Ursula Le Guin, The Other Wind (2001)

One of the high points of the recent Witch Week was a discussion on Ursula Le Guin’s The Other Wind, the final Earthsea book. Inspired beyond our contribution to the comment section there, we decided to post this special two-shot review. Warning – there will be spoilers, there’s no point in avoiding that. This is a short novel, if you liked the previous ones, read it. If not, you will not like it, we promise…

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Prószyński i S-ka published one of the beautiful editions of the Earthsea, with one weak point – lack of illustrations. Saga Press (Gollancz in UK and I have this version) published the ultimate illustrated edition, with great art by Charles Vess.

Piotrek: I love Le Guin and I consider her to be one of the giants of the genre, quite close to Tolkien on my personal Olympus. I was happy to re-read the final book before the Witch Week – originally I wanted to re-read the entire cycle, but I only found time to read Wizard and this. To my astonishment I realised I’ve never read The Other Wind before! Why? It was published in 2001, Polish translation in 2003, after my last re-read of the Earthsea. Between then and now I’ve read a few of the Hainish novels, Malafrena, and some other one-shots and short stories, even her poems, but I somehow missed The Other Wind. It was a great joy to read it now, as I really find it a worthy conclusion of the cycle and a very good read in its own rights. Some of the loose ends come together, some stories end, Le Guin neatly ties up the world we revisit for the last time (in a novel format).

Ola: I’ve read The Other Wind before – but as a much younger person 😉 It defied my expectations then; not that I thought Ged’s retirement to be a punishment, as some of the readers apparently believed, according to Le Guin – but his drastic (to my 15 years younger self, at least) change of role and status – as well as the limited amount of space he took in the book – was a definite surprise. This time I see much more clearly how deftly Le Guin altered his role from the original hero to the wise man and mentor aiding a new hero on his new journey, still keeping Ged within the heroic cycle. The cyclical nature of life is, after all, one of the main themes of the novel.

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Ursula K. Le Guin (1929 – 2018)

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Ola: One of the best fantasy and science fiction writers ever, although she didn’t like that label and preferred to be called a novelist and a poet. A daughter of the famous cultural anthropologist, Alfred Kroeber, who documented the vanishing lifestyles of West Coast Native Americans, Le Guin always put the focus of her novels on people and their varied ways of living.

As she said in an interview with John Wray in 2013 for The Paris Review,

The “hard”–science fiction writers dismiss everything except, well, physics, astronomy, and maybe chemistry. Biology, sociology, anthropology—that’s not science to them, that’s soft stuff. They’re not that interested in what human beings do, really. But I am. I draw on the social sciences a great deal. I get a lot of ideas from them, particularly from anthropology. When I create another planet, another world, with a society on it, I try to hint at the complexity of the society I’m creating, instead of just referring to an empire or something like that.

Piotrek: She was the social scientist’s fantasy writer, just as Tolkien was an heir to the rich tradition of philology and traditional study of myths. Politically not neutral, never shying away from important issues of race, feminism and other forms of inequality. Full of passion, but also smart and well-read in theory. Wise and compassionate.

In literary disputes, she was a staunch defender of what we call genre fiction. I’ve mentioned it before, but let me quote from her Guardian interview from 2016:

Realism is a genre – a very rich one, that gave us and continue to give us lots of great fiction. But by making that one genre the standard of quality, by limiting literature to it, we were leaving too much serious writing out of serious consideration

She wrote reviews for Guardian, including one of Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, and she was harsher than Ola!

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Art

We’ve been talking about changes on our blog for a while now – and here’s one of them :). I plan to post some of my graphic art and photographs here – mostly illustrations to the books I’ve read or art inspired by my reading choices. I’ll try to bring something new to this space now and then, but I don’t promise to be very organized about it. Enjoy!

Ged_1Ged and his Shadow. © A. Gruszczyk

 

Ursula Le Guin, The Found and the Lost (2016)

The Found and the Lost

The Found and the Lost is a collection of novellas by Ursula Le Guin, the founding mother of fantasy and SF as we know today. It’s a perfect book for both die-hard fans and for those who have never had the pleasure of reading anything by Le Guin before. A doorstop of a book at 600 pages in my digital copy and 816 pages in hardcover, it contains 13 novellas written in the period between 1971 (Vaster Than Empires and More Slow) to 2002 (Paradises Lost). The collection is presented mostly in a chronological order, but another categorization rule readily comes to mind while reading as the novellas can be divided into three main groups: Earthsea, Hainish cycle and “other”.

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Ann Leckie, Imperial Radch trilogy (2013 – present)

Radch EmpireAncillary Justice, Ann Leckie’s debut, literally made a killing in 2014, simultaneously winning Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke and BSFA awards. Leckie’s debut was long in coming – first drafts of what would later become Ancillary Justice were sketched back in 2002, and the book was written over a period of six years. The novel was worth the wait (even if nobody knew that they were waiting for something ;)) – Ancillary Justice comes across as a finished and polished work of art.

