tragedy of Cent Regus about to repeat itself? Or can Cyndere and Jordam prevent the tragedy? And is Jordam, himself addicted to Essence, able to overcome his addiction by using the colors Auralia left behind?

This was a good, if confusing novel, since when I picked it up I was unaware that it was the sequel to another novel, "Auralia's Colors". And aside from the many references to that novel (for example, House Abascar was destroyed in that novel), this one is able to stand on its own. If anything, Jordam is the real star of the book, in that he is the one who risks the most to warn the King, Cal-raven, of Abascar, of the attack by the Beastmen of Cent Regus, and that the seer Pretor Xa is allied with the Beastmen who will be attacking.

He also struggles to overcome his addiction to Essence, believing it to be bad, and struggles to use Auralia's colors to calm himself when he is craving essence. In the end, he is saved by his brother Jord's killing of the Sopper Crone, the woman who doles out essence. In comparison to Jordam, Cyndere, the putative heroine of the book, comes across as dangerously naive, even though she does redeem herself by learning better during the course of her association with Jordam.

The Beastmen of Cent Regus, while being mean, brutal and nasty, also evoke some sympathy when we learn how they ended up this way, and distaste falls on Pretor Xa and the seers as being ultimately responsible for the Beastmen. But by the end of the book, neither the Beastmen nor the seers are truly defeated, but there is hope that these threats will come to an end in the next book, to be called "Cal-Raven's Ladder", and I may be around to read it.

Wonder Woman: The Circle by Gail Simon, Terry Dodson and Bernard Chang

Wonder Woman, also known as Princess Diana of Themiscyra, was not truly born of her mother, the Amazon Queen Hippolyta. Instead, she was sculpted of clay and animated by the forces of the gods themselves. But she was also gifted with a soul.

Her birth did not pass unremarked among the Amazons, however. Before Diana was born or concieved in the mind of her mother, Hippolyta chose four personal quardswomen from among the Amazons. There were not the most beautiful, feared or skilled, but four women chosen from among the Huntresses, Fisherwomen, Keepers of the Royal Menagerie and one woman, only one, was Captain of the Royal Guard.

Isolation from men had an effect on the Amazons. Most of them craved children, and some were driven almost mad by the lack of progeny. For even as they were warriors, they were also women, and craved to be mothers. But other Amazons disdained children and those among the Amazons who wished for them. Seeking after children, they felt, would destroy the Amazons. Sadly, the Amazons the Queen chose for her Royal Guard felt that way. So when the Queen petitioned the Gods for a daughter, they viewed it as an abomination, something that would destroy the Amazons, and the child as a demon.

When Hippolyta showed the Amazons her child, her personal guard made plans to kill the child. But Hippolyta foiled their plans and imprisoned the women beneath Themiscyra. Every year, she visits them to see if they will repent their views. But they will not, preventing the Queen from forgiving their crime.

Now, forces of the Nazi regime, led by Captain Nazi, have landed on the island, since the Amazons, except for Queen Hippolyta, have been banished from Themiscyra. Wonder Woman is also banished, and she petitions many Gods for aid in reaching her homeland. But none will help her, some because they are afraid of the Greek Gods, others because they are simply not powerful enough to help, until she goes to Kane Miohai and pledges to serve him above all other gods and be his champion when he asks her to be. And he agrees to aid her, lending her his token and a magical Scallop shell to become a boat that will take her anywhere she needs to go.

Diana lands on the island with several intelligent Gorillas from Gorilla City, who were lied to by General Grodd and attacked her. But she befriended them and now they are fighting on her side. Meanwhile, Hippolyta has been fighting to defend the island on her own, and been shot down just before her daughter's arrival. But can Diana reach her mother in time?

Even if she can, she will have to fight her mother's former personal guard, freed by the Nazis to help them take over the island and fight Diana. And unlike the Nazis, who merely wield laser guns and cannons, the former guardswomen are fighting with weapons constructed by the Greek Gods, unbreakable by ordinary means. Can Diana overcome them and make them see the error of their ways?

Then, Diana is approached by the Khund for help. Recently, a ship burrowed into the center of their homeworld, causing many deaths and putting their world at risk. They beseech Wonder Woman, in their own way, to help them against this threat. But the threat is real... and they are the ones who have caused it. Can Wonder Woman deal with an extremely pissed-off Green Lantern and make peace between him, the aliens and the Khunds, before the Khunds destroy their own home world to get rid not only of the aliens and the Green Lantern, but also Wonder Woman, one of their greatest foes?

This was a really wonderful graphic novel, with Diana portrayed exactly as she should be. Like Mercedes Lackey, the writer who wrote the foreword to the book, I, too, had problems with Wonder Woman when I was growing up. She was almost literally a Goddess, but when she was in her secret persona of Diana Prince, she turned into a glorified secretary to a man, Steve Trevor, and had to prop up his male ego by saving him when he was knocked out or in some other way incapacitated.

This graphic novel goes a long way towards redeeming Wonder Woman, and turning her back into the Goddess she was meant to be. Diana is as ruthless in battle as any Amazon could hope to be, but she is not completely ruthless to the point of killing her enemies. She would rather redeem them with love and forgiveness, even if they have harmed her. But even when she does so, she does it without seeming weak or wishy-washy, and if her offer is spurned, she will continue to hold out hope for peace.

Even the Nazis are allowed to surrender and leave the island, and she tries to make peace with her mother's former bodyguards, but as they did with her mother, they reject the offer. But like her mother, she simply imprisons them, and they will again be offered the chance at redemption once a year, even if they refuse it time after time.

I like this Princess Diana, and even the man she is falling in love with, a fellow agent who treats her as both someone who is just as good as he is and as a woman who is his equal. And while most of the romances among her people are between two women, she and her love must learn to adapt.

For revivifying and returning the Amazon Princess to the sort of woman she ought to be, I salute Gail Simon, and this graphic novel, which has managed to turn Diana Prince into a woman to be proud of, but also Etta Candy, no longer the "fat girl", but another female operative who can kick butt with the best of them. And for that, I heartily salute them both!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Train + Train, Volume 1 by Hideyuki Kurata and Tomomasa Takuma

The Planet of Delouca is reknowned across the galaxy for its school system. School trains ferry students across the land, and feature stops in various cities where the kids get to learn more about their chosen profession. There are trains featuring normal professions, and then there is the "special" train.

Arena is a girl from an extremely wealthy family who wants more than anything else to take the Special Train. Her grandfather, the head of the family, is determined that she not do so, and has cut off her access to funds to try and deny her. But Arena is more determined than her grandfather knows, and has walked to Ideo, the Capital of Deloca, all by herself to board the Special Train. She also hasn't eaten in three days.

Reiichi Sakakusa and Liae Igarashi are two friends from the planet Migella, another artifically constructed planet like Deloca, who have come to board the Normal Train and be educated. Liae has romantic feelings for Reiichi, but hides them, hoping that he will eventually see her in the same way. But when she gets in trouble with an Alien called a Winzbeel by taking its picture and pointing at it like it is am act in a sideshow, Reiichi steps in to help her and must be rescued by Arena.

Arena is up front with both of them about how much she wants to board the Special Train, and Reiichi doesn't seem as enthused about his own choice, apparently boarding one of the normal trains because he feels it is expected of him. But when agents of her grandfather try and capture Arena and prevent her from boarding the Special Train, Arena and Reiichi end up literally chained together. And nothing, but nothing will prevent Arena from getting on the Special Train!

With no choice but to help her, Arena and Reiichi end up on the Special Train together. Now, Reiichi has a choice. The shackle holding them together will dissolve and open in 100 hours. Reiichi can chose to transfer to a normal train after that point. But being with Arena makes him really feel alive. Will he choose to transfer after knowing her that long, or will he, too, be won over by the charms of the Special Train?

I liked the idea of the Special Train, and even the idea of school trains. But the characters here aren't anything we haven't seen before in Anime. The sensitive nerdy guy who gets pushed and pulled around by the women who know him, and the strange, even "Yankee"-type girl who is good at fighting with a strong will who ends up with the nerdy, pushed around boy. At some point, I expect him to end up in a romance with her and decide he likes her better than his former friend, who also pushed him around while being much more sneaky about it.

But while the characters are nothing we haven't seen before, the Trains are something new, and I look forward to learning more about the "Special" Train and what it teaches. The implication in the story is that, as far as Liae is concerned, the "Special" train is for problem students. But maybe "Special" is more along the meaning of "Gifted". It's hard to tell so far.

Manga Shakespeare: Hamlet Illustrated by Emma Vieceli

I was predisposed to like Manga Shakespeare's Hamlet, but the execution of bringing this admittedly famous story to the world as a manga is deeply flawed by cutting out at least some of the words of the more famous parts of the play.

The story is well-illustrated, and begins with Bernardo, Francisco, Marcellius and Horatio witnessing the spirit of the Dead King of the Danes returning to the castle from his crypt. Though they implore him to speak as to why his spirit does not rest, the King's Ghost is silent. When Hamlet, the former King's son, returns to the Kingdom, his friend Horatio brings him this disquieting news, and Hamlet is impelled to investigate.

