History – Science Fiction

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen ! Bonsoir Mesdames et Messieurs ! Welcome back on the board of the I.S.S. Rover once again as it´s getting ready to set out on another journey after quite a while. “So where do we venture tonight ?” – you ask. Oh well after so much Black Company, and a dash of history, after Barbara Tuchman´s Guns of August I would say it´s time for some science fiction and a bit of an anthology, right ?!

Orbit Book ( 1978 )

Orbit Book ( 1978 )

OK, so which one ? About a year ago I stumbled across an anthology put together by none other than Isaac Asimov – the renowned author of the robot and Foundation stories – that piqued my interest as it was titled “Before the Golden Age” (as Golden Age refers to the time after publisher or editor Campbell joined the industry ). So Asimov compiled some early science fiction stories that he grew up on, and ispired him. This is a rare chance to glimpse into the past, into the beginnings of the blooming of a genre that shaped much of my life too so much later, and being interested in history, and past of my interests, hobbies, well I thought appropriate to examine this record left behind by one of my favourite authors. So here we go.

The first story is Stanley G. Weinbaum: The parasite planet. It takes place on Venus and tells the story of hardships that befell a young explorer turned trader. The writer describes a lush life befitting those of earthly jungles, though a bit more dangerous to human life. It might be unfortunate, that the increasing knowledge of our Solar system makes this setting unbelievable, but the description of extraterrestrial life is still magnificent, and it makes for a nice frontier adventure story. And I don´t know if it was an expactation in that age, but there is a romantic side to the story too. At least it feels to me like if it was consensual at that time that an involving story needs to have it´s romantic part too.

And so we arrive to the next story: Proxyma Centauri from the pen of Murray Leinister ( yeah I first read it Lannister, God bless you G. R. R. Martin ! ). This is a story of a long term expedition to the nearest star system to us: the Proxyma Centauri. It is, or was a nice surprise to see that the trip to Proxyma didn´t take only hours, but several years – seven to be more precise. But the main part of the story is not that one of travel – the problems that come with such a long journey and the isolation of the group is being described only briefly – but the first contact with the sentient lifeform of Proxyma system. And what a first contact it is. It is a horrendous experience. the Centaurians are a carnivorous plant-like life form, and they massacre the whole crew except for three persons. Two, a man and a woman – lovers by the way – are isolated on a planet of Proxyma system that can sustain earth´s lifeforms, and the captain, who should teach the Centaurians how their ship´s systems work, to introduce them to human technology. In the end only the two on the isolated planet survive. I ask again: “Is it compulsory to have a romantic thread in the story of this age ?” – as till now in two out of two stories there were. Otherwise it is a captivating, and well written story even if the characters are somewhat sketchy, but damn me that I live an age where I can indulge in much more complex and involving storytelling. Thank you Murray Leinster ( and others not mentioned now ) for inspiring a whole generation of those writers, who have perfected the trade !

The third story in the book is The Accursed Galaxy by Edmondon Hamilton. And first I need to say that there ain´t an ounce of romance involved in this story, so my theory might be overthrown, but about that I will actually decide when I finish the book. Once again we have a story that starts out as a contact with alien species of third kind, but soon it develops into a wild speculation abaout how our universe became an expanding one and the galaxies became receding. And the explanation given here is the most dramatic, and quite compelling even though it might be outdated, or might even be labeled unscientific.

And so we have arrived to the end of the year of 1935 – apparently, as before the next story there is a page with the number 1936 on it, and also saying. “part seven”. But that is of little relevance here. The next story is He who shrank written by Henri Hasse. The beginning is something like straight from a H. P. Lovecraft story. Rambling about the incomprehensibility of the universe etc. And then the story turns into an adventure that is kind of a mix of Gulliver´s adventures and that of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A shrinking man shrinking as much as to perceive the molecules as galaxies and atoms as star systems, and then landing on them, and finding sentient life forms. And then continuing the shrinking and the cycle of hopping into the subatomic layers of that world, and so on, and so on. There is a notion of many ideas, among others that of sentient artificial intelligence waging war on it´s creators ( Terminator anybody ?). But the end of story arrives as the narrator “arrives” to Earth and in the end tells his story to a writer, who records it, and as a result we can read it right here. An interesting idea, of sequential universe structure I must say, and some sound storytelling, with that spicy nineteen thirties feel to it, a bit sensationalist, a bit too pulp, just like those old Superman cartoons.

I will remember the next story for it being one of the first in the genre written by a woman, Leslie Frances Stone, than for it´s qualities. The Human Pets of Mars is a story of abducted man and women escaping from their captors. It is quite unbelievable even that they managed to take over an alien vessel, and learn to handle it. But they outrace, outmaneuver and outgun the aliens. I mean, that ship is native to the aliens, they have experience which the humans don´t, but they get their asses kicked by the humans, who learned how to control the ship just hours earlier ?! Gimme a break ! And we also see the return of the obligatory romantic strand in a sci-fi story of the nineteen-thirties.

And so we arrive to the next story: The Brainstealers of Mars. Penned by a true giant of the science-fiction: John W. Campbell. To those who are avid fans of science-fiction and are somewhat knowledgable of the history of the genre, especially in the first half of the twentieth century in the USA I don´t need to introduce him. But to rest: John W. Campbell Jr. was the most influential editor of science-fiction magazines in the thirties all through the fifties. And he also happened to write some good stories too, among others the “Who goes there ?” which served as the base for the movies The thing from outer space and it´s 1982 remake –starring Kurt Russel – The Thing. But now here we have a different story. A space-opera like adventure of two “rogue” scientists. They being on the run from law enforcement forces of Earth are on a journey through the solar system. At the time we join them they are exploring Mars, where they run into mind reading shapechangers. And that brings up the problem of how do ypu know who is standing in front of you, or beside you. Yes it is a similar story to that of The Thing, but with a much happier ending.

And so we get to Devolution, the next story. Written by Edmond Hamilton. A story in which two biologists are in a search of strange creatures that have been sighted by a pilot when he flew over an unpopulated area. And they found more then they bargained for: telepathic “mutant” blobs, and discovering the truth behind the “human evolution”, namely being the descendants of the same kind of blobs, and the evolution being actually a devolution. A quite short story, resembling in much the feel of the H. P. Lovecraft´s stories as the protagonist looses his sanity after being confronted with the above described “truth”.

And here ties in a short story by Asimov himself, never published anywhere else: Big Game. It was written in 1941 and might have been inspired by Hamilton´s Devolution. It follows a similar idea, only the plot is not about the human evolution, but about the extinction of dinosaurs. And the answer to their extinction being that they have been hunted down by some intelligent biped saurians. Nice touch to the anthology.

And so we move to year 1937 with yet another writing by John W. Campbell Jr.: Other Eyes Watching. It´s a piece of non-fiction. A contemporary musing on Jupiter: it´s chemistry, physics etc. Ofcourse there are speculative parts like what kind of life is possible on the planet, and what kind of vehicles are they driving. Sounds laughable today, but the intention was to entertain and educate at the same time. And I must say that Campbell´s style is suitable for this purpose. And why is non-fiction amongst all the fiction here ? Well apparently this is the writing that inspired all the non-fictional work that Asimov produced in his lifetime, and this a book containing the works that inspired him, and in the end made him into a writer.

And then we return to fiction with John D. Clark´s Minus Planet. A story involving anti matter, actually a big clump of it on a collision path with Earth. Two scientists devise a plan to divert it, which includes hijacking the Moon and steering it into the antimatter´s way. Quite dramatic, yes. And to heighten the drama: we have worshippers waiting for the end of the world, God´s judgment. Those same worshippers turning terrorists, trying to sabotage the execution of the aforementioned plan. In the end our heroes save the day. I don´t know why but I found this story to be very annoying.

But I was very delighted by the next story: Past, Present, and Future penned by Nat Schachner. A story that starts out as a peculiar time travel adventure of a young officer of the armies of Alexander the Great and an Indiana Jones like adventurer of our times, who stumbled across the “resting chambers” of the aforementioned greek. And not a minutes sais by introducing the two protagonists, we change to a future resembling much the later novel of A. C. Clarke, namely the City and the Stars. There the protagonists awake in a city that is secluded from the outer world, not that many people know about it´s existence. And the order of the city rests on this ignorance, which the “old” newcomers are threatening. But it´s just a glimpse of a story that develops fully in Clarke´s novel, yet it is intriguing. Especially for someone like myself, who dabbles in RPG-s too, as it is a perfect starting point for a role playing adventure, and it sparks ideas. And so we arrive to the end of year 1937.

