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 …

Originally posted on 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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Soldiers live – The Black Company (re)read part 10


Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen ! Bonsoir Mesdames et Messieurs ! It has been a while since we have met here. And as I perceive the things I´m a bit late with this post. Till now I managed to be more or less timely with the publishing the posts pertaining the adventures of the Black Company, but this last volume, the Soldiers Live has been dragging on a bit longer than I expected, and also my personal and professional life did also throw challenges toward me that made it harder for me to keep to the self imposed timetable. But no need to worry, there is almost still a month to the end of the year, so effectively there is still plenty of time to correct this omission, and actually there is no need to wait more. But lets get down to business, and let me include the usual disclamer for one last time.

This is a (re)read  of the series that encompassed the better part of the year as I was reading one book per month. I  explored the world of (what for long time believed is ) Khatovar, and as this was at least partly a reread there still 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.

So we, but at least I arrived to an end of a series. It is kind of a relief. Thiss last book was kinda hard to read, many small chapters, the narrative being broken up by the many different points of view and the aforementioned hurdles of personal life. But bear with me for this last post, I will try not to drag this on for too long.

Tor Fantasy (2000)

Tor Fantasy (2000)

Four years have passed since the events in the Water Sleeps, another book that could have been yet another “good” ending for the series as it became evident that Khatovar is and will stay out of the Black Company´s, or to be more specific Croaker´s reach. The Black Company Walks out of the known world and walks off the Plain of the Glittering Stones, with Goblin presumed dead, One-Eye having survived multiple strokes, with one foot and hand in the grave already; this is not the Black Company we got to know and love, it has changed.

And the Black Company continues to change – not that it is bad – it is inevitable. The first surprise – for me at least was the return of Croaker as the annalist and the main narrator of the events. And he kicks off right away with the notion of change and passing of the “old glory” as Otto and Hagop died soon after the Black Company-s arrival to their new home. And it is not the only death of the “old guard”, there will be – or rather were – many others that left before the book reached a conclusion, which kind of emphasizes the feeling that a new era is coming, or has already begun for the Black Company. Some of these departures came as no surprise, but some of them did, but of that a bit later – if I remember to return to this matter.

The Black Company has prospered under the captaincy of Sleepy: the sleeping/captured brothers have been all retrieved, new recruits have  pumped up the ranks of the company and they are ready to return to their world to finish what they have started in the previous book.

In the first few chapters all the majors actors of the last act of the series are (re)introduced: Croaker, Sleepy, Tobo ( of the Black Company ), Narayan and The Daugter of Night – or Booboo as they prefer to call her in the Black Company – ( of the Deceivers ), Soulcatcher, Mogaba, Aridatha and Ghopal Singh ( of Taglios ). And then the things start to roll, and there is a strong sense of Cook hastily trying to wrap up the things in this book. First we have an (un)expected return of a vengeful Lisa Bowalk that ends in the death of One-Eye, just days after the passing of his companion Mother Gota. This just strengthens the underlying message of change and passing. And I suppose this message is the reason Cook chose to bring back Croaker as the annalist.

After this the remaining old members of the Black Company embark on hunt much resembling that of the one in the first chapter of the first book: Black Company against a forvalaka. A tribute ? Or just a last wink of the ones who feel that their time is up ? Let me borrow Croaker´s words here:

I remembered everyone who had gone before me. I remembered the places and times swollen with unhappiness, pain and fear. Some died. Some did not. It makes no sense when you try to figure it out. Soldiers live. And wonder why.

Oh, it´s a soldiers life for me. Oh, the adventure and glory !

And while Croaker and Co. hunt Lisa Bovalk and meet the new rulers of the world that was the origin of the Black Company – which will have some major impact on the future events, and future of the Black Company itself – the core of the Black Company returns home to finish what has been left unfinished: “Water sleeps”, “Brother unforgiven”.

Tobo has grown up to be great wizard of his own, enlisting the services of the mysterious “shadow folks” of their new home. And with their help the Black Company doesn´t encounter major challenges for quite a while: they pretty march unopposed in the direction of Taglios.

