Astonishing X-Men Ultimate Collection Volume 1

By Joss Whedon

Rating: 4 stars

I must confess that I’m not hugely familiar with the X-Men. I used to watch the cartoon when I was young, and watched the first couple of films. This first half of Joss Whedon’s run with the X-Men covers two story arcs. In the first, the idea of a cure for mutation is introduced, along with an alien who has a vendetta against the X-Men. In the second, a damaged sentinel attacks the X-Men mansion under the orders of an unseen mastermind and there is danger from within.

The volume focusses on a core group, missing Professor X, who reform the X-Men as a superhero team to be visible and a beacon for the good that mutants can do in the world. Scott Summers and Emma Frost are co-leaders, with Hank McCoy, Kitty Pride and Logan filling out the ranks (superhero codenames are hardly ever used). It’s a fun book, filled with Whedon’s trademark humour (a particular favourite is a fight where Kitty and Colossus have thought bubbles that are mostly angst, and then we cut to Logan who’s just thinking how much he loves beer). It’s a great way to cut the tension and stop it feeling too “woe is me”.

It’s also a decent introduction to the characters, even for someone like me, whose knowledge of the X-Men and the universe is limited. We get up to speed with who everyone is, what the setup is and what the factions are quickly, and without infodumping – as you would expect from a writer of Whedon’s calibre.

The art is pretty good, although I wouldn’t call it special. There are some good splash pages and it fits the superhero style well. The one disconcerting thing for me in terms of the art is that Nick Fury is white. As far as I’m concerned Nick Fury is, and has always been, black (and looked like Samuel L. Jackson). This series predates the MCU by a good four years, but it’s still disconcerting for someone who’s main entry to Marvel has been the MCU.

So a good entry to the X-Men universe, with good characterisation of the cast and a fun book to read, enhanced by Joss Whedon’s ear for dialogue.

Book details

ISBN: 9780785161943
Publisher: Marvel
Year of publication: 2004

Revenant Gun (The Machineries of Empire, #3)

By Yoon Ha Lee

Rating: 4 stars

The final book in the Machineries of Empire trilogy sees the hidden hexarch Nirai Kujen download the remaining memories of Shuos Jedao into a new body and try to use him to reclaim the Hexarchate. Unfortunately, the reborn Jedao doesn’t have any conscious memories beyond that of a cadet, but he has to learn quickly if he’s to command the swarm that Kujen gives him and stay alive long enough to find his place in the world.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this third book in the trilogy. We see the return of Kel Brezan, now the titular president of a fractured part of the Hexarchate, and Kel Cheris, who holds the rest of Jedao’s memories, and we get some chapters from their point of view, but most of the book is narrated alongside the regrown Jedao as he discovers a world very different to the one he remembers, and as he discovers anew why he rebelled in the first place.

In my head, the moths (the spaceships that the Hexarchate use) were always artificial – just spaceships, and it was a quirk of the Hexarchate to call them all ‘moths’. This book states that they’re not only biological, but that they’re sentient. Lee drops a bombshell of an enslaved sentient race and then just leaves it there. Sure, the Revenant is important to the plot but that’s still a hell of a thing to just drop on us. And Jedao keeps it to himself. After all that drama about freeing the people of the Hexarchate, he’s just going to ignore an entire sentient race being bred and harnessed as a convenient means of transport!?

This book has a larger role for the servitors than previous books as well. We see a tiny bit more of their society, but like <*see previous spoiler*> it’s frustratingly not dealt with. Mind you, I suppose you could write an entire book, heck, an entire trilogy about both of those things and the changes that the revelations about them would have on Hexarchate society.

So a good book in its own right, and a fine conclusion to the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9781781086070
Publisher: Solaris
Year of publication: 2018

Rivers of London Volume 5: Cry Fox

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 3 stars

This fifth graphic novel of Peter Grant’s adventures concerns some posh scum who re-enact the film A Very Dangerous Game for fun (i.e. hunting, but with the prey being humans, not foxes), except they choose Peter’s cousin Abigail as their next victim, which goes about as well as you’d expect.

There’s some interesting stuff here, including the involvement of Reynard Fossman, who’s out for revenge against the Folly, but there’s little in the way of development here, either for the characters or for the world (although there’s a nice section with folklore of foxes throughout the world at the end, alongside the usual ‘Tales From the Folly’ and issue covers). Overall, it felt like a novella, a nice snack, but not as satisfying as a full novel. The main issue I had with the storytelling was that there never felt like any real danger for any involved. I don’t normally have a problem with that, but that, combined, with the short read, just felt a little underwhelming. Well, maybe not underwhelmed, maybe just whelmed.

