2016 – Big project No. 1.

Good morning ladies and Gentlemen ! Bonjour Mesdames et Messieurs ! Here i am again. Sorry for the lengthy wait, the checkup took a bit after the testflight. But now the ship is cleared again for flight, so let´s take to new horizons. Today we travel to the lands of the Dying Earth. No. no, not this one, or at least not in our time. This is the one of Jack Vance, a world and work that inspired the likes of Gene Wolfe and others in creating something similar; a fantasy world that is rooted in science-fiction, most probably inspired by the planetary romances of Edgar Rice Burroghs and others. And as there are many classics I didn´t read yet, I decided as a fan of science-fiction and fantasy ( or genre literature as it is mostly mentiponed nowdays ) why not make the focus of this year something that combines both; though there will also be another great project for this year, and that is wisiting the Earthsea of Ursula K Leguin. But for starters lets stick to the Dying Earth.

I encountered the universe of the Dying Earth some time ago through the anthology The songs of the Dying Earth, compiled by G. R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. It was a tribute to Jack Vance and his strange, beautiful creation. I got mesmerize in a way i get just rarely. It  gave me a taste of Vance´s creation, so i decided that I have waited enough with the exploration of his work.

I got me the compendium Tales of the Dying Earth from Gollancz to effectuate the above mentioned exploration, but I will rather study and evaluate the body of work, one by one. In this post I will be scrutinizing the anthology – first book contained in the compendium – The Dying Earth, which contains 6 tales, ranging from short stories through novelettes to novellas, which are a somewhat strange classifications for me coming from a non english language culture, I mean we have short stories – and they bear the name novella – full blown novels, and we have stories that are bigger than a short story, but not enoguh to be a ful blown novel, so called little novels, and I have a somewhat ambiguous feelings seeing that in english they have even two expressions for these. novelettes and novellas. It´s all kind of confusing, as the novelettes tend to feel like short stories in our own language. But enough of semantics, let´s look at the content of the actual anthology.

I like the fact that the first book in the compendium is an anthology of shorter stories; firstly because I allready said at least couple of times here on the blog: I am a sucker for anthologies; secondly as it gives smaller bites to taste a variety of things awaiting in the whole body of work, so it´s easy to measure what is to our taste and what is to be expected.

So the first story is that of Turjan of Miir. A neat short story of a wizard´s endeavor on learning the art of cloning I would say, though it entails a scullduggery too. So it´s science and adventure in one pack. And the really neat part of it is that there is no literal evil, or good, the reader gets to decide that for himself. Is Turjan an evil wizard/scientist who is partaking in abhorrent actions against natural laws, or is he simply a curious disciple of sciences, or something in between ? Well who knows …

The next story is Mazirian the magician, a fellow rival wizard of Turjan. In this story – that seems to be chronologically also after the earlier one – Mazirian imprisoned Turjan so that he could coerce him to giving up information on his cloning experiments. However these efforts are not bearing fruits at the time of story. In the meanwhile Tsain, Turjan´s partner is harassing with her presence Mazirian, which ends after a time in Mazirian pursuing Tsain. In the pursuit Mazirian encounters other hostile creatures and is forced to fight them, expanding one spell after the other till he runs out, and the subsequent encounter brings his demise forth, meanwhile Tsain escapes and manages to free Turjan. An interesting story, that evokes the random encounters from my RPG sessions. So it´s not just the magic mechanics that were inspired by the work of Jack Vance.

And so comes the next story: Tsais. Tsais – whom we already met in the first story, and also sister of Tsain – a creature cursed to perceive everything as ugly and evil, now coming to Earth from Embelyon in search for beauty and love, only to find evil and horror at first, but then stumbling upon Etarr, a cursed being himself. Together they search for justice. A story resembling a fairy tale, but happening in a land far stranger, than one has seen before. I enjoyed it.

The next tale is that of Liane the Wayfarer. And although Liane is the protagonist, the real stars of this story are Chun the Unavoidable and Lithe. And it was fun reading the original, as I knew the gist of the story from the Songs of the Dying Earth.All I want to say here: “Liane, I´m sorry, I´m so sorry …”.

And so we arrive to the story Ulan Dhor Ends a Dream. Ulan – the nefew of prince Kandive, an accomplished magician and ruler of the city of Kaiin – an accomplished swordsman and budding magic user, embarking on a journey to retrieve two tablets promising knowledge and power. But ends up revealing a nasty “prank” that went on for more than a few years ( approximately 5000 years ) and finding his true love. Not a small feat.

And so we arrive to the last story of the volume: Guyal of Sphere. A story of search, mainly that of knowledge, and becoming a great adventure that we are used to experiencing in our typical fantasy pen and paper role playing games ( yes, mainly Dungeons and Dragons ). Guyal gets to travel the known world of his time, just to meet all kind of people of dubious reputation, just to find more than he bargained for. At a point the story reminden me of the action adventure games of the Legend of Zelda series, exploring a dark dungeon while fending off fiends that pop ot of nowhere. More than satisfying read.

In overall I was very pleased with this book, a read that was new and nostalgic at the same time. I can see that some of the younger readers might be dissapointed with it, as there are so many good contemporary fantasy/sci-fi writers today, and their style, brand might be a lot more complex, so that thay find that of Jack Vance´s somewhat lacking, but well that is not something that one can help with; I mean appreciating history, previous accomplishments takes a certain taste, that not everybody attains, but that is allright.

And so we arrive to the end of our today´s journey. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. We will be back soon, with new adventures. Till then be safe and merry. Captain of the I.S.S. Rover over, and out !



Revisiting 2015 – Books (part II)

Ladies and Gentlemen ! Mesdames et Messieurs ! The checkup of the newly installed TJE and refueling has finished. So please take your seats and fasten the seatbelts, as we will shortly continue our excursion through time with another short jump, and well it might get a bit bumpy. Are you all ready ? Well then, here we go !

Though the main focus of 2015 was british fiction, the books I revied in the last post were not the only ones I read. There were other projects, themes of interest, and the “diversification” thing. So lets see some of the more notable titles of these Others.

The first real surprise – and a treat – was The Lies of Locke Lamora penned by Scott Lynch. A fantasy adventure in the modern gritty, realistic sense, though this one does not portrait a conflict of epic scale, but rather gives us a heist story, something that is probably similar to Fritz Leiber´s Grey Mouser and Fafahrd stories. We start out in a 15th-16th century Venice like city, and follow the exploits of one Locke Lamora – a young con artist – and his merry band, the Gentlemen Bastards. The chapters alternate between the present and past, where the past chapters always center on one of the members of the gang. It´s a nice structure, as we get a bit of a relief from all the action happening right now and the characters get fleshed out, we get to know their past, without getting bogged down. I liked this very much. And for a thing there was not much magic involved in the story. Magic does exist in this universe, but it is a very potent resource, and is monopolized by a small and powerfull group, so it remains rare in application. And as the story progresses, the things escalate, even then when you think that they cant escalate any more. Well done mister Lynch. And one another strong point of this book is that though it is a first book in a series, it finishes on a note as if it is a stand alone book: there is a chance to continue the adventures of the merry gang, but you don´t have to. It was a chapter in the life of the gang, and it ends there on a perfect note as the gang leaves the town and sails into the sunset. Complete story from start to begin, and a one off book. You don´t have the guilty pleasure like craving, where you have the need to know what happens next. It is perfectly satisfactory to part the ways with the characters here. So it mitigates my main concern with the modern genre fiction works, which I expressed in earlier posts.  So this is gonna be one of those books I will keep recommending to others.

