Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Spoilers ahead, beware! I’d say, with this movie the statue of limitations is short, and everybody is going to see it anyway, so there’s no point in writing a spoiler-free review 😉

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We went our friend Rodzyn to see the new Avengers movie on the very first day it was being played in Poland. It certainly is a complex, carefully constructed story of epic proportions, aiming to be a climax of the entire theatrical MCU so far. Most of the heroes we’ve met meet to fight the ultimate threat – Thanos. He’s been looming on the horizon since The Avengers, and now stepped up to become THE villain.

So… did they succeed, is it the greatest team-up, the biggest foe, the most epic struggle and the most heart-wrenching story of the MCU?

Piotrek: It… well, it is, for me. Not the best MCU movie, but definitely the proper culmination (or at least the first part of…) of all the interweaving storylines. The scale is bigger than anything that happened before, and a chaotic disaster on the DC scale was a real risk – but it works! It works, because we had a decade to prepare and now it just click together nicely.

Ola: I’m not sure if this indeed is a culmination – or, to be more precise, a final one. The superheroes surely deal with the biggest and baddest foe to date, and it is the most epic struggle of the MCU as we know it. However, the heart-wrenching part is a definite exaggeration on your part, Piotrek ;). It’s a wonderfully made, cleverly written, visually arresting, truly funny and sometimes even quite emotionally gripping – money grab 🙂

Piotrek: Isn’t everything. But it’s quite a good one, as blockbusters go. And it’s more than just a sequence of fights and quips.

Rodzyn: It’s hard not to admire the weavers behind MCU mentioned by Piotrek . After all those years we get to the skilfully crafted final stage, one that avid viewer can enjoy immensely. But neither the decor of epic battlefields nor the sheer number of assembled heroes gave me the most joy. In my eyes the best part of MCU are the relations and dynamics between our protagonists, ‘family drama’ feel of supernatural gathering.

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Adrian Czajkowski, The Bear and the Serpent (2017)

The Bear and the Serpent

The second installment in the Echoes of the Fall trilogy follows the events of The Tiger and the Wolf. I promised a review a long time ago, but somehow there were always more important things to write about 😉 The long May break gave me a bit more time and an opportunity to come back to Maniye Many Tracks and her small band of outcasts from different tribes. Unable or unwilling to find her place up north after the events of The Tiger and the Wolf, Maniye decides to accompany Asmander in his return journey to the southern lands.

Asmander’s homeland curiously resembles South Americas/ancient Egypt in its undeniable higher level of civilizational and technical development, paid for with new depths of sheer brutality, political ruthlessness and sophisticated cruelty. The grand viziers of this Southern world are suitably cunning and heartless, the priests mysterious and the warriors brutal, and if I had to voice my reservations I’d say I wished for a less conventional treatment of the topic. Too many old, used tropes to my liking. Thankfully, the Northern events were in typical Czajkowski’s style – engaging, emotional, and superbly written.

Pharaoh

In the South, Maniye and her band find themselves in the middle of a highly dangerous conflict, in which the usually smooth ascension of a new ruler is broken by an accident of birth – instead of one heir there are two: twins, each fighting for the doubtful privilege of becoming a pharaoh of sorts. Asmander’s loyalty is torn, and his typical Hamletic behavior is not helped in any way by the fact that Venat leaves him to fulfill the dreams of his youth and claim the terribly uncomfortable throne of the Dragon people. Add to it mysterious and lethal invasion in the lands of the North, the grim destiny awaiting Loud Thunder as an unwilling leader of an unheard-of, all-tribes warband gathering on the shores of northern lands to protect them from an ancient danger, a risky awakening of old myths (fans of Batman, rejoice!) and a deeply dangerous, political play between different Serpent factions… One thing is certain: Czajkowski surely knows how to amp up the tension and the levels of plot convolution.

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Yuki Urushibara, Mushishi (1999-2008)

Wow, it’s only a second appearance of manga on Re-enchantment… After Yotsuba&!, it’s time for Mushishi, another of my favourite series. Created by Yuki Urushibara and published for ten years in serialized form in Japan, now it’s available both in English and Polish, collected in 10 volumes.

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This is the only manga I own a whole set of. Well, this and Azumanga Daioh, but the other is just one 700 pages omnibus. Also highly recommended, from an author that later gave us previously mentioned Yotsuba&!, but that’s not for today.