Following the King's Ghost when he appears, the Spirit tells him that he died of no natural causes, but was killed by his own brother, Claudius, the same man who is now King and is married to Hamlet's mother, Queen Gertrude. Hamlet promises his father's ghost revenge on the man who killed him, but the knowledge disquiets his mind and drives him crazy.

Still, the things he says gives the King and Queen reason to suspect Hamlet of holding some secret, but they suspect that it is love for Ophelia, Daughter of one of the King's Advisors, a man named Polonius. Polonius's son, Laertes, is about to leave on a trip out of the Kingdom as an ambassador, and he advises his sister to have nothing to do with Hamlet. Her father advises her not to have anything to do with him as well. But when the King and Queen tell Polonius that love for Ophelia may have caused Hamlet's madness, he agrees to engineer a meeting between the Prince and his daughter.

Meanwhile, Hamlet lays a trap for Claudius, having two actors do a play about a man killing his brother, a king, and then marrying his wife, a queen. They put on the play, and Claudius is overcome with emotion and remorse. But realizing that Hamlet may know his secret, he decides to have his nephew killed by sending him to England with sealed orders that call for his execution once he arrives there. Hamlet departs with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two courtiers who are spying on him for the King, but before he departs, kills Polonius when he realizes someone is spying on him in the Queen's chambers.

His departure and the death of her father drive Ophelia mad, and she is soon no better than Hamlet was. But Claudius's plans derail when Hamlet's ship is attacked by Pirates, who free Hamlet and take him back to Denmark. Unbeknownst to Claudius, Hamlet read the sealed orders and changed them to call for the death of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern instead.

Arriving back in Denmark, Hamlet learns Ophelia has died, hanging herself over a river with a noose of flowers. He shows up at her funeral, where Laertes, recently arrived back from his mission, has learned of her death, and been told by the King that Hamlet ultimately bears the blame for her death. Laertes attacks Hamlet at the funeral, but Hamlet says he loved Ophelia more than anyone. Laertes challenges Hamlet to a duel, and Hamlet agrees.

At the Duel, Laertes has poisoned his sword, and the King has poisoned a goblet for Hamlet to drink, which should ensure his death twice over. But Hamlet is better with his sword than anyone believes, and the Queen accidentally drinks the poisoned goblet intended for Hamlet. When Hamlet realizes that Claudius has poisoned his mother, he gives Laertes a mortal wound, recieving one himself, but forces Claudius to drink from the same goblet that killed the Queen. As everyone around him dies, Hamlet, too, dies in the arms of his friend, Horatio, saving him so that he may tell everyone what occurred.

The story, of course, is straight from Shakespeare. But as I read, I realized there was a great deal missing. For instance, Hamlet's famous speech that starts "What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a God!" is compressed to a mere: "What a piece of work is man! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a God!"

This, to me, completely undercut the beauty of Shakespeare's prose. How can you convince people that Shakespeare is still readable when you cut out half the words? And I knew the lines that should have been there from other sources... including the play "Hair" and from Captain Picard quoting them at Q in "Star Trek: The Next Generation". This was the only spot in which I absolutely knew there were lines missing (ones after are missing, too), but that led me not to trust that the whole of the story was contained within the manga.

In that reading this may make readers seek out the play to read or watch, I must give it credit, but I find that the way the adaptor cut out lines apparently willy-nilly makes me consider this version of the play extremely damaged and not really a good resource, especially as no mention of this cutting is made anywhere in the volume. So, no, I wouldn't recommend this version of Shakespeare's play, and to those who have read it, I would suggest reading the real play so they can experience the beauty of Shakespeare's prose for themselves.

The Rhino with Glue-on Shoes and other surprising true stories of zoo vets and their patients Edited by Lucy H. Spelman, DVM and Ted V. Mashima, DVM

"The Rhino with Glue-On Shoes" collects 28 true animal stories from Veterinarians employed by Zoos and other animal institutions such as aquariums and game parks. The 28 stories are broken down into seven collections of four stories each, from stories of animals and humans with a special connection, to stories of new treatments tried out on animals, sometimes for the first time.

The cover story, the one of the Rhino with glue-on shoes, is one such story, about a Rhino named Mohan who had such terrible foot problems that the only solution was to surgically trim the excess skin and flesh that would grow out of his feet every 6 months or so.

When Mohan's Veterinarian travelled to a conference, she met with a man who offered both an explanation of Mohan's problems, and a solution: Rhinos are toe-walkers, but the hard floors of most Zoo exhibits are of concrete, metal or stone. Because of the hard floors, Mohan's toenails had been damaged, converting him into a sole-walker. Protecting the sole of the foot with a metal plate superglued in place would allow his toenails to regenerate while protecting his sole. As he healed, they could work on the floor of Mohan's exhibit, replacing it with the sort of marshy ground that Rhinos are accustomed to living on in the wild.

They did so, and the treatment worked. Even though the plates only stayed affixed for 3 months or so, it was long enough to solve the problem, and with the change in the floors of the exhibit, the problem hasn't recurred.

The other stories are equally delightful. Some are sad, as in the story of Brass, a red-ruffed Lemur with a strange facial swelling caused by a TB injection. They were never able to find out why his face kept swelling, and it eventually caused his death. But even the necropsy gave no clues as to the reason for his death. Each though, is full of detail and worthy of reading.

The center of the book has pictures of the animals in question, although some have no pictures and are represented by another animal of the same species. This is a wonderful book, both sad and heartwarming, and anyone who loves animals, is considering a career in the Veterinary sciences, or who just loves interesting stories, would love this book. I plan to recommend it to everyone at the library.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Oscar Wilde and a Game called Murder by Gyles Brandreth

Oscar Wilde's friend and admirer Robert Sherard recounts a tale of Oscar's life, in which he, Oscar and five of their friends and acquaintances formed a supper club called the Socrates Club that met on Sundays. At one of those supper meetings, they each brought a guest to dinner and played a game which Oscar called "Murder". Who, among all those that you know, would you like to kill? Each name will be read and the members of the club will try to guess who nominated the name on the paper.

Each guest submits a name on a slip of paper, which is read by the Club's secretary, Mr. Byrd. The names include Miss Elizabeth Scott-Rivers, a woman who broke off an engagement with one of the members of the club, Lord Abergordon, the uncle of another member, Captain Flint, the Cadogan Hotel Parrot, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Bradford Pearse, an actor, Mr. David Muirtree, a boxer of some reknown who happens to be a guest at the dinner is named four times, Old Father Time, Eros, a blank slip of paper, Mr. Oscar Wilde, and Mrs. Oscar Wilde.

While some of the names are found immediately when the person who named them confesses to the rest of the group, the game quickly breaks up the gathering, and they return home. However, early the next day, one of the guests, the honorable Reverend Charles Daubney knocks desperately on Oscar's House Door and informs him that Miss Scott-Rivers house is on fire, and she is dead, burnt to death. Although he wrote her name, he says that he didn't kill her. In fact, he tried to save her and was himself injured.

Oscar and the others go to see the fire, and Daubney confesses to trying to save her to the Police, but the death is ruled an unfortunate accident, that her dress caught fire when she got too close to the fire. Oscar knows how something like that can happen, as two of his half-sisters died in a similar way. One's dress caught on fire, and the other was killed along with the first as she tried to save her.

Everyone dismisses the death as a horrible accident and leaves it at that... until the next day, when Lord Abergordon is found dead. But this death, too, is judged natural, as Lord Abergordon was old and not in the best of health. But while Oscar is only mildly concerned, Robert Sherard is not happy at what Oscar's game may have unleashed. Could it be that among their company that night was someone who set upon real murders in response to the game? Considering that Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker and other prominent men belong to the Socrates Club, this is a very dark thought.

The next day, the Parrot Captain Flint is killed, its blood splashed over the door and feathers everywhere, and the carcass dumped on Byrd's desk. Byrd, who owned Captain Flint and loved it like a child, is desolated by the death, wondering who could do something like that to his pet? Given that the bird was foul-mouthed and given to crapping where it wished and biting, it is not difficult to find those who hated the parrot. But who among them would kill the bird? Oscar now begins to take the possible threat to those who were named at the Socrates Club dinner seriously, and he sets out to talk to Arthur Conan Doyle about Sherlock Holmes, only to find that Doyle has been set on killing his famous creation for a while now. While Doyle has done well writing about his creation, Sherlock Holmes, he also feels hemmed in by the publicity and fervor around his creation, and wants to be free of him so he can write the things that really interest him. Other things that don't include his famous detective.

Next, Oscar tries to contact the actor Bradford Pearse, and tracks him down in a play he is contracted to appear in... an extremely *bad* play, which he and Sherard watch with another of Oscar's friends. But after the play is over, Pearse disappears, and although they watch for him at the playhouse, he does not appear. The next day, they find a bag belonging to him on the high cliffs overlooking the sea. They cannot tell if Pearse may have jumped in voluntarily or been pushed, but given that he would not have abandoned his bag, they conclude he is dead.