The end of 1937 means the beginning of 1938, but as I was shortly to discover, there is only one story included from that year: The Men and the Mirror by Ross Rocklynne. It starts off as an episode of Tom & Jerry cartoon: a cat chasing a mouse. But the cat is actually a policeman, and the mouse a notorious criminal, and the chase is happening all over our Solar system. But soon the story puts the two into a situation where they have to rely on, and trust each other if they want to survive. They happen to land on an artificial celestial body that contains a huge reflector mirror ( huge meaning the diameter of it is about 1000 miles, with an approximate depth of 300 miles ), actually a bowl with an almost frictionless surface. And to survive, and reach a happy ending they use some basic ideas from physics, to be more specific: kinetics. Though the solution is somewhat flowed I would include this story in teaching of the subject of physics. It might be a bit far fetched, but it is a good example for practical application of the knowledge otherwise deemed unnecessary. I mean I´m tired of hearing the line:”Why do they teach us this ? When in my life will I need this ?”.

And well that concludes our adventures here. I enjoyed the book, though sometimes it was hard to read it. It is interesting, and not only because I got to read science fiction from authors I never heard of before, but also because it includes many biographical references to the early life of Isaac Asimov, a writer whose work I came to love. And those are some details I wouldn´t find anywhere else I suppose, or at least I haven´t found them till now. And as this was the volume 3, I will try to find the preceding two volumes and read them too, for some more fascinating adventures in the mind of the young Asimov.

But till then I hope to have many other adventures too. So come back soon, and join me in the other excursions I make to th edifferent domains of enjoyment ! Captain of I. S. S. Rover over, and out.

 

 

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Guns of August

Ladies and Gentlemen ! Mesdames et Messieurs ! A week has passed again, and here I am again to take you all to a journey that is long overdue – at least on my part. But before we depart let me elaborate a bit on my feelings about being, as I said: overdue.

As I am typing this I´m sitting in my room, under the roof window, with my back to my new trusty radiator, with a mug of an unidentified beverage on my side and earphones plugged in and listening to a radio station, so I could turn off any other interferances. As I stated in earlier posts: for a while I was unable to write and post regularly due to changes in my life. And now I´m trying to catch up on this unintended slack. Unfortunately due to the aforementioned changes in my life, the drive that I had earlier this year – and that peaked somewhere around may and june – did weaken, so my intent to pick up the pace was hampered by myself too. Due to the psychical impact of changing environment I did suffer something similar to depression – though it´s not as heavy and dangerous in effect – but it was enough to stop me in track for a while. And while it was not that hard to return to the routine posting of actual things, it´s not easy to return to things that I´ve left behind me, that´s why it took me more than a month to write up the next Black Company (re)read post.

And here I am now struggling with yet another slack of mine, though it didn´t bother me that much as it wasn´t an announced project for this year, so I wasn´t in hurry to write about it either, even though i ought to, as it was part of my declaration when I started this blog that I will share, and how can I stay true to my declaration if I decide to ommit something because I didn´t have the will to go back and revisit the event, the journey, my reason being that it took place a while ago and I don´t feel like doing it.

But here am I now. Maybe not fully restored yet, but on my way to pick up all the pieces. But what is the actual topic of today´s excursion ? Well, you see …

Sometime in january I was watching a documentary on BBC One on the topic of World War I. And it was at that moment that it dawned on me that I have almost forgotten that this game changing event of our “modern” history began hundred years ago. And as a history buff I couldn´t go past this event. I did a fast search to see what can I do about it, and I had to see that there is not much I can arrange at the time due to my financial possibilities. But I did acquire a copy of Barbara Tuchman´s Guns of August just at the end of the previous year, so it only seemed appropriate to read it, and subsequently write about it as a commemorative measure on my part. So here I am now doing the writing part, as the reading part I could end as I planned. before august 1.

Presidio Press (2004)

Presidio Press (2004)

I heard of this book couple of years back when I was researching the possibilities to wargame World War I scenarios, and on the different discussion forums Tuchman´s book was highly appraised as a must read on the topic. But as I was living at that time in Hungary and obtaining a book that was not yet translated into Hungarian was still not an easy task – I found out about Bookdepository.com only last year – till now I didn´t read it. But that is in the past. So lets see what does Tuchman, and her book offer to us.

Actually this book is kind of an introduction to the whole World War One. The main focus of the book is the opening month of the war: the August of 1914. Geographycally it covers almost solely the action that played out on the western front. There is a chapter on events connected to the german warship Goeben, and what, two chapters on the early events on the eastern front, but that´s all – it might be considered a flaw, but also as a feature. And much to my delight the book is not that much about numbers of guns, people in units etc., the statistics, but about the people itself. How did the military personell, but also the civilians see to their every day tasks in the changed environment, how did they accept what was happening.

In the first part of the book we get the outlines of the different pre-war plans: the german Schliffen plan, the French Plan 17, the british plans that are made to complement the French battle plans, and the Russian plan that is heavily influenced by the French need to divert german forces from the western front. And it was a strange pleasure to me to see that the French were at least as much aggressive in their intentions as the germans, and if they had thought a bit more about the tactics and use of appropriate weapons instead of charging blindly into the battle – as we will see in the later chapters of the book – we might today think of them as equally responsible for the war as the germans; but well that is a different story.

A second short part of the book describes the outbreak itself: from the trigger event of the assassination of theArchduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in Sarajevo on 28th of June to the diplomatic maneuvers the different countries took till the beginning of august when the armies began their movements.

And so we arrive to the third and longest part which describes the actual events taking place on the front lines. The arrogant german march directed by a reluctant von Moltke who is weighed down by the heritage of his heroic and succesfull uncle. Or the french blind charges into the german ambushes that could have been avoided had Joffre not been that rigid in insisting that the Plan 17 is bulletproof, and had believed the reports of the scouting parties, or in some instances used some scouting at all. The british forces hampered by a hesitant or even frightened commander, Sir John French. The heroic resistance of the Belgian army. Or the foolish and so futile Russian offensive in Prussia.

Wonderful and detailed descriptions that draw I suppose heavily on the different memoirs of the leaders of the time. Tuchman introduces all the key players in her book: Joseph Jophre ( Commander in Chief of the French forces ), Lord Kitchener ( british war minister ), Helmuth von Moltke ( Chief of the German General Staff ), Wilhelm II ( Kaiser of Germany ), Albert I ( King of Belgium, and the commander of it´s armed forces who grew up to his present task, even if he failed at the end ) and Alexander von Kluck ( the german general who was tasked with the command of the german far right wing, and so with the execution of the outflanking and enveloping the French and it´s allies forces. Of course we get to see some other notable, or at least somewhat remembered characters, like the French prime minister Raymond Poincaré, or the First Lord of Admiralty: Winston Churchill, who seems already at that time to have been one of the few british leaders having the guts to take action, to make war, if it has already come to it, like we have seen in a book I read earlier this year.

It is a book on history,l but it definitely reads like a novel. Barbara Tuchman succeded in gripping my attention and not letting it go all till the end. And some of her descriptions and character sketches are also more than memorable, and to pick just one, the best is the one on general Jophre:

He looked like Santa Claus and gave an impression of benevolence and naivety – two qualities not noticeably part of his character

It was a good read, not only on the historical topic, but as a book in general. Even though there are some exaggarations ( that are probably products of the perception of the age when it was written ) it holds up qute good till today. SO if you are interested in the war itself, or only in the era in general: go and read this book, you can´t miss with it.

And that would be all for today. I hope you enjoyed the ride. And now go a bt outside and enjoy the nice weather of this late summer day in September. Captain of I.S.S Rover over, and out !

