July 2011

Writer: Joss Whedon
Artists: John Cassady and Laura Martin
Collects Astonishing X-Men vol.3 13-18
Publisher: Marvel
Publication date: 2007

Whedon switches on the big gear! The Hellfire’s Club attacks and Emma’s situation is revealed.

The story starts more quietly with Wolverine training the youngsters in the former Danger room, and Kitty and Peter getting closer. Emma and the Club are meeting and discussing thing in the mansion (which is a clue that all is not as it seems). Only Shaw and Frost are left from the original club; the others are new. Cassandra Nova is back and pushing Emma to action. Then Emma and the Club attack the X-Men in their mansion.

The first victim is poor, tortured Scott. Emma twists his mind until he’s just a drooling catatonic and then pretends that she doesn’t know what happened. She also cuts Scott’s connection to his power. Then Nova makes Henry a beast by suppressing his human side, Shaw takes out Peter, the Negasonic Teenage Warhead sends Kitty to Earth’s core, and Emma reverts Logan to his young self before he was a superhero or even knew that he was a mutant. Then Kitty comes back to take on the whole club.

Meanwhile, Agent Brand and the S.W.O.R.D. finally finds out which of the X-Men is going to destroy Breakworld. Danger allies herself with Ord and they escape to kill the X-Men. (Again.)

Cassandra Nova is back! She’s creepy as hell and is used well in the story. I freely admit that the new Club members were confusing, however, considering who they were, that’s was entirely understandable. The new characters wouldn’t have introduced themselves and their powers because (spoiler!). I also find “Perfection” fascinating? Is Emma having a schizophrenic breakdown?

I have to admit that this is the first time I’ve even been sympathetic to Emma. Here she carries around a lot of guilt and remorse for the things she’s done and also for everything she’s survived in the past. In a true X-Men fashion she’s just buried the feelings deep instead of handling them.

OTOH, I really loathed the way that she manipulated Scott, using the images of Jean and Logan. I also find it a bit hard to believe that after everything Scott has done and seen, he’s still insecure about his abilities and even about his place as a leader. A younger Scott, maybe, but this is the man who has successfully lead the X-Men against so many threats, and not just on Earth, that surely he knows his capabilities by now. I’m fascinated by his lack of power now; hopefully that will show to him that he can be a leader even without his powers. However, I can believe that he’s very frustrated about his lack of control over his power, and that he’s lived his whole live in fear and controlling his optic blasts. Poor Scott.

Kitty and Peter get together, but knowing Whedon that didn’t last long. The start of issue 17 was heartbreaking when Emma/Cassandra created a false future for Kitty where she and Peter were married, and had a son. Emma used that to force Kitty to free Cassandra. So, once again Emma abused Kitty.

Hisako Ichiki is a student who has a larger role in this trade and most likely in the next one, too. We’re getting strong hints that she might be the next X-Men. However, Blindfold, who can apparently see into the future, said that not everyone would return to the space adventure in the next trade. Since all the other characters who were beamed off are established ones, I think that poor Hisako is going to die.

The trade ends in a cliffhanger when the X-Men, Hisako, Ord, and Danger are teleported away.

The first in an SF trilogy rooted in Norse mythology.

Publication year: 2008
Page count: 370
Format: print
Publisher: TOR

The story starts with Ragnarok. Some of the einherjar and the walcyrie have become tainted, and they have turned against their brethren. In the fight in the snow, they and the creatures of darkness kill each other. Only Muire, the smallest and the least of the waelcyrge, is still alive because she ran away in the middle of the fighting. She will call herself a coward for the rest of her life. Only one other person is alive on the battlefield; Kasimir who is a walcyrie’s steed, a valraven. His rider is dead and he’s gravely wounded. Together, Muire and Kasimir managed to beat off the final attack and survive it. Kasimir chooses Muire as his rider but she feels that she’s not worthy and isolates herself from the valraven. The third survivor is Mingan, the Grey Wolf, a tainted one and Suneater who betrayed his brethren to the other tainted.

Over two millenia go by. The humans have built another world and that, too, is nearing the end. Eiledon is the last human city and it’s still alive in the middle of acid rain and desolation because of the Techonmancer Thjierry Thorvaldsdottir who protects the city. Muire has isolated herself from the humans but then she feels the Grey Wolf is near again and has killed someone. Muire finds the victim who is near death and draws the man’s soul into herself. The victim requires vengeance against his killer who is, indeed, Mingan. Also, the city’s law enforcement are hunting both the killer and Muire.

