Part of the Secret Wars event. In this alternate X-Men universe, the X-Men lost the Inferno event.

Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Artist: Javier Garrón

The story begins four years after the X-Men lost Inferno. Demon-infected Manhattan has been separated from the rest of the US with walls, force fields, and magical wards, and the X-Men guard the walls. Illyana has been imprisoned in the Empire State Building. Colossus wants to rescue her and has made a deal with Scott Summers (who is, by the way, this domain’s baron!): one day a year Colossus and a team of X-Men try to free Illyana and the rest of the time Colossus is part of the regular X-Men team. But this time things go really wrong: Scott and Colossus are crippled and Illyana is revealed to be the Darkchild, ruler of Limbo and demon-Manhattan. And she chooses to stay with the Inferno demons.

The next year, when Colossus wants to lead a team to again attempt the rescue, Scott makes it clear this will be the last attempt. So, Colossus, his lover Domino, Nightcrawler, and Boom-Boom head out to rescue Illyana. Unfortunately, their team isn’t a match for the forces which have been building in Manhattan. Colossus and Domino end up in the hands of the Goblin queen Madelyne Pryor and her consort Alex Summers while Illyana herself captures Nightcrawler and someone else captures almost fatally injured Boom Boom. However, Madelyne has an interesting offer to Colossus: if he fights by her side, he can rescue his sister and Madelyne will rule Inferno.

Inferno is actually not one of my favorite storylines because it was quite disjointed, jumping to different X-comics. (And of course Madelyne was right to hate Scott for abandoning her and their infant son and to hate Jean for, essentially, condoning it. However, Madelyne had no right to hurt innocent bystanders!) But this is exactly the kind of spin off I really like: alternate version of characters who are still heroes but different, different romances, difficult choices to make, and Scott in a wheelchair calling “To me my X-Men”! Not to mention what Illyana did to poor Kurt… I wouldn’t want this story to become the status quo for X-Men but it’s interestingly different from the usual status quo. Yeah, I really liked it.

The first book in a planned steampunk series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Page count: 122

This short book starts the story of two young women in a country at war. Both women are interested in mechanics but don’t think they can really pursue it for real. But when men are called to war, women get chances they otherwise wouldn’t.

Alicia Reynard is a farm girl with a very active imagination and eye for mechanical work. Her father has always encouraged her and even bought some books for her, even though they’re very expensive. She loves to draw and read. When the war against a neighboring country heats up, their small earnings go down and her father has to find another employment. But then the University at the capital calls for female students. It’s very expensive but it might also be the only chance Alicia will have.

Lady Elena Singleton was born into a wealthy noble family but she has to keep up with appearances. This means getting married which is she doesn’t want to do. She studies mechanical engineering secretly and thinks that her life will end when she’s forced to marry some bore. However, her grandmother smuggles science books to her and encourages her to dream. When the university calls for female students, Elena’s mother forbids her to go.

This is quite a gentle story with little adversity to the women. Alicia is encouraged by everyone around her. Elena’s mother is against Elena’s scientific interest but her grandmother is supportive. I liked the main and the supporting characters. Alicia’s mother goes through a more significant change than Alicia herself. However, we saw Alicia a lot more than Elena. In fact, when we saw Elena in the latter part of the book, through the eyes of someone else, she didn’t seem the same character.

The ending is abrupt although I wouldn’t call it a cliff-hanger. There’s no clear ending and we don’t know when the story will continue.

The culture feels like a Victorian one where women stay at home and most of the time don’t take part in any business or other public venture. But when men are sent to war, women all over must take over for the men. And nobody objects. This is what I have some trouble with, being a student of history.

The whole culture seems to be very practical about it. Only one person in the book objects, and that’s Elena’s mother, and her reasons are “respectability” and “tradition”. But if most people are alright with women working and being able to work just as well as men, why don’t capable women already run their own business (even in Middle Ages, a widow could take over her deceased husband’s business) or work alongside men or demand to be let into university? Historically, women’s work has been discouraged because most people thought women were simply incapable of any intelligent work and/or it’s the natural order etc. Nobody here said anything like that, which seems strange.

