Joe Abercrombie, The First Law Trilogy (2007–2009)

Ola: It’s been a while since Abercrombie wrote his first grim dark trilogy – and yet it still reads like something new. Why? Abercrombie did something seemingly unusual: he took most of the major tropes of epic fantasy and put them on their heads. He infused his books with a such an overwhelming dose of cynicism, bleakness and grimness that was rarely seen before.

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Tim Powers, The Stress of Her Regard (1989)

Yes, it’s Wednesday and I’m back from vacation 🙂 Time for a review!

The-Stress-of-Her-Regard1Tim Powers doesn’t write much, and even though he started writing a long time ago, back in seventies, the list of his novels is rather short. His most known novel is Anubis Gates. Have you heard of it? I haven’t, till a few months back ;). Powers is not a very well known writer, but after reading The Stress of Her Regard I believe that this is a problem that should be remedied as soon as possible.

Why? Because The Stress of Her Regard is an exceptional book. Intriguing, fascinating, visceral (literally!), terrible and amazing, and written with remarkable precision. The real and the fantastic are joined together seamlessly, which is all the more astonishing because Powers bases his books on real past events. He focuses on a certain point in time, on certain real, famous characters and the real events that they have taken part in, and around those historical facts he builds a fantastical story. In short, he artfully supplies us with a supernatural cause of historical processes and occurrences. In The Stress of Her Regard the real background are political events in Europe in the early XIX century – and in that setting we become witnesses to the lives of English romantic poets: Shelley, Byron and Keats. According to Powers, all their obnoxiousness, weirdness and irrationality should be ascribed to the fact that all of them were victims of another sentient race on Earth – the nephilim, a vampiric form of life based on silicon instead of carbon. Our guide in this subtly altered, subverted world is Michel Crawford – a Navy doctor, obstetrician and a fellow nephilim victim. We see the world through his eyes, and we witness up close all the temptations, rewards and costs of vampiric addiction.

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Why everybody should read & love Honor Harrington, take 1.

Epic story so vast, it cannot be contained within one 13-volume (so far) book series. To follow all the events, you need to read two multiple-volume spin-off series as well. Anthologies and prequels are optional, but helpful. Technical companions – co-written by experts, often with professional naval background – highly recommended, so that you won’t be lost during 100-pages long battle scenes.

Porn for military s/f nerds.

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John Scalzi, “Old Man’s War”

Ola’s out of town and we’re behind the schedule… so a filler from me 😉

There is a s/f series well worth reading, one heavily indebted to its predecessors. Heinlein and Haldeman were not reviewed here, but favourably mentioned. Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” is a great book, slightly problematic in its glorification of the citizen-soldier ethos, Haldeman’s “Forever War” reflects its author’s Vietnam experience and is one of the great anti-war novels. John Scalzi wrote “Old Man’s War”, and following novels (there are 6 so far), a great space opera where attitude towards war is much more balanced. Inspired by masters of the genre, he managed to retain his own voice, somewhere between their idealisms.

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Patrick O’Brian, Aubrey & Maturin series (introduction)

We use the term „genre literature” to describe fantasy and s/f, but it’s, of course, not precisely correct. Literature may be divided into genres according to technique, tone, content or even length (as Wikipedia tells us). That being said, fantasy and s/f often self-identifies itself as “genre” in opposition to so-called “literary fiction”. As long, as we remember that there’s nothing inherently worse about f&s/f and many of its examples are much more ambitious than “regular” novels, there’s nothing wrong with using this term. Just as long as there is no hint of self-deprecation.

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Steven Erikson, The Malazan Book of the Fallen (1999–2011)

EriksonThe Malazan Book of the Fallen, one of the milestones of contemporary military fantasy, and fantasy in general, is great – in many aspects of this word. First, it is lengthy: ten big books, together some 3.3 million words (suck it up, George R.R. Martin!), and populated with an enormous cast of characters, many returning, some showing only once, but all of them unique and multi-dimensional. The series starts with Gardens of the Moon, but beware – as a reader you will be thrown into the thick of it, without a word of explanation. You will have to piece together the events, its causes and results on your own, without any help, and it’s going to be difficult. This is not an easy read. Once you’ve succeeded, you will have to take sides, as some of the characters will do their best to steal your heart and mind. And this may prove even harder. Because nothing in Erikson’s world is simply black or white. Nor should it be. Steven Erikson, or Steve Rune Lundin (that’s his real name), is an anthropologist and archaeologist – and, as adepts of the queen of all social sciences, we can readily claim him as our own 😉 And his scientific background proudly shows up in his novels.

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Donaldson, Erikson, fantasy as fully-fledged literature.

Is fantasy proper literature? That topic was already analysed here, inspired by discussion around Ishiguro’s “The Buried Giant”. The answer was, of course, yes. Original post is in Polish, but a very interesting debate featuring Gaiman and Ishiguro – was hosted by the BBC. Personally I find efforts to exclude genre literature from “proper literature” laughable. As with modern art – some snobs believe that if you enjoy something, it can’t be “real art”.

Recommended reading for today is another author’s attempt to prove that real art it is. A successful one. Stephen R. Donaldson writes about his works, and Erikson’s series, in a text in “The New York Review of Science Fiction”. Go and read him, I’ll just make some introductions.

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