December 2015

This was an excellent year: I completed all the challenges I took part in:

Pick & Mix: I read the required 10 books
R.I.P. X: I took part in the first challenge with 4 books: I read 8 books

Once Upon a Time IX: I joined again the first challenge with 5 books: I read 14 books and comics
Women of Genre: I read the required 10 new-to-me female SFF authors

New Authors challenge: I decided to read 15 new-to-me authors and ended up reading 24 in addition to the 10 above
Clocks, Cogs, and Mechanisms challenge: I took on the Flight Goggles level with minimum of 4 books and I read 9 steampunk books this year

Women reading challenge: I read 43 books authored by women
TBR challenge required 12 books and I read twice that: 24

Graphic novel and Manga challenge: I took on the Modern Age with 12 comics and completed the challeng with Bronze Age with 35 reviews
Just for Fun required 1 book each month and I completed that with 12 books.

Collects Fantastic Four # 574-578
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Dale Eaglesham, Neil Edwards, Andrew Currie

All of the stories in this collection refer to the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby area, the earliest history of FF. (By the way: Marvel, only 4 issues in a collection? Man, that’s stingy!) They’re also setting up further stories in the future.

In the first issue, the Mole Man comes seeking for help from the FF. The High Evolutionary has a city underground, in the Mole Man’s kingdom. However, the Ascension Engine, which power’s the city, malfunctioned and started to warp the minds of everyone in the city. The High Evolutionary and his people fled, leaving the engine on. Now the city is rising to the surface and the Mole Man doesn’t want a war with the humans, so he asked for help.

In the next issue, the FF go to the Antarctica and do some underwater exploration.

Next up is the Blue Area of the Moon. The Inhuman city of Attilan has left. However, the Inhumans have formed an alliance with some other races and it all bodes trouble for Earth and the FF, particularly.

The last issue focuses on Johnny who has brought a date back to the Baxter Building. Unfortunately for him, the lady is far more interested in the Negative Zone portal… especially because she has some bugs inside her skin who are eager to go to the zone.

These are all really short pieces but they don’t have slugfests, instead they have FF exploring which I always love. Eaglesham’s art is stunning, especially in the underwater issue. My only complaint is the covers: in the first one (which is also the collection’s cover) Susan is being rescued by Reed and in the last one Susan is missing. Really? Haven’t we established already that Susan isn’t a damsel in distress and that she’s an integral part of the team? But inside she’s just as valuable member as the others and in the undewater issue she gets a very interesting new job.

Happy holidays to everyone who are celebrating!

Collects Fantastic Four # 570-574

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Dale Eaglesham, Neil Edwards, Andrew Currie

Hickman starts his writing gig with clearing up some leftover stuff from the previous writers. First off is a three issue story about Reed. The FF defeats the Wizard (again) and it seems that he has cloned himself and has a child clone around. Franklin is worried about what happens to the child clone, Bentley, and that makes Reed thoughtful. Reed returns to his “Fix everything” solution. He has rebuilt the Bridge which leads to another dimension where a whole lot of Reeds are trying to fix the whole omniverse. He has a hard choice to make.

We get to see Reed’s dad, too, and that’s pretty rare. I don’t remember seeing him anywhere else but in John Byrne’s run. Anyway, Reed sees both the good and the necessary evil which the Reeds of other dimensions are doing and it’s both great and creepy. We get to see a lot of different Reeds from alternate dimensions and some other pretty cool science fiction stuff. Of course, we know how he will choose in the end, but it’s a great way to put an end to that Bridge stuff.

Next is a fun one-shot issue centering on Ben and Johnny. They’re going on a vacation on Nu-Earth, the artificial paradise planet designed by a bunch of geniuses. Except that things go wrong right at the start. For one thing, Franklin and Valeria hitchhike a ride with them. This turns out to a very good idea indeed because time runs different in Nu-Earth and things have changed radically.

The last issue is Franklin’s birthday with a guest appearance by Spider-Man, Franklin’s favorite hero. We get to see Power Pack members and there’s even a time-travel story to wrap the issue up. The traveler brings grave warning… to Valeria Richards.

