The Nemesis from Terra – Leigh Brackett – Repost Review

Nemesis From Terra

The Nemesis from Terra, or, in what I suppose is its original and much better title, Shadow over Mars, was Leigh Brackett’s first science fiction novelwow. That simultaneously explains the slight discrepancies between this and her other Martian works, and is really impressive for a SF debut. Incidentally, excuse the slight incoherence. No coffee. Also spoilers will be casually dropped.

It’s a short work, less than 150 pages, and I finished it in under an hour.

The story is fairly straightforward: ambitious Ed Fallon and his enigmatic, brutal henchman Jaffa Storm own and run the Company that is eventually going to take over Mars. They aren’t gentle about it, either. Rick–Richard Urquhart–is introduced running for his life against Venusian anthropoid press gangs. He flees into a Martian house and is confronted by a creepy old woman who reads his future: that he is destined to cast his shadow over Mars–and then tries to kill him. Rick kills her and escapes the house, but is promptly caught by Jaffa Storm’s anthropoids and dragged to slave in the Company mines.

Meanwhile, for the people of Mars, their boy-king Haral and his grim and gallant general Beudach, the wind is rising….

The plot is straightforward–rebel-revenge-rescue-ride off into the sunset (or the Space-sunset)–with a few twists that are, while welcome qua twists, also quite straightforward. For instance, when it is revealed that Jaffa Storm has psychic abilities and has been using them to keep very close tabs on Rick, all the way up to the point at which the united masses are about to storm the Company compound, Rick doesn’t consider obfuscation. He merely changes his mind at the last minute and does something slightly different. It’s not unexpected for a hero to outmatch a villain with his wits, but something a little cleverer is usually expected. Not to complain about the end result–ramming an airship into an enemy compound to bring down the shield is a time-honored and worthy procedure. Ask Star Wars.* But it is a slightly less than clever solution.

Unusually with Brackett, the Martian setting does not wholly steal the show. If this was her first novel (I’m not bothering to dig and find out if she had other short stories/novellas in the setting before), this is understandable. This Mars isn’t choked with the dust of a billion years of human life, weary, sensual, wicked, barbaric, noble, and brutal, the haunt of Eric John Stark (who can be best and most accurately be described as Space Tarzan), resting place of Ban Cruach, warrior, god, and king, a million years guardian at the Gates of Death; the citadels of forbidden Shandakor and Jekkara of crumbling walls.

It comes close, mind you, and all of that atmosphere is there–but it’s slightly to the background and submerged against more modern concerns and more modern men–like Hugh St.-John (the guy who ends up running Mars after Rick’s shadow gets up and moves on) and his wonderfully pragmatic native sidekick (who melts the ancient and sacred relic of his people to get it off Rick and Rick out of their hair).

The characters are usually not the most interesting part of the pulp novel, but in this one they do well. Rick is a man who awakens from lifelong slumber and finds that he is great, capable of mighty deeds, casting a long shadow…but he’s not necessarily a good man–and the people around him know it.

Mayo McCall is a girl who epitomizes the pulp dichotomy (and there is a sentence I didn’t expect to see before coffee): a beautiful, smart, strong woman who influences the political and moral actions of the plot because of her own convictions, who is physically capable and hugely courageous and nevertheless still spends a chunk of the book as a damsel in distress. I’d say it was genius at work, but then again, at no point does she also end up scantily-clad, so it misses being a perfect tenner.

Jaffa  Storm is an excellent antagonist: fearless, ruthless, as smart as and more prepared than the hero–and physically stronger and more capable. There is a real sense of menace whenever he’s around, but at the same time he’s easy to root for. A scene of him stalking the streets to slaughter the secret war-council of the Martian king–alone–at the dead of night–while bystanders slink away or bolt their doors–was really thrilling.

Even the minor characters–boy-king Haral, who summons up the rebellion to rise over Mars with a political savvy beyond his years; his loyal general, the wolflike Beudach, whose last moments are filled with a desperate nobility and dignity that makes him vie for spot of the most memorable character; Llaw the insane and vengeful dwarf–are clearly delineated and written.

