Agatha Heterodyne and the Siege of Mechanicsburg (Girl Genius, #12)

By Phil Foglio

Rating: 4 stars

And so Agatha Heterodyne’s journey brings us to the siege of her home town of Mechanicsburg. As she continues to try and repair the castle that co-ordinates the town’s defences, Gil and Tarvek are trying to sort things out on Castle Wulfenbach. And the Jagers are back! Properly! This book has a surfeit of Jagers, if such a thing were possible, although is sadly counterbalanced by a smaller role for the castle, which I’ve come to grow very fond of as a character.

The story is still flying along at breakneck pace, and the siege is pretty tense. There are some great moments though, like Franz (the monster) telling invaders to rejoice at the return of the Heterodyne as he stomps all over them, and the ongoing character moments with the minions (von Zinzer’s progress to chief minion not least, and the blossoming romance between Airman Higgs and Zeetha). The Foglios definitely know how to do a cliffhanger too, and the mad-scientist lightning here is as effective as the Doom Bell from last volume.

At the time of writing, there’s only one more volume left that’s been published, so the question is whether to get it now or to wait and savour it? Ah, who am I kidding, I’m only good at self-denial when it’s something I don’t want…

Book details

ISBN: 9781890856571
Publisher: Studio Foglio
Year of publication: 2013

Agatha Heterodyne and the Hammerless Bell (Girl Genius, #11)

By Phil Foglio

Rating: 4 stars

The eleventh volume of Agatha Heterodyne’s adventures see her racing against time to repair her castle while dodging the machinations of the imposter Zola and the remaining parts of the castle not under the control of the central mind. Meanwhile, armies gather outside Mechanicsburg waiting to strike.

There’s one heck of a pace to this story. You really feel the pressure that Agatha is under, although the ongoing battle between Gil and Tarvek about who should be her suitor helps to lighten the mood as you get the feeling that despite their own agendas (of which they have many), they both desperately care for Agatha and do want to help her. This volume also has (just!) one Jager scene where things are set in motion and we get to see the fun, crazy monsters doing politics. One Jager scene is better than no Jager scene, but I’m looking forward to seeing them come back to the fore.

The pace is neck-breaking, the characters great fun to watch and the story as engaging as ever, especially the final double-spread page. No spoilers, but DOOOOOOOOOM :-D.

Book details

ISBN: 9781890856557
Publisher: Studio Foglio
Year of publication: 2012

Saga, Vol. 4

By Brian K. Vaughan

Rating: 5 stars

In the latest volume of the continuing, er, saga, of Hazel and her family, avoiding pursuit and trying to live a normal life, Alana gets an acting job while Marco is house-husband; Prince Robot IV discovers he has a son; and Gwendolyn and Sophie are trying to find something that will help The Will.

I’m still loving this series, although I’m starting to wish I hadn’t discovered it for another few years – reading a single volume (that takes an hour or two to read) every 6-9 months is really frustrating.

The characters all continue to get good development. I particularly enjoy Marco and Alana’s relationship, which feels vibrant and realistic. They’re just trying to figure out keeping a relationship together and raise a child, (while avoiding being murdered by their respective peoples).

There was a slight discontinuity, I think, for Prince Robot IV. When we last saw him at the end of volume 3, he was injured and returning to his ship. Here, he shows up on the sex planet, with no explanation why, or how he got there, which is a little disappointing. But that’s more than made up for by the plot with his son, and his relationship with his father.

Saga continues to be highly entertaining, touching and moving, while at the same time showing ultra-violence and fairly graphic sex. I don’t know how it gets away with it, but it’s still utterly enchanting.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632150776
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2014

Oomph: A Little Super Goes a Long Way

By Bart R. Leib

Rating: 4 stars

I only added this book to my wishlist because it had a story by a friend in it, but I’m glad that someone did buy it for me as it’s a lot of fun. The premise of this anthology is that each of the stories contains heroes who have small powers. They’re not invincible or can fly, but maybe have really tough skin, or can float just a couple centimetres above the ground.

I think my favourite story was Knuckles by Ken MacGregor about a decent, working class guy who just went out there to help people because it was the Right Thing. I also enjoyed Dawn Vogel’s Fortissimo Possibile and, of course, my pal’s story The Writing is on the Wall, but then I always feel a bit of a thrill about anything set in Glasgow :-).

One thing worth remarking upon is the number of female authors and protagonists in the collection. It shouldn’t be worth remarking upon, but it’s unusual to have a greater-than-half number of female authors.

There were few misses here, I thought. Although I enjoyed The Breeze, it was very much a teen prom drama, the fact that the protagonist had a permanent breeze around her barely came into it. And it’s not that I didn’t enjoy Short Circuit, but it felt very much like one chapter or segment in a larger piece of work (that I’d certainly like to read!).

So a fun collection worth reading by anyone who has a passing interest in the superhero genre.

Book details

ISBN: 9780615901190
Publisher: Crossed Genres Publications
Year of publication: 2013

The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus

By Brian W. Aldiss

Rating: 4 stars

This volume collects two earlier Penguin SF collections from the 50s and 60s and is a pretty mammoth affair, coming to over 600 pages and containing 36 stories. Given the time period that the stories were written in (mostly the 1950s, with some outliers in the decade either side), some inevitable themes arise. These are primarily concerned with nuclear apocalypse and ‘Reds under the bed’ type allegories.

