Connie Willis, Crosstalk (2016)

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Connie Willis, one of the most critically acclaimed SF writers of our times, the winner of 11 Hugo Awards and 7 Nebula Awards, the 28th SFWA Grand Master… The list goes on and on. We’ve reviewed some of her works before on Re-enchantment – Blackout/All Clear and Passage; we’ve read many more – and here a really big shout goes to To Say Nothing Of The Dog, which to this day remains my favorite Connie Willis novel.

So, Crosstalk; the newest Willis’ novel, in her own words, is:

about telepathy–and our overly communicating world. It’s also about helicopter mothers, social media, Joan of Arc, sugared cereals, Bridey Murphy, online dating, zombie movies, Victorian novels, and those annoying songs you get stuck in your head and can’t get rid of!

(More of Willis’ thoughts on Crosstalk here.)

It sounded like fun – and besides, Willis always writes greatly enjoyable novels – at least from my limited experience :). Telepathy and Irish, a touch of Powers’ penchant for conspiracy theories, contemporary covens and a bit of light-hearted satire on our over-social-medialized world… If every ingredient is tasty, then, logically, the dish you prepare from them should be tasty too, right? Not.

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Logan (2017)

Piotrek: Times are good for comic book fans. Old stuff is easily available, new things are often good, and movies/tv… our genre is probably the strongest one today, with so much being done, everyone can find something nice. Solid stories, visual experiments (Dr Strange, Legion!), profane (Deadpool) and civil (Guardians) comedies… and now Logan.

Ola: The newest instalment in XXth Century Fox X-Men franchise is a story loosely based on the premise of Old Man Logan, one of the most famous graphic novels about Wolverine. It features a post-apocalyptic near future, where United States are in turmoil, symbolized by the absence of the Statue of Liberty, regular institutions such as police or National Guard or medical help no longer work, and the world once again becomes an arena of fight between the weak and the strong. The mutant gene has been suppressed; superheroes are no longer around; and those who stayed behind are not what they used to be.

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Patricia Briggs, Silence Fallen (2017)

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It’s a yearly event now, the coming out of a new book in Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series. Each March a new installment hits the shelves, and I am fairly sure , after reading the tenth book, that it won’t end too soon. Assigning only the ulterior, financial motivation to the author would be unfair. I’m absolutely sure that it would be incredibly difficult to part with characters as likeable, vibrant and alive as hers. There’s always another story to be told, another angle to explore… And yet, and yet, maybe it’s time to say goodbye.

Ten books is no mean thing. These are not doorstops in style of Czajkowski or Erikson, or let alone Martin who publishes each new installment of Game of Thrones in two parts, because otherwise the binding wouldn’t hold… These are urban fantasy books, three hundred odd pages long and no more. Still, ten books about essentially one character is a lot. And if you don’t have an overarching plot, spanning more than a couple of books, unfolding slowly in the background of the main action – like in Dresden books, to keep the example from the UF field – pretty soon you may find yourself without anything important to say.

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The new Red Sonja (2013-?)

Red Sonja. Female version of Conan the Barbarian, in a way lingerie football* is a female version of American football.

*There really is such a thing, and apparently quite popular in the US. Isn’t it a perfect summary of what is worst in today’s pop-culture? The worst trends in advertising and entertainment combining sport and sex to appeal to the lowest instincts of mass audience. And there is talk of empowerment and providing role models for little girls, of course… and fining players for not revealing enough skin.

This digression is not completely out of topic, because Red Sonja seems to be part of the same problem. Pulp had its strong points and can still be fun to read, but it also targeted male teenage audience with soft erotica in days when it had to be disguised and the regular porn was not easily available. Scantily clad women on the covers, damsels in distress rewarding dashing heroes with their graces, and sometimes sword-wielding females like Sonja, inspired but slightly different fantasies of authors and readers. Still, no actual women were hurt and left without medical help in the process, so maybe these were better times…

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Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology (2017)

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This year, before American Gods hit the TVs as probably one of the most anticipated series of the year, the readers were treated to a new Gaiman’s book. At least things look like this if you judge the book by the cover 😉 But Gaiman’s name on the front page is more than a bit misleading – because he’s in no way the author of the collected myths; he himself presents his role in the introduction as that of a humble narrator, a storyteller refreshing ancient and beloved tales. I guess that his name on the cover serves as a selling device – and probably serves quite well. But even though I can understand this approach from a mercantile point of view, it still smacks of hubris to me. How can one present oneself as an author of mythology? That is a minor point, though – if this way more people will learn of Norse myths, I will only applaud and cheer.

I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t start with the cover. The English version of the cover, presented above, is IMO simply beautiful. A detailed rendering of Thor’s hammer, gold and grey on dark background, accompanied by simple, elegant lettering that in no way distracts from the graphics – what’s not to admire? It’s just perfect. I only wish Polish version were the same… Alas, you can’t always get what you wish for, and in most cases that’s a good thing 😉

As for what’s inside – it’s Norse mythology and no mistake. Gaiman openly states in the introduction that he’s just retelling the old myths, giving them simpler, more digestible form suitable for modern readers who are not necessarily mythology buffs. There is nothing new or unusual in there – for those who know Norse mythology. Those who got acquainted with Nordic myths through Marvel comics or movies might be in for a surprise ;).