The next book that left me impressed last year – and was not part of the british fiction project, although the author is an englishman – was Waterloo by Tim Clayton. So history it is, another of my points of interest. And instead of focusing on the First World War, like I did in 2014, I rather opted to focus this time a bit on the Napoleonic era, as it was the 200th anniversary of the end of it, marked by an ultimate last ditch effort of Napoleon after all already ended for him once. And this effort culminated in the Waterloo campaign. The work of Tim Clayton is superb: it does manages to capture the minutiae of the whole campaign, and to vivdly describe not only the crucial moments, but also the many actors who partaked in it; not only the notable commanders, but also the lowly grunts, and the spectatorcivilians alike. It was written in the vein of living history, including many details hailing from personal correspondence and diary entrances, capturing the moments of the day. And I like this approach. Thank god for the work of modern historians who have seen the potential of telling deeply dramatic stories of the everyday man of the time, which due to it´s personal nature manage to connect to the todays men, and so convey the knowledge, the experience in a more personal, involving tone. We need more works in this vein, and thank God that there are plenty historians that are willing to indulge me.

The next stop of remarkable radings of 2015 was the Chess novel (?) – Schachnovella – penned by the austrian author Stefan Zweig. Firstly it picked my interest as the theme involves chess, one of my loved hobbies, and secondly it was by a german language author, and as I now live in Germany it is another deliberation of mine to expand on reading books originally written in german, and thirdly it is high literature, so expanding my horizons in multiple ways. It is a short book, a fine sunday afternoon read.  A story of a man´s descent into Hell and returning from there. A man´s struggle to maintain his sanity in harsh conditions of involuntary imprisonment, just to lose this battle, and to be able to recuperate thanks to others. And later an experiment revisiting that personal Hell that led to his ultimate demise. A story involving the viles of the Nazis in the wake of Anschluss of 1938. It was a personal experience for me on multiple levels: firstly as it involved chess, a cherished hobby of mine, secondly the protagonists experience of incarceration that resonates strongly with mine, and thirdly the cultural background, as we both hail from regions that formerly belonged to the Austro-Hungarian empire/culture – which was finally destroyed by the violent act of Anschluss – a sense of lost history.

And so came October, and with it Ancillary Mercy the final book in Ann Leckie´s Imperial Radch trilogy. An end to journey started back in 2013. And what a journey it was. A new exceptional voice in genre fiction, managing to improve on the premises of the already exceptional first bok with the subsequent sequels, an act managed by only few authors. Delving into the themes of imperialism, colonisation, gender roles in a new fashion. Not to mention that there are also musings on life, regarding what we tend to call “human rights”: who, or what is to be acknowledged as an autonomous intelligent being, who is to be treated as a living person, only biological creatures, or also artificial ones, that are able to act autonomously, make autonomous decisions ? Many things are involved in this trilogy. I would say that Ann Leckie is kind of a female Iain M Banks, so that makes it certain I will continue to follow her work. And I urge you to do the same.

For the next read I chose the second book in Terry Brooks´ Shannarra  series: The Elfstones of Shannara. A book I decided to want to read after I have seen the trailer for the now airing TV show Chronicles of Shannara. As I found out that it was based on he second book of the series, rather than the first, with which I had a dissapointing run in early in my genre reading carreer, I decided to have a second look at the series, and to so do maybe justice to it. I mean the first book of the series was practically a pure copy of the narrative of the Lord of the Rings, and although it was intended as such, it did leave me with a sour taste in my mouth, and dissapointed, as I didn´t want to read more or less the same thing, i wanted something new in the same vein. This unfortunate experience created a prejudice in my mind against the works of Terry Brooks, probably rightly so, but maybe not; and I certainly don´t want to be that person whois shunning something on a pure gut feeling, not even trying to make an educated guess. And so I read The Elfstones. And i must say that I was surprised. Though not all of my misgivings were lifted, it did contain originality at last, something that is Brooks´ own. And that changed the feel about the series also. I didn´t become a convert, I didn´t enjoy the book enough to continue reading the series, more so that the ones who read the series also tend to say that the second volume is the best; and the characters didn´t impress me that much, for me to want to know about their further fates knowing that I might enjoy the subsequent books less. So that´s it for me. Goodbye Shannara ! We might see eacch other on small screen …

And there was one more great surprise to the 2015 at this point: The Builders by Daniel Polansky. A novelett, or novella, but a meaty one at that. It involves a motley crew ensemble of antropomorphic animals – mice, rats, snakes, badgers, weasels, owls etc. – where the archetypes of the characters are reinforced by the attributes we usually tend to connect to these animals. A story of a band of mercenaries who are out for a revenge, culminating in a Dirty Dozenesque action. A story that deconstructs tropes, archetypes, just to put them together in another form, a fun experiment, and due to it a refreshing experience. Nice job Daniel, you put yourself on my radar.

And though it would be nice to finish off here the post with a nice bang, I can´t ommit a slight dissapointment that entailed the last year, I wouldn´t be honest if I didn´t write about it. A it happens 2015 was the year where the presently last installment of  John Scalzy´s Old Man´s War series was published. I already mentioned tha Scalzy  might not be a big calliber writer like Banks, or Bradbury, but rather just a decent craftsman of his trade ( he is saying the same thing too ). So the dissapointment was not all that big and surprising when I got through The End of All Things. But it was a dissapointment nonetheless, as there was a slight hope that Scalzy might find the strength, the power to overcome himself and his writing reflexes. But no, the book wa just more of the same. The life of the old friends, characters just goes on, they don´t develop. There is a slight shift in the universe, but that is also a question if Scalzy will be able to capitalise on it, as new stories in the universe have been announced. I simply don´t see it in him, to be able to evolve further. He will stay a guiloty pleasure of mine, but that makes me sad, to see that he doesn´t even try anymore to go further, but rather complacently stays where he is, as at the beginning it really seemed that he is capable of so more. But whatever, there are others to be looked out for, so I will leave him be. It was nice seeing you again mister.

And that´s it Ladies and gentlemen. I must say that the TJE works just fine. The test run ends here, and I say we return to the base for a change of pace. Do you agree ? Oh, not all of you ? Well that can´t be helped. But lets see what we can do about it next time. Till then have fun and take care ! Captain over and out !

Long time … – “no see”, “no write”

“Bonsoir Mesdammes et Messieurs, Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen !” – is what I would liket to write casually, but how could I ? It has been about a whole year since I have posted for the last time, and it might seem like I have given up on this blog, or blogging at all. But the truth is actually more prosaic: I have been lazy. Or at least lazy to write. Let me elaborate this a bit.

I was lazy to write I said: not just blog posts, but also other things. I have a friend with whom I correspond on a regular basis. That correspondence also suffered because of my laziness. And I am sorry, so sorry because of this ! I mean this blog is not only a book diary for me, more like a diary in general, a kind of a legacy, something that I will be able to show my kids in the future, or they could explore for themselves to see what I was like in a “previous life”, before I became their dad etc. – but that is only a wishfull thinking. Right now it´s still a form of expressing my new old self, so I willo go on in that fashion.

So, I was – I seem to keep repeating myself here – lazy to write, but I wasn´t lazy to pursue other things of interest to me. So yes: I continued to read modestly massive amounts of books, kept trying out new food and beverages, self made or not, kept playing board – and computer games, kept exploring my new home etc. All to a certain degree of satisfaction. The last year was amazing, just the one before it, so let me sum up some of the highlights here and now, and then we will continue in a regular fashion.

So my fellow journeyman, or simple one time passengers, welcome on board of I.S.S. Rover, and let us make our first excursion in time. This is a first for me too. The Time Jump Engine has been freshly installed, and has been not tested, so certain dangers apply. But whatever, this is gonna be fun – “They said.” – so here we go.  This is your captain speaking: do get seated and enjoy the scenery !

So what did I do in 2015 ? I did a lot of things, and didn´t do a lot more … But I will start with the books and my reading endeavors, as they are the most constant, or even significant of interest in my life.

I dubbed 2015 the year of “British fiction”, and that project was quite a succes. So what books did I read in the end ? Let me see. I could provide just a simple list, but as I didn´t manage to provide a separate post about them, and I´m unsure of having the motivation to write them so long after I have read them, I think I will write down my impressions of them, or what has been left of them here. So lets get started.

