Author: Neal Asher
Having followed advice of the inestimable Bookstooge, I decided to embark on another bloody literary journey, but this time a decidedly hi-tech and futuristic one. Neal Asher’s Polity novels had been described as ‘a more action-packed Culture’, and it’s a description I find at once very apt and quite misleading ;). The world of Polity is indeed similar to Banks’s Culture in that it is an ever-expanding and galaxy-spanning political entity of humans inhabiting planets and space stations, all governed and kept together by extremely sophisticated AIs. The AIs have distinct personalities which are, as expected, highly logical and possessed of a worldview undoubtedly more affected by their computing skills than by any emotions, though they seem to feel them too – especially curiosity. In short, however you would slice it, they are not human. Their ascendance to the position of power in the human Polity has apparently been bloodless and quite benevolent, humans having realized that it’s ultimately for their own betterment – and that the other choice they have is definitely worse. The AIs act more like managers than dictators, quite content to improve the lives of Polity citizens and repel any possible threats. And there are threats aplenty, as on many worlds human populations hadn’t joined the Polity, mostly due to political differences (especially autocratic and religious regimes seemingly disapproving of the entire concept of Polity or even the existence of AIs). The major one is posed by Separatists, a loose coalition of terrorists, interest groups, or even governments happy to use Polity’s technology to bring about Polity’s demise, and they are a constant source of interest to ECS – the Earth Central Security agency, consisting mostly of human agents dealing with out-Polity threats.
A fantastic romp through absurdity, surrealism, and wonder of a world where the galactic society is so much larger than just a bunch of ex-apes ready to leave the Earth, Doorways in the Sand remains one of lighter and funnier Zelazny’s works, nominated to Hugo, Locus and Nebula awards. It was also one of his five personal favorites, along with A Night in the Lonesome October, This Immortal, Lord of Light (one of my favorite SF novels) and Eye of Cat.
It’s an incredibly optimistic, fun, short novel, full of poetic remarks, absurd puns, Lewis Carroll allusions and crazy tidbits of information from almost every sphere of science: sociology, anthropology, geology, plant biology, architecture, chemistry, psychology, parapsychology, physics… the list goes on and on, and the best part is that the presence of every bit in the text is fully justified: plot-wise and otherwise.
It seems that I have a weakness for post-apocalyptic, anti-utopian stuff with young female leads ;). The Passage reminds me in many ways of The Girl With All The Gifts or McCarthy’s The Road, although the popular comparisons to The Stand are also pretty well-founded.
The Passage received a lot of buzz back in 2010 – compared to work of Michael Crichton and praised by King himself, Cronin’s book quickly wound up on bestsellers’ lists. The filming rights to this book – and two next as well, as The Passage is the first installment in a trilogy – were apparently secured by Scott Free Productions even before the book was finished.
Is the book worth the praise? The answer to this, as usual, is complicated ;). I must confess, my initial enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by the fact that I have already read the second installment. Oh boy, that’s something I will fully review in my next entry, but for now let’s concentrate on the first book, as if it were still the only one, fresh and full of promises.
Because The Passage in itself is actually a good book. It’s a mash-up of genres, a post-apocalyptic horror/sf road novel with vampires, elements of anti-utopia and chunks of a military thriller, and it all works surprisingly well, even dunked in the heavy philosophical/theological sauce Cronin is so fond of.
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”.
Kim Stanley Robinson is a prolific writer specializing in what one may call a subgenre of ecological sf. You know, terraforming processes, the future fate of Earth, generational ships… A fair bit of technical stuff, although definitely nowhere near the staggering amounts present in Stephenson’s works. A rather thinnish plot designed mostly to get to the perceived end-point by the most effective route possible, but still interesting enough to be worth following. And lots and lots of big picture thinking about the future fate of the Solar System – how it might look like one day if people stayed exactly the same but their environment drastically changed. It might sound boring, but I can assure you – it’s not. I reached for 2312 based on a recommendation of a fellow blogger, and though it took me a better part of two months to finish this brick of a book (464 pages in my edition), I was glad that I did. For those interested in awards, 2312 won the 2013 Nebula Award.
2312 describes a future that happened. Solar System is colonized – there are people living on Mercury and Venus and Mars, even Saturn and Jovian moons, and there is a whole diaspora of space travelers spending their entire lives in habitats – meteors which were drilled from within, turned into tori or empty drums, and seeded with a chosen environment. In other words – miniature worlds of a few square kilometers, teeming with life and yet unbelievably fragile at the same time. Heck, there are even people living on the meteors surrounding the Sun – Vulcanoids, worshipping the Sun as a fiery, cruel, and life-giving god. The Earth is a place of dissent and poverty, frantically sucking in the resources from other planets. Unchecked global warming considerably raised the sea levels, drastically limiting not only the habitable space, but also territories suitable for growing food. Forests are almost non-existent. Most of the big mammal species have become extinct. Earth became a terrible, desperate place, sowing dissent and rage across all of the Solar System – and yet still the only place that the human species might fully call their home.
Piotrek: Guardians of the Galaxy came out before we started this blog, so I will start with some praise for Volume 1. It is one of my favourite MCU movies, definitely one that made me laugh most (remember, Deadpool is part of the Fox’s side of Marvel). Guardians had superb soundtrack, great team of characters that really worked together, extremely entertaining plot and it took the MCU to the space, introducing characters and places that will be important for the culmination that Infinity War needs to be. It was all put together so well I had no problem with slight inconsequences and a weak villain. And it gave us Groot 😉
Volume 2 is even better. Not as fresh, but seamless, within the framework of its genre – kind of perfect. It’s very different from Logan, but both these movies prove to me that superhero genre matured to the point where it deserves to dominate cinemas. If it all goes downhill from here, I’ll be happy to re-watch what we already have.
Ola: Yes indeed, Guardians vol. 2 seem to be even better than their predecessor, and that is a feat in itself, as no. 1 was an awesome romp through the adventure and SF genres, with an added secret ingredient – family dramedy :). This time around there’s much more of family drama, and – surprisingly – of SF. A great, complicated not-entirely-villain with the rugged, trustworthy face of Kurt Russel makes for a compelling counterpart to the already established team of the Guardians, and the chemistry between the protagonists takes this movie far beyond what we usually expect from movies based on comic books – or at least MCU.
I should start with the old and worn saying: “never say never”. For despite my scalding review of the second installment, Golden Son, and doubts the size of Godzilla I did reach for the conclusion to the Red Rising trilogy. Availability is key, you might say, especially on long train trips 😉 Aaand a promise of mindless entertainment 😉
I’m therefore pleased to say Morning Star is better than Golden Son. As the trilogy’s finale, it has all the advantages of tying up every unfinished thread, and bringing logical and emotionally satisfying conclusion to the story, in the hopes of becoming the crowning achievement of the author.
Red Rising trilogy, just like an old-fashioned computer game, lines the problems up from the easiest – the Institute in Red Rising – to the most difficult – i.e. the whole solar system in Morning Star. The villainous bosses are also gaining weight and powers as the books flash by, and this time the main villain is the Big Bad herself, the autocratic ruler of the solar system, Olivia au Lune, and her sinister right hand, Aja. Not to mention the Jackal, the scourge of Mars, the evil twin of Mustang and the terrible alter ego to Darrow. A double Mr Hyde for the price of one! :).