A Star Trek: TNG book.

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Publication year: 1993
Format: print
Page count: 309
Publisher: Pocket Books

This book tells the tale of a powerful artifact which has influenced people and through them entire cultures, before Federation was formed. Throughout history the Devil’s Heart has journeyed from Iconia to Kronos to Vulcan and other planets, as well. Now, a Vulcan archeologist thinks that she’s found it but her obsession has made most other Vulcans shun her.

Enterprise-D receives a distress call from the archeology site. But when they get there, all the members are dead. Messages left behind blame the archeologist herself. Apparently Bendii’s syndrome affected her and made her kill all her companions. But Beverly Crusher finds out that someone else has killed the Vulcans. Picard pursues the murderers but only finds the husks of two starships. From one of them he finds an ancient stone, the artifact itself.

Meanwhile, people all around the galaxy want the stone for themselves. These people range from the last of the Iconians to renegade Klingons and scheming Ferengi. They’re willing to kill everyone on their path to get the Devil’s Heart for themselves.

This was a very interesting idea. However, the result is quite a scattered book. It has many point-of-view characters all over the galaxy. Most of the TNG crew got at least a brief POV section or two but Picard is the clear main character. In fact, completely new characters got more page time than most of the crew.

Picard develops a strong bond with the artifact and when he sleeps, the stone sends him flashes of history from various cultures. Most of the glimpses to the other, early histories of various species were fascinating. However, I didn’t really realize just how similar these early histories were, violent and oppressive.

Overall, this was an interesting read but quite scattered

The first book in the Salvagers SciFi series but can be read as a stand-alone.

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Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 14 hours, 13 minutes
Narrator: Charlotte Blacklock

Nilah Brio is one of the best drivers in the Pan Galactic Racing Federation. She lives and breaths racing, she trains all that time and has a strict diet because her weight can’t be off at all. She’s sacrificed a lot to get where she is, almost the champion. But during a race, she’s almost sure to win, she’s caught in someone else’s magic and sees a monster kill a fellow racer. So she runs.

Lizzie “Boots” Elsworth used to be a famous treasure hunter but has fallen to bad times. She barely make ends meet while working from her small office – which was burned down, with all her records. This is the exact worst moment for her former captain Cordell to show up behind her door. Boots sold him and his crew a bogus treasure map and she’s sure the captain is going to at least beat her up because of that. So she runs.

Nilah and Boots bump into each other and then Cordell kidnaps them both. The people who are after Nilah are now after the whole crew of the Capricious. Nilah and Boots hate each other already and Cordell crew loathes Boots, but now they must work together to survive.

Boots doesn’t have magic so that makes her a pitied minority. Nilah is a machinist who bonds with machines.

This was a fast-paced, fun space adventure. People have been comparing it to Firefly and it’s kind of true. The dialog, which is essential to Firefly, is very different but it’s fun.

I enjoyed it a lot.

Collects Star Wars Annual 1 and issues 15-19.

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Writers: Kieron Gillen, Jason Aaron
Artists: Ángel Unzueta, Mike Mayhew, Lenil Francis Yu
Publisher: Marvel
Publication year: 2016

This collection has three stories and only the last one has the “Star Wars adventure” feeling. The first two explore a darker side of war and for me they didn’t really gel.

The annual is the story of the best Rebel spy, Eneb Ray. He is a tax collector in Coruscant and that work emotionally really hard. But he carefully maintains his cover and sends vital info back to Princess Leia. He isn’t in contact with any other rebel, for security reasons. It’s very lonely work.

Then Leia asks him to save Senators who are accused of being rebels and are in danger of being executed. Of course, things don’t go as planned.

The next issues are the Rebel Jail part. After then events of Vader Down, Leia and a smuggler called Sana are escorting a dangerous prisoner to the Rebels’ jail, Sunspot prison. But while Leia is there, a masked man with a robot army invades the prison and starts killing the prisoners. They are “War criminals, Imperial spies, Mercenaries, even a Moff or two”. Leia tries to talk the man down and defend the inmates.