Hickman’s run centers on FF as a family again, rather than superstars. They also do more exploring than basic superhero slugfests, which I really like. The last issue also builds a foundation for future stories when Reed invites the clone Bentley, Leech, and Artie to stay with them and offers a job to Alex Power.

The art isn’t as slick as Hitch or Davis but it feels to me reminiscent of Kirby’s style, especially with all the FF in short sleeves. I’m looking forward to rereading Hickman’s run.

Collects Fantastic Four #562-569

Writer: Mark Millar
Artists: Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary, Andrew Currie, Matt Banning, Cam Smith

The collection starts with four smaller stories. The first is the funeral of the Invisible Woman, an epilog to the biggest story in the previous collection. Everyone gathers to honor the death of another Susan Richards and later Ben proposes to his girlfriend Debbie. Next is another one-shot “Mr. and Mrs. Thing” where people congratulate Ben and Debbie. Also, Debbie get a taste of what her life would be like married to a superhero.

Then we get a two-parter Christmas story set in Scotland. Reed brings his family and Ben and Debbie to Reed’s cousin to celebrate a more down to earth Christmas. At first, the town feels peaceful but that doesn’t last.

Next is four-part Master of Doom storyline which has been building during the previous issues. Doom has a master who has taught him everything he knows about evil and destruction. That master has taken a new apprentice and together they’ve destroyed countless alternate Earths and their Fantastic Fours. And now they’re coming to our Earth.

The final issue is the wedding of Ben and Debbie… sort of. We’ve had hints that something terrible will happen to her. I must admit that while I wasn’t surprised that Ben didn’t get married, I was surprised by the reason.

This was an entertaining collection but nothing new for the FF. I didn’t really buy the whole Doom’s master thing. The plot has plenty of action but a few holes as well and does seem out of character for Doom. Doom as an apprentice?! The ending was appropriate, though. We also get a brief glimpse into an alternate future which would have been very interesting if it hadn’t been wildly out of character for everyone involved.

Despite some great ideas Millar’s run was a bit “meh” to me in the end. I recommend John Byrne’s, Jonathan Hickman’s, and Matt Fraction’s runs for those interested in FF.

A book of six tales nested within each other.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Page count: 529

I’ve seen the movie which of course influenced my reading. I also liked the movie quite a lot. But watching the movie first “spoiled” the book; I already knew the big idea behind the book so the book couldn’t wow me.

Cloud Atlas has six novellas each set in different time period and with different characters. They’re also written in different style. In each story, the central character of the story reads the previous story, except in the first one, obviously. It is a kaleidoscope of lives which are connected through the years in a tapestry of human life.

The first one is Adam Ewing’s dairy about his sea voyage around 1800s. It’s written in first person and emulates the style of writing at that time. Adam is a religious man and deeply dislikes the rowdy ship captain and his crew. He’s also a sick but managed to find a doctor to travel with him.

The second story is a number of letters written by a broke English composer Robert Frobisher in 1931 to his friend (and lover) Sixsmith. He manages to secure himself a place as the assistant to a former great composer Vyayan Ayrs who is a very sick man and very disagreeable, too. Robert is attracted to the composer’s younger wife in addition to the small amount of money Ayrs pays him.

The third is called Half-Lives the first Louisa Reye mystery. It’s written in multiple POVs and present tense, mimicking noir style. Louisa is a journalist in the 1970s US. She has integrity and wants to prove herself but she working in a less than reputable paper. However, she stumbles into a very big secret and doggedly pursues the truth.

The fourth is “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish” and is written by an elderly vanity publisher. It’s most humorous piece in the book. Timothy stumbles upon a book which sells millions… and puts him into deep trouble.

The fifth is “An Orison of Sonmi – 451” and is set in the future where corporations rule the world, or at least the small part of the world we see. Sonmi is a replicant, a person designed and grown for the sole purpose of being a waiter. But one day she has a chance to see the world outside her diner.

The final story is set in apparently far future when civilization as we know it has collapsed. The first-person narrator uses somewhat different English than the modern day variant and it’s somewhat difficult to read. The narrator is a goat herder in an Iron Age village but sometimes the village is visited by people who have far more advanced technology.

