Read: Valerian – Volume 1, by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières

I first met Linda and Valentin, as they are named in Sweden, back in 1979. At the time I spent much of my time awake devouring anything that was vaguely readable, in any form, and I had already chewed through most of what the local library branch had to offer to a young teen. But the French spatio-temporal agents were a new kind of acquaintance. I was familiar with kids’ comics, of course, and with Tintin, DC Comics and the like. Linda and Valentin proved to be something altogether else. Idealistic, philosophical, visually stunning, both gritty/ugly and opulent, and break-neck daring. Of course I loved them!

It helped that Linda/Laureline every now and then had to bail Valentin out of his own messes – strong women was not par for the course back then, whatever history will have you believe.

Last year Scandinavian publishing house Cobolt issued the three first volumes of the collected works, and I held and thumbed volume 1, on several occasions, without opening up my wallet. Prime reason is that my personal collection already has about half of the albums previously published in Sweden.

Last Saturday I made things right, and let’s be clear – I am not sorry.

My 70’s and 80’s glue-backed soft-cover editions are brittle, pages threatening to fall out. Also, the original Swedish run was published out of order. These omnibuses sets thing right and I can finally enjoy the series in the order it was originally written.

This first volume starts with the very first story, previously unpublished in album form in Sweden. It’s a bit rough but clearly shows promise, and it tells how Linda and Valerian/Valentin became companions. The second story is The City of Shifting Waters, unabridged and with original cover from the Pilote magazine that featured it. That in itself is worth the money, in my opinion. Third and last is The Empire of a Thousand Planets. That story is, together with Birds of the Master and Ambassador of the Shadows, the one that I know the best, and I must admit that here the new translation chafes a bit, with new names or word constructs. But still thoroughly enjoyable.

It must be remembered, though, that these three stories were the start of something that would grow up to be great, but that at this point was trying out its costume, its format. Keeping that in mind I definitely enjoyed reading this volume. And if anything I’m looking at my purse, trying to justify purchases of volumes 2 to 4.

Read: Tracker, by C.J. Cherryh

I often think to myself that C.J. Cherryh must be one of the must under-appreciated authors of our time and surely the reason for this is that she writes in the SF genre, and that inside the genre neither conforms to archetypes or is part of the mainly libertarian stream that finds its roots with the now old cyberpunk cadre (many of whom I read and enjoy, even as I often don’t agree with their politics).

A running theme (and I’m not sure she’d agree with me in this but once a story has left the author the reader is free to interpret it in her own way) in all Cherryh’s writings is how macro-politics affect the everyday people. Her style – commonly described as “tight third person”, means we often get to experience things as we, figuratively speaking, sit on the shoulder of the protagonist – from the sidelines, but so close as to depriving us of knowledge of goings-on affecting but not known to the protagonist.

Bren Cameron, former paidhi, a minor official and one-person diplomatic corps, now Lord and sometime mediator for all and sundry, and a force in himself, is one such person. In this sixteenth book, first in the sixth three-book story arc, we find him on the last of his handful of days off. His near-future plans includes negotiating the finer points of the East – Marid treaty, among other things, and it may look like we’ll be treated to one more arc of downworld politics. Instead he finds himself faced with the delicate dilemma of an insular and entirely unreasonable Mospehiran stationmaster, up above, confounding the situation with 5000 unwanted refugees, co-inhabiting already crammed areas. And as this situation grows increasingly volatile a foreign spaceship suddenly makes itself known, days from reaching Alpha Station and the planet…

Reading Tracker without first having read the previous fifteen books might be possible, as in anything is possible, but all characters (except the Mospehiran stationmaster), all back story, and all interpersonal and interculture interactions and conflicts are long since established so appreciation of this book rests on pre-existing knowledge. That might, at this point, feel like too huge a commitment. I’d never the less encourage giving the Foreigner books a try.

Me, I’m looking forward to the next instalment, due in April 2016. Too far in the future for comfort, and looked at it that way coming late is a good thing – if you haven’t read these books before you have a year to catch up with the backlog before the next volume is due!

Read: Peacemaker, by C.J. Cherryh

Peacemaker is the 15th novel in Cherryh’s Foreigner series, and the last one in this 5th 3-book story arch… and even as I write these words I want to go back and say that this arc really started with book #7 – Destroyer. Which means this specific part of the tale spans no less than nine individual books. It has been a fun ride but with lots of loose ends left dangling.