Both of these stories are, in fact, fine if they’d been in another franchise or original stories (well except for certain timing problems and secrets in the longest story. Keeping secrets for purely plot reasons is… frustrating to say the least). But for me they were just too dark as SW stories. I’m also a bit hesitant to believe that the Rebel Alliance has resources to act as the galaxy’s police and keep a secret jail with hundreds of inmates indefinitely. Leia… defends them. This is the woman who shoots Stormtroopers on regular bases and in the previous comic ordered everyone she had to kill Vader. Rebels have died under her command. She knows she’s fighting a war. Also, I didn’t care for the resolution of the story for our prisoner. Nope. Can’t see Leia doing that. On the other hand, I enjoyed most of the banter. I also enjoy stories where enemies are forced to work together and this one delivered that!

I actually enjoyed the brief side plot far more. Han and Luke have been sent to buy supplies for the Rebels. Han wants to double their money at a sabacc table but instead loses. Now, Luke finds something to smuggle in order to get the money back. This is exactly the sort of shenanigans I expected Han and Luke to get into between movies. It lightens the mood of the main story a lot.

The final issue is another tale from Kenobi’s notebook. He’s doing the gloomy hermit thing while watching over young Luke on Tatooine. Luke is learning how to fly but after a near accident, Uncle Owen forbids it. However, Kenobi has a feeling that Luke will need to learn how to fly.

This was fun, if somewhat depressing read. Uncle Owen is not a sympathetic character because we know that he’s so wrong.

Yu’s art is gorgeous, as usual.

The first book in the Crimson Son series but can be read as a stand-alone.

Crimson Son


Publication year: 2014
Format: ebook
Page count on GoodReads: 418

Spencer’s dad, the Crimson Mask, is the most powerful Augment in the world. He’s invulnerable, can fly, and is amazingly strong. Spencer’s mom was kidnapped by his dad’s arch nemesis, the Black Beetle, two years ago. Spencer is convinced that for some reason his dad isn’t even looking or he would have found her a long time ago.

The same day when Spencer’ mom was snatched, his dad brought Spencer to a bunker in Antarctica. It’s the only place safe for him, or that’s what his dad says. Spencer is all alone, except for his dad’s rare visits and doesn’t have internet connection and only rarely TV. But Spencer has hatched a plan. He needs to get inside his dad’s encrypted files to find proof that the Crimson Mask is working with the Beetle. And to find out where his mom is.

When the Beetle’s huge mechanical bug invades the bunker, Spencer doesn’t immediately just launch out in the escape pod. Instead, he manages to incapacitate the bug and hack the files. Then he launches and to a different place than his dad planned. Once Spencer lands, a beautiful woman finds him. Turns out that the woman, Emily, knows Spencer’s dad and she is supposed to babysit Spence. But Spence finally has a lead to his mom and he must follow it. And the Beetle keeps finding him.

This is a world where the wealthiest governments around the world have engineered super powered people, the Augments. Most of them are or are supposed to be soldiers. But in the recent two years, many of the known Augments have disappeared. The Crimson Mask is the last.

This isn’t a comic-book world. People are regularly hurt or killed in superhuman battles. While the Crimson Mask has some of Superman’s obvious powers, he’s almost the opposite of Clark because CM first neutralizes the threat and only then helps the victims.

CM has a secret identity and because of that he, Spencer, and his mom had to move often. Spencer hated that because he must always leave his friends behind. Now, he only has one friend and he hasn’t even met him in two years. Spencer and his dad’s relationship is very strained. In addition to being bitter about the frequent moves and that his dad hasn’t found his mom, CM is a very distant father who barks orders rather than has conversations. When Spence was younger, his dad would talk about how they would work together as a team. But, once CM realized that Spencer doesn’t have powers, Spence seemed to become only a potential hostage to him. And CM treats Spencer accordingly.

