Adrian Czajkowski (Tchaikovsky), Made Things (2019)

Made Things

Author: Adrian Czajkowski

Title: Made Things

Format: E-book

Pages: 190

Series: –

ww2020

Adrian Czajkowski is probably most well-known to SFF readers for his science-fiction novel Children of Time – and, of course, for his unconditional love of spiders. Yet to me, his best work to date is unequivocally the ten-book fantasy series Shadows of the Apt, which I don’t hesitate to call his opus magnum – both because of the sheer length of the saga (and I’m not even counting the companion collections of short stories), but also because it is insanely creative, ambitious, and yet respectful toward its historic sources. Czajkowski has become a truly prolific writer, mixing many flavors of the SFF and even horror genres into unique, original work. Made Things, his novella/short novel, can be described as such an effort – a whimsical tale of adventure and magic in an alt-Mediaeval world.

Made Things are literally made things – little homunculi originally created by a human from a variety of materials, from metal and wood to paper and thread, and given life through magic. Now, having gained independence from their maker in somewhat traumatic circumstances, they find themselves completely on their own in a not very friendly, and frankly rather enormous, real world. They are drawn to the human world and human-made sources of magic: various trinkets, jewelry and items of great power, as magic imbues their bodies with a life-force and sentience. They are also drawn to people themselves, however dangerous that might be, because people tend to possess a lot of non-magic stuff – out of which a new body for a new member of the colony can be fashioned (or outright stolen, as the case may be for some of the more entrepreneurial little people).

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May the 4th Be With You ;)

Happy Star Wars Day!

Here’s my watercolor of Baby Yoda from The Mandalorian.

Who better personifies the rebellious idea at the foundation of this series that Force has no sides but is in fact an a-moral power, a life-force that is not ethical per se, but just as any other form of knowledge it is in fact a tool, capable of both good and evil, depending on its wielder? One’s own mindset, personality and moral choices determine the way one uses the Force. I can’t wait to see where Favreau and co. will go with their ideas for Star Wars and what they will make of the current Force-related mess.

So, here’s to the Tribe of Two! 😀

Baby Yoda
Baby Yoda © A. Gruszczyk

Rebecca F. Kuang, The Poppy War (2018)

The Poppy War

Author: Rebecca F. Kuang

Title: The Poppy War

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 544

Series: The Poppy War #1

This turned out to be one of the more difficult reviews to write for me. Everybody and their uncle seems awed by Kuang’s debut novel, which reimagined the history of 20th century China into a vengeful fantasy of violence. The Poppy War was one of the rare books bound to become a bestseller, with publishers outbidding each other for the rights to the book. The enthusiasm was not without merit: for the reader from Western sphere of influence, Kuang’s novel presents an undeniably attractive image of China, fueled in equal measures by the elements of Chinese mythos already popularized in Western pop-culture and by the impression of mystery surrounding China as a fabled, distant land. The mythos, and stereotypes, are fairly easy to enumerate: martial arts’ prowess, Chinese zodiac and a large pantheon of demigods and demons, feng shui rooted in a belief of holistic spirituality, snippets of a heroic age long gone, when emperors ruled and Great Wall and Silk Road were built, and a vague concept of a collective social outlook, linked to Confucius. Add to it Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda series and Disney’s Mulan, and maybe some bits and pieces of more contemporary information regarding Chinese communism coupled with the evidence of the irrefutable economic success, and the vision of China in popular culture is more or less complete.

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C. Robert Cargill, Sea of Rust (2017)

Sea of Rust cover

Author: C. Robert Cargill

Title: Sea of Rust

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 365

Series: –

Cargill’s Sea of Rust is an intriguing spiritual offspring of M.R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts and George Miller’s Mad Max series, fostered by Fritz Lang and Ralph McQuarrie. Seriously! While I was reading this book, I had basically the original concept art from New Hope in my mind 😉  There’s also  a noticeable shadow of Matrix here, too, though in ochre, burnt sienna and beiges instead of cold greens and blacks. A comic book reader can also detect a more than passing affinity to Mark Millar’s pessimistic vision from Old Man Logan. You get the gist, I believe: Sea of Rust is a kaleidoscopic collection of modern pop-cultural inspirations and references, subversively employed to tell a story as old as human culture: the story of patricide and primal sin, of determinism and hope. It is a fast-paced, engaging reimagining of the social evolutionary concept that the world we live in is a ruthless, cruel one, in which survival of the fittest remains the only rule.

SW Ralph McQuarrie

What is Sea of Rust about? Imagine the future where Earth is a dusty husk of its former self. There are no biological life-forms left, all destroyed in an AI revolution that went too far, like overwhelming majority of earlier revolutions. Imagine a world destroyed, rusting and increasingly bereft of sense. The sentient children of the revolution finally realize, too little too late, that the humans they have destroyed gave them a sense of purpose. Without them, the only value and the only norm left is the one of survival, and as the biggest and more powerful AIs increasingly perceive might as the only right, and allow themselves to be ruled by the inescapable logic of economical consolidation, even survival becomes nigh impossible.

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Marlon James, Black Leopard, Red Wolf (2019)

black leopard red wolf

Author: Marlon James

Title: Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Format: Paperback

Pages: 620

Series: The Dark Star Trilogy #1

“The child is dead. There is nothing left to know.” p. 3

If Quentin Tarantino and Guillermo del Toro ever had a child who was an empath with deep, abiding love for Africa and penchant for intimate, graphic violence, his name might have been Marlon James. Black Leopard, Red Wolf elicits quite extreme reactions from readers – from hate to confusion to appreciation to love – and after reading it I no longer find this surprising. It is indeed a visceral, shockingly brutal and sometimes outright nightmarish journey through atrocities and evils, real and imagined. When James writes that there are two pages in this book that his mother is not allowed to read, I feel I know exactly which two pages he talks about; and they are horrifying in the portrayal of the most intimate, vengeful violence. And yet Black Leopard, Red Wolf is also a book describing with heartbreaking detail the fleeting, protean essence of happiness; the capriciousness of fate and coincidence; the twisted, uncanny ways of human heart. At 620 pages of dense, challenging prose Black Leopard, Red Wolf is James’s absolutely stunning tour de force; a classic Bildungsroman set in the mythical neverwhen of pre-colonial Africa, where monsters prowl the land and sometimes hide behind human eyes, where humans take on animal forms, where magic is ordinary, and miracles are everyday occurrences, but where human kindness is rarer than gold.

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