September 2009

By John Byrne

Collects Fantastic Four #268-275 and Avengers 18, and Thing #19.

This is another batch of classic FF action: Terminus, Reed’s dad in a parallel universe, Jen meets Wyatt, and Johnny’s and Alicia’s relationship starts.

This trade starts right after the previous one. Susan is still in the hospital. Meanwhile Johnny and Jennifer fight a mysterious opponent in the Baxter Building. It turns out to be Doom’s mask which leads to rather disturbing conclusion: either Doom is still alive or someone else is using his equipment.

Soon after, a huge and powerful beam from space cuts into the US soil. People are panicking and the president calls to the FF. It turns out that the beam is writing and in it Terminus declares the Earth as his. Jen and Reed outsmart Terminus while Susan is left to rest. Susan isn’t happy about that at all and is determined that she isn’t going to be shoved aside again. Wyatt wants to see more of the universe and becomes an unofficial member of the FF.

During Reed’s birthday, he confesses to Susan that he has lost some memories. In order to get some of them back, the FF goes to California to the Richards’ family estate. There the servant couple tells Reed that they have seen ghosts and the FF decides to investigate. Soon, they find Reed’s dad’s laboratory which has a working time machine. However, the FF know that you can’t actually travel in time but only into parallel universes. They decide to follow Reed’s dad and perhaps to return him. The FF and Wyatt step through to a very different world which has been ravaged by wars and is now ruled by the Warlord. The dimension has cowboys riding flying, horse shaped metallic steeds and valkyries who ride similar metal dragons.

Then She-Hulk must deal with the photographer from the Naked Truth.

Apparently, there are also a couple of issues of the Thing battling monsters but these weren’t published in Finland.

Terminus is yet another hugely powerful alien who wants to enslave Earth. This time it (while Terminus is clearly sentient, its gender or sex is impossible to know) clearly wasn’t beaten completely so its return (in Avengers, IIRC) wasn’t a surprise.

I really loved the parallel universe. The metallic steeds and the whole post-apocalypse atmosphere. It was one of the first parallel universe –stories I’ve read and it still has that nostalgia -feeling.

IMHO, Jen was far too lenient to the gossip magazine’s editor. That story was a bit too real-life for my taste. In other words, writers should just ignore it or otherwise all super heroines (and heroes, for that matter) should have paparazzies after them.

All in all, a classic collection of adventures although not as good as the previous trades.

Booking Through Thursday

What’s the saddest book you’ve read recently?

I guess I have to mention again Sanderson’s Hero of Ages. The world is rather depressing but the read sadness comes from the bittersweet ending and leaving behind the characters when I’ve spent the long trilogy with them. Re-reading just isn’t quite the same.

The second book in the delightful Temeraire –series. They are historical fantasy set in the Napoleonic Wars with dragons. The dragons are huge and capable of carrying whole crews of men.

In the previous book, Naval Captain Will Laurence acquired the dragon Temeraire and they formed a strong and lasting bond. However, now the Chinese have revealed that Temeraire is a Chinese dragon and they want him back – preferably without the low-born English Captain. Temeraire is a rare Celestial dragon and so, their handlers in China are royalty.

The English government wants to keep good relations with China and some go even so far that they want Laurence to lie to Temeraire so that the dragon would leave voluntarily. But Temeraire doesn’t want to be separated from Laurence and refuses to believe that Laurence would exchange him for another dragon. When the Admiral tries to force Laurence to give up Temeraire, the dragon takes Laurence and flies away. Against orders, they join the battle against the French.

After the battle, Laurence is almost court marshaled for his actions, or rather Temeraire’s actions. However, Temeraire’s insistence convinces the Chinese envoy, the Emperor’s brother Prince Yongxing, that the dragon won’t leave without Laurence. Therefore, both Laurence and the dragon are sent by sea to China. The Chinese delegation and the British crew are suspicious of each other so the long voyage isn’t going to be a comfortable one.