I’m out of time.

tl;dr: Rick rises to revenge and rebel on Mars. Not all of Mars wants him to.

Rated: Four and a half ancient cities out of five. Good book. Read it.

* This review was written before The Last Jedi. This review does not constitute an acknowledgment of any sort that The Last Jedi did anything well. This review would prefer to take the stance that The Last Jedi does not exist. Anyhoo, Leigh Brackett rocks.

Love and Destiny – ep 47 – Recap

So, back at Black Hole Mountain Central, Student Rebel is helping Rebel Rebel stagger up to the black hole itself. Demon King wonders why he’s hurt this badly. I’m wondering why he’s not DEAD already. But he gets sucked into the hole to be healed. Student realizes that his father has been absorbing demon energy this whole time, duh kid. And Rebel comes back out, smug and whole.

Back at the HQ, Yuan Tong is in real pain, it seems. I’m NOT going to say poor girl, because she did bring it on herself. But her Fiance is very upset when he sees her spitting up more blood. He wants her to take the pills, but she won’t. Also, he’s supposed to be somewhere else entirely. But he’s willing to help.

Rebel has one last chance to go get Ling Xi from Jingxiu. There’s only three more days. Oh, ok. Releasing the demon king comes in two steps: open the portal, and then open the netherworld gates.

Yuan Tong’s Fiance helps her heal, but also tells her to knock off the dark energy techniques. They recieve the report that there’s been a huge surge in demon energy. She’s going in to investigate, but Fiance says: don’t, just report it.
She says, sure. Eventually. But I do need to know what’s happening.
He says: it’s ok for you to be reckless, but what about your soldiers?
OH BOY. She gives HER PILLS to the men. Yuan Tong, I don’t like you any more again (even if I do trust Qing Yao.)

Meanwhile at Peach Blossom Forest, Yun Feng is lounging around with Qing Yao and trash-talking Junior Fox Bro. QY tells him to put up or shut up. Anyhow, they’re having a nice moment together, and when QY falls alseep Yun Feng picks her up to put her to bed. Naturally, that’s when she wakes up. But hey, Yun Feng is not going to let go once he’s managed to get his hands on her. Also, she’s not allowed to hit him anymore! Aaaaand he’s leaning in for a kiss, which is when Si Ming manages to show up. Perfect timing, heh. Qing Yao is left to grin to herself once he’s gone.

But, back to business. They need to heal Jiu Chen first off. They get him to at least wake up, but he’s dead-set on going to get Ling Xi. But Teacher arrives and won’t let it happen. And Teacher is going to destroy the McGuffin which is storing her soul if she doesn’t pass the test. And Teacher thinks that she hasn’t passed the test and wants to live and die as a mortal. He orders Jiu Chen to stay and wait.–and Si Ming is the one who will be set to guard him and will answer to Teacher if anything happens, Jiu Chen begging or not.

Si Ming says: Ling Xi will be all right.

Yun Feng has to go with Teacher, meanwhile. Teacher says: go to the black hole mountain.

Teacher promised three more days and he’s going to make damn sure that she gets three days. Well, that’s fair at least. Yun Feng must make sure that she does not get anywhere close to the demon king. Guard the gate, then, and don’t pay attention to anything else.

Oh, OK. I didn’t finish this episode yesterday.
So at the black hole, Student wants to know how Rebel is doing. Rebel assigns him to go capture Ling Xi within three days. Student says….please reconsider. They already have their revenge–releasing the demon king means destroying the world. And what would be the point of ruling a destroyed world?
Rebel Rebel says: are you questioning me?
Student says: don’t do something you’ll regret! Dude, that’s not a good thing to say to a guy who sacrificed his own soul to become a demon and take revenge.
And Rebel says as much. Do what you are told….and don’t get in my way. Son.