Superficially, it’s a story of Breq – a rather enigmatic and slightly detached individual, whose gender remains unknown, or rather unimportant, throughout the length of the story. And here’s what all and sundry’s already heard about Ancillary Justice: it uses only female pronouns in description of people. Everybody in Radch’s world is referred to as ‘she’ – because the Empire as a whole doesn’t consider sexes or genders as significant or consequential in any aspect other than being some strange barbarian quirks, hastily shoved into the box tagged ‘cultural diversity’. But a bit more on this later.

Radch is a galactic empire with – as all empires – an expansionist worldview. “Conquer, or be divided” should be its motto. As an epitome of a good SF empire, Radch has its own immortal tyrant, Anaander Mianaai. Or, to be more precise, lots and lots of Anaanders Mianaai, being one mind in literally hundreds or even thousands of bodies spread throughout the galaxy.

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A few thoughts on poetry in fantasy.

It’s mu turn and I really wanted it to be a review. But I couldn’t, yet again, finish my review of “Fatale” graphic novel series, and I’ve found something I want to share. So today’s post goes into the “wyszperane” (“found in the net”) category. My source is, as usuall, /r/Fantasy, where Mark Lawrence’s “When the language flexes its muscles” was recommended (with entry entitled “Get your stinkin’ poetry out of my fantasy book!” 😉 ). The initial purpose of this category of posts was not to write big texts, but rather link interesting and thought-provoking essays, add a short commentary and maybe initiate discussion in the „comment” section.

First – I generally agree with the author. Two important quotes:

„A lot of people say they hate poetry. That’s fair enough – the school system bears a considerable responsibility for that.” – amen to that, it almost killed my interest in poetry.

And:

„Poetry is a distillation, the highest concentration of linguistic content, and like all strong flavours it won’t be for everyone at every stage in their life.”

I’ve read and enjoyed my share of simple, action-oriented novels, where language was almost reduced to its utilitarian function. But literature is more than a description of a sequence of events and the beauty of a fantasy/sf masterwork is in its language as well as its plot or characters.

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Nagroda Priapa

Nagroda Priapa Czyli dlaczego w fantastyce definicja kobiety wyzwolonej tak często zawiera komponent dzikiego seksu ze wszystkim, co się rusza.

Post Piotrka o Artesii był wprawdzie katalizatorem tego wpisu, ale powyższe pytanie zadaję sobie już od dawna. Fantastyka, jak zresztą i inne gatunki literackie, nie oszukujmy się, pełna jest przedmiotowych ujęć silnych kobiet. Jak to możliwe? Przecież to niemal oksymoron: „silna kobieta” jako przedmiot. Pewnie, jak zwykle, dużo zależy od przyjętej definicji. Kobieta silna wedle mojej definicji powinna mieć kilka bardzo konkretnych cech (kolejność nie ma znaczenia): inteligencję, wewnątrzsterowność, umiejętność podejmowania decyzji (nawet złych), samorządność, odpowiedzialność, zdolność do rozwoju i poznania samej siebie. Czasami do tego może skopać parę tyłków, ale nie jest to warunek konieczny ani tym bardziej wystarczający. Innymi słowy – na tak pojętą “siłę” składają się cechy nie mające absolutnie nic wspólnego z płcią. Płeć nie ma znaczenia – ważna jest osoba.

Tak czy inaczej, to wręcz zaprzeczenie przedmiotowego ujęcia kobiet, w którym traktowane są jako kukiełki rządzone instynktem, popędami i twardą ręką silnego mężczyzny. Problem w tym, że we współczesnej literaturze topos „silnej kobiety” stał się stereotypową formą, czy wręcz foremką, w którą wciska się wszystko: wystarczy, że kobieta jest np. silna fizycznie, była w wojsku, zna sztuki walki, uprawia „trash talk”, albo przynajmniej radośnie, bez zobowiązań i wielkiej wybredności uprawia nieokiełznany seks.  Żeby nie brzmieć jak stara babcia, wspominająca (lepsze) czasy swojej młodości – zdaję sobie sprawę, że przedmiotowe postrzeganie płci żeńskiej istniało w kulturze zapewne od tego samego momentu, w którym pojawił się topos „silnej kobiety”. Czyli od samego początku 🙂 No chyba, że przyjmiemy tę lekko spiskową teorię dziejów, mówiącą, że pierwotne ludy rolnicze jak jeden mąż wyznawały wiarę w Boginię Matkę, i dopiero potem hordy kapłanów monoteistycznych religii osiągnęły paternalistyczną hegemonię kulturową i z sukcesem wymazywały przez wieki wszystkie pozostałości tego kultu…

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