Stanisław Lem, The Truth and Other Stories (2021)

Author: Stanisław Lem

Title: The Truth and Other Stories

Format: E-book

Pages: 344

Series: –

Other: Short story collection

Stanisław Lem is one of my absolutely favorite SF authors, as you probably already know from here and here. His brain really seems to have been wired differently, perceiving correlations and consequences and possible outcomes that not many others – or none – had seen. He’s also a very pessimistic writer, at least when it comes to humans and human cognitive and moral abilities – and reading Lem is a bit like gazing into a very unflattering mirror, one from Andersen’s tale The Snow Queen. In our times full of wilful denial and escapist pleasure, though, I contend that Lem’s passionate critique is something sorely needed. 

This collection gathers stories from different periods of Lem’s life, from 1956 to 1996. Many of them have never been translated to English before. This anthology offers a great opportunity to acquaint oneself with the key themes and topics of Lem’s writing: artificial intelligence, first contact, human psychology and cognitive limitations, ethical problems inherent in human perception of the world. Even though some of these stories are nearing their seventieth year, apart from the odd outdated technological detail they seem as bold and fresh as written today by the greatest in the field. Lem was particularly preoccupied with the concept of Otherness – and this, maybe more than any other theme, makes his writing so enduring and important to his day.

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Nina Allan, The Art of Space Travel and Other Stories (2021)

Author: Nina Allan

Title: The Art of Space Travel and Other Stories

Format: E-book

Pages: 224

Series: –

Other: Short story collection

I am partial to collections of short stories. I very much like the format, which for me works as a beginning of a conversation between the writer and the reader. A story comes into being as an idea: it may be not fully thought through, unpolished and raw, but it’s scintillating enough that cannot be left alone; it needs to be shown to the world and elicit a reaction. I read short stories to be intellectually challenged, however minutely or extensively. There are always some good or even great stories in collections and anthologies, but sadly, the opposite is also true: rarely a collection of disparate stories can hold up an exceptionally high quality level throughout. That said, it’s the gems I hunt for among the sand, and I’m always happy to find new favorites.

I confess I requested Nina Allan’s collection on a whim; I have never read anything by her and decided short stories are a good place to start. And indeed, The Art of Space Travel and Other Stories is as varied a collection as one could wish for. The stories, arranged chronologically, span about two decades and showcase both the continuity and evolution of thought, as well as a development of skill.

As usual, I’ll present a short review and rating for each of the stories, and give an overall summary at the end.

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The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf (2021)

Escaping from poverty to become a witcher, Vesemir slays monsters for coin and glory, but when a new menace rises, he must face the demons of his past.

Piotrek: Ladies and gentlemen, I present you a perfectly serviceable action anime, a nicely animated tale with a solid, if predictable plot. Childhood friends lost and found, poor kids training to become powerful warriors, valour, prejudice, betrayal and evil conspiracies. Not sure I’d watch a whole season of that, but a movie was enjoyable.

What? You say it’s a Witcher story? No, that simply cannot be, a funny claim…

Ola: Funny, you say? I’d call it preposterous. Nightmare of the Wolf has nothing in common with The Witcher’s lore or worldview; indeed, it is a direct contradiction of both. And I can’t decide if the nifty tag line, Face your demons, is ironic or outright cynical.

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Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Certain Dark Things (2016/2021)

Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Certain Dark Things

Format: E-book

Pages: 272

Series: –

I’m recently jumping through Moreno-Garcia’s books: one new, one old – and let me tell you: there is a difference. Certain Dark Things is Moreno-Garcia’s second book, and it shows. It boasts of lots of great ideas, a skillfully created, moody and thick atmosphere, and an interesting plot. But the prose is clunky at times and nowhere near as polished or subtle in her later novels, and the characters, while engaging, remain early blueprints of protagonists from her other books: a sensitive, naive boy and a headstrong, wilful girl meet again and again in Moreno-Garcia’s stories, and Certain Dark Things is no exception.

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Alix E. Harrow, The Ten Thousand Doors of January (2019)

Author: Alix E. Harrow

Title: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Format: Paperback

Pages: 374

Series: –

Alix E. Harrow’s debut novel, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, has made its rounds around the blogosphere over the last two years, with predominantly – almost exclusively, in fact – positive reviews. And that’s what I remembered about them: they were all positive, sometimes even raving, and all praising the author’s imagination and poetic language. I should’ve paid more attention to the elements that weren’t complimented, I think, armed as I am now with hindsight. 

You see, there are indeed many things that The Ten Thousand Doors of January should be praised for, particularly a highly inventive use of the symbolism and meaning of portals, thresholds and doors, successfully employing plenty of references to various myths and folktales I’m a sucker for. It is an entertaining, character-focused book, with languorously meandering action and an interesting cast of secondary characters. It’s also incredibly earnest, in that endearing puppy way, all big eyes and enthusiasm.

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