Back at the patrol: Yuan Tong is leading her men. The demon miasma is very strong. They don’t dare advance any further–they need to report in.

Yuan Tong says: how long have I led you?–and, after fifty thousand years–don’t you trust me? And she addresses the troops: apologizing to them for their fall, and thanking them for following her.

She is willing to, if this falls through, burn in hell to atone for her sins.
But then she asks if they took the pills she gave them….and says that anyone who disobeys will be executed. Yuan Tong. You do not have the right to stand there with sadface.

So the men march forward, get attacked by black mist and demonized–while she stands there, and then draws her sword. YUAN TONG YOU BITCH.

Yun Feng is en route and sees the black smoke…Yuan Tong is on the last few soldiers. The girl has an excellent sense of timing, as always. Yun Feng has questions, but, given Yuan Tong’s talent for manipulating the situation, it’s likely she’ll twist the answer to her own satisfaction. Oh screw this girl.

Meanwhile, turns out that Rebel and Student were both watching.–see how much value Heaven has for human life and righteousness? Student is conflicted.

Back at the Phoenix HQ, Jingxiu is asking: how can I protect her after the demon army floods into the realm? Lieutenant says: we planned for this, remember? We’re ready. Also, Princess Baoqing is doing better. Also…why not help Miss Lin Mo to pass her trial and be purified? And why the hell did you bind your lives together? You’re going to feel her pain and it’s going to shorten your life.

Lin Mo is still asleep, too–dreaming of herself, of her parents and family. Oh, is she imagining meeting Ling Xi? Everyone in her life is there to meet Ling Xi–including Jiu Chen–and ignores Lin Mo. Aw. Jingxiu comes in to check on her. He wants her to understand! She’s Lin Mo! He loves Lin Mo! Screw Ling Xi! Screw Ling Xi…

Jiu Chen, on the other hand, is remembering Ling Xi and being really sad. Which is when Si Ming arrives–summons from the Emperor.

Yun Feng is trying to defend Qing Yao from the accusation that her pills were tampered with. Fuck you, Yuan Tong. Qing Yao looks calm, but she always does…uh oh. UH OH. The god who looks at them says they are weaker. But the Medicine God did examine them and say they were good! Also, Qing Yao wouldn’t do that!

Yuan Tong turns on the waterworks. Sure, she killed Medicine Dad, but what about all these soldiers?! Why did they have to die?! OH FUCK YOU YUAN TONG. How dare you lecture Qing Yao. HOW DARE YOU ASK FOR JUSTICE FOR THOSE MEN!

Thunder, with his usual reasonableness, pops up and asks for Qing Yao to be punished severely.

Which is when Jiu Chen arrives. He asks why the patrol went that far into the mountains? It wasn’t her job to go in. Why did she? Also, what happened to the recording device (that she switched off.) Also, how did she not realize that the medicine was different during all the times she used it beforehand?

Also, why did she not take any of her own pills when she also gave them to the men?
Thunder says: the problem still starts with the pills, not with Yuan Tong. (NO, IT DOESN’T).
Jiu Chen says: there’s a root and a stem. Can you find what the root actually is?
Thunder says: You’re trying to defend Qing Yao because she’s related to Ling Xi.
Jiu Chen says: Did you just say that out loud?
Thunder almost spills the beans about what he knows of the plan, before the Emperor shuts him up.

Qing Yao, at this point, has had enough. She admits that she made the mistake (She’s lying, I know she’s lying.)–and asks for punishment.
Yun Feng asks for mercy!
Jiu Chen says: dude, we haven’t finished investigating yet.
The Emperor says: take QY to the punishment place and we’ll keep investigating.
Jiu Chen is watching Yuan Tong–who has the triumphant glare.

Outside, Si Ming asks if QY will be OK. Nope. Even if Yuan Tong is proved to have deliberately created the situation, QY admitted an enormous crime and is going to suffer the consequences.
Jiu Chen says: he’s going to the black hole mountain–you make sure Yun Feng doesn’t do anything stupid.