Oscar returns to London and attempts to warn the next possible victim, Muirtree, of the possibility of his dying or being killed. But Muirtree says he is able to take care of himself, and although he thanks Oscar for his consideration, he doesn't seem to think he'll be murdered. For the next two days, all is well. Muirtree invites Oscar to his boxing match on Monday, the first fought under the rules instituted by the Marquess of Queensbury, and Oscar invited him to the performance of his play, Lady Windemere's Fan on the night before, Sunday. While Muirtree doesn't show for the play, Oscar does show for the fight.

The fight is mostly bloodless for eighteen rounds, then is suddenly and shockingly won by Muirtree, who wins in a welter of blood and falls down dead afterwards. For someone has concealed razor-sharp blades in the lining of his boxing gloves that cut his hands and wrists to ribbons as he boxed and was protected by the adrenaline of the fight. With few targets remaining, including Oscar and his wife, the situation seems very dire, but Oscar has been in touch with the police, and he now knows enough to bring down that person or those persons responsible for the deaths. But can he do it before he and his wife fall victim to a murderer?

This was a remarkably engaging murder mystery, enlivened as it was with plenty of Victorian personalities and famous people. Although Oscar Wilde is famous for many things, one being a charge of indecency for which he served two years in jail, the possibility of Oscar Wilde being homosexual (or at least bisexual, since he was married and had two children by his wife) is never really broached in this novel, even if it does lend a certain frisson to scenes where Oscar is being kissed (always on the cheek or forehead) by one of his male friends.

The real Oscar Wilde, of course, was a very brilliant and quick-witted man, and here we see that part of his personality on display. This Oscar is capable of not only quick-witted literary bon mots, but has the kind of brilliance that enables him to solve crimes and deliver speeches that would be equally at home in the courts of law or in politics. Even more so than as a detective, Oscar Wilde is a fascinating character in his own right, and reading this book made me want to have met him in person while he was still alive, as the kind of scintillating conversations that he was capable of make you want to bask in such brilliance, even for a little while.

As a Detective, Oscar Wilde is a success, and as this is the second book in a series, I am definitely going to track down the first one and read it, too. I've found Oscar Wilde to be an interesting figure ever since I first discovered him, and this book adds to that feeling, even though it is pure fiction. The prose is witty, the mystery sufficiently murky and garbled to confound as it intrigues, and seeing Oscar at his best makes the reader sad that he was taken from the world so soon. (As the afterword indicates, he died when he was only in his 40's). I wish this Oscar, the literary Oscar, to have just as long a life as the original.

Countdown to Final Crisis, Volume Two by Paul Dini and Various

The six unconnected stories are beginning to come together at last, showing that despite all that happened, the true, coming Crisis hasn't happened yet.

Jimmy Olsen has somehow inherited strange and powerful abilities, but they come and go. When he tries to team up with his longtime friend, Superman, to fight crime under the name of "Mr. Action". Unfortunately, his powers desert him at the worst time, denying him entrance to the Justice League and leaving him quite beat up. But Jimmy can't leave it at that. The mystery of where his powers came from and why they come and go with such abruptness makes him start investigating the source of his new, strange abilities. But can he live with himself when he realizes that his abilities are being stolen from other superpowered individuals? And can he figure out why he is getting them?

Holly Robinson, the former Catwoman, has met and become friends with Harley Quinn, the Joker's longtime girlfriend. Now, both of them are sheltering in a shelter run by Wonder Woman's native sisters, the Amazons. For some reason, the Amazons are recruiting among the downtrodden women of the cities, and they have tapped Holly and Harley for membership. But when they are taken to Themiscyra for initiation, is their induction all they were promised it would be, or is something else afoot? Can Holly find out the true situation without falling prey to the faster, stronger, more powerful Amazons?

Mary Marvel defeated Black Adam, longtime foe of her family. In response, he ceeded her his powers over magic, going back to being an ordinary man. But in accepting his powers, Mary finds herself no longer fitting in with her family, and being unable to control the new powers she has inherited. Asking Zatanna for help, Mary soon finds her powers racing out of her control, and wanting to be used in ways that seem less and less evil to her. But when she attacks Zatanna in her home, Mary finds herself allying with a female supervillain named Shade as her power seems to corrupt her and fill her with disdain for so many magic users who would drain her new powers away. Will Mary continue her descent into villainy, or be able to stop her plunge into evil and contempt for others?

Karate Kid is a refugee from the Legion of Superheroes in the 30th Century. But a super genetic disease makes him unable to return to the century of his birth without infecting and killing everyone else in the Legion. But he is desperate to find a cure and return home. Unfortunately, everyone he seeks out to help tells him they can find no sign of any disease. But is he truly disease free, or is the disease hidden so well that no one can find it? And are the people he is going to for help being honest and truthful with him? Or is the disease he supposedly carries going to be placed there by Darkseid, who is slowly bringing Karate Kid to him?

Donna Troy and Jason Todd have become displaced from their real place in the Multiverse, and with a Rogue Monitor they call Bob, have been seeking to find Ray Palmer before the other monitors find and eliminate him. But doing so means they will cross into other universes where the monitors are already recruiting villains, some dark reflections of the heroes of our own universe, in their quest to stop the coming conflict. But can they avert the coming crisis, or is their interference making the coming crisis even worse? And when Jason comes face to face with a heroic analogue of the Joker, whose daughter he met, fell in love with and died, will Jason be able to separate his hatred for the Joker who killed him in one of the universes with the Jokester, a hero who fights against a Villainous Injustice League?

Pied Piper and the Trickster are two villains that everyone believes murdered Bart Allen, the former Impulse and the New Flash. And in a way, they are responsible, but they didn't do the deed themselves. Still, their attempts to clear their name put them in opposition to Wally West, the new/old Flash, the Police, and every hero wanting to build up their street cred by bringing in the two villains who killed the Flash. With no one left to fall back on, the two must look to other villains for help. But can they trust anyone to help them, or will the other villains sell them out for the Price on their heads even as they look to find the one truly responsible for the Flash's death?

Well, I didn't read the first volume, so it was kind of hard to see where some of the story threads were coming from (the Mary Marvel one especially), but once I got into the stories, they were all just fine, though some of them were very hard to read (seeing Jimmy Olsen get the crap beat out of him by the Justice League was painful to read, as was the whole "Mary Marvel going to the side of evil" plotline, where she is being manipulated through some sort of mind control to the side of evil). Other than that, I enjoyed the book a lot.

It was especially nice to see the Real Legion of Superheroes that I remember reading in the late 70's and early 80's again, even though the only one we get to see is Karate Kid, the guy with no real superpowers, but enough knowledge of Karate to be able to compete with people who cast lightning or could increase their mass and strength exponentially. You gotta love someone like that.

I also loved the appearance, or should I say the re-appearance of some of the old-time characters like the Newsboy Legion. But I must say that most of the time, the proliferation of different DC Universes seems merely a ploy to collapse them again, and by doing so, sell more comic books. The storyline is a bit of a non-starter for me, as I view the whole idea rather cynically after having read Crisis on Infinite Earths back in the day.

So, while I think the books themselves are good, the whole idea just gets a "ho-hum" from me. Been There, Read That, Got The T-Shirt. This is nothing more to me than a rehash of "Crisis on Infinite Earths" and that was done better, at least in my eyes. If you haven't read that, then yeah, this might seem mighty earthshaking. Otherwise, it seems like a version of that old saying, "Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it".

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

City of Jade by Dennis McKiernan

The Elven Captain Aravan has lived through Five Ages on Mithgar, mostly in despair that his love, the Mage Maiden Aylis, was riven from him and presumed dead. Now, however, they have reunited, and will be returning to Aravan's first love, the sea, aboard the Elven ship Eroean. First, however, he and the Impossible Child, Bair, must join the Elves and the Magefolk for an attack on a fortress holding the Foul Folk and a contingent of Dark Mages who wrest their "fire" or magic, from death and suffering. And even though the Magefolk have brought nine sevens of their folk with them to clear out the tower, it may not be enough to stand against the twelve dark mages and their leader, Nunde the Necromancer.

In the end, all the Dark Mages but Nunde are slain, and the Necromancer must flee across the Plains to Mithgar, where he plots cold revenge against the one he feels is responsible for his loss, Aravan. Indeed, revenge on the Elf alone is not enough, and he wants to take revenge on everything and everyone that Aravan loves, including Aylis the Seer.

As Aravan and Aylis travel, recruiting a troop of dwarves for the ship, along with a fox-rider named Aylissa, the daughter of two Fox-Riders that once traveled with Aylis and Aravan, the Dark Mage Nunde plots and schemes to bring them down before finally coming up with what he thinks is the perfect plan. He puts into their path the evidence of a city of Jade that actually exists somewhere on Mithgar. Unknown to them, it is a city that entraps a horrible creature known as a wraith. If Nunde can entice Aravan, Aylis and the other members of the crew to the city and entrap them there amidst the Foul Folk and the Wraith that makes it a home, he can slay Aravan, Aylis, and the rest of the crew, making his vengeance complete.

