Matt Ruff, Lovecraft Country (2016)

Author: Matt Ruff

Title: Lovecraft Country

Format: Paperback

When Atticus Turner, a Black ex-soldier fresh from the Korean war, gets a mysterious letter from his father, he goes back to Chicago, and later to a small town of Ardham, Massachusetts. Along with him goes his childhood friend Letitia and his uncle, George, publisher, writer and researcher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, and they have to fight both the cosmic horrors straight from the Cthulhu Mythos and the no less real horrors of their fellow human’s prejudices. It’s a bit like a crossover of Call of Cthulhu and Green Book.

Ok – it’s political. My next post after Ministry for the Future, and another unashamedly political novel. Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country is a subversive pulp horror, just as Guardian quote on its cover claims, and I’ll try to say a few words on whether it’s smart further in the review 😉 I would also like to emphasize it’s solely about the book, I’ve seen only the first episode of the TV show, liked it enough to stop and order the novel, and I’m yet to go back and watch the rest of it.

Let me start with some praise for the cover – I just it. Pulpy, lovecraftian, with some KKK undertones – fits its contents perfectly, even the “now a major HBO series” sign does not make me angry. I’m happy I own a physical copy!

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Neal Asher, The Technician (2010)

Author: Neal Asher

Title: The Technician

Format: Paperback

Pages: 503

Series: –

I realize I haven’t written the review for the final Agent Cormac book, Line War, and I can promise I will do that at some point, but since The Technician became the star of my previous post, I decided to give it the much-deserved review first.

The Technician is theoretically a standalone, and can indeed be read as such – though it is worth noting that it’s directly linked to the events described in The Line of Polity and the Agent Cormac series in general. I’d definitely recommend reading Agent Cormac series first – and that in the extended version, starting with Shadow of the Scorpion, where we first meet one of the main characters of The Technician.

The events described in The Technician take place in the year of Line War (2444 CE), though it would be difficult to figure it out since the planet Masada is so far away from the main arena of events. However, the timing works well in setting up previously underused characters, such as war drone Amistad and their lethal protégé, Penny Royal, in main roles, logically explaining the absence of Polity’s usual big shots such as the AIs Jerusalem or Earth Central.

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Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora (2015)

 Author: Kim Stanley Robinson

Title: Aurora

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 466

Series: –

I know, I know, two KSR reviews in a row – but this one was a promise! 😀

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, while it had not received any awards and is not as well-known as his other books, notably 2312 and Martian trilogy, in my opinion remains one of the most important SF novels of our early 21st century. Engaging in a scientifically sound mind experiment and imagining a workable model of a generational starship, Aurora radically – and emphatically – dispels any illusions we could have harboured regarding the fate of humanity in the known universe. Contrary to the most books in KSR’s oeuvre, Aurora is not an optimistic novel; it shows, very clearly, that while humanity’s dream of interstellar travel might be possible, and indeed we’re getting close to reaching Mars, that other dream – of finding an Earth analog which would be instantly or near-instantly habitable and at the same time devoid of life – must be ultimately seen for what it is: a pipe dream, a fantasy, an illusion that in our current man-made predicament causes more harm than good, turning our heads up to the stars instead down, to the planet we are actually responsible for; the only home we have. Allow me to present the crux of the problem in Robinson’s own words:

“Maybe that’s why we’ve never heard a peep from anywhere. It’s not just that the universe is too big. Which it is. That’s the main reason. But then also, life is a planetary thing. It begins on a planet and is part of that planet. It’s something that water planets do, maybe. But it develops to live where it is. So it can only live there, because it evolved to live there. That’s its home. So, you know, Fermi’s paradox has its answer, which is this: by the time life gets smart enough to leave its planet, it’s too smart to want to go. Because it knows it won’t work. So it stays home. It enjoys its home. As why wouldn’t you? It doesn’t even bother to try to contact anyone else. Why would you? You’ll never hear back. So that’s my answer to the paradox. You can call it Euan’s Answer.” (p. 179)

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Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future (2020)

Author: Kim Stanley Robinson

Title: The Ministry for the Future

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 576

Ola is somewhere in the woods, counting on me posting something this week, so I’m motivated to actually deliver on my resolution to write more in 2021 😉 There are some reviews I planned for weeks, like one of the excellent Lovecraft Country, but that can wait, as I just finished reading something big and quite popular around here. The Ministry for the Future is the latest brick by Kim Stanley Robinson, a serious and prolific author who seems to start with choosing a specific topic and develop his characters and plot from there. It might be a neolithic society he so plausibly depicts in Shaman, or humanity reimagining itself to withstand the climate change – in this one. It was quite favourably reviewed by Andreas and Bart, and so I decided to get it from Book Depository, in what might be my last order there, as they had to pause sending books here due to Brexit.