Which, hopefully he won’t. He’s gone over to see Qing Yao at the punishment place. But she’s resigned: she hurt innocent people and should suffer the consequences. Also, it’s not possible to escape.

QING YAO OH YOU IDIOT SHE REALLY DID MAKE THE PILLS WEAKER. OH SCREW YOU QING YAO I TRUSTED YOU. But at least she’s honestly regretful and willing to suffer the honest punishment. See, this is the difference between good people who make a mistake, and bad ones.

Yun Feng is having a breakdown. He wants to go fetch Jiu Chen to try and save her. Off he goes.

Scorecard?

Today was animal day, apparently.

– 10, count ’em, 10 cows loose on three separate roads.
– Two raccoons (alive)
– Two raccoons (dead)
– One raccoon (probably) skeleton
– One cat (alive)
– One kitten (dead) 😦
– Spiders
– One suspicious moth
– One flooded road
– Three torrential thunderstorms
– One tired puppy

Love and Destiny – Ep 46 – Recap

So they stayed out late and Jiu Chen is having to piggyback Lin Mo home. She’s not afraid of anything as long as he’s there with her. But that night he’s watching her sleep. He kisses her forehead and promises to wait for her– “Ling Xi, I will wait for you.”–and then poofs out. Oh, oh boy. Ghosting your girlfriend is not cool.

So Lin Mo discovers he’s gone, is despondent at work, rushes home that evening, finds he’s still gone and only Antler Puppy remains. But she’s a heroine and makes sure the puppy gets fed. Jiu Chen is watching, but Si Ming reminds him: [both fingers on lips] heh.

Meanwhile, Baoqing is resting. Jingxiu is heading off again, despite having used a lot of energy. He pauses at the door and looks back, but says nothing. Whatever you’re gonna do, don’t kill your lil’ psycho sister’s love interest.

Meanwhile, Lin Mo is still cooking two peoples’ worth of meals and running out in the rain when she hears the gates bang open. Doc Sun and Aunty are being extra considerate of her for this reason. And, oh man, Lin Mo goes home and instead of shutting the gates, turns around and opens them wide.

Jiu Chen is on station at Si Ming Hall, watching events and refusing to leave. Or have tea.

Lin Mo is setting out to look for him. Oh boy. She leaves Antler Puppy behind. Oh, and she has a cough now. Also, no one knows where “Taiping Prefecture” is. LOL Jiu Chen sprints out of the Si Ming Hall.

That evening, it’s raining and Lin Mo has to beg shelter at the government official station. The guy won’t let her in, but does sends her to the shed for shelter. So she falls asleep huddled up on some grain sacks and Jiu Chen poofs in. Dude….

She wakes up and he’s trying to leave, but she catches him. Why did he come back? Why did he leave? What does he have to say to her? Is it become of the woman named Ling Xi?–the woman you like who looks like me? Have you ever sincerely liked me?

Jiu Chen just hugs her and says sorry. Hah, and gets her a room inside the station with a nice bed and all. DUDE YOU ARE INTERFERING. THIS IS NOT GOOD! Well, at least she still has the cough. So when Jiu Chen goes down to get her some food, Si Ming poofs in: You are interfering. You will interfere when she does have the actual trial. Oh, she’s going to get sick and die on her birthday. OH NO HER BIRTHDAY IS THE BLOOD MOON.

Jiu Chen wants to know if she’ll be in pain during the trial….it’s the death trial. She’s going to be in severe pain and also going to look terrible. The third trial, Si Ming doesn’t want to say, but it’s the trial that happens after the death trial, BUT! As long as Jiu Chen DOES NOT INTERFERE IT’LL BE FINE.

(Screaming from upstairs). The demon-suppressant tattoo is hurting. Jiu Chen CAN’T help. So he doesn’t. He just tells her that nothing’s wrong with her, she’s just sick. Lin Mo doesn’t want to go home to her parents, she wants to go home to her home.

