Author: Edward Luttwak
Title: The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire from the First Century AD to the Third
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.
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
In 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.
Author: Glen Cook
Title: Water Sleeps
Series: The Chronicles of the Black Company
Format: Paperback Omnibus Edition
The penultimate book in Cook’s famous Black Company sequence, Water Sleeps, is a high-grade urban guerilla handbook. Or at least the first three fifths of it, to be precise ;). The rest is an Eldritch Horror type of novel, with several fantastic revelations, brilliantly prepared and sprung on unsuspecting readers like an exquisitely poisonous trap. Churned out mere two years after the gut-wrenching cliffhanger of She Is The Darkness, Water Sleeps presents a total change of tone and perspective, one more time introducing a completely new POV. But fear not, almost all old hands get a chance if not to shine, then at least to glimmer. And even that new POV is not so new – the Water Sleeps Annalist and strategos is no other than Sleepy, whom the readers met a long time ago as a wispy boy, a follower of the Black Company and Big Bucket’s protégé in the Company’s golden Southern days, before Mogaba’s treason and Soulcatcher’s lethal volte.
El Tres de Mayo ⓒFrancisco de Goya
Sleepy faces an insanely difficult task: a guerilla warfare in a densely populated southern city, held in a vise grip by the most dangerous of still active sorcerers, would be enough to break sweat on the brightest of the Black Company leaders in the best of times. But these are decidedly not the best of times, with the leadership… rendered helpless and away, to put things mildly and as un-spoiler-y as possible. But that’s actually Sleepy’s other task: the retrieval of the most precious of Black Company assets, i.e. its people.
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?
I’ve been delaying writing this review for a while now. The reason is quite simple: I couldn’t make up my mind about the final installment in Czajkowski’s Echoes of the Fall trilogy. But I figured this in itself is a fair indication of my experience with the book so there’s no need to wait until the muddled waters finally clear up :P.
I deeply admired the creativity, sheer scope, and ambition of Shadows of the Apt, as well as Czajkowski’s truly exceptional writing skills and the ability to maintain logical structure on something as immense and prone to sprawling as a series with an over 6k overall page count (not counting the short stories!). Not everything was perfect in a ten book long series, then again – there almost never is. I was truly impressed with Children of Time, a great SF standalone with a mad scientist, a colony ship, and spiders. I enjoyed the Guns of the Dawn, a flintlock spin on Pride and Prejudice. But the Echoes of the Fall, while impeccably written, left me unenthusiastic. All three are good books, there’s no question about it. And yet some vital detail is missing, and I can’t bond with the characters, nor force myself to feel invested in their fate.
But to the point. The third installment in the Echoes of the Fall series leads us back to Maniye Many Tracks and her small band of misfits, preparing to attack the soulless invaders who destroyed the Horse settlement. In the North the united tribes under the leadership of the unwilling, self-doubting recluse Loud Thunder, whose position strengthened after the victory over the Plague People on the ocean shores, prepare to march South. Asman, finally at peace with himself and his place in the world, gathers the army of the River Nation, and Venat, finally free, tries to rouse the Dragon to the oncoming war. Hesprec travels to the fabled kingdom of Serpent, taken over by the usurpers of Pale Shadow millennia earlier, either to find unexpected allies and knowledge necessary to stand a chance against the mysterious Plague People, or else – gruesome death.
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.
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.
As you can see, Re-enchantment got its first blogging award 😉 Big thanks to bookorbit for the nomination!
1. Thank the blogger who nominated you in a blog post and link back to their blog.
2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
3. Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions.
4. List the rules and display the sunshine blogger award logo in your post/or on your blog.
I received only one question, thankfully, so I will answer it and then proceed in bending the rules even further 😉
What’s your favourite movie of all time?