March 2013


Collects Uncanny X-Men #534.1 and #535-539.
I read the issues when they were published in the monthly Finnish edition of the X-Men.
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artists: Terry Dobson, Rachel Dobson, Ibraim Roberson
Publication year: 2011
Publisher: Marvel

The collection starts with an issue focused on Magneto. Now that he’s living on Utopia, the X-Men want to do something about his public image and they want other people to know that they don’t need to fear him anymore. So, Magneto agrees to meet with a PR professional and they have a very interesting conversation. Meanwhile, a couple of A.I.M. terrorists claim that they have a way to trigger earthquakes and they want the city of San Francisco to pay so that they don’t use their weapon. The mayor calls in the X-Men.

The next four issues deal with the aliens we met during Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men. S.W.O.R.D’s leader agent Brand contacts Cyclops because a warship from the Breakworld is coming to Earth. Scott takes with him the group who went to Breakworld, minus the new member Armor and plus Magneto, and heads to orbit. The X-Men and Brand break into the warship and are in for a surprise: the deposed Powerlord Kruun and his people are actually refugees looking for a place to stay.

Whedon’s run left a few tangling plot points and this collection ties them up, although I’m really surprised if we don’t see more of the aliens. I liked this storyline a lot until the very last issue. A lot of crucial things happened there off screen. We’re told about them but not shown them and the conclusion feels very abrupt. One moment Kitty is in great danger and the next… the cavalry has arrived and everything is puppies and sunshine.

I really liked the focus on Kitty. Ever since she came back, she’s been stuck in a phased form and that’s finally cleared up. This was actually a bit of a nostalgic feel to me because Claremont did the whole stuck in a phased form thing first.

I like Colossus but he’s never been a favorite character. I actually think he’s the wrong guy for Kitty no matter how long they’ve been on-again, off-again couple, but it’s great to see Kitty happy. The story had great small moments, like Kitty and Peter on a date even though they can’t touch and Magneto wanting to know more about the Breakworld metal. Then again, I wasn’t too fond of the Frost/Brand snarking but luckily that was kept low. I really enjoyed Kruun’s attitude towards Peter which is very understandable. I think the whole Breakworld thing brought some more story focus on Peter which is good.

The last issue seems like a one-shot with a very different artist and focus on Hope. A group of men kidnaps her in front of her team of the five new mutant and Wolverine leaves to save her all by himself. The story has a few touching scenes between Hope and Logan but otherwise it felt unnecessary. We get to see the new mutants who were introduced in “Five Lights”. However, in that story Idun was twelve but this time she’s clearly an adult, which was disconcerting.

Overall, I liked this collection better than the previous one.

Booking Through Thursday

Movies have a rating system to help guide the consumer weed out adult/violent/inappropriate knds of films. Video games do, too. Do you think BOOKS should have a ratings system?

It depends. It depends on who decides what goes into what categories, what the categories are etc. I don’t think putting age categories would be a good idea because kids are different and read at different levels. I think libraries already have to restrict the books kids can borrow and that’s enough.

However, I wouldn’t mind it if the publishers would put icons for things like violence, sex, cursing, horror, etc. That would give some idea of what to expect in a book. In fact, I have vague memories that some UK (fantasy?) publishers have already done that.

But it depends on who gets to decide what types of scenes would get a warning and which wouldn’t. I doubt people could agree on them.

11th book in the series.

Publication year: 2001
Format: Audio
Publisher: Belinda Audio
Narrator: Stephanie Daniel
Running Time: 8 hrs and 5 minutes

The Honorable Phryne Fisher is a bit bored: life is good but her Chinese lover Lin Chung has been sent to China to buy silk. Then Detective Inspector Robinson asks Phryne to look into a suspicious death. Marcella Lavender has reported that someone is threating her and Robinson looked into the matter but didn’t find anything. However, now Lavender is dead and Robinson feels really guilty about it. Of course Phryne agrees to look into the matter.

Lavender wrote and illustrated children’s books, specifically fairy books. She also worked for the Women’s Choice magazine. She lived in a boarding house with a motley crew of other people and her house was decorated with fairies. She even inflicted garden gnomes on the hapless gardens. Phryne interviews her house mates without getting much clues. However, she’s invited to write for the Women’s Choice magazine and this gives her an excellent opportunity to investigate.

The book is pretty ordinary Phryne book until about the half-way point: funny and witty but showing also how people’s lives can be hard. However, about half-way through the book Phryne finds out that her lover has been kidnapped and the book’s tone for that plot becomes far more serious.

