Christopher Martin, Chasing Alexander: A Marine’s Journey Across Iraq and Afghanistan (2021)

Author: Christopher Martin

Title: Chasing Alexander: A Marine’s Journey Across Iraq and Afghanistan

Format: E-book

Pages: 310

Series: –

Christopher Martin is a US Marine veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan during the War on Terror, between 2007 and 2011. His war memoir, Chasing Alexander, is both like and unlike other War on Terror non fiction I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot; the similarities are obvious, and heartbreaking, while the disparities are what makes this book unique.

Firstly, there is a matter of style. I’m pretty sure Martin did his required reading, as his book bears more than a passing resemblance to Hasford’s The Short Timers and yet still retains a bit of the wide-eyed American idealism of West’s The Snake Eaters. It’s clear Martin wanted to write his own book – and in this, he succeeded. The style of Chasing Alexander is simple and direct, and reads very much like a student’s report: an honest, open account of how it was – or, more precisely, how Martin thought it was. And I mean it as a compliment. Many of these new war memoirs are becoming masks; tools, if you will, tailored for the author’s purposes. A common trajectory for modern veterans is to go into business and management after the time in the military; a book doesn’t hurt your chances at an executive position.

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Stanisław Lem, The Truth and Other Stories (2021)

Author: Stanisław Lem

Title: The Truth and Other Stories

Format: E-book

Pages: 344

Series: –

Other: Short story collection

Stanisław Lem is one of my absolutely favorite SF authors, as you probably already know from here and here. His brain really seems to have been wired differently, perceiving correlations and consequences and possible outcomes that not many others – or none – had seen. He’s also a very pessimistic writer, at least when it comes to humans and human cognitive and moral abilities – and reading Lem is a bit like gazing into a very unflattering mirror, one from Andersen’s tale The Snow Queen. In our times full of wilful denial and escapist pleasure, though, I contend that Lem’s passionate critique is something sorely needed. 

This collection gathers stories from different periods of Lem’s life, from 1956 to 1996. Many of them have never been translated to English before. This anthology offers a great opportunity to acquaint oneself with the key themes and topics of Lem’s writing: artificial intelligence, first contact, human psychology and cognitive limitations, ethical problems inherent in human perception of the world. Even though some of these stories are nearing their seventieth year, apart from the odd outdated technological detail they seem as bold and fresh as written today by the greatest in the field. Lem was particularly preoccupied with the concept of Otherness – and this, maybe more than any other theme, makes his writing so enduring and important to his day.

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Akira Toriyama, Dragon Ball Z (1989-1995)

All right! So, after my review of the original Dragon Ball series I promised I’ll make one (well, two, actually, otherwise this post would’ve been waaaay to long) for Dragon Ball Z. And here it is! 😀

It was a delightful ride, and I loved every minute of it (eeh, maybe not every minute of the Androids/Cell arc, but whatever ;)). While Toriyama’s manga was my first foray into the genre, after reading a few more shonen titles (such as Naruto, One Punch Man [bleeeh!], Fullmetal Alchemist) and other non-shonen mangas like Yotsuba&! I can say with certainty that the whole 42-volume run of original Dragon Ball (i.e. containing both Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z) will forever remain one of my absolute favorites.

What can I say that I haven’t already said in my previous review? Only two things: one, Dragon Ball opened up for me a whole new cultural experience, and I jumped into it with willful, joyous abandon. I traced the origins of the Monkey King to Hindu Hanuman, linked his exploits to other tricksters around the world, and generally immersed myself in the Japanese culture and history. And I’m far from finished ;). And the second, that DB rekindled my interest in martial arts and its philosophy, and that i’s also a thoroughly fascinating topic.

Now, ad rem.

Below, you can read the first part of my highly emotional, whimsical reviews of Dragon Ball Z, as they appeared on GR. Beware, lots of exclamation marks! 😉

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Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Velvet Was the Night (2021)

Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Velvet Was the Night

Format: E-book

Pages: 304

Series: –

The newest Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s book is a historical noir mystery/crime, set in the simmering danger of 1970s Mexico, when both the people and the country seemed inescapably gripped in a continuous, dispiriting turmoil. Whatever else you’ve read by this author, Velvet Was the Night might still surprise you. There’s not a whiff of supernatural anywhere; well, except for the very real horror that humans are capable of. There’s also not much of a romance, or beauty. Indeed, Velvet Was the Night is a surprisingly political book, depicting violent actions of increasingly more desperate, more ruthless factions of an internal conflict fueled by ideology, economy, and foreign interests. While its scope and stakes seem small – no grand assassinations or rebellions, no dramatic political shifts, just common people caught between a rock and a hard place – the ultimate price is still paid in the most valuable currency: human life and decency. 

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Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)

Author: Frank Herbert

Title: Dune

Format: Paperback

Pages: 528

Series: Dune #1

Everything’s been written about Dune many times over, so forgive me if my review will be somewhat off beat this time. I don’t feel the need to detail the plot or the worldbuilding. 

Dune is unequivocally a masterwork of SF, a SF at its best, openly acknowledging its ties to myths and the belief in universal truths of human cognition. But Dune also reaches way beyond SF, having become one of the few absolutely crucial works of fiction of the 20th century. And yet, and yet, while I admire it with passion, it’s a book I cannot love. It leaves me cold and uncaring. It leaves me wanting to pick it apart, and dirty my hands in its bloody insides, and emerge holding the offending element in my palms, triumphant in finding what fault exactly makes me less than welcoming toward it.

But the truth is, I suspect I know it already.

Nice opening, huh? So now I’m going to subvert your expectations, and launch into a lengthy consideration of the socio-ecological ramifications of Herbert’s universe. Kidding!

Though not entirely.

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