Neal Stephenson, Anathem (2008)

Anathem

Author: Neal Stephenson

Title: Anathem

Format: Ebook

Pages: 937

Series: –

“They knew many things but had no idea why. And strangely this made them more, rather than less, certain that they were right.”

Neal Stephenson is a prolific writer, known for his SF and speculative fiction novels (for some reason lack of dragons or other mythological creatures seems to exclude one from the fantasy genre 😉), all of them full of alternatively mind-bending or awe-inspiring ideas, and all incredibly long, even considering the current market conditions. I have reviewed on this blog his 2015 SF novel Seveneves, which dealt with the consequences of an improbable but possible event – the shattering of  Earth’s Moon and the subsequent fallout of the debris on the Earth’s surface. I admired the sheer scientific drive of this novel and enjoyed its far-reaching plot – to a point 😉. Seveneves is a brilliant example of the opportunities and pitfalls inherent in literary imbalance – namely, the dominance of ideas over plot and character development, not to mention certain scientific facts, like the pace of evolution; and yet, it remains a flawed but intellectually highly rewarding, thought-provoking read. Looking for something similarly intellectually stimulating, I was encouraged by Bart at Weighing a Pig Doesn’t Fatten It to try another of Stephenson’s critically acclaimed bricks and Bart’s favorite – Anathem.

Forewarned in foreword by the author, I jumped straight in, eager to immerse myself in the highly conceptualized and yet absolutely addictive world of Arbre – and this is the course of action I would advise any potential readers to take. The process of figuring out what’s going on in Anathem and how it relates to our own reality, constitutes at least half of the fun the novel offers. And a lot of fun it is indeed, especially for those philosophically minded, who enjoy nothing more than a riveting peregrination through the philosophical origins of the Western culture now and then.

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Melissa Albert, The Hazel Wood (2018)

The Hazel Wood

Author: Melissa Albert

Title: The Hazel Wood

Format: E-book

Pages: 359

Series: The Hazel Wood #1

So many people recommended this book that I couldn’t not read it at some point. As it was available at my library as an e-book during lockdown, I jumped at the opportunity – and now here we are 😊.

The Hazel Wood tells the story of a seventeen-year-old Alice Crew and her mother, Ella. Finally settling down in New York after years spent on the road, they hope for a change for better – until the ill luck that kept hunting them throughout their whole lives catches up with them. With her mother kidnapped by strange, dangerous creatures, it’s down to Alice and her school friend Ellery Finch to find Ella before it’s too late. And while Ella stubbornly kept Alice away from her grandmother and the sprawling, infamous Hazel Wood estate, now Alice has no choice but to find and visit that tantalizing, mysterious place – for all the answers to the questions that haunted her all her life might await her there.

The Hazel Wood is a curious book, part-fairy-tale, part-YA fantasy, part-modern UF.  And I guess that this hybrid construction is ultimately the reason for the novel’s unevenness; namely, some elements of Albert’s story work better than others. The book can be roughly divided into two parts: the first, taking place in the normal, contemporary world, bereft of magic, and the second, playing out in the Hinterlands – The Hazel Wood’s equivalent of Faerie. The everyday world of The Hazel Wood is a reflection on modern America, with its starkly contrasting social divides – both between the rich and the poor, and between urban and rural areas, all subtly painted by Albert. On that canvas, which could well serve as a basis for all types of books, from thrillers to literary fiction, Albert sketches a plethora of even more disturbing shapes – these of a hidden, dangerous world, filled with ruthless, amoral creatures somehow able to find their way to our world and wreak havoc in the unsuspecting sleepy suburbs. I really admired the little touches of wild fairy-tales, seemingly without beginning or end, without a discernible moral, but with an overabundance of wilful, gory violence. Those snippets brought to my mind the original Grimm tales – similarly violent and bloody, based on a primeval notion of justice: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. And the way Albert wrote about the tales, as of cool, distanced reportages from war, also recalled the curiously impersonal way brothers Grimm applied to their own collation of folklore tales.

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What My Favourite Characters Would Be Doing in Quarantine Book Tag

We’ve been recently tagged by the unparalleled Orangutan Librarian to “take 5 or more of the favorite book characters and imagine what they would be doing if they were quarantined with us in the real world”. The tag, created by Kal at Reader Voracious, looks so much fun that we jumped on the opportunity right away! 😉 We are in a very hyperactive mood lately, I guess it’s a giddiness born from being in lockdown for far too long 😀 So, thank you for this little tag, Orangutan Librarian – it was fun!

Characters in Quarantine

FitzChivalry Farseer from Robin Hobb’s Realm of Elderlings series

Farseer-Trilogy

He’d be secretly happy to have another opportunity to whine and feel sorry for himself. I can totally see him using the quarantine as an excuse to lock himself down in a remote, desolate place and once again write the story of his life :D.

Fraa Jad from Neal Stephenson’s Anathem

Anathem

He’d have already explored all possible universes and options, and chosen the one course of action that would have prevented the coronavirus from jumping from bats/pangolins to humans in the first place. So, long story short, he wouldn’t be in quarantine now, because there wouldn’t have been a pandemic! Unless what we have now is the best possible option already…. (shudders).

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Fantasy Bucket List Book Tag

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Our second Wyrd & Wonder tag 🙂 We decided to go crazy, and there were a few we wanted to do for quite a while…

Ladies and Gentlemen – Fantasy Bucket List Book Tag, originally spotted on The Little Book Owl.

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A fictional world that you would like to tour

Piotrek: Middle Earth. There are many fascinating universes in the world of fantasy, but this is the one that started it all, the Amber of fantasy realms. I want to walk in Lorien, rest in Rivendell, climb… well, not necessarily Caradhras in winter, but perhaps Erebor, if Smaug isn’t around? Yes, one of the rare peaceful moments would be perfect for an extended tour. It already is one of my special places, although only ever visited in imagination.

I hope I’ll get to visit New Zealand as an acceptable substitute 😉

Ola: Please do! 😀

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As I am already in the Earth-equivalent of Middle Earth, the fictional world I’d like to visit the most would be Amber – the pattern-world of fantasy worlds created by Roger Zelazny. Though in truth it’s a cheating answer – because from there I could get (more or less) easily to other worlds: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, Robin Hobb’s Realm of Elderlings, Neal Stephenson’s Arbre from his absolutely mind-blowing Anathem (the review of which will come soon!), Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea, Glen Cook’s world of the Black Company (but I’d only go there if I had a guarantee I would come back, even the mythical Khatovar doesn’t strike me as a good place to live), Iain Banks’s utopian Culture worlds and Neal Asher’s Polity, and so many others!

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Adrian Czajkowski (Tchaikovsky), Made Things (2019)

Made Things

Author: Adrian Czajkowski

Title: Made Things

Format: E-book

Pages: 190

Series: –

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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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