But Aravan's rescue of two Buccan with a talent for climbing and escape artistry might prove the only difference between life and death as the Eroean goes all unknowing to the City of Jade that is a trap for all of them. Can Aravan and Aylis triumph against the wiles of the Necromancer and win the ship and its crew free of the trap, or will Nunde triumph? Or will he fall victim to his own trap, and join the crew and its master in the death he hoped to draw them into?

The actual voyage of the Eroean takes up very little of the story, as more is done with setting it up, from the attack on the fortress of the Dark Mages to the marriage of Aravan and Aylis amongst the Elves and the gathering of the crew for the voyage, that the actual sailing of the Eroean takes up only the second half of the book. Nevertheless, the first part of the book doesn't make you impatient to read the second half of the book.

Since the characters of Aravan and Aylis are effectively immortal (or so it seems, I haven't read much of Mithgar and really can't tell if this is so), the book doesn't have the franticness that such a voyage among two merely human-lived characters might feel. Since almost none of the crew are human, the passage of five years on the Eroean in trading before they find the clue leading to the city of Jade pass with little remark, as it might in a single trading voyage amongst humans. This creates a slow, unhurried feel that even the revelation of the city being a trap set by Nunde can't bring a real sense of urgency to.

Only during the battle in the city does one feel a sense of urgency and time passing, but that occurs near the end of the book, and acts more as close to the story than anything else.

As for the story itself, it seems that it will continue into another volume involving the same characters. Nunde's scheme is foiled, but Nunde is still alive, even if his apprentice is dead along with a great quantity of the Foul Folk. Though Aravan and Aylis are still alive, along with most of their crew, I cannot see either character allowing Nunde to escape punishment and judgement for the deaths among the crew of the Eroean.

Yes, I deeply enjoyed the story, but I feel no great urge to read the next volume in the series right away. Although I enjoy Dennis McKiernan's writing and storytelling, I never feel compelled, after reading one of his books, to seek out and read more of his writing. I'm not even sure why really, as I do enjoy those books of his I read. In any case, this is more of the same. I'll tell those who take out this book from the library that I read and enjoyed it, but not point it out to them as a book they must read right now.

Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland

Elizabeth Phoenix is an ex-cop turned private detective, using her psychic skills to see into the past to help the cops and her clients fight against crime and injustice. This is something that she does mainly because of her background as an orphan, abandoned into the care of a woman called Ruthie. Ruthie raised kids who had fallen through the cracks in the system, and made sure that those children found love and a real home under her care.

But when Liz finds that her former foster mother has been murdered, and quite viciously as well, she breaks off to find the person or people who killed her mentor. To do so, she teams up with her ex-lover Jimmy Sanducci, another one of Ruthie's foster kids, and like a brother to Liz when they were growing up. When they became adults, they fell in love and became lovers. When Liz caught him with another woman, it devastated her. But Jimmy is party to Ruthie's secrets that Liz knew nothing about.

And now with Ruthie dead, Ruthie has passed on her own powers of prophecy to Liz, making her not only a seer, but the head seer of an organization that fights against the darkness of the coming Armageddon, but against the monsters that will bring it about. As Liz struggles to control her now greatly-expanded ability to see, she begins to realize that both Jimmy and another man who Ruthie once sent her to in order to learn from, are both something more than human. Jimmy is a Dhampir, a half-human, half-vampire hybrid, and her former teacher Sawyer is a Skinwalker, someone able to change their shape into any animal by touching the correct tattoo on his body. But while he initiates Liz into her powers by becoming her lover, Jimmy is on a mission to find the Strega, or Vampire Witch, responsible for Ruthie's death.

Unfortunately for the both of them, the Strega turns out to be much more powerful than either of them anticipated, and he also turns out to be Jimmy's actual father. His power is such that Jimmy is caught in his father's growing web and turned to his evil. When Liz goes to rescue him, she is caught in a trap and thrown to Jimmy who has crossed the line into vampire-like behavior. Becoming Jimmy's prisoner as well as that of his Strega father's, Liz must fight for the strength to hang on. But with her mentor Ruthie giving her no advice but to love Jimmy to save him, can she find the power to love him as he is slowly killing her with sex and blood drinking? Can she lead Jimmy's soul back to her by getting him to remember their love, or is she doomed to failure and death in the beginning of the apocalypse?

I started reading this series and was sucked in immediately by Elizabeth Phoenix's strong character voice. Although she starts out the series never wanting to see her former lover Jimmy Sanducci again, during the course of the series, she realizes that even with all their problems, she never really stopped loving him. And with the revelation of who and what really caused Ruthie's death, she is thrown headlong from a life that made some sort of sense into a life where she is confronted by things that no sane person really believes exists, but which she has to believe in because they are being exposed right in front of her face.

One of her powers, apparently innate and brought out by Ruthie passing on her seer powers to Liz, is the ability to absorb new powers through sex with the person possessing them. By becoming lovers with Sawyer, she not only gains greater control over her powers as a seer, but also gains his ability to transform into an animal. Indeed, it is an unintended side-effect of this power that finally enables Liz to triumph over the Strega. But by becoming his lover again when he is controlled by the darkness within him, Liz also absorbs some of that darkness, which has ramifications we can't currently see.

Even as she saves Jimmy, his actions in this novel also drive them apart, setting up the next novel in the series quite neatly, which will be called "Doomsday Can Wait". I enjoyed this novel enough to keep reading, and I want to see what's coming next, though I don't mind waiting in this case.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Full Metal Panic Volume 9 by Shouji Gatou and Retsu Tateo

Chidori and Sasuke are still aboard the Submarine when it is attacked and taken over by Gauron. Tessa and Chidori are in the control room, and Gauron holds Chidori at gunpoint to get Tessa to help him with the ship. knowing that while Tessa doesn't care about threats to herself, attacking the people under her protection cannot help but force her to go along.

However, Tessa and Chidori share Whispered abilities, which enables Tessa to contact Chidori's mind directly and direct her to find the second control room and start a program that will return control of the sub to Tessa. But Chidori is a single high-school age girl. How can she evade military men to find the control room and achieve her mission?

Meanwhile, Sosuke and Kurz have evaded the general evacuation order that trapped the rest of the sub's personnel in the missile bay. As Sosuke is tormented by his unkind words that made Chidori cry and the knowledge that she thinks he hates her now, they must go to her aid, and the aid of Tessa, trapped by Gauron and several traitor personnel on the sub. Can Sosuke find Chidori before she is throttled to death by a traitor who believes her responsible for the death of several of his comrades, and even if he can, can he, a man who never talks about his feelings, find the words to apologize to her and get her to believe him?

The book ends with a fight and tense showdown between Sosuke and Gauron in the Lambda armor and The Venom armor. But can Sosuke, who Gauron knew as a young boy called "Kashim", defeat the man who knows him almost too well?

This was a thrilling end to this particular series, which is actually more than one series written by different writers and featuring many artists. But this version of the series is by the original writer, Shouji Gatou. This volume is also the ultimate volume in the series, and wraps up the entire series. In short, Sosuke finally confesses that he doesn't hate Chidori, and that he wants to stay with her and be her bodyguard.

For someone who is practically autistic about their feelings, like Sosuke is, this represents a major step forward for him. Chidori, too, must face her feelings. Even though she knows Tessa has romantic feelings for Sosuke and had earlier told Tessa she wouldn't stand in the way of a romance between Tessa and Sosuke, in this volume she must admit to herself, that she loves Sosuke and wants to be with him as well. She might not actually go any way towards actually doing anything about a romance, but since she started the series thinking of Sosuke as a creepy and possibly demented stalker, this represents a huge step forward for her as well.

This continues to be one of my favorite manga series, being much more Shoujo (concerned with feelings and character) rather than Shonen (concerned with hardware and fighting), or in other words a girl's manga rather than a boy's manga. Even though Sosuke is a member of a military organization, and much of the story concerns the military organization's goals and plans, the strong romance subplot makes this more a story for girls or young men, who crave some romance with their plot.

Usagi Yojimbo, Volume 14- Demon Mask by Stan Sakai

"Demon Mask" is a collection of thirteen short stories of the Rabbit Ronin, Usagi Yojimbo, the name in itself a sort of pun, since in Japanese, "Usagi" means "bunny" or "rabbit" and a Yojimbo is a wandering swordsman.

In the first story, "The Inn on Moonshadow Hill", Usagi stops for the night in an inn that is supposedly haunted. When one of the merchants staying there questions his honor and bets him 50 Ryo against his services as a bodyguard for 5 years that he cannot go out and retrieve the stone that supposedly is causing the hauntings. But will Usagi fail and run, or face the ghosts haunting the nearby graveyard as a samurai would?

In " A Life of Mush", a young boy wants to get away from his farming life, where he only eats Mush, and become a Samurai like Usagi. But when his dissatisfaction with Usagi as a role model puts Usagi's life at risk, can he get back in time to warn Usagi and save his life?

