September 2012


Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: John Romita Jr., Barry Windsor-Smith, Michael Golden, Bret Blevins, and Steve Leialoha

Collects UXM #180-198, UXM Annual 7, 8

This is another collection full of classic story lines and characters. It’s also quite dark in tone but so was the previous collection’s Brood storyline.

This collection deals with a lot of relationship stuff and introduces a pivotal character: Rachel Summers, Scott and Jean’s daughter from alternate time line. Her time line was glimpsed at in “Days of Future Past” and in issues focusing on Rachel we get to see the horrible (but by now quite familiar to fans) future where mutants and superheroes were (will be) hunted and put into concentration camps. After the X-Men of that time die, Rachel travels back in time in desperation to try to change her present and the X-Men’s future. Instead, she cames to an alternate past. We’re also introduced government’s mutant inventor: Forge. And several enemies: Selene who is a millenia old vampire-like mutant and Nimord, the super sentinel from Rachel’s future.

Kitty and Storm finally settle their differences. Kitty has been horrified by Storm’s changes but they finally face the fact that Storm can’t live her life the way Kitty would want her to, but the way Storm wants to and needs to. Then Colossus brakes up with Kitty and she leaves the X-Men for a while. Meanwhile, Rogue has to face her own demons, Carol Danvers’s memories.

Then, Gyrich shoots Storm with a weapon Forge designed. It’s supposed to strip a mutant from his or her powers – and it works. Storm loses her powers and is devastated. For awhile she’s still with the X-Men and proves that she’s still a warrior even without her powers. But in the end she decides to return to Africa to find a new direction to her life.

In this collection, government’s paranoia towards mutants escalates. Senator Kelly is heading the mutant registration act and agents like Gyrich, who has worked with the Avengers in the past, are looking for ways to neutralize mutant powers completely. The start of the collection has a lot of magic in it, too. Unfortunately, none of the X-Men have magical powers so they have to rely on allies to save them. This look pretty grim.

Meanwhile, the X-Men battle foes from Selene to Kulan Gath and the Morlocks. Warmachine’s father Magus is also introduced. The X-Men fight Juggernaut and Rogue has to combine the powers of several X-Men to beat Nimrod.

The collection is quite dark in tone with Rogue’s and Rachel’s mental problems and Storm losing her powers. The hatred that ordinary humans feels towards mutants is also prominent.

Annual 7 is much more whimsical in tone. Here, the X-Men come face to face with… Galactus, who steals their mansion. However, Xavier contacts them and tells them that while this is a very powerful being, it’s not Galactus. The X-Men chase the being to various places before finally getting to the bottom of the story.

Apparently, some reprint editions also contain the four issue X-Men/Alpha Flight miniseries. I liked it; it had a quite a mythical feel to it.

A stand-alone SF book.

Publication year: 1994
Format: print
Page count: 311
Publisher: Puffin Books

Tendai, Rita, and Kuda are General Matsika’s children. They live in Zimbabwe in 2194. Because the General fears that the children will be kidnapped, they have lived their whole lives inside their father’s mansion. The martial arts instructor visits them every week and other teachers teach them through a holophone. Yet, the children are often bored. One day, they scheme to get outside the house. They want to just go to the nearest city, Harare, to explore a little, and get back before the parents even noticed they’re gone. And they would get the Explorer scout merit badges. With the help of their friend the Mellower, they manage to get out. Unfortunately, their father was right; soon they are kidnapped.

The General has a lot of resources but they aren’t suitable for such small targets as the kids. So, Mrs. Matsika decides to hire the only private detectives left in the country: Ear, Eye, and Arm. The three men are friends and they were born with special abilities because of toxic waste near their village. Ear has enormous ears and can hear accurately from long distances away. Eye has extraordinarily sensitive eyes and Arm has very long and strong arms and legs and he can also sense others’ feelings. They are poor and live in the Cow’s Guts district in Harare. The trio is delighted to finally get some work.

There are three point-of-view characters: Tendai, the oldest of the kids is the main pov character. Arm is another pov character and the kid’s mother is also briefly a pov character. Tendai and the other kids have various adventures and they become rather knowledgeable about the city’s underworld. General Matsika, who is also the country’s leader and chief of police, led a war against the gangs. The gangs have been demolished except for the Masks which is widely feared. However, there seems to be a network of child kidnappers operating in Harare even though they aren’t part of a known gang.

