August 2015

Collects X-Men Forever issues 21-24 and X-Men Forever Giant-Size

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: Rodney Buchemi, Greg Adams, Tom Grummett, Cory Hamscher, Daniel Hdr, Fernando Blanco

The X-Men (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Gambit, Rogue, and Shadowcat) and Nick Fury are attacking the Consortium’s space station. Nightcrawler, who has only Rogue’s absorbing power, is piloting. Fury has a mole inside who will give the mutants permission to land and they get close. Unfortunately, Consortium has made an alliance with Neo-Sentinels who notice that the space craft has mutants on board and so the X-Men are ambushed. They fight bravely but their victory costs the lives to two friends. The final issue has is a funeral but it also looks forward (to volume 2 ;)) to the stressful days ahead. SHIELD might still have Consortium agents infiltrated among them and the X-Men don’t have many friends. Still Nick Fury and the blind Sabertooth will stand by them.

Giant-Size brings back the Shi’Ar! Empress Lilandra is Xavier’s love but they’re often separated by their different duties. Now, Skrull warships have attacked Shi’Ar’s remote but well-guarded planets and Xavier’s error has made that possible. The Imperial Guard comes to earth to take Xavier so that he can answer for his “crime”. They land at Summers’ cottage and clash with X-Men and X-Factor. As an added complication, the Shi’Ar don’t know that Jean is alive and if they found out, they would try to execute her again, as Dark Phoenix. So Jean has to stay hidden. Another longtime character leaves, supposedly for good.

In the epilogue we see that the Consortium is still kicking. They’ve framed the X-Men as the people responsible for their space station’s destruction and for the death of the two heroes. The Avengers are going after X-Men.

This was an action-packed end to volume 1 and promising lead into volume 2.
I recommend these for fans of alternate universes and for hardcore X-Men fans.

Collects X-Men Forever issues 16-20

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: Graham Nolan, Vincente Cifuentes, Tom Grummett, Cory Hamscher, Scott Koblish

The first two issues follow Nightcrawler and Rogue in New Orleans. They were lured there by none other than Mystique herself. She admits that she’s Kurt’s mother and says that she’s worried about her kids. In the ensuing fight, Rogue is knocked unconscious and Kurt tries mouth-to-mouth. He succeeds but Rogue absorbs Kurt’s powers and appearance while Kurt looks like an ordinary, white skinned man. Mystique disappears and the two are left wondering what’s going on.

The next issue focuses on Scott who has taken a leave of absence and gone to Alaska to his family. Even though Scott’s romantic life is in ruins, his family is well otherwise: his father Corsair is staying with his parents and raising Scott’s son Nathan. That’s right: in this timeline Nathan never becomes infected with technovirus or becomes Cable. Also, Havok and Polaris stop by and it seems that they’re happily back together. The Consortium, the bad guys, try to kidnap Nathan. Of course they don’t succeed and Scott returns to the X-Men.

Through both these stories and the previous collection we’ve followed a sub plot about infiltrators in SHIELD and the next issues focus on that. Fury, SHIELD agent Daisy Dugan, Gambit, and Sabretooth have arrested agents who were apparently working for the Consortium. In these two issues, they take the Consortium head on, attack sneakily to their local headquarters, and free their prisoner. However, in the end we have more questions than answers.

There are two other subplots which don’t yet surface more: Xavier, Hank, and Moira are working furiously and Jean is wrestling with her sorry romantic life and falling for Hank. I really don’t care for that Jean plot because she apparently doesn’t have anything else to do.

I really liked the way that Rogue and Kurt’s powers switched. It turns out that this might be permanent. Kurt has to try to live in a normal body where his appearance doesn’t scare anyone and Rogue has to deal with a tail, three fingers and toes in each hand/foot, and people being scared of her. The collection ends in a cliffhanger which leads to the next collection’s showdown.

The first in a military SF series.

Publication year: 1993
Format: ebook, available for free on Kindle and on
Publisher: Baen

Commander Honor Harrington of Manticoran Space Navy has finally gotten her own warship, the HMS Fearless. Even though it’s a light cruiser, it’s still a serious military space ship. However, Honor’s joy quickly turns to dismay when she finds out that the ship’s armament is being changed into something that looks good on paper but doesn’t work in reality. During Fleet exercises, that’s proven rather bitterly and to make things worse, the crew blames their new captain. Even Honor’s executive officer McKeown is just going though motions and not really serving her or the ship.