The setting here is stunning and I loved it! It’s a mixture of science fiction and fantasy; the valraven and walcyrie are magical creatures and they use magic, yet they live in a society where cyborgs exist and food comes from vats. The Technomancer has created a species to serve her, the moreaux who seem to have been originally various animals and are now animal-looking humans, just stronger and quicker. (And named after H. G. Wells’ Island of Dr. Moreau.) They have names out of Greek mythology like Selene and Helios. There are also humans who have been mutated because of battle viruses unleashed in wars. The people take care to categorize everyone accordingly to truman, halfman, unman… and only trumans have rights to education. Most of the people have Icelandic sounding names.

The world is, admittedly, bleak. Most of the characters live in appalling conditions and must earn their food by fighting for the entertainment of others and whoring. They die of diseases because they don’t have the money to pay for medicines. Only the Technomancer and those close to her live in abundance.

Muire finds out that some of her former brethren have come back, reincarnated into these brief lived humans. Cathoair is the reborn war leader of the einherjiar whom Muire loved from afar. It breaks her heart to see Cathoair as a fighter for entertainment and then whoring himself. Cathoair’s life isn’t easy by any means and we get to see some of his past.

All of the character are flawed and broken. They’d endured horrible things but still carry on somehow. Muire has isolated herself from humans because they die so quickly. All the time she thinks of herself as a coward and a weakling; a failure. She used to be a historian, poet, and a smith before Ragnarok. She’s also weakened from the fight and the long time that she took to bury the dead. Earlier, she didn’t need to sleep and didn’t get tired. Now, while she can’t age, she does feel hot and cold and gets tired. Kasimir is worried that he’s once gain let down his rider and is doing his best not to pressure Muire. Even Mingan is looking for some sort of a way to continue living after what he has done, although we don’t see his POV much. Ironically, the most balance character in the book might be the moreau Selene who has been built to serve and has no choice in the matter.

Yet the themes of the book are surviving horrible situations and mistakes, moving on, and continuing to live. Even redemption.

The Norse mythology is most seen in the character Muire, who sometimes calls herself a angel. She talks about serving the Light and the All-Father. The human society has a religion loosely based on what happened at Ragnarok and Mingan is their devil. I was a bit bemused to see that the World Serpent, called the Bearer of Burdens, was expected to fight alongside light.

Sex and violence are intertwined in the book. Both of Cathoair’s lovers (a woman and a man) are also fighting in the ring and he beats on them there. Mingan’s and Muire’s relationship is also mixed with both. Muire loathes him because of his betrayal and tries to hurt him while Mingan desires Muire. Mingan can draw others’ breath, and life essence (memories, even memories from previous lives and energy so sustain himself), and this is done by mouth contact; kissing. It can be painful but Mingan can make it pleasurable, too. A bit later in the story, Mingan gives Muire back her full powers and I’m not entire comfortable with that but I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to be.

Overall, I liked the twists in the plot. Muire is the main POV character but there are several others, too.

I’m not sure if I like all the aspects of the ending but I’m curious to find out where the story goes next. However, it can be read as a stand-alone; the story wraps up in the end.

A Few More Pages blog hosts the meme Book Beginnings: How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you’re reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence.

I’m currently reading Elizabeth Bear’s All the Windwracked Stars:

On the Last Day:

He was born white before she burned him.
But that wasn’t what happened first. Not in the beginning.
In the
beginning was the end of the world.

Cryptic and poetic. A story that starts with the end of the world? Or perhaps the end of a world? It feels epic and because I knew that the setting centers on Norse mythology, that feels fitting. Yup, those lines hooked me.

Booking Through Thursday

What’s the latest you’ve ever stayed up reading a book? Is staying up late reading a usual thing for you?

I used to be a night owl; staying up until 2 or 3 AM was normal for me. However, in the recent years, I’ve started to have a more normal sleeping schedule, that is more normal to the modern society. Most of the time I read during the evening so reading until midnight is still pretty usual.

In the recent years the latest I stayed up reading was last year, when I joined the 24 hour read-a-thon and I stayed up reading until about 4 AM but was pretty tired the next day. Before that, when I was younger 6 AM maybe?