Mushishi is a story about Ginko, a wandering mushi-shi, occult specialist protecting people from mushi, ethereal, supernatural beings not perceived by regular humans, but capable of influencing their lives in usually pretty dangerous ways. Partly a shaman, even more a scientist, Ginko uses his knowledge of the supernatural to help people as he travels through Urushibara’s version of XIX-century rural Japan of the late Edo period.

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Roger Zelazny, Doorways in the Sand (1976)

Doorways in the Sand

A fantastic romp through absurdity, surrealism, and wonder of a world where the galactic society is so much larger than just a bunch of ex-apes ready to leave the Earth, Doorways in the Sand remains one of lighter and funnier Zelazny’s works, nominated to Hugo, Locus and Nebula awards. It was also one of his five personal favorites, along with A Night in the Lonesome October, This Immortal, Lord of Light (one of my favorite SF novels) and Eye of Cat.

It’s an incredibly optimistic, fun, short novel, full of poetic remarks, absurd puns, Lewis Carroll allusions and crazy tidbits of information from almost every sphere of science: sociology, anthropology, geology, plant biology, architecture, chemistry, psychology, parapsychology, physics… the list goes on and on, and the best part is that the presence of every bit in the text is fully justified: plot-wise and otherwise.

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George R. R. Martin, Fevre Dream (1982)

George R. R. Martin… whether he finishes Song of Ice and Fire or not, his series gave me a few good moments and changed the way I look at epic fantasy. It was, at times, a painful experience, and the Red Wedding made me very, very angry. Years later, watching Arya in the opening episode of season seven, I got my revenge… I’m not really that bitter about the delays, I don’t think final instalments could reach the level of books 1-3, anyway. I’ll read them, I’ll get hardcovers to match my copies of the previous ones, but I’m philosophical about it. I even agree with Gaiman that Martin is not my bitch (there is also a song).

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Adrian Czajkowski, A Time for Grief (2017)

A Time for Grief

A Time for Grief, the second Shadows of the Apt companion book, consisting of ten short stories, gives us a world of fragile peace. While Spoils of War focused on the pitfalls of war, A Time for Grief tries to convince the reader that times of peace can be nearly as dangerous, and even outright lethal to some – especially to academics. And, with Czajkowski being in a good writing form, it generally succeeds.

The stories in A Time for Grief are a diverse mix: they’ve been coming up slowly, one at a time, since 2008. The most recent stories were written in 2017, but the nine-year gap between the oldest and the newest is practically invisible. It’s pretty clear that Czajkowski never really left the world of Shadows of the Apt and, in a way reminiscent of the late sir Terry Pratchett uses his creation to form a timely commentary on universal problems of our world, from poverty to prejudice. Some of the stories have already appeared on the author’s website, some were written specifically for the new volume. Their timeline covers a span from before the Empire in Black and Gold (the first installment in the Shadows of the Apt series) to events well after The Seal of the Worm (the last, tenth part of the series). The stories cover a swath of the world, from the far deserts of Spiderlands to the farthest reaches of Commonweal, with special nods to Helleron as the center of deadly vice ;).

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Jean Van Hamme, Grzegorz Rosiński, Thorgal (1977-2006)

and several other, not as good, writers, from 2006 onwards, and maybe they should stop, but it started great, and continued strong, for three decades 🙂

When I was a kid, I did not have easy access to Marvel, or DC, comics. Some Batman storylines, The Amazing Spider-Man published in Poland by TM-Semic… I’ve actually only come to really appreciate comics in my early twenties. On title that was always around though – Thorgal. One of a few comic book series hugely popular in a comic wasteland that Poland was, and perhaps still is – we have notable authors, sure, but the scale is small.

Thorgal is a science fiction Viking fantasy (!) series written by (first, and best, 29 issues) a Belgian author Jean Van Hamme and illustrated by a Pole, Grzegorz Rosiński. Belgian, part of the big universe of Francophone comics, the biggest force in the European comic book scene and well worth your while. Smart, pretty – often in a rough way, less polished, and less uniform, than their American counterparts and also less prudish than American publications. I would argue – on average, more sophisticated. With no luck in the film adaptation department, as recent unremarkable Tin-Tin and messy Valerian prove.

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