But I’m curious to see where this story will go.

Limited series during the 2015 Marvel event Secret Wars. Not required reading for the main story line.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artists: Gerardo Sandoval

Douglas Ramsay is a mutant who can understand any language, including secrets hidden by body language. This makes him very valuable to many people. He lives is a Battleworld ruled by Baron Apocalypse and his viceroy Mister Sinister. Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen and Beast have also a lot of influence and power. Beast and Doctor Nemesis make horrific experiments in their lab.

Humans have been driven into a ghetto which is overseen by Sheriff Carol Danvers. Most mutants live apparently well but a few have chosen to oppose Apocalypse’s rule: Magneto and his X-Men who were named after Magneto’s dead friend Charles Xavier. But in an effort to save Douglas from a Horseman Holocaust the X-Men Storm, Dazzler, Colossus, Iceman, and Exodus are killed. Douglas and badly wounded Nightcrawler are captured, and now the surviving X-Men have to save them. But Wolverine, Magneto, Emma Frost, Rogue, and Blink are determined to do it.

This is an action-packed return to the Age of Apocalypse cross-over event in the 1990s but not a continuation. Several things are different from the original story, most notably characters who weren’t part of the original. Still, it was great (and chilling) to see again the cruel and cold Prelate Summers Brothers and the Dark Beast. As a linguist, I really liked the way Douglas finally got to be not only useful but the best hope the world has. While he was alive in the New Mutants, he was always underappreciated.

This is a treat to us who enjoyed the original story but I’m not so sure if other people will get much out of it. Some of the motivations to the characters are strange, to say the least, and the art style doesn’t appeal to me any more.

It was interesting to read this and Years of Future Past back-to-back. In this comic, the mutants are supposed to be at the top of the heap; the humans are in ghettos. But none of them seem happy: the bad guys are cruel (or world-weary and disgusted with the world) and the X-Men are desperate and miserable. The mutants is YoFP live in concentration camps near cemeteries full of their former friends but at least they have dependable team mates and a lucky few have loving families. Of course, the chance of drama increases with unhappy characters and both of this alternate worlds are… extreme to say the least. In contrast the X-Men in the X-Men 92 comic seemed much better off.

Collects Years of Future Past 1-5. Part of the Secret Wars event.

Writer: Marquerite Bennett
Artists: Mike Norton

This is a rehash of the classic two-issue Claremont/Byrne alternate future story “Days of Future Past” where Senator Kelly’s murder by Mystique has led to a future where all mutants, and other superpowered being such as the Fantastic Four, are either dead, hunted mercilessly, or living in concentration camps and wearing devices which suppress their powers. Rachel Summers sends Kate Pryde’s consciousness to the present so that she and the present time X-Men can stop Mystique. One of my favorite stories and so deep especially considering the limited page count. (I reread it after finishing this one.)

When Doom remade the world during Secret Wars, this future was one of the fragments he remade. The Baron of the world is President Kelly who has put almost all mutants in concentration camps. Some, such as Wolverine and his son Cameron, are still at large. However, the biggest problem they face is that all mutants have been sterilized. Christina Pryde is the last mutant child born 15 years ago. Her parents, Kate Pryde and Colossus, along with other mutants such as Magento and Rachel Summers live in the camps and have raised her there. Even though the place must have been terrible, they showed her love and gave her as good an education as they could. Because they plan to bust out and then Christina will be mutants’ last hope. Well, busting out doesn’t go exactly to plan and Christina must make terrible choices.