Spencer is the main first person POV character, present tense. There are a couple of other POV characters, too, and they’re in third person, imperfect. This didn’t bother me.

Spence is a snarky character who makes a lot of pop culture references. He’s 19 but this is his coming-of-age story. Of course, it’s hard to have coming-of-age moments all alone in an arctic bunker. At the start of the story, he’s been a couple of years alone and it shows. He ogles Emily in a way I didn’t care for but is understandable. He’s also small for his age and resents it when people treat him like a kid. While he doesn’t have powers, he knows a lot about computers and other mechanical gadgets.

This is a fast-paced story with several exciting fight scenes but it also focuses on Spencer’s emotions. I enjoyed it quite a lot.

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Original anime: Gainax
Original publication year: 1995
Finnish translation: 2006

NGE is a classic giant mecha anime and manga. It was originally an anime which I haven’t seen. The manga has 14 volumes and I believe it’s a reimagining rather than a faithful adaptation of the anime. It has also a series of movies which I believe are again different.

The story is set in year 2015. Fifteen years earlier, in 2000, a meteorite hit Earth and half of humanity died in the resulting events. Now, a giant mechanical thing, called an Angel, attacks Japan. Fortunately, the UN has a secret organization NERV which has built a giant mecha to fight it. The mecha requires a human pilot which in the beginning of the comic is Rei, a 14-year old girl.

Shinji Ikari is a depressed 14 year old boy. He feels that nobody cares if he lives or dies. He feels that his father abandoned him 10 years ago and his uncle has raised him.

However, one day his father sends a message that he wants to talk with Shinji and is sending a gorgeous woman to get him. But at the moment he’s supposed to meet her, a city-wide alarm is given and the citizens are evacuated. However, Shinji stays in the rendezvous place hoping to see his dad again. Instead, he sees a giant mecha battling an Angel. Then the woman arrives and, after dodging the fighting giants, manages to drive him to the headquarters of NERV.

The woman is Captain Misato Katsuragi and she brings Shinji to see his dad, who is the head scientist at NERV. He wants Shinji to operate the giant mecha, EVA-01. At first Shinji refuses. But then he sees the young girl who piloted EVA just moment ago. She’s badly hurt but willing to go to battle again. Shinji agrees to take her place. Everyone thinks it’s madness to put an untrained boy in the mecha but Shinji and EVA manage to repel the attack.

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In the second volume, Shinji feels even more down. His father won’t talk to him and he feels that the only value he has is as a pilot. He goes to a new school where one of the boys claims that Shinji is responsible for people who got hurt during his fight with the Angel. Shinji keeps to himself and even runs away.

While the manga has giant robots fighting, the main theme is relationships, especially between Shinji and Misato. Shinji’s dad has just one conversation with him, but he has profound impact on Shinji. Shinji is left yearning for his approval and love but it seems that his dad is incapable of giving them. Shinji’s uncle doesn’t appear. Shinji ends up living with Misato because she’s worried about his mental state, but Shinji thinks she’s just being charitable which seems to worsen his depression. On the one hand, this is a prime example of “Chosen one” trope because Shinji is able to “bond” with EVA quickly and on a very deep level. On the other hand, Shinji hates that he doesn’t have value as himself, just as a pilot. Duty is another strong theme.

The manga is quite dark and depressing. Things aren’t explained. If I remember correctly, the angels are never explained. However, it does have a few comedic scenes, mostly with Misato’s pet penguin.

Stylistically, it’s striking and cool. The NERV HQ is underground and EVA rises on a platform to do battle. But I didn’t care for the way that the few women characters are quite sexualized. Misato is shown in the shower and her cleavage is pointed out with arrows. Yes, the main character is 14-year old boy but still. However, Misato is good character: she’s competent in her job and has a fun side, as well. But she’s also Shinji’s superior so she must be hard on him when he disobeys her.

The first two volumes are a good start to the series, introducing the characters and the setting and diving into the relationships between the characters.