As usual, the book has a range of interesting characters. In addition to the usual cast, there are lot of new characters. It seems that miss Lavender wasn’t much liked. Her co-workers at the magazine aren’t grieving; they are focused on getting the next issue out. She wrote also the advice column for the magazine which widens the field of suspects.

I really enjoyed this one.

Yesterday, the topic of Top 5 Sundays at Larissa’s Bookish Life was Best Urban Fantasy Book Series.

I think my choices are going to be a bit different than the average UF reader’s. 🙂

1, Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye series
I fell in love with the series with book three and it only gets better with every book.

2, Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts series
Kane’s series is very different in tone than McGuire’s books. However, they both have great characters and settings.

3, Jocelynn Drake’s Dark Days
The main character is a powerful vampire but she has even more powerful enemies.

4, Rachel Caine’s Weather Wardens

5, Tanya Huff’s Blood books
Huff’s books are older than the others and they draw on more classic sources for villains.

Once Upon a Time VII is here! Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting the challenge:

Thursday, March 21st begins the seventh annual Once Upon a Time Challenge. This is a reading and viewing event that encompasses four broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology, including the seemingly countless sub-genres and blending of genres that fall within this spectrum. The challenge continues through Friday, June 21st and allows for very minor (1 book only) participation as well as more immersion depending on your reading/viewing whims.

There are several options to choose from and I’m going to participate in

Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time categories. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres.

Reading pool:
It’s high time for me to finish a couple of fantasy series I’ve enjoyed a lot so “Burn the Night” by Jocelynn Drake and “Con and Conjure” and “All Spell Breaks Loose” by Lisa Shearin are on the list.

A wolf at the Door by K. A. Steward is the third in the series.
Blue Magic by Dellamonica is the second in the series.

I’m probably going to also begin at least one more series:
The Stepsister Scheme by Jim Hines

Of course, I have lots and lots of other fantasy books to read.

Read:
1, Yvonne Carroll: Leprechaun Tales
2, Kristine Kathryn Rusch: The White Mists of Power
3, Patrick Weeks: The Palace Job
4, Lisa Shearin: Con & Conjure
5, Lisa Shearin: All Spell Breaks Loose
6, Rachel Caine: Working Stiff
7, Jim C. Hines: The Stepsister Scheme
8, Jocelynn Drake: Burn the Night
9, Aliette de Bodard: Servant of the Underworld
10, N. K. Jemisin: The Killing Moon

A collection of seven science fiction short stories.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook, Kindle

The writer describes his stories as similar to Twilight Zone episodes, and I agree. All of them have twists, and not necessarily just in the end, and a few of them are pretty brutal. Most of them feel like they are short and the endings can be abrupt. They aren’t connected and seem to be set in different story universes.

In the first story, “Shooting Star”, Captain Evan Grant is supposed to go on a routine research run around the Earth. Instead, he’s persuaded to try to rescue an automated cargo ship which is returning from Mars with a valuable cargo. The ship has stopped transmitting and Grant has to try to board it and fix it.

Grant is a devoted father and husband, and he wants to do the right thing. Unfortunately, that turns out to be quite difficult.

The set up for “Rescue Mission” is pretty familiar. The Commander of a space ship is sent on a plant to rescue downed pilots. The planet has rich supplies but also a native population who are considered low-tech barbarians. The Commander’s second-in-command is young and impatient and wants to just wipe out any natives who come too close. This is a problem, of course. There’s a nice contrast between the older and more experienced Commander who is tired of wars and the gung-ho youngster.

“The Journal” was quite different from the previous two. In it, a group of young male students steal a journal from one of their student buddies and find out much more than they thought. Unfortunately, the story also left a lot of unanswered questions in favor of quick twists.

In “All that Glitters…” the crew of a mining star ship finds a previously unknown planet which is rich in minerals, especially gold. The Captain wants to take full advantage of the clueless natives in order to further his own fortunes and career.

This story also has a conflict with the captain and his second-in-command but it’s otherwise different from the second story.

“Annihilation” is set on a submarine which is sent to a long mission.

“Act of God” is perhaps the most chilling of the stories. A colony far away from everyone else has encountered a disaster which destroyed most of the food supply. The administrator has to resort to drastic actions to keep people alive.

In “Eye of the Beholder” two history buffs are looking for ancient treasure.