After the spectacular failure, HMS Fearless is exiled to Basilisk Junction, a place where all the Navy’s worst are sent. Basilisk has a single alien planet, Medusa, with native aliens whose tech level is about Bronze Age level. The Star Kingdom of Manticore annexed it because the star system is next to hyperspace jump points and therefore important trade point. However, the planet and the aliens are something of an embarrassment to some important Manticoreans so the Navy doesn’t police it at all like it should. The current senior Navy officer uses the opportunity and leaves, so Honor becomes the de-facto senior officer. She faces an impossible situation: to police a heavily trafficked jump point with just one ship and a crew who doesn’t trust her. But she’s determined to do her best.

However, her actions soon anger some important people in her own country and also important neighbors. And one of those neighbors seem to be up to no good.

Honor is described as a young woman but she seemed to really be in her forties; she’s received a treatment to lengthen her lifespan. She’s every bit a model Navy officer; determined and ruthless when needed but also compassionate even to her underlings. But she keeps a cool, detached face to her crew. Still, she clearly has feelings and she sometimes has to work to keep them in check. The fact that her crew doesn’t trust her, hurts her deeply and yet she’s determined to do her best for them. She has to overcome a lot of obstacles, both near and far. She also drinks hot chocolate instead of coffee, just like me. 

For the most part, this a fun and exciting military adventure. However, it does have quite a lot of politics; Manticore’s internal and external politics. I found them a bit hard to follow because the scenes introduced a lot of people who were seen just a few times. There were more than a few info dumps, too, about technical stuff which I wasn’t much interested in and about the various politics. Most of them were at the beginning of the book but one was put in the middle of a fight and was quite distracting.

One thing, which I really enjoyed was that many of the soldiers were women and that wasn’t a strange thing. They were marines and navy people alike, most dedicated and hardworking but there were a few bad apples, too. In other words, women as people! Most of the commanding officers seem to be male, though.

The final battle was epic but unfortunately the motives made it pretty much pointless, which was disappointing.

I enjoyed most of the book and might continue with the series at some point.

Collects X-Men Forever issues 11-15

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: Tom Grummett, Cory Hamscher, Peter Vale, Al Vey, Gary Martin, Terry Pallot

Colossus didn’t come to Wolverine’s funeral so Kitty takes Gambit and Little Ororo with her to Russia to see that Peter’s OK. They come just in time to save Peter from a couple of armored people. It turns out that Peter has joined the Russian Winter Guard, which is led by Natasha Romanova, the Black Widow. Then, Illyana is kidnapped.

In this world, Illyana was Magik but she returned to a little girl during “Inferno” storyline and was living with her parents in Russia. When they hear about the kidnapping, the group rushes to find out where the girl is. Illyana has been taken by a man calling himself the Cossack and he has unleashed Illyana’s dark side as Dark Magik and has turned her against her friends.

The story focuses on Kitty who has to fight her former best friend and how she tries to save Illyana from, essentially, Illyana’s own dark side. Unfortunately, she doesn’t succeed and Illyana escapes to Limbo.

A second storyline follows Jean who seems to be developing feelings for Hank. It seems increasingly out of character for her to jump from one man to the next. Also, some of the SHIELD agents seem to be spying on the X-Men.

The last issue focuses on the character who betrayed the X-Men: Storm. She’s fled to Wakanda, where T’Challa took her in even though Fury warned him that Storm isn’t who she appears to be. Interestingly enough, it seemed that there aren’t actual evidence against her; just the X-Men’s word.

This was another action packed collection but still not quite as good as the first one. The Dark Magic four issue arc was quite good with just the sort of alternate world goodness I like and the final issue moves forward the Storm storyline.

Collects X-Men Forever issues 6-10

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: Paul Smith, Terry Austin, Steve Scott, Al Vey

The sentinels are back and they’re bigger and badder than ever!

In the previous collection, this X-Men team (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Shadowcat, Rogue, Nightcrawler, Gambit, Beast, Prof X, and a very young Ororo) faced a shocking revelation, an apparent betrayal by one of their own, and Wolverine’s death, but they don’t get a breather. The Danger Room malfunctions and then they get a distress call for SHIELD. SHIELD’s team in South America went silent and only a huge footprint is seen. Jean, Hank, Kitty, Rogue, and Kurt leave to investigate and are confronted by huge Sentinels.

We readers get to know more about the Consortium which are the shadowy bad guys this time around. Literally, since the characters are shown as only shadows when discussing about the X-Men and their plans.

The final issue brings together a lot of X-Men’s friends and allies for Logan’s funeral.

