April 2020


Collects Avengers 1-6 (2018). Part of Marvel’s Fresh Start relaunch.

Writer: Jason Aaron
Artists: Ed McGuinness, Mark Morales, Jay Leisten, Paco Medina, Juan Vlasco

At least in mainstream superhero comics the saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same” is true. And so it is also with the newest Avengers relaunch.

Steve is young again and Cap. Tony is out of his coma and Iron Man again. Thor is… almost back to his old self but without Mjolnir. He does have another hammer, though. They get together in a bar. Steve wants them to reform the Avengers but Tony is against it. However, when dead Celestials (space gods) start falling out of the sky, Tony puts his differences with Steve aside.

Meanwhile, the Black Panther and Doctor Strange are going to the Earth’s core… to find giant insects which have been down there for millions of years but they’re not starting to wake up. They also find symbols, pictures thousands of years old, of people who look like the Avengers.

Jennifer Walters is having trouble controlling her Hulk-side. The Ghost Rider is acting up and his host Robbie is concerned. Captain Marvel and the Alpha Flight station are trying to contain the threat from space but it looks like it’s too much for them.

Finally, we have Odin who tells us the story when he and his buddies got together a million years ago to make a final stand against one Celestial. His group back then looked very familiar and I’d like to read more of them. Except that they’re humans. Who didn’t exist back then.

Basically, it’s a decent end-of-the-world plot that brings a group of bickering superbeings together. I don’t really understand why Ghost Rider had to be here, though. I also didn’t care for the change in Jennifer. I really hope Aaron resolves her issues; she’s clearly here as a substitute Hulk and not as herself. Also, Carol acted really strange. Maybe she has some guilt issues, but she shouldn’t take them out on her (future) teammates. Loki (or rather some other being who looks like Loki) is teaming up with the Celestials against humanity. (After reading Loki Agent of Asgard… this isn’t the same person. Clearly, it’s an evil twin from an alternative reality.)

For some reason, the team doesn’t gel together for me at all. They don’t feel like family, in fact they don’t even like each other.

Interestingly, this story changes the origin of the superbeings on Earth. We’ve known for a long time that Celestials messed with humans back in the dawn of humanity which created the Eternals and Inhumans. Apparently this was true only from a certain point of view. Or it depends on who you believe. Personally, I also find it fascinating that this story also changes people from “created” beings (by cosmic beings but still) to “accidents” or even “unwanted accidents”. That’s a pretty interesting shift for the Marvel universe.

Also, Eternals are now dead?? I thought their movie is soon coming out?? Seems like a very strange move… unless they’re returned to life at some later date. Maybe a whole story arc about bringing them back?

This was a rocky start for the relaunch. I hope Aaron finds his feet with the team.

A Buffy the Vampire Slayer book set late in the third season.

Publication year: 1999
Format: Print
Page count: 289
Publisher: Pocket Books

Buffy’s world is falling apart. Her mother Joyce has met a very nice man and is dating him.

Also, Giles seems more absentminded than before. He promised to look after Oz’s wolf form but delegated it to Angel instead. When Buffy storms off to his apartment, she finds out that he’s with a new, beautiful teacher.

At the same time, Buffy’s old friend Pike from Hemery High (from the movie) comes to Sunnydale. He’s evasive at first but confesses that a stone demon is hunting him. The demon can change any living flesh to stone. While Pike knows about vampires and demons, he fights them only when hasn’t got another choice. He’s asking Buffy for help.

Buffy’s friends try to convince her that her mom dating is completely normal, at least when the man in question seems to be completely normal. Still, it’s hard for Buffy. Of course, Buffy has her own love life to worry about when Pike comes to make trouble for her and Angel.

Giles’ absentmindedness continues so much that Buffy and the others really start to worry about him. They keep a close eye on him and, indeed, something sinister is happening to him.

This was a pretty enjoyable book otherwise but I really didn’t care for the Pike/Buffy/Angel triangle. We know that Buffy can’t choose Pike because he’s not in the show, so it’s really pointless. The stone demon was a pretty average monster of the week. The Giles story line also had something I thought couldn’t be canon at all but it was resolved at the end.

The characters are well done, of course. Golden is usually one of the best Buffy writers.

I’m way late pointing this out but this month is the annual Women in SF&F Month over at Fantasy Cafe. The event has already lots of wonderful posts and a week more to go.

The first book in a humorous fantasy the Clocktaur War duology.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 7 hours 40 minutes
Narrators: Khristine Hvam

Slade is a forger who was caught. She’s been forced to lead a group of people to an enemy city, hoping to find a way to stop their magical and mechanical soldiers. Others have tried and disappeared. Slate has a little bit of magic, namely she can smell rosemary when meeting with someone significant. Her partner (and former lover) is Brenner, a brooding, snippy assassin who was also caught and is now part of this suicide mission. Her nose leads her to Sir Caliban, a former knight-champion of the Dreaming God, now a convicted murderer. Caliban used to kill demons until one possessed him and forced him to kill innocent people. Supposedly, the demon has been exorcised but death was too good for him. But Slade smells that he’s destined to help her in the mission and so he’s released.

