Paolo Bacigalupi, The Water Knife (2015)

The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi debut novel from 2009 was popular, smart and powerful, but didn’t excite me. I found it a bit grotesque and too full of political anger. And I did not like the ending (that I’m not going to spoil here).

Novel about a world of the future, plagued by environmental collapse, food scarcity and energy shortage, with disastrous consequences for societies, reaching even greater levels of corruption, racism and violence. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? But I couldn’t really care about – or identify with – any of the characters, I  was not wholly convinced by the worldbuilding, and aforementioned ending… still, it was a powerful image, and I respected author’s passion, so I awarded it three stars on Goodreads 😉

 

The Water Knife has the same passion, but better characters, more thought-through plot, and after the recent leftward shift in my political views – is very emotionally satisfying. Reading about the collapse of America, and with the red states hit the most, due to global warming, just after Trump decided to withdraw from Paris Agreement – priceless.

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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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David Drake, Republic of Cinnabar Navy – a decent Space Opera

Tor.com has its Space Opera Week now, and it’s going to add quite a few items to my To-Be-Read pile, especially since Space Operas tend to be multi-volume endeavours. It renewed my interest in the Vorkosigan Saga by  Lois McMaster Bujold, one of THE great genre series that are still waiting for me, and put The Uplift by David Brin on my radar, and also reminded me that I have first two omnibuses of Saga waiting on my shelves (I wanted to wait till it’s all finished, but it’s very tempting to start right now…).

My decision to start David Drake’s Republic of Cinnabar Navy series had nothing to do with it, volume one was what I got for my monthly Audible credit this April, volume two I listen to right now, and I believe it to be an excellent example of this particular subgenre, with all its vices and virtues.

Also, a rare example of American covers being superior, the oldschool ones are original Baen, the shitty ones – relatively recent Titan version. Luckily, Audible.co.uk chose Baen for audiobooks.

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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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Tad Williams, The Heart of What Was Lost (2017)

Tad Williams is a writer I’ve mentioned here a few times, and I reviewed his breakthrough trilogy, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. It got three posts altogether, so it’s clear I liked it. Having been published between 1988 and 1993, it’s one of the links between earlier post-tolkienian fantasy represented by authors like Brooks and modern, grimmer epics from Martin to Abercrombie. George R.R. claimed Williams had been an influence on The Song of Ice and Fire and it is quite possible, because despite Memory… predates Game of Thrones by eight years. So, the blurb you’ll see in a moment on the cover is not as annoying as many other of dozens upon dozens of GRRM’s stamps of approval.

It’s not the most sophisticated of fantasy series and lacks some of the shades of grey so important to books fashionable today, I admit, but it’s a well written story happening in a rich world. I particularly liked the important role given (closely based on Earthly examples) religion, something astonishingly rare in a genre where miracles actually do happen… and the elves, unusually alien and complicated. And the protagonist were likeable, and actually good people… does not happen that often now.

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Joe Abercrombie, The Heroes (2011)

Piotrek: Two armies march to battle. Black Dow’s Northmen and three divisions of Lord Marshal Kroy’s Union soldiers. They meet and fight for three days, and 500 pages, upon a river, next to a small town of Osrung and a famous hill called The Heroes.

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For a teenage me that would be the good parts distilled. Like what the little boy wanted to hear from his grandpa instead of all the talking and kissing and other boring stuff.

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Oh no, no it isn’t. It’s a fighting book. But not about glorious adventures of dashing heroes. It’s about the blood and piss and human stupidity. With very little magic it’s basically a detailed depiction of a fictional battle between Vikings and an early Renaissance army getting medieval on each other.

Ola: Very much a fighting book; nothing less and nothing more. And it’s not even about a whole war, just about one, maybe not even the most important incident, of this war. It’s Abercrombie at his best, reveling in gore and misery, depicting the primitive, intimate and brutal human fighting in all its terrible glory.

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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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