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 long time ago in a galaxy far far away…
Ola: That’s the way fairy tales start. Once upon a time, beyond tall mountains and vast rivers, a mysterious hero was born who had changed the fate of his tribe/community/nation/humankind. Led by fate, S/He had many dangerous and tasking adventures, had to overcome many deadly foes, traps and tests in order to come back to Her/His home with a great boon of miraculous nature and redeem Her/His people.
Nothing original, really, especially considering the fact that George Lucas’s creation of his famous saga had been significantly inspired by Joseph’s Campbell The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The theory that most of the world myths conform to one, simple pattern modeled on the rites of initiation is as suggestive as is ultimately misleading – and yet Lucas in his creation of Star Wars universe managed to strike a chord with millions of people worldwide, envisioning a world like – and yet unlike – ours, just exponentially bigger and vivid.
Starships! Knights! Droids! Magic! Princesses! Scoundrels with hearts of gold! Vile emperors! Cuddly little creatures! Breathtaking vistas of planets and space! It’s all there, and more – and everything is suffused by Force, a mana-like, magical power binding every living thing in a net of awareness.
Piotrek: It is a simple story, of a young man going from zero to a hero, discovering his heritage and coming to his power. A story like countless others, but in space.
Not a very realistic space, there aren’t that many attempts to pretend that, it is not hard science fiction that would try to propose a likely vision of space-travelling humanity of the future. This story takes place long ago, like the stories of Gilgamesh or Theseus, and takes a structure immediately familiar to audience from any cultural background.
Campbell is an obvious inspiration, and that’s something Lucas freely admits.
Ok, so here goes the very first re-post, as we decided to occasionally make our new readers see some of our early posts. This one is from 2015, one of the first after we decided to fully switch to English. It’s one of my favourite reviews of one of my favourite books. Nothing too add, I stand by what I wrote back then 🙂
Re-enchantment Of The World
Have you seen „The Sword in the Stone”? Nice Disney classic, „not much plot but great for little kids.” as an imdb reviewer noticed. I concur. It’s a nice watch, it’s deeper than most Disney movies even. But it’s just 10% of shiny stuff taken from the top of the novel that inspired it – the first part of “The Once and Future King” tetralogy by Terence Hanbury White.
A tetralogy consist of “The Sword in the Stone”, “The Queen of Air and Darkness”, “The Ill-Made Kinght” and “The Candle in the Wind”. There is also “The Book of Merlyn”, published posthumously, book that I prefer to pretend do not exist. They tell the story of king Arthur, from childhood to (spoiler alert) hist death in battle with Mordred.
The book is not for kids. There is humour and songs, just as in animated version, but it’s…
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Guy Gavriel Kay… a guy who helped Christopher Tolkien prepare Silmarillon for publication, and then started his own career as fantasy writer. He has his distinct style, he has his fans. I’m one of them, Ola isn’t. Just compare these two quotes from our reviews of Tigana:
A successful lawyer, a philosophy student who helped Christopher Tolkien in The Silmarillion edits, a reasonably well-known author of award-winning fantasy novels, Kay is a veritable jack of all trades. He prefers to set his novels in historical periods, but in imaginary settings, which allows him to create interesting parallels without the burden of fact-checking
Guy Gavriel Kay got his genre credentials early, when as a 20-year-old student he was chosen to help Christopher Tolkien edit Silmarillion. From my point of view – and I love Silmarillion – it’s like a rookie demi-god was asked to edit Bible. How to start your own religion after that? Kay paid homage to his tolkienian roots with excellent Fionavar Tapestry (1984-1986) and moved on to create his own blend of semi-historical fantasy epics. Starting with Tigana (1990). And since I started with religious vocabulary, let me say that I consider this blog’s May 3 review of Tigana a blasphemy
Author: Ed McDonald
First, an admission. I read a lot of books when my mental plate’s full, as they provide a bit of comfort and take off some strain from my overworked brain – when they’re good, of course, because bad books don’t help at all 🙂 However, by the same logic, I write no reviews when I’m stressed out, because writing demands a lot more from my already overworked brain 😛 No surprise, then, that lately there are less reviews on our blog, even though the amount of books I’ve recently read has noticeably grown.
I’ve spent the last couple of months checking out some of the books our fellow bloggers recommended, and Ed MacDonald’s Blackwing had been favorably reviewed by many. A special shout out to Aaron at Swords & Spectres for persuading me to finally try it out, because it was definitely worth it :).
Blackwing follows the story of Ryhalt Galharrow (it’s a mouthful, I know – try to say it out loud a few times!), a former pampered noble and an ex-Army officer who now serves as a Captain of Blackwing: a private military unit in employ of a Nameless sorcerer called Crowfoot. Galharrow as we meet him is a down-on-his-luck cutthroat – a glorified spy/bounty hunter/enforcer to a ruthless, ancient being, who had not been seen in the world for a long, long time. Yet, as the war between the Nameless sorcerers of the republic with powerful Deep Kings of the Eastern Empire still brews on, centuries in the making, Galharrow soon finds himself in the thick of the bloody action.
Piotr: I have to admit I had some doubts about the series, whether we’d be able to continue it for long, but here we are, post no. three, and I love it! And revisiting this one has been a delight!
Ola: Indeed, we may not be overly timely with our regular posts, but Nostalgia posts appear every month as planned 🙂 And it looks like we’ll be continuing it in the foreseeable future, as there are many other topics to cover. There are some trips down the memory lane that we’d like to forget, like Robin of Sherwood, but there are others, fantastical and wondrous, and confirming our fondest reminiscences – like Batman: TAS, and Willow.
Piotrek: Willow is a fantasy movie from 1988 that many considered to be Lord of the Rings light, made with the technology of the day. I’ve seen it ages ago, when the world was young and Peter Jackson was making shitty/cult horror movies, and it shaped my views on fantasy movies, more than any other 80-ties classic.Then LotR came and the new era of modern fantasy and I forgot about Willow.
Ola suggested we include it in our Nostalgia series, and I re-watched it recently with great pleasure. Obviously influenced by Tolkien, although not nearly as ambitious, it is a pretty good movie in its own right. Funny, imaginative, not too complicated, but at the same time quite skilful with its handling of the basic tropes. It’s a brainchild of George Lucas and he was good back then, when he did not try to make things too complicated.
Ola: Willow had been my first foray into fantasy movies, around the same time as my reading of Lord of the Rings – and it was a great experience. I enjoyed the child’s perspective of the camera, the fact that the titular hero’s strength did not lie in his sword skills or magical power, but rather in the very human ability of doing the right thing whatever it takes, and making friends:)
Author: Mark Millar (writer), Leinil Yu (penciler)
What’s happening, another comic book review in a row? And what is that exactly, a love child of Superman and Shazam???
Well, to an extent ;). Though the fruit of Millar and Yu’s collaboration reads like an unabashed love letter to Superman, it had actually been published by Marvel. This comic is one of the more vivid examples of the blurred lines between what exactly in the superhero world is a property of one or the other powerhouses – and a solid reminder that ideas cannot be owned :).