Collects miniseries issues 1-5 of the same name.

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Writer: Scott Tipton, David Tipton
Artists: David Messina
Publisher: IDW
Publishing year: 2008

This is a collection of four one-shot adventures which have clues to a common source for the troubles the Enterprise encounters. It’s all tied up in the final story.

In the first one, the Enterprise-D is at Daystrom One which is an archive for information about hundreds of worlds. The Daystrom institute has constructed a A.I. to managed the information flow. The A.I. is based on Dr. Soong’s positronic brain model and is now refusing contact. The Institute asks for Data to go and see what’s wrong. Data isn’t happy about his order to simply shut down the A.I. if it has become sentient but he and Riker go to the extra-dimensional tesseract where are the info and the artificial brain.

The second story brings the Enterprise-D to a Rigelian colony which is under construction. If the colony isn’t built, the Cardassians will step in. However, a group of workers, who are humanoids called the Raylar and known for their aggressiveness, have taken over a critical power plant and are essentially keeping the colony hostage by refusing to give them energy. Picard sends in Lieutenant Worf to negotiate. Of course, things aren’t as they seem at first glance.

The third adventure begins with a short visit to Starbase 215. During the visit, Geordi ends up wondering how chief O’Brian can stand staying in just one small room and wants to take O’Brian off the ship. When the Enterprise-D leaves the base, they hear a priority-1 distress call from a nearby starship the USS Jackson. When the Enterprise meets with the Jackson, their captain says they don’t have an emergency. Instead, the captain has problems with his new chief engineer. Picard goes to talk with the captain while Geordi and O’Brian talk with the new chief engineer.

The fourth story starts with three Pakled ships attacking the Enterprise-D. Their weapons and engines have been enhanced but they don’t really have a chance against the Enterprise. The Pakleds talk about expanding “their empire”, which they don’t have and ram the Enterprise, succeeding only in destroying themselves. Troi is convinced that their minds are controlled. The Enterprise investigates.

In the fifth story, Picard confronts the people who have manipulated him in the previous adventures.

This was a nice story with just enough mystery. Many of the stories have small winks to us old TNG fans, such as the Bynars in the first story and Ensign Ro is in two stories. However, the female crew only appears in two stories and are very underused; Picard, Riker, and Data are the shows of this series. While I was intrigued by the the final issue, the convoluted way of manipulating the Enterprise felt unnecessary, which Picard does point out in the story.

I mostly enjoyed this series and it was very nice to return to the TNG crew.

Collects Excalibur issues 1-6 (2019)

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Writer: Tini Howard
Artists: Marcus To
Publisher: Marvel
Publishing year: 2020

I’m a huge fan of Claremont and Davis’ run of Excalibur which started in 1987. This isn’t that comic. I haven’t read Howard before so I didn’t know what to expect. However, the low ratings on Goodreads had me preparing for the worst. But this was fine, for the most part. The team is pretty haphazard but so was the original Excalibur team (Marvel-wise, of course, not the original Knights of the Round Table.)

Appropriately enough, the comic starts in Avalon. In Marvel comics, Avalon is in a world called the Otherworld. King Arthur and Queen Guinevere have mysteriously vanished and Morgan le Fay is the Queen now. However, a mysterious force is attacking Avalon (I don’t think we every found out who) and at the same time, the Queen’s scrying pool is growing strange plants. Morgan blames the witchbreed, which she calls mutants. She reaches out to her coven of witches and commands the three people in it to kill all mutants. Their leader promptly kills her followers and sets out alone.

Meanwhile, Betsy Braddock is visiting her twin brother Brian in England. Betsy is back in her original body and doesn’t really want to go by Psylocke anymore. Brian is living his happily ever after with his wife Meggan and their kid. Betsy returns to Krakoa island where she finds out that Egg has resurrected her older brother, Jamie who is mad and has reality-altering powers. Betsy’s not happy.

