I know, I know, two KSR reviews in a row – but this one was a promise! 😀
Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, while it had not received any awards and is not as well-known as his other books, notably 2312and Martian trilogy, in my opinion remains one of the most important SF novels of our early 21st century. Engaging in a scientifically sound mind experiment and imagining a workable model of a generational starship, Aurora radically – and emphatically – dispels any illusions we could have harboured regarding the fate of humanity in the known universe. Contrary to the most books in KSR’s oeuvre, Aurora is not an optimistic novel; it shows, very clearly, that while humanity’s dream of interstellar travel might be possible, and indeed we’re getting close to reaching Mars, that other dream – of finding an Earth analog which would be instantly or near-instantly habitable and at the same time devoid of life – must be ultimately seen for what it is: a pipe dream, a fantasy, an illusion that in our current man-made predicament causes more harm than good, turning our heads up to the stars instead down, to the planet we are actually responsible for; the only home we have. Allow me to present the crux of the problem in Robinson’s own words:
“Maybe that’s why we’ve never heard a peep from anywhere. It’s not just that the universe is too big. Which it is. That’s the main reason. But then also, life is a planetary thing. It begins on a planet and is part of that planet. It’s something that water planets do, maybe. But it develops to live where it is. So it can only live there, because it evolved to live there. That’s its home. So, you know, Fermi’s paradox has its answer, which is this: by the time life gets smart enough to leave its planet, it’s too smart to want to go. Because it knows it won’t work. So it stays home. It enjoys its home. As why wouldn’t you? It doesn’t even bother to try to contact anyone else. Why would you? You’ll never hear back. So that’s my answer to the paradox. You can call it Euan’s Answer.” (p. 179)
Oh, 2020. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… And here we’ll focus on the worst 😉 Or, to be more fair, just on the most disappointing for us personally, for as you will see, most of the works mentioned below enjoyed quite a lot of acclaim and following.
To be true to our title, we should probably start and stop this post at COVID-19, the wellspring of our woes (though there are a few hopeful signs along the way, from the evidence of effective and efficient trust-based cooperation above the national level to the human-caused limitation of greenhouse gases emissions). But as this is predominantly a book blog, with a small but significant addition of comics, TV series and movies, we feel we need to elaborate a bit and avoid easy finger-pointing.
As in the previous summary post, we wanted to divide our choices into a few categories: Fiction, Non-fiction, Comics, TV Series; but as Non-fiction this year proved to be a major hit without any misses (YAY!), we’ll omit this category.
Ola’s Worst of 2020 in Fiction
Here the choices are easy, at least for me – though for many might seem quite controversial, as some of these books seem to have become fan favorites ;). But what can I say? By now you really shouldn’t be surprised by any of this 😛 So without further ado, here it is:
That’s the only book on this list that I wrote a review of; I felt this instant favorite of the bookish community deserved a critique, and whether I achieved the goal of making it measured and not just scathing, it’s for you to judge. So let me just quote the crux of my review here:
Nanking Massacre was a truly horrible event, an atrocity for which there can be no excuse. The world should learn more about it, so that it stops being a footnote in history books. But using it in a fantasy book as a plot device designed to further the main character’s evolution into a vessel for a demonic/demigod entity and as a rationale for her own acts of genocide seems beyond bad taste.
Oh, 2020. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
It’s becoming a tradition that we can’t fit all we want to write about in our end-year post, and again we had to divide it into two. Before Christmas we wrote about the blog and stats, now we want to share our favourite – and least favourite – books and shows, consumed in this fateful year.
Ola: Well, say what you want, but for me 2020 turned out to be a good time for reading ;). As last year, I decided to divide my best reads into three categories, Fiction, Non-fiction, and Comics. With so many books read, my The Best Of criteria had to be very harsh, so below are the best of the best of the best, which means a very impactful, thought-provoking and delightful read, as well as the even rarer 10/10 rating :).