The children see how different their rich upbringing is in comparison to the poor who have almost nothing. We also get a glimpse of Resthaven which is a walled village where the inhabitants live their lives as Africans have lived for millenia. Apparently, some think that this is like living in a paradise, unpolluted by modern things. I guess it can be, as long as you’re a man. For the villages’ girls and women who have to do all the boring and nasty work, are married off too young, and die in childbirth, it looks like a very different world. It seems that the girls are also given deliberately less food that boys. And on top of everything, they are constantly told that they are worthless.

The science fiction elements are rather sparse. The rich have robot servants and use holophones and most people use Nirvana guns which put people to sleep instead of killing them, but otherwise the book could have been set into an alternate now. In fact, the book has more elements from myths than SF. Tendai prays to his ancestors and interprets events as answers to his prayers. Some of the ancient beliefs which are still alive in Resthaven seem to be true. The Mellower has the strange ability to hypnotize others with his voice. Spirit medium is a respected profession and it’s a commonly accepted fact that spirits can and do possess people. Most of the time these spirits are benevolent and can give the possessed valuable skills. This mix was unusual and unexpected in an SF book.

The plot was somewhat repetitive with several escapes and kidnappings but I guess that’s usual for YA. Tendai is easily the most complex of the kids. He’s thirteen and he wants to be a warrior, like his father, but when he tries to even practice violence, he always thinks how his victim would feel. This almost paralyzes him and he’s convinced that he’s a coward. Like all the other kids, he’s spoilt and rather self-centered. Yet, he tries to protect his siblings. Rita is the most short-tempered of the three and is quick to irritate even adults. Kuda is a bit too young to have much personality beyond wanting food and entertainment.

Booking Through Thursday

Do you bring the book(s) you’re reading with you when you go out? How?
Physically, or in an e-reader of some kind? Have your habits in this
regard changed? (I know I carried books with me more when I was in
school than I do now–I can’t read while I’m driving to work, after
all.)

Yes, I almost always carry a book with me. I don’t have an e-reader. Usually, I have a backbag with me and when I don’t have a bag, I carry the book in my jacket’s large pockets. (Happily, both my leather jacket and winter coat have large pockets.) Also, I don’t like to take hardbacks or books over 400 pages with me, so I tend to take a small book even if I’m currently reading a larger book. I also don’t have a car so bus rides are good time for reading when I can get a seat. Standing and reading in a crowded bus doesn’t really work.

About a year ago, I lived in the middle of the city and was able to walk to pretty much everywhere. Back then, I didn’t carry a book with me unless I was going to wait on line or otherwise be somewhere I could read. Now, when I have to take the bus to almost everywhere, I also carry a book.

A stand-alone alternate history book.

Publication year: 1991
Format: print
Page count: 429
Publisher: Bantam Spectra

The Difference Engine is set in 1885 London in a world were Charles Babbage invented a working difference engine; a computer. The Industrial Radical Party has come to power, led by Lord Byron who has become the Prime Minister. They’ve set up Lordships my merit instead of inheritance.

By 1885 steam engines are everywhere and London’s environment is starting to suffer from the many coal engines. The summer is uncommonly hot and that makes tempers short. Most of the wealthy have fled London but the poor have no other place to go to. People wear face masks to ward off the horrible smell (called the Stink) and the vapors which rise from the Thames. Meanwhile, the land which is USA in our time, is here divided between the Republic of Texas, French Mexico, Republic of California, Russian Alaska, USA, Confederate States of America, and the unorganized territories. Canada is called British North America here.

The book has three different parts. The first follows Sybil Gerard, a daughter of a Luddite leader. After her father’s execution, she’s had to earn her living any way she can. She lives under a false name and is currently a prostitute, although a gentlemens’ escort rather than a street walker. But then one of her customers reveals that he knows her real name and wants her to become his apprentice; an apprentice adventuress. Sybil agrees almost without thinking. This decision leads her into danger. The last 70 or so pages are from the point-of-view of Laurence Oliphant, a journalist and the Queen’s spymaster.

Unfortunately, most of the book is from the pov of Edward Mallory who is an explorer and has a doctorate in Paleontology. His section actually starts deceptively interestingly with a steam gurney race during which Mallory mixes up with shady dealings. But after he comes to London, nothing much happens. He goes around meeting boring people and having boring conversations with them, which are only tangentially related to the plot. The section also contains one of the least appealing sex scenes I’ve ever read. The other time Mallory has sex is mercifully described only briefly. Mallory has a scholarly rivalry with one his collages about whether the huge dinosaurs lived on land or water. That was probably the most entertaining part.

