Ted Nolan <tednolan>
2018-08-02 06:17:53 UTC
Man, it was like pulling teeth to get this one done!
The Mark Of Zorro aka The Curse of Capistrano
by Johnston McCulley
In Spanish Alta California, young noble Don Diego Vega has a problem
-- several problems actually. For one thing, his father has bid
him wed, and Diego has little use for songs under the window, kisses
stolen while the duenna nods, the back and forth of courtship or
indeed, apparently, women. and unfortunately, the most suitable
match available, Lolita Pulido is laboring under the political
vendetta the Governor is prosecuting against her family, and is less
than lukewarm to Diego's plans to have a servant come sing under
For another , no matter where Diego goes, when he can bestir himself
to go anywhere, his routine is disrupted by the constant presence
of "The Curse of Capistrano", that notorious highwayman, Zorro the
Fox. Indeed the villain has even appeared in Diego's own house!
Zorro, of course, has his own problems. Although he is confident
that he fights the good fight, for the natives, and against the
corrupt Governor, he is by no means bulletproof or infallible. The
troops of the Presidio keep getting closer and closer, with his
escape paths constantly frustrated by the area's lack of roads other
than El Camino Real. Those are job problems more-or-less. On the
personal front, he has fallen, and fallen hard for a high-born local
senorita, Lolita Pulido, and the two have plighted their love,
though it can never be revealed or consummated as long as Zorro is
a wanted criminal with a price on his head.
What to do, what to do?
Being over 40, I knew Zorro's secret going in. I'm fairly sure I
would have caught it out eventually, given that there is one character
who really does not by rights belong in a book about Zorro, but
McCulley does play it fairly. Given the shadow Zorro now casts in
popular culture, it is interesting to see what a rather small scale
this adventure is written on. There are probably never more than
a dozen troops pursuing the Fox (though to be fair, this is a large
percentage of those available), and in the denouement, there are
probably no more than twenty supporters on his side. It is also
interesting that like America's, Zorro's horse has no name, and
that his famous "mark" (for which the book was retroactively retitled)
appears only once, and is given during the course of a fatal fight
(ie: it is not something that will be worn in shame for years).
I have seen the Powers and Banderas versions of Zorro, but for me,
the one which sticks is the Guy Williams Disney version, which does,
if memory serves, have Tornado, the famous mark dispensed regularly,
the pursuing sergeant as an essentially good man, doing his job when
it doesn't conflict with what is right, and Diego's deaf-mute servant
cast as a fully fledged character with competence and agency rather
than, essentially, an idiot. All good choices, I think, but the
result of 40+ years of reflection on the basics.
Which is to say this book is from 1919 and reflects the ethos of
an even earlier time. It's not clear that McCulley means us to
agree with the characters' attitudes, but nobody comes out too well
on the "treatment of the natives" front, though we are meant to see
that Zorro is better than most. Likewise, one of the plot drivers,
the resentment of the nobility that some of theirs were thrown into
a jail with common criminals does not endear. I'm certainly not
sorry I read it, but I was much less entertained than by the nearly
contemporaneous "Ship of Ishtar".
Oddly, though "Zorro" seems like something Gutenberg would be all
over, there is no version there. The linked version is, frankly,
an awful scan, as you would guess seeing as it came from Black Mask.
The text is riddled with scanos, most of which can be deciphered,
but some of which remain a puzzle. Likewise, they apparently cut
up a book with the book title at the top of every page, so that is
scattered through the flow an infinite number of times. Honestly,
check for something on Amazon and use the "Look Inside" feature to
see if it is better than this and spend a buck if so!
Pirate Nemesis (Telepathic Space Pirates Book 1)
by Carysa Locke
Pirate Consort (Telepathic Space Pirates Book 2)
by Carysa Locke
"And It Is, It Is A Glorious Thing.."
Yes, I know, another Reverse Harem series, but honestly, how can
you resist a series called "Telepathic Space Pirates"?
Mercy Kincaid is a smuggler, living off the grid. Years ago, she
and her mother fled the family clan when Mercy was a young girl due
to her homicidal grandmother killing her father and having Mercy
in her sights. She lost her mother some years after that in
unexplained, but suspicious, circumstances, and stowed away in a
smuggler's hold on the run from that disaster. Luck was with her,
and the smuggler took Mercy in and reared her with his own daughter.
Now adults, Mercy continues to smuggle, and her adopted sister is
an officer in the Commonwealth navy. Still, despite their full
lives, the two best friends have never ceased to look for Mercy's
mother, and now it has gotten them in big trouble: captured and
used for experiments by the Talented Mercy has always feared.