The long sea voyage aboard the warship Allegiance takes up the vast majority of the book. There are three distinct groups aboard the ship: the air crew, the Navy men, and the Chinese delegation. Even the two British groups aren’t too comfortable with each other.

There’s only one huge air battle in the book near the beginning. However, there are smaller skirmished throughout the book providing lots of action. Politics provides motivations to many characters but Laurence isn’t a politician and he isn’t comfortable dealing with politicians such as young Arthur Hammond who is their onboard diplomat. (Alas, I associate the name Hammond with the Stargate’s General, which is very much the wrong association here!)

However, I was more interested in the differences between the Chinese and British cultures. Most of the differences come clear in how differently they treat their dragons. The British Admirals seem to think of the dragons as troops or even just animals while the Chinese have integrated them to their culture more clearly. Different breeds are also treated differently because they are of different class.

Temeraire is also very curious about these differences. He and Laurence also talk a lot about culture in general: slavery and are the British dragons any different from slaves, why woman aren’t allowed to be soldiers while female dragons fight as well as the males etc. I happened to like these a lot but others might think that they just slow the book down.

The Chinese are said to be the best dragon handlers in the world. Still, the Prince manages to completely ignore Temeraire’s own wishes. Through out the whole voyage, the Prince tries to convince Temeraire, both subtly and finally not, that the dragon would be much happier in China with a royal handler. He continues this no matter how sternly Temeraire insists that he doesn’t want to leave England or Laurence. Then again, it’s a very human trait to try to “better” others’ lives without taking into account what these other people want themselves.

I did expect to see more about China but that’s, of course, not the book’s fault. The sea voyage was quite interesting and what little we saw about China was fascinating. I hope that at some point Novik might write a (short) story set in this China.

Overall: a very enjoyable continuation to the series.

Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

To celebrate the Talk Like a Pirate Day, Night Shade Books graciously gave me a review copy of this short story collection about science fiction and fantasy pirates. It’s been on my to-get-list for a while so I was happy. It contains 18 stories from talented writers.

“At least part of the current fascination with pirates, including our own, has to be about freedom, frontiers, a yearning for adventure and a desire to explore exotic locales.” So starts the VanderMeers’ introduction and I fully agree. The stories in this collection are very much about freedom; about the need to be the master of your own life and fate, and to be free of the demands of the society. There are also quite a few exotic locales as you might expect from a SFF collection.

All of the stories are good but some of them stand out to me:

Elizabeth Bear’s and Sarah Monette’s Boojum is a story about Black Alice Bradley who is the newest recruit aboard the alive Boojum spaceship Lavinia Whately. The Boojums eat other spaceships no matter if they are other Boojums or made of steel. The crew finds very interesting cargo aboard the ship they pillage.

In Kage Baker’s I Begyn As I Mean to Go On two runaway slaves are rescued by a pirate ship and they end up having to sign on to the crew. After they pillage a Spanish ship, a dying sailor tells them about his treasure but it turns out to be less traditional than the pirates had hoped for.

Howard Waldrop’s Avast, Abaft! is a humorous tale about the Pirate King who is fleeing the HMS Pinafore. Both crews enjoy singing very much.

In Katharine Sparrow’s Pirate Solutions, three young coders drink rum one night and bite down on the bones at the bottom of the bottles. They find out about their destinies, or previous lives, as pirates. They are determined to bring the tactics of the pirates to the modern world and so they sail away from their current lives.

Paul Batteiger’s A Cold Day in Hell is set above the frozen sea where ships run on skates. The commander of the Ranger and the Jane, one English Leftenant Drake, is chasing the dread pirate Captain Frost.

Naomi Novik’s Araminta or, The Wreck of the Amphidrake is set in an alternate world with working magic. Lady Araminta is a headstrong young woman who is sent to the Colonies to marry and settled down. But on the way, pirates attack.