There are some great stories here and very few misses. Isaac Asimov’s Nightfall is welcome at any time and William Tell’s Eastward Ho! is a nice reversal of the conquest of America. I’m not necessarily a fan of John Steinbeck, but his The Short-Short Story of Mankind is excellent while Howard Fast’s The First Men is a nice Ubermensch story in the vein of Olaf Stapledon.

That’s just a brief skim through the selection. As I say, there are very few misses, so this is worth a read if you’re a fan of Golden and Silver Age SF, or even if you’re just curious about the history of the genre.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140031454
Publisher: Penguin
Year of publication: 1973

Agatha Heterodyne and the Guardian Muse (Girl Genius, #10)

By Phil Foglio

Rating: 4 stars

Volume 10 of the adventures of Agatha Heterodyne sees her trying to save the lives of herself and her potential beaus, Gil and Tarvek, from a deadly Spark disease, dealing with the deadly guardian of the pit and trying to stop her mother taking over her body (repeatedly) while fending off the Heterodyne imposter, Zola and trying to repair the castle to defend the town.

As with the other Girl Genius books, the art is beautiful, the story hectic and the laughs keep coming. I still read the webcomic regularly but there’s nothing quite like sitting down with a book and being able to blitz through a whole story in one go, rather than trying to remember what’s going on at the (somewhat glacial) pace of three pages a week.

This volume is somewhat lacking in Jaeger activity, although that is corrected in the excellent short story Maxim Buys a Hat, included at the back of this volume. Other supporting cast get a bit more to do: we see some romantic interests blossoming between some of the minions hangers-on and, in particular, we see some intriguing hints that Airman (Third Class) Higgs is much more than he seems.

Book details

ISBN: 9781890856533
Publisher: Airship Entertainment
Year of publication: 2011

Foxglove Summer (Peter Grant, #5)

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 4 stars

Two children have gone missing, somewhere in the country. There’s no obvious magical involvement, but just to be sure, PC Peter Grant goes up to have a look. And being Peter, can’t help getting involved. First just with family liaison and then, once things start getting weirder, more centrally.

This book takes Peter Grant out of his comfort zone, out of London (something that, speaking as a non-Londoner, they could all do with, once in a while). As one of the other reviews here says, it feels very much like a holding book. A chance for everyone to catch their breath before plunging on to whatever comes next. That’s not a criticism, far from it. Aaronovitch is an excellent writer, and Peter Grant’s narrative voice could keep me entertained for much longer than just this volume. The geek references, the police chatter, it’s all present and correct, and very readable. What’s missing is the usual crowd. Peter is isolated here; apart from some phone calls from Nightingale and Walid (and Lesley!) none of the usual supporting cast turn up, which makes our protagonist feel all the more vulnerable.

The wizarding world is expanded a bit here too, with retired wizard Hugh Oswald hinting about more of them around and providing some more background into Ettersberg. And we finally get a little bit more information about Molly as well, who hasn’t really had much attention since Rivers of London.

What lets the book down a bit is the ending. It’s going great and then you suddenly realise that there’s not much book left and wonder how all the plot strands are going to be wrapped up. In a phrase: they aren’t. So much is left hanging that it really doesn’t feel like there’s any resolution, which leaves me feeling frustrated. Even just another chapter at the end where Nightingale turns up and provides some exposition would have helped.

I’ll still definitely read the next book (and the one after that, I dare say) but I think I’ll start borrowing them from the library now.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575132504
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2014

The Long War (The Long Earth, #2)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 3 stars

A generation or so after the Long Earth is opened to humanity, people are still trying to get used to the whole idea, and its implications and ramifications. The gentle trolls that span the worlds are retreating in the face of human advance and the strange creature known as Lobsang once again recruits Joshua Valiant√© to try and save these natives of the Long Earth, while colonists way down the Long Earth are getting restless with the Datum’s yoke.

A big problem problem in this book is the multitude of characters but without anyone to really root for. Joshua feels a bit passive, allowing things to happen to him without driving anything. (Fellow natural stepper) Sally is intensely unlikeable; Nelson and Agnes get hardly any screen time (feeling like they’re possibly being set up for a future book); Lobsang is an almost literal deux ex machina. Pulling strings behind the scenes but without enough personality to really be sympathetic or to strive for.

Once again, it feels like this is very much a Stephen Baxter book, without very much of Pratchett’s trademark humour. The American-centric nature of the book is odd as well, given that both the authors are British, but I guess that it’s the Americans that we think of as having the pioneer spirit to run out and colonise the Long Earth. But I’d still have liked more than just the brief hints that we had of how other Datum nations are coping with the implications of the Long Earth.

The main impression is that it was a bit confused (and confusing). There were too many different plotlines ongoing for its (not inconsiderable) running length and as a result, it felt muddy and disjointed. Perhaps all these separate strands will come together as the books go on, but reading them slowly, one at a time, makes for an unsatisfying experience.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552167758
Publisher: Corgi
Year of publication: 2013

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