William Golding, The Inheritors (1955)

I’ve read Sapiens by Harari recently, and it rekindled my interest in the earliest history of our species. Shortly after that, a review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Shaman on Weighing a pig doesn’t fatten it led to me reading that novel and I was very happy it did. Robinson managed to create a believable impression of the culture of people who lived long before anything could be written down. Scientists use the pieces they find to speculate and search the furthest corners of the world for tribes that continue to live the lives of hunter-gatherers… but only a novelist can make me feel a sense of connection with people from so long ago!

In the discussion below his review, Bart mentioned William Golding’s The Inheritors as one of the sources of Robinson’s inspiration, and I was curious. Golding is one of my favourite writers, Lord of the Flies one of the books that influenced me the most. He left his mark on how I think about the nature of evil, its presence in society and individual, the fragility of civilization, and of religion. I’m slightly less pessimistic on these issues now, but I hold Golding in high esteem.

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A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-Fiction of Terry Pratchett

Summer continues, I’m actually starting my vacation tomorrow afternoon, and it’s going to be 2,5 weeks! But blogging requires some regularity, and so I decided to write a few words about a very special book. Terry Pratchett is a very special author, one I’ve been reading for over 20 years. I’m now in the middle (at book 16, to be precise) of the systematic re-read of the entire Discworld and I appreciate him even more.

I prefer to learn about writers’ ideas through their novels, but Pratchett is important enough to me, and his untimely demise started my slow – and now accelerating – re-read of his books, and motivated me to learn more about the man himself. There is a very moving documentary from BBC, Terry Pratchett: Back in Black, the story of his life featuring Pratchett just before Alzheimer took him, a master of language struggling with simple words, but still a powerful, wise figure. He says, at the beginning:

They say your life flashes in front of your eyes before you die.

This is true. It’s called living. But nobody’s really dead until all the ripples they have created on Earth have completely died away, so as long as my words and my stories are still sploshing around the planet, there’s life in the old dog yet.

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Edward Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire from the First Century AD to the Third (1976)

P1020388Author: Edward Luttwak

Title: The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire from the First Century AD to the Third

Pages: 255

Format: Hardback

I really enjoyed our last post and first excursion into non-fiction, and so now I follow with another one, this time less controversial and something every epic/military fantasy fan can safely read. My original idea for how to select non-fiction books for Re-enchantment was to find tomes that could be used to better enjoy genre fiction. I’m a great believer in context, in building up one’s general knowledge to see the broader picture. It’s crucial for every serious reader of historical novels, but with fantasy, so deeply connected to the medieval and ancient history of our planet, it’s just as useful. There were never any wizards nor dragons on this Earth, but we had knights, and legions, and empires that had to rely on primitive (when compared to our) technology – and if we read a bit about them, we can judge – and appreciate – the worldbuilding of genre masters so much more.

The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire… by Edward Luttwak was a book I mentioned before, while criticizing a semi-historical novel I did not like, but Luttwak is not a starting point for people interested in Roman history. For that, go to /r/history, they have excellent sections for book and podcast recommendation. Books I’ve read are in Polish and 10-20 years behind latest research. Luttwak wrote a book on strategy of an ancient empire and whatever historians of antiquity might find in his arguments, it’s a great way to further your understanding of how difficult it was to defend a large state without modern communications and logistics. It definitely should be read by every genre author with worldbuilding ambitions.

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An excursion into non-fiction #1: Frans de Waal, The Bonobo and the Atheist (2013)

Some time ago, inspired by Bart from one of our favorite blogs, Weighing a pig doesn’t fatten it, we decided to start including some non-fiction on Re-enchantment. While the initial idea was to go for books that provide wider context for popular genre fiction, ultimately we decided to start with one that provides some insight into the very human nature, by exploring the social nature of other primates. Frans de Waal, world-famous (there’s even a TED 😉 ) Dutch-American primatologist, is on Bart’s list with several of his books, we’ve both read The Bonobo and the Atheist recently, and it was a thought-provoking experience, although it provoked slightly different thought in each of us.

Author: Frans de Waal

Title: The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates

Pages: 289

Format: Paperback

bonoboIn search of Humanism Among the Primates de Waal looks not only into the militant chimpanzees, but also the famously peaceful bonobo. Lifetime of research, combined with his private interest in art and philosophy, guide this journey to discover the origin of our species’ morality – and spirituality – in the societal structures and the psychological and social makeup of our closest animal relatives. If all the primates share not only social nature, but also empathy, it was arguably also present in our common ancestors, and our nature is not as rotten as some of us were convinced since childhood. Moreover, he provides us with ample examples of other species showing self-awareness and kindness previously attributed only to humans, and if on decidedly smaller levels, it’s a matter of degree.