In Garth Nix’s Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarsköe two men are looking for pirates in order to get them to storm the stronghold of the legendary Scholar-Pirates. Both of them are masquerading as pirates themselves: Sir Hereward as Martin Suresword, the Terror of the Syndical Sea and Mister Fitz as Farolio a living puppet down on his luck. Fitz is in fact a puppet which has been brought to life by magic. However, it seems that the duo bit off a bit more than they can chew when they meet Captain Fury of the Sea-Cat.

The stories were surprisingly different: sailing ship, spaceships, airships, skateships, living ships… One of the stories is written as a logbook and other as memoirs which were interesting techniques that worked well. Two of the stories were about pirate ships’ cooks. Some of the captains were intelligent gentlemen and some evil bastards but all of them were colorful.

Very good collection.

Booking Through Thursday

What’s the most enjoyable, most fun, most just-darn-entertaining book you’ve read recently?

(Mind you, this doesn’t necessarily mean funny, since we covered that already. Just … GOOD.)

Honestly, I have to go with the collected John Byrne’s Fantastic Four issues. They’re classics.

In books, I’d have to say Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker. It’s a stand-alone epic fantasy but it focuses on politics rather than mindless sword fights.

The Book Blogger Appreciation Week is in full swing and today’s meme is Reading habits. I decided to answer all of the questions although probably not as briefly as I can.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?
I’m trying to cut down but chocolate is still my favorite snack.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
I don’t mark them but the idea doesn’t horrify me. In fact, I can fully understand it with text books.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?
Fiction these days.

Hard copy or audiobooks?
Because I’m a slow reader, I’d love to have every book as an audiobook!

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
Any point.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
No, I’m too lazy for that.

What are you currently reading?
Ebook: Czerneda’s Ties of Power, print: Schroeder’s Pirate Sun, and a short story collection: Fast Ships, Black Sails.

What is the last book you bought?
Novik’s Jade of Throne in audio.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
More than one but preferably of different genres and/or different formats.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
I usually read during the evenings but that’s because I have a job, not because it’s what I’d prefer to do.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
People’s tastes are so different that not really.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
Read and to-be-read. TBR is further divided into the next reads shelf and the rest.

By John Byrne

Collects Fantastic Four #258-267 and Alpha Flight 4, and Thing #10.

These stories deal with the aftermaths of the fight with Galactus in vol. 2. It’s full of many classic moments: Dr. Doom giving the former Terrax cosmic powers and the fight that it leads to, Reed Richards’ trial for saving Galactus, and She-Hulk replacing Ben.

The trade starts with an issue focusing on Doom. During the months that the FF has spent in the Negative Zone, Doom has been busy. He has a young ward Kristoff whom he’s teaching about the rigors of absolute monarchy. Also, he’s trying to find a way to make the Power Cosmic artificially so that he could use it again. In the end, he has to kidnap Tyros, the former Terrax Herald of Galactus, from hospital and use his machine to give Tyros the powers. Then he sends Tyros to destroy the FF. Ben, Susan, and Johnny fight Tyros but can only barely hold their own. Fortunately, the Silver Surfer interferes. Both Tyros and Doom seem to die in the fight.

Afterwards, the FF finds out that a transport beam has taken Reed out of the solar system. Susan decides to contact the Watcher who agrees to take them to Reed. A group of aliens has sentenced Reed to death because he didn’t let Galactus die. However, the FF and the Watcher persuades them to give Reed a trial. The prosecutor is Majestrix Lilandra herself. Many different people and beings speak at the trial.

Then Reed, Ben, and Johnny are whisked away to the Secret Wars while the Baxter Building guards itself against the Trapster. A visibly pregnant Susan is trying to keep busy while waiting for the rest of her family to return. However, the returning members of FF are Reed, Johnny, and the She-Hulk. Susan suffers a radiation attack and is taken to a hospital while Reed wants to consult the foremost expert in radiation: Dr. Otto Octavius also known as Dr. Octopus.