After I cleared Alastair Reynolds and Neal Asher in the search of new Iain M. Banks I turned to the other side of the speculative fiction. And so the first fantasy book I read last year was: Susanna Clarke´s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Quite a heavy book with fascinating worldbuilding, packed with interesting characters and events. What was a surprise and a delight for me was it´s style, and language. It was like opening and reading a Clarles Dickens novel: it evoked his style and language, and the whole atmosphere of the 19th century England. Pure magic, and just because the story itself is centered on magic and magical exploits of the two main characters, whose names the title bears. A true classic, and one of it´s kind. I mean a book, and is authors rarely manage to be recognised on is own merit and to be such a tribute to another author and time period. And I simply can not fathom how much effort it needed to bring forth a synthesis of such level, but I do suppose that it will stand alone for quite a time. If you are not into Dickens´ heavy 19th century realism style better leave the book aside and watch the masterful screen adaptation of BBC.

The next item on my list is Out of the silent Planet written by C. S. Lewis. Yes, the same C. S. Lewis that wrote the Narnia series. I was surprised to find out that he wrote Science – Fiction also beside the fantasy novels he is well known for, but that meant that is a one more reason to include him in the list of the year of british fiction. The story is that of Dr. Ransom, who gets kidnapped and transported to the planet of Mars by some fellow humans, just to partake in a series of adventures there. To a modern reader the book might seem weird, knowing what we know about Mars. But for a seasoned genre reader it is a delight to discover it. The story evoked in me the Barsoom  series of Edgar Rice Burroughs, probably due to the parallels bewtween it´s main characters Dr. Ransom and John Carter. But it also did remind me of H. G. Wells´ War of the World which probably inspired Lewis to write his own story involving the “martians”. An interesting book if one likes sci-fi predating the “golden age”, and the knowledge obtained on other planets of our Solar system in the later years of 20th century, which made wild and exotic settings possible in our “neighbourhood”, wildly differing from the scientifically possible exotic environments of our present.

The next in the line of british fiction was my favourite british genre author today: Iain M. Banks and the book this time was: Surface Detail. And it it delivers. It is more action oriented – just like the other two of his later Culture novels:  Matter and The Hydrogen Sonata – but it still is as thought provoking, fresh, and inventive as any other novel of his. This time the main theme is Life. Where does it start ? Where does it end ? Does consciousness outside of a physical body deserve the same treatment, rights as one contained in one ? Does it matter if things happen in reality or a virtual environment ? And what about afterlife ? Tons of things layered on top of each other with the usual flare of Banks´Culture: ships/AIs with credulous fun names, and attitudes to match the names. And on top of all this novel is a second work to feature a character that we have already seen in one of the earlier Culture novels. First it was Diziet Sma from Use of Weapons who returned in the novela State of the Art. And now another notable character from Use of Weapons returns. Who ? Go and read the novel(s), and you will find out. This single moment “put the dot on the i” on the othervise allready excelent novel, though it might be the fanboy talking, as Use of Weapons is my all time favourite Iain M. Banks novel.

And for the change of pace I went on and read Bram Stoker´s Dracula. A work regarded as a classic due to it´s influence on pop culture and later works of horror fiction. It is a story written in form of diary and news excerpts, evoking much the Robinson Crusoe of Daniel Defoe. I enjoyed the novel though it felt a bit short, and stylistically crude, not to mention that the final show down was quite anti climactic. So yes, a classic crossed off the list, but otherwise so unimpressive.

To chase off the sourness caused by Dracula´s blandness I went on to read a novel set in Michael Moorcock´s Multiverse: The Warhound and the World´s Pain. And it was a delight: a picaresque stlye adventure set during the Thirty years War, exploring morality in different contexts. Lucifer seeks reconciliation with Heaven, the protagonist seeking reconciliation with himself, a young naive idealist grown up to be a cynic and brutal tool of destruction. A piece worth calling modern classic.

And now after two short novels it was time for something meatier, Peter F. Hamilton´s -another, but alas somewhat failed contender to be the new Iain M. Banks – two parter: Commonwealth sagaHamilton´s stlye incorporates impressive heavy worldbuilding and tons of viewpoint characters, just like G. R. R. Martin´s, but alas much of this is detrimental to the final product. Hamilton closes in to the actual story in circumstantial manner, which makes the reading of this othervise good story a tedium. He starts the book devoting whole chapters to intoduce single characters. And though separately read these are incredibly detailed and inventive peaces of storytelling, they tend to be boring, all more so when later you realize that most of the storylines, events described in these early chapters are nothing more than dead ends, having nothing to do with the main story, not to mention that due to this, the storytelling also seems disjointed, and the same aplies to most of the characters, most of them dont get to do much later on, or even they don´t appear at all at later stages. So yes, it is nice worldbuilding, intriguing to a Game Master planning to do a role playing session in the universe, but dude please stick a bit more to the point ! In the end I did enjoy Pandora´s Star  and Judas Unchained, but is highly improbable that I will ever own a physical copy of Hamilton´s works.

And after the lengthy Peter F. Hamilton experience, I took two short classics to round of the year of british fiction. First was William Shakespeare´s The Tempest. A story of exile and revenge. Much like the tale of Count of Monte Cristo, but involving magic and comedy. It is a fun work and would like to see it on stage too. Not your typical Shaekesperean drama, so it´s refreshing, but due to it´s technical quirks relating to stage adaption rarely seen and so sentenced to obscurity.

The other was Louis Stevenson´s The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, yet another piece of classic victorian horror/weird fiction. This one is better written than Dracula. Though it also feels a bit short. But it was a fair and satisfactory read.

That´s about it, the project “Year of British Fiction” is deamed succes, though I planned to include more titles than this. One could argue that I could include a bigger variety of periods and genres on my reading list, and I intended to, but I can´t deny that I am mainly a reader of genre fiction, and even the genres of speculative fiction do hold more reading material than I will be ever able to tackle. It´s a hard thing to be a reader in this modern age: every year there are more and more works of fiction to be consumed, but the averrage amount of free time we can dedicate to them stays the same, or gets even more limited, so it´s a tricky game to try and balance what we consume, as one tries to get as much pleasure out of his/her own free time, as possible. So it´s not a surprise one tends to favour his favourite themes, genres, authors to those of other points of interest. But I am ultimately trying to broaden my sight, so stay tuned.

And now Ladies and Gentlemen, we are making a short stop to replenish the fuel and do a quick checkup on the newly installed Time Jump Engine. We will shortly  continue our journey, till then you can relax in the cantine or the library of the ship, though there are other possibilities for recreation too. Captain of the ship over and out.

Searching for Iain M. Banks voice – part II

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen ! Bonsoir Mesdames et Messieurs ! Welcome, or welcome back on board of I.S.S. Rover. Spring is finally here, no snow, no cold. Not to mention that there was a partial solar eclipse today. But thats not why we are here today. It´s time for a new literary adventure. And as the headlines say, it´s again time to check out what else is there for a fan of Iain M. Banks aside from the endless rereading of his books if he´s searching for a similar experience. You can find links to the arlier posts from this series at the end of this post.

As I already announced in the last ( and at the same time the first ) post, today we will be checking out Neal Asher, yet another british fiction author ( which is a requirement of mine, and not that i care how uninclusive it is or anything else ). And the book on display today will be Gridlinked, the first novel written by Neal Asher, and also the first book of his now already sprawling Polity universe/series, and the first book of the Agent Cormac series.

It was a quick impulse decision to incorporate his work in the whole “Search Project”, but it took me some time to decide on where to start, as I tried to pick out something that is promising to be good, and at first I tried to avoid the Agent Cormac series, but unfortunatelly all signs were telling that for the appreciation, and maybe a “fair” judgment ( as much as a biased oppinion can be fair ) I will have to start literally at the beginning. Whatever, lets move on. While contemplating my options I also found a collection of Asher´s short stories: The Engineer Reconditioned. And as I am a succer for anthologies it will be reviewd shortly, as i decided it deserves a separate post, rather than to be included here ( also for the benefit of a “fair judgement” ).