In "Deserters" Two Neko Clan Ninja have fallen in love and are fleeing the clan to make a new life elsewhere, a normal life. But is there hope of a normal life for these two?

In "A Potter's Tale", a thief hides a valuable jewel inside a clay pot made by Usagi when he is staying at a poor Potter's house. Ne marks the pot by putting a spout in it, which the Potter and his wife see as an innovation when they find it. Soon, all their pots have spouts. But when the thief comes back to buy the spouted pot, will he be able to find the right pot amid so many others? And what will happen when his companions want the jewel?

In "The Missive", Usagi sends a message to his old master, who tells his new student a story from Usagi's past as a young student of Bushido. And Usagi seeks a vision of his future, in which he learns of a terrible great evil coming for him. Can he escape his fate?

In "The Mystery of the Demon Mask", Usagi learns of a strange bandit terrorizing a small village when he witnesses a killing of a samurai by a man in a demon mask. When he is found by the body, he is initially suspected of the crime, but the local police soon listen to Usagi's tale of the man in the demon mask. One of the Policemen, Assistant Inspector Nitta, has a grudge against all Ronin, but his superior, Inspector Kojo, seems a much more temperate man. Sadly, the inspector's first choice for someone to suceed him, his son, Tokuo, was killed, leaving Nitta as the top choice to succeed Kojo, and Kojo thinks Nitta a brute. However, Usago teams up with Kuroda, another Ronin who is on the track of the killer, to bring down the Demon Mask. But can he heal a breach between father and son?

In "Kumo", Usagi is on his way back to the Monk Sanshobo's temple. Seeking a faster route, he takes a shortcut through the mountains, but must deal with an infestation of Kumo, or Goblin Spiders. But when he teams up with a strange monk named Sasuké to fight them, will he survive the encounter?

In "Reunion", Usagi returns to the temple of which Sanshobo is the lead monk, only to find it beseiged by men wanting the gold of a merchant who had taken shelter in the temple. Usagi infiltrates their camp only to discover that the men are not really after the gold. They have been ordered to kill everyone in the temple! Usagi and Gen, another samurai sheltering at the temple, discover that there actually is no gold. The merchant was a plant to help the men steal the famous sword, Grasscutter, which is being stored at the temple until Usagi, Gen and Sanshobo can deliver it to the Atsuto Shrine. But can they keep it safe and discover who really wants it stolen?

In "Death and Taxes", Usagi stumbles across a small village having a harvest festival and One of the villaers agrees to help Usagu to a nearby town over a mountainous route while the lowland route is used by the villagers to bring in their tax money. But when the Tax Caravan is attacked and the money stolen, can Usagi and the merchant arrive safely?

In "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Festival" Usagi has his first match against a fellow student... a girl, and he loses. Can he survive the blow to his pride?

In "Netsuke" Usagi returns a piece of Netsuke to the man who carved it, and remembers a time long ago in which he was a mere bodyguard to his lord. But some duties are important, even after the giver is dead.

The book ends with a series of one-page comics. In the first, Usagi is nearly outwitted by a ninja, until the Ninja outwits himself. In the next three, Usagi meets an Origami Crane-folding assassin who mysteriously knows his name. But can he defeat the assassin who has come to kill him?

This was an amazing book. Each story is packed with adventure, intrigue and a genuine feeling of being in Japan, although it's a Japan where animals replace people, and things from myths actually exist. In spite of being written by an American author (albeit one of Japanese descent), it feels more authentically Japanese than many actual manga by Japanese authors set in the Samurai era. Though mainly told as a series of unconnected stories, each is rich with detail and provides an insight into the era, the people who lived then, or Usagi himself.

This series appeals to people who enjoy comics as a story form, people interested in Japan, Japanese history and culture, and those who enjoy comics equally as action and background. Usagi is a heroic character, a Samurai as interested in the "little people" and protecting them as he is in the movement of Lords, Daimyo or the Shogun. His interest in the various arts of Japan also give readers the chance to experience along with Usagi such things as Seaweed Harvesting, Netsuke, the making of Pottery, Paper and so on.

I love this series, and as long as Stan Sakai keeps writing it, I'll keep reading it. Check it out for yourself.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dorothea, Volume 3 by Cuvie

Having agreed to pretend to be a witch for the commander of the Landsknecht, Dorothea is targeted by soldiers of the separatists for death. During the battle, she is attacked by a knight who is certain that she is a witch, and who is the witchfinder general for the area.

But the things he says about witches make Dorothea believe that she has done the right thing in pretending to be a witch. However, this man rea;izes she comes from Naulders and threatens to go against all she holds dear. And he's just as good or better a swordsman than Dorothea, who is unable to overcome his skill. When Gyurk arrives to save her, the knight retreats, saying the fight is no longer fair. However, he promises to make Dorothea, "the perfect witch", the 100th witch he has killed.

But when the man rides back to the noble who is supporting him and his crusade, the nobleman reveals that he cannot continue to fight the Landsknechts and is going to surrender. When Konrad the Witchkiller tries to hearten the man, he realizes it is a hopeless task, and kills him instead when the Nobleman tries to attack him.

Dorothea and Gyurk arrive in town and discover that Dorothea's grandmother, the leader of the White House, has been arrested and imprisoned to save the other members of the house. The leader of the Kingdom has waited to declare war on EMS because he wants them to do something that can serve as more than a pretext. Dorothea, of course, wants to save her grandmother and her friend Princess Else. But can she convince the Prince to Declare War now, and thus save her grandmother from the stake, along with the other inhabitants of the White House? And Konrad may be gone for now, but he's still out there, and fixated on making Dorothea his 100th victim. Can she increase her skill in time to bring down Konrad and save herself, while continuing to fight the politics that want to destroy her family? And when she finds out of Gyurk's attraction to her as a woman, will that distraction prevent her from doing either of those things?

This volume certainly ramped up the excitement in the series as we found out about some of the many threats ranged against Naulders by the church and those who seek to bring down the White House and those who live in it. Dorothea has also met a man, Konrad, who will probably end up being her Nemesis, at least for the near future. And yeah, he comes across as very scary, being completely fixated on witches and the killing of them, which he views as "holy work".

But politics also comes into it, as Dorothea learns of Princess Else's mother and how she didn't wish to marry, but did so for the good of her Kingdom. When she died in childbirth, it deprived Princess Else of her mother's strength, wisdom and guidance. With the help of the Neighboring kingdom declaring war on EMS, perhaps Dorothea will be able to save the people she loves. The question is, can she do it before it's too late?

Well, I've enjoyed the story so far, and I'll keep reading, as I am sure there is much, much more to come.

Biker Billy's Roadhouse Cookbook: Adventures in Roadhouse Cuisine by Bill Hufnagle

Bill Hufnagle is a long-time motorcycle rider and used to have a cable access show called "Biker Billy Cooks With Fire" (because he loves hot foods). There is even a special species of hot peppers named after him that is sold by the Burpee company. In short, if it involves Bikes and Cooking, Bill "Biker Billy" Hufnagle is the guy to go to.

Biker Billy loves food on the road, especially the kind that is sold in small taverns or mom and pop shops and that isn't your standard hamburger or grilled cheese, or what have you. While many of the recipies in here have been road-tasted by Bill himself, others were recommended to him by other bikers from their own rambles around the country.

The book is laid out in 10 sections, ranging from breakfasts to desserts and everything in between, including an entire chapter entitled "Home Sweet Home" that is devoted to comfort foods like Macaroni and Cheese, Deviled Eggs, Apple Pie and Chicken-Fried Bacon (which sounds like a real heart-stopper to me!). Each dish begins with the name and address of the place that serves it, and Bill, or other Biker's tale of how they encountered the food and why it makes its way into this cookbook. Then, after some comments from the cook or owner of the place, the recipie is given. Sometimes there is more than one recipie from the same place, usually quite different from the first.

And then there is another section after, with bonus recipies from the road, and a section on riding safely and sanely with food, such as: Eat where you stop for the night. Never try to motor after a large meal on a full stomach, especially if you are feeling drowsy. Maintain your alertness on the road, and Biker Billy gives hints as to what sorts of foods you should be and should not be eating to help maintain a proper and Healthy level of alertness so you do not get into accidents on your bike.

This book is filled with good food and plenty of wonderful travel tips. Even if you are stuck at home, you can still experience the recipies in your own kitchen with a bit of time and careful shopping. I do warn you that this book will inspire you to go visit the places that Biker Billy recommends and taste the same foods that he promotes in this book. But even if you can't, you can still experience the same tastes and perhaps feel like you've travelled a little in spirit.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Turtle Moves- Discworld's Story Unauthorized by Lawrence Watt-Evans

Terry Pratchett is the author of the Diskworld Saga, consisting of over 40 books and short stories, as well as numerous other volumes about Discworld but not starring the characters as such, like "The Art of Discworld" with Paul Kidby and "Granny Ogg's Cookbook". But why are these stories, which started out as deliberate parodies of various fantasy worlds and conceits, so enduringly popular, and why do they continue to charm and please after so many years?