Betsy returns to England but doesn’t tell the news to her twin. Instead, Brian is called to the Otherworld in an emergency and Betsy decides to go with him… to Morgan Le Fay. Morgan enchants Brian to attack his twin. Brian has just enough time to give his amulet to Betsy, making her Captain Britain.

On Krakoa, Apocalypse knows the portal which leads to Otherworld. He knows Betsy’s in trouble but needs Rogue’s help with the portal. Gambit is against it. Still, Rogue takes off her gloves and touches the portal… and promptly falls down, unconscious or sleeping, covered in vines. Betsy returns to Krakoa as Captain Britain.

Of course, the team needs to rescue Brian and Rogue. Betsy, Gambit, and Jubilee travel to the Braddock lighthouse but is has been destroyed. However, when Rogue is brought to the spot, a new lighthouse grows from the ground.

Apocalypse wants to help the team but both Gambit and Betsy are against it. However, in the end Betsy must bow to the inevitable and accept his help. Apocalypse also finds Rictor and adds him to the team. The team adventures mostly in Otherworld.

I mostly enjoyed this. While I’m familiar with Morgan as Avengers’ villain, I don’t think I’ve ever read a story set in Otherworld. Of course, all the characters have long and convoluted backstory, the Captain Britain Corps not the least among them. Rogue is unconscious for most of the story and Gambit is very concerned about her, which is understandable, of course. The story line even has a dragon! The ending really shook up the status quo in Otherworld. I’m not sure if it will affect any other Marvel books but I’m intrigued to find out. Also, Apocalypse isn’t a hero. I’m sure the team will have to turn against him at some point. We’ll see.

We did get some nods to us old fans in the way of cameos, which I quite liked.

However, I wasn’t happy with the inclusion of Rictor. I’ve only seen him before in New Mutants/X-Men crossovers so he felt like a really strange addition. Also, I think he has vibration powers, not earth control. Also, Rogue already learned to control her powers in the Mr. and Mrs. X series, issue 9. Yet, at the beginning of this series she again has to use the power-dampening bracelet. I guess her out-of-control powers are just too great for writers to let go. She also got a power upgrade on that comic, allowing her to absorb powers from a distance. Oh well.

So, story wise this was entertaining but left a bit to be desired in character department. Of course, I’m hoping Howard will improve.

A Star Trek: TNG book.

Publication year: 2002
Format: print
Page count: 233
Publisher: Pocket Books

A crisis for Captain Picard… or a case for Dixon Hill, private detective?

The above line says it all: the story is set in a holodeck in 1940s San Francisco. Each chapter ends with a list of clues from Dixon Hill’s case book. Captain’s Log entries tell us that Enterprise-D is going toward a place called the Blackness. As they get closer, the ship’s systems go offline until the whole ship is in danger.

On the holodeck, Captain Picard as Dixon Hill, his friends Luscious Bev, and Mr. Data along with a handful of other officers are looking for the Heart of the Adjuster. Dix is convinced that one of the local crime bosses has it and he needs a way to talk with them. However, the holodeck is also malfunctioning: all the safety systems are off-line and the killed holo characters come back to life.

This was an interesting idea. The world of Dixon Hill seems to be made for adventures. The story has some fun points, such as Data “taking his gangster stand” and quoting various fictional detectives. However, it has quite a lot of repetition and I didn’t care for the ending of the mystery. But I do enjoy holodeck episodes so overall I enjoyed it.

This is a prequel story to Frank’s Robin Hood series.

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Publication year: 2020
Format: ebook

I stumbled on this series quite by accident and was delighted to find another Robin Hood series. However, this one is a bit darker than my own.

“Hood” tells the story of how Robin Hood got his nickname and is set in the early days of our heroes’ outlaw life. This outlaw band has Robin, Little John, Will Scarlet, Friar Tuck, and a young woman called Alis. We get a few clues about how Alis and Robin met. Everyone in the group seems to be born nobility but are now outlaws. Robin himself is the son of the late Earl of Loxley. Even though he’s still insecure about this ability to lead, the others willingly follow him.