TOR (2011)

TOR (2011)

So … Gridlinked. It kicks off with a not too impressive start: we have the main character, the hero, antihero or whatever, Agent Cormac behaving like a jerk, killing a criminal in what should be a cool action scene. But actually it´s not that impressive, you have such “cool scenes” in every military/spy  fiction be it science-fiction or not, and if one thrives reading such literature, it becomes somewhat boring ( which is one of the main reasons why  I´m inclined to search for a successor to Iain M. Banks ). And not only is the opening scene boring, but the main character is also uninteresting. Why ? I´m not really sure. Maybe it´s the cliché, that he is an unemotional killing machine, the 007 of the universe, and yet he fails so utterly in assessing his situation. The amateurism of the writer shows here, which isn´t surprising, it´s his first novel after all, but it did anger me, as he already had a whole volume of short stories published, and had noone to point out this to him ? What is he, writer of fan fiction, is he stuck on that level ? Well sincerely, I don´t know, but wil be geting to soon, when i check his anthology.

But this feeling did lessen somewhat my curiosity, my wanting to read it, so I went through this book quite slowly, did not breeze through it, as I would if it hadn´t been for this limping start. And if it were only for this clichéd trope I would probably forgive him, but later on there is a promise of a tragic death, which for the seasoned reader won´t be tragic, as he/she knows that it will be “miraculously” reversed. And it doesn´t matter how wel built up is the whole reversal, it still stinks; we all have seen it already in other stories, so it simply doesn´t work for me. Maybe if i were younger and less experienced reader it would, but I´m not. So sorry Neal you will be stuck together with Richard Morgan and Dan Abnet in the category of uninventive, but still decent writer. You will get a chance to get out of there, but it will be hard, especiallly seeing that you cling to your Polity universe like there is no other thing out there.

Aside from this flaws, the book is a decent sci-fi, military flick, displaying the usual commando action, with larger than life main character and supporting crew. We have bad ass androids/robots who deliver mayhem, destruction and death, but sometimes when equivalent forces claxh the end is quite anticlimactic, but that is a flaw I am willing to forgive at this point. We also have Culture style AIs, but they get only the fraction of “page time” they would deserve. Of the four funnier quotes that i have marked in my e-book in two are involved AIs:

´Ready,´said a voice that managed to put all the elements of a bored sophisticate into one word.

´Ready ?´

Samarkand II continued. Í have been initiated prematurely. Presumably there is a reason for this. I ame therefore ready for your explanation. Please continue. It has been thirty-seven seconds-mark-and I am bored already.

And these are the rare occasions that something more shines through Asher´s work, something resembling the wit of Iain M. Banks or Terry PratchettMaybe in future volumes the AIs get to play a bigger role; in the recently published Dark Intelligence they surely do, but I hope that they will make a better show much earlier. And  this hope is the main reason I will be revisiting the polity universe – soon; aside me being a succer for anthologies.

The worldbuilding has a relatively slow pace, which is not a problem. It is done via quotations, flavour texts at the beginnig of the chapters, much like seen in Frank Herbert´s Dune series. And the world building points toward a universe larger than LIFE itself, or maybe even larger than DEATH, which is yet another warning sign for me to quit, and never to return to Polity. But … There is something that tells me that there still might be something, something that might separate Asher from the likes of Richard K. Morgan, and that was a glimpse I had when i read the aforementioned excerpt from his last novel, it seems his writing has evolved, maybe not as much like I would like, but evolved nonetheless, and that might be the edge, the “thing” that might keep his work interesting.

And if I already mentioned Frank Herbert, I would like to point out another influence of his on the universe of polity. The structure and modus operandi of the ECS ( Earth Central Security ) – the organisation whose agent Cormac is – seems to be inspired by the Bureau of Sabotage of the Dosadi Experiment. This might be coincidental, but I stopped believing in coincidences. So to not make it harder for Asher and to not spoil the savour of my new guilty pleasure I will treat this fact as a tribute toward a revered person.

So all in all I had some pleasure reading the book, being disappointed on ultiple occasions, though they were not the unpleasant as I was mentally prepared for them after I read the excerpt, and against my better judgement after that I continued with the intention of reading this book, hence the addition of it to my vast list of guilty pleasures. Whatever, I won´t recommend him to anyone. He has a large following, so he doesn´t really need new fans, but I also kinda understand why he stayed undetected by me until now.

And now onto new adventures. Should it be Scott Lynch´s The Lies of Locke Lamora, or the recently acquired Jack Vance Treasury, or the more epic Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell being the part of my “british fiction year” project. It does seem that the start of Dune reread is being delayed yet again. Whatever.

See you next time around. Hope you enjoyed this outing, and that you will be returning soon. Till then take care and have fun ! Captain of I.S.S. Rover over and out !


Searching for Iain M Banks voice – part I – Alastair Reynolds

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The Dark Tower – a chance meeting

Good morning, or evenng Ladies and Gentlemen ! This is your captain speaking. Welcome back on board of I.S.S. Rover. And welcome to our newest adventure. The sun is blindingly shining out there, though only hours ago the sky was filled with grey clouds, and it was raining and snowing.

And this sunshine reminds me of the desert scenery that the Gunslinger was passing through in this newest of my excursuions to the worlds of fiction. Or are these worlds really fiction ? Aren´t they only dreams bestowed upon us by a God, or some supperior intelligence ? Maybe alien, maybe artificial ? Well join me as I discover the world of The Dark Tower created by the venerable Stephen King.

This expedition is a byproduct of an entirely different endeavour of mine – or maybe not that different – a chance meeting that I´m ready to embrace. But let me start at the beginning. As a young boy I was standing in a bookstore in my hometown enchanted by the cover and falvour text of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. I just finished my first time reading of the Lord of the Rings, a formative read for many of us genre readers. And this then new book was offering a similar adventure, and I was attracted to it, but I never dared to spend my meager allowance of that time at such a book, it stayed an item of reverence and youthful fantasies. And then time passed, I read on, and  forgot a bit about the Dark Tower and the Gunslinger. Not really forgotten, but it sliped out of my focus, other things filled it; until now.

It happened as you know that I moved to Germany to start a “new Life”, but at least to find a new perspective; and i found amazing things, had some amazing experiences etc. And as a booklover and avid reader, I couldn´t evade the local Library; but I was biding my time, searching, or rather waiting for a “right” moment to go into the institution and get a membership. That happened some two weeks ago. And if I´m there, I wont walk out without book, so I went into the hall where they hold the novels, and i saw that they have a section for books in foreign languages. I located the english language section and poured slowly over the titles, trying to decide what to take. And as I was nearing the end my eyes chanced upon The Dark Tower series, and my forgotten affection struck me as a lightning. And I felt a sudden surge also, that the time has come to explroe this book, this new world, after some twenty years, and with a smile on my face I took the book and went to the counter to check out the book. And here i am now.

nel (2003)

nel (2003)

It was a pretty light read, though a bit heavier than the usual Stephen King stuff. A surreal world resembling the shear epicness of the Lord of the Rings, though instead of the heroic figures of Tolkien we have a gunlinger that has been most probably inspired by Clint Eastwoods characters from Sergio Leone´s spaghetti westerns – if I had to compare it to LotR characters: he feels like Aragorn with the spirit of Samwel Tarley, an odd but intersting choice.

And the Gunslinger chases an evil, or perhaps even mad wizard through a postapocalyptic world, with deserts, abandoned towns, mutants, zombies, relics of the past world(s). A wizard that resembles Gandalf, but might be closer to Galadriel,though many will say that the evilness and his other traits would rather make him the Saruman. Well it´s all matter of interpretation, and that is allways subjective – or at least is at most of times.

