Henry H. Neff, The Tapestry (2007-2014)

A few months ago I was looking, quite consciously, for good Harry Potter clones, or school-of-magic series in general. I’m brave enough to admit I loved The Magicians by Grossman (season two of the tv series is still good, by the way!), dubbed Potter for adults, but this time I’m back to children-oriented books. Or… middle grim-grade? I once showed Coraline to my then-three-year-old niece (sort-of by accident, long story, sorry Madzia, the most important thing is there was no lasting psychological damage 😉 ), but I won’t be reading her this one any time soon.

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Max McDaniels lives a quiet life in the suburbs of Chicago, until the day he stumbles upon a mysterious Celtic tapestry. Many strange people are interested in Max and his tapestry. His discovery leads him to Rowan Academy, a secret school where great things await him.

Does not sound very original? And it isn’t, at first. Then it gets less derivative, and quite good. The five book long saga gives us likeable protagonists and develops their stories coherently up to a very satisfying ending. Seriously, there are many imperfections, and sometimes it felt rather dull, it definitely could be a book shorter in my opinion, but the ending itself made it worth my time. Melancholic, happy, but hard-earned. Even a bit tolkienesque, toutes proportions gardées.

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Another Tolkien link

Tolkien is too big, and too well-known for a simple review. For me, he is the god of the genre, chief of the pantheon, and I don’t accept dissent here. What irks me the most, is any criticism of LotR as not being realistic. It’s not Stendhal, people… But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

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Tolkien mythos is way more than Hobbit and The Trilogy, published before his death in 1973. They were finished and polished (almost) to their creator’s satisfaction, but there was so much more. And Christopher Tolkien might not be a giant of his father’s calibre, not even Guy Gavriel Kay, who helped to prepare The Silmarillion for publication, is, but we would be poorer if they didn’t prepare and publish it. And the rest of it, it’s actually quite interesting when we get all the unfinished and lost stories. Children of Húrin might have been a step too far, but even of that I’m not sure. It’s not Tolkien at his best, it’s only partially J.R.R. Tolkien at all, but it might be a nice supplementary reading for someone who’d shy away from The Silmarillion.

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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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Ted Chiang, Stories of Your Life and Others (2002)

Arrival might be the most interesting movie I missed in 2016. From the guy behind new Blade Runner, and, (even more important!) new Dune. Heh, new Dune… I’m not ashamed to admit I love Lynch’s version, but I’m ready for a new one.

Back to Arrival…a science fiction with Amy Adams playing a linguist trying to decipher alien language. Without any threat of invasion, this is no Ender’s Game, the goal is just to understand a fundamentally different culture. Well, the goal of our protagonist, government would prefer to gain some useful technology. The problem is, this alien culture is build upon fundamentally different understanding of time. It’s not a line for them and so they understand the world in a way far removed from our experience. Their language (languages in fact, as their writing is a language in its own right) reflects that.

The science of language is done with great care for details, and while the movie – and at this point I know it only from reviews and trailers – adds many entertaining details, to build a feature film from 64-page short story – it’s still a piece of hard s/f.

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But enough about the movie, short story collection is what this post is about. And its very interesting author.

With just fourteen short stories and a novella, the author behind the recent film “Arrival” has gained a rapturous following within the genre and beyond.

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