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Experiments with food and a steamcooker

So, a week has passed in my “not so busy” life. But even though it´s not as busy as it used to be, things still happened. I managed to acquire a toaster and a water boiler, so now I can make me some “decent” tea, and toast my bread. So I´m not limited to the steamcooker I received from a relative. But as I am limited in tools for cooking I have to experiment. So it´s time again for some new culinary adventures.

As I have no stove right now, I can´t really cook, but I did manage to get around this problem somewhat thanks to the steam cooker. A bit of tweaking the things and I was able to cook sausages and ten minute eggs with it, beside steaming vegetables and rice. Today I even steamed some tuna fish and added it to the whole vegetable-rice thing, with some soy sauce dressing.

Vegetable-rice with some tuna

Vegetable-rice with some tuna

But this time it´s no meat time. Even prior to my moving to Germany I decided on a change in my lifestyle, which actually means more vegetables and less meat in future. No, I´m not gonna become a vegetarian, but I do feel that I want to eat less meat. Not to mention that after the meat heavy culinary excursions I made before, I promissed a friend that the next time I will prepare a vegetarian meal. So here we go Kassia. Brace yourself, as Keshik is making a meal with not a single gram of meat in it.

So what do we do if we only have a steam cooker at our disposal. Well I did hear that the steamed vegetables are healthier than the fully cooked ones: so we take some vegetables ( preferedly those you like), steam them and eat them. But this sounds so bland. But hey, we have a second tray that fits into the steamcooker beside the first one. And you can steam the rice too, instead of cooking. Hmm, steamed vegetables plus steamed rice. it sounds kinda like a risotto, so lets go for it.

Steamy, my dear steam cooker

Steamy, my dear steam cooker

the ingredients

the ingredients

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So off we go to purchase some vegetables. Unfortunatelly I didn´t find any brocoly or cauliflower, which made me sad, but lets see what did I manage to find: fresh carots, spring onion, green/yelow (?) pepper, garlic, and this I augmented with some canned mushrooms and peas. And though there is a can of corn too, in the end I didn´t use it. And of course I needed the rice too. This time around I used the fast cooking type.
So I put the rice in one tray and added a mug ( around 0.33 l ) of water to it, and I put the shredded veggies in the other tray. Put the trays into the steamcooker, and set the tmer to 20 minutes. And now we wait.

The rice in the lower tray

The rice in the lower tray 

The vegetables in the upper tray

The vegetables in the upper tray

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twenty minutes are up, and the meal is ready. I put it on a plate, mix it together, season it with some black pepper. And I must admit: I´m good. The food is delicious. A bit unusual to have no meat in it, but good. The consistency is good, the rice ain´t overcooked, and I don´t even miss the salt. Easy to prepare, an it took me only 40 minutes. Not to mention that the batch is enough for two full meals for me, so I have some decent cooked meal for the next day too.

The final result. yummy !

The final result. yummy !

Have you become hungry ? Then don´t sit there, go and get on with it. Prepare yourself a tasty steam cooked risotto, and enjoy it. Have a glas of wine, or a bottle of beer, like I did. Goodbye !

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Old (?) habits rarely die (?)

Here I´m again. Just hours after I have finished typing the new Black Company reread post. I´m struck with the need to write about, and share my new experiences, as that was my mission statement about one year ago. This is the 46th post on this blog, and so as the first anniversary nears I am overjoyed as it seems that I will reach and maybe even surpass 48 posts in under a year, which amounts to a 4 posts/month rate, which is aproximately one post/week. And this fact makes me happy, as it means that there are quite a few moments I could share with you, who care to read any of the posts I have published.

It might be that these moments haven´t been that varied till now, as my possibilities have been quite limited due to my material constraints, but now “things have changed …”, just as Bob Dylan sings. Things have changed, in general sense for better: I´m living in Germany, have a job many would consider good. It´s better than anything I´ve had in the last couple of years, and the paycheck allows me to live on my own, not to rely on help of my parents, which gives me greater freedom than I have had for a long time – and that is definitely good. Not to mention the fact that I´m living in the mountains, which – after a few days of frustration over having to climb too much to get home after work, or a trip to the city – means that actually a dream of mine realised, became true. And I was so busy feeling sorry over having to climb too much, that I missed this little fact; and now that I have realised both facts: having a dream come true, and missing that fact in first place I can´t stop laughing. But that´s not the main point of my today´s rant. So let me get to the point.

It´s about changing habits. Not only, or mainly because I live on my own now, as I used to be pretty independent even earlier. But rather the fact that due to the change in place of residence I have to adjust to the lifestyle and opportunities given in another country.
As I mentioned in my “returning” post first I had almost no acces to the internet, only through internet caffes. Since then I managed to get myself a mobile internet connection, so I can check the mail, read some news etc. on a daily basis, but no streaming media, no big downloads. This a substantial change in my life, as I used to be 24/7 on the internet back in Hungary. This also means that I will be missing some TV shows I used to watch regularly for the past few years, like: Sons of Anarchy, Doctor Who, The Walking Dead, Justified, or some new shows like. Constantine, The Strain etc. This is an inconvenience, but will be overcome with time, and is also beside the point of this post, so let me continue.

Where did I stop ? Ah yeah: “24/seven internet access …” And now that I don´t have it, I find myself reviving some old habits from the era of 64 kbit/sec modems. I open a dozen of different websites, save the articles that I have interest in, and then go offline to read them in peace, not having to worry about the data-stream limit prescribed in the present internet service contract.

It is a cold, rainy sunday afternoon. I am sitting on my bead, having an opened bottle of bear beside me on a chair, sipping it slowly, listening to a radio station. Feeling relaxed and typing on my newly acquired notebook, and ofcourse reading the recently opened and saved various articles from all over the internet. It feels so retro, even though by historical standards at least the “internet” as a technology, a mean of communication, and source of information is quite young.

And I also have to admit that I enjoy listening to the radio more than watching – or listening in background – the TV, as it distracts less, and gives a chance for multitasking like reading, or writing ( be it a letter, or a blogpost, or anything else ), not to mention that they seem more substantial than anything I have experienced in the TV lately. And I still haven´t acquired a proper radio, I´m listening to it on my cell ( mobile ) phone through earbuds. Not as comfortable as lsitening to a radio without headphones, but good enough.

And I must admit that I enjoy the things as they are right now. Not that there aint things I don´t miss: like a cooking plate, so I could cook some more varied food than I can do with a steam cooker, or to boil me a water to make some decent tea. But it´s just a “matter of days” till I will overcome these small hindrances.

So let me return to my bear and reading. Go, have a drink – be it alcoholic, or non alcoholic beverage – listen to some good music, or some good live radio show, read an article, or a book. Slow down, and enjoy your day ! Your favourite captain out and over !

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Bleak seasons – The Black Company (re)read part 7

Mesdames et Messieurs ! Ladies and Gentlemen ! I am sorry that you had to miss the adventures and excursions of the I.S.S. Rover for an extended time period. The relocation and setting up of a new base is more or less finished. The polishing and fine tuning of the new systems is underway and so I as the captain decided it´s time for a new trip on this last day of august to celebrate the return to “business as usual”. And what better opportunity than this to return to Khatovar and check on our dear friends in the Black Company. So lets see what are Croaker and Co. up to in the Bleak seasons. But before we plunge in let me repeat the usual disclaimer.

This is a (re)read of the series that will encompass the better part of the year as I will be reading one book per month. I will be exploring the world of Khatovar, and as this is at least partly a reread there might be spoilers, so continue reading at your own risk, I did warn you. For the previous posts look up the links included at the end of this one.

Last month we ventured back to north to see what some former Black Company members were doing now that they are not any more affiliated with Croaker and Co., which means that it has been at least two months since we heard of the Black Company for the last time. It was all about taking home the annals of the company to Khatovar, Croakers personal dream. But unfortunatelly some hurdles came up and made the whole trip harder. First, for Croaker and the rest who were born all in the north ( at least in reference to the place of origin of the Black Company ) it came as a surprise that the Black Company – and their return – is feared beyond any reasonable explanation they could think of. Secondly there is a physical obstacle in the form of an alliance and forming empire of the Shadowmasters – wizards whose identity is partly unknown. So the Black Company though somewhat unwillig returned to what they do best: fight against all odds and against seemingly the whole world. Last time we were here the Black Company and it´s allied Taglian forces managed to relieve the siege of the city of Dejagore and dispose in total three of four shadowmasters. So lets see where did they go from there.