The first volume of adventures of Roland was somewhat short, but interesting. I was not overwhelmed by it, as I recognised many references and nods to other works of fiction, be it specific, or part of our mythology, our western cultural heritage. And as I like such references for their existence alone ( some of my favourite songs are We didn´t start the fire, by Billy Joel and 1985 by SR-71 that are a hepa of cultural references ), they only made more aware, and did erode the emersiveness of the book.

And there is something I think was a mistake. In the final chapter there is a long conversation between the Man in Black and Roland. And though throughout the book King has stated that lots of the knowledge of the past is lost, and the Gunlsinger acts like someone that doesn´t know of the past and it´s achievements, and as someone that doesn´t posess not even the basic knowledge of it. It is most profound when he meets Jake the young boy from New York, and doesn´t get what is the boy talking aobut when he describes his own world. And then comes the Man in Black and starts talking about the big world out there, about scientific facts that are familiar to us, the people of twntienth and twenty first century, but should be alien ideas to someone like the Gunslinger. So either King forgot he should stay “in world/in character”, or was directly talking to us: “The Readers”. And that did break the illusion, the immersion. But in overall, I did enjoy the read. It was a fun quest like romp and stomp through familiar elements of mythological fiction in a different configuration, so I will return to it soon.

That´s all folks ! Thank you for coming by. Have fun, and take care till the next time. Captain of I.S.S. Rover over and out !

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Searching for Iain M. Banks voice – part I

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen ! Bonsoir Mesdames et Messieurs ! Welcome, or welcome back on board of I.S.S. Rover. it is a chilling winter night here in Allgäu Bavaria: its -6°C out there, snowing, and the wind is blowing – nothing special about the weather. But I finally embarked on the search for the new voice that could fill the void left by the late Iain M. Banks. The first voice I will be checking out as I mentioned already in one of earlier posts is that of Alastair Reynolds. For this purpose I procured his novel Revelation Space.

But before I dipped into the book I wanted to have an impression of what is to be expected. And I did find his short story written the same year as Revelation Space: Merlin´s Gun for free in Amazon´s Kindle store. So I read it. And I must say that what I found was amazing: a voice that fills me with hope, with the feeling that he might meet the expectations I have of the “successor” to the “successor of Ray Bradbury” as I might have called Banks once, or twice.

Asimov (2000)

Asimov (2000)

It is a story of a journey, a search for an item shrouded in legends, the journey itself and its undertaker also turning into a legend during the process. And the legend is met by a “common person” just to shape the legend into reality again. And this all is hapening against a backdrop of a galactic conflic spanning for several millenia, reminding me of Joe Haldeman´s  The Forever War.

The storytelling is superb, focusing on personal matters. Technology is masterfully introduced and described in the short space available, and the space opera elements are plausibly intertvined with real theories from current scientific researches in the fields of physics, which is hardly surprising knowing that Reynolds earlier worked for European Space Agency – aka he is a “real” scientist. So yes, his style has a hard science-fiction feel to it to, which I find delightful. And now lets see the Revelation Space.

And here we are. It took me about a week to read the book, and about another week to get myself to write about it. I have something that might be called a bad habit: my focus tends to jump away as soon as I´m finished with a “thing”. Sometimes I do manage to foce myself to keep focus on the actual item, but now that I´m working, the shifting workhours make it harder to stay focused. Anyway, enough talk, lets see what we have here.

The first few chapters are confusing: there is quite much jumping around in time, quite a few characters are introduced and one s not sure which one´s wil be important, or which are there just to be killed. We have Dan Sylveste a renowned (?) archeologist, who is researching a long time dead alien culture, the Amarantin. Then we have Khouri, an ex soldier turned assassin hired to kill Dan – and hired by someone who seems to hold a pretty big grudge against Sylveste – and we are still not over the introductions as there is a crew of an interstellar vessel that is also looking for Sylveste.And then we still didn´t even scratch the surface of what is going on here.

Ace Books (2002)

Ace Books (2002)

There are several different mysteries that build the whole thing, and the narrative reminds me of a challenging puzzle. First you try to sort out the edge pieces, to have the boundaries, which will in the end enable you to put all the pieces together, and have the big picture; then you start putting together smaller, but seemingly important pieces of picture and more or less put them in their place and start searching for the puzzle pieces that connect all these parts of the big picture. And I must admit that I enjoyed this “game”, how Reynolds built up his narrative. And there is an other quality to Reynolds´ storytelling: it´s that as more and more puzzlepieces were placed some earlier informations meaning started changing. It was kind of a feeling like when you are solving a mathematical problem, and use the different transformational equatins etc. The story itself was also transforming like the formulas, or maybe you can compare it to  biological evolution. Scientific methods in storytelling: intrigueing.

It´s a story with multiple angles: you can read it as history of an intergalactic conflict, as an account of an intrigueing scientific research, but also as a polithical thriller of relations between different factions of Humans, or a coctail of all this. And it´s a masterful piece of work, but not without some smaller flaws.

Lets start with the flaws. I mentioned that there are different factions to humanity. Demarchists, Conjoiners, Ultras just to mention a few. And although more and more information is revealed about them, these divisions seem superficial, and sometimes even unexplained. For example we get to know that the Ultras have cast aside their biological roots, and have modified themselves, as biologically as in other ways, but so have the Conjoiners, and yet they are a whole different faction due to the virtue that it seems it´s only them who can, and are willing to build engines that are capable to propell ships from one solar system to another. And the Demarchists, well they are mentioned, but nothing is said about them, I had to look up in the internet that the word is coined from the phrase: democratic-anarchy. For the matter of fact what this phrase means, and what socio-political implications it does carry is insignificant for the story on hand, but than why mention it ?

Then again these factions did remind me of Banks´ Against the Dark Background. And not only of that book, but other elements reminded me of Use of Weapons – which is my favourite Culture novel – and also Look to Windward, and not only that, but it also reminds me of the world of a computer game: Battle Isle, of which I have fond memories.

And then even though the humanity has come a long way the world has a feel of decay to it, kind of a post apocalyptic, post cyberpunk setting. The conjoiners don´t build anymore engines that can propell ships from one system to another, which makes the existing ships even more valuable, and those tend to be in hands of militaristically minded persons/groups. And of course you can´t escape the legacy of an age old galactic conflict which is n the heart of all mysteries that the book presents to us.

There is much to digest: ideas, hystorical context, conflict etc. But there is not much actually revealed, there is place to evolve the universe. In the end this book focuses on problems of attaining eternal life, survival against the odds etc. We have the Ultras who modify themselves and spend most of their time travelling between different solar systems which partly takes them out of the world of “normal” humans, they live inanother timescale. We have the planet dwellers who did manage to prolong their natural lives thanks to different medical technologies and therapies. And there are those people who chose the immortality through copying their minds/consciousnes into computers. And this last group is the one that provides something of a happy end to the story of some characters, But there are still others left roaming the world, and with it foreshadowed that their story is far from the end, and that we will meet them again.

And I am looking forvard to it, as I enjoyed this romp and stomp. There was archeology, galactic conflict, conspiracy, philosophy etc. And even though it has been a week since I put down the book I must admit that I have found the successor to Iain M Banks. To which many will say that it´s a premature conclusion, especially that there are other contenders for the title, and they haven´t been checked yet. They certainly are right for that oppinion, and usually I would agree with them, but now my guts say otherwise.

The style, the structure of the storytelling is so similar: beginning to circle around the point so far out and revealing only a small detail at a moment; and not to mention that some of these details are red herrings, and yet still lead you in the right direction. And there is also the choice of themes, they seem to be of the same sort, same quality. The only actual difference is that Reynolds uses more of the actual results of contemporary scientific researches, but that is understandable, if one knows his background ( coming from a scientific carrier over to a literary one ).

And I also have the feeling that Banks and Reynolds might have inspired each other as some of the thougths, ideas even if only glimpsed in Revelation Space seem to me to return to haunt us in Banks´ Surface Detail.