The middle part of the book deals mainly with the personal matters of our heroes and anti heroes. Croaker and Lady try to prepare themselves for meating their daughter in person for first time; Mogaba finally confronts the ghosts of his past; Soulcatcher is still the same, searching for some fun. And so the events are filing up and passing us. A skirmish is followed by a skirmish, some new characters are introduced – the Voroshk of the former Khatovar. And ultimately the Black Company achieves it´s goal: Soulcatcher is deposed of, the Deceivers plot to bring on the Year of the Skull and revive Kina is thwarted, but the cost is big: the last of the old guard, Loftus and Cleetus, Murgen die, Sahra goes missing. And what struck me as a surprise, even Sleepy dies a “stupid” death; but as it resounds through all the book: “Soldiers live. And wonder why.

Croaker´s and Lady´s reunion with their daughter does not end on a good note – Croaker almost looses the woman he liked, but ends up loosing a child he never knew, but seems to have loved. And despite this sorrow he finds a piece of happiness as he provisionally adopts two girls who became their prisoners when they went to Khatovar to kill Lisa Bovalk. And not only that, but in the end he got what he ultimately long for allways. In the last chapter he trades with Shivetya: he becoming the immortal guardian of the Plain of Glittering Stones – and as such gains acces to the wast knowledge of Shivetya, and the countless worlds that are connected to the plain – finally getting the answers to the questions he allways wanted to ask, and also gaining the means to gurad the loved ones that are still among the living. And as a last humorous wink, his adopted daughters take on the role of the Black Company´s annalists.

It is a solid ending of the series, but I wasn´t really satisfied. Maybe it was of the fact that Cook went to a great length to give evryone the time needed to wrap up their story. Too much detail, that at some points is rather encumbering, than helping the storytelling, but if done otherwise the story would be full of holes. And I had a feeling that Cook´s style, storytelling matured since the start of the series, but the feeling that he was kind of rushed to wrap up everything in this book was stronger – probably as he didn´t know that he will get a chance to write a book or two more in the series, as we are aware now, years after the first publication of this last book.

I must say that i enjoyed the series, more so the first half of it, than the later parts, but there was enough good elements in the later volumes too, so that I won´t have bitter memories of them. Sleepy is my favorite annalist, and as for the favourite book of the series there is a tie at the moment between the first two books of the series, but due to the fresher memories of the later volumes, and appealing storytelling  and the impressive characterisaton of Sleepy, the Water Sleeps is easily my favourite of the second half of the series.

Well thats it for the Black Company series for now and a long time coming. Thank you everyone, who kept coming back, and to those who chose to comment and share their own experiences and oppinions. Hopefully I will see you around in some other journeys I make. The 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

Silver Spike – The Black Company reread part 6

Bleak Seasons – The Black Company reread part 7

She is the Darkness – The Black company reread part 8

Water Sleeps – The Black Company reread part 10

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Mercy of Kalr

If there was anything any Radchai considered essential for civilised life, it was tea.

Ann Leckie – Ancillary Sword

I am compelled to agree with this thought, especially as I am right now drinking a green tea from a South-Korean island of Juju, something named Seogwang – and eating Satsumas, but thats beside the point. But where are my manners ? Good evening, and welcome on board of the I.S.S. Rover. It´s time for an excursion that is long overdue. and I´m sorry I made you wait.

Tonight we will take a trip into the Radch empire of Ann Leckie, a universe quite unique in it´s flavour to the usual space – opera settings.  Not that she is doing anything radicaly new as I pointed it out in january, when I was writing about Ancillary Justice, but her approach is fresh, not to mention her style; and these were some of the key points when I chose to include her work in the early stages of this then new blog. It was a fresh, gripping work of a first time published writer, doing something new, and this book got published aroung the time I started this blog, where I was searching for a fresh start, going in a new direction, much symbolism there, so the Imperial Radch series of Ann Leckie has become essential to this blog, if not the flagship, as I would say that the flagship of this blog for the 2014 is the Black Company series of Glen Cook. But well we will see how things play out in the long run.