The first book in a series about superheroes.

Publication year: 2011
Size: 566 KB
Format: Kindle ebook
Publisher: CreateSpace

The city of Claremont was once a home to many superheroes and villains. But then came the Battle where many of the super powered people died along with a lot of innocent people, and the city hasn’t been the same. However, some of the heroes didn’t die. They were wounded and decided to retire anonymously.

One of those people is Jack King who used to be Teen Protector call Sparks. Ten years after the Battle, he works in a book store and has a gorgeous lawyer as a girlfriend. Then, a man from his past walks back into his life: Bruce Webster who was like a brother to Jack and a member of the Teen Protectors as Osprey. Today, Bruce is an Agent for the Federal Agency and he’s worried about something. He’d like Jack to protect his back, but Jack doesn’t want to get back into heroics and refuses. However, the next day Jack hears that Bruce has been brutally murdered and of course Jack has to find out who murdered his former best friend.

Jack is the main character but the book has a lot of POV character. Agent Manning is Bruce’s long-time friend and has his own powers. He too wants to investigate Bruce’s murder but is prevented by his superior. Karen is Bruce’s gorgeous wife who is on the run with a mysterious package. Sword-wielding knights and a shape shifter chase her around. Bruce has also contacted a homeless teenager Jonathan who also has powers. Jonathan becomes involved in the case by accident.

The book starts with a scene shortly before the Battle until it jumps to ten years later. There are several such short scenes about the Battle in the book. Also, Jack has some flashbacks which are written in the present tense. That was a bit jarring at first but I got used to them quickly.

Most of the POV characters are heroes but they are flawed with distinct personalities, and powers. However, they are all brave and loyal to their friends, and they all have great fighting skills. Jack controls fire. He carries some heavy baggage from the Battle and is afraid of using the full extent of his powers. He’s also quick to anger and resorts easily to violence. Manning is professionally suspicious of everyone. He can see through everything and everyone, and uses his power in his work. Jonathan is also suspicious of others because he’s seen a lot of predators on the streets but he’s pretty secure of himself. He’s very accurate with thrown weapons. Karen is frantic because she doesn’t know where her husband is or who are the people chasing her. She can change herself into a data stream and teleport herself that way. Jack, Jonathan and a couple of other characters are readers and Rose mentions a lot of SF books by name.

There’s a lot of fighting in the book. The obvious difference to the mainstream superhero comic books is that both villains and heroes use deadly weapons, such as guns and swords, and kill people. Very few are just knocked unconscious. In fact, Jack uses his fire powers to brutally cook people alive and the scenes are pretty gory. All of the heroes we meet here carry weapons in addition to having powers.

The book is fast-paced. In fact, the first few chapters, after the scene set during the Battle, are the slowest ones in the book because they describe Jack’s pretty ordinary life.

The book has some romance. Jack has a girlfriend Rachel and he hasn’t told her about his superhero past. Manning is married and there’s romance brewing between two younger characters.

Unlike some of other reviewers, I noticed only a few spelling errors. Maybe they’ve been fixed. However, I did notice some other errors such as when a man is sincerely crying because his best friend is dead, this is called crocodile tears. Also, since the book is written in a tight third POV, there isn’t an obvious narrator, but a couple of times Rose used “we” in the narration, for example, “heroes who protect us” and that was jarring.

Kindle has a short preview of the next book, Black Mirror. While the story reaches a satisfying conclusion, there are some threads left open.

The True Book Addict is hosting a week long readathon from July 25 to July 31 and since I’m reading anyway, I decided to take part.

I’m working through the week, so I’m listing just three book:
Fire Inside by Raymond Rose, an ebook that I’m almost finished with,
All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear, and
Geoffrey Thorne: Sword of Damocles, a Star Trek Titan book.
I’m also going to read the Astonishing X-Men vol. 3.

Writer: Joss Whedon
Artists: John Cassady and Laura Martin
Collects Astonishing X-Men 7-12

Publisher: Marvel
Publication date: 2006

The story starts with the student, Wing, who lost his powers in the previous story because of the medicine Ord injected into him. The poor kid is very depressed and is considering suicide.