And thats it. I declare to have a winner for the title of “Spiritual Successor of Iain M. Banks”. But that doesn´t mean that the search is called off. Especially not now that yet another player has been found, that was not on my radar earlier. I am talknig about Neal Asher, whose Polity universe was unknown to me before  read this excerpt of his recently published new novel, Dark Intelligence. It strikes me that there we also have a mainly human society/culture ruled by AIs, which is a striking “coincidence”. And that peaked my interest. But I am also somewhat weary, as the tone seems to be more action oriented, something like Richard Morgan´s Takeshi Kovacs stories, and those have been somewhat of a dissapointment, although the worldbuilding was nteresting enough.

So that´s all Folks ! Hope you enjoyed today´s excursion, and that you will be joining or next expedition as well. Till then have fun and take care ! Captain of I.S.S. Rover over and out !

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Military fiction – series

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen ! Bonjour Mesdames et messieurs ! Welcome, or welcome back on board of I.S.S. Rover, an explorer ship with various interests and “missions”. Due to some maintenance work and other duties, we kept a low profile and passed silently from january into february, even though there are rather quite a few pending projects I promissed earler. But alas as a friend of mine says: “Promisses are there to break them.” – not that I like the connotation of this saying, or that I agree with it, but I can´t change what happened, or didn´t happen, all I can really promise is that I will continue my journey, relentlesly exploring, finding new thimgs to see, hear and enjoy; and I will continue sharing these experiences with you – even though I failed in this last department in theses first weeks of 2015- but allow me a bit of a leeway, as I was meeting many friends and family members during the holidays, and after my return this continued, mixed with some other unavoidable  things that needed to be done – so let me first elaborate a bit the changes of plans I have made for this year.

So … Here I am sitting sipping black coffe – actually coffe brewd in turkish fahion – and from the radio are sounding the tunes of Jennifer Lawrence´s Hanging tree. I must say that I am amazed with her  voice, and she is kind of replacing Nathalie Portman as the “young” actress to whose new work I´m really looking forward to, although Natalie has made some nice come back after the Star Wars movies. But back to the tracks …

It was october (2014) that I last time discussed my plans for the near future, unfortunatelly most of these plans didn´t get realised, and on that account I am sad, and begging your forgiveness. I was looking forward (and still AM looking forward ) to reading Andrzej Sapkowski´s Last Wish, and also Harlan Elllison´s work. What I´m  mostly sad of unfinished business of mine from year 2014 is the Dune cross media project: I did manage to play and/or replay the games I planned, to watch the 1984 Lynch movie rendition, and the documentary on Jodorowsky´s failed movie project, which can be labeled as one of the most ambitious and interesting projects that failed, and later contributed to some other artistic projects that deserve at least as much atention as Frank Herbert´s Dune, but alas I didn´t manage to reread the book, so I put the whole project on hold and shift it to this year; in which format and when it is going to be realised I do not dare to announce as I´m not sure of it, but it will be realised alongside an expanded Dune reread project planned for this year anyway. I mean: last year I had Glen Cook´s Black Company series as the main focus of the different projects for this blog. And even though Dune might not be the main focus this year, it is also a series I read already once, and is ripe for revisiting, and in the tracks of the originally planned – and failed – Dune project I planned to revisit the rest of the series this year anyway, so why not shift the whole Dune project to 2015. And Sapkowski and Harlan Ellison will get their due plaxe here too, really soon, but the main focus of this year will be british genre fiction.

As I already announced in october, I am searching for “kind of a” successor to the late Iain M. Banks whose style, voice – work in overall – has reinvigorated the genre fiction that seemed to grow stale in the eighties and nineties of the last century, and also inspired a whole ne generation of writers. So I will be checking on Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton. In case of Reynolds  I already chose a starting point, which is the Revelation Space, but in case of Hamilton I´m still considering where to begin with even though the latest of the hindrances has been removed last month. The hindrance being that all of Hamilton´s books till now tend to be of a size of a brick, and I´m somewhat reluctant to buy them as I´m still not sure of their worthiness to place them on my shelves, as the place on the shelves is preciouss. This problem can be remedied by the use of e-books, as they take up only a fraction of hard disk ( or other kind of memory ) space; and for this option to be viable I needed an e-book reader device, which I promptly obtained in january: a Kindle Paperwhite. And returning to british genre fiction I planned to explore a bit more of Moorcock´s multiverse and eternal champions sagas, as they have become the staple of “fresh and invigorating” ideas in the past decades, classics in other words so it would be at least rude to bypass them, even in the light of the newer works and writers that got inspired by him and his work. And if I´m focusing on british authors, there is Neil Gaiman too, who has been dishing out works year in and year out, with two of his works being adopted into radio plays by BBC´s radio channel 4 in the last two years; the adaptations being those of: Neverwhere and the other being acooperation with another giant of british genre fiction –Terry Pratchet of Discworld fame – Good Omens. So there are many opportunities, and I will be obliged to choose wisely.

On another matter … The purchase of an e-book reader lifted prohibition on another of my reluctances, namely the fear of investing in series seemingly plaguing the genres of Science – Fiction and Fantasy. “What is your problem with series ?” -you might ask, so let me elaborate. The heart of the problem is still the scarce shelf space vs. worthy books. I am mainly a genre reader, my main focus being science-fiction, as I might have declared earlier, though I try to diversify my reading, mixing in fantasy, and my other big interest history, and of course literature f other kind. So taking into account the funds that I commandeer – like time and money, and of course shelf space – it´s not that easy to balance out my reading diet. And the series in their nature tend to be a big investment money, time and shelf space wise. And this big investment with my experience that the series in most cases tend to be rather mediocre “products” than groundbreaking new works is making me reluctant. But owning an e-book at least one of the three investment problems has been lifted, namely the problem of shelf space. Investing time and money is a smaller problem for me, as I will continue to invest in my main interest, or call it hobby, as you like more. But years ago, when I set out to build “my own library”, worth of owning, I did decide to weigh it carefully which books will get a place on my shelves. But I also understand that not all of the writers can be the next Iain M. Banks or Neil Gaiman, Asimov Shakespeare, Goethe, Dickens,  or any other etc. ( pick your favourite “great writer”); yet even these “inferior” writers can deliver quite entertaining stories.

TOR (2015)

TOR (2015)

Lets take for example John Scalzi. A writer most famous for his Old Men´s War series. A series that is written supperbly, showing off the wit of the writer, and having some interesting thoughts, but nevertheless not too original and somewhat repetitive, but still enormously entertaining, which will keep the readers coming back for more, among others mee too. But as I read more and more of his work, the realisation that there is more entartainment and less new thoughts with every new book, I decided I will stop reserving place for him on my shelves, the first two books of the series will have to suffice. Yet I still want to read his books as soon as they are released, which means that I can´t wait for a friend of mine to purchase the said new book and lend it from him/her. And this fact coupled with the fact that the last two instalments of the Old Men´s War series are serialised novels firstly being published only in e-book formats accelerated considerably the process of obtaining an e-book reader, which in turn also strengthened my position as a genre reader, and also reinforced my investment in series/serialised “works”. And these “lesser” writers, the  humble craftsman of their trade also have a right to have a decent life and earnings, even though they might be forgotten by history in the future; which is not for me to decide, but my shelves should reflect my oppinion and preferences in first place so there I can enforce my vision without reservations, but I will also have some “shallow” fun too, as I like to be entertained and not allways be boged down by new and interesting thoughts, however I enjoy that too.

And now that I have cleared these thoughts out of my head, let us see what were my first forays into this new form, experience of reading lent by the e-book reader. The first book/work I upploaded to my device was: The Complete Sherlock Holmes, a milestone in our culture I hope I don´t need to explain. The first book I purchased from Amazon is another classic of literature: Charles Dickens´ A Tale of Two Cities. And the first work converted to a format that is supported by Kindle e-book readers was a hungarian SF&F anthology: 10 – SFmag fantasztikus irodalmi antológia edited by – an acquaintance of mine – Kleinheincz Csilla.