Talented. Did I mention that Mercy and all her family are psionic
Talents? Did I mention that Mercy was always schooled that "family
means death"? No? Well, she is, they are, and she was.
This is an entertaining series. The psionics is ridiculous, of
course, as is the "design" of the Talented, but the adventure is
pretty good, and the science, such as it is, is vague enough not
to be obviously wrong (though I do wonder at the continued invocation
of nitrogen). We also have actual characters instead of just our
protag and her eventual harem mates. In fact, I believe Locke has
basically shoehorned a story she wanted to tell into the current
reverse harem format, and two books in we still only have one "real"
love interest (though another is clearly building), and love and
sex are relatively minor parts of the story. I would quibble that
the plot suffers a bit in book two when Mercy does not kill a
particular character when it would be very much in everybody's
interest for her to do so, and she has shown before that she is a
Pirate Queen (oh, did I spoil that?) willing to what is necessary,
but still a decent read.
"Discord in Scarlet"
by A. E. van Vogt
TEN MINUTES later, Morton's gray eyes flicked questioningly
over the stern faces of the men gathered in the great
reception room. His huge and powerful body felt oddly rigid,
as if his muscles could not quite relax. His voice was
mellower, deeper, richer than normal.
"I am going to offer my resignation on the grounds that,
for the second time under my leadership, an abnormal beast
has gotten aboard this craft. I must assume that there is
a basic lack in my mental make-up; for results, and not
excuses, do count in this universe of ours; even apparently
bad luck is rigorously bound up with character. I, therefore,
suggest that Korita or von Grossen be named commander in
my place. Korita because of the care he advocated, and von
Grossen on the strength of his objection to taking any
living specimens aboard-both are more fitted to hold the
command than I am."
Some time after recovering from and restaffing after the unfortunate
events precipitated by Coeurl in "Black Destroyer", the space
discovery ship "Beagle" is again underway, this time bound for the
Andromeda galaxy. As luck would have it, coming out of hyper-drive
for adjustments, the crew encounter floating in space adjacent to
the ship, Xtl, the last survivor of the mighty sons of Glor, and
possibly the lone "tau-zero" super-being survivor of the previous
Immortal, and able to survive in space, but not able to move through it,
Xtl quickly seizes the unlikely chance offered by the appearance
of the Beagle, manages to board and quickly jump-starts his plan
to dominate this universe as his kind dominated the previous one.
Completely outclassed, the men of the Beagle have only the fact
that Xtl cannot penetrate the walls of the engine room on their
side. That, and a quick psycho/socio-analysis suggesting a plan
to prey on a presumed mental weakness of Xtl's. (In fairness, I
think they decide they might as well act on that particular diagnosis
as much because it is the only one that gives them a chance as
because they think it is actually correct).
This is another of van Vogt's largely "monster" POV stories and it
moves right along, implausibilities and all. I find it a bit
interesting that in this story, van Vogt takes a long view from his
present. The story was published in December 1939, and so was most
likely written when van Vogt's Canada was already at war with Germany
& Japan. Despite this, two prominently featured scientists in the
Beagle's crew are Japanese & German, and both men (especially the
Japanese one) contribute important parts of the solution.
Also, arguably this is the story that made journeyman actress
Sigourney Weaver famous.
You can read the story at the link above or (with many changes) in
the fixup novel _Voyage of the Space Beagle_.
Star Resistance: A Lori Adams Novel 02
by D. R. Rosier
Star Feud: A Lori Adams Novel 03
by D. R. Rosier
Star Freedom: A Lori Adams Novel 04
by D. R. Rosier
Never able to quite realize her longterm plan to break free of her
controllers and go off the grid, gene-engineered US government
assassin Lori Adams had it realized for her in a way when she was
kidnapped from Earth by hostile aliens. A mutual escape/rescue
with other aliens earns her a place on a ship of the Isyth Empire,
and she gradually begins to make it her home, becoming lovers with
most of the others in the small crew, including the captain who is
a minor prince, way down in the succession list.
Unfortunately, a long running plot by one of the captain's brothers
comes to fruition just as Lori is getting comfortable in her new
situation, and as book one ended he had usurped the throne, plunging
the Empire into civil war.
Book 2 sees Lori and her crew, having set up a covert shipbuilding
effort, seeking crews for the battle for the Empire, something that
involves a return to Earth, and making a deal to uplift Earth's
tech base (to a degree..) in return for help. In the meantime,
Lori discovers a certain genius for weapons design, has plenty of
sex (and deepening emotional connections) with her lovers.
