Connie Willis, Crosstalk (2016)

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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)

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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)

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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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Genevieve Cogman, The Invisible Library (2015)

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After Seveneves, a book admittedly on the heavy side of the genre spectrum, both in literal and metaphoric sense, I wanted something lighter and unassuming, a comeback of sorts to typical urban fantasy. In short, I wanted a bit of easy entertainment ;).

So it’s not entirely The Invisible Library’s fault that I got what I wished for – and I wasn’t happy about it, not a bit.

But to the point. The Invisible Library is the first installment in the Invisible Library series (3 books total now). The novels are fairly popular, with solid reviews and good opinions of readers. It’s an urban fantasy with a twist – the “urban” part being Victorian, and the twist being the titular Invisible Library, a place intended to hold all books of all worlds, and their countless variations appearing in the thousands of possible realities. To sum it up, the keywords list would look something like this: urban fantasy, YA, parallel universes, steampunk, mystery, books.

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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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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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