Wesley Chu, Tao Trilogy (2013-2015)

Fat loser meets snarky alien. Gets in shape. Fights war over control of humanity’s evolution. Gets a girlfriend. Not in order of importance.

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A trilogy based on a very cool idea. Written by a guy that, thanks to this trilogy, escaped his boring finance work to become a pro writer. Published by Angry Robot, great little company despite its hipster tendencies. Lots of great British urban fantasy (Newman, Shevdon), good heroic fantasy, very interesting covers (Blackbirds). And interesting business ideas, you can buy a seasonal pass to get or their books in electronic format. If you hate all that is good, traditional and physical 😉

The basic premise of the series goes like that: a long time ago an alien ship crashed on Earth. Aliens, a race called “Quasing” where extremely unsuited to inhabit our planet. They needed different atmosphere, and, to survive, unable to live alone, they started to posses the creatures of Earth. Firstly – dinosaurs. Soon – homo sapiens, species they judged most likely to develop a science able to allow the Quasing to rebuild their ship and get back to their planet.

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David Hutchinson, Europe in Autumn (2014)

Hutchinson Advertised as “the love child of John le Carré and Franz Kafka”, this new novel of Dave Hutchinson takes place in Central-Eastern Europe – our stomping grounds. It probably means that I will be a tiny bit partial to it – but to be honest, this book doesn’t need my partiality, it can defend itself pretty well.

We meet the protagonist, a young Estonian guy named Rudi, in a Kraków restaurant. He’s a chef, and he’s good at what he does. He’s also a bird of passage – been there, done that, in a lot of places, especially across Eastern Europe. And this singular quality of Rudi is seized upon by representatives of a secret organization calling itself Les Coureurs des Bois. Granted, it seems a really fancy name for a bunch of smugglers specializing in small-time espionage and smuggling people across the borders, but don’t let it fool you. This name has a history. Original Les Coureurs des Bois were French-Canadian woodsmen, “runners of the woods”, traveling the interior of North America in the XVI and XVII century with consummate skill, imagination and no respect for borders. They were the pioneers of an unmapped world. World of wonders, where everything was possible if you just had enough dare – and luck. Keep this image with you till the end of the book, where it’s very neatly used as a form of closure.

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Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell (2004)

Can a magician kill a man by magic?” Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. „I suppose a magician might,” he admitted, „but a gentleman never could.”

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I don’t read books like this one for action. Not even for characters, although some characters in “Jonathan…” are very good. Slow-paced behemoths like that – I read for atmosphere and quotes. It’s a cross of… Dickens, Austen, and a bit of Connie Willis if her all books were the length of the “Doomsday Book”. I’d recommend, probably for the first time, to watch TV show before reading the book – it takes all the action and excitement and condenses it in a relatively short (seven episodes) form. And since action is not the main point of the novel, you can safely reach for the book after that, to savour all the details – the language, the irony, the literary references. And illustrations! Portia Rosenberg did a great job, illustrations look great and match the tone of the novel. I strongly advise to read paper, preferably hardcover version. Leather-bound edition would be perfect, it would look and feel like one of the books of magic we read about in the novel. Maybe Folio Society will get to it 🙂

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Robin McKinley, The Hero and the Crown (1984)

Hero-and-the-CrownI’ve been toying with the idea for this review for a time now. It’s such a small book, slim and unprepossessing in the face of all those bricks like Erikson or Tchaikovsky or even Hobb, forming literal walls on my shelves. And I’ve written two reviews of McKinley’s novels already. But The Hero and the Crown is a special book, and not just because it has won the Newbery Medal, awarded for “The most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”.

Don’t be misled by the “children”, in no aspect this is a childish book. I am quite irritated with the whole “genre” thing anyway, doubly so for fantasy and so called “children’s literature”, which, contrary to popular belief, is often more mature and artful than literature for grown-ups. But it’s a separate problem, one we’ve already mentioned here and we’ll probably tackle it more thoroughly another day.

The Hero and the Crown is often perceived as a prequel to Blue Sword. Correctly, because it takes place in the same place, only much earlier than Blue Sword, and, at the same time, incorrectly – because it deals with characters and events mentioned in Blue Sword only in the form of a legend.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Marvel Cinematic Universe on small screen.

250px-Agents_of_SHIELD_logoPiotrek: Re-enchantment’s second meeting with the MCU. A TV-series this time. The biggest of a few that began to supplement big movies from 2014. Second season is over, third – confirmed. Artistic child of Joss Whedon of Buffy, Firefly and Avengers fame (among other projects), it features S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson and his team’s struggle against… well, here comes the dilemma, what can we say without spoiling too much. For the time being let’s say “various powerful enemies”. But before we go into details of the series, we should marvel at how it all fits together. And in a net of stories that make MCU, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series is an important thread. It has its own important revelations and development, but it also connects and complements the movies. That’s quite revolutionary!

Ola: Agreed. However, let’s be fair – as TV series go, S.H.I.E.L.D. is good, but not great. It had a rather terrible beginning – I really struggled with it, and actually stopped watching after the first, rather disappointing episodes. In Season 2 there’s also a rather dull period, as if the makers of the series had sudden idea deficit. But eventually I came back to S.H.I.E.L.D. and finished the whole two series, and when it comes to my TV series watching, that’s a lot. What ultimately convinced me, except Coulson ;), was the interplay between the series and the movies. At the time of Captain America: Winter Soldier it really was a – maybe small, but very satisfying – revolution.

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Will Wheaton’s Valkana – Tabletop RPG show for beginners and veterans.

RPG, tabletop RPG (we’re not talking about video games here, this is serious stuff 😉 ). Short introductory text is available here. I’ve tried to sell the idea of RPG to many people, many times, sometimes with some success. To me – it’s the highest form of social entertainment. Board games, fun as they are, are only a substitute 😛 Other lesser activities, aren’t worth mentioning here…

But, I don’t want to drone about my favourite pastime. It’s not a big post, there will be another, proper one, soon. I just want to recommend a new youtube series, by an actor and geek celebrity, Will Wheaton (Star Trek, Big Bang T.), from the great Geek & Sundry channel.

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Introduction

Episode One

See, how great an RPG session can be, and do try it yourself, at home. There are games for everyone out there, fantasy, s/f, history, present times, any genre imaginable. It’s fun you share with friends.

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Christopher Lee (1922 – 2015)

A very good actor who not only played in genre movies, but also enjoyed fantasy literature, horror movies and even symphonic metal. He actually met Tolkien, and claimed to re-read Trilogy every year.

Now Aragorn prequels and my Galadriel movie will have to do without Saruman…