January 2016


The third book in the SF trilogy.

Publication year: 2004
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours and 5 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Gregory Linington

Unlike in previous books, which had multiple point-of-view characters sharing the spotlight nearly equally, this book has two major ones: retired Colonel Lyle Kaufman and 14-year-old Amanda Capelo. Others have far less time as POV characters. In this universe humans are at war with the alien Fallers who refuse to communicate with humans. The only information the humans have about the Fallers came from Marbet Grant in the previous book.

Kaufman and his lover the Sensitive (genetically engineered human who is extremely beautiful and can pretty much read others’ thoughts and emotions from small cues) Marbet Grant are looking for a way to get back to the World. But even though the planet isn’t officially quarantined, it’s very hard to get there. In the end, they have to resort of illegal ways to get there. Kaufman is troubled by the humans who were left behind when the last human expedition left and wants to save them. But it turns out that they don’t require saving; instead Kaufman and Grant realize that they have to find Tom Capelo. And in order to do it, they join forces with a very formidable woman.

Amanda Capelo is home when she shouldn’t be and she witnesses the kidnapping of her father, the famous and grouchy physicist Tom Capelo. At first, she doesn’t realize what happened but as soon as she does, she thinks long about it and comes to the conclusion that she has to leave and reach Marbet Grant who will help her. Amanda takes with her some jewelry and tries to go to Mars where Grant is supposed to be. However, even for a very clever 14-year-old, the world can be a surprising and dangerous place. She’s rescued by a Catholic priest who turns out to be part of the anti-War movement. And he has plans for her.

Kaufman’s and Amanda’s stories are separate for almost the whole book even though their goals are the same. We’re also introduced to a bunch of new characters. The most significant of them is Magdalene, a woman who has overcome her past and become one of the most powerful information brokers in the human universe. However, I almost felt like I liked the idea of her (as a character) more than how she was used in the book. I also didn’t really care for the whole teenager shenanigans.

This time we barely see the Worlders who were a big part of the previous books. We see more of the Fallers but they aren’t nearly as distinct as the Worlders were. In fact, the book has far more human politics than xenoanthropology.

The book has its faults (for example we never find out who built the wormhole tunnels and other artifacts and nobody seems really interested to know or why backwater World had such artifacts) but I enjoyed it. It’s a good ending to the series.

Collects Fantastic Four 605.1-611

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Mike Choi, Ron Garney, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Karl Kesel, Ryan Stegman,

This collects a series of shorter stories with various artists. They feel quite disjointed after the previous long storylines.

In the first issue we get to see a Fantastic Four in a world where the Nazi Germany conquered USA.

In the next issue our familiar First Family does some exploring in dangerous circumstances.

Next up is a two-issue story set in Wakanda. T’Challa has had to abdicate the throne and his sister is the new queen. But T’Challa has another quest and he asks Reed to accompany him. Reed has to confront the magic which is the source of T’Challa’s powers.

Then, in another one issue story, the Defenders from the Future are going home in a strange way. Essentially, the Nu-World storyline is wrapped up here.

Then, it’s A.I.M. and the Wizard vs the Fantastic Four plus Spider-Man. A.I.M. has bought themselves a whole island and the US president is worried about it. So, he sends Reed’s team to see what the A.I.M. is up to. The story continues with Bentley, the Wizards’ young clone, in a FF comic which isn’t in the collection.

The trade ends with Dr. Doom which feels appropriate. In the FF comic, Doom was left on the Bridge to secure the others’ escape. Now, Reed, his dad Nathaniel, and the adult Valerie return to the Bridge.

Hickman’s run was a wild ride. I bought the individual issues and rereading them I remember the long wait between them. I got them about every four months, three-four issues at the time which turned out to be a good way to read them. He did use a lot of set-up which I understand can frustrate some readers but the pay-off was worth it. In these final issues he sets up future adventures, too, intertwining Reed and T’Challa’s destinies together and showing some of the background for his own stories, too. Most of the time I enjoyed them a lot. His characterization was very good, especially with Susan. He used classic elements and foes like Galactus and the Inhumans but also brought in new things. Great stuff! That said, this last volume isn’t a necessary read.

A stand-alone science fiction/horror book.

Publication year: 1956
Format: print
Page count: 200
Publisher: Gollanz

Scott Carey shrinks every day 1/7 of an inch. Now, he’s about the size of a spider and essentially trapped into his own cellar because he’s too small to get out. He battles the Black Widow spider, which also lives in the cellar, and scrounges for food and water. He knows that he has only five days to live before he becomes too small to exist, so he also battles despair. He reminiscens about his life: how he felt that the shorter he came, the less masculine he was. He went to see the best (and very expensive) doctors but they couldn’t help him. His fear, frustration, and insecurity come out as rage against everyone near him and he loses his job. He alienates his wife and daughter, too.