I remember being very impressed with these stories when I first read them in 1988. In the first part, Dr Doom says that he considers Susan to be the most dangerous member of the FF. Of course, practically the only thing that restricts the use of the force fields seems to be the writer’s imagination so I tend to agree with Doom in this.

The trial-part is still entertaining enough but I’m more dubious about it today. I definitely enjoyed how the pregnant Susan didn’t take any crap from the boys who tried to quickly leave her out but instead declared herself the current leader of FF and went right back into action. However, I find the whole idea that the Marvel universe has a “destiny” to be pretty cheesy. It’s also, of course, just a way of saying that the ends (the destiny) justify the means (the suffering of countless beings) which I don’t really care for. I was also baffled by the comments about Lilandra. She wants to relieve the suffering of others and this is now considered… arrogant and evil?

Byrne also put himself into the trial issues as the Chronicler of FF. I found this to be rather cheesy as well. On the other hand, it brought a little comic relief to otherwise rather tense story.

Baxter Building vs. the Trapster is great fun!

I loved She-Hulk in FF! She’s fun and easygoing and broke up the status quo nicely. I also liked her romance with Wyatt a lot.

The last storyline’s end was tragic and poignant in the middle of all the superhero action.

Overall: a great trade!

Karl Schroeder’s Queen of Candesce

Book two of Virga. The very good fantasy steampunk series continues.

4 stars from 5

Booking Through Thursday

What’s the most informative book you’ve read recently?

That’s a tough one. I deal with factual texts all day long in my work, so I don’t currently really want to read nonfiction in my spare time.

Still, I’d have to say that I’ve learned quite a lot about the Renaissance Venice from Dave Duncan’s Alchemist -series and something about gravity and its effects on the human body from Schroeder’s Virga books even though they are steampunk.

Generally, in fiction I often learn something about other cultures and the way that other people think. In fact, I’d say it’s pretty hard to read and *not* to learn anything.

By John Byrne

Collects Fantastic Four #251-257 and Annual #17, Avengers #233, and Thing #2.

Fantastic Four in the Negative Zone!

I’m sure many readers where wondering what Byrne could do to top the Galactus-story. The answer, of course, is something completely different. In these stories the FF travel in the Negative Zone exploring the (strangely familiar) cultures while at the same time Annihilus is ravaging Baxter Building and is preparing to annihilate two universes.

In the first story the FF leave to the Zone while Alicia stays to baby sit Franklin. However, soon after they have left, Annihilus takes advantage of the portal and arrives to the Baxter Building.

In the second story, the FF arrives and immediately meets a tribe which sacrifices women to a metal building which they believe to be a god. Unsurprisingly, the FF interferes. The whole story has been drawn sideways highlighting the strangeness of the Zone.

Next, the FF encounters a huge generation ship. After a brief fight, they find out that the crew of the ship has been searching for a new home for 500 generations. The rest of their people are in hibernation. The FF decides to help.

The next story takes up three issues and the Avengers tie-in. The FF arrives to another planet and this time Reed wants to do undercover investigating. However, it doesn’t take long for the local overlord to notice the FF. The ruler invites the FF for dinner but it turns out that he’s after Reed’s brain. The result is perhaps one of FFs most strangest adventures.

At the same time, the Avengers and Daredevil have noticed that a large and invisible force field is around the Baxter Building and it is growing. They try to take it down.

Finally, there’s a story about Galactus devouring the Skrull homeworld. His new Herald Nova doesn’t seem to have many human feelings left.

This is a very good continuation of Byrne’s FF run. My only complaint is that the Negative Zone cultures aren’t any different from the modern day USAians.

Otherwise, FF show once again a great mix of scientists and superheroes. They each have their own distinctive personalities and the villains are properly villainous. Also, not everyone they meet are villains

Next Page »