London and it’s people are described wonderfully. There are long descriptions of various places and engines. The desperation and unhappiness that the poor have to suffer comes through wonderfully. It’s just that nothing much happens. For the whole time I had the frustrating feeling that something very interesting is happening in the world, but outside this book. For example, I would have loved to know how Lord Byron managed to overcome his sordid reputation and managed to become the Prime Minister. At the start of his section, Mallory has just returned from an exploration trip from the USA. He’s been digging up dinosaur bones and running guns to the Native Americans. Much more interesting that what happened in the book! Some of my questions were answered during the last 30 pages which were fragments from books, interviews, articles, journals, etc. Sadly even this part succumbs to boredom before long.

The writers have several historical people in the book: John Keats is a kinotropist and is seen only briefly, Texas’ president Sam Houston is in exile in London, Lord Byron’s daughter Lady Ada, the Queen of Engines, is also seen only briefly, and Benjamin Disraeli has a conversation with Mallory. Babbage and Lord Byron are referenced but not seen directly.

Today the topic of Top Ten Tuesdays is Top Ten Series You’ve Yet to Finish.

I have lots of these. I’ve joined the 1st in a series challenge for three years now and I tend to be picky with which series I continue. Also, this year I’ve tried to read more of the books I already own instead of buying more. These are just some of the series I like and intend to continue:

1, Kage Baker’s the Company series
A science fiction series about immortals living through out the centuries and millenia.

2, Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series
I wasn’t too impressed with the first book but the second was much better and left the series in a very interesting place.

3, Jocelynn Drake’s Dark Days vampire series
I really enjoy reading about powerful Mira and now that some of the books are on Audible, I’ll definitely get them.

4, Laura Anne Gilman’s Retrievers UF series
I own the last three books in the series as ebooks but I just haven’t gotten around to reading them.

5, Tanya Huff’s Blood books
Again, I own the rest of the series in omnibus formats.

6, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld
Men at Arms and Jingo are still on my shelf, unread.

7, Carol McClary’s Murder series
Historical mystery series about the first female journalist, Nellie Blye.

8, Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series
The newest aren’t available on audio, so I’m sadly behind.

9, Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts series

10, Lloyed Alexander’s Vesper Holly adventures
These are just great: short and light.

Today, the topic of Top 5 Sundays at Larissa’s Bookish Life Favorite on-going TV series.

I don’t live in US so I’m terminally behind on all of the shows.

1, Criminal Minds
This one sort of snuck up on me. One of my favorite authors loves this one and so I started to watch it, too. I find the relationships between the main cast very interesting and it’s a joy to watch so many competent women working together professionally. And one of them is fat! A competent fat woman on TV!

2, Walking Dead
I love the first season and the flawed characters but I was a bit disappointed in the second season. I still have high expectations for the next season.

3, Castle
While Castle is a crime show, it has enough humor to distinguish itself from the rest. I really like Castle’s quirky family.

4, Bones
Another crime show and another ensamble cast! Love all the secondary characters around Booth and Brennan.

5, Supernatural
Despite the awful way the show treats their women characters, I just love Dean.

The fourth book in the Dark Days urban fantasy series. In audio!

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Todd McLaren
Running Time: 13 hrs and 22 minutes

The fourth book is from Danaus’ point-of-view, for the first time. Danaus is 1,800 years old, because his soul is linked to a Bori, a demon of sorts. Before Danaus was born, his mother gave his soul to a Bori in exchange for power. Danaus got a long life and supernatural abilities. He’s convinced that his soul is already damned. For a long time, he has been looking for a purpose to his life. For a while, Danaus got his purpose from hunting vampires and protecting humans. However, since Danaus has had to ally himself with Mira, he’s started to think that he could have been wrong, to an extent. For a couple of hundred years, Danaus has been working for Themus, a secret organization devoted to destroying vampires. But now he’s started to suspect Themus’ leader, the warlock Ryan, is only using the organization for his own ends. Danaus doesn’t like to be used.

Once again, Danaus is drawn to Mira’s home town of Savannah. A senator’s daughter has been killed and it’s likely that the murderer was a supernatural being. Her parents are influential and they want to investigate her murder. If they find a supernatural link, they could expose it to the whole world.

While Danaus is hunting a vampire, he sees that something takes the monster over and the vampire is able to kill several naturi. He finds out that the Bori who owns Danaus’ soul has returned and wants Danaus to work for him. Of course, Danaus refuses. Also, Danaus’ assistant James has his own problems.

The previous books have given hints about Danaus’ past and they are now confirmed. He was born as a Roman citizen and for a while he was part of the Roman army. Then he spent a while with monks. It seems to me that Danaus was one of the earliest Christians, or perhaps a Jewish man, because his concepts of divinity, souls, and damnation seem to be Christian rather than Roman. He also has trouble with current technology which is understandable.

