Ursula Le Guin, The Found and the Lost (2016)

The Found and the Lost

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”.

Continue reading

Brian McClellan, Sins of Empire (2017)

Sins of Empire

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

International Women’s Day

I’m not necessarily a big fan of international days of any kind, but this is a nice occasion for some wishing and a link or two.

By now, almost everybody heard about Elizabeth Warren, a US senator (D) silenced by majority leader Mitch McConnell:

Well, these were pretty impressive words that had opposite effect to what their author intended.

She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.

Damn. It will probably be carved on her tombstone. And used as a rallying cry in her presidential campaign in 2020. Meanwhile, it’s a very nice phrase used by the smarter part of American public, and McConnell probably still doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about, even as it gets thrown in his face during Town Hall meetings.

Continue reading

Andrzej Sapkowski, Witcher (1986-2013), Part Two

img_20161221_180239

(for Part One, go here)

Piotrek: But before it gets so-so, it is great. I’d like to mention three areas where I believe Witcher shines.

First – elves. And dwarves, I guess. Also, gnomes and halflings, but in less detail. Some of the best versions of classic fantasy races. Not as otherworldly as various insect races of Czajkowski. Way more down to earth than Tolkien’s original versions. Grounded in deep history that we only glimpse at in the books. Very human, that’s true, in many ways, but distinct enough from their homo sapiens conquerors thanks to their old culture and longevity. Persecuted, diminished, morally as complex as everything in Sapkowski’s universe. Often cruel and vengeful, when given a chance. Psychologically much more realistic than elves of Middle-Earth (which does not make me feel less of Tolkien, of course, we are talking about books written in totally different cadence). Dwarves are shorter, even more cynical, expectedly coarse and just as complex.

Second – politics. Realpolitik, necessary sacrifices, ruthless negotiations, hard alliances, betrayals. With wizards. A world where everybody wants to be Machiavelli. And with mages and elves living for centuries, some of the schemes get really complicated. The decorations are deeply rooted in Europe of Middle Ages, with strong – and quite realistic – addition of magic, but the truths about politics are timeless. Everybody can be outplayed, few loyalties last, the most benevolent (if paternalistic) plans lead to disastrous consequences.

Continue reading

N. K. Jemisin, The Killing Moon (2012)

killing-moon

N.K. Jemisin is probably best known for winning this year’s Hugo award for best novel – The Fifth Season, set in The Broken Earth realm. The Killing Moon is a book set in a different reality, but praised as one of her best works to date. Because I started my acquaintance with her prose with a short story set in the same world as The Killing Moon, and because I had access to Killing Moon, not The Fifth Season ;), I decided this would be my first serious intro into Jemisin’s prose.

The Killing Moon takes place in an alternate, very Earth-like (more precisely, ancient Egypt-and-Nubia-like) setting. It’s basically Earth (actually, Earth-like moon orbiting a gas giant, which has one other moon as well) – where all the beliefs about magical power of dreams, about the four “humors” of human body, are true. The soul is something tangible; a precious essence of a human being, which can be, by metaphysical means, touched, preserved or destroyed. It can be led peacefully to the land beyond the realms of living; it can be ripped away from the body, resulting in imminent, and incredibly painful, death. Ah, but this essence, the soul of a conscious being, is also a source of potent magic. It can give strength, intellect, youthfulness, even immortality. As well as an incurable taste for more.

Continue reading

Gods & Kings

wp_20161121_001

Tad Williams, The Dragonbone Chair

It seems to be a sentiment commonly held by history’s prominent rulers. Half the great churches, mosques and other temples were build to bribe gods, and great kings were convinced that common transgressions against morality will be forgiven in return for all they’ve done to further their deities earthly power.

Yes, I’m reading Memory, Sorrow and Thorne, series I’ve had on my shelves for six years. And I like it a lot, safely predictable, but great fun. Oldschool fantasy they don’t write any more. A caveat – I can’t guarantee I won’t change my mind, I’m only 50 pages in…