James S. A. Corey, Abaddon’s Gate (2013)

Corey_3As promised, I bring you the review of the third installment in the Expanse series. It started so well with Leviathan Wakes, it got slightly worse but still quite readable with Caliban’s War, and then it reached the bottom (wherever it is in space) with Abaddon’s Gate.

If I wanted to sum up Abaddon’s Gate in one sentence, I would say that that’s what you get when you expand a meticulously planned trilogy into five books. Contrary to Gordon Gekko’s famous saying, greed is not good. Not at all.

It’s not that I’m irritated with this book. Although I am, even if I know that I really shouldn’t care less. Abaddon’s Gate is not only terribly b o r i n g. It has not enough action, and what it has gets mired in a quagmire of improbable actions and decisions, papery, one-dimensional characters, and a flood of pseudo-intellectual tirades that made me want to erase the book from my Kindle (I don’t know what I would do to the paper version. Maybe tear out all Melba and Anna POVs. Maybe chuck it all into fire and gleefully watch it burn. Or maybe just leave it on a bench somewhere and let it poison someone else’s day).

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Some thoughts on summer reading and “Craft Sequence” by Max Gladstone

Two different topics (unless we make Gladstone’s excellent series our designated Summer Reading this year… why not 🙂 )

First… the more I think about it, the less I like the idea of “summer reading” as almost a subgenre of its own. Every magazine, every bookshop feels obliged to create a special list of books you should buy and read on the beach. With implication that people read “serious” books all year, and need some pointers for lightweight books they can relax with on vacation. Lay down your Kafka and Dostojewski, get some Arthur Conan Doyle and Agata Christie 😉 Well, nobody reads any more, and if they do, there are no special books for beach. Or, rather, there are, but they are shit.

If one doesn’t read at all during the working year… I’d recommend re-reading his/her favourites from long ago, be they Narnia, Watership Down or Clancy. And after vacation continue with good books of any kind, maybe in audio, long drives got some of the people I know back into reading.

Ola’s choice in the previous post is excellent and I can recommend every one of the books there, but they will be equally good for winter commuting.

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Vacation

Today no review – I’m on vacation :). Instead, I prepared a short list of recommended summer readings 😉

For when you have lots of time and still some inquisitiveness in you, after frying in the sun and drinking alcoholic beverages all day, or else taking care of overactive children (all in all, highly improbable, but whatever :P):

Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966) – a classic sf tale, hard sf, with some landmark ideas of Heinlein and judged among his best works. An inexhaustible source of inspiration for literal hordes of writers and a must-read for every sf fan. Warning: demanding!

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Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant (2015)

Another novel belonging, if not wholly, to the Arthurian subgenre of fantasy. When published, it created a lot of noise – not only for its qualities, but the very fact that Ishiguro, respected literary fiction author, crossed borders of genre fiction and wrote a fantasy novel. The discussion that followed already inspired one post here, I liked what Ishiguro had to say about fantasy and his genuine interest in our world, so I decided to read his book.

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It definitely is a novel – a story of 345 pages, and fantasy – with echoes of King Arthur, ogres, pixies and dragon, many basic tropes of modern fantasy. One can play a game and try to catch all the Easter Eggs.

Plot is simple enough, at least in the beginning. A simple, old couple, Britons, Axl and Beatrice (!), journey to reunite with their long lost son. Their memories, and the memories of all the people in the land, are clouded by mysterious mist, collective amnesia covering, as we learn, terrible deeds done to stop the Saxon invasion on the orders of the late King Arthur. Along the way Axl and Beatrice meet a Saxon warrior, young Saxon boy, Sir Gawain – last of the knights of Arthur, and they learn of the reasons behind the mist.

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Ilona Andrews, Kate Daniels series (2007–present)

kate-daniels-coversSince we’ve already entered the wide expanse of urban fantasy, the time has come to look a bit at the works of Ilona Andrews. Ilona Andrews is a pen name of a married couple: Russian immigrant Ilona and her husband Gordon, a former communications sergeant in US Army. Why is it so important to know who they are? Because their background deeply influences the content of their books.

The most well-known series – and the one that has been in part translated to Polish – is Kate Daniels. The eighth book comes out in August, there are also some tie-ins and novellas, and a slew of short stories. And it’s still a work in progress, with at least two novels planned. In short – a lot. Theirs is a big and brave new world, where magic and technology compete with each other, flooding the planet in alternating waves. When the technology has an upper hand, guns and cars and telephones work perfectly well. There’s electricity and computers. When magic gains eminence, there’s monsters. Spells. Buildings crashing down. And a lot of hand-to-hand combat.

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Emma Newman, The Split Worlds (2013)

I like urban fantasy. I’m not a big fan, but I’ve read a couple dozen. The first series I really enjoyed was Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs, recommended to me by Ola. At first I couldn’t get into Dresden Files, but now I preach the genius of Jim Butcher. 2013 was a year when I discovered British urban fantasy. It started with excellent “Courts of the Feyre” series by Mike Shevdon, then I discovered Ben Aaronovitch and his novels about “ethnically challenged” London police officer.

Of course, now that I think about, my first English urban fantasy was “Neverwhere”. Gaiman’s masterpiece I’ve read as a novel and graphic novels, listened to in audio form, and watched a TV mini-series (IMHO the weakest version of the story). It was great…

Another British author I discovered was Emma Newman. Beautiful voice (professional narrator and she has her own podcast, very entertaining “Tea and Jeopardy”, nice short stories available online, great covers:

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Roger Zelazny, A Night In The Lonesome October (1993)

Zelazny_A NightZelazny was a literary master, that’s an undisputable fact, period. The Lord of Light, an ingenious sf masterpiece, or first five books in The Chronicles of Amber series – these are first in a row of books being not only milestones in the evolution of sf/fantasy genres, but also wondrous works of art and literature in general. This review, however, is about something entirely different – a very short (280 small pages, medium font plus illustrations!), stand-alone novel, Zelazny’s last – and one of his own favorites.

It’s illustrated by Gahan Wilson and the illustrations are apt. Very simplistic, maybe even going over into the field of caricature, and capturing some of the dark humor of the book. Could they be better? Yeah, certainly – but anyway they are a quite handsome complement to the text of the book. And let me tell you, A Night In The Lonesome October is a rare gem indeed, Koh-i-Noor of quirky fantasy, smallish but 100% pure.

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What could I say to preserve the sense of wonder and ultimate relish coming from reading that book for a first time? I really don’t want to spoil the experience for anyone who hasn’t yet read it. That means that this review won’t be digging deep into plot construction or characters – if you want to know it, read the book 😉

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