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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Nighteyes

Time for the monthly art exhibition 😉 I keep wondering when I’ll get back to drawing/painting and my best guess is when all my older fantasy-themed works are on the blog already. This time it’s Nighteyes from Robin Hobb’s Fitz and the Fool stories – my favorite wolfish character of all times (including werewolves).

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Nighteyes © A. Gruszczyk

Greg Park, Carlo Pulayan, Aaron Lopresti et al., The Incredible Hulk: Planet Hulk (2006-2007)

Piotrek: We did not like Thor: Ragnarok. I was unimpressed, Ola hated it almost as much as Wonder Woman.

Ola: That’s right. Only almost :P.

Piotrek: As we’ve mentioned, one of the reasons was the lack of respect towards the material it was supposed to adapt to the silver screen. Another – a feeling that it could easily be more entertaining, but also much, much deeper.

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Wonder Woman (2017) – votum separatum

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There’s been a lot of talk about Wonder Woman, very favorable reviews (one of them, by Piotrek, on this blog), fan hype and critical acclaim. The movie’s heyday is already past, with Justice League on screen and other superhero movies crowding the benches. So why do I come back to it now?

Well, probably partly because I’ve been recently reading Moses Finley’s seminal work, The World of Odysseus – very highly recommended to anyone interested in ancient Greece. And partly because the movie sits like a thorn in my side, its popularity and acclaim, when confronted with its painfully stereotypical message, truly baffling.

Wonder Woman has been hailed as the first superhero movie with a woman as a lead. This is surely something laudable? After all, thanks to this movie we’ve read about subversive feminism and whatnots, discussed chainmail bikinis as a source of empowerment or subjugation, depending on one’s stance, and so on. Even Gloria Steinem took a stand, saying the film was very good, although noting at the same time that she “may be desperate – […] just happy that the Amazons had wild hair”. It’s been called the best of DCU movies so far, and while it in itself is not a big feat, it definitely forces comparison to other movies. It all seems highly beneficial to a summer flick which on its own is rather mediocre. We’ve all probably heard the voice of reason, saying, “it’s not perfect, but better this than nothing”, “it’s a step in right direction”, “I’ve seen worse”.

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Glen Cook, Bleak Seasons (1996)

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Bleak Seasons is the sixth novel in Cook’s acclaimed Black Company series. A brutal, straight in your face account of an ugly, unredeeming war was a welcome refresh after the streak of bad and mediocre books I had recently hit.

Bleak Seasons take place at the same time as the Dreams of Steel, recounted from the Lady’s point of view, but this story is told from the perspective of Murgen, the new Standardbearer of the Black Company. Murgen, along with the majority of the Black Company under the command of Mogaba, has been trapped in the siege of Dejagore. You remember that monstrous city ruled by Shadow masters in the middle of southern nowhere, past the Hindu-like Taglios on the Black Company’s way toward Khatovar? Dejagore is a living hell. Fear and hate, utter lack of hope clashing with the animal need to survive, tight confines of the stone city bereft of food but full of hungry, hostile mouths, and a looming catastrophe of an urban fight change the place into a nightmarish landscape of grisly death. Reading Bleak Seasons I had one name in mind – Hue. Although, considering the recent wars, at least a couple of others should join it – from Fallujah to Mosul.

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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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Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Critics Consensus: Exciting, funny, and above all fun, Thor: Ragnarok is a colorful cosmic adventure that sets a new standard for its franchise — and the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Piotrek: This from Rotten Tomatoes, where the movie got 93% freshness rating from critics and 90% from the audience. Points are slightly lower, with 7,5/10 from critics and 4,3/5 from regular movie-goers. On imdb it’s 8,2/10. From sites and reviewers I follow, not a single one disappointed voice. See Angry Joe and his crew, their enthusiasm is contagious. Just as everybody, they describe T:R as non stop fun, great comedy, a new direction for both Thor and Hulk. Also as two hours of fan-service. And I agree, but I’m not as sure it’s good fan-service as they are. Or, to be more clear, it might be very good fan-service, but for me it’s not enough for a 10/10 rating. I’ve enjoyed the movie, I’ve laughed a lot, several scenes are superb – arena duel, some of the fight sequences (one using this!), Dr Strange’s cameo, Gatling-shooting Valkyrie… and more.

I couldn’t fully enjoy the movie though, and it’s Ola’s fault. I’m not talking about the scathing review I’ve heard before I had the chance to go to the cinema, but several collected comic book she made me read, with storylines that supposedly inspired T:R.

Ola: Thank you! To keep things simple, cinematic adaptations of their source material generally can be judged based on faithfulness/originality, which gives us three basic categories: 1) faithful to the original, keeping its spirit (if not the whole content) intact despite the difference in medium – Watchers are a good example of this case, 2) better than original, expanding the material in ways unique to the new medium and/or times it had been adapted in –  I know my choice will be controversial, but Guardians seem a nice enough example here, or 3) worse – for whatever reason cannibalizing/trivializing/creating serious misconceptions about the original. Thor: Ragnarok falls firmly into this last category.

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