Then we jump to the X-Men, with the returned Colossus who apparently wants immediately back in action, who are headed to Manhattan which is under attack by a large monster. The X-Men attack the monster and fight side by side/bicker with the Fantastic Four. Kitty and Peter are distracted by their thoughts about each other. When they get back to the X-Mansion, Wing is missing and people are getting anxious. Then someone or something attacks all the telepaths and cuts off all access to the outside world. Then an old Sentinel attacks and the X-Men send the students and Kitty to the Danger room. Which is exactly what their adversary wants.

This trade is pretty action packed. There are a few quieter moments, like Kitty and Peter’s talk or Agent Brand being reinstated, and the professor talking with the main adversary, Danger – and Emma Frost is apparently still in league with the Hellfire club, even calling Shaw her love. Yes! But otherwise, it’s fight against the monster, the Sentinel, and Danger.

There’s a little talk about the treatment of artificial intelligences, and the parallel between the treatment of Peter and Danger is brought up. However, I really didn’t care about how the professor’s whole ideology was apparently changed, in a ret-con. If the professor had known all along about Danger, surely he’s no better than Magneto. Doesn’t that invalidate the ideals that the X-Men are built on?

I’m also not sure if I like that Colossus just put on his old uniform and is carrying on like old times. That sort of undercuts the character development, but OTOH, I have faith on Whedon on the character part.

So, mostly an enjoyable ride but raises some uncomfortable questions. Hopefully, the characters will explore them in future issues.

The second book in the Orion SF series.

Publication year: 1988
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Stefan Rudnicki
Running Time: 11 hrs and 21 minutes

At the end of the previous book, Orion was reunited with his lady love, Anya, in the future “now”. They are going to leave together on a space ship for their new adventure together. However, in the next moment Orion wakes up on a sea ship, under a lash, and without any memories of himself or how he got there. He finds out that the ship is headed towards the city of Troy to wage war. Orion is one of the thess, a masterless man, not a slave but he also doesn’t have anyone who wants to keep him alive. An old man called Polates talks with Orion helps him. Soon, Orion starts to remember who he is and what happened to him: he and Anya had been on a star ship who blew up. She died and Orion blames the Golden One Ahriman who couldn’t let a “goddess” to be with a creature Ahriman had created.

The Golden One visits Orion in dreams. Ahriman is called Apollo here. Apollo wants Orion to help the Trojans to defeat the Greek because the Trojans are more civilized and will be able to unify the world in a way that the Greek, fighting amongst themselves in their city-states, can’t. When Orion refuses, Apollo says that he can bring Anya back to life.

The plot is fast-paced. After the battle for Troy, Orion meets the Hebrews, and later he and his group go to Egypt. The book has a lot of hand-to-hand combat with ancient weapons. The SF elements are mostly the time-travel plot and the gods; Orion lives in historical times without any modern conveniences.

I found Orion to be weirdly inconsistent. At one point, he comments that the attackers aren’t going to call themselves Greek for over a thousand years. He also thinks that the Hebrews are religious zealots, and have no problem saying to others that gods can die and aren’t really divine. Yet, at the same time, he doesn’t seem to remember any details about the Trojan war; there’s no quips about how Homer will tell the fall of Troy. He also doesn’t make any comments about how the Hebrews will be seen in the future or, er, about the quite famous Biblical story he takes part in. He has modern attitudes and doesn’t bother to hide them.

There are also more gods this time; a whole pantheon of them. Not all of them support Apollo, either. They keep their guises as the Greek gods even though Orion knows that they are likely just advanced humans from the future. Strangely, even though Athena/Anya died in the future, she isn’t in this time, either and the other gods say that she’s dead. Why would she be dead in the past? The answer makes sense plot wise (if she was alive, she and Orion would be together and there wouldn’t be adventures) but makes no sense otherwise.

Like in the first book, there are few continuous supporting characters. Most of them change when Orion and his group move on. The old storyteller is mostly likely Homer although this isn’t said explicitly.

A fun historical/SF adventure if you don’t mind reading about brutal treatment of women and slaves.

Booking Through Thursday

What’s the first book that you ever read more than once? (I’m assuming there’s at least one.)

What book have you read the most times? And–how many?

I’ve never been much of a rereader; there’s always been too many new books and new authors to explore. Even when I was little, there were so many Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew books that I didn’t have to reread them. I’m also fan of series so can enjoy the same beloved characters in new adventures.