Shaman wasn’t the most thrilling of novels I’ve ever read. It was rather slow, had a limited cast of characters and a plot to fit the scale of small hunter gatherer societies at the dawn of humanity. But it was amazing! A very rewarding book, immersing the reader in the most ancient history of our species. Was it a reconstruction? No, we will never be able to fully learn how the culture was born, what these people thought and believed in. But this is as close as we can come to it right now, a very believable speculation. And, ultimately, stuff happens, this really is a novel. I’m a patient reader, I loved it!

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The Best Of 2020

Oh, 2020. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

It’s becoming a tradition that we can’t fit all we want to write about in our end-year post, and again we had to divide it into two. Before Christmas we wrote about the blog and stats, now we want to share our favourite – and least favourite – books and shows, consumed in this fateful year.

Ola: Well, say what you want, but for me 2020 turned out to be a good time for reading ;). As last year, I decided to divide my best reads into three categories, Fiction, Non-fiction, and Comics. With so many books read, my The Best Of criteria had to be very harsh, so below are the best of the best of the best, which means a very impactful, thought-provoking and delightful read, as well as the even rarer 10/10 rating :).

Ola’s Best of 2020 in Fiction

Neal Stephenson, Anathem (2008)

This was truly one of the very best reads of 2020 and one of the very best SF reads ever. Stephenson’s love letter to Western philosophy and science is pure perfection, and his decision to wrap it into a hero’s journey through a world as like and as unlike our own was a masterstroke, allowing the readers an incredibly immersive experience. The prose is dense, ambitious, unforgiving, but given a chance it shines with amazing clarity and emotion. I owe big thanks to Bart, who recommended Anathem to me; Stepehenson’s Seveneves is good, especially the first part dealing with orbital mechanics, and would’ve been even better if the last part didn’t exist, but Anathem is a masterpiece, clear and simple. If you haven’t yet, read it!

Hilary Mantel, The Mirror & the Light (2020)

The grand finale of the critically acclaimed Cromwell trilogy doesn’t disappoint. It may be more meandering and more sentimental than the naked blade of Bring Up the Bodies, but that’s to be expected since it deals with the final years of Thomas Cromwell, whose tragic history is inextricably linked with that of Henry VIII. A historical novel with grand ambitions, a deep psychological portrayal of human vices and virtues, of naked ambition, egotism and the pitfalls of power, The Mirror & the Light is astonishingly modern, significant novel; a mark of true classic, its contents equally relevant in times of Henry VIII and our own.

Yoon Ha Lee, Ninefox Gambit (2016)

I’ve written all I could about this quirky, thought-provoking read. I loved Lee’s bold, utterly brilliant mashup of Korean mythology and political anti-utopia clad in military SF accoutrements and wrapped up in a stolen identity mystery happening in the middle of a galactic war. Ninefox Gambit is wonderfully ambitious, broad in scope, and lyrical. I’ve read the remaining two books in the trilogy, but sadly, their quality seemed to be deteriorating with each installment, and by the end turned into a political treatise focused on gender issues while what I was expecting was an all-out AI revolution ;).

Bernard Cornwell, The Pale Horseman (2005)

The second installment in the Saxon Stories series, popularized by the Netflix’s TV series Last Kingdom (very good, actually, though I haven’t seen it past season 1 as I want to read the books first ;)) is impeccably written, heart-rending, thoroughly researched, and simply riveting. The first book is good; but only in The Pale Horseman Cornwell achieves the psychological and societal depth to make his work outstanding. Many thanks to Sarah, who recommended this series to me. A review will come one day, I promise 😉

Daniel Polansky, The Seventh Perfection (2020)

I was really surprised by this little novella; its impact on me was far bigger than I’d expected judging by its length and the misleadingly obfuscating beginning. But this tiny bit of a book is simply amazing, turning midpoint from a slightly generic fantasy into a Kafkian treatise on the nature and limits of power. I absolutely adored every aspect of it, from the stunningly apt use of the second person perspective to the impeccably structured journey – inward and outward – of the protagonist.

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