So, everyone please strap in, as we are about to launch. The sky is heavily clouded, the wind is blowing we have rain falling on and off, and its some 15-17 °C outside. So get ready for some turbulent times. I`ll be back as soon we are safe on our way. Captain over and out !

Tor Fantasy (1996)

Tor Fantasy (1996)

As I´m linking here the cover arts of the first editions of the books in the series, I feel obliged to mention that the style has changed. The earlier volumes had a somewhat cartoonish style that was not always in sync with what was going on in the books. With this new style, I must say that it reflects the mood of the whole series, of Cook´s writing quite more.

But its not the coverart you came here for, so back to Bleak seasons. At first it was confusing to read the book, as the narrator is jumping from present to past and back. But only in narration, but even he himself is time travelling. But as I flipped pages and learned ever more details I became used to it, and then the joy of reading, enjoying the story became smoother also. So who is the narrator ? I said “he”, so its a male. Did Croaker return to keeping the annals ? Why spoil the things so easily ? I will let the narrator introduce himself:

I am Murgen, standardbearer of the Black Company, though I bear the shame of having lost the standard in battle. I am keeping these Annals because Croaker is dead, One-Eye won’t, and hardly anyone else can read or write. I will be your guide for however long it takes the Shadowlanders to force our present predicament to its inevitable end…

Yes, it´s Murgen, our favourite standardbearer, of whom we know virtually nothing. But things will change soon enough. That we have a new narrator – again – didn´t come as a big surprise. Already in the fourth book, The Shadow Games Croaker hinted that he might let Murgen take over as annalist. And not only that, but in the last two books ( at least in the sequence I read them ) we had different narrators: first it was the Lady in the Dreams of Steel, and then we had Case in Silver Spike – and these new voices did please me both times.

So what´s the deal with Murgen ? I must say I like(d) his style. He has seen enough as a soldier to develop that cynicism that we were accustomed to and came to like in Croakers annals, but again Murgen is still young enough to resist it, and let it take over him. And yet I feel like his depiction of events is darker than that of Croaker ( though Croaker did admit that he was trying to shield the readers in his his own way ).

So what is the Bleak Seasons about ? It´s mainly about what happened in Dejagore during the siege, told by Murgen ( what a surprise after I just introduced the new narrator … ). So in the end I do get the whole cultural conflict between the old and new members of the Black Company for which I longed since the fourth book.

This conflict between the Old Crew – led and represented by Murgen – and the Nar faction led by Mogaba gives also a chance to introduce a new factor in the whole “game”: the Nyueng Bao, marsh dvellers from the western part of the continent whose pilgrimage was interrupted by the siege of Dejagore. The Nyueng Bao are caught in the middle of the struggle of the two factions of the Black Company, and they decide to side with the” Old Crew” of Murgen. Their importance and part in the big “Game” will be explained later ( I suppose ) as here they are more of a device to convey informations to Murgen that we, the readers have been made aware of already in the Dreams of Steel.

But why did I put the words between exclamation marks when refered to Murgen and his faction as Old Crew. Well, knowing that Mogaba and the Nar are descendants of former Black Company members who have left far nearer to their place of origin, can´t it be that their practice of human sacrifice might be holding true to some old Company traditions that got lost with missing annals, and wouldn´t this fact warrant calling the Nar the :”Old Crew” insted of using this term for the Black Company members who came from north ?

These parts that deal with the events that hapened inside of Dejagore during the siege makes for an interesting read, and much of character development is accounted for. But it´s not all this book is about. In present – after Dejagore – the things didn´t stop. The abduction of their daughter seems to have far less impact on Lady and Croaker than I would expect. OK, the Deceivers are being chased down and have been all but annihilated, but somehow I was expecting more flare here, instead we get only one scene where we see how does the Black Company ambush a congregation of the Deceivers, and misses just for the hairs breadth to capture Narayan and the child of Croaker and Lady. Though some interesting informations get revealed in the present sections of the book. Like for example that Mogaba has sided with the last remaining Shadowmaster, as did Blade too. Mogaba joining up with Longshadow didn´t come as a surprise, I did expect it. But how did Blade end up on the other side ? It doesn´t get explained here, so I suppose it will get explained in the next book. I´m irritated by this fact, but not as much as it would have frustrated me earlier, With time one gets used to returning dead wizards and unexplained events, one could even quote One-Eye here:

“Kid, why not take this gods given opportunity to excercise your least well honed talent?”

“What ?”

“Be patient, dickhead.”

And thats not all. Soulcatcher continues to interfere with the things though seemingly she is holding herself back. One-Eye is in command of arming the newly built up taglian forces. Goblin is leading a motley crew of some hundred men into the uncharted regions behind the mountains where Longshadow hides. What is he up to ? Are we gonna get some rebel times nostalgia like partisan actions and schemes ? Good ´ol Black Company times ?

And there is also a big-bang like ouverture to the next book. An elite commando of Deceivers attacks the headquarters of the Black Company in Taglios. And though they get wiped out, they manage to wreack havoc, and to kill Murgen´s wife. What?! I didn´t mention that Murgen fell in love with a Nyueng Bao girl, and that he married her ? Oh well, my bad. Now you know. And the scene of her death was a powerful impression and a catalyst for the things again to get rolling, as Croaker decides to engage and set in motion the powerfull machinery of war he built. The Black Company starts a winter campaign against the remnants of the Shadowlanders.

And that´s all folks for the Bleak Seasons, see you all in She is the Darkness; coming up real soon. I hope you enjoyed this new ride just as much like the earlier ones. Till the take care and have fun ! Captain out and over !

                                                                                                           

Introduction: the plan

Black Company – The Black Company reread part 1

Shadows Linger – The Black Company reread part 2

The White Rose – The Black Company reread part 3

Shadow Games – The Black Company reread part 4

Dreams of Steel – The Black Company reread part 5

Silver Spike – The Black Company reread part 6

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Return of the missing

And here I am Ladies and Gentlemen ! After some four weeks of being absent. Let me paraphrase the writer of Tom Sawyer:” The news of my early death are somewhat exaggerated.” – though I do know people who would rejoice if they weren`t; but then again, who doesn´t. The truth be told, this short period of my disappearance from the “ether” did sometimes feel like an experience close to death. As it was an absence not only from my blog, but from internet access at all. My whole usual routine and the communication lines were shattered ( a bit of an exaggeration is allowed here, I think ). It does sound dramatic, but it wasn´t half as bad as it sounds. There are sometimes changes in peoples lives that tend to do this.

But let me start from the beginning. In the middle of July I got a job offer I couldn´t refuse. And this job offer went with geographic relocation. But not only that, It also called for quite a number of bureaucratic actions too, not to mention the need for urgency.  I had ten days to wrap up the things in Hungary and to travel to Germany and take up the job. Luckily I had help in Germany to find accommodations, but those didn´t include a computer and internet access. But here I am now typing on my own notebook.

Though I have relocated to Germany, it is not a quite unknown country for me. I have spent some time here earlier. And I also happen to have some family members too living in Germany. So I enlisted their help. And among other accessories my brother in law did lease me a notebook that was standing in his storage. So, one problem solved. But that doesn´t mean that all the problems are solved. I still don´t have a stable internet connection. For the time being I´m hunting for wi-fi hot spots, and occasionally if needed I use an internet caffe to do what is urgent. And though it helps, it´s still not ideal: the wi-fi hot spots I found are at such places I cannot connect the notebook to a source of electricity, so my time there is limited by the capacity of the batteries, and the internet caffé is at a remote place and opens only at noon to be visited regularly.

So I will have to arrange for something with an ISP. Though, my choices are somewhat limited. I´m in the city of Kempten, in Bavaria. For the time being I live on the western slopes above the city. The owner of the flat I´m renting now doesn´t want to connect any landline internet connection, so I will have to go with a mobile-access. That will be enough for the everyday communication needs, and uploading the occasional blog posts ( as I can type the text offline in any text editor/processor and the copy and paste it – like I´m doing it right now ). Though it will still impose some limits to some other ventures of mine. But well, that´s Life for me now.