Well, Lawrence Watt-Evans has the answer. And in a word, that is: Evolution. The books may have started out as parodies of fantasy worlds and ideas, but that only lasted for a book or two. Now, the books poke fun at people themselves and their institutions. Books about the wizards of the Unseen University are less about magic and more about acadamia and its institutions. The Story of Death is about the need for compassion. The story of the witches is of seeing what's actually there instead of what you need to be there or want to be there. The story of the Century of the Fruitbat stories are all stories of change coming to Ankh-Morpork, from those of movies or newspapers to those of the Post Office and Mint. And so on.

Watt-Evans lays out the series for us, telling the stories in a general way and talking about their major characters, like Same Vimes, head of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, or Susan Sto Helit, grand-daughter of Death. Every story is discussed, from the first to the last, and then the themes of each series and the series themselves as a whole. From there he moves on to the background characters, like Igor the Bartender and CMOT (Cut-Me-Own-Throat) Dibbler, with an entire chapter on the Luggage, that unquely strange device that Rincewind inherited from Twoflower. He points out how scary it is, while it manages to somehow look loveable in the books.

Along the way, Watt-Evans tries to get to the secret of Terry Pratchett's success, and he pretty much nails it, right until the end, while bringing us the fruit of Terry Pratchett's humor and wit, and pointing out the deep things that aren't always realized on the surface of his tales, things that maybe even readers didn't see until they read this book.

This book brings some much-needed literary criticism to Terry Pratchett's Discworld. It's not precisely criticism, though, and neither is it fawning praise, but that which examines the real underpinnings of the series and what makes it so successful without burning out either the writer or the readers on a particular character or set of characters. If you get tired about reading about a particular character, Sam Vimes, for example, or Rincewind, there are plenty of other characters with stories that will give you a break: Death or Moist Von Lipwig or Granny Weatherwax and Granny Ogg. Or Tiffany Aching and the Nac Mac Feegle. This wide variety of viewpoint characters present a changing view of Discworld: each sees reality in a certain way that is different than the others, and provides a break from those same others. This prevents readers from ever getting tired of one character or one set of characters and gives the series longevity.

This is a fascinating and humorous look at a beloved, widely-read series that even non-readers will enjoy, as it plumbs the series itself showing what makes it and the man who writes it great and enduring. Oh yeah, and Watt-Evans says it's also because Terry Pratchett owns a really great hat. If you get a great hat, you'll be a success, too! Well, maybe not, but this book is definitely worth a read. It might even turn you into a lover of Discworld, or at least inspire you to go out and take a look at the Discworld books. All hail the Great A'Tuin!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hellboy: The Companion by Steven Weiner, Jason Hall and Victoria Blake

Hellboy is a comic about the titular character, a man who is half human, half demon. For a long time, Hellboy worked for the B.P.R.D.- the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, under his mentor and foster father, the kindly Professor Bruttenholm (pronounced Broom). But when his mentor died, and Hellboy later became interested in finally learning about where he came from, combined with discovering that Thomas Manning, the director of the B.P.R.D. had installed a bomb in the chest plate of Roger, a homonculous who Hellboy had discovered and befriended, and who was working for the agency with him, he finally decided to quit and wander on his own.

Those who remained behind continued to work, however, and the series continued as more of an ensemble book, without Hellboy. But with the many convoluted plotlines, sometimes information about the characters is difficult to tease out from among the many pages which have been written about them. All of it has been collated and collected, though, in this book, from information on the character's pasts and their beginnings and the major and minor storylines they have been in. Strictly from the comics, of course... the movies and animated stories aren't a part of this timeline.

The book begins with a discussion of how Mike Mignola came up with Hellboy, and the series and artists that influenced his work both as an artist and as a writer. From there, it goes on to character profiles, where the major heroes, villains, and important secondary characters are listed, from Abe Sapien, the Fairies, Liz Sherman, Kate Corrigan, Johann Kraus, Elihu Cavendish, Langston Everett Caul, Isa Haupstein, The Lobster and Rasputin, among others, are discussed. Here are their entire histories laid out in one place rather than being scattered over many books and many stories. Chief among them, of course, is Hellboy himself, with several pages devoted to his long and convoluted history and adventures.

After that is a timeline of the series and the earth itself, from the First, or Hyperborian age, to the modern day of the series. Along the way, we find where Hellboy's Right Hand originated, and where the Ogdru Jahad came from and the Ogdru Hem, their servants, as well.

The second to last section discusses the literary geneology of Hellboy in greater detail, and the last section is filled with Mike Mignola's favorite stories and works, many of which tie into or underpin various Hellboy stories presented in the comics, from the Fairy Books of Andrew Lang, Manley Wade Wellman's stories and those by Clark Ashton Smith and H.P. Lovecraft.

The book ends with a listing of the many stories and tales presented in the Hellboy Universe, including those of Hellboy, the B.P.R.D., Hellboy Junior and crossovers with other comics by Dark Horse.

This book (heavily salted with art by Mike Mignola) is a wonderful resource for those who enjoy Hellboy and want to know more about the character and the series. Here are all the stories of the characters, and explanations and connections that readers might not have made on their own. How Kroenen and Von Klempt met and how Kroenen became part machine and part man, and how they and Rasputin met their ends. It's all there, available to anyone who might have missed the story or who doesn't know Kroenen beyond a character from the movie. The timeline is also useful, and the meditations on how Hellboy came to be in Mike Mignola's mind. It's a fascinating look at the story of Hellboy, and how he came to be both in the story that Mike Mignola tells and in Mike Mignola's life.

This book is recommended for those who love the comic, even those who have already read all the stories and know all the history, and for those who are only just beginning to enjoy the series. This is very good stuff, and any writer should study the depth of story that Mignola manages to see what can be accomplished in what is primarily a visual medium. This is good stuff. Maybe even some of the best.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dorling-Kindersley Eyewitness Companions: Astronomy by Ian Ridpath

Astronomy is a fascinating subject that leads us from the solar system to the galaxy and out into the wider universe. From the earliest times, man has studied the heavens, seeking to understand what he saw in the sky on a daily basis. Why did the groupings in the stars change over the course of months or the year? Why did the moon grow from nothing to a bright disk in the heavens, and then dwindle to nothing again? Why did the sun appear to change where it rose in the east every morning over the course of the year?

Ancient people couldn't answer these questions well, so instead, they built stone observatories and studied the stars to try and find out these questions. As time passed, succeeding generations built on and improved the answers they found to the questions about the sky and the universe. Today, we are heir to knowledge that originated in the earliest questions and answers that man found in the sky and the stars.

This book, published in 2006, offers a fairly up to date understanding of the universe, but isn't completely up to date (Pluto is still called a planet rather than a Dwarf planet, Pluto-like object or a Trans-Neptunian object). However, the rest of the information is still up to date.

Starting with History, the book also covers two major sections: The Universe, broken up into three parts- Origins, Phenomena and the Solar System, and The Night Sky, broken up into four parts- Observation, The Constellations, A Monthly Sky Guide and an Almanac. Each part is lavishly illustrated with pictures, and the section on Constellations is stellar, if you'll forgive the joke, with information on the constellations, when and how they were named, the major stars within them and other objects, such as Galaxies, Nebulae and Open Clusters that may be observed in or near the various constellations.

Each section offers plenty of information about what it covers, along with numerous pictures, graphs and illustrations explaining things.

Such a profusion of information could be confusing, but the book lays it all out so that instead of being confusing, it is enlightening. The book starts small, and goes on, getting progressively larger and larger in scope, from the planets to the solar system and on to the stars. And then from there to the agglomerations of stars the constellations.

I found the constellations part the most fascinating. Most of the northern constellations were named long ago, but many of the smaller, Southern Constellations were only drawn and named in the 1800's and one huge one (Argo, representing the ship that Jason and the Argonauts sailed on) was broken up into three huge pieces: the sail, the stern, and the keel. The newer constellations consist of such prosaic devices as a Sculptor's chisel, a furnace, a sculptor's table, and a compass (the kind used in drawing class rather than one used to navigate). A set square, altar and pendulum clock round out the constellations drawn and named by Louis Lacaille.

But more than just showing readers these constellations, the book includes sky maps for each month in the back, allowing you to go out and look at the night sky at any time of the year and understand what you are seeing.

This was a wonderful book for understanding our universe, and especially the stars in the sky. I highly recommend it for anyone trying to understand what is beyond our sky, from kids and teens to adults. Any age can find something to enjoy in this book.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Taming of Amelia by Maura Seger

Amelia Daniels is a Puritan from the Netherlands, not all that long arrived in Boston from her former home. Her father was a Puritan as well, but had some decidedly un-Puritan ideas on the education of women. When he died shortly after their arrival in America, he left Amelia with a great deal of money, making her highly sought after as a wife. But Amelia will have none of the Puritans of Boston, because all of them have traded Puritan ideals for an assurance that their ways, and their ways only, are correct.

