Ken Liu, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories (2016)

The Paper Menagerie

Author: Ken Liu

Title: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 453

Series: –

Ken Liu has been known as the translator to Cixin Liu’s critically acclaimed Hugo award winner, The Three-Body Problem. He is also known as the author of a “silkpunk” epic fantasy book, The Grace of Kings. But the readers of short stories know him predominantly as a talented SFF author with his own unique voice and unerring focus on humanity’s past and future, cultural diversity and a peculiar vision of transhumanism. His works won multiple awards, Nebula, Hugo, Locus and World Fantasy Award among them, and I must say that, at least with regards to the collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, he deserves quite a lot of the praise 😉.

This review will vary slightly from my usual posts; as each story or novelette forms a separate whole, I will review each in turn and give score to each separately in short paragraphs.

The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species 5,5/10

Not a great start to the collection; a showcase of interesting ideas, but nothing really stands out in this fanciful enumeration of how various species in the universe might create/perceive books. It’s a fun exercise, and an invitation to the readers to think about the idea of a book, but nothing more.

State Change 10/10

One of two best stories in the compilation, based on an outlandish and very compelling idea that every person is born with their soul manifested as a concrete, tangible item – and that the form of that item directly affects their personality. A really sweet, light, yet thought-provoking story on how we create our own limits and then learn to transcend them.

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Jamie Lackey, The Forest God (2020)

The Forest God

Author: Jamie Lackey

Title: The Forest God

Format: E-book

Pages: 82

Series: –

A wonderful little story reminiscent of works by Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones, The Forest God is a feel-good literary adventure full of witches, quests, lord’s sons, love and duty. Who wouldn’t want to read one of those? 😊

Jamie Lackey is a name I hadn’t encountered before, and I requested The Forest God from NetGalley on a whim, my decision based mostly on the cover (I know, and I’m not repentant!) It turned out to be a surprisingly good decision, for Lackey’s novella is just a perfect read for a lazy, warm evening. With the length of less than a hundred pages there is not much space within for character development, worldbuilding and action, and yet somehow Lackey manages to cram a bit of all three – with the infallible aid of fairy tales. The Forest God offers a new retelling of a very old tale, and embellishes it with some delightful twists, subtle irony, and plenty of enthusiasm for the subject matter. But let’s start at the beginning.

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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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Marie Brennan, Driftwood (2020)

Driftwood

Author: Marie Brennan

Title: Driftwood

Format: E-book

Pages: 225

Series: –

Marie Brennan’s foray into a new fantastical world comes with a lot of promise, built upon her previous series, The Memoirs of Lady Trent. That series, of which the first installment, A Natural History of Dragons, was reviewed here, had been a huge success, thanks to a happy confluence of several factors: an audacious and likeable narrator/protagonist, Isabella Trent herself; the main topic of the narrative – dragons, for many the most beloved fantastical creatures of all; the alt-Victorian/Edwardian setting with all the requisite flowery embellishment of dialogue and narrative; and, last by not least, the wonderful illustrations by Todd Lockwood. So, if you’re reaching for Driftwood with expectations built upon your reading experiences with The Memoirs of Lady Trent, beware: Driftwood has nothing in common with Brennan’s earlier books.

Not to be splitting any literary hairs here, but Driftwood is not really a novel. It’s a series of short stories connected by the setting and the recurring character of Last. Some of the stories are in fact just vignettes, focused solely on worldbuilding and showcasing characters as specimens of a particular culture; some of the other are more robust, having a discernible plot and sometimes even clear evidence of character development within its bounds. There are big and little individual and social dramas, stories of sacrifice and discovery, various religions and all that’s in between. Scarcely any science at all, which is baffling only at the first sight. For as you enter deeper into Driftwood you start to realize that the whole concept is an elaborate impression of our world’s diminishing cultural diversity. That’s my take on it, at least. To my jaundiced eye, the book revolves predominantly around the highly abstract concept of Driftwood itself – a landfill of broken worlds, floating purposelessly and inevitably through mists toward their crushing demise. We get impressions of different cultures and beliefs, alive in one moment and dead in the next, as parts of their worlds are inexorably consumed by the ceaseless grind of entropy.

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Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas (2003)

Odd Thomas

Author: Dean Koontz

Title: Odd Thomas

Format: Paperback

Pages: 446

Series: Odd Thomas #1

Koontz is a very prolific writer; he wrote over a hundred books and plenty of short stories, and has been a household name for American horror/thriller genre for ages. Somehow I had never been drawn to his work, maybe because I’m no great fan of horror 😉. I did read a King or two, and didn’t enjoy it, and I didn’t expect to change my mind for Koontz. But Bookstooge highly recommended both Odd Thomas and Lightning, and patiently kept recommending it, until I finally grabbed the book and read it. And I’m happy that I did, even if I won’t be going back to Odd Thomas’s world anytime soon.

Odd Thomas is a 20-year-old short order cook; he lives in a small, sleepy town and his most fervent wish is – for both the town itself and him in it – to remain this way forever. The slightly artificial, allegorical character of the novel, which from a certain perspective can be seen as an inherently old-fashioned yet very modernly, thrillingly written moral fable, is discernible from the first sentences – actually, from the moment when we learn that the name of Odd’s town is Pico Mundo. Small world, indeed.

Odd Thomas is a very likeable character: extremely humble, unprepossessing and caring, self-deprecating, gentle and well-behaved, he is the perfect image of a perfect boy as envisioned by an old-fashioned grandma. You’d all want him as an in-law (if you didn’t know better). Really, with his manners and unending optimism and willingness to selflessly serve others he is a character who’d feel more at ease in 1950s than in our wild 2000s. And that’s also intentional, I wager (well, I would if I were the wagering sort – which I’m not 😉).

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