The Best Of 2020

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 :).

Ola’s Best of 2020 in Fiction

Neal Stephenson, Anathem (2008)

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!

Hilary Mantel, The Mirror & the Light (2020)

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.

Yoon Ha Lee, Ninefox Gambit (2016)

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 😉

Daniel Polansky, The Seventh Perfection (2020)

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.

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Re-Enchanted 2020

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 bookish friendships 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 🙂

21st Century Authoritarianism in Poland

It’s a NSFW revolution…. “wypierdalać” means “get the fuck out”

Ola: As much as we’d love to keep to the books and movies, the Polish ugly reality won’t allow us this luxury. After the brazen dismantling and subjugation of the judicial system, effective reintroduction of censorship in media, transforming the Roman Catholic Church into a political force, and crawling incapacitation of the military and foreign policy, the ruling authoritarian party ironically called Law and Justice decided to take posession of the citizens’ hearts and minds – by force. Starting with the persecution of the minorities: from LGBTQ to foreigners, Polish government has ended on a very Atwoodian note – by overturning (arguably illegally) the already very restrictive abortion laws, in effect banning nearly all forms of abortion, even in cases of severe foetal damage or abnormality, which often results in the death of the embryo.

Let’s put this in context: 98% of the 1,100 terminations permitted last year in Poland (a country with a population of nearly 38 million) were in the category of severe fetal abnormality. The current government had sought to overturn this law before, and not because of some high abstract values but mostly for a very concrete political gain – the removal of women’s rights comes as a gift from the Law and Justice politicians for the ultra-conservative Polish Catholic Church; it serves a very significant symbol of goodwill and a tangible guarantee of continuing support of the dominant religious institutions for the authoritarian regime.

Let’s be clear here: while the abortion theme might be the most apparent, controversial, and commanding attention, it is not the main issue here. The crux of the problem is that an increasingly authoritarian ruling party decided to overturn a long-standing and widely accepted axio-normative compromise rooted in law in the middle of a growing deadly pandemic, hoping that the battered an divided Polish society won’t notice this (yet another in a long line of progressively punitive) encroachment on civil freedoms. And now, when Poles are protesting on the streets, the leader of the Law and Justice party officially calls for the extreme right-wing organizations to defend traditional values “at all cost,” exhorting them to “win this war” – basically, and in not so many words, inciting social unrest and violence. The Guardian called it simply a betrayal of democracy, and is right.

Piotrek: It’s increasingly controversial to call what we had a compromise. If it ever was one, it was between conservative politicians and the Church, and resulted in some of the harshest abortion laws in Europe. The Church seemed to be doing well despite a growing wave of scandals, but this time they might have gone too far and the bishops are seen as just as valid a target of public anger as politicians.

There is something going on in Poland. And we’re not talking about the recent rise in COVID-19 cases – although this is very worrying, as we had twice as much cases in October than during the entire pandemic before the current month.

There is also a rise in people marching against the regime. They march, they drive very slowly on busy streets, they sit and block crucial crossroads in city centres. The rural areas I blasted in our previous political post are on the move as well, bless them. What has changed? It’s too early for a final verdict, but one thing is clearly visible – young people are mobilized like never before. It’s probably the biggest political mobilization of Polish teenagers ever. I was among the oldest on the first demonstration last week. Veterans of the resistance are a bit bitter, perhaps if we had more support five years ago we could prevent a lot of evil – but that doesn’t matter now, and clearly people younger than me needed to find their very own reasons to join the good fight. Now they see they have a very personal stake in how the society is organized and they are doing something about it. I salute them!

I’ve never seen so much energy, joy, optimism. It’s a street revolution, it’s a meme war, there’s music. Politically we might achieve nothing, again – although I might be surprised again. But this week revealed a huge social change that never before translated into the world of politics – the catho-nationalistic ideology the regime tried to feed to the young generation didn’t take.

My city, my people. Photo by filmowanielotnicze.pl

There is hope; please, even now, when the most important thing going is is undoubtedly happening in America, pay some attention to our sad little country.

