Neal Stephenson, Seveneves (2015)

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Seveneves is a critically acclaimed, almost seven hundred pages long science fiction novel, with solid two-thirds of it being trademark Stephenson hard sf. It has been shortlisted for 2016 Hugo award and is currently being adapted to film by the Apollo 13 filming team. It starts in an ideal Hitchcock fashion: with an earthquake, followed by an ever rising tension.  Imagine yourself, right about now, looking up at the starry – or blue, depending on your current location on Earth – sky. Imagine looking at the Moon, its white, pocked face benevolently gazing down on you. Imagine that you close your eyes for a fraction of second, and when you open them again, the Moon is no more. There is a huge, hazy cloud instead, growing with an alarming speed.

That’s the opening earthquake of Stephenson’s Seveneves. An Agent, an unexplained force, tears the Moon apart into seven huge chunks (and myriads smaller, which quickly turn into cosmic dust or else fall down on Earth as meteors, killing a few unlucky chaps along the way). The big lumps keep in orbit, at first – they are given cute names, like Scoop, Kidney Bean and Mr. Spinny, and are being observed by all as the sensation of the season – but then they begin to collide with each other. What happens next? Well, there is good news and bad news.

The good news is that the Earth is one day going to have a beautiful system of rings, just like Saturn.

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Paul Cornell, Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? (2016)

This is a quick follow-up review to my post on the two first books of Paul Cornell’s Shadow Police. In the comments I’ve suggested it starts well and I’m happy to add it continues so. For me – the best part of the series so far and a reason to read the next one. Beware of minor spoilers, but nothing major. If anything, knowing that would make me feel better while reading volume one, now I know the author knows where he’s going.

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The ghost of Sherlock dies quickly, and the identity of his killer is only one of the riddles for our team to solve. They are also chasing the Big Bad of the series, and the truth about the disappearance of their predecessors. Plenty to do for a small team of police officers with varying specialities and sanity levels.

Is this still a horror story? Well, there are violent deaths, and graphic depictions of Cornell’s vision of Hell, but it’s just a sort of grimdark Urban Fantasy, nothing to scar even relatively sensitive readers.

And it definitely feels like a proper UF saga now, with a main story I’m really interested – and emotionally invested – in, to a degree. The supernatural world is a bit more fleshed out, characters grow, story progresses, even some good things happen. There’s a change 😉 Usually I make up my mind faster, here it took me three books, but Shadow Police finally joined the ranks of series I’m definitely going to follow.

Still, not all is great. Worldbuilding, very important for every genre universe, is uneven. I like to London, but I don’t fully buy the main principles of magic here. The way economy works in the supernatural underworld, with sacrifices as a rather inconsistent measure of worth, could not, I believe, sustain even a relatively small community. The way magic is exclusive to the cities, and only some of them – goes against tradition, and tradition that makes a lot of sense. City magic could be unique, but to claim that mysteries of the world originated with big settlements… I’m not convinced. Aaronovitch might be getting worse at plotting his books, but his worldbuilding is way better. And the way magic works, and how relatively easy it is to come upon, I don’t think it’s realistic to assume it would be ignored by the mainstream to such a degree.

Ok, but the strong points of this novel go beyond developing the series in an interesting direction. by itself it’s very cool. Cornell uses Sherlock-mania and many different versions of fiction’s greatest detective, with subtle jabs at a few of his modern incarnations.It’s definitely the best case our protagonists encountered so far!

If you’re hungry for Urban Fantasy darker than Dresden Files – and its less successful clones – that is a nice thing to try. You might like it 🙂

Score: 7/10

2. Blog Birthday!

Yesterday was our blog’s 2. birthday. Yay!

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212 posts, first few in Polish, the rest in English, most of which were reviews of books, movies, TV series, graphic novels, and games… A bit of musings and a good deal of tributes to the gone masters of the genres, sadly. Add to it hundreds of comments and over 4 000 visitors  – honestly, unexpectedly big numbers both, as the blog was started without any real ambitions of attracting wider audience. But here we are, and we’re grateful! 🙂 Thank you all very much for visiting, sharing, and, in essence – co-creating Re-enchantment of the World!