Peacemaker is the book that FINALLY un-dangled (most of) them. At last.

In Peacemaker we at last settle the Coup. At last our protagonists have found the real cause behind the Troubles. At last they manage to amend it.

At last these people can move on, from on-world politics and into… well, that is an issue for books to come, surely, as Cherryh apparently is working on a yet unnamed Foreigner novel, but just as Bren don’t automatically adjusts to a life were he’s not allowed to meddle with Guild business it feels odd to look back at fifteen full length novels and feel that I’d be satisfied if the ride ended here.

That said Peacemaker is the best Foreigner novel in a long time, even despite some editing errors, one of which feels like a continuity error; I guess the scene was moved on the timeline necessitating a few minor adjustments that never got submitted? However which way the story starts in classic Cherryh mode, with a longish reiteration or build-up basically consisting of a lot of “telling”. But as the story shifts into instantaneous time the tempo picks up and the switches between Bren’s versus Caijeri’s viewpoints are tight, moving the story forward at a fast pace and with tension growing but ultimately ending with a satisfactory conclusion.

In my personal opinion anyone interested in interaction between different cultures, in the workings of different societies, in language usage and culture, in intricate politics and social structures should read something by Cherryh. Because even when the editing, as it sometimes is in the later books, is lacking the story as such, and the way she tells it, is often uniquely good.

If the sheer volume of the Foreigner series feels daunting there are many others to chose from, some of which are reviewed by me. Just click the “Cherryh” tag in the right-hand tag cloud and you can see what I thought of them.

Because you need support a living author who deserves a readership :)

Read: A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Scarlet is, of course, the first of Doyle’s classic stories featuring what must by now be the most famous detective throughout history – Sherlock Holmes. However, reading the original stories makes one realise that it is the various adaptations of Sherlock that has made his fame – not the written source material.

The story is divided into two parts.

The first part is where Watson makes a new acquaintance, moving in with Mr Holmes. We get to read about his reactions to this Sherlock fellow but we also get an earful about the doctor himself – he returns to England very weak after almost having died from his wound and spends most of his time indoors and in bed. But then one morning, when he is up earlier than usual, he ends up visiting his first crime scene – a murder, in an empty or perhaps abandoned house.

So far so good. But suddenly part one ends and part two abruptly catapults the reader across the ocean, to the US, and to the founding of Salt Lake City. Initially this change of scenes make no sense but then names we heard in part one re-appear and suddenly the motive behind the not one but two murders perpetrated in part one is uncovered; and the reader gets to understand that neither of these evil deeds would had happened if Mormonism had been a more generous and open-minded creed.

As I wanted to read A Study in Scarlet as a crime/detective story I found the first part promising but the second part slow and uninteresting, even as I felt Doyle poured more heart in it, and it didn’t get better, either – the last handful of pages is pure info-dumping, with Mr Holmes telling Dr Watson about the clues everyone had missed: how he saw them, and how he interpreted them. Which makes me wonder if Doyle’s underlying reason for writing this story was to expose what he felt was the errors of the LDS/Mormons, and with the invention of Sherlock pure collateral; originally intended as nothing more than a tool for telling this tale. A tool which then took on a life of it’s own.


A Study in Scarlet has its place in the history of the crime novel genre, and as the point were a legend got started. But as reading material for the 21st century it doesn’t measure up. In my humble opinion.

Seen: Only Lovers Left Alive, by Jim Jarmusch

This film could had been either a tacky camp over-sweet pastry stuffed with purple prose… or it could be what it really is – a dark beautiful tapestry with pieces of wry humour hidden between the threads.

Eve and Adam has known each other for a long, long, time. One white, celebrating life and its expressions. One black, deeply romantic but also despairing of life and of where humanity has gotten itself. One in a melting pot city, a city of the in-between and of both. One in the ruins of crashed expectations. And both, intertwined.

Sounds pretty pretentious, doesn’t it? And still – it isn’t.

Tilda Swinton‘s character, Eve, lives in the old parts of Tangier, in an old house filled with books. She’s best friends and neighbour with Christopher Marlowe, portrayed by John Hurt.

Eve’s husband, Adam (Tom Hiddleston), lives a reclusive life on the outskirts of Detroit, collecting vintage guitars and making music using as analogue equipment as possible. He’s a romantic but also an engineer and scientist at heart, and he’s also bitter and dissatisfied with humankind.