At first reading, this is a fun ride in dystopic ruins. However, I found it a bit hard to swallow that Kate and the others were training Christina to become a hero while at the same time, they were apparently working with the government. Of course, having a child can change your life and in an environment like this, parents might have to make choices they otherwise wouldn’t do. But still isn’t that the height of hypocrisy? We also get a monolog from Colossus about how oppression starts with a joke right out of the blue which interrupts the flow of the story. Also, the end fight was strange. One character had decided that if mutants go away, humans will rise to a golden age without violence. Uh, I guess that person has never met humans, eh?

Christina was a good character and I’m kind of sorry I’m never going to see her again. Most of the characters are (at least superficially) very much like the X-Men in the original DoFP story: Wolverine an outsider, the rest in the camp. However, there’s were some differences and twists as well, which I liked a lot.

Overall, this was a good nostalgic read but with some flaws and an open ending which I personally don’t care for. The original story is a very tough act to follow.

The final book in the Star Trek: TNG series which returns to the beginning. And to Stargazer.

Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 276
Publisher: Pocket Books

The cover is misleading: Beverly isn’t in the book much. (Now that I took a good look at the cover on GoodReads I realize that it’s not the same cover! My cover has Beverly and Tuvok. GR cover has Beverly and some unknown white guy, presumably Jack Crusher. So, if you took a mash-up of the covers, they’d be right: Jack Crusher and Tuvok are in the book.)

This is one of the previous untold adventures of Picard’s Stargazer years. (So, still not a Next Gen book…) About a decade before Enterprise-D, (Wesley is just a little boy at this point.) Picard and his crew are about to investigate some very exciting, nearly unexplored ruins. But instead they’re ordered to stop a war between two species who aren’t Federation members. The Melacronites and Cordracites races have hated each other for generations but a Benniari diplomat, Cabrid Culunnh, has managed to avert a war before by creating a neutral place where their diplomats can discuss things. But now a wave of terrorism has swept over both species and they are blaming each other for it. As the nearest starship, the Stargazer is ordered to support the Benniari. Also, they are picking up a person who is familiar with the species and this sector of space. That person is Ensign Tuvok, who resigned from Starfleet decades ago but has recently rejoined.

The diplomat Culunnh suspects that a third party is responsible for the terrorism. Picard sends Ensign Tuvok and Lieutenant Commander Jack Crusher undercover to find the culprit.

The book actually starts with the machinations of the guilty party so we readers know who is responsible. We also know because that same person was behind the plagues in the previous books and was revealed in “Double or Nothing”. So, this is a “how he’s going to get caught” rather than a “who did it” mystery.

We follow Picard’s efforts in diplomacy and he’s fully in character. But the more fun (and funnier) part of the book is Tuvok and Jack Crusher undercover. Tuvok is very formal and cold but he seems to reach a little common ground with Jack through their families. Both have wife and children at home. But Jack’s style rubs Tuvok the wrong way very quickly.

Because this tale isn’t set in Federation space, we also get to experience bars and brothels which aren’t usual in a Trek novel. I can get those in almost any book, so it took away that Trek-feeling.

A decent read but not really necessary to the series, unless you’re interested in Picard’s Stargazer years.

The big event from 2015. Collects issues 0-9 and a cover gallery.

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Esad Ribic, Paul Renaud

Marvel universe is dead – long live Marvel universe!

This is the culmination of Hickman’s Avengers, New Avengers, Fantastic Four, and FF runs. I’ve read them and so I knew what was going on. The story starts with the final incursion: Earths from alternate universes colliding into each other. These incursions forced some of Marvel’s most beloved heroes into, in essence, mass murderers. Granted, only Namor was, in the end, able to actually destroy a whole alternate Earth. But Reed, T’Challa, Tony, Bruce Banner, Dr. Strange, and even Hank McCoy created the weapons which made such monstrous action possible. And then Namor gathered his Cabal, the villains who battled those alternate Earths so that the heroes wouldn’t have to.

