Un-su Kim, The Cabinet (2021)

Author: Un-su Kim

Title: The Cabinet

Format: E-book

Pages: 400

Series:-

Among my recent reads this novel turned out to be the strangest one; for me, it resembles mostly an early attempt at a Frankenstein’s monster: sewn together from disparate parts it ends up having three arms, one leg, and an off-color head tacked on back to front. The first 60% were highly enjoyable, but afterwards, an inexorable downward spiral got me in the end to a disheartening feeling of “wtf did I just read?”

It’s a pity, really, because the premise of Kim’s novel is quite promising, with a lot of potential: the life in modern cities became so unbearable for humans that their evolution accelerated rapidly, creating first cases of a post-homo sapiens species. The mutations don’t seem to be adaptive, at the moment, but as evolution works through trial and error, we might see some that would become highly effective.

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Christopher Martin, Chasing Alexander: A Marine’s Journey Across Iraq and Afghanistan (2021)

Author: Christopher Martin

Title: Chasing Alexander: A Marine’s Journey Across Iraq and Afghanistan

Format: E-book

Pages: 310

Series: –

Christopher Martin is a US Marine veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan during the War on Terror, between 2007 and 2011. His war memoir, Chasing Alexander, is both like and unlike other War on Terror non fiction I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot; the similarities are obvious, and heartbreaking, while the disparities are what makes this book unique.

Firstly, there is a matter of style. I’m pretty sure Martin did his required reading, as his book bears more than a passing resemblance to Hasford’s The Short Timers and yet still retains a bit of the wide-eyed American idealism of West’s The Snake Eaters. It’s clear Martin wanted to write his own book – and in this, he succeeded. The style of Chasing Alexander is simple and direct, and reads very much like a student’s report: an honest, open account of how it was – or, more precisely, how Martin thought it was. And I mean it as a compliment. Many of these new war memoirs are becoming masks; tools, if you will, tailored for the author’s purposes. A common trajectory for modern veterans is to go into business and management after the time in the military; a book doesn’t hurt your chances at an executive position.

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T.J. Klune, Under the Whispering Door (2021)

Author: T.J. Klune

Title: Under the Whispering Door

Format: e-book

Pages: 384

Series: –

I’ve heard a lot of good things about T.J. Klune’s books; when I saw this one on NG, I jumped at the opportunity to finally get acquainted with his writing. Alas, while the writing was smooth enough and well-meaning enough, Under the Whispering Door turned out to be a book not for me. I’m sure there are people who’ll enjoy this – not just more than I did, which is no big feat, but generally, in absolute terms, as a feel-good, “wholesome” novel.

I could probably finish my review here; then, words like “infantile” and “cloyingly sweet” wouldn’t have to be written. And I’m a bit tempted to do just that, because I don’t have a beef with this book; no uncontrollable growing and gnashing teeth while reading, no torn out hair – my reactions tended toward bafflement and growing dissatisfaction. Alas, I think I owe an explanation for this somewhat dismal rating. So, here it is.

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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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