The Mandalorian (2019 – present)

Creator: Jon Favreau

Title: The Mandalorian

Franchise: Star Wars

Series: The Mandalorian #1

As we’re nearing the release date of the second season of The Mandalorian, the highly acclaimed space western series and the only thing that valiantly stands between Star Wars and the abyss of total, disgraceful annihilation, we’ve decided it was high time to review the first season 😊.

The Mandalorian came to the TV screens as a surprise pet project of Jon Favreau, for a long time associated mostly with Marvel and their cinematic universe. Favreau and Dave Filoni, known best for his long-time work with Star Wars franchise (particularly the animated series SW: Clone Wars and SW: Rebels), worked long and hard on a new live-action series that would explore the SW universe immediately after the events of The Return of the Jedi.

Ola: Hmm, I wonder why is that? Is it possible they weren’t fans of the new Star Wars movies Disney so horribly botched? 😀

When you watch The Mandalorian, the answer to this question quickly becomes obvious. The new series pays direct homage to the very beginnings of the Star Wars franchise, revisiting old places and old themes in a way that remains respectful, very self-aware, and wonderfully nostalgic while simultaneously offering new perspectives, immensely better CGI and slicker storytelling – not to mention the exploration of the more mysterious elements of the lore, such as the Mandalorians, the nature of the Force, or even the species of Yoda. It’s clear that the series is a creation of devoted fans, a heartfelt tribute to a phenomenon that had significantly influenced not only the imaginations of many generations of movie goers but also the Western popular culture in general.

Piotrek: Yes, definitely, I won’t argue with you on that. The Mandalorian is my favourite recent addition to the Star Wars universe and one of the best SF shows I’ve seen recently. We both hated the new trilogy, even if I enjoyed its first instalment. This show was great in itself, and also developed the lore in interesting ways. Now they just need to remove most of the new feature films from the canon 😉

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Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, Saga (2012-present)

AN EPIC SPACE OPERA ABOUT WARS, STARS, AND PARENTHOOD. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, SAGA.

Piotrek: Brian K. Vaughan came to my attention years ago, with his Y: The Last Man series, an very original and altogether excellent comic book series from the early 2000s.

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It tells a story of the last human male on an alternative Earth, where all the mammals with Y chromosome died suddenly in 2002. The mechanics of this event were, to me, a bit disappointing, but the series was exciting, full of action, romance, and politics. I’ve heard great thinks about Runaways, but haven’t read that. When I’ve read about his new series, Saga, I was pretty sure it’s going to be great. I’ve read the first volume, and it confirmed my suspicions. It was great! But, I didn’t want to wait anxiously for each volume. I bought the first deluxe hardcover, and the second, and the third, and never read beyond volume one.

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There’s quite a lot of violence, and sex, but probably the most controversial thing is that they dared to put a boob on the cover!

I have to say the series shines not only in the script department, but is also beautifully illustrated. Fiona Staples definitely is a co-author of this experience, and I mention her after my paragraph about Vaughan mostly because it was my first encounter with her work. Exactly how splendid that work is, will tell you in the review itself.

Recently, I learned the series is on hiatus, and we will have to wait a good while to see its second half. Saga also popped up, now and then, on many of the blogs I follow. I decided to finally read it, and I wolfed down all three 500-hundred-page volumes within a week. It was so good!

Ola: And I read it all once Piotrek had his shiny hardcovers 😀 Oh, the joys of borrowing books ;). I’m not a big fan of Runaways, and Y somehow never got to the top of my TBR, but I can fully confirm Piotrek’s opinion on Saga – it really is a very good, stunningly illustrated story. Hats off to Fiona Staples, because without her art the story wouldn’t be half as good, or half as crazy. And while the main characters hold the majority of readers’ attention, it’s the side characters that add that elusive secret ingredient that makes Saga such a memorable read. By now The Lying Cat has probably more fans than Marko or Alana 😉

Saga Lying Cat

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