All of the stories can be read without any knowledge about other science fiction stories or concepts.

Even though the stories are short, the characters are mostly established well and quickly. Of course, that means that the conflicts between them aren’t terribly nuanced, but they are dramatic and so entertaining. The stories are designed to be uncomfortable and not comfort reads. Some of them have also minor horror elements. I think that if you’ve read similar stories before they might not be surprising – I was genuinely surprised by only one of the stories. However, they were still quite entertaining. The last two, “Act of God” and “Eye of the Beholder” are my favorites. The last one teases us with just when and where the two main characters are and what they are actually looking for.

The ebook has also samples of Byers’ two other books, “Arctic Fire” and “Catalyst”.

Please give a warm welcome to guest blogger Paul Byers. I’ll review his science fiction short story collection Act of God in a few days.

Paper or Plastic

This is a question we get asked every day and as a writer, having written both novels and short stories, I often get asked the paper or plastic equivalent of which I prefer to write; full length novels or short stories?

There are pros and cons, similarities and differences between writing short stories and full length novels, and as a writer, I enjoy both. Both must have a good storylines and both should be built around honest, believable characters.

From the practical standpoint, short stories are popular for our busy lifestyles, allowing the reader to enjoy themselves without the commitment of a novel. As a writer, it is quicker to write, though not necessarily easier, plus it gives us a chance to break out of our usual genre and try something different.

I also like short stories because these days everything is go, go, go. You can take a moment to relax, escape the fast pace of life and be entertained without a big time investment. Shorts also let you travel to many different places, if you will, in a small amount of time.

For me, I find that one of the biggest draws as a writer for the short story is that you can take greater risks with the story line and get a greater pay off at the end. With the short, you can built it up relatively quickly and at the last possible moment, hang a sharp right with a surprise ending that you couldn’t do in a full length story. In a novel, you would either see the twist coming a mile away or else it would lose much of its punch.

As a writer, you also have more freedom in the short story when working with your characters. For example, you can kill off a main character, not necessarily for the shock value, but to put a greater twist to the story that the reader wouldn’t expect and that you couldn’t get away with in a full length novel.

But on the other side of the coin, one of the biggest drawbacks to some short stories is that you don’t have the time to fully develop your characters. You know who they are but not always what makes them tick. The novel, however gives you the room and freedom to fully develop your characters with backstories and motivations. It gives the reader the chance to connect with the characters, which gives the reader an emotionally stake in their lives.

Another drawback to the short story is that sometimes there is little room for a back story or painting descriptions that can really add and help set the mood of the story. Sometimes the surrounds the characters find themselves in is just as important as the characters themselves.

One thing that is the same when writing a story, whether long or short, is that the research is always very important and it has to fit the story. I love digging and poking around, finding little tidbits of information to throw into a story. For me, the hardest part is deciding how much to put in and how much to leave out, what is necessary for the story and what I think is just plain cool.

For example, in the short story, Shooting Star from Act of God, I discovered that the Saturn V rocket used to launch the Apollo Moon Missions and also our hero, Captain Grant weighs in at an amazing 5-6 million pounds. Now, contrast that to the Wright Brothers, Flyer which topped the scales at around 625 pounds. Another interesting fact is that it takes the space shuttle about 90 minutes to orbit the earth. The astronauts would see a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes. Important to the story, some of it yes, most of it no, but all of it interesting.

So the question of paper or plastic, short story or novel is not a question of which is better, it’s more of a question of what you’re in the mood to read.

Paul Byers
Author of Arctic Fire and Catalyst
http://www.paulbyersonline.com/
Contact email: info.paulbyersonline@yahoo.com
Act of God on Amazon.com

A stand-alone time travel story.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Publisher: AudioGO
Narrator: Mauro Hantman
Running Time: 9 hrs and 4 minutes

The main character (MC), who isn’t named, has invented time travel and he’s decided to have a yearly convention for himself. He has made convention rules which are designed to keep time flowing the same way that he remembered it. However, one time when he comes to the convention, he’s confronted with the awful realization that not only has events changed from what he remembered before, but they’ve changed drastically: someone has killed on of his older selves.

Most of the characters are the narrator from different timelines. He gives them nicknames to keep them straight: Yellow for a man with a yellow shirt, The Inventor for the year when he invented time travel. I was fascinated by the concept; the MC was able to see his older selves from the future and his younger selves from the past. Sometimes he marvels at how callous his younger selves were and now paranoid his older selves will be. When the mystery deepens, he has to wonder if one of his selves is a murderer.