Now, the final two Earths collide. Reed and T’Challa have built a life raft for a group of the “best and brightest” who would restart the human race. But things go wrong: Susan, Franklin, and Valeria are destroyed despite Reed’s efforts to save them.

Or so Reed thinks. For this is a new world, gathered from fragments of other Earths, futures and pasts. And God Emperor Victor von Doom is the ruler of this Battleworld with Sheriff Stephen Strange as his right hand, Susan Richards as his wife, and Valeria and Franklin as Victor’s and Susan’s children. Some of the most powerful, or popular, villains are the Barons and Baronesses of their own little islands. And our heroes in the Battelworld don’t remember anything about the “real” past: as far as they know, they’ve always lived in these islands of conflict.

But two groups of people survive from the previous Earths and they intend to bring Doom down.

I love alternate universes and this one was especially intriguing with all Marvel characters redone. We don’t actually see a lot of the different fragments: the action is focused on Strange, Doom, and the people trying to bring Doom down. (The individual Warzones books are for that. Luckily the Finnish library system has three of them and Marvel Unlimited even more.)

I enjoyed this story but was mildly disappointed by the ending (mildly because I’m a long-time comics reader and was expecting it). My brother, who hasn’t read Hickman’s other comics, was confused by the start but ended up enjoying it was well. So, by itself it’s an interesting story. But has it actually changed anything? We’ll see.

Government agents are trying to protect the US from fairy tales because fairy tales are true and trying to suck as many people as possible to unhappy endings.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 12 hours and 5 minutes
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal

Apparently, this came out first in a serial format, one chapter at the time. I got it as a full audio book and the serialization shows a little, because McGuire recounts previous happenings. But I had too much fun with the book to get annoyed. However, this is a book where thinking about certain things later actually turned my initial enthusiasm down.

Henrietta Marchen (whose last name means fairy tale in German) leads a field squad of four people. They all work for the ATI Management Bureau. ATI is short for Aarne-Thompson Index, an index used to measure and keep track of real-life fairy tale manifestations. Fairy tales aren’t actually innocuous but instead they all want to make life terrible for everyone involved. Why? That was never explained. (I guess I have to admit that I’m not happy with a premise that stories are inherently evil. It just feels wrong.)

Anyway, three of the people in Henry’s team are connected to a specific fairy tale but they’ve managed to put their stories on hold (which is called being in abeyance) and that’s why they’re in the team. Henry herself is a Snow White, born to a Sleeping Beauty. Her mother was in a coma when she and her twin were born. Sloane Winters is an Evil Stepsister. While she manages to keep her murderous impulses at bay, she has a really foul temper and mouth, insulting everyone around her and especially Henry (whom she calls Snow-Bitch). She’s the main profiler and also does most of the violence. Jeffrey is an archivist and a fairy tale tailor. Andy Robinson is the only “normal” person in the squad, he’s the PR person who handles most contact with the “civilians”.

I like the pacing. Slone is really the best character in the book and she even has layers which we get to see eventually. Henry is the first-person narrator of most of the story. But there are several third-person POV narrators, as well. A couple of chapters start with the POV of the victim of the story. Each chapter deals with one major tale and in later chapters more than one tale. After a few chapters a longer storyline starts to develop.

The stories range from Sleeping Beauty, who has a contagious sleeping disorder, to Pied Piper, and Goldilocks and the three bears and beyond. The twists in them are enjoyable and McGuire clearly knows them inside and out. However, I had some problems with why all the tales are dark and horrible. I guess the only reason is that otherwise there wouldn’t be much a story to tell. I’m also not so sure if it’s would have been wise for some stories to be evil and others good… Most fairy tales do have darker sides, especially in the older versions. And once you start to think about what the “lessons” are.

The other major element in the book is a police procedural. The team works for a government agency, flashes their badges to normal cops, and even have a boss who doesn’t like or trust them.

Recommended to people who like police procedurals and fairy tales with twists.
There’s a second book and I intend to get it.