Neal Asher, Polity Agent (2006)

Author: Neal Asher

Title: Polity Agent

Format: Paperback

Pages: 562

Series: Agent Cormac #4

Wow. I can’t believe I hadn’t written this review before. In fact, I was so certain that I had, that in the end I checked my blog and Goodreads… twice 😉. And indeed, I hadn’t. Well, better late than never, so here it is.

With book 4, Asher is faced with the ultimate threat to any self-respecting series – getting lost within the intricacies of his own plot and the ever-growing cast. And in Polity Agent he must indeed juggle many pieces and characters, all working independently or semi-independently from one another, all moving in separate directions, all motivated by different things. We have agent Cormac, undergoing changes he doesn’t understand and is not comfortable with; he is becoming (or fears becoming) more machine than a man, and while all the changes are apparently necessary as elements of the life-saving procedure in the aftermath of the Skellor’s attack that almost killed Cormac in Brass Man, he still resents being stripped of choice. We have our magnificent bastard, Mister Crane; what he’s up to is anyone’s guess, but it’s always a wonder to watch him reassemble himself through unending iterations. We have Mika, still deeply engaged in her Dragon research, but also increasingly engaged in a relationship with Cormac; and of course, we have the Dragon. As enigmatic as Mister Crane, the Dragon spheres and their aims remain a mystery.

We also have plenty of AIs, from the nearly omniscient Jerusalem to the rebellious King of Hearts to Jack Ketch who renamed himself to “Not Entirely Jack,” and to the bloodthirsty, adventurous war drone Arach; there’s more, and they all seem increasingly divided and not entirely benevolent. Just take a look at the Legate, an emissary of the Jain technology: imagine Lang’s Metropolis upgraded to Terminator 2 and hell-bent on the destruction of Polity.

We have also Orlandine, a haiman (a meld of human and AI) tempted by the poisoned fruit of Jain knowledge. And last but not least, there is Horace Blegg and his particularly dangerous secret; let’s not forget Sparkind Thorn and Scar, the dracoman. Shall I go on? I believe that by now you get the gist: Polity Agent boasts of a plethora of characters and places and motivations, and is definitely not a good place to start one’s adventure with Asher’s universe. Start with Gridlinked, and slowly make your way through Line of Polity and Brass Man before you attempt either Polity Agent or the fifth and final installment, The Line War.

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Ken Liu, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories (2016)

The Paper Menagerie

Author: Ken Liu

Title: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 453

Series: –

Ken Liu has been known as the translator to Cixin Liu’s critically acclaimed Hugo award winner, The Three-Body Problem. He is also known as the author of a “silkpunk” epic fantasy book, The Grace of Kings. But the readers of short stories know him predominantly as a talented SFF author with his own unique voice and unerring focus on humanity’s past and future, cultural diversity and a peculiar vision of transhumanism. His works won multiple awards, Nebula, Hugo, Locus and World Fantasy Award among them, and I must say that, at least with regards to the collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, he deserves quite a lot of the praise 😉.

This review will vary slightly from my usual posts; as each story or novelette forms a separate whole, I will review each in turn and give score to each separately in short paragraphs.

The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species 5,5/10

Not a great start to the collection; a showcase of interesting ideas, but nothing really stands out in this fanciful enumeration of how various species in the universe might create/perceive books. It’s a fun exercise, and an invitation to the readers to think about the idea of a book, but nothing more.

State Change 10/10

One of two best stories in the compilation, based on an outlandish and very compelling idea that every person is born with their soul manifested as a concrete, tangible item – and that the form of that item directly affects their personality. A really sweet, light, yet thought-provoking story on how we create our own limits and then learn to transcend them.

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Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, Saga (2012-present)

AN EPIC SPACE OPERA ABOUT WARS, STARS, AND PARENTHOOD. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, SAGA.

Piotrek: Brian K. Vaughan came to my attention years ago, with his Y: The Last Man series, an very original and altogether excellent comic book series from the early 2000s.

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It tells a story of the last human male on an alternative Earth, where all the mammals with Y chromosome died suddenly in 2002. The mechanics of this event were, to me, a bit disappointing, but the series was exciting, full of action, romance, and politics. I’ve heard great thinks about Runaways, but haven’t read that. When I’ve read about his new series, Saga, I was pretty sure it’s going to be great. I’ve read the first volume, and it confirmed my suspicions. It was great! But, I didn’t want to wait anxiously for each volume. I bought the first deluxe hardcover, and the second, and the third, and never read beyond volume one.

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There’s quite a lot of violence, and sex, but probably the most controversial thing is that they dared to put a boob on the cover!