I really enjoyed the first half of the book but unfortunately, I didn’t like the second half as much. I had the feeling that some of the things the MC described doing during his travels were more interesting that the second half of the book.

The convention is set in New York City in 2071, a hundred years after his birth. We don’t really get much information about the city until the second half of the book.

The book is written in first person and it was easy to listen to.

Booking Through Thursday

Does your current mood affect your reading? Affect your choices? I know there are plenty of books I enjoy, but only if I’m in a particular kind of mood–or books that can lift me out of a bad mood without fail. Surely I’m not alone?

My mood certainly affects my reading choices: if I’m in the mood for something light and short or long and convoluted or perhaps a tie-in novel. In previous years, the reading challenges I’ve joined started to rule my reading choices and so I decided to not join as many of them this year.

My mood might affect on how I react to specific things in a book but not likely to make me hate a whole book.

The first book in the Clockwork Empire steampunk trilogy.

Publication year: 2011
Format: print
Page count: 391
Publisher: Roc

Miss Alice Michaels is 22 and still unmarried. Her fiancee, mother and brother have died of the clockwork plague and her father is severely ill. Because Alice’s father is a Baron, she can’t get a job and the only thing she’s good at is making and repairing mechanical automations, which (is another thing) women aren’t supposed to do. She has managed to get an invitation to Greenfellow’s ball which is her last chance of catching a wealthy husband and keeping up appearances. At first, she despairs when it’s clear that everyone shuns her. However, she befriends Louisa Creek, a woman who takes full advantage of her position as a heiress, and she meets Norbert Williamson, a wealthy industrialist who is very interested in her. On the way back from the ball, zombies attack her carriage and she’s saved by a group of people calling themselves the Third Ward. Even though the police has given up on fighting the zombies, because they don’t want to get infected, these people fight the zombies. Alice helps them and wishes briefly that she could join them. However, her father is ill and has a lot of debts, so her only choice, in the eyes of the society and herself, is to catch on wealthy husband.

Gavin Ennock is a cabin boy on the airship Juniper. He’s been a cabin boy for years and knows airships inside out, but he can’t become a full airman until on his 18th birthday, which is in just a few days. Unfortunately, the Juniper is attacked by air pirates. The crew is killed and the only thing that saves Gavin is his skill with the violin. He’s also an excellent singer and has perfect pitch. Eventually, he manages to escape but he’s lost his job and has to suddenly support himself in the streets of London. He’s from a poor family who lives in Boston.

Alice and Gavin are quite different. Not only are they of different status in the eyes of society but they’ve also been taught different things about themselves. Alice has known all her life that her only worth in through marriage and that she’s interested in the wrong things because of her gender. So, she has learned to lie and keep her real feelings a secret. Her duty is towards her father. Gavin has worked hard to achieve was he really wants and his duty is to the airship and the crew. He has no reason to lie. Their outlooks on life are quite different.

Because Alice has such a strong sense of duty towards her father and towards their place in society, she isn’t eager to head into adventure and an uncommon lifestyle. Because many of Britain’s men have died because of the plague, women have had to step up. Women who were married to members of the Parliament, who became ill, voted in place of their husbands. Women even got suffrage but still the society at large looks down on women who use their right to vote. They are called Ad Hoc women and Alice’s conservative father is strongly against them. So, for most of the novel, Alice waffles between her duty and her desire for a more exciting and meaningful life. Some readers most likely find that boring but I found it realistic.

The world is quite interesting. The whole world is suffering from the clockwork plague which makes people sick. The sick people are contagious so others avoid them. The sick people also seem to have a need to infect others, so they attack the healthy ones. They are sensitive to sunlight and are called zombies. However, some rare people don’t become zombies but clockworkers: they are geniuses in their own field but inevitably they will become mad and die in a few years.

The Third Ward is a shadowy organization whose purpose is to corral the clockworkers. The Ward gives the clockworkers a safe place to work in and also keep them from the general public, keep the other people safe. The Doomsday Vault is the place where they keep all of the inventions which are way too dangerous to ever use.

The clockworkers and the plague affect every country. In India, for example, the clockworkers are stoned alive which in China they are revered and given materials to work. That’s why China has advanced inventions which might make them the strongest country in the world some day.

The Doomsday Vault is an entertaining book. I even enoyed the inevitable romance.

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