However, they’re all get magical tattoos which will kill them if they stray from the mission. The group’s fourth person is Learned Edmund, 19-year old misogynistic scholar who wants to get some writings back and supposedly knows more about the mechanical soldiers.

It’s a comedy. Mostly. Told from the POVs of Slade and Caliban. The story is chock full of Dungeons&Dragons archetypes, stereotypes, and cliches, most of them turned either on their ear or slightly on their side. As an old gamer, I thoroughly enjoyed this. I’m the one who often plays paladins or bards (or an angel when playing In Nomine). Paladins can be fascinating characters. Caliban is one such, even though he’s a fallen paladin. Kingfisher also plays a little with our expectations: paladins aren’t chaste, in fact they’re often pursued by rich and beautiful women, so much so that Caliban doesn’t even notice Slade much at first. Oh and even though Caliban’s inner demon is dead, it left a part in and it gibbers to him. Sometimes he speaks in the demon tongue without noticing it. This seemed to have annoyed some reviewers. I liked it.

Slade isn’t really a combat person; she used to forge accounts. She’s bitter about the whole suicide mission thing, yet she obviously has hope that she, at least, will get out alive. She’s never even ridden a horse so the journey in horseback is a whole new experience for her.

Pretty much the only thing I didn’t care for was the romance aspect. Too predictable and obvious. No real reason to stretch it out. As a fan of kickass married couples (or trios or other committed relationships), I would have loved for them to get together at the start.

Also I didn’t like that Slade is the only woman. Because I’m so over the “only one woman in a group” and “only one woman in a group and more than one man in the group is after her”. Too bad they’re here.

The ending is very abrupt and leaves us in a cliffhanger.

A reprint of the Modesty Blaise comic strips 10-12, 14B.

Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1966-1968
Titan publication year: 2005

This is another very good collection of Modesty Blaise adventures. One of them, Jericho Caper, is one of my favorites.

“The Black Pearl”: The first story is firmly rooted in 1960s mysticism. It starts in Northern Bengal with an ancient Buddhist holy man Lal. A young novice requires Lal to take up a difficult mission. Lal, is of course too old and frail to do it but someone owes him a great debt, a young woman whose life Lal saved some years ago. And Lal has a mystical means to ask for the repayment.

Modesty is coming home with a new lover, Mark, who trains soldiers for a living. At Modesty’s loft, Willie is engraving a gem. When Mark starts to admire an old amber which should have an insect inside, he notices that it’s gone. Modesty and Willie know that Lal needs them. The travel to him as soon as possible and Mark comes along, too.

Modesty and Willie are faced with a task that seem almost impossible: they must retrieve something called the Black Pearl from a Tibetan monastery in the middle of Chinese occupation. However, they don’t hesitate and Mark comes with them, too.

The task is very dangerous but it has a couple of delightful moments. Modesty must convince a group of misogynistic guerrillas to follow her. Also, they don’t know what the Black Pearl is and it’s a great! Near the beginning of the story, we get another great little snippet of Modesty’s Network days. That’s how Lal saved her life.

“The Magnified Man”: This story starts with a man who commands someone, or something, very strong to just take up a huge boulder and throw it down on a speeding car, killing the man inside.

Modesty, Willie, and sir Gerard Tarrant are on a holiday in Basque Country. Willie recognizes a girl who works for French intelligence and greets her, not realizing that she’s undercover. The moment he does, he tries to leave quickly but he thinks he has messed up her work and put her in danger. To make sure that she’s alright, Modesty and Willie tail her.

Unfortunately, Willie’s hunch is true and the head of the criminal gang orders her killed. Despite Modesty’s and Willie’s best efforts she’s badly wounded. They need to pay back.

This is more straightforward adventure story. The duo goes after a ruthless but very vain villain who is robbing a gold train and uses unusual help.

“The Jericho Caper”: This is one of my favorite stories because Modesty comes up with one of her most ingenious schemes to save the lives of her enemies and, of course, to save herself and her companions, too. Modesty is in a very small town in Middle-America, living very simply. She has also find a new lover, a former soldier who was blinded in war. Now he’s a clay sculptor. One day, three desperadoes walk to town, taking any supplies they want and three girls. Modesty wants to go after them but her new lover, Torres, restrains her. Torres explains that the three men came from a nearby town full of near-lawless men and that if Modesty had killed them, the rest would’ve destroyed the town in revenge. The small town’s priest thinks it’s his duty to go and try to get the girls back. Modesty joins him over the priest’s objections. Torres also joins them.

Like I said, this story shows Modesty’s ingeniousness. Originally, she has just one gun, a priest, and a blind man. However, Willie shows up quickly but that doesn’t even the odds much, considering that the “president” of the desperado town has hundreds of men. The story has some great comedic moments, too.