This was another action packed collection. Some of the X-Men talk a little about their issues but many of them are feeling betrayed and hurt, and just lashing out against each other. A bit surprisingly one of the most hostile X-Men is Kitty, but she’s gone through a strange transformation: she now has one of Wolverine’s claws and apparently some of his temper, as well, and isn’t interested in letting the resident scientists look at her. One wildcard is Sabertooth. Storm’s attack earlier burned out his eyes and he’s been staying in the mansion while he recuperates. He’s at odds with Gambit a lot but no-one is happy about him staying there. Still, the first collection had a lot more unexpected twists and it was emotinally far more intense.

While the person behind the return of the Sentinels is revealed, they and the Consortium clearly have big plans so nothing is really resolved. Except maybe Wolverine’s death, because this is alternate world.

Publication year: 2014
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours (includes the novella Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome)
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Wil Wheaton and a group of narrators for the novella

The SF premise for the book is a disease, a strain of bird flu, which has wiped out a lot of humanity. But about one percent of the afflicted suffer from “lock in”: they’re fully conscious but can’t move or respond to any stimulus. It’s called Haden’s syndrome. This is millions of people and because the wife of the president of USA was one of the first victims, USA spent a whole lot of money and time to find a cure. They didn’t find it but they did manage to find a way for the lock in people to interact with the world. They have neural implants which allow them to take over a robot body or interact with each other in a virtual world. The story starts 25 years later, when Hadens (as they are called) are part of the US society.

The book is actually a police procedural. The main character is Chris Shane who has just started working in the FBI. She or he (the gender is actually never revealed) is suffering from lock in and works with a robot body. His/her partner is Leslie Vann who has her own issues and an interesting past. They are given a tough case which at first looks like it could be murder but might be suicide.

This is exactly the kind of SF I enjoy and I really liked Lock in. Scalzi takes a premise and then extrapolates how it would change a world much like ours. There are people who hate Hadens and legislation is done concerning the robot bodies (threeps). But some Hadens are media darlings.

The novella is available for free here: It’s quite different in style from the book and it showcases the world very well. It’s done in a TV documentary style with statements from people who were near the center of things when the disease first started. Each person has just a paragraph or two but most of them have personalities which show through. The novella shows how people and the government reacted to the outbreak of the disease and then how people’s opinions about the Hadens and the robot bodies grow and change.

Collects X-Men Forever issues 1-5

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: Tom Grummett, Cory Hamscher

This comic continues Chris Claremont’s epic run on the X-Men from the point when he left the comic, twenty years ago. That was issue 3 of the new “X-Men” title when the group had divided into the gold and blue teams. The characters are somewhat different, though.

Supposedly, the X-Men have just returned from Asteroid X where Fabian Cortez drove Magneto to his death. Cyclops, Jean Gray, Storm, Gambit, Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, Rogue, and Wolverine go after Cortez while Beast, Professor, X and Nick Fury supervise from the mansion. Cortez is a powerful enemy but the team manages to grab him after a fierce fight. When they get back, Claremont changes the status que of this new universe: Logan is mysteriously killed; only his bones are left, minus one claw.

Even in just five issues, the team is changed forever (heh) which clearly sets this world apart from the usual Marvel Universe, which is a good thing IMHO. I love alternate worlds precisely because the writers can change the characters in ways that aren’t allowed in the main world.

The comic also has a lot of hand waving about how various X-Men can keep secrets even though several telepaths are around. In this world, Jean actually loves Logan and not Scott. My main problem with this is that Jean has been in relationship with Scott for a very long time and apparently kept a secret affair going with Logan all the time. Really? That doesn’t seem in character with any of them.

One X-Man turns out to be an enemy which was far more exciting. When I first read this, I wasn’t too sure about that because the character in question is one of my favorites, but this second time I loved it. The character is shown as very powerful and ruthless which is always great!

In the final issue another long-held secret, which is a retcon, is revealed which also affects the status quo of the comic. It took me by surprise the first time around and I wasn’t too wild about it but it keeps the book focused. Also, SHIELD’s a surprisingly big part of this comic.

These are all characters I’ve known for a long time so I enjoyed this alternate take on them.

First in a fantasy alternate history series.

Publication year: 2012
Format: print
Page count: 508
Publisher: Angry Robot

This book is set in an alternate Elizabethan England. In this world, Queen Elizabeth I married Robert Dudley and they had two sons, Robert and Arthur. However, the prince consort has died and the queen has secluded herself in morning. She’s already in her sixties so many people are expecting prince Robert to become the king soon. The most obvious fantasy element are the skraylings, a non-human species from the American continent. By the time of this book, some of them already live in London and elsewhere in Europe and humans loathe them because the skraylings refuse to be converted into Christianity. But some humans get along just fine with them, mostly for business purposes. England has allied with the skraylings, mostly that Spain would not be able to form a strong alliance with them.

