Kim Stanley Robinson, 2312 (2012)

2312

Kim Stanley Robinson is a prolific writer specializing in what one may call a subgenre of ecological sf.   You know, terraforming processes, the future fate of Earth, generational ships… A fair bit of technical stuff, although definitely nowhere near the staggering amounts present in Stephenson’s works. A rather thinnish plot designed mostly to get to the perceived end-point by the most effective route possible, but still interesting enough to be worth following. And lots and lots of big picture thinking about the future fate of the Solar System – how it might look like one day if people stayed exactly the same but their environment drastically changed. It might sound boring, but I can assure you – it’s not. I reached for 2312 based on a recommendation of a fellow blogger, and though it took me a better part of two months to finish this brick of a book (464 pages in my edition), I was glad that I did. For those interested in awards, 2312 won the 2013 Nebula Award.

2312 describes a future that happened. Solar System is colonized – there are people living on Mercury and Venus and Mars, even Saturn and Jovian moons, and there is a whole diaspora of space travelers spending their entire lives in habitats – meteors which were drilled from within, turned into tori or empty drums, and seeded with a chosen environment. In other words – miniature worlds of a few square kilometers, teeming with life and yet unbelievably fragile at the same time. Heck, there are even people living on the meteors surrounding the Sun – Vulcanoids, worshipping the Sun as a fiery, cruel, and life-giving god. The Earth is a place of dissent and poverty, frantically sucking in the resources from other planets. Unchecked global warming considerably raised the sea levels, drastically limiting not only the habitable space, but also territories suitable for growing food. Forests are almost non-existent. Most of the big mammal species have become extinct. Earth became a terrible, desperate place, sowing dissent and rage across all of the Solar System – and yet still the only place that the human species might fully call their home.

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Margaret Atwood, The Heart Goes Last (2015)

The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes Last is one of the newest books published by a prolific Canadian author, Margaret Atwood. She had already secured a place among the classics with The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian story from 1985, currently viewed by some as a prophetic account of the US under Trump and/or alt right. The Handmaid’s Tale is once again in vogue due to a new and currently airing TV series by Hulu, which has garnered glowing critical reviews and very positive audience responses. It won the 2015 Red Tentacle Award (British Kitschies) for the best novel, leaving behind such acclaimed works as Dave Hutchinson’s Europe at Midnight (sequel to Europe in Autumn) or The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, whose earlier book, The Killing Moon, is reviewed here.

Atwood’s credentials are known. She has written dozens of books, all one way or another touching upon contemporary social issues, exploring the themes of security and freedom, equality, violence, sexual exploitation, human liberties, etc. She has a following, and even if her prose is only rarely categorized as a fantasy or science-fiction, many of the themes and  ideas are similar in vein to our blog’s main interest. There’s usually a typical s-f, or at least near future, element, be it a social change or innovation, or a biological/medical one.

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Pierce Brown, Morning Star (2016)

Morning Star

I should start with the old and worn saying: “never say never”. For despite my scalding review of the second installment, Golden Son, and doubts the size of Godzilla I did reach for the conclusion to the Red Rising trilogy. Availability is key, you might say, especially on long train trips 😉 Aaand a promise of mindless entertainment 😉

Godzilla VS. The Smog Monster

I’m therefore pleased to say Morning Star is better than Golden Son. As the trilogy’s finale, it has all the advantages of tying up every unfinished thread, and bringing logical and emotionally satisfying conclusion to the story, in the hopes of becoming the crowning achievement of the author.

Red Rising trilogy, just like an old-fashioned computer game, lines the problems up from the easiest – the Institute in Red Rising – to the most difficult – i.e. the whole solar system in Morning Star. The villainous bosses are also gaining weight and powers as the books flash by, and this time the main villain is the Big Bad herself, the autocratic ruler of the solar system, Olivia au Lune, and her sinister right hand, Aja. Not to mention the Jackal, the scourge of Mars, the evil twin of Mustang and the terrible alter ego to Darrow. A double Mr Hyde for the price of one! :).

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Connie Willis, Crosstalk (2016)

crosstalk

Connie Willis, one of the most critically acclaimed SF writers of our times, the winner of 11 Hugo Awards and 7 Nebula Awards, the 28th SFWA Grand Master… The list goes on and on. We’ve reviewed some of her works before on Re-enchantment – Blackout/All Clear and Passage; we’ve read many more – and here a really big shout goes to To Say Nothing Of The Dog, which to this day remains my favorite Connie Willis novel.