Orbit (2014)

Orbit (2014)

And this October the time has come for the second installment of the series – Ancillary Sword – to be published. And this time I was prepared for it, I didn´t wait till January to read it. I preordered the book, and got it about a week after it´s publishing, and about a week before my birthday: an early  present for myself. And not only ordered the book in timely fashion, but I also read the short story Night´s slow poison -you can read it here –   as a warm up. And boy was I excited. You can see why, if you read the post I wrote on the prequel. I was more than delighted I found this new exciting Voice so early. I jumped on the bandwagon that expected much from Ann in the future. These expectations seemed to be confirmed, or at least more heavily expressed and acknowledged as the novel went and won five awards: Hugo, Nebula, BSFA, Arthru C. Clarke and Locus. That is a heavy legacy to be established right in the first run. Not that it intimidated Ann Leckie.

The Ancillary Sword picks up right where the Ancillary Juctice finished: the conflict between the fractions/factions of the multybodied emperor/empress of the Radch is escalating, and Breq is unwittingly caught in the middle of it, albeit (s)he just wanted a revenge for him-/herself and someone whom (s)he loved. And although (s)he got what (s)he wanted – or at least partly – the story doesn´t end there. Breq doesn´t get to withdraw, (s)he is forced to take responsibility for the situation that (s)he helped to bring into the public. And as Breq survived the suicide mission of a revenge (s)he planned, that partly succeded and partly botched, what is left for her to do ? Well Breq went for the path of atonement and compenstaion for her own “sins”.

So after Breq got a command of a ship, and the right to command other captains of other ships, practically becoming an admiral without a fleet, she goes off on a search for the sister of the “someone (s)he loved“. And that´s pretty much the starting point. From here the story develops into something very different from what we have seen in the first book. It´s not a bad thing, but not quite what I was expecting from a book in a series that has more than “tight” connection to it´s prequel.

In Justice we had a sweeping, action packed revenge story against a somewhat sketchy, but nonetheless epic background combined with a sophisticated narrative jumping back and forth in time, not forgetting the interesting characters and their portrayal. Now, in Sword for the purposes of the further development of the plot the background needs to be coloured  and expanded, and that puts the plot on hold. This also gives the chance to explore some themes and questions not touched upon in the first book, but that might be essential for what is in store for us and the major players of this story.

So we have much more world building here than in the previous book, and that is executed lavishly, but due to this beside the plot the characters suffer too. I was not missing really the jumpint forth and back in time, and what insight that was bringing to us readers as that element vanished somewher halfway through the first book, but the angry, frustrated Breq, who was bent on destroying someone whom he had served suddenly becoming – or reverting – to a “proper and civilised” citizen is somewhat irritating; being allknowing, and having the perfect solutions for all the social problems and tensions that she faces for the first time is a bit unbelievable. Yes, I know … Breq who was Justice of Toren has two thousand years of experience in colonising: administrating and pacifing those newly “acquired” planets. And as the ancillaries are a human component to the AI of the ship – and far from being mindless corpses, as they are not at all corpses as it is explained finally in this book – it helps probably understanding the human behaviour. But still Breq is not anymore Justice of Toren, not even part of it, or any other AI, so I would expect that (s)he acts a “notch” more reserved.

That is a small negative point for this book, but I actually suffered more from the fact that the plot was put on hold, I simply feel that it hurts the consistency of the overall story. Not that I didn´t enjoy the book. I enjoyed reading it, at least as much as I enjoyed the first one, but due to the aforementioned handicaps the memories of that enjoyment are weaker, and that will influence me recommending this book to others in future.

So this time we have colonialism, slavery and other social issues in main view, and the other themes like individuality, identity suffer. And besides Breq the other characters are pushed into the background, although it would be interesting to know more about how Seivarden is faring with the challenging situation he previously ran away from; or how is liutenant Tisarwat affected by the fact (s)he was briefly turned into an ancillary. I feel that there was enough room for them, their development too, but Ann Leckie decided to focus solely on the background that need to be developed. And I think that this decesion hurts the story more than the fact that the plot has been put on hold. But can´t everything be perfect. And despite feeling slight dissapointment over these “failures” I´m still eagerly awaiting the next, final installment of this story arc. If only we had more debutes of this quality I would have hard time choosing what to read next, and to even reread previously read books.

And thats it for tonight ! Soon I will be back with the final installlment of the Black Company (re)read project, and then turn to some different projects. Till then take care ! Captain out and over.