Maliverny Catlyn is a down on his luck swordsman. He has few friends but some of his acquaintances might be able to give him some work. However, before he can ask around, he’s dragged before the Lieutenant of the Tower. Mal fears the worst but he’s offered a job as the bodyguard of the first skrayling ambassador to England. Mal has some unhappy history with them and he doesn’t want to work with them. But Sir James Leland insists that the skrayling ambassador specifically asked for Mal so he doesn’t really have a choice. However, he’s happy to get enough money to pay for his brother’s care so he takes the job.

Ned Faulkner is Mal’s good (and only) friend. He does copying jobs for the local theatre groups. He’s also very attracted to Mal, who doesn’t return his feelings, and loves a young male actor, Gabriel Parrish. When Mal takes the job, two mysterious men start to threaten Ned.

Coby is a young girl masquerading as a man. The rest of her family died after they fled a war from Netherlands. Cody doesn’t want to be a prostitute so she dresses as a boy and has a job as a tireman for the theatre company Suffolk’s Men. She doesn’t want to be an actor at all and is happy mending the costumes and running errands for their master Naismith. She knows the skrayling trade language and teaches Mal how to speak it. However, she’s blackmailed into spying on Mal.

They all come entangled with a plot involving the skraylings. Unfortunately, we don’t really get to know much about the skraylings.

As far as I can tell, the period details are correct. Mal’s mother was a Frenchwoman so some people hold that against him. Also, Mal’s a Catholic so he has to live in fear that someone will expose him to the Protestant authorities. Strangely enough, I liked Coby but felt that she was a victim to a few tropes: she’s young enough not to have periods yet and she falls in lust with Mal almost at first glance. She’s also very afraid that people will find out that she’s a girl, even though she’s been working for the troupe for five years already.

I really liked the book and the characters, though.

Oh and both Will Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe are mentioned in the book but neither appears.

This is one of my TBR reads. I bought this very nice looking paperback on a whim.

The first book in the Tide Lords trilogy.

Publication year: 2007
Format: Audio
Running time: 19 hours, 24 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: John Telfer

The series starts with a prolog where a group of humans is under attack from a Tide Lord. The immensely powerful immortal threatens to destroy the humans completely. There’s only one thing that can help future humans fight against the Tide Lords: a tarot deck. One human is sworn in to protect the cards at all cost and tell about their power to humans. He abandons his family and escapes.

The story starts 1000 years later when a criminal is sentenced to death. But instead of the expected beheading, he gets a hanging which upsets him a great deal. Because he’s an immortal and can’t die. He is hanged and his neck is broken but he doesn’t die; instead he heals. He claims to be Cayal the Tide Lord but nobody has believed in Tide Lords for hundreds of years.

The king’s spy master Declan Hawks wants to get to bottom of things and to do so he contacts a childhood friend and talks her into speaking with Cayal.

Arkady Desean is an academic and an expert on the legends of the Crasii (half-human and half-animal species) slaves and so also an expert of the legends about the Tide Lords. Originally, she intends to unmask Cayal as a liar in just a couple of hours of talking about history with him. However, Cayal knows a lot more than Arkady believed and so she visits him for months, getting Cayal to tell her stories about his life and how he became an immortal. Arkady was born a poor doctor’s daughter but she’s now a duchess. Usually, women aren’t allowed to have any sort of careers in this country but Arkady’s husband allows it.

Arkady’s husband Stellan is gay but since that’s punishable with death or exile, he doesn’t want anyone to know that. Arkady knows and that suits her just fine. Arkady and Stellan are friends, though. Stellan has had several lovers through the six years they’ve been married but Arkady apparently hasn’t. Stellan treats his Crasii slaves better than most owners – he even allows them to live in village type communities instead of slave pens. He’s an even tempered man and loyal to his king who is also his cousin.

Jackson Aranville is Stellan’s lover. He’s minor nobility and part of Stellan’s household as a Crasii trainer. He’s very calculating man who only cares about getting an easy living. Apparently, he would sleep with anyone go get what he wants.

Warlock is a canine Crasii and he’s in prison for killing a human (who raped his sister). He is quite young but knows already that as a Crasii his life can’t become much better. However, when Cayal is placed on the cell next to Warlock, Warlock realizes that he doesn’t have to obey Cayal’s orders, like most Crasii.