But these were not the first books I actually chose to read on the device, those were works of military fiction also being part of genre fiction. The first being the first volume of the Lost Fleet series: Dauntless from Jack Campbell, with a traditional space opera background; and the second the first volume of Django Wexler´s Shadow Campaign series: The Thousand Names, placed in a fantasy milieu combining a Napoleonic era like setting with occult, something like Brian McClellan´s Gunpowder Mage series, which is also on my “To check” list, aspecially now that I own an e-book reader. But let´s go in order of reading.

Ace Books (2006)

Ace Books (2006)

The Lost Fleet: Dauntless is a solid SF military fiction, nothing revolutionary there but with enough interesting characters, and storytelling twists to keep the fan of military fiction wanting more of it. It´s unique in the way that it offers future ship to ship battles as the main focus of military conflict, and putting a “long dead” character in the middle of our attention. At least a character that ought to be dead for some hundred years, yet he is “well and alive”. John “Blackjack” Geary is a character having some interesting personal problems, not to mention the challenges of the command he has been left with due to the circumstances: leading a beaten fleet home and forging them into a cappable fighting force. And there is also a twist only foreshadowed on the last pages of the book, but giving some interesting options to the whole story. that being the possibility of involvement of a yet unknown alien race. An interesting story, with a solid storyteling, but in the face of other more interesting reads, this series will be put on a hold for a while, t hough I sure will return to it sometime in the future, as I am a succer for space opera, military fiction and fleet combat.

The Thousand Names is another interesting entry in the  genre fiction. mixing Napoleonic era like kind of alternative world with magic, that seems to be “in” since Susanna Clarke´s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel -which is on my this years to read list too, and already purchased and on it´s way to me, especially as a televised adaption is coming our way too. This book has a strong competition in Brian McClellans aforementioned Gunpowder Mage series, but I feel that I won´t be in the front line of the preachers/fans of these series, as my plans are going other way, but it seems that these series are planned to be shorter than the Lost Fleet  so I probably will return to them sooner, than later.

The story is told mainly through two point of view characters. One being captain of the first battalion f the colonial

Roc (2013)

Roc (2013)

regiment: Marcus d´Ivoire ( a french sounding name to me ), and the other being sergeant/liutenant Winter Ihernglass. The first bearing no surprises, but the second one being a woman disguised as a man, which is an interesting predicament all in it´s own, but also with some interesting complications along the way.

The book itself is divided in three parts: the first being reserved for intriduction of the main cast and the the situation they have been dumped into, the second describing the march and major battles of the campaign that is the backbone of this book and it´s military fiction part of story, even though it´s interesting and depicting the Napoleonic era tactics pretty accurately, it´s also tiresome read, as there is nothing breaking the pace, and so it becomes a somewhat dry and boring read ( thankfully it´s not too long ), and that is followed by the third part where the actual story kicks in, bringing forth the occult involved and the background schemes that move the events of this world. Not a bad work, though there is a feel of amateurism to it. We will see weather Mr. Wexler evolved or not, as the remaining two volumes of the series seem to be already available, which eluded my attennion earlier, but it will have to wait a bit.

And that woiuld be all for today, Ladies and Gentlemen ! I hope you enjoyed it, and hope for your return in the future. Take care and have fun ! Captain of I.S.S. Rover over and out !

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The Madness of Cthulhu

Ladies and Gentlemen ! Welcome on what has become the first outing of I.S.S. Rover of the year 2015, though I did plan to include it in the festive posts that didn´t follow after I got tangled in other activities. So enjoy it now !

As a veteran genre reader I do know that H. P. Lovecraft is one of the main inspirations for many of the todays – and even past – genre writers. “The Mythos” he created, or rather founded has been a source of inspiration for many. But it not only inspired, it also allowed others to contribute, and that is what makes it so compeling to many. As for me it´s the strange way it manages to connect horror, science-fiction and even fantasy that makes it a ground I return to.

Titan Books (2014)

Titan Books (2014)

For quite a while I didn´t read any of H. P. Lovecrafts prose, nor any of his “followers“, but when I caught wind of S. T. Joshi´s new Cthulhu inspired anthology, I felt a sudden urge to change that – so I obtained the book as one of my christmas presents for myself, but actually couldn´t wait till christmas, so here are my impressions on the book  ( even though I managed to “delay” the publishing of this post far beyond christmas – ed. note ).

The first story comes from A. C. Clarke – I don´t think he needs an introduction, but if you hadn´t heard of him, just google his name or the phrase “Space odyssey 2001” – At the Mountains of the Murkiness. This is a story that is an “affectionate parody” ( to use the words of the editor of the volume ) of Lovecraft´s At the Mountains of Madness which might be a proof of the ambivalent feelings the science fiction writers of the time ( and time following shortly H. P. Lovecraft ) held for his fiction, but they also admired him. And though Clarke´s short story might be well known to other conoisseurs of Lovecraftian fiction, it was new to me. And along with the next story in the line: Harry Turtledove´s The Fillmore Shoggoth counts as a light introduction to this volume; setting the mood for the heavier pieces that follow.

At this point I´m intrigued, but not yet awed. For the record I would like to point out that the whole setting the mood thing might work better if Lovecraft´s original work that is the leitmotive for this volume, At the Mountains of Madness would have been included, even though I know it can be easily accessed here for example. But not everyone bothers to go to such lengths to prepare for a reading, or has acces to the internet all the time he has a book by him/herself. But let me get on with the reading stuff.

The third story is written by Lois H. Gresh: Devil´s Baththub. The opening of which successfully evokes memories of Jack London stories, by showing the reaction of a dog being confronted by a horror stepping right out of the Mythos. And the story is rounded up when the horror, that befells the humans depicted in this story is accepted by some of them, as it might be strange, but is natural and can give comfort. And that is a strange conclusion; but well this is weird fiction, and strange is welcome here. Ain´t it ?!

The next story The Witness in Darkness penned by John Shirley is the first taste of what is still coming in the volume ( or so I presume ). It´s a recollection, a memoir, a letter of one of the Elder Ones, sent or left for us humans. It tells the story, or at least a part of it of The Mountains of the Madness from a different point of view, and it worked. It did evoke Lovecraft´s style, and a clever “modern”move to use an unhuman point of view.

And so we come to the next story: How the Gods Bargain, written by William Browning Spencer. An interesting story, as it´s more about a lost, or unrequitted teenage love. More than the lurking horror of the Elders; though there are some alien rats and some outworldly murals. The whole story rests on the notion of loss, but only a human loss, of a relationship rather than the loss of sanity, and the dismall fate that the cosmic forces have in store for us.

And so we arrive to the A Mountain Walked by Caitlín R. Kiernan – one of the more revered modern day accolites of the great master Lovecraft himself. Not that I am convinced of it. This is the first story of her I read, but being a genre reader I couldn´t avoid knowing of her reputation, and that meant I was looking forward for this story much. It has al the tropes of a classic lovecraftian tale: the story is told through excerpts from a diary of a man who is working on an excavation site of dinosaurs. And strange things start happening, though the narrator seems not to be the curious type, so these mysteries that should ramp up the tension, should inspire fear go unnoticed. Until the last part of the story the whole thing is nothing more than a bland diary of someone doing some kind of scientific work. And then the lovecraftian horror explodes in front of our and their eyes, and though it is peculiar and strange it all seems weak: a giant shadow blotting out the stars, and an unerthly beauty coming forth from the darkness. And the endresult: a bruised ego, nothing more. The only person who confronted the horrors, or at least the hints and notions of it got away in good shape too, and not that we have been involved in his fears to begin with. Though  I enjoyed the story, it was more of a dissapointment. Even the previous story was more lovecraftian than this one.

And then comes the story of a true Hall of Fame master, Robert Silverberg: Diana of the Hundred Breasts. Finally one truly lovecraftian story. The cult of Diana, the goddes of fertility is mixed with the lovecraftian alien presence, and even king Solomons legacy gets into the fray. And though the whole horror is presented subtly, I did feel it strongly, Silverberg conveyed it masterfully, but that is to be expected from one of the Grand Masters of genre literature. Excellent story.