We are introduced to a new character and the book revolved a bit too much around her. Also, there’s a lot of repetition; Danaus goes back and forth that he needs Mira to destroy their mutual enemy, the naturi, and that he’s very attracted to her, but she’s a vampire. Sometimes Danaus thinks of her only as a prey, especially when they haven’t met for a while. Mira has spent some time with Themus and has apparently gaind some new powers during that time. Danaus is surprised by the same new powers several times.

This time, the book is set in Savannah instead of the more international settings in the previous books. So, the established cast in Savannah are also seen a lot; Tristan, Lox, and the werewolves. A surprising number of ordinary people seem to know about the supernatural creatures; they seem to be an open secret, especially among the homeless.

The overall plot is developed a bit and the book ends in a cliffhanger. It’s entertaining but I don’t think this book was as good as the previous ones.

Booking Through Thursday

Quick–what are you reading right now? (Other than this question on
this website, of course.) Would you recommend it? What’s it about?

The Difference Engine by Gibson and Sterling. It’s an alternate history book set in Victorian England, one of the first steampunk books. I’d recommended it to anyone interested in early steampunk and a lush setting. And has patience for a slow plot. I read now most of it and I wouldn’t recommend it.

I’m also reading Josh Lanyon’s Fatal Shadows on Microsoft Reader. It’s a mystery with an amateur sleuth as the main character. I’d recommend it to people who like mysteries. The main character’s friend is murdered and he’s one of the suspects.

The first book in an epic fantasy series. It’s pretty dark so I’m adding this book to the RIP.

Publication year: 2012
Format: print
Page count: 670
Publisher: Solaris

290 years ago the peace accords were signed between the True-men (whom the T’En call Mieren) and the powerful and long-lived T’Enatuath (whom the humans call the Wyrd). The two races have co-existed in an uneasy peace since then. Sometimes half-bloods (whom the T’En call the Malaunje and the humans call the Wyrd) are born to two True-men parents. According to the accords, the True-men have to give up the half-blood infants to the T’En.

Sorne is king Charald’s eagerly-awaited first born son and heir. However, when Sorne is born a half-blood with six fingers and toes, red hair, and dark eyes, the king of Chalcedon is bitterly disappointed. The king wants to kill the boy, instead of giving him to the T’En so that as few people as possible would know about his shame. But high priest Oskane manages to save the infant’s life by suggesting that Oskane could take the child, hide him, and study him so that the True-men could find out any weaknesses the half-bloods have. The king agrees, but orders his young queen poisoned so that he can marry again and produce heirs without tainted blood. The queen was Oskane’s kin and Oskane had arranged the marriage so he feels responsible for the infant and the queen’s death.

Oskane, his aide, and a small group of servants travel to a abandoned place. On the way, they encounter a young woman being chased by a mob. The woman has given birth to a half-blood and the people in her village are furious. Oskane takes the young woman and her family with her. So, a king’s son and a carpenter’s son grow up together, both hated half-bloods, while Oskane dreams of revenge through the boy Sorne. In order to help the two half-bloods to become strong and resist the temptation of their magical gifts, Oskane beats them every day starting when they’re just five years old.

400 years ago a covenant was done between the male and the female T’En. According to the covenant, both sexes lived separetely in their own sisterhoods and brotherhoods. All pure blooded T’En children must be given to the sisterhoods to raise. Girls would never see their fathers again but the boys would return to their brotherhood when they turn seventeen.

Imoshen is a full-blooded T’En girl, born to T’En father, who is the leader of his brotherhood, and his Malaunje lover. Her father has raised her in secret with the hope that Imoshen would give birth to a powerful child who would break the covenant between the T’En brotherhoods and sisterhoods. Imoshen is raised on an island with only a few servants and without any knowledge of her culture.

Both Sorne and Imoshen are outsiders in their own cultures, and so they are a great way to introduce the cultures to the reader. Sorne knows that his culture despises half-bloods, like himself, but he doesn’t have to face that fact until in his adolescence, while Imoshen is thrust into the scheming and oppressive culture of the T’En almost without any knowledge about it. They both see the unfairness of their cultures and idealistically want to change them. Both are also flawed characters, especially when they get older and are scarred both physically and mentally by their experiences. The book follows them from birth to young adulthood.

We also follow a couple of other point-of-view characters. Vittoryxe is an ambitious young T’En woman. She wants to become the leader of her sisterhood, the all-mother, and will scheme and plot to get there. Unfortunately, she also expects everyone else to be a schemer and a liar, and treats them accordingly. Graelan is a young man who has just returned to his brotherhood, head full of battle and glory. To his shock, he’s trust in the middle of brotherhood scheming. Oskane leaves his familiar life at forty-five to raise the king’s half-blood son and to teach him humility and piety. However, Oskane still thinks of Sorne as a pawn and not a person who might want to do something else with his life than be a spy or avenger.