This Robin has a dark past and is torment by it. He was jailed and tortured by the sheriff. A young woman whom Robin calls Rosa helped him in the dungeons, but she was killed because of it. Her death haunts Robin more than the torture and he has flash backs to it. The others also seemed to have dark pasts.

The story starts in Sherwood on Christmas Eve. Robin and his band haven’t eaten in two days. They ambush Sir Guy of Gisborne who is collecting taxes – and food from the mouths of peasant children.

This was a fast-paced and enjoyable read, if quite dark. I really enjoyed the close-knit family feel of the band.

This series was created by Fox and after the way they canceled Firefly, I’ve been wary of watching their shows (yes, Fox, some of us remember…) But I loved this show!

It’s an alternate reality which has a handful of new characters but also takes some familiar characters and turns them sideways.

In this world, the X-Men and the Brotherhood have vanished after a catastrophic event where many humans were killed because of mutants. Now, mutants are persecuted not just by ordinary racists but also a government organization Sentinel Services and violent vigilantes called Purifiers.

The first group of main characters are the Strucker family: father Reed, mom Caitlin, 17-year old Lauren, and 15-year old Andy. Reed is a prosecutor who goes after mutants. He believes that most mutants are dangerous and shouldn’t be free. However, when he and Caitlin find out that both their children are mutants, without a second’s hesitation they leave their lives behind and run. Through his job, Reed knows something about the mutant underground movement which smuggles mutants out of US and tries free those who have been locked up in jails or mental hospitals.

In the underground, we have John Proudstar, or Thunderbird, who was a US soldier and now is one of the leaders of the underground movement. He also tries to teach the younger mutants how to use their powers. Lorna Dane is Polaris. This version of her has a bipolar disorder. Her father, who is never named but is alluded to as Magneto, left her with a foster family and she’s very bitter about it, even though her foster mother tried her best. She teaches younger mutants to fight. In the second episode, she finds out that she’s pregnant. Eclipse, Marcos Diaz, is a former drug smuggler and now one of the leaders of the underground in addition to John and Lorna. He and Polaris are lovers. Blink is a teenager who has a hard time trusting anyone. She can’t control her teleporting abilities, either.

On the Sentinels Services’ side we have Jace Turner whose only child died because of mutants. He believes that he’s doing the country and all humans a service.

The group has a nice mix of personalities and all sides think that they’re doing the right thing. Also, the mutants have hard time trusting the Struckers.

I must admit that when I started watching the show I wasn’t convinced that putting a family with the last name of Strucker as the main characters was a good choice. In the comics, Struckers are the bad guys. However, during the two seasons Struckers’ family history is revealed and is explored nicely, so in the end I think it worked well.

I also really enjoyed Caitlin and Reed’s relationship. It is tested from time to time but they’re a very solid couple who can always depend on each other. I really didn’t care for how the show treated Lorna and Marcos but their relationship did have quite a few dramatic twists.

However, my favorite character was John in the second season. He’s lost so much and is desperately trying to keep the underground together. Yet, he’s always there for his friends and bottling up everything to be the best hero he can be (yeah, not healthy).

The show explores themes like family (both blood families and otherwise), oppression, and inner strength. Most superhero stories deal with power and how it’s used. So does this show. It has both individuals who are powerful but also government and various groups. The second season especially deals with various groups and how they use power.

Most of the time the answer seems to be fear. Fear of mutants, both their individual powers and their collective potential. But the mutants also live in fear of humans. Fear drives people to do things which look senseless. Both Purifiers and one mutant group which emerges in the second season are examples of this.

The show was canceled after just two seasons. It might be possible that Disney could pick it up but I’m not optimistic. However, the two season hold up good. The final episode ties almost all loose ends but gives a glimpse of more exciting things in the future. So, while I was disappointed that it was canceled, it did get a decent ending.

I’ve always thought that the X-Men are more suited to TV than movies and the Gifted pretty much proved that.