In the adventurous side of the book Scott is really tiny and his life is constantly threatened by the spider. Matheson shows us in detail how Scott has to work hard for everything we take for granted. But most of the book follows his story to that cellar. Matheson also describes Scott’s mounting frustration and humiliation because of his shrinking. When Scott’s small enough to be mistaken for a boy, he encounters dangers that children face: a child molester and a gang of other kids. Scott also pushes away his own family and so he feels very lonely and sexually frustrated. (Personally, I didn’t care how he lusts after an underage girl and justifies it to himself.)

Sometimes he thinks about suicide but in the end, he forces himself to continue the struggle to live.

I didn’t like this one as much as I liked “I am Legend” but it was a solid read.

Collects Fantastic Four # 600-605


Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Steve Epting, Paul Mounts, Rick Magyar, Mike Perkins, Nick Dragotta

Most of Hickman’s long-term plots come to an explosive, and cosmic, conclusion in this trade. Issue 600 is a double sized anniversary issue where the Avengers and the FF unite to defend the Earth from the Kree Empire, led by the reborn Supreme Intelligence. We also finally find out what happened to Johnny Storm. He returns and leads his own army against the Kree. However, the huge fight escalates further with the appearance of Galactus and the three Celestials!

So if you have read the earlier trades leading to this one, it’s the big payoff. If you haven’t… don’t start with this collection. It’s an excellent conclusion to the story. Pretty much the only I dislike is the brief appearance and disappearance of the Inhumans. I found them more distracting to the story than adding anything, especially since they’ve changed so much since I last saw them. But maybe that’ll change after I read War of Kings.

I very much enjoyed Johnny’s story this time around and would have loved to see more of his Light Brigade (but I don’t think they were seen much after this story). But I think that I disliked his quick reappearance the first time I read these, simply because his sacrifice was written so well that his return felt like cheapening it. Of course, he did die, several times.

In the final issue, 605, Reed and his dad travel to the future of Fantastic Four, the Future Foundation, and the Earth and we’re shown Ben’s startling future. It was clearly a cool off from the previous issues and an epilogue of sorts but I’m not sure if it really added much.

A stand-alone science fiction book. Or science fantasy if you consider (very powerful) psionics to be fantasy. Part of the Women in SF bundle I bought last year.

Publication year: 2015
Format: ebook
Page count: 436
Publisher: Book View Café

Nevermore is a planet with a mysterious past: it has history dating back thousands of years but very little of it has been recorded. The current nomadic tribes don’t know much about their past and no statues have been found. It’s an ideal and frustrating place for passionate archeologists, such as the Nasirs.

Aisha and Jamal are the children of the current lead archeologists on Nevermore. The kids love their freedom to ride and roam around. However, even they have heard that it’s increasingly hard to get funding for the work and Aisha has decided to help her parents. She just knows that a nearby cliff, which has a mysterious chamber in it, has all the answers and a wealth of artifacts. So, when the parents are away from the planet (begging for the next round of grants) the 12-year-old girl steals some explosives and blows it up. Unfortunately, no treasure trove of past is revealed. The place is mostly destroyed and a strange man approaches the kids. The man seems to be a native (almost human) but he has no memory of where he comes from or about anything else. He also seems to be sick. Aisha brings him home and she and her aunt Khalida nurse him back to health. By the time the parents return, it seems that the mystery man, dubbed Rama, is a part of the household.

Khalida Nasir is a recovering Military Intelligence agent. She was deeply scarred by the things she had to do for the MI and is on extended leave. She was born a psionic but refused to join the Psycorps, so they ‘neutered’ her: supposedly they cut out her psionic talents. But she still has them; they haunt her in addition to the nightmares of her past duty. When the kids return with a man whom they all start calling Rama, she becomes very interested in him. (But not romantically: she’s a lesbian.)

Soon, Aisha, Khalida, and Rama are off planet and hunted by the Psycorps.

In this world when during a child’s thirteenth birthday, a Psycorps officer is sent to test the child to see if he or she had the psionic talent. If they have, they can choose to either join Psycorps or have their talent cut out (neutered). Aisha has the talent but she doesn’t want to join Psycorps so she’s really scared about meeting the officer, which happens early in the book. Psi is a big part of the world and the humans. Psi is also the link between science and magic, blending both.