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The Dresden Files – Cooperative Card Game

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Piotrek: Last week we met with a friend of the Re-Enchantment to play a few games of Dresden Files: Cooperative Card Game, a new game I acquired through Kickstarter. It was a very nice experience and I would highly recommend the game to everyone. It looks great, it is quick – 30-minute claim from the box is not entirely unrealistic, though I’d say 45 minutes are more likely. And it’s Harry Dresden, done right. It’s not only in the art, the spirit of Harry is present in game’s mechanics, and personalities of the characters are recognizable in their decks.

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So, first things first… Dresden Files. The most famous urban fantasy series, probably, although Anita Blake might be even more influential (and almost a decade older). So, maybe the most famous urban fantasy series that does not deteriorate into were-porn ;). And Jim Butcher is a very popular figure, friendly and eager to interact with his fans. Will it stay that way, if he continues to publish mediocre distractions and not long-awaited Harry Dresden novels? Remains to be seen 😀 Right now we had two years without new Harry and I am increasingly annoyed.

Ola: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher is an urban fantasy/mystery series set in contemporary Chicago, where wizards, werewolves, vampires of many rivalling courts, faeries, monsters and demons compete for power. Of course, magic is still discredited, but the underworld of the supernatural seems on the verge of bursting out in the open and threatening the current structure of societies. The series, started in 2000, is now 15 novels long, with a number of short stories, a TV series and several graphic novels on the side. The series became itself a source of geek references, as evidenced in Aaronovitch’s series ;).

Piotrek: We haven’t reviewed Butcher’s series so far, but it’s been mentioned regularly, as a standard against which other UF series are measured, and usually they fail. For me, it’s not great literature, but extremely cool read, sometimes guilty pleasure. The amount of geeky references, extremely likeable characters, humour… lots and lots to like, and written by a very able writer who usually knows when to stop. Dresden Files are everything Iron Druid Chronicles aren’t, for Butcher seems to know the value of restraint, even when (spoiler!) he sends Harry to fight on an undead dinosaur in one of the coolest showdowns of the series.

How cool is Harry? He plays table-top RPG, that’s how cool he is! Sarcastic, genre savvy part-wizard, part-noir detective that grows from novel to novel, collecting friends and enemies while the intrigues go bigger and bigger, and we slowly learn about the Big Picture. Butcher’s mastery is, for me, two-fold. First, he creates extremely readable books. Secondly, he keeps the series interesting, avoids most traps  by letting the characters, and stakes, grow. He’s a master, and Dresden Files might be the pinnacle of the genre that seems to be increasingly dominated by paranormal romance. Although everyone I know, including myself, complains about the way it start. First books were far from perfect.

Ola: Well, I admit, I had a hard time getting into the Dresden Files. It clicked for me only in the fourth book 😉 So if not for a period of several days of convalescence with limited access to books – limited to Dresden Files, exactly – I would be sorely tempted not to continue reading after the first three instalments 😉 And I would miss out a lot – for Dresden Files is a type of series that gets better with each next book (well, almost without exception ;)).

Rodzyn: Last year, following Piotrek’s recommendation, I’ve picked up on Dresden Files. Having been so far around –for most part – around “proper” fantasy genre rather than its Urban branch (apart from Gaiman’s works), Butcher’s novels seemed like a nice interlude from my usual ‘to read’ list. It seems now that I love that kind of lightweight distractions for the reasons stated above by RotW Authors :). 

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Ian C. Esslemont, Dancer’s Lament (2016)

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Those who became acquainted with the Malazan universe know very well that this world had been originally created by two authors: Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont. It is no coincidence, though, that Esslemont’s name hadn’t appeared on this blog before (except as a necessary mention in this entry…) I fully stand by my words – Esslemont is no Erikson. And it seems to me that he never will be.

Erikson and Esslemont divided between the two of them the enormous cast of characters populating the world of Malazan. Until that division was kept, I was fine with it. Keep the Crimson Guard, ICE – K’azz d’Avore is boring, and I couldn’t care less for the rest of them. I suspect this indifference is too an effect of Esslemont’s writing for the Crimson Guard in itself seems a very fine concept, it’s its execution that is irrevocably flawed. But Esslemont in his share of 10 books grabbed some characters that he should have not reached for – Anomandaris Rake is just the most glaringly obvious example. I still shudder when I remember Assail

So why on Earth did I reach for another ICE’s book? I should have known better. I’ve read Orb Sceptre Throne (simply terrible), Blood and Bone (interesting worldbuilding, clearly Esslemont’s read Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness or at least has seen Apocalypse Now! ;), but not much else) and Assail (words fail me with this one, I guess that’s the main reason why I didn’t write a review of this book at all), and I promised myself I would not go there again. Why did I then?

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