Except for the last story, the others are interrupted in the middle by the next story and after the last story is done, the others continue, the first story’s final part last.

I really like this type of structure and I liked the links between the stories, too. The final story was quite difficult to read and by that time I was impatient to find out how the other stories end. My favorite was Sonmi’s terrible tale. However, the links weren’t enough for me to bring this to a coherent whole: they feel separate stories to me.

Cavendish’s tale has some amusing pokes at the literary establishment and reviewers, perhaps Mitchell is anticipating what some people will say about his work. He also puts down the British railways.

All the characters are flawed people and convincing as humans. They depict people at their worst, being cruel to each other, but in the end, hope glimmers in every human who ends up behaving humanely to each other, especially if their society frowns on it, or even forbids it.

Collects Fantastic Four #554-561

Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary, Andrew Currie, Matt Banning, Cam Smith

I love Hitch’s art and he’s in top form here, so the art is fantastic! Except for some really weird faces on Alyssa and some of the other women who apparently talk with their tongues out.

Millar’s writing promises big things to come and he does start with a bang: the FF are returning from a time travel journey. Then Reed’s old girlfriend Alyssa returns and she needs Reed to consult something. It turns out that Alyssa’s new husband is also a genius scientist and he’s built another Earth because according to their calculation this Earth is going to be uninhabitable in less than ten years. Not from a supervillain attacks but from environmental collapse. And rather than trying to stop it, it’s easier to duplicate the Earth in a parallel dimension. It’s called “Nu-Earth”. Well, not everything will be duplicated. Weapons won’t be and the geniuses also built a huge robot to keep the peace. Of course, the robot (called Cap) gets loose and tries to kill everyone.

Meanwhile, Johnny rans across a supervillain who’s robbing a diamond shipment. Instead of arresting her, he sleeps with her. He’s also building a band and his house is rigged into a reality show. Ben has a new (ordinary teacher) girlfriend and Susan is forming a charity.

The second story arch is “The Death of the Invisible Woman” and it brings back Dr. Doom and introduces a new villain group, the New Defenders. In fact, the New Defenders are hunting Doom who needs help from Reed. But Reed and Sue are away so the New Defenders wreck the Building fighting Ben and in the end take the rather worn-out Doom with them. Reed is determined to find him and we’re shown that the group is headed by a very familiar green giant.

Oh and the Richards’ have a new and mysterious nanny. She’s a sweet old lady who is really good with the kids. But soon we find out that she knows more about Valeria than her parents.

Millar takes the FF back to their roots, as Marvel’s first family. Unfortunately, he also resets everything the group’s learned in the (recent) years. In a way this is the perfect time for new readers to pick up the comic because no background information is needed. Johnny is, once again, the irresponsible teenager, Reed the genius with his head in calculations, Ben a jock with a heart of gold, and Susan is the responsible one. Unfortunately, I found these FF more obnoxious than heroic. Johnny is especially terrible: he’s arrogant and thoughtless. Susan is jealous about Reed and women sigh over Reed and Ben. In essence, they’re movie stars. Like in many FF stories before Millar’s, Reed’s story is the only one which really matters.

To me this was a frustrating read because Millar has a lot of interesting ideas (Galactus Engine!) and he works with troupes I really like. I also enjoyed the new villains and even more when I found out who they really were. But I was less happy with the representation of the characters and where the stories went.

The collection has entertaining stories but not as great as they could have been.

Today the topic of Top Ten Tuedays is Top 10 books I’ve read this year.

This turned out to be difficult, as usual. So far, I’ve completed 86 books and none of them were stinkers. But some did stand out more than the rest. In the order I read them:

1, Scott E. Tabert: A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk
A steampunk books heavily inspired by Shakespeare.

2, Diane Duane: Dark Mirror
One of the best Star Trek: TNG books ever.

3, Howard Pyle: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood

4, Catherynne M. Valente: The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden and Catherynne M. Valente: The Orphan’s Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice
A wonderful duology of intertvined tales.