According to legends, which any well-schooled human will scoff at, the Crasii were created by the Tide Lords to serve the lords as warriors and servants. The Tide lords created the Crasii by blending humans and animals with magic. The world has canine Crasii, who work as servants and are very eager to please their masters, feline Crasii, who are solders, and amphibians who apparently assist with ships and dive for stuff. All of the Crasii are slaves and most people treat them with competent. They can clearly understand speech and they can talk, too, but most humans till call them animals. However, they driven by their instincts far more than humans.

I enjoyed the setting quite a lot but unfortunately, the plot didn’t draw me in. It’s centered on Arkady visiting Cayal in prison where Cayal tells her about his life. So, most of the plot on the first half of the book is trying (and failing) to convince Arkady of something the reader already knows is true. There’s also some court intrigue: Arkady loathes Jackson and Stellan’s young, orphan niece is visiting him. Also, the king’s eldest son invites him to visit Stellan and immediately the naive young nice catches his eye.

The biggest problem with the first half of the book is that we readers know that Cayal is really a Tide Lords so I was left wondering about how dense Arkady and everyone else is. (And yes I realize that it’s the equivalent of finding out that faeries are actually real so of course Arkady couldn’t believe it immediately. But several hundred pages was just too long.) Apparently, they don’t think that healing from a broken neck in just a few days is a remarkable thing. Instead they continued to stubbornly believe that Cayal is a plant from a hostile nation who wants to stir up the local Crasii. Granted, Arkady didn’t see Cayal healing. However, the guards and the warden of the prison saw it with their own eyes and still don’t believe that Cayal is immortal! None of them even mention this healing to Arkady! Arkady even suggests that lopping off a few fingers would disprove Cayal’s claim and still nobody bothers to mention to her that he has already healed from a broken neck!!

Arkady is an academic who only believes what she can see. Unfortunately, this makes her seem like stupid in the eyes of at least this reader. She’ also very compassionate and believe in the rights of everyone, including the Crasii.

To put it bluntly, Cayal is an arrogant asshole and he knows it. It seems that pretty much all immortals are the same. He’s also very, very bored and simply just wants to die, which he can’t do. He wanted to be a convicted murderer because then his head would be cut off and even though his head would grow back, he would forget his previous life completely. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t beheaded. He slowly grows to admire and care for Arkady, which is apparently only the second time in his life and he’s over 8000 years old.

While I liked the world and the Crasii, I doubt I’ll continue with the series.

Tough Travelling hosted by Fantasy Review Barn.

Each Thursday, inspired by ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ we have in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is FORBIDDEN LOVE

Even in Fantasyland parents are not always happy with their children’s choice of partners.

Lots of fantasy books have forbidden love, especially romance fantasy and paranormal romance. Most of the forbidden couples belong to different races and vampires and werewolves are pretty popular, too. Also, the parents of some half-blood characters have experienced forbidden love, too.

Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot from the Arthurian Legends.

Tristan and Iseult from the Arthurian Legends: She’s the wife (or betrothed to) King Mark and Tristan is an ordinary knight.

Paris of Troy and Helen of Sparta from the Iliad.

Aragon and Arwen: He’s a human ranger and she’s a high born elf. Even though Arwen’s father Elrond is a half-elf himself, he strongly disapproves.

Buffy and Angel: She’s the vampire slayer and he’s a vampire with a soul.

Buffy and Spike: She’s a vampire slayer and he’s a vampire. Without a soul.

Princess Adele and her lover by Clay and Susan Griffith: Adele is a human and the princess of a nation which is fighting against vampires who have taken over the northern parts of the world. Her lover is a vampire.

Alex Croft and her lover by Kalayna Price: Alex is a human and a witch. Her lover turns out to be not only a fae and an assassin but he also belongs to a fae Queen.

Selene and Michael Corvin from the movie Underworld: Selene is a vampire and Michael is a vampire/lycan hybrid.

Amandine and Jonathan Daye from Seanan McGuire’s books: Amandine is an old and very high born fairy and Jonathan was a human. Their daughter is October Daye, the star of the books.

Princess Amnestria and Bran Skorlsun from Elaine Cunningham’s Forgotten Realms books: Amnestria was a princess of the Evermeet island and Bran a human ranger. Amnestria’s family disapproved so much that Amnestria was forced to leave her family and raise their daughter Arilyn Moonstone alone. Arilyn didn’t know anything about her grandparents.

Next Page »