Not everyone feels that way, and Amelia has sought them out, wanting to found a colony of their own where the standards are just a bit more relaxed than in Boston. To do so, she approaches Garrick Marlowe, a captain who was given his start by her father. Garrick refuses to help her, telling her it is madness and that the Boston Council of Elders would never give her permission. She accepts his refusal, but refuses to give up.

Meanwhile, the Puritan family she has been staying with is conspiring to get her married to a Puritan Elder named Harkness. Harkness wants Amelia, for she is beautiful, but is determined to make her bow to him, through violence if necessary. When she publically refuses his suit, he decides to beat her in the middle of the market, but he is stopped by Garrick, who has been looking for provisions for his ship, but he will not pay the inflated prices the Boston merchants are demanding.

Garrick and Harkness fight, and Garrick wins, badly beating Harkness. Although grateful for her rescue by Garrick, Amelia attempts to persuade him once more to help her start her colony. Garrick again refuses. Amelia, feeling beaten but not giving up, leaves. Garrick feels admiration for her refusal to give up her dream, and decides instead to buy supplies for his ship from the Native Americans instead. This is witnessed by Harkness, who decides to take revenge on Garrick by spilling tar on his ship and setting it ablaze late at night, when everyone is asleep.

He succeeds and burns Garrick's ship to the waterline, severely injuring Garrick's first mate, a Dutchman. Garrick now has two choices, give up on being captain and take a lower position on another man's ship, which is anathema to him after being his own master for so long, or buy a ship from a captain who is retiring, for which Garrick doesn't have enough money.

Garrick, feeling he has little choice, contacts Amelia, agreeing to take her new colonists where she wants and helping her set up her colony in exchange for enough money to help him buy the new ship, in which they will be partners. She agrees and also helps nurse Garrick's injured first mate. They buy the ship, load the colonists, their animals and cargo and sail before first light.

Garrick quickly sails them to the site Amelia has chosen for her colony, and she signs an agreement with the Pequot tribe for the lands to belong to her colony, called Belle Haven. But the beginning isn't very tranquil. First, Harkness leads a band of Puritans to imprison Amelia and her group, but the colonists fight them off with the help of Garrick and his men, routing the group and sending them fleeing back to Boston.

Then, Amelia notices a Pequot brave named Mayano, son of the Pequot chief Owenoke, desires the daughter of one of the colonists. Amelia attempts to head this off before anything can happen, and appears to succeed, while at the same time bringing them closer to the Pequots. Soon after, having grown close during this time, Amelia and Garrick become lovers. She tries not to think about how she will eventually lose him, because he only promised to stay for six months.

Soon after, Mayano leads a bunch of braves to attack the colony, where he is killed by Garrick and the braves driven off. Amelia, Garrick and the other colonists return Mayano's body to Owenoke, who is saddened by the death of his only surviving son, but thankfully he doesn't blame the colonists. This isn't the end of the trouble he will cause them, however.

Shortly after, a priest arrives from Boston, saying he is there to make sure they remain on the right spiritual path. Amelia reluctantly accepts him and his help, but when the female settler that Mayano was watching reveals she is pregnant by Mayano and wants to abort his child, Amelia won't help her abort a life, and the girl tells Amelia that the priest is speaking out against her in subtle ways to the other colonists, insinuating that she might be a witch with powers from the devil, in order to goad Amelia into helping her, or failing that, to hurt her. But Amelia stands firm and the other woman runs off. Amelia confesses the girl's words to Garrick, who is incensed at the priest, and goes to have a few words with him. The priest runs away and leaves the colony.

Realizing she can no longer stand alone, Amelia and Garrick go to New Amsterdam to ask the protection and blessing of its governor Petrus Stuyvesant. This being gained, they return to the colony, where Garrick must eventually leave to return to his sea-faring life. When he sails, Amelia is devastated to see him go, but soon the priest Garrick drove away returns. The Puritans have also made a colony in the area, called Danforth, but the land they chose is poor and they are jealous of Belle Haven's success, so they wish to take it over. The only way Belle Haven can survive is to have an absolutely scandal-free leader in charge of Belle Haven. But Amelia has just realized that she is pregnant with Garrick's child. Can she fight once more for her new colony before the other colony rolls over them and ousts her as leader?

This was a very short book, but a good one. Amelia and Garrick are strong, well-drawn characters who almost leap off the page despite the short amount of time that passes with their introduction. Their story is told in equally broad strokes, but in the mere six or seven months that pass during the book, we come to feel for them and hope that they can be together.

There is no single enemy or person who becomes Amelia and Garrick's nemesis, unless it is the Puritan council of Boston itself, as it seeks to bring Amelia back into the fold, first by marrying her off to Harkness, then sending a maddened and insane Harkness to bring her back to Boston. When that fails, they send the priest, Holling, to incite bad feeling against Amelia. And though Garrick drives them off, he returns again near the end of the book.

Amelia gains our admiration for her unwillingness to give up on her dreams or to compromise in establishing the kind of colony she wants to build. Garrick, who starts off looking like someone very unsympathetic to Amelia and her dream, redeems himself by shackling his own future to Amelia's and helping her realize her dreams. He even goes further by building a house for her where she will be able to live out her life. And, of course, by becoming her lover and helping her in all her conflicts with others. By the end of the book, you are torn by his leaving, and hope they will find a happy life together...

Which they do, of course. This is a romance novel, after all, and happy endings are assured. It's not a bad one, either, and well worth reading if you run across a copy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The iPod book, 4th edition by Scott Kelby

Got an iPod, but don't know all the neat, cool features that come with it? Well, this book will soon set you right, with chapters on the Inside workings of the iPod, and chapters on things on the outside, such as iTunes and various games, devices and other things you can do with your iPod, from use it as a calculator, to use it to time your workouts.

Each chapter is broken down into many pages, each with an illustration on top. You'll learn how to download Television programs and movies into your iPod and Podcasts as well, and not only that, but how to create your own podcasts and integrate them into your blog or webpages.

Kelby also teaches the more useful stuff, such as how to create song mixes, how and why you should rate the songs on your iPod, and how to make the iPod's randomizer feature more truly random. He covers how to listen to your iPod through your car's stereo, and which of the many companies that allows you to do this is the best. And an amazing array of iPod accessories is shown, along with which ones are the best, ranging from an alarm clock that accesses music from your iPod, to external speakers, to devices that will charge your iPod without needing it to be attatched to your computer.

This book is the first, last and only book an iPod owner will need to use their iPod successfully and will open your mind to all the possibilities inherent in your little MP3 music player. Highly recommended for not only people who own an iPod, but for those people who are going to purchase one.

The Dracula Dossier by James Reese

Abraham, or Bram Stoker is a manager for the famous actor Henry Irving and the theatre company he heads. While he has to put up with the tempermental actor's tantrums and commands, he also enjoys with him a close friendship, as well as with the other leading lights of creative Victorian society, such as Speranza Wilde, wife of William Wild and mother of Oscar and Victor Wilde.

It's Bram's friendship with another man, Hall Caine, that brings the maager and later writer into a too close encounter with Jack the Ripper and even puts him under suspicion from Detective Abberline of the Metropolitan Police.

Caine sends Bram a letter saying that a friend of his from America, Francis Tumblety, a doctor, is soon to visit London and asks, on the basis of their friendship, that Bram show the man around and make him welcome. Bram soon does so, but almost instantly regrets it, as Tumblety makes himself home at the Lyceum theatre and brings his two dogs with him, which quickly make nuisances of themselves and leave evidence of their visits in the wardrobe room, making him no friends with the wardrobe mistress.

In short, Bram quickly finds Tumblety a drag on him, and though he begs Hall Caine in letters to tell him more about his "friend", Caine doesn't answer any letters. When Tumblety overhears Constance Wilde offer Bram membership in the Order of the Golden Dawn, he somehow inveigles an invitation also. But during their induction ceremony, something goes wrong, and one of the Egyptian Gods, Set or Sutekh, somehow invades Tumblety's body and soul, and only Bram appears to have seen, noticed or remembered it.

Before long, Tumblety is haunting Stoker and soon Bram comes to realize, murdering prostitutes in Whitechapel and removing their hearts and other parts... and he's trying to embroil Bram in the murders, leaving blood, body parts and other such "presents" for his former acquaintance. With no one else to turn to, Bram enlists Speranze Wilde and Hall Caine to track Tumblety down and deal with him before he can kill any more prostitutes.

But despite their every effort, Tumblety easily evades them, killing and murdering and dismembering women seemingly at will. As more and more women die, Bram and his friends are forced to resort to ever more distasteful acts to cover their tracks and deal with Tumblety. But how can they deal with a God of Evil given human form. Will they ever be able to bring him down?

I picked up this book because it was a historical mystery, which I usually love, and involved Bram Stoker, writer of Dracula. The story purports that Stoker used the experiences he had in this book as the inspiration for Dracula, and makes mention that Bram is suspected of being the Ripper.

Well, that last isn't exactly the truth. If Bram was suspected of being the Ripper by Inspector Abberline, even for a short time, he never says so, and he doesn't put Bram to really hard questioning. In fact, Abberline seems to realize that Tumblety is the Ripper, to the point of wanting to ask him some very pointed questions, but never catches up with him.