I have to say the series shines not only in the script department, but is also beautifully illustrated. Fiona Staples definitely is a co-author of this experience, and I mention her after my paragraph about Vaughan mostly because it was my first encounter with her work. Exactly how splendid that work is, will tell you in the review itself.

Recently, I learned the series is on hiatus, and we will have to wait a good while to see its second half. Saga also popped up, now and then, on many of the blogs I follow. I decided to finally read it, and I wolfed down all three 500-hundred-page volumes within a week. It was so good!

Ola: And I read it all once Piotrek had his shiny hardcovers 😀 Oh, the joys of borrowing books ;). I’m not a big fan of Runaways, and Y somehow never got to the top of my TBR, but I can fully confirm Piotrek’s opinion on Saga – it really is a very good, stunningly illustrated story. Hats off to Fiona Staples, because without her art the story wouldn’t be half as good, or half as crazy. And while the main characters hold the majority of readers’ attention, it’s the side characters that add that elusive secret ingredient that makes Saga such a memorable read. By now The Lying Cat has probably more fans than Marko or Alana 😉

Saga Lying Cat

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Neal Stephenson, Anathem (2008)

Anathem

Author: Neal Stephenson

Title: Anathem

Format: Ebook

Pages: 937

Series: –

“They knew many things but had no idea why. And strangely this made them more, rather than less, certain that they were right.”

Neal Stephenson is a prolific writer, known for his SF and speculative fiction novels (for some reason lack of dragons or other mythological creatures seems to exclude one from the fantasy genre 😉), all of them full of alternatively mind-bending or awe-inspiring ideas, and all incredibly long, even considering the current market conditions. I have reviewed on this blog his 2015 SF novel Seveneves, which dealt with the consequences of an improbable but possible event – the shattering of  Earth’s Moon and the subsequent fallout of the debris on the Earth’s surface. I admired the sheer scientific drive of this novel and enjoyed its far-reaching plot – to a point 😉. Seveneves is a brilliant example of the opportunities and pitfalls inherent in literary imbalance – namely, the dominance of ideas over plot and character development, not to mention certain scientific facts, like the pace of evolution; and yet, it remains a flawed but intellectually highly rewarding, thought-provoking read. Looking for something similarly intellectually stimulating, I was encouraged by Bart at Weighing a Pig Doesn’t Fatten It to try another of Stephenson’s critically acclaimed bricks and Bart’s favorite – Anathem.

Forewarned in foreword by the author, I jumped straight in, eager to immerse myself in the highly conceptualized and yet absolutely addictive world of Arbre – and this is the course of action I would advise any potential readers to take. The process of figuring out what’s going on in Anathem and how it relates to our own reality, constitutes at least half of the fun the novel offers. And a lot of fun it is indeed, especially for those philosophically minded, who enjoy nothing more than a riveting peregrination through the philosophical origins of the Western culture now and then.

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C. Robert Cargill, Sea of Rust (2017)

Sea of Rust cover

Author: C. Robert Cargill

Title: Sea of Rust

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 365

Series: –

Cargill’s Sea of Rust is an intriguing spiritual offspring of M.R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts and George Miller’s Mad Max series, fostered by Fritz Lang and Ralph McQuarrie. Seriously! While I was reading this book, I had basically the original concept art from New Hope in my mind 😉  There’s also  a noticeable shadow of Matrix here, too, though in ochre, burnt sienna and beiges instead of cold greens and blacks. A comic book reader can also detect a more than passing affinity to Mark Millar’s pessimistic vision from Old Man Logan. You get the gist, I believe: Sea of Rust is a kaleidoscopic collection of modern pop-cultural inspirations and references, subversively employed to tell a story as old as human culture: the story of patricide and primal sin, of determinism and hope. It is a fast-paced, engaging reimagining of the social evolutionary concept that the world we live in is a ruthless, cruel one, in which survival of the fittest remains the only rule.

SW Ralph McQuarrie

What is Sea of Rust about? Imagine the future where Earth is a dusty husk of its former self. There are no biological life-forms left, all destroyed in an AI revolution that went too far, like overwhelming majority of earlier revolutions. Imagine a world destroyed, rusting and increasingly bereft of sense. The sentient children of the revolution finally realize, too little too late, that the humans they have destroyed gave them a sense of purpose. Without them, the only value and the only norm left is the one of survival, and as the biggest and more powerful AIs increasingly perceive might as the only right, and allow themselves to be ruled by the inescapable logic of economical consolidation, even survival becomes nigh impossible.

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