Empathy requires awareness of the other and sensitivity to the other’s needs. It probably started with parental care, like that found in the mammals, but there is also evidence for bird empathy. […] If both birds and mammals have some measure of empathy, that capacity probably goes back to their reptilian ancestors.

He does it skilfully, being not only an incredibly skilled and competent scientist (as his resume informs us), but also a gifted storyteller. Consequently, The Bonobo and the Atheist is a great book for both a casual and a scientifically-inclined reader; in addition to its atheism-related theses, already mentioned in the title, it gives us valuable insight into the current state of research of other primates’ social nature.

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11 books that influenced me the most

Why eleven? Because I like to go one step beyond 😉

Well, that’s what Nostalgia Critic used to say in his “top eleven” lists. Me, I was inspired by Ola’s challenge, despite, and some people would feel really hurt in a situation like this, not being included there. But it made me think, and create my own list.

I wasn’t sure how to go about it. There are books I clearly remember were very important to me, but I’m no longer sure why. And they are books that really resonated with me in the last couple of years, but only time will tell if they will stay with me for the rest of my life. So, I decided to go with these representatives of the first category that I still find important. These are all books dear to me, and don’t pay close attention to which is first, and which eleventh… they are all near the top. And, just as Calmgrove observed, a list like that, if constructed tomorrow, might look slightly different… it’s all very subjective.

Please remember, much of what you’re about to read is how I saw certain topics 10-20 years ago, now I’m slightly more nuanced, or maybe hypocritical 😉

I will limit myself to fiction, because it is supposed to be eleven books, non-fiction of all sorts would be at least twice as much. So, maybe another list some other day?

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Patricia A. McKillip, Winter Rose (1996)

I’ve checked our manifesto to make sure, but we actually never claimed to be a strictly book-review blog. Place dedicated to books we said, and, the way I see it, it doesn’t have to be a weekly exercise in literary criticism. Laying out our yet-unread books to form an inscription, or nominating other bloggers to reveal their top 11 is quite a lot of fun. Still, a book review every now and then is probably a good idea… so, I will postpone my top 11 for now to write a few words about a short novel full of magic and mystery, Winter Rose by Patricia A. McKillip.

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My first encounter with her prose was in 2016, when I’ve read the Riddle-Master trilogy, a simple (but very engaging) high fantasy tale made unique by its wonderful, atmospheric prose. I like the worldbuilding, I follow the events with interest, archetypical characters were written with mastery that made me invested in the outcome, but the most charming thing was McKillip’s style. I’d describe it as a Tolkienian fantasy at its best, not what Brooks practised and Moorcock mocked as Epic Pooh, but a legitimate and worthwhile additions to the genre.

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Deadpool 2 (2018)

And… it’s another Marvel Movie Review (albeit the previous one was from a different studio). What can we say, they hit cinemas about as often as westerns used to in the olden times, and when we add various TV series…

But it’s ok, ’cause it’s freakin DEADPOOL!

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Deadpool 2, to be precise.

We attended a mini-marathon that featured both, and laughed pretty hard from the opening credits of Deadpool till the end of the last post-credits scene of Deadpool 2.

Piotrek: I’ll say again – Deadpool franchise is, for me, another proof superhero genre is mature enough to cover all the bases. We have your solid blockbusters, in the likes of Infinity War, light-hearted family comedies like Guardians, politically significant movies like Black Panther, really meaningful and moving Logan, and both Deadpools fill in the niche for smart, irreverent, fourth-wall breaking parodies. When we add TV, we have one of the best depictions of modern veterans in Punisher, very innovative Legion, and I’d even argue there are echoes of The Wire in Luke Cage.

Ola: …and Shaft 🙂

Piotrek: I have a feeling you really like Shaft. Maybe I should give it a second chance, I remember not being awed, but it was… about 20 years ago?

Ola: It’s not about this movie’s internal values as a piece of filmmaking – it’s about Shaft’s undeniable impact as a work of culture 😛 Majority of the new movies concerning African American, especially in the drama/thriller genre, consciously or subconsciously relate themselves to Shaft, because it was the first of such movies.

Piotrek: New Deadpool though… fun for everybody but the snobbiest critics! We’re so well entrenched the domination might last a while, and there are no significant threats on the horizon – although, to be honest, dinosaurs were certain of that too, right until the meteor hit.

Ola: It does seem the studios are exploiting this niche for all its worth. Your western analogy is very apt – movies based on comic books are similarly uniform in style and content, and as with westerns you can find magnificent movies right next to the epitomes of mediocrity. There was another movie genre in olden days that followed the same path of success and forgetfulness – movies based on the history and mythology of Roman Empire 😀 And there are some I wish I could unsee – like Jason and the Argonauts from 1963…

Jason-and-the-Argonauts-animated-gif-stop-motion-animation-39710211-450-248

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