But, OH NO. The demon king has found her for sure. And so does Rebel Rebel, now, it seems.

Meanwhile, Yuan Tong is practicing with the dark energy orb and having no success with that, either. She’s even gotten blood on her boots. She’s wondering if the anti-darkness pills that Qing Yao gave her are contaminated…Yuan Tong, if you redeem yourself by dying nobly, I will forgive you. Because I don’t believe for a minute that Qing Yao would stoop that low.

Meanwhile back at home, Jiu Chen is trying to feed Lin Mo soup, but she has no appetite. He wants to go buy food. She just tells him to go get Doc Sun. But also, don’t leave. He leaves Antler Puppy to take care of her and heads out. Lin Mo tries to eat something, but…can’t. Can she just not taste anything?

So the guys find her sobbing ( and, ew, drooling a little from coughing up the food. That’s genuine quality acting there) in the kitchen. Doc Sun has no idea, naturally. Lin Mo tells Jiu Chen to go out and rest, so she can sleep. He tucks her in (aw) and goes out.

Lin Mo has trouble sleeping, though, since the demon tattoo is flaring up.

AND THEN JINGXIU POOFS IN. He wants to grab her and run. OH NO HE’S GOING TO SPILL THE BEANS?! He insists that she go with him, but then they find Jiu Chen outside.

Jingxiu spills the beans, he says that Jiu Chen is going to kill her.

Jiu Chen says: I’m going to save you.

Jingxiu says: Save her, or save Ling Xi?

And, there’s no answer to that, so they fight. Semi-injured Jingxiu is not a match for god of war Jiu Chen, and anyhow, Lin Mo has loads of questions at this point. See, dude, if you had just kept away….because now she knows that she’s really dying. And if she dies, Ling Xi comes back. And Jingxiu doesn’t know Ling Xi or care: he just knows Lin Mo. (Also, needs the demon king to stay alive?)

And Lin Mo starts coughing up loads of blood at this point.

Jiu Chen promises: no matter who comes today, no one is taking my MoMo away.

AAAAAaaaaand then Rebel Rebel arrives. Guys, this is some major interference in the destiny of a mortal. BUT JIU CHEN CAN’T AFFORD TO FIGHT TOO MUCH HIS HEART WILL GIVE OUT! OH NO, and Jingxiu poofs out with Lin Mo while he’s occupied–and then he collapses.

Si Ming rushes in–he’s about to die, it was too much for the Fire Essence. Jiu Chen says: call in Yun Feng and rescue Lin Mo! There are only four more days (thud).

Jingxiu is cuddling Lin Mo by the side of a road somewhere, trying to heal her. Dude….

OH, she’s lost her sight. The plan is still working, I think. Please let her just die the way she needs to…did she just die?

Well that was fast.

Jingxiu is left ranting at the heavens. He now has another cause for vengeance, now that his only love has been taken away from him. OH NO HE’S GOING TO HEAL HER WITH HIS OWN LIFE NOOOOO DUDE STOPPPPPPPP. DUUUUUUUUUUDE.

DUDE NO

HE’S SHARING HIS LIFE WITH HER.

TELL ME THIS WAS PART OF THE PLAN, SI MING.

Mighty One, We Have Lost Us Another

Olivia de Havilland, the last of Golden Age Hollywood’s leading ladies, has passed on at the age of 104.

Dame Olivia was in many movies that are flat-out iconic–Melanie in Gone With the Wind, Marian in The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Arabella, paramour of the deathless Captain Blood would be examples most notable to us nerds–but she was great in almost everything she put her mind to. Some of my favorites are Hermia in the theatrical but hilarious A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a tough farmer in The Proud Rebel, put-upon bride to the philandering Robert Mitchum in Not as a Stranger, and the timid heiress of The Heiress among them.

While everyone always raves about sexy femme fatales, de Havilland apparently once remarked that she preferred playing “good” girls instead–as it was more difficult and rewarding to give these characters nuance and expression.

God rest your soul, Lady.