During a Skype call Eve realises that Adam is depressed and she instantly gets on a (night) flight for the States, carrying the essentials only – two suitcases of books…

There’s absolutely not an ounce of action: only the quiet angst and passions of the aged and eternal youth – they are vampires, after all – and a silent discussion of what makes life worth living; yet the film keeps the audience focused on the screen.

And I loved it.

I loved it for its play with archetypes; for its use of, references to, and off-handed comments in areas such as music, literature and science; for the photography, for the way the camera makes love with the spaces these creatures are passing through; for the dual feeling of being very grounded yet transient; for the debauchery and the despair; for the raw animalism and the intellectual flippancy; for the hope and love and beauty; for the way it managed to capture the duality and challenge of being, and of being honest with oneself and one’s ideals. And of course I loved it for its humour.

Jim Jarmusch has pulled of one mean feat – a vampire film that brings back the vampire were it belongs: to the outsiders, the poets, the rebels.

Go see it.

Now, if you excuse me, I’m off watching the fire flicker in the grate while swaying solemnly to the slow beat of Pink Floyd‘s Wish you were here.

Read: The Exiled Blade, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

The Exiled Blade, the last book in Jon Courtenay Grimwood‘s Assassini trilogy, was published about a year ago, in April 2013. I had it on pre-order, like all of Grimwood’s books, but for reasons previously mentioned didn’t get around to read it until now.

The trilogy is set up to tell the tale of how classical vampires came to be, and how they came to the particular corner of Europe they are associated with in particular, and start when, as told in The Fallen Blade, a nameless boy-creature arrives in Venice. The boy is soon given the name Tycho and is recruited into the Assassini – the secret police, if you so will, of post-Marco Polo Venice – and is soon embroiled in court politics. The story continues in The Outcast Blade.

I was sceptic on the outset. Vampires and the supernatural and fantastical is not high on my list – rather it is an exception when I enjoy such tales.

The two first instalments surprised me – I really did enjoy reading them, and also I felt Grimwood had matured somewhat as an author: I love much of his work but many of the books are a bit to speculative, I feel, and he has had a tendency to repeat imagery and scenes. With the Assassini trilogy he has continued working with an alternate history setting but this time working with the far past rather than with alternate endings of the latest world war, and with good result. At least in the two first instalments.

Sadly I don’t feel it kept up in the last part. Up until The Exiled Blade interest and emotional investment in the main characters drove the story but with this last part he needed to tell a story, not develop characters. The result is a tale that in parts dragged, in parts were so festooned with fantastical deux ex machina turning points that I soon lost belief in the credibility of the story. The main event, in many ways, is when the half-realised vampire-creature that Tycho is are more or less pressed into making a pact with the actual devil, albeit a pre-Christian one – a pact that essentially makes him into a Dracula creature, and placing him in a castle/fortress high up in the Balkan mountains. The price he pays to keep the heir to the Venetian throne, and the heir’s mother, the love of Tyhco’s life, alive is to live forever, but without her.

The trilogy is not badly written. If you enjoy vampire stories and stories of the supernatural and fantastical, and of 15th century Venice and court plot, all in one package – then this is definitely a trilogy I’d recommend. For me, though, it didn’t entirely cut it.

On to other books!

Read: Tumblr’s revised Community Guidelines (what!?)

I realise this is not for everyone, but I actually think Tumblr‘s revised Community Guidelines well written, especially considering its wide and diverse audience. Getting people to read, understand and care about this kind of document is normally not that easy but Tumblr not only makes the guidelines easy to read; they also show that they understand who their core users are. Witness –

“Be a regular human. Don’t put tags on your posts that will mislead or deceive searchers. For example, don’t tag a photo of your cat with “doctor who” unless the name of your cat is actually Doctor Who, and don’t overload your posts with #barely #relevant #tags.”

This also goes for their Terms of Service, which includes the sage advice –

“One thing you should consider before posting: When you make something publicly available on the Internet, it becomes practically impossible to take down all copies of it.”

So – well done, Tumblr!

There are many out there who would do well to follow their example. But hey – many of those service providers probably aims at obfuscation, to get away with outrageous terms, so why should they?

This is not to say I in any way condone everything published under the Tumblr guidelines. But that is a whole another story :)