5, Kris Nelscott: Smoke-Filled Rooms
Mystery set in the turbulent days in Chicago 1968.

6, Terry Pratchett: Witches Abroad
Of course at least one Pratchett book needs to be on this list.

7, Hannu Rajaniemi: The Quantum Thief
A unique science fiction book.

8, Judith Tarr: Lord of the Two Lands
A mystery with Alexander the Great as one of the main characters.

9, Kara Dalkey: Euryale
Another mystery set in the ancient world, but in Rome this time.

10, Lois McMaster Bujold: Penric’s Demon
Bujold’s new novella set in her rich fantasy world.

The first in a steampunk trilogy and the final book in the Steampunk bundle I bought last year. It’s set in a secondary world which is reminiscent of India.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook
Page count: 264

Aniri is the third daughter of the Queen of Dharia, the wealthiest country in her world. Her older sisters have both married for political reasons but their mother has promised that Aniri will be free to marry for love when she comes of age. Aniri is happy about that because she already loves Devesh, a charming courtesan from Samiri, a less wealthy but technologically very advanced country. But just couple of weeks before Aniri’s birthday, the Queen tells her that a prince from a primitive land of Jungali has asked Aniri’s hand in an effort to seal the diplomatic relations between their countries and to keep peace in the prince’s own land. After meeting with the thoughtful and noble prince Malik who is willing to sacrifice his own chance for happiness in favor of his country, Aniri can’t say no right away.

Then the Queen tells Aniri that she has heard through her spies that the Jungali have a terrifying flying machine and asks that Aniri will pretend to accept the prince’s offer and go to Jungali to find out if the rumors are true. Aniri accepts. She can’t tell anything about it to Devesh who runs after her to the train station. Aniri leaves with a heavy heart but determined to do her duty and then return and marry Devesh, if he’ll still have her.

Jungali and Prince Malik turn out to be a somewhat different than Aniri expected and as the days go by it becomes harder and harder for her to lie to the prince who seems to have his people’s best interests at heart.

As a third daughter Aniri hasn’t paid much attention to the politics and the court around her – even Devesh calls her naïve. She longs to go after her father’s killers and she practices with a saber she inherited from her father. Her father the king was killed ten years ago by some ordinary ruffians, apparently, and the queen never investigate things, as far as Aniri knows. She’s stubborn and feels stifled by the court.

When she travels to Jungali, by train, she takes with her only her handmaiden Priya and a bodyguard Janak. Priya is very loyal to Aniri and flirts with the men around her. She also knows fashion and Aniri depends on her to wear appropriate clothing. Janaka is a stern bodyguard who’s loath to let Aniri out of his sight at all. He was also Aniri’s father’s bodyguard on the day the king was killed and Aniri bears a grudge about that.

This was a light, entertaining read. I don’t know enough about Indian culture to know how much actual Indian culture is in the book. However, I did notice that all the mentioned clothing come from western culture, such as corsets. Also, there weren’t a lot of steampunk elements.

The plot focused on spying and intrigue and had lots of adventure.

Booking Through Thursday

I’m guessing most of you like reading (or why would you be here), how do you feel about audio books?

For me, “reading” means using my eyes, not my ears. As much as I acknowledge their usefulness while doing chores or using your hands, I only ever use audiobooks for the rare long drive–listening, no matter how pleasant, is not READING, yet people persist in telling me they like to read and that audio books are their favorites. Am I the only one to feel that’s just not the same thing?

You’re right of course: reading and listening are different skills. Listening an audiobook is a different experience than reading the same book. For one thing, the reader is an integral part of an audiobook and he or she matters a lot. For example, I’ve listened most of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books and they have the same narrator, Simon Vance. However, I’ve read the last three books in the series (the audiobooks aren’t available here) and I just couldn’t help but “hear” Vance’s voice.

I also think that, at least for me, it’s easier to get distracted while listening and doing something else. Of course, it’s possible for the mind to wander while reading but I think it’s easier to notice it while reading.

However, I think that listening a book takes practice, just like every skill, and not all people like to do it. There’s nothing wrong with that. Wouldn’t it be boring if we all liked to do the same thing and also the same way?

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