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Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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One of the first of Tim Powers’ books, it bears all the marks of what later became his unique style. It will come as no surprise then that The Drawing of the Dark is a crazy, fast-paced story full of magic, inexplicable occurrences and concurrences, tackling themes as disparate as metaphysical rebirth, production of beer, detailed instructions of what to do with a dead hunchback, a band of Vikings marooned on Donau canals, and a close loving look at mythology – this time strictly Western European.

The Drawing of the Dark is set in the year 1529, mostly in Vienna, at the height of Turkish invasion. The dominant part of the plot centers around a Vienna-based Zimmerman Inn, a former Christian cloister built on a Roman fort’s ruins, raised on even older Celtic brewery ruins, now a well known pub and hotel  producing its own, highly valued beer. The owner of the Inn, a very old, black-clad man calling himself Aurelianus, hires in Venice a battered, middle-aged Irishman, a veteran of many battlefields, a grizzled drunkard named Brian Duffy. Another BD, you may notice, if you’ve read The Anubis Gates ;). Duffy’s journey south is fraught with bizarre events and near-death experiences, from the materializing of a Bacchus tavern somewhere on the streets of Trieste, through the assistance of mythical creatures on Duffy’s passage through the Alps, to a sudden attack of winged monsters on the shores of an Alpine lake. If I am allowed to say one thing about Powers’ undeniable love of Alps, I’d say it’s pretty damn impressive. The description of the mountain views is powerful and poignant – it seems that Powers really has a streak of Romanticism hidden somewhere deep inside.

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Paul Cornell, Shadow Police (2012-?)

Paul Cornell is a British author displaying his talent in many genres. I really liked his Dr Who episodes (not knowing he wrote them, I’m not paying enough attentions to tv and movie writers). Comics… he wrote many, among them several Wolverines, but nothing I’ve read. What I did read, are two volumes of his Shadow Police urban fantasy/horror series. I’ve bought audio version of the third one, with excellent title Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?, and before I get back to his alternative London I wanted to share a few thoughts.

What is Shadow Police? Lets check TVTropes:

Ongoing series of Urban Fantasy Police Procedural

And yes, it is. It’s urban fantasy and it takes better care of details of police work than your usual supernatural cop story.

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Sherlock, Series Four – Impressions

Life is about choices. Sometimes the choice is between writing a proper blog post and watching entire Series 4 of Sherlock in one go. I’m not sure I made the right one today.

Sherlock is a TV show everybody loves. And not without reason. I had my doubts, but I overcame them, watched Series 1 and it became my favourite piece of modern television. For series 4 we waited 3 years, not counting last year’s special episode. I liked it all.
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The latest series… not so much. Episode 1 was ok, two – had brilliant moments, but three… for me, the worst one in the entire show. Considering that it might be the final-final one… sad.

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Adrian Czajkowski, Spoils of War (2016)

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Spoils of War is a Shadows of the Apt companion book consisting of 12 short stories set in the world of the Apt and Inapt around the time of the Twelve Year War. Some of the stories, such as Ironclads, Spoils of War or The Dreams of Avaris have been previously made available to readers on Czajkowski’s blog, others, like The Shadows of Their Lamps or Brass Mantis, are entirely new. Most of the tales take place in Commonweal at the time of the Wasp invasion, but there are also entries from Myna, Helleron and Collegium, before or after that time. And though the stories are very diverse, touching on topics from ingenious technical inventions through mystical hidden treasures, confidence ploys to love and sacrifice, the theme spanning them all is war.

I won’t wax over Shadows of the Apt now, having said enough already here. Let me just one more time emphasize the sheer scope and originality of Czajkowski’s series. I am a devoted fan of the incredible world he created and the complex, living, breathing, and most of all real protagonists populating it. Finishing Seal of the Worm had been a curious experience for me; one of a deep reading satisfaction mixed with more than a tinge of regret. The enormous, extraordinary tale Czajkowski spun through ten hefty books was coming to an end. A very well written, thoroughly considered, well planned and deeply moving end, granted, but still. And so I won’t surprise anyone saying that Spoils of War is a very welcome – if somewhat short – trip back to the world of Apt. I have missed the crazy reality of Insect-kinden, where steampunk clashes with high fantasy in an alternate WWII setting ;).

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