Rebecca F. Kuang, The Poppy War (2018)

The Poppy War

Author: Rebecca F. Kuang

Title: The Poppy War

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 544

Series: The Poppy War #1

This turned out to be one of the more difficult reviews to write for me. Everybody and their uncle seems awed by Kuang’s debut novel, which reimagined the history of 20th century China into a vengeful fantasy of violence. The Poppy War was one of the rare books bound to become a bestseller, with publishers outbidding each other for the rights to the book. The enthusiasm was not without merit: for the reader from Western sphere of influence, Kuang’s novel presents an undeniably attractive image of China, fueled in equal measures by the elements of Chinese mythos already popularized in Western pop-culture and by the impression of mystery surrounding China as a fabled, distant land. The mythos, and stereotypes, are fairly easy to enumerate: martial arts’ prowess, Chinese zodiac and a large pantheon of demigods and demons, feng shui rooted in a belief of holistic spirituality, snippets of a heroic age long gone, when emperors ruled and Great Wall and Silk Road were built, and a vague concept of a collective social outlook, linked to Confucius. Add to it Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda series and Disney’s Mulan, and maybe some bits and pieces of more contemporary information regarding Chinese communism coupled with the evidence of the irrefutable economic success, and the vision of China in popular culture is more or less complete.

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Neal Asher, The Line of Polity (2003)

The Line of Polity

Author: Neal Asher

Title: The Line of Polity

Format: Paperback

Pages: 485

Series: Agent Cormac 2

This review was promised in our summary post for 2019, so I actually twisted my right arm with my left to sit down and write it in the middle of sunny summer ;).

Having reviewed both the first installment, Gridlinked, and the third installment, Brass Man, I’m in a bit of a pickle when it comes to choosing the content for this entry. Probably, it would be sufficient to say that The Line of Polity was the book that thoroughly and inevitably sold me on Asher’s Polity universe, and even if I don’t agree with all the political and ideological views of the author, I plan to remain a devoted fan.

Polity is not as pleasant and safe place as Banks’ Culture, nor is it as boring ;). The immense and mind-bogglingly diverse universe (..and I’m sure I could find another -verse fitting here :P) containing Polity, the human society ruled by nearly omniscient AIs, is a wonderful treat for all SF fans. But Asher goes further than just worldbuilding, however impeccable: he creates a world alive – rife with conflict, ambitions, and emotions, not only human, but also AI. And for a series featuring amazing battle sequences, both in the space and on the ground, Asher spends a lot of time considering the sentience. True, his AIs are very human, but reading Polity books I have a feeling they are this way by design, and not simple lack of thought or convenience. After all, they have been created by humans, influenced by the constant contact with humans, and, in a world where alien sentient races are considered more of a myth or a cautionary tale from the past than reality, AIs remain in a direct relation to humans. This relation can morph into a myriad different constellations: a mirror image, a role model, a dependent, spoiled child, a doted-upon prodigy, a master, an apprentice, a pest, a threat, a hobby… Asher deftly shows the variety of responses possible between sentient beings, each of which has something the other doesn’t possess, and subtly incorporates them into his tightly woven narrative.

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House of Cards

I had a discussion recently about the “book was better” trope. It usually is, I believe. But, as a contrarian, I like to find exceptions to every rule, even one I believe in.
Long before Netflix ordered the American version of “House of Cards”, I believed HoC to be such an example, contradicting this particular rule. British HoC is listed among my favourite shows of all time, while I just couldn’t bring myself to love the novels, even if the first one predates its tv adaptation.
So – I decided to re-post my thoughts on the topic. I still haven’t seen the last season of the Netflix show, and I don’t think I ever will. Regardless of the crimes of Kevin Spacey, it was too long and nowhere near as god as the original version. I want to remember how good it began and not spoil my impressions by seeing its progressing deterioration. I’d rather re-watch Sir Ian Richardson’s Shakespearean prime minister.
In a time of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Urquhart is perhaps an unattainable dream 😉

Re-enchantment Of The World

No, not that:house-of-cards-kevin-spaceyAlthough I’m very happy that I could binge-watch it now, in Poland, on the day of release, on Netflix, like a normal human being, not one episode a week on… what was it called, television?

Not even that:

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Although I believe it’s a superior product. Kevin Spacey is excellent, but Ian Richardson is great. Shakespearean villain, veteran of political system even more ruthless than the one we know from the American version, Francis Urquhart would outmanoeuvre Frank Underwood before breakfast. And then Underwood would remind him that UK is a pygmy next to the world’s biggest superpower. Realpolitik is a tough business.

Actually I’d love to see a series where Urquhart/Underwood had to cooperate, sort of evil version of Roosevelt/Churchill duo. Magnificent bastards both of them…

Anyway.

Ladies and gentlemen, today I give you this:

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Michel Dobbs, House of Cards (1989)

or

the book…

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Ed McDonald, Ravencry (2018)

Ravencry

Author: Ed McDonald

Title: Ravencry

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 414

In preparation for the upcoming conclusion to McDonald’s trilogy, Crowfall, I decided it was high time to share my thoughts about Ravencry, which I read back in February, right after I finished Blackwing. Talk about procrastination 😉

While Blackwing was a powerful new entry into gritty military fantasy, well-written, riveting and – what’s quite astounding – a debut, Ravencry was even better. With the world and main characters already established, McDonald focused more on character development and intrigue, introducing a much better fleshed-out – and truly creepy – villain, believable motivations, and delightfully raised stakes. All in all he succeeded in smoothing the rough edges of his original creation while keeping all the grimness, bravado and rakish charm I appreciated in Blackwing.

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Nostalgia post #5: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

Piotrek: The fifth one, huh? Well, this time we have a real treasure. We debated for a while, if it can be counted as one of the Nostalgia Posts, and decided that yes, why not? After all, we’ve been reading Pratchett most of our lives, and we feel pretty nostalgic about both the author and his works. Well, one difference between that and all the others – there isn’t a large gap between our first childhood encounters with Sir Terry and recent re-reads. Me, at least, I would read a Discworld novel or two at least every once in a few years.

My Pratchet set
Pratchett books on my shelves

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