The book has complex politics where the government and its organizations are the bad guys. Khalida and Aisha are the two POV characters and they’re pretty different from each other. The world-building is detailed. Khalida and Aisha and their family are from Egypt and so they’re not white (which is great because it’s different from the majority of SF).

The start is a bit slow but when things start to happen, they do so quickly. In addition to adventure, the story focuses on family and friendships rather than romantic relationships. Aisha lives in a loving family and she does the the craziest stunts because she wants to help them but doesn’t think things through (because she’s 13).

For some reason I didn’t click with the writing style as much as I did with the previous (and only) Tarr book I’ve read. I liked the book a lot, though.

A new SF/fantasy book from a new author. I got an Advance Readers’ Copy (ebook) from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Publisher: Harper Voyager Impulse

Quinn Bradley is a stage magician in Las Vegas but not in one of the largest casinos. In fact, for a long time he has dreamed about working in the best casinos. He has just done his best performance ever and the talent scouts of the big employers are really noticing him. But after the show everything seems to go wrong: the talent scouts just take off, leaving Quinn with a couple of strange military people. They offer Quinn a lot of money for a gig which would last only for six months. The catch is that Quinn isn’t told anything about what the gig will be or where he will be performing. But he doesn’t really have a choice.

The mysterious people fly him off Vegas immediately and Quinn finds out something fantastic: their company, CASE Global Enterprises, has found a portal which leads to another world. They’re keeping really quiet about it and have draconian non-disclosure agreements. The world, called Alissia, seems medieval in technology. Happily, everyone who goes through the portal can speak the same language so that’s not a barrier.

The reason why they want to hire a magician is that Alissia has real magic. Now, their top anthropologist has gone missing and CASE is sending four people to retrieve him and all the high tech gear he took with him. The mission has two military people Kiara and Logan, and an anthropologist Veena Chaudri in addition to Quinn. The other three are very familiar with Alissia but Quinn is very much a duck out of water.

This is a fast-paced adventure with likable characters. Real magic actually enters the story quite late, for a good reason. Quinn and his team have some high tech gear which helps them communicate and defend themselves against the Alissians. Quinn doesn’t know how to use a sword but he practices while the group travels and his sword is made from a very light and durable material. In fact, the Alissians would probably call the high tech items magical.

The Alissians aren’t shown as stupid, even though they don’t have modern tech. In fact, they seem to be more egalitarian so a woman wearing a sword and leading a team is normal.

Quinn is quick-witted and charms people for a living. Once he knows what’s going on, he’s quick to adapt. He’s very good with his job and the company outfits him with gadgets to create illusions of magic. He’s a likable protagonist.

Logan is the second point-of-view character in the book. At first glance, he’s a tough, experienced soldier but he’s a bit more nuanced than that. Kiara is another tough, experienced soldier. She’s the leader of the team and she keeps to the orders and rules even when it would be easier for everyone to bend them a little. Chaudri is very enthusiastic about Alissia and she’s happy to show Quinn around.

The only thing I didn’t really like was some of the treatment of the horses which the characters ride all the time. For example, the company has made a drug which makes it possible to ride the horses hard for several weeks non-stop. Of course, this isn’t a horse manual but a fantasy book.

The book has a clear ending but several things are left open. I’d be happy to see more of these characters and the setting.

Collects FF 6-11

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Greg Toccini, Steve Epting, Barry Kitson

The first two issues concentrate on the Inhumans. They’re back from conquering the Kree Empire on the pages of War of Kings. Apparently, Black Bolt died during the limited series but now he’s back. He’s also changed because he wants to rule the Earth. The two issues have a different artist, Toccini, so they feel very different from the usual FF comics.

In the previous trade, the alternate universe Reeds were attacking the High Evolutionary’s Forever City and now Attilan interferes with that fight. And Reed and Peter, Reed’s dad Nathaniel and the villain gang are also fighting against the Reeds.

The fights look cool but there are a lot of characters and their motives aren’t told or are baffling. (Crystal is now married to Ronan the Accuser?? And she agrees to attack the other Inhumans??) It’s, of course, because this continues a storyline from the War of Kings trades and I haven’t read them. They’re available through Marvel Unlimited, though.

There are some intriguing things in this trade, too, but they’re set up for future stories. Doom’s, er, situation with an alternate Reed is a very interesting thing which happens late in the trade.

Sadly, a disappointing trade for those of us who haven’t read War of Kings and it ends with a cliffhanger (although of course the FF, Avengers, and the X-Men are going to kick Kree butt in the next issue). The storyline continues in Fantastic Four volume 5.

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