Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960)

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Summer is nearing its inevitable end, and so the time has come to review a second book from my summer reading list, a very famous, classic SF novel, which had inspired countless readers and writers. Its huge intellectual impact and popularity was increased by the Hugo Award for 1960.

A Canticle for Leibowitz is the debut, and the only completed novel by Miller, Jr. (a sequel to A Canticle…, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, had been published posthumously), although he was a prolific writer of short stories. Come to think of it, even A Canticle… can be read as three separate novelettes. It had been originally written this way, as three separate parts, and the division is clear even now. The completed novel consists of three fairly independent parts, closely connected to each other by the main themes and the place of action, but still each part stands firmly on its own.

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Seth Dickinson, The Traitor (2015)

Finally, a book I can bitch about, after a few I loved very much. I need to lower the average score a bit ;).

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The Traitor (in US the name of the protagonists, Baru Cormorant, was added to the title) is a book that became rather famous not so long ago. I was hopeful, initially, despite certain clumsiness of its writing and its structure, but my final verdict is negative. All the imperfections would be forgiven if the main protagonist passed my likeability test. And she failed miserably, becoming, from my POV, the final nail, instead of a saving grace.

But lets start from the beginning…

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John Crowley, Aegypt (1987)

History has always fascinated me. And I don’t mean an occasional Discovery Channel documentary. Serious stuff, during university days going a bit into the theory of history. Just a few courses, I was a sociology student, but still. And as a guy with such strange tastes I loved Aegypt. I’ve also read it’s a favourite of lit majors with affinity for ambitious genre books. And it’s included in Harold Bloom’s Western Canon (appendicies )!

I mean, it’s not a book for everybody. And I’m not judgemental here, it’s just that nothing much happens, there is no great conflict, and the very genre-ness of the thing is questionable. Maybe that changes in later volumes of the tetralogy, here we have some clues, guesses, but all the actual magic/religion is in quotes from fictional novels…

Hmm, it’s part of Fantasy Masterworks series that Gollancz publishes 😉

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Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch, The Ultimates (2002)

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The famous reimagining of the mightiest Marvel’s heroes, the Avengers, was the love child of Millar, praised here for his work on Civil War, and Hitch, a British comic book artist known mostly for his detailed, and usually late, work ;). The comic book turned out to be as controversial as popular. The authors’ ideas on how should the contemporary Avengers look like inspired the movies’ creators and through them – made a huge impact on the whole Marvel universe. Can you imagine a different Nick Fury than Samuel L. Jackson?

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Jackson served as the model for the comic book Nick Fury long before he even dreamt of appearing in this role in the movies. Before that, Nick Fury was white and looked a lot like a good-bad western sheriff. A bit like Sam Vimes, actually 😉 And it all leads us to Clint Eastwood ;).

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The primary idea was simple, tested earlier by Spidey, for who else could take the risk and survive? 😉 In the early years of the XXI century there was a deep, a bit anxious feeling among the Marvel moguls that their beloved heroes got old and slightly outdated. That their stories became so convoluted that only the most hardcore fans even cared about them any longer and could count all the times the heroes died and were brought back to life. The idea of a new, fresh start seemed all of sudden very promising.

And lo and behold, here they are. But changed rather more than we would expect.

[Attention! Mild spoiler alert!]

Meet the Cap, a rather brutish, straightforward guy with a tiny, shameful penchant for cruelty. A hero as a soldier, as a civilian… well, I don’t think I would like to cross him. Meet Hank Pym, a self-assured, conceited genius and a secret wife-beater. Meet his wife, the famous Wasp, who can change into a tiny, sparks-flinging creature not due to any marvels of technology, but to her mutant genes. And meet Thor, an ex-patient of a psychiatric hospital, an anti-globalist and anarchist who has delusions of being a God’s son. But best, or worst, of all, is Hulk.

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Bruce Banner is such an insecure weakling with a gigantic inferiority complex that you wouldn’t believe he can also change into a cannibalistic monster driven by the lowest animal urges. And his Mister Hyde side, by the way, reminds me a lot of Cú Chulainn in his warp spasm:

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[End of spoilers]

Well, the idea of updating the old, well-known and well-liked heroes certainly paid off. The first thirteen issues had been a huge commercial success and were soon followed by two sequels, each thirteen issues long, which later even got their own sequels ;). The graphic novels served as an outright visual inspiration for the cinematic Marvel universe, from the first Avengers movie through Captain America: The Winter Soldier and to Avengers: Age of Ultron. The movies didn’t follow the dark, at times cynical story line of the Ultimates, opting for safer and less controversial depictions of the superheroes. I can’t say I fault them: Ultimates are dark indeed and it’s sometimes difficult to reconcile the traditional images of the heroes with the ones proposed by Millar and Hitch. The new Thor was endearing, but the nasty side of Hank Pym or the brutal monstrosity of Hulk took a lot from their original charm… You can’t help but start to ask the question: what it means to be a hero? Which, in the end, is the question all fans of superheroes should ask themselves ;).

As a study in the deconstruction of super-heroism, Ultimates fall short of the ideal, which in this case is unequivocally Watchmen ;). But as a story in the what-if genre, a slightly darker type of tongue-in-the-cheek, brutal fun, Ultimates are a pretty decent entertainment. The story, as usually in Millar’s case, is solid and intriguing, touching on many contemporary problems. Watchmen are a clear inspiration here, with the heroes being simultaneously the cause and the solution of the problem. As for the graphics… Hats off to Hitch, because the visual side is stunning, with wide, dynamic frames instantly bringing to mind panoramic shots from action movies. The British artist might be slow-working and always late, but his work is worth waiting for.

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All in all, Ultimates, at least #1, is a must-read for the Marvel cinematic universe fans, and a nice-to-read for the hardcore fans of the comics. Published fourteen years ago it’s really old news by now, really, but if anyone out there haven’t read it yet, it’s high time they do it now :).

Score: 8/10

Silva rerum (5) feat. computer games

It is a very slow summer here at Re-enchantment. And now, with my new super-powerful PC I’m finally going to play Witcher 3… and Total War: Warhammer, two video games that made me spend… way too much money on a machine I don’t really need for anything else. Open Office & Firefox work on my old laptop well enough…

I experience genre fiction in several complementary forms. Books might be most important, but movies, tv series, tabletop & video games are also great. For social gatherings tabletop games are just perfect, but when I want to immerse myself in a fantasy world and influence the events (and not only let my imagination go wild with wonderful stories prepared in a static form by writers) – I go for c(omputer)RPGs and strategies.

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R. Scott Bakker, The Darkness That Comes Before (2003)

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I’m back from vacation, at least for a few days ;). And thus I can give you the first review from my summer readings :).

The first installment in the famous grimdark sequence The Prince of Nothing, The Darkness That Comes Before, is as long and convoluted as its title. An almost 650 pages long, heavy piece of literary work (both literally and figuratively), Bakker’s debut had been a resounding one as well.

A time of Second Apocalypse is nigh… Sounds captivating, doesn’t it? It means that the First Apocalypse had already happened, that it wasn’t as all-encompassing as to kill everyone, and that survivors managed to carry the knowledge of that terrible event through the centuries to come. Unfortunately those in the know are few and far between, and do not enjoy any kind of esteem from their contemporaries. So it doesn’t come as a big surprise that they somehow failed to share their knowledge with others, and in the consequence, the majority of the humanity is heading blindly and meekly, like lambs, to their slaughter.

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