Karel Čapek, War with the Newts (1936)

Sometimes I buy a book just because it’s pretty. It can be something I already read and might never re-read, sometimes it’s a new one for me, often it waits years for its turn. Karel Čapek’s War with the Newts I read almost immediately, and I’m quite certain I’ll be revisiting. If not for a full re-read, then at least to browse the illustrations, as this is one of the best-illustrated books I own, not only because the pictures look pretty, but also because they are fully integrated within the story.

I was additionally motivated when I noticed Jeroen from A Sky of Books and Movies started reviewing Čapek, first R.U.R. and then War with the Newts itself. His review is highly recommended as it puts the book in the context of its times and similar genre fiction. I’ll try to add a bit to that, but I’ll concentrate on my edition, one that is sadly only available to Polish and German-reading audiences.


Author: Karel Čapek

Illustrator: Hans Ticha

Title: War with the Newts / Válka s Mloky in the original Czech, also translated as Salamander Wars, but the Polish title of this edition is Inwazja jaszczurów which literally means Invasion of the Lizards

Format: hardcover

Pages: 368

Series: Świeżym okiem (With a fresh eye…) – yay, there will be more of these beautiful editions, next one – Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

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The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf (2021)

Escaping from poverty to become a witcher, Vesemir slays monsters for coin and glory, but when a new menace rises, he must face the demons of his past.

Piotrek: Ladies and gentlemen, I present you a perfectly serviceable action anime, a nicely animated tale with a solid, if predictable plot. Childhood friends lost and found, poor kids training to become powerful warriors, valour, prejudice, betrayal and evil conspiracies. Not sure I’d watch a whole season of that, but a movie was enjoyable.

What? You say it’s a Witcher story? No, that simply cannot be, a funny claim…

Ola: Funny, you say? I’d call it preposterous. Nightmare of the Wolf has nothing in common with The Witcher’s lore or worldview; indeed, it is a direct contradiction of both. And I can’t decide if the nifty tag line, Face your demons, is ironic or outright cynical.

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Joe Abercrombie, The Trouble with Peace (2020)

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Title: The Trouble with Peace

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 506

Series: The Age of Madness #2

The Trouble with Peace is the second installment in Abercrombie newest trilogy, The Age of Madness – playing out approximately two decades after The First Law trilogy in the Circle of the World. I’ve read the first installment, A Little Hatred, back in 2019 – but never gotten around to reviewing it. Suffice to say, it was pretty good: slicker and sharper and funnier than The First Law, with the added benefit of hosting a less likeable crew of protagonist – which, in Abercrombie’s books, is actually a real benefit, as most of them will most probably meet their gory, humiliating and depressing ends long before the trilogy’s conclusion. I rated A Little Hatred 8/10; and I’m happy to say The Trouble with Peace is even better.

The First Law trilogy was written with the ingenious leading thought of “What if Merlin was evil?” The Age of Madness continues to build up on it and I’m very encouraged by the signs of an equally pitiless Nimue in sight. But most importantly, with his Age of Madness series Joe Abercrombie seems to be stepping into Sir Terry Pratchett’s shoes – if (and that’s a big if) Pratchett were cynical to the core, ruthless, and constantly angry. Sure, at the moment these shoes are still way too big, and at times clearly uncomfortable, but I’m pretty certain Abercrombie will grow up to fit them quite well.

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Adrian Tchaikovsky, One Day All This Will Be Yours (2021)

Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: One Day All This Will Be Yours

Format: E-book

Pages: 192

Series: –

After a couple of disappointing books by Tchaikovsky I approached this novella with certain trepidation. After all, one can become too thinly spread, “sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread,” even without One Ring (unless you want to confess, Mr Tchaikovsky?) I needn’t have worried, tough – this novella is short and sharp and scathing, with long pointed teeth and unrelenting snarkiness that brings to mind the best that stand-up comedy has to offer.

And this novella is indeed written very much in the style of stand-up comedy, with the protagonist wound up to the extreme, never shutting up, venting his anger and misanthropy in an unceasing torrent of words. It’s funny, it’s rabid, it’s sarcastic – but most of all, it’s to the point. You see, in Causality Wars the unnamed protagonist is the veteran of the humanity – and history – ceased to exist. With the onset of time travel rewriting the past became the favorite pastime of governments and agencies, and all the innumerable, contradictory changes to the history carried out by time soldiers resulted in shattering the past and erasing the present. It was still salvageable, more or less – until Causality bombs destroyed the substance of time. And so now, at the end of times, in the one stable point of a glorious indeterminate amount of time, our protagonist treasure hunts the sharp shards of the past, gathering farming equipment, growing veggies and killing random time travellers who inexorably land in his garden, in the farthest possible future. Until travellers from the actual, future, future turn up on his porch and call him Gramps. The gall! Gramps is not happy; he’s a nasty mean old geezer and wants to stay this way forever, so obviously the only thoughts he spared for his bride-to-be are how to most efficiently kill her before they can produce any of that horrible offspring.

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Adrian Tchaikovsky, Bear Head (2021)

Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Bear Head

Format: E-book

Pages: 400

Series: Dogs of War #2

Tchaikovsky became one of my favourite authors of fantasy after I read his amazing, and still not well-known enough (read it if you haven’t yet!) Shadows of the Apt. His Children of Time proved that he can easily deliver interesting, thought-provoking, emotional SF as well, and I’ve read enough of his short stories to know he can be a pro at writing these, too. In short, he’s a very well-rounded, very talented author, with unwavering focus on emotional development and a firm if understated ethical foundation. He has a knack for tackling difficult, often traumatic topics with tact and sensitivity, never going for cheap thrills or gratuitous exploitation. All in all, he’s one of the very few authors I keep constantly on my radar. Granted, there were a few a bit concerning reviews of his couple of books along the way that I haven’t gotten around to read, and I’m not certain I will – the sequel of Children of Time, Children of Ruin, springs to mind. But generally, with Tchaikovsky, I knew what to expect. Now, after reading Bear Head, I’m not so sure anymore. If anything, I’d venture an opinion that he had become the victim of his own success: writing too many books in too short a time, and none of the projects getting enough attention and polish and love to become a truly outstanding work, on par with Shadows of the Apt.

Because Bear Head is the worst of Tchaikovsky’s books I’ve read so far. It’s by no means bad; it’s still very engaging, well-written, fast-paced page-turner tackling ambitious problems in an interesting, thought-provoking way. Yet it also feels underdeveloped, rushed, and – surprisingly for Tchaikovsky – not entirely thought through. It has a more “paint-by-the-numbers” feel than the usual impression of a thoughtful creative work. It’s also, maybe most importantly, more of a political statement than a SF novel. Ah, all SF novels are political statements of one kind or another, I think we’d all agree on this. It’s just that in this case Bear Head veils itself in a very thin layer of science, indeed – and whatever there is, serves as a focus for the very concrete, very clearly defined “now,” in contrast to the previous concerns with more abstract ideas like “human nature” or “future,” which used to be the crux of his Children of Time, for example.

Lots of big words here, I know, and lots of harsh accusations. Let’s get down to the tangibles, then.

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