So, Crosstalk; the newest Willis’ novel, in her own words, is:

about telepathy–and our overly communicating world. It’s also about helicopter mothers, social media, Joan of Arc, sugared cereals, Bridey Murphy, online dating, zombie movies, Victorian novels, and those annoying songs you get stuck in your head and can’t get rid of!

(More of Willis’ thoughts on Crosstalk here.)

It sounded like fun – and besides, Willis always writes greatly enjoyable novels – at least from my limited experience :). Telepathy and Irish, a touch of Powers’ penchant for conspiracy theories, contemporary covens and a bit of light-hearted satire on our over-social-medialized world… If every ingredient is tasty, then, logically, the dish you prepare from them should be tasty too, right? Not.

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Patricia Briggs, Silence Fallen (2017)

silence_fallen_layout.indd

It’s a yearly event now, the coming out of a new book in Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series. Each March a new installment hits the shelves, and I am fairly sure , after reading the tenth book, that it won’t end too soon. Assigning only the ulterior, financial motivation to the author would be unfair. I’m absolutely sure that it would be incredibly difficult to part with characters as likeable, vibrant and alive as hers. There’s always another story to be told, another angle to explore… And yet, and yet, maybe it’s time to say goodbye.

Ten books is no mean thing. These are not doorstops in style of Czajkowski or Erikson, or let alone Martin who publishes each new installment of Game of Thrones in two parts, because otherwise the binding wouldn’t hold… These are urban fantasy books, three hundred odd pages long and no more. Still, ten books about essentially one character is a lot. And if you don’t have an overarching plot, spanning more than a couple of books, unfolding slowly in the background of the main action – like in Dresden books, to keep the example from the UF field – pretty soon you may find yourself without anything important to say.

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Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology (2017)

NorseMythology.jpg

This year, before American Gods hit the TVs as probably one of the most anticipated series of the year, the readers were treated to a new Gaiman’s book. At least things look like this if you judge the book by the cover 😉 But Gaiman’s name on the front page is more than a bit misleading – because he’s in no way the author of the collected myths; he himself presents his role in the introduction as that of a humble narrator, a storyteller refreshing ancient and beloved tales. I guess that his name on the cover serves as a selling device – and probably serves quite well. But even though I can understand this approach from a mercantile point of view, it still smacks of hubris to me. How can one present oneself as an author of mythology? That is a minor point, though – if this way more people will learn of Norse myths, I will only applaud and cheer.

I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t start with the cover. The English version of the cover, presented above, is IMO simply beautiful. A detailed rendering of Thor’s hammer, gold and grey on dark background, accompanied by simple, elegant lettering that in no way distracts from the graphics – what’s not to admire? It’s just perfect. I only wish Polish version were the same… Alas, you can’t always get what you wish for, and in most cases that’s a good thing 😉

As for what’s inside – it’s Norse mythology and no mistake. Gaiman openly states in the introduction that he’s just retelling the old myths, giving them simpler, more digestible form suitable for modern readers who are not necessarily mythology buffs. There is nothing new or unusual in there – for those who know Norse mythology. Those who got acquainted with Nordic myths through Marvel comics or movies might be in for a surprise ;).

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Ian C. Esslemont, Dancer’s Lament (2016)

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Those who became acquainted with the Malazan universe know very well that this world had been originally created by two authors: Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont. It is no coincidence, though, that Esslemont’s name hadn’t appeared on this blog before (except as a necessary mention in this entry…) I fully stand by my words – Esslemont is no Erikson. And it seems to me that he never will be.

Erikson and Esslemont divided between the two of them the enormous cast of characters populating the world of Malazan. Until that division was kept, I was fine with it. Keep the Crimson Guard, ICE – K’azz d’Avore is boring, and I couldn’t care less for the rest of them. I suspect this indifference is too an effect of Esslemont’s writing for the Crimson Guard in itself seems a very fine concept, it’s its execution that is irrevocably flawed. But Esslemont in his share of 10 books grabbed some characters that he should have not reached for – Anomandaris Rake is just the most glaringly obvious example. I still shudder when I remember Assail

So why on Earth did I reach for another ICE’s book? I should have known better. I’ve read Orb Sceptre Throne (simply terrible), Blood and Bone (interesting worldbuilding, clearly Esslemont’s read Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness or at least has seen Apocalypse Now! ;), but not much else) and Assail (words fail me with this one, I guess that’s the main reason why I didn’t write a review of this book at all), and I promised myself I would not go there again. Why did I then?

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