I appreciate that comics are hard work to do, but I think that if they did want to continue producing them alongside the prose, Aaronovitch et al could risk tackling longer storylines. That way, the compiled graphic novel would have more depth to it (and take longer than half an hour to read).

Book details

ISBN: 9781785861727
Publisher: Titan Comics
Year of publication: 2018

The History of England in the Eighteenth Century

By Thomas Babington Macaulay

Rating: 3 stars

This volume stitches together the essays of Thomas Macaulay to form a moderately cohesive narrative history of 18th (and first 30 years of 19th) century Britain. The introduction tells us that the editor pulled this together using essays, often for the Edinburgh Review spread across many years, so the editing and bridging is also quite impressive.

The history itself is quite odd. It does refer to interacting nations and chains of events, but often it focuses closely on the British Parliament, and follows the political knockabout of the great (and not so great) figures of the day. We cover administrations including Walpole, the Pelhams, both Pitts, Chatham and many more, often in enough detail to reassure me that modern politics aren’t so different to those of our forefathers. There was the same pettiness, infighting and occasional sparks of grace that we see today.

The history is focused very much on the Palace of Westminster, although the section talking about the attempts, and repeated failures, to deal with Ireland post-Union was very interesting to me. Although the book covers momentous periods – including the American war of independence and the Napoleonic Wars – it doesn’t cover them in any great depth.

Much of the book is told in a slightly detached tone, although you always get the impression that he’s more sympathetic to Whigs than Tories, but the tone gets warmer and more impassioned in the final chapter as he relates the first Reform Bill and its passage. At times I could just imagine strains of Land of Hope and Glory in the background and almost stood up and saluted!

So an interesting book which provides a very good Parliamentary history of Britain (tsk, people in the period and their conflating of England and Britain). Not really useful as a general history of the country, but in its place it’s both useful and informative. I’m very much struck by the last sentence though, which is wise and as relevant in the 21st century as it was in the 19th:

Those who compare the age on which their lot as fallen with a golden age which exists only in their imagination may talk of degeneracy and decay: but no man who is correctly informed as to the past will be disposed to take a morose or desponding view of the present.

Book details

Publisher: The Folio Society
Year of publication: 1980

Newton’s Wake

By Ken MacLeod

Rating: 3 stars

Centuries ago, sentient war machines devastated the Earth. A group of settlers escaped and colonised the planet Eurydice. Now the war is long over and those who stayed in the solar system have started to expand again. They find Eurydice and a lot more than they bargained for.

Wormholes, FTL that somehow prevents causality violation, societies with differing paradigms and Scottish combat archaeologists from Glasgow. What’s not to like? Lucinda Carlyle is our main POV character, a member of the Carlyle family who found and control the wormhole network that’s the most convenient way to travel the stars. She’s stubborn, clever and not afraid of anything. She’s also arrogant, sometimes vulnerable and makes mistakes, but learns from them. In other words, a well-rounded character. Interestingly, in a society where brain reading and resurrection are commonplace, Macloed also gives us some insight into what dying is like, even if you know you’ve got a backup and will be coming back.

There’s a lot of politics and scheming in the book (not unexpected from a writer like Macleod whose politics are worn on his arm) and some fun world-building, with the different human factions. It’s a shame that the AIs were mostly off-stage, having long since upgraded themselves out of our ken, with only a hint of what they left behind in the final chapter.

An interesting and mostly fun book (note: some characters speak in Glaswegian dialect; I enjoyed it, but YMMV as always).

Book details

ISBN: 9781841492247
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2004

Out Of Space And Time

By Clark Ashton Smith

Rating: 2 stars

I was vaguely aware of Clark Ashton Smith as a collaborator of H. P. Lovecraft but little beyond that, so I thought this collection of short stories might serve to provide a flavour of his work. It did, but not in the way that I’d hoped. Although I enjoyed the first story in the collection, The End of the Story, I could probably have just read that and then stopped. The prose is so purple it heads towards infra-black and the tone is rarely anything other than portentous and pompous, to a degree that I found quite infuriating (but which did mean that the rare flashes of humour were all the more unexpected and welcome).

The work, to an amateur eye, like mine, reads like Lovecraft (on a bad day) but feels quite heavy and kludgy. I did finish the collection and, for what it’s worth, my favourite story of the collection, The Monster of the Prophecy is quite near the end, so I’m (mostly) glad that I got that far. This story concerns a human encounter with an alien and contains one of the aforementioned rare flashes of humour, that made it stand out for me.

On the whole though, whilst tolerable in small doses, I struggled with this one and I won’t be looking out any more by Smith.

Book details

ISBN: 9780803293526
Publisher: Bison Books
Year of publication: 1942

Powered by WordPress