Iain M. Banks, Culture – first impressions

The Culture is a group-civilisation formed from seven or eight humanoid species, space-living elements of which established a loose federation approximately nine thousand years ago. The ships and habitats which formed the original alliance required each others’ support to pursue and maintain their independence from the political power structures – principally those of mature nation-states and autonomous commercial concerns – they had evolved from.

from Ian M Banks, A Few Notes on the Culture

It is also a series of 9 novels (plus a short story collection) and the place I want to go to in the afterlife. I’ve heard about it, I’ve read about, in 2016 I bought the first three books, and now I’ve finally started to read.

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Joan Aiken, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1962)

My love of reading does not distinguish me from the rest of my family. Generations of readers, a few volumes in family for a hundred years, nothing special, but nothing to be ashamed of. High brow, but also crime stories, thrillers… Grandma read French romances in original, Grandpa received boxes full of Chandler, Le Carre and Clancy paperbacks from his brother lucky enough to get to Canada after the War had ended. I’m the book-craziest one, but only by a few degrees.

Fantasy, though, that was something new. Older cousin gave me Hobbit when I was… about ten, I believe, but one of the most beloved books of my early childhood, book that sparked my interest in supernatural fiction, was A Room Full of Leaves, an anthology of short stories by Joan Aiken. Goodreads lists it as a Polish edition of A Small Pinch of Weather, but it’s not precise, Polish version lacks some stories from this collection while including some from A Harp of Fishbones and Other Stories. It’s not strictly fantasy, but mysteries happening to regular people in a world otherwise exactly like ours. So, a tried and true technique older than rigid genre distinctions. I liked the melancholy of most of these stories, the impossible things happening to their young protagonists. I wasn’t able to catch their Englishness, mythical references. I need to revisit this world.

But Aiken’s most famous works were beyond my reach then, and I wasn’t even aware of their existence. The Wolves Chronicles, a long series of novels for younger readers, never translated into Polish. That’s a real problem. Picture books with a few lines written below illustrations, and comics designed for small kids – it doesn’t matter whether they’re in Polish in English, the younglings have to had them read to by someone else and I can translate on the fly. But books you’re supposed to read on your own among your first literary adventures… these, if not available in your native tongue, might miss their perfect moment.

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Joe Haldeman, Planet of Judgment (1977)

I rather like Star Trek: Discovery and I’ve decided to finally read some Star Trek novels. Searching for the best to start my adventure with, I’ve come across a book written by Joe Haldeman. And then I realized something – we have Scalzi, we even have Jean Johnson, but there is no Haldeman review on this blog! So, one will appear, but not of his Forever War, but a Planet of Judgment, a short (152 pages) novel published in 1977 and set in Trek Verse in the classic era of Kirk and Spock.

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Old paperbacks have certain charm!

It’s just as aged as The Original Series* and not as good as Forever War, but it was a worthy beginning of my adventure with the written Star Trek.

*meaning – not too much, the form might be a bit out of date, the characters sometimes sound like they belong to our past, not future, but it’s still a smart read, and isn’t that what a Trekkie is looking for in a book? This franchise never was the first choice for quick action and cheerful violence…

This is a tie-in created by a really good author and it shows. It could be a TOS episode, or, if slightly expanded, a solo s/f book, as it is – better know who Kirk, Spock or McCoy are, if you want to fully appreciate it. I admit I felt, at times, that knowing more about the original tv series would give me more context. And what is the novel about?

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Angus Watson, Clash of Iron (2015)

I’ve reviewed volume one here, now I’m back with a few words on the second one.

22875122More of the same… good, bad and mediocre alike. I’m unimpressed and I won’t stay around for the final one. Maybe the author is better suited for s/f? Or contemporary military thrillers? The plot is not dumb, jokes would be ok if they suited the epoch, but  my immersion was broken every couple of minutes (I listened to the book on Audible), because there is nothing authentically ancient here. Actually, this was a final straw – after thinking about it for some time, I’ve suspended my Audible subscription, instead of going for the third Iron novel. I still have a supply of unread books there, including Bernard Cornwell’s, author as (ok, more) readable as Watson, and historically accurate.

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Bill Willingham, Peter & Max (2009)

I’ve already mentioned that I love Fables, a comic book series by Bill Willingham.

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Fables are real. And, exiled from their worlds by (initially) unknown Adversary, they live in our world. Mainly New York, as usual ;), but not only. Centuries ago a huge army started to conquer one world after another (in a kind of multiverse where every legend has its place, and Earth acts as an Amber of sorts, the core reality where mundane people live, creating and remembering stories*). Many Fables were killed, most subjugated, some serve the new regime, but some escaped to Earth – and dream of regaining what they lost. They formed a government of sorts, with HQ in NY, and they live among us. At least those of them, who can maintain human-like form, the rest live on animal farm in the wilderness of New York State countryside.

*Willingham uses popular system, where the strength of belief in something influences its power. Popular Fables are really powerful, forgotten – decline in time.

Yes, so the comics are great, and I also recommended most of the spin-offs. The novel occupied its place on my shelves for a few years, but I’ve only read it recently. Not that I was worried it would be bad – there just always was something else. Now I’ve read it and I’m quite happy about it, but convinced Willingham should stick to comics.

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Kazuo Ishiguro with Nobel prize in literature

This is yesterday’s news, but I just wanted to say I’m very happy about it. Japanese-born British author is not really a genre writer, but his latest novel, The Buried Giant, gave me the pretext to devote one review to him. Book Ola liked even more than I did, a rare occurrence 😉

It is a very literary fnobel-ishiguroantasy novel, and he also published dystopian kind-of s/f Never Let Me Go. In the genre world he is, nevertheless, an outsider, possibly a newcomer, albeit a very friendly one. I heartily recommend an excellent interview conducted by David Barr Kirtley on Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, after a very interesting talk Ishiguro asks Kirtley for genre recommendations. So, you know, if the Swedish Academy is too dumb to give the prize to Le Guin, Ishiguro is also a very good choice 🙂 A writer, who

in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world

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Angus Watson, Age of Iron (2014)

Age of Iron, book one in Angus Watson’s Iron Age trilogy. These books have been on my radar for some time and finally, when I found myself in possession of some spare Audible credits, I bought an audiobook version.

These books were quite visible, at least here in Poland, cool covers everywhere in local bookshops, translated same year original editions were published. I expected light reading, with lots of gore and not-too-sophisticated humour. Something in the vein of Conan maybe. Somehow, I missed that they were supposed to take place in historical pre-Roman Britain, only with a dash of magic added.

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And lots of forging 😉 Although, personally, I would start with glory, and then, thanks to  fire-forged leadership, finish with legends, but maybe the order doesn’t matter…,

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