With time even these things will sort themselves out. The most important thing – that the regular communication channels are restored – is achieved. I´m back, and continuing my regular activities. I am soon going to post the new installment of the Black Company (re)read project: I not only finished reading the Bleak seasons, but due to lack of any other reasonable possibilities I read further on and finished also She is the Darkness. And not only that, but I also managed to read The Guns of August from Barbara Tuchman also. And I just started reading an anthology of early science fiction compiled by Isaac Asimov, titled. Before the Golden Age ( vol. 3). So there is going to be plenty of material up soon.

Some of my other projects are put on a halt for now. Like for example the Fantasy General replay, or the different Dune computer games replays as this notebook and other current accommodations are not suitable, or at least are not ideal for these projects. Maybe I will find a solution for it later this year, or maybe these projects will be discarded entirely, we will see what brings the season. I´m not ready to let go of these projects yet so, I will try my best to find some solution, and keep them on schedule too, but I can´t guarantee anything.

So for now welcome back on the I.S.S. Rover, and wish you further joyful journeys with the crew ! This was the captain speaking. Over, and out.

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The Silver Spike – The Black Company (re)read part 6

Mesdames et Messieurs ! Ladies and Gentlemen ! I greet you on board of I.S.S. Rover ! I see that there are returning visitors among you, but I can see some new faces too. If it’s the heat that you want to escape, or the whole ruckus that follows in the wake of the World Cup ( What World Cup, you ask ? Well of course I’m talking about football – or with other word: soccer – world cup ) you have come to the right place, as we are just about to depart for the northern continent of a world I called Khatovar, though it might be that it is only the name of a single city. Whatever ! Lets go to Forsberg where we have left Raven, Darling and Silent – and well, some less entertaining entities as well. It’s time to look up what offers The Silver Spike. But before I get into the details let me repeat the rules of this project.

This is a (re)read of the series that will encompass the better part of the year as I will be reading one book per month. I will be exploring the world of Khatovar, and as this is at least partly a reread there might be spoilers, so continue reading at your own risk, I did warn you. For the previous posts look up the links included at the end of this one.

Tor Fantasy (1989)

Tor Fantasy (1989)

And now that we are clear with the rules – once again – lets get down to business. At this point I have mixed feelings about this book. To be more precise these emotions concern mainly the place of this novel in the greater narrative arc of the whole series. If you have read the previous installments – but at least the last two – of the (re)read project, you remember how pissed I was at first of how the Shadow Games ended: it came to an abrupt stop leaving everything hanging in the middle of nothing, dozens of questions and almost no answers. And you also remember that Dreams of Steel managed to appease me somewhat with some masterful strokes like making the Lady the narrator – and thus showing more of her than ever before – and accelerating the storytelling, revealing far more information on the past of the Black Company than I expected and what seemed preferable ( but then again, I read these two books of the series for the first time so I don’t really know what Cook is trying to do exactly ). And now that there are new actors and new developments in the whole quest that Croaker took up, I am eager to get on with it and start reading the Bleak Seasons, and yet I have to take  step back and read first The Silver Spike. Why ?

The events described in The Silver Spike happen at the same time as those of Shadow Games and deal with the aftermath of the great battle at the Barrowland – desccribed in The White Rose - and also gives a much needed closure to some characters we left in the north. This is the story of Raven and Darling, or so it seems at first. And seeing this ( and actually suspecting it already earlier ) I felt that I wanted to read this book after The White Rose, but again there is the Shadow Games too, that is happening at the same time and I was more interested in Croaker’s and Lady’s fate. So I feel something akin to remorse for not being able to read the two books at the same time. That would be the right way to do it, as after reading The Silver Spike it is clear that it wouldn’t make sense to read it first and only then The Shadow Games. And after finishing The Shadow Games it doesn’t make much sense to read The Silver Spike before one starts the Dreams of Steel. So the only option was to make a small pause in the series after the Dreams of Steel and catch up on the events in the north before one continues with the actual story of the Black Company. Not to mention that this is also the sequence of the books in the Tor’s omnibus edition ( The Books of the South ) which i am using for the purposes of the (re)read. Please tell me if you have a better solution to this problem, I’m awaiting answers in the comments.

And now that I have given voice to my geek worries lets talk about the book itself. The book can be generally divided into two parts: one discussing the sorry life of a now sorry character: Raven; and the other part discussing the fate of the seemingly sorry Smeds Stahl and his gang, but about that later. Like in all previous books we have one main narrator who is writing a sort of a journal. This time it’s Case, an imperial guard who became Raven’s friend and is now travelling with him.

The first part, dealing with Raven and his new and old companions: Case, Darling, Silent and Bomanz – Do I hear you all say: “What ?! Didn’t he die in The White Rose ?” Well, apparently he didn’t. It looks like this is the season of wizards returning from the dead, and not like zombies or vampires. It might be that the magic is more about showmanship than what we conceive as taumaturgy. But still, boy it gets old that every single “noteworthy” wizard reappears when it seems the most convenient for the writer. But whatevs, as I cried about this in the previous two posts - is kind of a disappointment. Why ? Well for the better part it’s a sort of a pointless Cannonball race through the endless lands of the Empire: the partly restored Limper ( I told you that it’s the season of wizards returning from the dead. They should have really searched for his head. ) chasing after Croaker and the remnants of the Black Company, not knowing that Raven is riding ahead of him also chasing Croaker, trying to reach them and ask for their help to put him down once and for all, and then we have Darling and Co. chasing after the Limper. It’s just like watching an episode of the Wacky Races, especialy when Limper decides to return to the north and stumbles from one trap to the other all the way.

The only good part of this first half is the moment when Raven is forced to meet his son and daughter whom he abandoned years earlier. Darling explains to the baffled children what was the reason behind Raven’s departure and how she benefited from meeting him. At the end Raven’s daughter seems to have come to terms with her father:

Just before the girl went over the side she turned and told me, “If my father was alive today he wouldn’t have to fear that he would be unwelcome in his daughter’s house.” Then she went.

Yet, Raven broken as he is cannot find the strength in himself to accept a way back into his children’s life. A sad moment, but that’s it, I didn’t have any sympathy left for him after the second book ( Shadows Linger ). That’s what you get when you fuck around with the feelings of people who matter to you.

But let me talk now a bit about the second half of the book. While everyone who counted was concentrating on subduing the Limper Smeds and his motley crew ( Tuly, Timmy Locan and Old Man Fish ) went and with a small trick they successfully retrieved the silver spike from the tree in which it was buried. ( Why no one thought that this might happen is beyond me, and is a serious omission on part of the Lady and the Black Company, but that is an issue I don’t want to tackle now.)  I think this book is actually their story. And this story is what redeems this whole book, it does something we have last seen in Shadows Linger. Their story feels like the one of Marron Shed: a story born from the depths of debauchery and desperation. Once again we get to see the dark side of the world: zoom down to the ground level where the common people dwell and you don’t find much happiness there. Those people struggle not only during the times of war, but often even after the war has ended. And this is one such period: the war has ended, The White Rose and the Lady are gone, the empire is trying to adjust itself to peacetime, but it’s not to everyone’s tastes.

And it is in such times that some commoners try their luck to found their future. The true stars of this story are Smeds and Fish. They are being chased by imperial officials who have at their disposal whole army regiments, by Darling and her rebel cohorts with such renowned figures like Silent, Bomanz and Raven, and not to mention all the other unnamed rogue wizards and criminals who are after money and fame – and yet they successfully ellude them. OK, as it turns out Old Man Fish is a veteran of the olden days. He has been in the army at the time the Black Company served the Lady, and also was there at Queen’s Bridge where the imperial forces ambushed and humiliated the Black Company – that abandoned Lady’s service – for the first time since they came to north some ten years earlier.

