Rick Perlstein, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008)

Author: Rick Perlstein

Title: Nixonland:The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America

Format: hardcover

Pages: 881

Series: –

Something a bit different today. I know, I know, except for Pokemon there hasn’t been much fantasy/SF on our blog lately 😉 I promise that’ll change… at some point, certainly. There will be new Marlon James book review coming soon, at least ;). But for now, a totally non-fiction, modern history book.

We live in interesting times, that’s for sure. Wars, pandemics, economic crises, global warming… The list goes on and on. But because we are so deeply enmeshed in our everyday life, we tend to forget that this uniqueness, this craziness, is in fact nothing new. That not long ago, the world was an even crazier place, at least in some localities ;). That, compared to those not so olden times, our present time is actually quite tame. If you thought Trump was something else, a new phenomenon, think again. Or even better, read Nixonland.

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Reading Ukrainian authors, thinking about Russia

Since the war began, and it’s been a month already, it became my main concern. I’m listening to the news more than it’s healthy, probably, but I also decided to go beyond the breaking news, and I reached for some recent Ukrainian literature. I have to admit I have not been keeping up, I’ve read some during my university days, but nothing recently. And a lot is going there, apparently, with much getting translated into Polish. Not as much into English, I’m afraid, but I found something that made huge impression on me that is available, so after a few more paragraphs of introduction I’ll review Serhiy Zhadan’s The Orphanage: A Novel. I wanted to write a quick review, but it turned out into quite a long text about history and politics…

What makes writing this post difficult is that I’m back to Polish sources, not so much when I’m looking for the news, here I have some excellent outlets and pages in English in my mix, but for the more in-depth cultural analysis. And this is a very interesting front. Ukraine is not only defending itself on the frontlines of this vicious war, but also re-defining its national identity, a process that started… well, back in the XIX century 😉 but in its current phase – after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. There was a referendum then, with over 90% of the voters supporting Ukraine’s independence, but in the 90ties it was independence of a weak state that tried to be equally close to Russia and to the West. Large part of its population considered Russian to be their native language, especially people in the East, but initially also in the central part that includes the capital, Kyiv. For many, a difference between being Ukrainian and Russian wasn’t clear. Whole regions were largely pro-Russian, and supported staying away from such institutions of Western imperialism as EU or NATO. Fierce nationalism dominated the West of the country, cities like Lviv. But it was a smaller, neglected part of the state.

Ukraine was a poor and corrupted country of great people that largely lost hope for things to get better – that is my own observation from the times when I used to visit more often. Then something changed, and it was a change many people missed, initially. A political one. Elections are not always fair in this part of the world, and often the population is powerless to do anything about that. Or doesn’t even care, convinced that all politicians are the same. Ukrainians refused to accept rigged elections, and more than once. They showed a love of liberty and democracy that was never really present in Russia, and that fact proved to be important. Russia, unable to manipulate Ukraine from the shadows, moved in forcefully, conquering Crimea and then parts of two of Ukraine’s easternmost regions – the former was incorporated into Russia after a referendum, the latter left as pseudo-states, ruled by Russian agents and constantly attacking Ukrainian army. After 8 years of a low-intensity (but quite bloody) conflict, Putin told his horde to attack with full force on multiple fronts and the results we see on the news since February 24.

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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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