The Found and the Lost is a collection of novellas by Ursula Le Guin, the founding mother of fantasy and SF as we know today. It’s a perfect book for both die-hard fans and for those who have never had the pleasure of reading anything by Le Guin before. A doorstop of a book at 600 pages in my digital copy and 816 pages in hardcover, it contains 13 novellas written in the period between 1971 (Vaster Than Empires and More Slow) to 2002 (Paradises Lost). The collection is presented mostly in a chronological order, but another categorization rule readily comes to mind while reading as the novellas can be divided into three main groups: Earthsea, Hainish cycle and “other”.
A sequel of sorts to the critically acclaimed Powder Mage trilogy, Sins of Empire takes us ten years forward and half a world away from Adro, to the newly created country and nation of Fatrasta. When Taniel Two-Shot more than a decade ago helped the Fatrastans win their independence from the Kez, he fought alongside Old-World Kressians and aboriginal Palos. But now, as the nation of Fatrasta has become increasingly rich and influential, its leaders and Kressian elites have started to mercilessly exploit the weaknesses of Palo. The internal inequalities and segregation policies introduced by Kressians pushed the mutual distrust between the former colonialists from all over the Nine and the aboriginal tribes of Palos toward political unrest and a bloody civil war. And when the empire of Dynize, remaining in self-imposed isolationism for the last four hundred years, comes knocking with a big-ass fleet of war ships and an army bloodied earlier in a cruel civil war, things get even more dire pretty soon.
Magic Binds is the ninth installment in the highly acclaimed urban fantasy series by the writing duo, Ilona and Gordon Andrews. Having reached the status of bestsellers and the rare honor of hard cover over the span of an almost decade of writing, Kate Daniels series is widely recognized as one of the best urban fantasy series in the market. I have written about the series here. After several pretty decent novels there came a serious dip in the form of Magic Shifts, then a couple of novellas about side characters from Kate Daniels’ world, and an entirely new urban fantasy/romance series before finally the ninth book saw the light of day.
Magic Binds garners enthusiastic reviews from critics and fans alike, showcasing all the strengths of the previous novels. The end of the 10-book story arc is near, and so the ninth book cannot but head toward some kind of a grand conclusion, upping the ante and preparing ground for the big climax. All the smoldering conflicts burst up in flames, all the grudges and favors are coming to the fore once more, and the knowledge of previous events is a must. It follows logically that the readers in general – and the people writing reviews specifically – have invested so much into the series already that their reception might be more than just a bit skewed.
Let’s take a tour through the streets of the fabled city of Bulikov, where gods lived, where they created and destroyed, took care of their followers and inevitably issued edicts. Bulikov, city of grand spires and beautiful gardens, shining like an immense jewel of the world. A seat of gods, a place of power, a source of pride – and hubris – for the people dwelling on the Continent.
If you were to walk through the streets of Bulikov now, you wouldn’t see any of the wonders. You’d see a forest of decrepit, half-ruined buildings, hundreds of thousands of stairs ending in the thin air, as if cut by a gigantic scythe, and a sea of poverty, resentment and anger.
Because the gods weren’t omnipotent, omniscient or immortal. They were killed, and with their destruction came the destruction of everything they have ever built. Bulikov is now a gaping wound in social memory, a festering boil waiting to burst at the slightest pressure. And guess what? That pressure is easily applied, from many directions at once.
I’ve recently listened to Elantris, Brandon Sanderson‘s ticket to fame and money, and one of the biggest stand-alones in XXI century genre literature.
Oh boy wasn’t it boring…
This was my first novel by Sanderson. I’ve read a couple of short stories, some reviews, and talked about him with a few friends whose opinions varied from “rather good” to “meh”. It created in my mind a picture of someone who is a solid, if not particularly gifted, craftsman (with unbelievable output, his doorstoppers hit bookshops with astonishing regularity).
Oh, there were final Wheel of Time books that he wrote, no matter how much I try to forget the whole WoT disaster, I have to mention them. Sanderson’s bits were better written and structured than Jordan’s, but no less tedious.
After Elantris… well, actually it confirmed my view of Sanderson as an uninspired craftsman, but I perhaps overestimated my own endurance. There are many flawed books that have something in them that keeps me interested. Some brilliant ideas, amateurishly executed, great protagonist, rising above mediocre prose… Sanderson does not make big mistakes, but neither does he take any risks. And produces fantasy without qualities.
Too harsh. But let me defend that opinion before I admit there were some good parts.
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.
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.