The town of Oar is in lockdown. And amidst the growing pressure and rampant paranoia that everybody is after them, or to be more precise after what they have – Fish and Smeds team up and are more than a match to such veterans of unorthodox tactics and hand to hand combat like Raven – who is known to be more than badass – or Silent and Bomanz, who are also more than apt practicioners of magic. Raven gets hoodwinked twice by Fish and once by Smeds. And all this to no avail, as in this world there is no justice, and Smeds finds it out the hard way. After they have played the imperials and Darling with her rebels both and got what they wanted, after they pulled through the apocalyptic siege of Oar mounted by the returning Limper, after they have left the ruined city, Fish succumbs to illness contracted there:

It was not right that Fish should have fallen to cholera after taking the worst that could be thrown by the world’s nastiest villains. But there was no justice in this existence.

You can be on top of your game, you might deserve better, but it doesn’t matter, in Death everyone is equal. And we see quite a number of deaths in the clymactic battle at the end of the novel. The hope of the empire, an able governor is betrayed and assassinated by his subordinates, Silent and Bomanz sacrifice themselves trying to stop the Limper and Raven dies when he is overtaken by the power emanating from the silver spike. It’s only Case and Darling who get to have a peaceful life thereafter. Or do they ? Maybe we will get to see them in the eleventh and tvefth books that are not yet published ( Just found out about them last week, and have been frustrated since that I won’t be able to finish the series this year, as the 11th novel comes next year: Frack ! )

At the end the silver spike and what is left of Limper is being thrown into another dimension where they are meant to be out of reach for anyone of this world, but after all the returning dead wizards, and other shocking revelations of the last three books I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Limper returning once again.

And that’s it for this month. I hope you enjoyed this short ride. And now that I have cleared this out of the way, time for me to return to Croaker and Lady, to see what they are scheming in the south. See you all in about a month with further chronicles of my – and their – adventures on the way to Khatovar. Take care and have fun ! Captain of I.S.S. Rover over and out !

                                                                                                               

Introduction: the plan

Black Company – The Black Company reread part 1

Shadows Linger – The Black Company reread part 2

The White Rose – The Black Company reread part 3

Shadow Games – The Black Company reread part 4

Dreams of Steel – The Black Company reread part 5

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Song battle 2 – battle of the voices

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen ! Bonjour Mesdames et Messieurs ! Welcome or welcome back ! In the past three weeks I was busy trying to find a job and there were also some duties around the Hungarian Boardame Award selection process I had to fulfill, not to mention I was reading. Which means I was bound to omit something and here I am now to make up for it.

After the November 28. session finally happened yet another Song Battle. This time around my fellow “combatant” – or should I say dance partner ? – was Kasia, over from The Overemotional Columnist. ( If you haven’t started reading her blog yet, now is the right time for it ). Only this time the battle didn’t happen on any chat platforms, rather in Facebook comments.

And here is the transcript. It all happened on June 06 2014. And to avoid any confusion K will stand for Keshik (me again, obviously ) and OC for Overemotional Columnist. Have fun !

All started with the following song being posted on the FB page of The Overemotional Columnist:

To which I posted:

[18:35] K: Hit the road … :)

[18:38]OC: Ahh, love this song! I am drinking beer and listening to awesome music . :) Before you posted Ray, there was Dropkick Murphys playing!

[18:39] K: Song battle ? And which Dropkick number ? They are coming to Budapest this month :P

[18:45] OC: sure, let’s play! afterall… the show must go on! – And the actual “battle” has begun !

[18:48] K: Well it’s kinda magic …

[18:49] OC: Yes, I’ve got the magic in me !

( And here the battle takes a turn, hence the sub-title Battle of the voices )

[18:57] K: And if it’s making magic with as few people as possible, my favourites are Pomplamoose. And I must say I feel god !

[18:49] OC: And here is being happy with more people:

[19:08] K: Cool, I kinda want to jump !

[19:14] OC: And i want to fly! I’ve got to start learning. :)

[19:19] K: To be frank: I belive I can fly !

( And the actual battle ends here. Maybe somewhat abruptly, maybe undecided. If you have an opinion on who won, please post it in the comments. And as a goodbye, we still have two songs )

[19:34] OC: :):):) It was great! But now i’m off to the pub!

[19:38] K: OK, and don’t forget to stay till morning .

And that’s it folks ! This was the special broadcast of the interstellar entertainment mission of ISS Rover. Have a good day ! And don’t forget to have fun ! After all it’s summertime, and it doesn’t matter which one do you prefer, the Mungo Jerry kind:

or DJ Jazzy Jeff & and the Fresh Prince ( aka Will Smith ):

Captain of the ship over and out !

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Dreams of Steel – the Black Company (re)read part 5

Ladies and Gentlemen ! Mesdames et Messieurs ! This is your captain speaking ( again ). Now that the month beginning remembrance  shows  are over, time to get back to business as usual ( not that this remembrance was non-standard issue blog-business ). Outside it’s scorching 31 °C with virtually no wind, and about the same can be expected at our next destination. Strap in, as there might be some heavy turbulence on our transition from Culture space to Khatovar. We will be shortly  joining the Black Company at Dejagore where we have left them about a month ago. Yes, it’s time for the next installment of the Black company (re)read project. And before I get down to discussing the details of the next book in series, the Dreams of Steel, I will repeat the usual disclamer.

This is a (re)read  of the series that will encompass the better part of the year as I will  be reading one book per month. I will be exploring the world of Khatovar, and as this is at least partly a reread there might be spoilers, so continue reading at your own risk, I did warn you. For the previous posts look up the links included at the end of this one.

Tor Fantasy (1990)

Tor Fantasy (1990)

One month has passed, and those who read the previous installment of the article series do know that I was fairly angry abut how it ended, or rather how Mr. Cook chose to leave the threads loose. Since then I have calmed down, but it’s only due to the fact that just as I predicted I couldn’t wait and almost right away after finishing the previous Black Company post I picked up the sequel and flew through it in some two or three days stopping only to make some notes so I wouldn’t have trouble when writing this post.

And before I dive into the fifth book let me recapture some of the things that frustrated me in the previous one. First there was the lack of information about the Black Company’s past, practically no one spoke of it, not even those who were their descendants. Secondly there was a massive cliffhanger at the end of Shadow Games: Lady and Croaker presumed dead and Soulcatcher returning from the dead. Soulcatchers return even though partly being foreshadowed by the earlier appearance of other Taken also believed to be dead still seems to me to be a convenient excuse to bring in a “non-affiliated” player into the game of shadows. I mean why would she wait till this point ? If she wants revenge she would have probably started it earlier. Wasn’t it something along that line why she rebelled in the first place in the first book ? Well lets see if there is an answer to this ? And then what about the presumed death of Lady and Croaker. Being a veteran fiction reader I was sure that we will see their return in Dreams of Steel, but it didn’t help feeling that the writer is using such an inelegant contraption to heighten the tensions that already run high.

And then comes the first chapter of the fifth book, an quite big changes await us right from the start:

“I am no historian nor even much of a writer. Certainly I don’t have Croaker’s eye or ear or wit…

With that apologia, herewith, this addition to the annals of the Black Company, in the tradition of Annalists before me, the Book of Lady.”

–Lady, Annalist, Captain

The first change being the person of the narrator. This was inevitable as Croaker is believed dead, but even if not, still kidnapped by Soulcatcher. This is quite an interesting turn. We know quite much about the Lady, but that is all from Croakers perspective. Now we will get to see a bit more of her, with quite an insight on her present situation, thoughts, and her past. I approve of this. And as a kind of a collateral effect the Lady also assumes the command of the remnant forces of Taglios and heads northward to reorganise and build up the forces, as she has decided to revenge Croaker and destroy the Shadowmasters. Here I have let out a small scream of delight, as this means that she has decided to return to her old self. She will use all her knowledge and experiences she used to build a vast empire – and to defeat her husband later – to bring down a new/old menace. The Lady is back in the Game.

Just after the Lady has decided on her future course we go over to Soulcatcher. Croaker is alive, though badly hurt, but he will survive. The bad part in him surviving is that he is coerced to assist with Soulcatcher’s plans, the primary goal being the destruction of her sisters happiness, and the secondary that to thwart the design of the Shadowmasters. Teasingly she also reveals to Croaker some of her knowledge of the Black Company’s past, and that the Taglios wizard Smoke has hidden the  early records he was so adamantly searching for. And from here the events suddenly speed up.