“The Killing Ground”: This is a lot shorter story. Modesty and Willie wake up, imprisoned in a boat. An old enemy, Bellman, has kidnapped them but not just to kill them. The duo will be put on a small, uninhabited Scottish island and three professional hunters will hunt them down and kill them. The duo must use all their skills to survive.

Great fun with lots of action. However, there’s also some racism which was common during the times the stories were written.

Storybundle has again very tempting bundles:
Mysterious women curated by Kristine Kathryn Rusch for 20 days, Best of British SFF curated by Lavie Tidhar for 16 days more, Boss Battle curated by David L. Craddock for 13 days more, and Bundoran Buddies Sci-fi Bundle 2 6 days more.

On Kickstarter, Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch are running a very interesting project for writers. They’re doing Writing Bundles which has WMG Publishing’s ebooks for writers. It includes bundles of Smith’s and Rusch’s ebooks about productivity, craft, business, marketing, and industry. It has been funded and the first stretch goal has been met, so Rusch’s Freelancer’s Survival Guide is also included. 13 more days to go.

The fourth book in the Expanse SF series.

Publication year: 2014
Format: Print
Page count: 583 + an excerpt from the next book
Publisher: Orbit

Two years has gone from the end of the previous book. The Ring is now a gateway to space which apparently has thousands unexplored planets. Humanity has send some probes. But one desperate Belter ship has gone through the Ring and the people have settled on one of the planets, mining precious lithium which they’re hoping to sell. However, the Royal Charter Energy has gotten permission from the UN to mine there. They’re coming to evict the people they’re calling “squatters.” The journey has taken 18 months so the Belters have had ample time to establish their colony which they call First Landing. However, the planet is teeming with alien plants and animals, none of them edible by humans so life isn’t exactly easy for them.

The RCE ship, the Edward Israel, has called and made a contract with some of the colonists to construct a landing pad for them. But a group of the colonists don’t want the RCE to land and take away their planet. So, they’ve gathered explosives from the mining operation and when the book starts, they’re driving to the pad and setting the charges.

The book has four POVs. Holden is the only character whose POV we’ve read before. Basia Merton is one of the colonists. He’s from Ganymede and his son was one of the sick kids that the scientists kidnapped and experimented with. He carries a lot of guilt for abandoning his son Katoa. He took his two remaining kids and wife and left the station believing that Katoa was dead.

Dimitri Havelock is aboard the Edward Israel. He’s one of the security officers there. He’s from Earth but has worked all over the solar system, including Ceres station. He used to be Miller’s partner and was briefly seen in the first book.

Doctor Elvi Okoye is one of the RCE’s scientist and she’s been itching to get to a whole new alien planet. From the beginning, she resents the squatters (as she thinks of the colonists the whole time) because they’ve contaminated the planet rather than building a habitat and leaving the rest of the plant pristine. She’s in the first shuttle that comes down and is blown up.

After the colonists blow up the first shuttle, Avasarala sends Holden to negotiate between the two groups and the keep peace as much as he can. Everybody knows him and he has no stake on either side, so she says that he’s the perfect UN negotiator. Holden doesn’t like it but wants to do his best to keep the peace.

The situation starts really tense and only escalates. RCE’s security chief Murtry brings a team down and the sight of armed RCE guards only makes the colonists more fearful and willing make bad decision after another. The colonists from Ganymede have already lost their homes once and aren’t willing to lose anything anymore. And yes, the planet itself has some surprises, too.

The planet, called New Terra by UN and RCE but Ilus by the colonists, is months outside contact with the rest of the human civilization, essentially a new frontier. Holden points out that this place has thousands unexplored planets and humans are fighting over the first planet they came across.

Yes exactly and exactly why the situation and some of the escalations felt strange to me. RCE’s interest is two-fold: first the big lithium mine and secondly to show everyone that they’re in control here. To me, neither of those are worth a single human life. How do they know that the next planet won’t have an even bigger deposit? They don’t. They haven’t even bothered to look. So yeah, especially when things escalated out of control, I felt that the characters needed to step back and really consider what they’re doing.

For the most part I enjoyed the book. However, I wanted to know more about this first alien world that we see in the series. Elvi was at least trying to explore it. I’d love to see more of the worlds beyond the Ring but at least based on the last chapter and the blurb of the next book, that’s not going to happen. Sad.

The characters were ok. However, Elvi is the only female POV and she develops a teenager’s crush on Holden. I didn’t care for that and later she has a very strange and quick change of heart. What? It almost felt like the writers were sick of it and just ended it. Basia is guilt ridden over leaving his son behind and blowing up the landing pad. His daughter wants to go back and enter university and Basia doesn’t want her to go. Havelock is left in charge of Edward Israel’s security. On the bad guys front, I think the main escalator was a sociopath who had found just the right place to do what he wants to. His minions were also very linear thinkers.

The theme of the book is clearly frontier and how people fight over it. If and when humanity actually goes to space, I really hope we don’t end up killing each other over the first scraps we find.

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