Following next is Michael Shea´s Under the Shelf. An exploration story of the great ice shelf of the Antarctic. Two sisters take a dive under the cyclopean ice shelf ( yet another lovecraftian trope ) just to see other cyclopean marvels and also life. The story kind of turns into something that would fit well into the movie Starship Troopers: a chase sequence, where the two sisters are using a submarine as a sled, sliding down an icy slope, being chased by a giant crab ( ?). Not bad, just to be saved in the end by something that seems like a cross between Sauron´s eye and a shoggoth. I ain´t afraid, I feel not a shred of horror, but rather smiling, having fun, feeling silly.

And the horror returns with Melanie Tem´s Cantata. An expedition has found a folk, a race (?) that knows no music. And a person suffering from music is brought in to make comparations, just for this person to be infected by music and suffering from it, trying to harm herself. At the end the music gets to her, more than the locals not knowing music. An intersting story reminding me of a scene from the movie Event Horizon: the scientist clawing out his own eyes, as where the ship – they are on – goes they need not to see. Quite lovecraftian.

And after the unearthly music – not that of proffessor Zahn – we get aboard a ghost ship in Cthulhu Rising by Heather Graham. A fine tribute to Lovecraft and fans of his literary work, or anything MythosCthulhu. A group of scientists and ghost hunters are on a cruise aboard a rehabilitated ocean liner, that dissapeared some decades in the past. And first it´s just the scientists referencing At the Mountain of the Madness with the Elders and shoggoths – and a brief mention of Cthulhu – but in the end members of the crew and passengers start dissappearing. And what or who would be causing all this ? What leaves black goo behind ? Off course it´s a shoggy. And if that´s not enough, after they have boarded a lifeboat and got out of the reach of the shoggoth, just when a search and rescue helicopter gets in their vicinity Cthulhu himself rises and destroys the flying vessel. Horror and a nod to the fans all along, as one of the two survivors is a fan who brought a complete collection of Lovecraft´s works to this cruise. So fellow fans: don´t forget to pack your Complete Lovecraft into your survival pack if you go to a cruise or to the antarctica or anywhere .

And after the high seas we go to burrow a bit in the earth for there is Warm, a short story penned by Darrell Schweitzer. A story of a ghoul wanting to become human again meetin g a gentleman who is curious about the  unnatural ways of the ghouls; ultimately ending with the demise of the gentleman, becoming a ghoul himself. A fine story resembling that of The Picture of Dorian Gray and Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

And after some pause I continued reading the book with the Last Rites by K. M. Tonso. A story that once again brings up Arkham and the Miskatonic University and it´s ill fated expedition to the Antarctic. The son of the late proffessor Dyer – the leader of the aforementioned expedition – a proffessor himself and a young colleague of his revisit ( kind of ) the site of that expedition, though taking a new approach. They try to find an underwater entrance to the complex of the Old Ones, and they do succed, and in the following proffessor Dyer executes an act of a vengeance – sort of – and also an act of forgiveness. Not much horror here, rather sci-fi like, but a fine tribute nonetheless.

This is followed by J. C. Koch´s Little Lady. Something I would call a fine Mythos infused western story. A gang operating somewhere on the western frontier lands, in the neighbourhood of some apach tribes is being led into the arms of a horror not named, but resembling those known from the Mythos, just to be devoured and used for it´s diabolic plans. Weird things keep happening yet the actors of the play endure them stoically till it´s to late to do anything against it. Weird.

And so we arrive to the White fire by Joseph S. Pulver Sr. A story that is a catatonic rambling of a mad mind, loosing it´s touch with the reality after encountering what is a staple of lovecraftian horror: a shoggoth. It was a hard read, but a fine example of a state, a result of loosing sanity after encountering something out of the Mythos.

And this maddening rambling is followed by equisite prose of Jonathan Thomas in the form of A Quirk of the Mistral. A story much like the Last Rites: involving an elder professor and a younger colleague of his. Where the older scientist encounters something that is unimaginable by modern scientific theories and calling for the aide of the younger colleague, just to have the older one disappear and the younger one increduled as to what has happened; the lovecraftian horror not really making any appearance, just the weirdness of the nature itself, a small glimpse of the cold universe.

And then finally the volume is concluded by Donald Tyson´s story: The Dog Handler´s Tale. One last time we return to the original Antarctic expedition of The Mountains of Madness – this time learning the story from the viewpoint of  one of the dog handlers. No surprises here, but the change of the point of view does bring new details into play, a different dynamics of characters. And fine storytelling revealing only at the end that this is a manuscript, a last letter from a person who died in the whole “incident”.

At the end of the day: this volume is kind of a mixed bag: there are some good stories, and some that are disappointing. Overall it´s a good read, though I did expect a bit more flare from it. I´m not sure I will purchase the second volume of this book, at least not a physical copy, but I still might buy it in e-book format now that I have a Kindle Paperwhite. And I might in future check out some other anthologies of S. T. Joshi.

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I am a child of the modern, and many friends who know me, know me to be outspoken, rarely hiding my opinion. But yet I rarely speak out for the freedom of speach. I may not be too much of an activist soul nowdays … I´m older and have gotten a bit more easy-going with the years. But there is still a flame somewhere inside of me, so let me share the thougths of a friend which I agree with much …

caffeinated drinks, dry flowers

After the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, most of my friends stood behind the hashtag/slogan #JeSuisCharlie. Of course, some people say, “no, you’re not, you’re not brave enough, you’re not dedicated enough”, and what can I say, they are right in a way. I’m definitely not a brave person and I’m dedicated to different things (luckily for me, knotwork animals are a rather safe obsession). Most people in my circle of friends who took up the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag are even more peaceful than me, and are dedicated to gentle things such as photography, knitting and gardening. We are ordinary people and I don’t see any fault with that.

And yet, we are Charlie. We are Charlie because we want people to be able to express their opinions without fear. We are Charlie because we want people to make fun of everything, even things we believe in or…

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Hello everybody ! Welcome on board of  I.S.S. Rover in this presumably lovely 2015. I hope for an exciting year this time around too, and that maybe some of you will be here to join, or at least watch the rollercoaster ride, or maybe you would prefer a joyride a’la Roxette ?

Well whatever you are here for, I have something of a song streak for you in the vein of the Song battles this blog featured earlier. This time around happened that after watching the annual new years concert of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the ski jumping competition held at Garmisch Partenkirchen I bumped into an old song from 1999 featuring footage from one of the most emblematic – and also one of my all time favourite – anime, the Ghost in the Shell:

Oh well 2014 has barely passed, which means that the final charts for 1999 are also barely 15 years old, and as it’s 2015, why not revisit some of the songs that topped the charts that year in the past ? And so I went on a short journey into the past and searched for some memorable songs form 1999, without parsing actual chart records, so here are some of the songs I remember were played often in that fateful sear I turned 18, and my now nonexistent home country was bombarded by NATO forces …

The first song to come to my mind after Wamdue Projects King of my Castle was:

And if it’s electric music and dance in the late 90’s, the project Music Instructor should not be bypassed. But as Rock your Body and Get Freaky was released in ’98, on this list is featured Electric City:

And continuing the electric music frenzy of ’99 you can’t forget the Blue from Eifel 65:

But ’99 was not all about electric music. The Offspring released their then new album Americana containing the single Pretty Fly ( for a white guy ), which song I like very much, but due to it’s popularity I thought to include an another song from that album: Why don’t you get a job ?

And there was also an artist named Jamiroquai rocking and dancing the music scene around that time:

And some of my guilty pleasures of that year I like to listen to ever since then:

Are somewhat bestial at times …

Or girly – country …

Or dancy, retro, hip-hoppy, funky …

One could continue on and on, but there are other projects that are overdue and should be finished, so I will stop here. Enjoy ! And feel free to add your own choices in the comments below.

Captain of I.S.S. Rover over and out !

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