Suddenly all the information I was missing from the previous book starts pouring in from all sides. Radisha suddenly tells the whole story about Kina, the god of death and destruction, and her followers the Stranglers, who were just briefly mentioned in the Shadow Games, but will have a prominent role here. At this point it’s just slightly annoying that Radisha is sharing vital information with someone whom she perceives as a rival, if not outright enemy, the context being the unconcealed showing of Strangler allegiance on part of some members of the remnant army and that the Lady – though unknowingly – also shows it.

And the Stranglers contribute to the torrent of new information quite remarkably. They disclose their identity, that of being Kina worshipers. They are organised in small groups, so called hunting bands and one of the groups dignitaries, the priest keeps the deeds of the band recorded in a journal.

To support his decisions in the event of dispute, the priest keeps a detailed chronicle of the band’s activities.

Where have we seen this before ? Right, Black Company. ( Pay attention, further hints on collision course ! ) And it is no surprise to see that the Lady tries to use the power and the skills of the Stranglers to achieve her goals.

This shell is a mask Narayan. I entered this world before the Black Company passed this way the first time. I’ve done things no-one would believe. I know evil, intrigue and war like they’re my children. I nurtured them for centuries… I’m going to rebuild Narayan. It may wear another name for a while but behind the domino it will be the Black Company. And it will be the instrument of my will.

But it’s no surprise either that the Stranglers try to use the Lady to their own ends too. And did I mention that the other name of this cult is the Deceivers ? They lead us to believe that their interests lie with the Lady. Seeing her arcane powers returning, and her masterful command, we think that they want to reestablish their religion under the guise of her leadership, but it will be too late when their real intentions become obvious.

And then there are the Shadowmasters, though the only real danger comes from Longshadow, who allies himself in the meantime with the Howler. And it’s Longshadow who reveals to us that the standard of the Black Company is not an every day object, it is an ancient artifact made of body parts of ancient gods and shards of their weapons. And the banner seems to have a role in the coming of what is called the Year of the skulls, and which event is associated with the awakening of the god Kina etc. But the way this information has been shared with us, the readers bothers me. Longshadow was alone in his chamber when he contemplated the presence of the banner, as all the other banners, that have similar qualities and have been returned to the city of Khatovar since the free Companies initial outing into the world. There were not even crows, or the imp present, who we know are agents of Soulcatcher. Why is Longshadow a point of view character if he is not even remotely associated with any of the other point of view characters ? This was an annoyance, though not that big as the volume of new information, or rather the piecing together of all the scattered hints kept me busy enough not to concern myself too much with the fact how shabby, sloppy this design is on the part of our dear  writer, Mr. Cook.

And as we proceed toward the end of the book, the main narrative is pretty straightforward: Lady reorganises the Taglios forces and kicks some ass, and this is not that much interesting and neither impressing. But beside this the games of shadows are continued too. Radisha is trying to politically outmanoeuvre the priests of Taglios and stave off a foreign invasion. Lady trying to outmanoeuvre everyone so she could get on with her revenge business. And here shows the main difference between the Lady and Croaker: while Croaker attempts to work through the dense political fog of Taglios, Lady gets all the priests in one place and has her soldiers fill them full of arrows. And if that isn’t enough, she cuts the throats of the survivors. Longshadow is having plans for the Black Company as he is heavily invested and involved with the glittering plain ( of which we caught a glance at the end of Shadow Games ), which seems to be the locale of Khatovar. Though I am not sure he needs the Black Company to do something, or rather abstain from doing something, whether it’s in his interest for the standard to get back to it’s “rightly” place, or would it be better for him and maybe even for the rest of the world if it doesn’t get there. But it is sure that he is in need of the knowledge that Lady is in possesion of. He even tried to abduct her, but actually getting Soulcatcher, which had some unpleasant consequences, leading to actions that might cause at least many bad memories, if not outright downfall of his, which again might spell the doom of the rest of the world as something is lurking in the shadows of Khatovar. And if I already mentioned Soulcatcher, she is seemingly rampaging, thwarting the designs of others, just for the sake of having fun, or at least that’s what she says and yet also seems interested in the past and possible future of the Black Company. She is a wild card, maybe even more so than like at the beginning of this book. And then there are the Stranglers, who seemingly try to stay close to the Lady, and are believed to be trying to recruit her into their ranks.

And there are the Nar and the rest of the Black Company who got stuck in Dejagore. They didn’t play a significant role this time, but they did earn some respect for pinning down the Shadowspinners forces. Nearing the end Strangler agents, and later even some members of the Black Company inform both Lady and Croaker that the Nar are practitioners of the old faith, that they are Kina worshipers, or at least part of them. The Stranglers consider them heretics. At the end Croaker meets their leader who assumed the command of the forces stuck in Dejagore, and in a bloodless stand off takes back his own command. The leader of the Nar leaves with three other loyal soldiers. Will this have an impact on the later events ? We will see. So I got my cultural conflict between the old and new members of the Black Company however brief it was. But there might be more in the store in the sequels.

In the end this is the story as the Lady saw it, and is very much involving thanks to a different point of view than what we are used to. Glen Cook uses cleverly this fact and the ensuing chaos due to the emergence of all the new information after darting around so much from one place to another to keep us guessing whether it will be  Lady who enlists the Stranglers, or whether it will be the other way around. There is definitely an air of mutual reliance from both parties and Lady knows that her new allies are hiding something. Was it her overconfidence in her own skills that made it possible for the Stranglers to deceive her ? Or was it rather that she was used to looking at the big picture that she missed the intention of people who were having a much more specific, so to say narrow focus ? Whichever, it is a hell of a twist in the story. And a game changer at that. We are lead to believe over an entire book, that the Stranglers want Lady. And then in the last moment you – and Lady herself – realise that they were after her child all along. And when you would turn the page to continue, instead you find it that the book ends there.

Kablam ! BANG ! Once again a cliffhanger. Although this time it doesn’t leave a bad taste behind. But it sure ratchets up the tension and the expectations. We have seen what the Lady was capable of  when she set out to exact revenge on behalf of her beloved man, and she wasn’t even commanding the full spectrum of her martial and arcane skills. But now, they took her child, her powers seem to be restored, and even her beloved man is there with all the might and support of the Black Company. Fuck me ! I wouldn’t like to be in the place of the Stranglers or that of Longshadow. They are having some heavy “shitstorm” coming their way. And factor in the chaotic presence of the also fully restored Soulcatcher. The riders of Apocalypse have arrived Ladies and Gentlemen ! Yeeeee-haaaawww !

And that would be it for this month folks ! Next time we are going to visit a side theater, a show that will reunite us with some old acquaintances from the north, just so we could return with a bigger momentum to the main theater. Till then take care and have fun ! But do feel free to come by in the meantime as there will be other delicacies also served  in the canteen of the ship. Captain of I. S. S. Rover over and out !

                                                                                                           

Introduction: the plan

Black Company – The Black Company reread part 1

Shadows Linger – The Black Company reread part 2

The White Rose – The Black Company reread part 3

Shadow Games – The Black Company reread part 4

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Mistake not … or Passing By And Thought I’d Drop In

She’d asked him what it was like to be in there, doing nothing but then being woken up to speak to somebody you couldn’t see. He’d said that it was like being woken from a deep and satisfying sleep, to be asked questions while you kept your eyes closed. He was quite happy. Sight was over-rated anyway.

Iain M. Banks – The Hydrogen Sonata

Mesdames et Messieurs ! Bonsoir ! Ladies and Gentlemen ! Good evening ! It is a hot and damp night, it’s some 30°C, no wind. One would like to retreat to some colder place. And though it’s a hot night, I shiver as the cold memories of last years June 09 creep back. I struggle to find the right words here. Seemingly I can’t formulate the sentences that would do justice to the remembrance of my favourite contemporary ( but might even prove all time ) sci-fi writer: Iain Menzies Banks.