I expected a book full of thrills and chills and mad chases and terror. What I got was... meh. The book is not thrilling at all, and the chills are few and far between. The writing is turgid and often seemed to move at a snail's pace while I waited impatiently for something to happen. And even though Tumblety is the villain and the Ripper, I didn't find him to be very menacing. In fact, Bram seems rather, weak and nervous for little reason through much of the novel.

What was nice were the annotated notes throughout the text, which illustrated points or talked about the historical characters introduced throughout the novel. But in the whole, I found the book a chore rather than a pleasure to read. I would not buy it, nor recommend it to others. Look elsewhere if you want a genuinely good, exciting read.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan

Lune, a fairy, serves Invidiana, the Cruel Fairy Queen of London in the Catacombs below the human city. Michael Deven, a human, serves Gloriana, better known as Elizabeth Tudor, the Queen of England, in the city above. Michael serves from devotion. Lune serves out of fear of what Invidiana or one of her servants could do to her should she fail the Queen.

Lune is currently out of favor with Invidiana, as her mission as ambassador to the Fae of the Sea did not have the results that Invidiana had hoped. Once formerly one of Invidiana's lady maids, Lune has been dismissed from that position, but not from court. Now, without the favor of her queen, she is vulnerable to those who would sharpen their knives for a quick backstabbing, hoping to endear themselves to the Queen.

But she has hope to regain her former high place by serving as a spy to the human court, on the doings of Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's formost spy. But Lune, who has served in this capacity before, asks to craft her own persona in the court, seeing as she is the one who has the most experience there and in human affairs. This is granted, and she slips into court in the Person of Anne Montrose, lady servant to Lady Warwick.

While there, she meets and falls in love with Michael Deven, and through him, she recieves news of Walsingham. But with their love growing, he seeks permission to marry her, which is difficult because of the Queen, who has given up love for her country and resents those of her courtiers who find it while she remains alone and loveless on the throne. She says she has asked her mistress to help persuade the Queen, and he leaves it at that.

But while Walsingham seeks Michael's advice on an unknown agent who seems to have influence at court but remains unknown, Lune is approached by one of Invidiana's human servants, a seer nicknamed Tiresias who tells her that she must seek a human named Merriman if she wishes to win free of the queen. She does so, but to no avail, and when Michael asks Lady Warwick how it goes with his marriage petition to Anne Montrose, she tells him that Anne has not asked her. He and Anne have a falling out, and she tells him she cannot marry him, which breaks them apart for good.

Having lost her line to Walsingham doesn't endear her to the Queen, and she is imprisoned by Invidiana for treason and failure. After some time in prison, she manages to win free with the aid of the French fairy ambassadress, who quizzes her about the fae of the sea. Eventually, she wins some measure of freedom, but has even less influence at court, and spends much of her time hiding out. There, she discovers that is is Tiresias who used to be Francis Merriman, and that Invidiana made a pact that is hurting both courts, and the bargain must be broken to free the courts. But since Invidiana laid a curse on him to die if he revealed this information, saying it kills him.

Lune flees to the home of the Goodmeade sisters, who are Brownies who live outside the court. But she is tracked there by Michael, who discovers that Anne was a false persona. When he discovers that Lune is a fairy, he is taken aback, but hearing about the Bargain between the courts, he knows now what the influence on the Queen actually was, and sets out, with Lune, to break the bargain. But to do so, they will have to learn more about Invidiana and why she was cursed, and the bargain between the two Queens.

Invidiana will not give up her power lightly, and since her Queenship has put her at odds with the four previous fairy kings of England, who have formed the Wild Hunt to bring down Invidiana, toppling her from the throne may mean death for all the fairies at Invidiana's court and political turbulence, and perhaps the overthrow of Queen Elizabeth. But with both realms harmed by the pact, and the sake of England and the Underworld at stake, do either of them have any choice? And when Invidiana learns of their plans, can they end the pact before she has them both put to death?

I've loved Marie Brennan's work since I first read "Warrior", her debut novel. With each book she writes, her prose gets better and more self-assured and much, much more readable. This book, her third, is the pinnacle of her prose so far and promises only to get better in the future. This book is excellent, skillfully weaving the story of the two protagonists and the two courts so that they perfectly intertwine.

Revealed in the story is not only the story of Lune and Michael, but Invidiana and Francis Merriman, and the story of how and why Invidiana was cursed. The ending is both welcome and surprising, with peace assured for the fairy realm, the curse broken, and a prospect of some peace for England. All the characters win some measure of sympathy from the readers, even the cold and cruel Invidiana.

I don't know if there will be a sequel to this book, but if there will, I definitely want to read it.. You can count on Marie Brennan not to disappoint, and she's certainly in top form in this book.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Big Splat, or how our Moon came to be by Dana Mackenzie

The moon has long fascinated humanity, and over the millennia, many explanations have been given as to what it was, what it was composed of, and how it came to be. This book details the many views of the moon, from ancient tribes to the modern day, and how it took a trip to the moon to begin to understand exactly how the moon came to be.

The book begins by looking at the ancient view of the moon. Many cultures considered the moon to be a God or divine being, just as they considered the sun to be also. It took the Greeks to divorce the idea of the moon being a divine being from humanity, but what they came up with to replace it wasn't much better. Some considered the moon to be nothing but a tremendous fire. Others thought it a mirror, perhaps a cloudy one. Many thought the moon made its own light, since at times it dimmed and grew red and smoky (lunar eclipse). But only one Greek Thinker actually got it right. The moon was made of matter, and orbited the earth, since a meteor had crashed in greece and was found soon after it landed. Anaxigoras probably came the closest to a modern understanding of the moon.

Next it was Kepler who became entranced with the moon and worked out how it moved... or so he thought, anyway. And so the moon was studied by a whole host of scientists, until the modern day, and the first Apollo mission to the moon. By then, there were three competing theories of how the moon came to be: 1) The Capture Hypothesis- in which the moon was an extrasolar or other body that passed by the Earth and was somehow caught by Earth's Gravitational Field and ended up orbiting the earth. 2) Simultaneous formation- That the earth and moon formed together out of the same nebula, but somehow didn't end up joined together. and 3) That the moon formed out of a piece of the earth that had broken off somehow while the earth was forming.

All three hypotheses had their adopters and detractors, but it remained until the Apollo mission to actually find definitive proof for one of the three. Instead, what they found on the moon stunned the scientists. None of the three theories was correct. If the moon had been a wandering planetoid captured by the Earth's gravity, why were the rocks on the moon formed in exactly the same way and in many of the same concentrations as the Earth's rocks? If they formed together, how did they stay separate when bombarded by planetesimals? In other words, why didn't the earth absorb the moon? And if the Moon formed out of a piece of the earth, why didn't it have as much iron as the earth? Where did the missing iron go?

While there was no hypothesis that explained how the moon had formed after the Apollo Missions, soon afterwards, Four scientists independently came up with a hypothesis that fit the facts as discovered on the moon: that of The Big Crash, or as the author likes to call it, the Big Splat: that soon after the earth had formed, another cosmic body, 1/10th to 1/8th the size of the Earth slammed into it in a vast cosmic collision. The Earth was partially destroyed, and a vast cloud of molten rock and pieces of stone formed around what remained of the earth. While much of this cloud, mostly the heavier iron ores, fell back into the earth, the lighter parts, mostly stone, coalesced to form the moon. This not only explains where the moon's iron went (it became part of the Earth, which has more iron in its composition than all the other planets in the inner part of the solar system- coincidentally, the moon has the least) and how the moon was made, according to the rocks found on its surface, including a massive boulder composed mostly of Olivine that shot up from the moon's inner core during a meteor strike.

This is still a Theory in formation, but most of the kinks have been worked out of it, and it was near-unanimously adopted after the Kona Conference, a meeting of Selenologists that took place in Hawaii. When the four scientists presented their conclusions, no one in the conference stood up to refute them or propose a different method of the moon's formation. But few people heard of it, because it was adopted so quickly and universally that there was no controversy, and nothing to interest the public. Research into the conditions during and immediately after the formation of the moon continue today, and the planetoid that slammed into the proto-Earth, even has a name: Theia, also known as the mother of the greek woman Selune, one of the names for the moon.

This was a fascinating book, tracing the moon's history through the history of human thought, philosophy and science, and as it gets closer and closer to the modern day, it steadily becomes more and more fascinating. So few people know about how scientists think the moon was formed, but this book makes it interesting instead of dull and boring, as it is as much about the scientists who led the research into the moon, their egos, fueds and ideas as it is about dry facts.

Far from being boring, the book is extremely interesting. It's clean, concise and clearly written. For those who need to know what all thosw words mean, there is a glossary at the back of the book, and a hefty section with references and an index. Reading this book gave me a greater appreciation for both the science behind our understanding of the moon, and the moon itself. Anyone interested in the moon, the science behind understanding it, our solar system, our universe, or even anyone who likes science and wants a fascinating read would greatly enjoy this book.