This was truly one of the very best reads of 2020 and one of the very best SF reads ever. Stephenson’s love letter to Western philosophy and science is pure perfection, and his decision to wrap it into a hero’s journey through a world as like and as unlike our own was a masterstroke, allowing the readers an incredibly immersive experience. The prose is dense, ambitious, unforgiving, but given a chance it shines with amazing clarity and emotion. I owe big thanks to Bart, who recommended Anathem to me; Stepehenson’s Seveneves is good, especially the first part dealing with orbital mechanics, and would’ve been even better if the last part didn’t exist, but Anathem is a masterpiece, clear and simple. If you haven’t yet, read it!
The grand finale of the critically acclaimed Cromwell trilogy doesn’t disappoint. It may be more meandering and more sentimental than the naked blade of Bring Up the Bodies, but that’s to be expected since it deals with the final years of Thomas Cromwell, whose tragic history is inextricably linked with that of Henry VIII. A historical novel with grand ambitions, a deep psychological portrayal of human vices and virtues, of naked ambition, egotism and the pitfalls of power, The Mirror & the Light is astonishingly modern, significant novel; a mark of true classic, its contents equally relevant in times of Henry VIII and our own.
I’ve written all I could about this quirky, thought-provoking read. I loved Lee’s bold, utterly brilliant mashup of Korean mythology and political anti-utopia clad in military SF accoutrements and wrapped up in a stolen identity mystery happening in the middle of a galactic war. Ninefox Gambit is wonderfully ambitious, broad in scope, and lyrical. I’ve read the remaining two books in the trilogy, but sadly, their quality seemed to be deteriorating with each installment, and by the end turned into a political treatise focused on gender issues while what I was expecting was an all-out AI revolution ;).
Bernard Cornwell, The Pale Horseman (2005)
The second installment in the Saxon Stories series, popularized by the Netflix’s TV series Last Kingdom (very good, actually, though I haven’t seen it past season 1 as I want to read the books first ;)) is impeccably written, heart-rending, thoroughly researched, and simply riveting. The first book is good; but only in The Pale Horseman Cornwell achieves the psychological and societal depth to make his work outstanding. Many thanks to Sarah, who recommended this series to me. A review will come one day, I promise 😉
I was really surprised by this little novella; its impact on me was far bigger than I’d expected judging by its length and the misleadingly obfuscating beginning. But this tiny bit of a book is simply amazing, turning midpoint from a slightly generic fantasy into a Kafkian treatise on the nature and limits of power. I absolutely adored every aspect of it, from the stunningly apt use of the second person perspective to the impeccably structured journey – inward and outward – of the protagonist.
Piotrek: Wow! We made it through another year! The blog, that is, but the world as well, even if not in a great shape. Re-Enchantment did splendidly though, thanks mostly to Ola’s efforts, as I’ve been an infrequent contributor, certainly in the second half. And yet 2020 was quite good for me as far as reading goes, and not for the same reasons many people read more. Quite a bit of my reading used to be done in during commute, so working from home I had to change my habits just to keep up. And keep up I did, with a 102 GoodReads titles, as of December 14, and 32,281 pages – versus 81 titles and 30,233 in 2019.
Piotrek: How will we do in 2021? I’m not into divination, but I plan get better in time-management and create more posts. Still not as many as Ola, probably 😉 Apart from that, I’m not even making too many plans about my reading next year, we’ll see how it goes. One thing that seems probable – I might finally get a Kindle, and admit I cannot have all the books on my shelves.
Ola: I’ve absolutely no idea what 2021 will bring – but, as humans tend to (and that’s the main reason they largely cling to life as a species) I hope it will be better than 2020. What a year that was! A Chinese proverb – or rather a curse – come to life, and survived. So many aspects of our lives changed (hopefully temporarily) for worse, but we know all about them and there’s no need to bring these up again. I’d prefer to focus on positives instead :). 2020 was a great reading and blogging year for us here at Re-Enchantment, with many records broken and equally many firsts achieved. I signed up for NetGalley (and while this was a rather mixed bag for me reading-wise, as my reviews can attest) it was at the same time a very interesting learning experience and one I’ll be happy to continue. I also signed up for Goodreads, and I’m glad to say it’s going pretty well. Maintaining old bookishfriendships and making new acquaintances is always a big positive for me, so in that respect GR serves as a valuable extension of our blog. And while I kept my stats anyway, in a customised Excel spreadsheet, it is indeed nice to have all the books read in a year presented in a pleasing infographic ;).