Agave (2003)

Agave (2003)

I clearly remember the day I first stumbled upon him, or rather his work. It was the early 2003. I just ran out of Asimovs and A. C. Clarkes – or rather reading material written by them, as they were at my focus at that time – and though there was a steady stream of P. K. Dicks coming my way I was searching for something new, a new voice. And on one sunny (?) April day I found myself  at my local bookstore looking at a book cover which was dominated by a couple of chess pieces in front of what seems to be a rising Sun and paired with an accented crimson background, and the title in white saying: Iain M. Banks: Player of Games in hungarian: A Játékmester ). I was mesmerized. The cover art does matter, especially if you are trying to introduce something, someone new on the market, and this was the first Banks book published in Hungary. And this set up worked for me, I bought the book, went home and I was spirited away. There were many of the familiar space opera tropes, but it was fresh at the same time. It introduced the Culture, a society where biological and artificial lifeforms coexist as “equals” and with limitless material wealth and comforts. There is no formal government, institutions or whatsoever, everything is informal, a functioning anarcho-socialist utopia. A peaceful civilization, with no military or whatsoever, yet managing to interfere with, and to manipulate foreign civilisations to it’s liking.

And that’s how it all began. Since than I am not only a fan, but also a propagator of Mr. Banks and his work. Some might even think that my affection bordered on religious piety, so strong was this “new” voice. After The Player of Games I was ready to blindly commit to any of Banks’ future books: “New Banks arrived ? Off to purchase it !” And now, I find myself in a tight spot, as I am slowly running out of Banks, and once again I have to embark on a journey to find yet another “new voice”. But that’s for another day.

Orbit ( 2013 )

Orbit ( 2013 )

Today, or rather tonight I invite you to join me on the excursion to the Gzilt space to hear the famed, or maybe better said notorious Hydrogen Sonata. It is the ninth book in what is called Culture series, but actually each and every novel is a stand alone piece. Sometimes there are references to events from the other novels, but nothing that would detract from the story, it’s just expanding the universe, connecting the dots. And till now there was only one case of a single character turning up in two separate Culture stories – Diziet Sma from Use of Weapons - and even then I would argue that this is not a proper sighting, as the other story is just a novelette, and her appearance is not of big significance there, it’s more along the line: “Hey, I know this girl ! There is someone at this party I have already met once. Hy there !” But back to the Sonata now.

The last Culture novel I read was the Matter. It was different from earlier books in the term that even though it’s a Culture story we hardly see any presence of it’s citizens and or agents, we get to see more of the “others”, and almost only them. And though the Culture agent has quite a big impact in the final events of the book, it could only be so because she is ain’t a true-born member of Culture. She returned to the planet she once called home, and which shaped her in her early years, but in the end this aspect didn’t have any role in the story, she didn’t get to interact with other natives much, and that was partly a disappointment for me. Yes, here the Culture was set in what might be the “right” perspective. In the previous books it always seemed like we have The Culture in one corner, and everyone else in the other, even though other similarly advanced civilisations were mentioned now and then.

And now we got to see some of the other actors of this interesting universe. This made for an interesting and new “Culture” experience and at the same time left me wanting. I mean it’s a Culture story, yet it, the Culture is kinda not there playing a secondary, maybe even tertiary role. I want my Culture ! Where are the ships, with their funny, sarcastic names, their witty verbal, textual exchanges ? Bring back the James Bonds of the Culture, the drones. But all apart it is a good book, and a good sci-fi novel, and yes it is a Culture novel in the end, only somehow oddly such and I somehow feel begrudged because of this ( but maybe it is just my misplaced  anger I feel toward the “Universe” or toward Banks himself because of the loss of a great inspiration source – I will have to work around this ). But I have to admit that there is a significant merit in the expansion of the Culture universe and lore, and that it was a marvelous stroke on Banks’ account, but the feelings are not something rational, especialy when one expects one thing, and gets another.

But hey, it’s not the time for psychotherapy now. I am here to remember him, for what he was, for what he brought to my life, a bit, maybe more of Culture. “All hands on ship brace for impact, we are making a sharp turn for the Zyse system in the heart of Gzilt space.” So let us watch, read or listen to The Hydrogen Sonata.

Once again we have a story not revolving around the Culture, but this time they are heavily involved, as the Gzilt are considered a cousin civilisation for participating in the forming of  and almost joining the Culture. But this time with the expanded universe come the elements I so loved in the Excession: the ships, the great Minds and their hobbies, interests surface once again. The Gzilt are a society as old as the Culture and are getting ready to sublime. There are only days left for them in the real when a message arrives that might disturb the preparations and even delay the transition. This triggers a chain of events, that threatens to escalate to open hostilities, if not outright war, not to mention that this might be a separate cause that might lead to delay or even cancellation of the whole “sublimation business”. And the Minds of Culture join the fray as they are also interested in the sublime ( as they are eligible for it too, but are not sufficiently convinced it would benefit them much ). This means that an “interest” group forms of like minded sentient ships bent on investigating the incident and it’s background, which also happens to involve a person that is believed to have been present and involved in forming what is now known as Culture. And you who haven’t read a Culture novel yet are asking what is this sublimation thing ? And rightly so. So let me quote one of the “great Minds” of the book:

The Sublime. The almost tangible, entirely believable, mathematically verifiable nirvana just a few right-angle turns away from dear boring old reality: a vast, infinite, better-than-virtual ultra-existence with no Off switch, to which species and civilizations had been hauling their sorry tired-with-it-all behinds off to since – the story went – the galaxy had still been in metaphorical knee socks.

I hope this is a clear enough answer, if not well go and read some Culture novels. So. There is a lot of dashing, a bit of shooting and exploding. And of course there is a lot of contemplation. Is it worth it ? Mainly finding the answer to what the message that caused the disturbance was. And does it even matter what’s the message ? And if the message gets out in the public, will it matter ? Should the answer be released to the wider public ? Will it matter if it’s true what it says ? Will it influence the outcome, the process of transition of Gzilt into the sublime ? Apparently not, but it might have had. This is one of those stories where the life just goes on, and it feels right so. And the title giving Hydrogen sonata is a symbol of this. It is a piece of atonal music that is nigh impossible to perform – yet it is the ambition of a character who gets to play a significant part ( albeit not willingly ) in this whole upheaval – and which by some opinions should be played in vacuum so that no one can hear it. And this I think conveys perfectly what I perceived as the message of the book: that personal fulfillment, in whatever form that takes, is rare and to be treasured.

This book might not be as good as The Player of Games or Use of Weapons - which has a unique narrative structure – but is as good as The Excession. A good entry level Culture novel. And it certainly has the best ship name ever to be used in a Culture novel ( which makes it also the best ship name ever in all of science fiction ): Mistake Not My Current State Of Joshing General Peevishness For The Awesome And Terrible Majesty Of The Towering Seas Of Ire That Are Themselves The Mere Milquetoast Shallows Fringing My Vast Oceans Of Wrath, abbreviated to Mistake Not … until someone really needs impressing upon them exactly the nature of the mistake they are making.

Oh, adjust yourself. You people have spent ten millennia playing at soldiers while becoming ever more dedicated civilians. We’ve spent the last thousand years trying hard to stay civilian while refining the legacy of a won galactic war.

Iain M. Banks – The Hydrogen Sonata

And there are quite a few quotes like the one here above that will be staying with me, most of them being on the sarcastic and cynical end of humor’s spectrum. And that is quite a good approximation on what Banks thought the Minds, the AIs of future might be. And if you want to have a better grasp of this weirdly skewerd humor, even before reading any of the Culture novels, just look up some of the other ship names used in them here.

And so I arrive to the end of tonight’s trip. And before I close this session with one final quatation I feel like I have to say -or rather explain myself – that there was an uncertainty for a while whether this post will be about The Hydrogen Sonata or the Feersum Endjinn. It stood in the favor of Feersum Endjinn that it represents something totally new, different in Banksian sci-fi, as it is not a Culture novel, and I did declare that I will be pursuing new experiences. But then it came to my mind that Iain expressed regret that the last book he wrote wasn’t a Culture novel, so it only seemed appropriate to commemorate him today ( on the first “anniversary” oh his sublimation ) with his last Culture novel, and that is: The Hydrogen Sonata.

I wish you all good night and good luck ! May the sublimation wait for a long time. We will keep your memory Iain.

Keshik – I. M. Banks-remnanter

“So basically you’re sticking around to watch us all fuck up ?”
“Yes. It’s one of life’s few guaranteed constants.” 

Iain M. Banks – The Hydrogen Sonata

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