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)

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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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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Piotrek: Guardians of the Galaxy came out before we started this blog, so I will start with some praise for Volume 1. It is one of my favourite MCU movies, definitely one that made me laugh most (remember, Deadpool is part of the Fox’s side of Marvel). Guardians had superb soundtrack, great team of characters that really worked together, extremely entertaining plot and it took the MCU to the space, introducing characters and places that will be important for the culmination that Infinity War needs to be. It was all put together so well I had no problem with slight inconsequences and a weak villain. And it gave us Groot 😉

Volume 2 is even better. Not as fresh, but seamless, within the framework of its genre – kind of perfect. It’s very different from Logan, but both these movies prove to me that superhero genre matured to the point where it deserves to dominate cinemas. If it all goes downhill from here, I’ll be happy to re-watch what we already have.

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Ola: Yes indeed, Guardians vol. 2 seem to be even better than their predecessor, and that is a feat in itself, as no. 1 was an awesome romp through the adventure and SF genres, with an added secret ingredient – family dramedy :). This time around there’s much more of family drama, and – surprisingly – of SF. A great, complicated not-entirely-villain with the rugged, trustworthy face of Kurt Russel makes for a compelling counterpart to the already established team of the Guardians, and the chemistry between the protagonists takes this movie far beyond what we usually expect from movies based on comic books – or at least MCU.

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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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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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Logan (2017)

Piotrek: Times are good for comic book fans. Old stuff is easily available, new things are often good, and movies/tv… our genre is probably the strongest one today, with so much being done, everyone can find something nice. Solid stories, visual experiments (Dr Strange, Legion!), profane (Deadpool) and civil (Guardians) comedies… and now Logan.

Ola: The newest instalment in XXth Century Fox X-Men franchise is a story loosely based on the premise of Old Man Logan, one of the most famous graphic novels about Wolverine. It features a post-apocalyptic near future, where United States are in turmoil, symbolized by the absence of the Statue of Liberty, regular institutions such as police or National Guard or medical help no longer work, and the world once again becomes an arena of fight between the weak and the strong. The mutant gene has been suppressed; superheroes are no longer around; and those who stayed behind are not what they used to be.

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The new Red Sonja (2013-?)

Red Sonja. Female version of Conan the Barbarian, in a way lingerie football* is a female version of American football.

*There really is such a thing, and apparently quite popular in the US. Isn’t it a perfect summary of what is worst in today’s pop-culture? The worst trends in advertising and entertainment combining sport and sex to appeal to the lowest instincts of mass audience. And there is talk of empowerment and providing role models for little girls, of course… and fining players for not revealing enough skin.

This digression is not completely out of topic, because Red Sonja seems to be part of the same problem. Pulp had its strong points and can still be fun to read, but it also targeted male teenage audience with soft erotica in days when it had to be disguised and the regular porn was not easily available. Scantily clad women on the covers, damsels in distress rewarding dashing heroes with their graces, and sometimes sword-wielding females like Sonja, inspired but slightly different fantasies of authors and readers. Still, no actual women were hurt and left without medical help in the process, so maybe these were better times…

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