However, I think the first book I reread was the Black Stallion which I just adored.
In the recent years I’ve started to listen audiobooks and it’s much easier to relisten them than reread books (I’m a slow reader). I’ve relistened Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series and Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series a few times now.

The first in an SF trilogy. I got it through BookMooch.

Publication year: 1978
Page count: 252
Format: print
Publisher: Daw

Niun is a young man in a warrior race called the mri. The mri hire themselves to another species, the regul, who are not violent. The mri guard regul space ships and battle against each other when the regul want it. However, for the past forty years, the mri and the regul have fought against the humans. During it, a hundred thousand mri has died and they are on the brink of extinction. The mri train with hand-to-hand weapons and want to duel. The humans use weapons of mass destruction.

The humans and regul have signed a treaty at the start of the story. The mri see this as surrender and are not pleased. Niun is especially depressed: he’s the last of the warrior cast Kel on the planet Kesrith and he’s been looking forward to getting his own share of glory in war. The leader of mri on Keshrith, the she’pan, has kept Niun beside her for far longer than is usual, and Niun resents the old she’pan for it. Except for Niun’s truesister Melein, who was told to join the Sen caste, all other mri on Kesrith are old people.

At the same time, two humans are on their way to Kesrith to prepare for the human colony that is going to be built there. They are on a regul ship and under strict orders to stay in the cabin except for short periods of time. Stavros is the leader of the small group; he’s an old and respected diplomat and he’s going to be the new colony’s governor. Sten Duncan is Stavros’ young aide and the other POV character. Stavros is spending his time trying to get the hang of the regul language while Duncan is going slowly mad with the isolation and boredom.

Unfortunately for the mri, the regul haven’t told them that their current home world Kesrith is going to be given to the humans.

The regul and mri both have distinct cultures and mindsets. Even though the mri have served the regul for over two thousand years, neither understand the other and they also loath each other. The mri have three castes; the Kel who are the warriors, the Sen, who are the scholars and leaders, and the Kath who are the gentle life-bearers (and only briefly seen in this book). Men can become either Kel or Sen, but women can belong into any of the castes. They have rigid boundaries: the Kel aren’t literate and they must obey the Sen without question or thought. The Sen are the leader, the decision makers, and the keepers of knowledge. They are forbidden to even touch weapons and have to remain chaste. The regul call the San religious leaders, but I didn’t think of the mri as religious. There was a brief mention of multiple gods but nothing else. The She’pan also called the Mother and all the warriors of her clan are her ritual husbands. The warriors are free to have sex with any Keth or Kel.

The regul have a completely different social structure. They respect age and the elders are in charge. The elders can even kill younglings if they want to; the younglings are certainly verbally abused almost at every turn. The regul don’t have biological sexes until they mature and they live for hundreds of years. They also find lying to be extremely distasteful and never forget anything. They find humans baffling. 🙂 The elders are described as frail; they move around on machines and make the younglings do as much work as possible. (They reminded me of the Hutt even though I know that they have legs and are capable of walking, although slowly.)

Even tough the book centers on a warrior caste and is set in an aftermath of war, there’s little violence in the book. Most of the struggle is against the hostile planet. Kesrith’s atmosphere is acidic but barely breathable, it has hostile creatures, and boiling mud and water. At least the parts that we see seem to be mostly sand, mud, and rock. For such an unforgiving planet, the local wildlife is pretty large. Dusei are one of the local animal-like creatures. They seem to have some empathic talent and are able to form a bond with the mri, but only if the individual dus wants to. Niun doesn’t have a dus of his own and that just adds to his misery and self-doubts.

The plot doesn’t really start until near the end. However, I was fascinated with the cultures, so I didn’t really mind. At the start Niun is pretty self-centered and selfish in his concerns. He has a tendency to pity himself and think that he’s worthless. He had close relationship with his sister but that ended when she became a Sen, so Niun has been quite lonely among the old mri. Still, when the plot does start, it does so with a bang. Also, there’s no resolution at the end.

Once again, Cherryh has a very… interesting cover. That’s probably Melein, who is forbidden to even touch weapons. And that outfit is very, er, movie-like instead of being some actual use in a desert-like environment. Still, I guess it could have been much worse, too. The trilogy cover is pretty awesome, though.

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