Keith Roberts, Pavane (1966)

Author: Keith Roberts

Title: Pavane

Format: paperback

Pages: 242

Series: –

Pavane has been hailed as a masterpiece by writers as different as Neil Gaiman and G.R.R. Martin. It certainly has all the markings of a writers’ book, for those inspired by Roberts’s work are various and many (and even Pratchett might be among them). While it’s usually classified as alternate history, I rather agree with my library’s categorization – it’s a science fiction book, though the telltale signs are very subtle and few in number, limited mostly to the epilogue, called Coda. In a way, Roberts’s work reminded me strongly of Wolfe, although obviously it’s the other way round: Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun actually seems to have been guided to some extent by Pavane.

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M. John Harrison, Light (2002)

Author: M. John Harrison

Title: Light

Format: paperback

Pages: 320

Series: Empty Space (Kefahuchi Tract) #1

Another review that I find hard to write; but it must be said that it is an unusual book. If I were to characterize it in just a few words, I’d say it’s a prologue 300 pages long. Seriously. It’s built like a card trick: a lengthy setup with a short, delightful payoff. One thing I can attest to, though, is that it has a great ending.

Apart from this, however, Harrison’s Light is an uneven concoction of seemingly disparate elements: effusive technobabble and slick, brutal cyberpunk cant go hand in hand with mysticism worthy of the best – or at least most murky – of the New Age prophets. While ostensibly there is a story, even one in two timelines, it’s more of an allegory, burdened down with heavy symbolism and filled with characters who were created with an ulterior motive. Truth be told, this last sentence is something I could put in my every other review, so there’s that ;). If I sound overly critical, however, I am not. I actually, quite surprisingly, enjoyed this book.  But Harrison doesn’t make it easy for readers to like his novel. Introducing as our guide a genius physicist cum pathetic serial killer on the run from a menacing entity, the author makes it somewhat difficult to get his readers (or at least this reader) invested in the story. And that’s only the beginning of a wild Tarot-inspired journey through the labyrinth of the author’s own psyche. 

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Philip Caputo, A Rumour of War (1977)

Author: Philip Caputo

Title: A Rumour of War

Format: Paperback

Pages: 354

Series: –

This book deserves all the laudatory reviews and paeans it can get. I could actually leave my review at that, but, you know, I was never known for short reviews, let alone one-sentence ones. 😉 I’ll keep my review short this time, though. But before I delve into it I need to write a little about my recent absences from the blog, as it looks as if the situation will continue.

So, life has this habit of getting in the way of the best laid plans, and while I had planned to keep my engagement with this blog on the same levels as last year, it clearly isn’t happening. I might go deeper into various reasons that conspired to result in this particular effect, but in truth, it’s all rather boring, usual stuff 😉 In short: more things to do, on many fronts, and some decisions to make for the future. I will be on the blog as often as I can, but just so you know, in the next few months it won’t be as often as it had been before. I will still continue to haunt your blogs and comment, hopefully more often than not, and whether you want it or not, but I won’t be “here” that much 😉

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Adrian Tchaikovsky, Shards of Earth (2021)

Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Shards of Earth

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 561

Series: The Final Architecture #1

For a long time, Tchaikovsky was my go-to author. I still contend that his Shadows of the Apt series is among the very best of epic and military fantasy out there. It’s a huge commitment, sure, 10 books getting consecutively bigger, as if Tchaikovsky was bent on proving that a book can be a weapon, too 😉 – not unlike Erikson in that regard – but if you do commit, you’ll be rewarded. Children of Time, Tchaikovsky’s first foray into SF, was great, too. Making spiders the protagonists of the book was a wonderful choice, giving the book a unique perspective and gravitas. Afterwards, however, it was more of a hit and miss. He seemed to produce books non-stop, like an upgraded version of Sanderson, and with similar results. I still rather enjoyed his fantasy novella Made Things, as well as his SF novella One Day All This Will Be Yours, but was thoroughly disappointed in his SF novel Bear Head. It seemed that Tchaikovsky had already used all his unique and original ideas, and started treading water, indulging in overused tropes and lazy structures. It was all still reasonably well written, but redundant, or even verging on ad-hoc political commentary. I stopped reading everything he was putting out. But when I saw several fellow bloggers praising his new SF novel, Shards of Earth, I decided to give it a go. So thanks, Jeroen and carol. and Nataliya!

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Reading Ukrainian authors, thinking about Russia

Since the war began, and it’s been a month already, it became my main concern. I’m listening to the news more than it’s healthy, probably, but I also decided to go beyond the breaking news, and I reached for some recent Ukrainian literature. I have to admit I have not been keeping up, I’ve read some during my university days, but nothing recently. And a lot is going there, apparently, with much getting translated into Polish. Not as much into English, I’m afraid, but I found something that made huge impression on me that is available, so after a few more paragraphs of introduction I’ll review Serhiy Zhadan’s The Orphanage: A Novel. I wanted to write a quick review, but it turned out into quite a long text about history and politics…

What makes writing this post difficult is that I’m back to Polish sources, not so much when I’m looking for the news, here I have some excellent outlets and pages in English in my mix, but for the more in-depth cultural analysis. And this is a very interesting front. Ukraine is not only defending itself on the frontlines of this vicious war, but also re-defining its national identity, a process that started… well, back in the XIX century 😉 but in its current phase – after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. There was a referendum then, with over 90% of the voters supporting Ukraine’s independence, but in the 90ties it was independence of a weak state that tried to be equally close to Russia and to the West. Large part of its population considered Russian to be their native language, especially people in the East, but initially also in the central part that includes the capital, Kyiv. For many, a difference between being Ukrainian and Russian wasn’t clear. Whole regions were largely pro-Russian, and supported staying away from such institutions of Western imperialism as EU or NATO. Fierce nationalism dominated the West of the country, cities like Lviv. But it was a smaller, neglected part of the state.

Ukraine was a poor and corrupted country of great people that largely lost hope for things to get better – that is my own observation from the times when I used to visit more often. Then something changed, and it was a change many people missed, initially. A political one. Elections are not always fair in this part of the world, and often the population is powerless to do anything about that. Or doesn’t even care, convinced that all politicians are the same. Ukrainians refused to accept rigged elections, and more than once. They showed a love of liberty and democracy that was never really present in Russia, and that fact proved to be important. Russia, unable to manipulate Ukraine from the shadows, moved in forcefully, conquering Crimea and then parts of two of Ukraine’s easternmost regions – the former was incorporated into Russia after a referendum, the latter left as pseudo-states, ruled by Russian agents and constantly attacking Ukrainian army. After 8 years of a low-intensity (but quite bloody) conflict, Putin told his horde to attack with full force on multiple fronts and the results we see on the news since February 24.

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