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.
I will start with an honest admission, as befits a review of the retelling of Arthurian mythos. Arthurian myths are very important to me – as are Greek and Norse, Slavic and Celtic, Sumerian and Egyptian myths, which all together form a still incredibly significant foundation of European culture. And within the wide realm of Arthurian myths, rooted in Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, which in itself was a reworking of earlier tales, I have pledged my allegiance to T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. I don’t care it’s misogynist. I don’t mind that parts of it are not on par with the rest (I’m looking at you, The Book of Merlyn!). I fully believe it’s the most beautiful and heartfelt retelling of the Arthurian mythos, full of passion – and compassion – and understanding of human nature.
And so I approached Kristian’s recent retelling, Lancelot, with no small amount of trepidation. Armed with a glowing recommendation from Aaron at the Swords and Spectres I hastened to read it, but remembering our previous differences of opinion, O gentle friend, I remained wary. And indeed, it took me some time to warm up to this reimagined Lancelot, from his difficult, heart-breaking childhood to his equally troubled adolescent years on Karrek Loos yn Koos, the island of Lady Nimue. For Kristian spins the story in the one direction that had been relatively less explored before – Lancelot’s past. We see him as a child cruelly and early bereft of childhood, only barely escaping the fate of his family – with an angry hunting bird and a promise of revenge as his sole possessions. We see him as a wild teenager, stubborn and prideful, separate from others and self-unaware to the point of naivety. We see him grow, and learn, and as we do, we begin to see the promise in him, the seed of the future first knight of Britain and the leader of men. We see him triumphant, we see him defeated, but to the end unbroken. What we see most clearly, however, is the unwavering love and loyalty that had become a staple of this paradoxical knight – and in this, Kristian’s retelling is as faithful to the spirit of Arthurian myths as it only could be.
I have become aware of the existence of Robertson Davies and his books solely through the glowing review by Chris from Calmgrove – and I’d like to thank him, because reading Fifth Business was an experience I absolutely wouldn’t want to have missed. As we’re in the middle of Robertson Davies Reading Week organized by Lory over at Emerald City Book Review to commemorate the author’s 106th birthday on 28th August, I thought I’d join the effort and put out there my review as well – for the work of Robertson Davies indeed deserves wide appreciation. And while I endeavor to write a proper review of the novel, be prepared: it will be pervadingly whimsical, tangential and digressive, thus reflecting the very nature of Fifth Business.
First, however, the title. Fifth Business, in the words of the author, refers to
“Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were nonetheless essential to bring about the Recognition or the dénouement” Hence, “the player who acted these parts was often referred to as Fifth Business”.
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.
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.
Piotrek: Ambitious title for a 500 pages book, ain’t it? This young (born 1976) and charismatic Israeli historian – and his is a professional historian, with his DPhil thesis titled History and I : war and the relations between history and personal identity in Renaissance military memoirs, c.1450-1600. written in Oxford – aims to catch the essence of our history, as a species, in one tome. The result is certainly very successful, since 2011 published in multiple languages and its author became a public intellectual with TED Talks and countless interviews available on Youtube and elsewhere. We are here to judge if the world is right 😉
Ola: Oh well, there’s nothing like a catchy beginning, is there? 😛 But on a more serious note, Harari’s ambitions were huge, and a bit of hubris was, I guess, unavoidable – especially if you want to market a de facto historical book to a wide, mostly lay, public. Harari’s book, however, deserves its hype, for it’s written in a flowing, precise style, and delivers an abundance of catchy, well devised examples to better explain the more abstract concepts.
There is now a Polish movie being played in cinemas, in my country and throughout Europe. There are over 200 screenings planned in the UK alone (beginning today!), and that’s a lot for a Polish movie, our pictures rarely go beyond niche festivals. Tickets are mostly bought out by my compatriots living abroad, but they are not its whole audience.
Well, the title is Kler (our word for ‘the clergy’). Specifically, in the Polish context, the catholic clergy. Catholicism is the default option here. Not just as a religion. To a large extent, especially outside large cities, it’s the foundation of social life and a powerful political and economic force.
In the days when diocese after diocese goes bankrupt trying to pay off the victims of their functionaries’ abuse and, in Chile, the entire bishopryepiscopate submits resignations, there are not enough movies about the issue. Spotlight was very good, and certainly educational, Calvary show how a catholic country might look after the problem is largely processed. Clergy is about Church militant, unapologetic and intertwined with the state as close, as the Irish one during the heights of its power.