Book 3 sees the final defeat of the usurper (not a big spoiler,
this is not a "and then everybody died" type of series), though the
decimation of the royal family leaves Lori's princely lover as
Emperor (something she does not at all like) and the Empire, is
frankly a mess, not to mention that the usurper ticked off all the
neighbors, including some who could squash the Empire like a bug
if they decided to notice it. Lori must also come to terms with
the fact that an Emperor must have children, something a human can't
give him. Typically, she deals with it (with some encouragement
from the others) by becoming a lover with the Emperor's childhood
friend who is going to bear those children.
In book 4, with the Empire finally more or less on an even keel
internally, the external troubles the usurper stirred up have
finally got to be addressed. Nobody feels particularly bad about
taking on the Stolavii who had been local jerks for ages, but the
Suaterans had always been basically good, if xenophobic "don't talk
to us and we won't talk to you!" type neighbors before being ticked
off. Nonetheless, if they are going to fight, the Empire is not
going to roll over just because they feel bad about it. After a
resolution there that nobody is pleased with, Lori makes a final
visit to Earth, acquires children (aside from the AIs who regard
her as a mother) and prepares to marry, more or less, her lovers.
It may not be an "ever after", but things look good for now.
These are short books which move right along. There is nothing
deep about them, but they are entertaining. While they are billed
as "erotic sci-fi" I think Rosier gets caught up in all the weapons
development and politics and sometimes forgets that aspect. It
certainly does not overpower the rest of the story. I do find it
interesting, after having read a number of his books now, that for
an "erotic" writer, he almost always shows sex as part of a committed
relationship, and never writes threesomes or group scenes. Lori
is lover to two men and two women, and they are all lovers with
each other, but as far as I can tell all the sex takes place in
Marked (An Alex Verus Novel)
by Benedict Jacka
When we last saw diviner Alex Verus, he had been tricked into an
assault on one of the the White Council's most secure facilities
where a number of "imbued items" were stolen. The fact that his
boss, Morden, was charged and imprisoned as a result of that debacle
makes Verus's position on the Junior Council, which he holds only
by virtue of being Senior Councilor Morden's aide particularly
tenuous. This is worse than awkward, since being on the council
in the first place is the only thing holding a death warrant in
abeyance. (Not that plenty of people aren't trying to kill him
Regardless, Verus is working to recover the missing items, though
his motives are mixed at best. In the meantime, something magically
odd is going on with Ann, the woman he loves (though he is almost
comically unable to say so, as he finally admits in a long aside),
and that can't be good. Not to mention that he now has a personal
prophecy of doom to deal with...
I like Alex; I like this series, but it seems to me that we have
had enough "middle books". I am ready for Alex to stop getting
deeper and deeper underneath everybody stepping on him and for he
and his friends to start taking names and directing well earned
wallops towards certain posteriors.
Dionna's Tinker: A Reverse Harem Romance (Dragon Origins Book 3)
by Ruby Ryan
When we last saw Dionna and her five quint-mates, they had stopped
the Silithiks from acquiring the Archonate's main runestone mine
-- by blowing it up. While this was technically in line with their
orders (and the only real option available to them), it's not at all
what the Archon wanted (unless they had blown themselves up too).
Now in the wake of this, the Quint has been split (which should
never happen), and Dionna and the Quint's Tinker, Maze, have been
sent, gryphon borne, on a secret mission to an Archonate Tinker
What they find there could help win the war with the bugs, but to
complicate matters, Dionna & Maze fall into bed (I see this as a 5
book series :-), and then Dionna is seriously wounded, necessitating
a trip to the Gryphon capital for a healer. Along the way, they
learn some hard truths about their "allies", and of course, the
bugs show up.
I continue to like this series. It is a real story, even apart
from the reverse harem aspects, and even minor characters get some
nice bits of business. Dionna swears, drinks too much and makes
bad decisions from time to time while staying likable, and the sex
develops more or less organically.
I do have two minor quibbles: It seems that the Quint bonds which
are mentioned so often aren't all that. You might think that being
always aware of your Quint mates should probably keep you from
stabbing one. Also, once they got the the Gryphon capital, they
forgot they were looking for a healer.
I'm Not A Hero!
by Mia Archer
I'm afraid I have to say this is a subpar outing in Archer's "Night
When we last saw techno-villain Night Terror & her superhero
girlfriend Fialux, the former had finally defeated a plague of giant
irradiated lizards unleashed on Starlight City, while Fialux (in
her first POV segment) had apparently been transported to the planet
from whence the mutating radiation came.