The book has a very complex world. The True-men have six different kingdoms and they each seem to have somewhat different culture, and different religions. They also have different languages. However, we don’t see much of them. Chalcedonian and T’En culture are the important ones for the story.

The T’En, or T’Enatuath as they call themselves, have been divided on gender lines to brotherhoods and sisterhoods. Every T’En has supernatural gifts and they believe that the male and the female gifts react badly to each other. The male gifts, and the males themselves, are seen as aggressive and dangerous. The male gift can taint a female gift, making the female addicted to the male gift. The female gifts are powerful in another plane but leave the female incapable of defending herself in the real world, and thus dangerously vulnerable to both the male T’En and the True-men. The half-bloods, called the Malaunje, serve the T’En in the brotherhoods and sisterhoods. Even though most T’En are born to one half-blood parent and one T’En parent, T’En don’t acknowledge the blood relationship to the half-blood. Also, in the T’En culture same-sex partners are commonplace. Each brotherhood is lead by an all-father and each sisterhood is lead by an all-mother. Each leader has two close confidantes and advisers: a hand-of-force and a voice-of-reason. Each clan has also a gift-tutor who is appointed by the previous gift-tutor. It seems that in a brotherhood, an all-father is replaced by assassination, outright murder, or by political scheming. In the sisterhoods, an all-mother usually steps down when she’s old and appoints the new leader, which usually means political scheming. I found the culture fascinating.

The T’En call the other plane the empyrean plane. The people with powerful gifts can project their minds to that plane but the plane is full of dangerous beasts. Unfortunately, the beasts can sometimes come to the real world on their own and so the T’En women must fight them. Sometimes a frightened or inexperienced T’En can also project herself accidentally to the other plane.

Besieged is centered on political scheming and interpersonal relationships (most of them are dysfunctional in one way or another). Families play also a large part; who should you give your loyalty and why. There’s also some interesting commentary on religion. The True-men of Chalcedonia worship the Seven; Mother, Father, and their five sons, and some characters claim to be able to talk with them. However, it’s clear from the start that they are lying. Religion seems to be pawn in political games or a exuse for people to justify their actions.

The book has a rather dark atmosphere with entire races hating and persecuting each other, children dying, and women being just pawns in political games. Oskane is a particularly dark character; he spends over a decade of his life raising two half-bloods but he always despises them and doesn’t see them as real people.

Yet, the characters have families and loved ones whom they defend and protect. Often enough the family isn’t by blood but by adoption. Both Sorne and Imoshen are curious people who want to know more and do what’s right.

There are lots of plot twists and some of them are down right brutal.

Collects issues 1-6

Writer: Joe Hill
Artist: Gabriel Rodriquez
Publisher: IDW Publishing

Locke & Key is a comic with multiple mysteries for the characters to solve. The story starts with the Locke family: the parents Rendell and Nina, and their kids Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode. The first issue alternates between the past and the present.

In the past the Locke family is vacationing in Mendocino Valley where the parents are brutally attacked. Rendell is killed and Nina is brutalized. Kinsey and Bode are hiding from the two attackers while Tyler confronts them. The attackers are teenagers who knew Rendell.

The present starts with Rendell’s funeral and then Nina takes her children to live with Rendell’s brother in the big Keyhouse in Lovecraft, Massachusetts. The family is trying to start a new life but they all have issues to deal with. Tyler knew one of the attackers, Sam Lesser, and ended up beating him throughly, so that Sam has multiple scars on his face. Kinsey lives in constant fear. She changes her hair to a less radical style so that the other kids wouldn’t stare at her in school. And Bode finds a magic doorway which separates his body and spirit. The he finds a girl who lives in a well. Of course, nobody believes little Bode.

I found the first issue a little confusing because of the many shifts between now and then, but once the story starts rolling, it’s much clearer. The family dynamic is great. Even though the family has suffered a great loss and they are all trying to cope the best way they can, they are also trying to support each other. Tyler especially is trying to push down his own pain and fear, and be the rock for the others. He even thinks about killing himself at one point but realizes that he can’t do that to the others.

It comes quickly clear to the reader that the Keyhouse is a magical place and the Locke’s uncle Duncan seems to know more about it than he’s saying. Sam Lesser also knew something about the Keyhouse that prompted the attack. Issue four focuses on Sam’s side of the story.

The first trade of Locke and Key is a full of mysteries and may questions, as is usual for the first part. It’s also quite violent and doesn’t sugar coat the aftereffects of violence.

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