I got over 120 titles under my belt this year, mixing up a healthy amount of non-fiction (10%) and fiction (11%) into my usual genre and comic book reading. And I’m hoping to add a book or two to the list on my upcoming vacation :). As we did last year, this year we’ll have a separate post covering our best and worst reads of the year (and maybe some TV series too, though sadly not many movies ;)) too. In this one, we’ll focus a bit more on our blog stats.
In 2020, Re-Enchanted nearly doubled the last year’s stats when it comes to the number of visits (a whooping 15k), the number of comments (over 2.5k) and the number of likes (over 2.3k). We also had 10 more posts, 57 to date, than last year. As we drifted slowly toward longer posts, mainly reviews and a few fun tags, judging by the number of comments we seem to have found our sweet spot. The blogging friendships we made all over the world continue, and this year we cherish even more of them with new bloggers finding our blog and us finding theirs. Our number of followers almost doubled – thanks everyone! 🙂 But the 2020 wouldn’t be itself if it weren’t turbulent in every aspect of life, and so even our exceedingly bookish blog couldn’t stay apolitical as Polish politics barged uninvited into our lives.
Our most popular post in terms of views was Ola’s glowing review of Neal Asher’s The Line of Polity, garnering well above 300 views. It’s this year’s post, which is worth noting as the next two are comparative oldies: Ola’s scathing review of Ernest Cline’s Armada and the last year’s Re-E blockbuster, Roger Zelazny’s The Dream Master, which were both written back in 2016. The most popular posts are garnering more and more views through search engines, which is very encouraging as we keep building our repository of quirky, detailed, lengthy reviews ;).
We’ve also beat the 50 likes boundary this year. Our most popular posts in terms of likes were Piotrek’s Vacation Post, closely followed by Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas, Marie Brennan’s Driftwood, our lonely tag in this review-dominated field, Favorite books in five words, and Daniel Polansky’s The Seventh Perfection. As for the comments section, our most commented post was the review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic (again), a highly enjoyable tribute to the Gothick tradition with a delightful fungal twist ;). With 76 comments it maintained its one-digit lead over Madeline Miller’s Circe and Brian McClellan’s Blood of Empire.
We have taken part in one concerted bookish effort this year, Wyrd and Wonder. It was a great adventure, and an unparalleled output for us with 7 posts in a month, but with so many things going on around us we weren’t able to celebrate any more similar events. Maybe next year 😉
Piotrek: I quess it was a year when people would get excited by even a mention of vacations 😉 I’m so happy I managed to squeeze that in between all the lockdowns… I have to admit I did not suffer too much in this troubled year.
It’s been a very good year for the blog, no doubt. Apart from the editor monstrosity WordPress forced on its users – we all still hate that with a passion, it goes without saying. But here we’re allowing ourselves a well-deserved celebration, so we’re not going to spoil the mood :). And next week we intend to go deeper into our best of/worst of lists for 2020 🙂
Author: Elizabeth Schaefer (ed.), multiple authors
Title: From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back
Series: Star Wars: From A Certain Point of View #2
From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back is a collection of 40 short stories commissioned for the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back memorable debut in an era long gone. It’s a second such venture, after a collection of stories centered around New Hope met with fans’ enthusiasm and quite solid approval – and we all know what a rowdy and unruly and spoiled bunch SW fans usually are 😉.
I haven’t read the first collection, but buoyed by the fond recollections of the Anderson’s anthology Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina and seeing as The Empire Strikes Back remains my favorite SW movie of all times (not that it had any real competition recently), I decided to give this one a chance. There is a solid representation from well-known authors, such as Martha Wells and Django Wexler to Seth Dickinson, Catherynne M. Valente and S.A. Chakraborty, as well as a whole slew of authors completely new to me. This collection, apart from the strong nostalgia factor and a big dose of curiosity topped by healthy mistrust of anything SW-Disney 😉, represented a chance for me to check out some new names and their writing chops.
However, as simple listing of the authors and their stories’ titles has taken me nearly 300 words, I decided to review them in a slightly different than usual mode: as with short stories collections, I will give each story a rating – but this time, I will endeavor to describe every story in 5 words or more (well, usually more, as you’ll see). So, without further ado, here we go: