Welp. I have a lot of sentiment for Tchaikovsky, mostly for his truly outstanding (if a bit too goody even for our resident Polyanna) fantasy series, Shadows of the Apt. I respect his writing skill and his imagination, I admit our views on many things are generally aligned, and I suspect he’s a really nice guy to boot. But for all that, I find it increasingly difficult to find a book of his that really awes me, makes me think, or at least fully entertains. I had some hopes for his new SF series, of which Eyes of the Void is the second installment. The first book,Shards of Earth, was quite interesting – maybe not very original, but pretty enjoyable. Alas, I’m sad to say that with Eyes of the Void it’s just more of the same, only without any length limitations, to the further detriment of the whole endeavor.
For a long time, Tchaikovsky was my go-to author. I still contend that his Shadows of the Aptseries is among the very best of epic and military fantasy out there. It’s a huge commitment, sure, 10 books getting consecutively bigger, as if Tchaikovsky was bent on proving that a book can be a weapon, too 😉 – not unlike Erikson in that regard – but if you do commit, you’ll be rewarded. Children of Time, Tchaikovsky’s first foray into SF, was great, too. Making spiders the protagonists of the book was a wonderful choice, giving the book a unique perspective and gravitas. Afterwards, however, it was more of a hit and miss. He seemed to produce books non-stop, like an upgraded version of Sanderson, and with similar results. I still rather enjoyed his fantasy novella Made Things, as well as his SF novella One Day All This Will Be Yours, but was thoroughly disappointed in his SF novel Bear Head. It seemed that Tchaikovsky had already used all his unique and original ideas, and started treading water, indulging in overused tropes and lazy structures. It was all still reasonably well written, but redundant, or even verging on ad-hoc political commentary. I stopped reading everything he was putting out. But when I saw several fellow bloggers praising his new SF novel, Shards of Earth, I decided to give it a go. So thanks, Jeroen and carol. and Nataliya!
It’s been some time since we did a TAG! And there is one that caught our attention earlier this month, when it appeared on Bookforager. Get to know the Fantasy Reader – sounds like a great post to finish the Wyrd & Wonder month with. So, here it is!
What is the first fantasy novel you read?
Ola: The Lord of the Rings. I was seven when I read the whole trilogy – it was a copy borrowed from my older brother’s friend. Right after I finished it I went to the bookstore and with my saved pocket money bought my own copy, which then I instantly proceeded to reread. And here we are! 😀
Piotrek: I want to say Hobbit, and it’s likely the truth. My first & favourite short story collection is Joan Aiken’s Room Full of Leaves and Other Stories, but Hobbit is the novel I received as a gift from a cousin some time early during my primary school years and it was my gateway into fantasy. What can I say? This is a wonderful book, accessible to the youngest readers, sucking them into the wonderful world of wyrd & wonder! It enchanted me and I never looked back 🙂
If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?
Piotrek: It’s not an easy question. Some of my favourite authors write stories where horrible, horrible things happen to the protagonists. Maybe Guy Gavriel Kay? He creates wonderful worlds and usually delivers a happy ending without too many casualties…
Ola: Hmmm. Pratchett, I think. Discworld is a fabulous place, and I’m sure I’d fit right in ;). As much as I love dark stories, I would not want to become a part of them, be it a hero or an onlooker or the hapless victim of friendly fire ;). Happily ever after trope is the one I insist on when my personal life is at stake 😀
What is a fantasy you’ve read this year, that turned into a huge revelation?
Ola: Revelations, huh? I’d say I’m too old to get revelations from fantasy books 😉 but it wouldn’t be entirely true. My revelation, and one that will last much longer than just this year, is the discovery of Dragon Ball manga (I know, I’m stretching the definition a bit, but that’s my answer :P). Seriously, I never expected to love it at all, let alone as much as I do. Some of original DB volumes are among the best books I’ve read this year, and the whole series (well, maybe except the Cell arc) is an instant pick-me-up for me! 😀
Piotrek: I haven’t read that much fantasy this year, yet. But Gardens of the Moon, finally fully read, turned out to be better than I remembered from my first failed attempts. I’m a bit late to this party, but yay to Malazan Book of the Fallen!
What is your favourite fantasy subgenre? What subgenre have you not read much from?
Piotrek: Favourite? That must be either High Fantasy, or Military Fantasy, judging by what occupies all my all time favourite lists. If I had to choose one, it would be high fantasy, the source of it all.
But what subgenre is the most neglected by me as a reader? Romantic Fantasy, most likely…
Ola: Genres and subgenres… Not a fan :P. If I had to choose, I’d opt for military fantasy (Cook, Tchaikovsky) or science fantasy a la Zelazny, with lots of mythology thrown in the mix. Romance in any form gets an instant NO from me, so if there’s something like Paranormal Romance/Romance Fantasy that would be the ultimate no-read subgenre for me. Also, YA. Please, no YA, fantasy or other…
Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?
Ola: I don’t have any auto-buy authors. I rarely buy books at all – only those I really really love and I’m certain I’m going to reread one day. I don’t think I have complete works of any one author, to be honest. I prefer to borrow books – then, if the book is less than stellar, I don’t have a problem of it taking shelf space. And if it’s good enough for me to want to have it – well, welcome aboard, there’s still space on the shelves! 😀 Besides, everyone writes a weaker book from time to time, even the best of the authors, and I wouldn’t want to own these anyway. But I do buy whole series that I love (especially when I know they’re finished) – Discworld, Shadows of the Apt, Black Company, Malazan Book of the Fallen, Fitz and Fool… 😀
Piotrek: Not really, no. Used to be Adrian Tchaikovsky, but he writes new stuff faster than I’m able to read it. He’s still one of my favourite contemporary writers though!
How do you typically find fantasy recommendations?
Piotrek: In my seventh year of blogging it really is mostly fellow bloggers, definitely. Thank you, guys!!
Ola: I second Piotrek’s answer! Thanks, all!!!
What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?
Ola: Well, I’ll definitely be on the lookout for Abercrombie’s The Wisdom of Crowds (out in September) and Barker’s The Bone Ship’s Wake (September, too) – both the final installments in what’s shaping up to be very good trilogies. The review for Abercrombie’s The Trouble with Peace is here, and the reviews for the Barker’s earlier books are here, if you’re interested: The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships.
Piotrek: Hard to say. With my TBR as long as it is, I mostly read series already finished, and books published years ago. I don’t want to insert a GRRM joke here, as these stopped being funny years ago 😉
What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?
Piotrek: The one that fantasy is somehow not proper literature, that including fantastical elements somehow makes it less serious. This silly superstition still lingers among some close minded people, and I would like to see it vanished forever 🙂 There was a short post about it early in blog’s history…
Ola: Again, I second that. How come Shakespeare can be rightly considered a titan of world literature, but modern authors implementing the same fantastical elements can only be “fantasy authors”?
If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?
Piotrek: I’d ask some questions first. My answer would depend on person’s age, interests, favourite non-fantasy books… it might be Hobbit, Harry Potter or one of the Discworld books, or something dark and bloody, like the Black Company series.
Ola: Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea for all! Well, mostly maybe for mythology/anthropology lovers ;). Tolkien’s Hobbit for those adventurous at heart. And for those young and delighting in creepy, maybe Meggitt-Phillips’s The Beast and the Bethany would be a good place to start, or Roald Dahl’s books, even before Harry Potter.
What’s the site that you like to visit for reviews, author interviews and all things fantasy?
Piotrek: Apart from blogs? Tor is the last one I regularly visit…
Ola: Blogs, and sometimes Tor. I do visit magazines websites, but I mostly read SF short stories, rarely fantasy.
Well, this was fun! We’re not tagging anyone but if you’d like to give it a go, be our guest! 😉
After a couple of disappointing books by Tchaikovsky I approached this novella with certain trepidation. After all, one can become too thinly spread, “sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread,” even without One Ring (unless you want to confess, Mr Tchaikovsky?) I needn’t have worried, tough – this novella is short and sharp and scathing, with long pointed teeth and unrelenting snarkiness that brings to mind the best that stand-up comedy has to offer.
And this novella is indeed written very much in the style of stand-up comedy, with the protagonist wound up to the extreme, never shutting up, venting his anger and misanthropy in an unceasing torrent of words. It’s funny, it’s rabid, it’s sarcastic – but most of all, it’s to the point. You see, in Causality Wars the unnamed protagonist is the veteran of the humanity – and history – ceased to exist. With the onset of time travel rewriting the past became the favorite pastime of governments and agencies, and all the innumerable, contradictory changes to the history carried out by time soldiers resulted in shattering the past and erasing the present. It was still salvageable, more or less – until Causality bombs destroyed the substance of time. And so now, at the end of times, in the one stable point of a glorious indeterminate amount of time, our protagonist treasure hunts the sharp shards of the past, gathering farming equipment, growing veggies and killing random time travellers who inexorably land in his garden, in the farthest possible future. Until travellers from the actual, future, future turn up on his porch and call him Gramps. The gall! Gramps is not happy; he’s a nasty mean old geezer and wants to stay this way forever, so obviously the only thoughts he spared for his bride-to-be are how to most efficiently kill her before they can produce any of that horrible offspring.
Tchaikovsky became one of my favourite authors of fantasy after I read his amazing, and still not well-known enough (read it if you haven’t yet!) Shadows of the Apt. His Children of Time proved that he can easily deliver interesting, thought-provoking, emotional SF as well, and I’ve read enough of his short stories to know he can be a pro at writing these, too. In short, he’s a very well-rounded, very talented author, with unwavering focus on emotional development and a firm if understated ethical foundation. He has a knack for tackling difficult, often traumatic topics with tact and sensitivity, never going for cheap thrills or gratuitous exploitation. All in all, he’s one of the very few authors I keep constantly on my radar. Granted, there were a few a bit concerning reviews of his couple of books along the way that I haven’t gotten around to read, and I’m not certain I will – the sequel of Children of Time, Children of Ruin, springs to mind. But generally, with Tchaikovsky, I knew what to expect. Now, after reading Bear Head, I’m not so sure anymore. If anything, I’d venture an opinion that he had become the victim of his own success: writing too many books in too short a time, and none of the projects getting enough attention and polish and love to become a truly outstanding work, on par with Shadows of the Apt.
Because Bear Head is the worst of Tchaikovsky’s books I’ve read so far. It’s by no means bad; it’s still very engaging, well-written, fast-paced page-turner tackling ambitious problems in an interesting, thought-provoking way. Yet it also feels underdeveloped, rushed, and – surprisingly for Tchaikovsky – not entirely thought through. It has a more “paint-by-the-numbers” feel than the usual impression of a thoughtful creative work. It’s also, maybe most importantly, more of a political statement than a SF novel. Ah, all SF novels are political statements of one kind or another, I think we’d all agree on this. It’s just that in this case Bear Head veils itself in a very thin layer of science, indeed – and whatever there is, serves as a focus for the very concrete, very clearly defined “now,” in contrast to the previous concerns with more abstract ideas like “human nature” or “future,” which used to be the crux of his Children of Time, for example.
Lots of big words here, I know, and lots of harsh accusations. Let’s get down to the tangibles, then.