This book opens with Night Terror desperately seeking the coordinates
to that world... by chasing cats possessed by brain parasites which
apparently crossed over from that world with the radiation. As you
might expect, this leads to many "Oh, she is rescuing the cute
kitties" moments from the Starlight citizenry, which does nothing
for Night Terror's villainous rep, or her temper. She can't ask
Dr. Lana, the one woman who would probably know the actual coordinates,
because she killed her in a fit of absence of mind. Finally, when
all is almost lost, we get a big reveal, and the suggestion that
we may finally continue that long awaited Fialux POV after all.
This book was a mess. The chase after the mind parasites (despite
some Wrath of Khan business) went on *way* too long, and was marred
by stupid mistake after stupid mistake on Night Terror's part.
Like, time after time killing them instead of interrogating them,
and even forgetting she could fly! The old:
"Boss, I have important information!"
"Not now, can't you see I'm busy!?"
routine was also deployed too many times. And finally: Killing Dr.
Lana (offscreen!) because she was too engrossed in a video game to
monitor her torture regimen?
Luckily, it looks like the next book will offer a basic inversion
of the series concept, which could be fresh and funny.
Iron and Magic (The Iron Covenant Book 1)
by Ilona Andrews
Hugh d'Ambray, Preceptor of the Iron Dogs went up against Kate
Daniels and Curran. He lost, and dark lord Roland cast him aside.
End of story.
Or not. D'Ambray was cast out and ripped from Roland's enveloping
magic, but not killed. What does a man do, when he has had only
one master, one purpose since childhood and that master rejects
him, and his purpose is gone?
Drink himself to death, for a first approximation, but there are
still the Iron Dogs, cast out as well, and equipped to do nothing
other than fight. On some level Hugh is still their leader, still
owes them his service. The men must eat and Hugh must crawl out
of the bottle long enough to see them settled and the enemies they
have made neutralized.
There is an honest-to-god castle in Kentucky that needs defenders,
a back to nature group of magic users who nonetheless are suspected
by their neighbors of horrible rites, none more so than their leader
Elara Harper. Perhaps there is a deal to be done there. But the
only alliance sufficiently binding is marriage, sham though it may
The dogs move out, but their troubles are only starting.
Honestly, has the Andrews team ever written a bad book? Taking a
failed adversary of Kate's, making him real and setting him on the
road to redemption (and love) was something I never expected, but
it works very well here, and we even get to see some favorite side
characters show up and not quite kill everyone. Lots of fun.
Admiral's Nemesis Part II (A Spineward Sectors Novel: Book 12)
by Luke Sky Wachter
Admiral's Fall (A Spineward Sectors Novel Book 13)
by Luke Sky Wachter
While the first book of these two is a "Part II", the pair actually
reads more like one story than the end of one storyline and the
start of another.
Jason Montagne and his Multi Sector Patrol fleet are at a crossroads.
Long abandoned by the old Confederation during the breakdown of the
Confederated Empire, the Spineward sectors are spinning up their
own government, and Montagne can either be a part of that.. or not.
The problem is that the only real tint of legitimacy coloring the
MSP during its actions is Montagne's commission as a Confederation
Admiral, ceremonial though it was. If he drops his technical
affiliation with the rump Confederation, he's just a guy with some
ships, at most the Admiral of the Tracto System Defense Force
operating under his wife's authority as Hold Mistress. Furthermore,
a large percentage of his forces are old Confederates, both recently
unfrozen, and Easy Haven assets, who will not serve after a break
with the Confederation.
And none of that considers that the new government will certainly
stab him in the back the first chance it gets even if he casts his
lot with them.
Unfortunately, it is not a time for quiet reflection and a leisurely
weighing of options because the Confederation has sold the Spine
to the Empire, ostensibly for non-payment of taxes, and both
Confederation and real Empire fleets are on the way.
Once again Jason fights and runs meetings that don't turn out at
all as planned, Spaulding is crazy (though now on the verge of
becoming a father figure), and Akantha is ruthless. Is it time for
Jason to finally become "The Tyrant Of Cold Space" in truth? For
Wachter continues to have his strengths, weaknesses and stylistic
quirks. The politics in both the old and new governments tend too
much towards lampooning the loopier US political and cultural trends,
and he should probably think about never using the word "smirk"
again (as should several indie authors, come to that), but the story
continues to entertain.
What's not in Columbia anymore..
What's not in Columbia anymore..