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Water Sleeps – The Black Company (re)read part 9

Ladies, gentleman ! Mesdames et Messieurs ! Good evening ! Bonsoir ! This is your captain speaking. Welcome on board I.S.S. Rover, whether you are here for the first time or a returning customer.. We have a clear sky with some 17 °C, totally unusal for this time of year. I mean it haven´t really rained for a whole month here. But that is of no significance for us tonight, as we are departing once again to a far away, and very possibly dark place in search for the Black Company, or what remained of it. So tonight, it´s time for Glen Cook´s Water Sleeps, the ninth and second to last book in the Black Company series, which also means that we are nearing the end of this whole (re)read project. But before we dive into the details, let me repeat the usual disclaimers.

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 (what I till now believed is ) 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 (1999)

Tor Fantasy (1999)

This time there is nothing special about the cover. Actually there is, but I don´t know whether I want to write about it, after all it could be spoiler heavy. Oh why not, there is the disclaimer one paragraph earlier. So there we have a figure who seems to be crucified and turned upside down. First due to the events of previous books I thought that t might be a forvalaka ( shapeshifter vampire kinda being ), but after reading the previous book She is the Darkness and finishing this one I realised that it was a false idea. It´s actually the depiction of Shivetya, the guradian of the Plain of Glittering Stones, and of the tomb where the worst omnipotent Evil is slumbering. Yeah, that Evil, Kina, the Mother of Night or whatever name you want to call her, but we will get to it a bit later.

So lets start from page one. As you remember part of the company was captured at the caverns beneath the fortress they found in the middle of the Plain of Glittering Stones, among them Croaker, Murgen and Lady, the persons who had been the annalists, the storytellers of previous volumes. So it´s a valid question who is doing it this time. Is it One-Eye ? It would be a great surprise, but there was that chapter in Bleak Seasons where Murgen retells some events that were recorded in a manuscript by One-Eye. But no. Alas we have a new Annalist again, and it is none other than: … Oh, wait. Let her introduce herself (yes it´s a girl, and that narrows down the possibilities ):

They call me Sleepy.

I keep these Annals today. Somebody must and no one else can, though the Annalist title never devolved upon me formally.

There is precedent.

And as much as this is a Black Company novel, it is actually the story of Sleepy. Never before did we come this close to the actual annalist. Never did Glen Cook reveal so much about them. This annal, retelling of events is the most personal to date, and it just proves (again) that Cook is best when he zooms down to ground level, where personal struggles can be seen, and I can say that he has outdone himself. Till now Sleepy seemed to be a secondary figure. OK, Murgen chose her/him to be next standardbearer in line, like he was chosen before, so that he could take over fully the dutes of the annalist – but as we have seen that didn´t work out as planned. And till now we didn´t know practically anything about Sleepy, and now she is in the thick of it, and in charge of the company, but that is actually realistic. How many times have we seen in history lowly officers taking over command, after all the higher ups bit the dust …

For a bigger surprise: about fifteen years have passed. Yes, fifteen. Not six, not seven, not four, but fifteen, a whole generation later. The events following the departure of the Black Company for the Plain of Glittering Stones are accounted for only briefly, but that is of no importance. Or at least I didn´t feel anything missing, the most important facts get filled in through memories.

And once again the Black Company is back to doing what it does best ( yeah, I know this phrase might have been a bit overused by now, but I don´t care ): it fights a nasty campaign against nasty enemies, only this time it fights for itself, no employers, no sticks behind their backs. And there is no greater enemy than one that is driven by inner motives.

You might recall the operations peformed by the Black Company in the second book- Shadows Linger- infiltration of Juniper. There the company was at it´s pinnacle: full of veterans that were working together for years. And now we have remnants of the company, whose actual members however fresh at that time were not chosen to go to the Plain of Glittering Stones, which leaves the reader at a doubt if they trully are capable of being the Black Company. And yet these remnants surprise us. They perform actions that even the Old Crew would be proud of – and yes I´m remembering some bad ass motherfuckers like Raven here. Yes, there are Goblin´s partisans probably at the core of this “new” company, and the other members have seen some pretty vicious fighting during the Shadowlands campaigns, and yes some fifteen years have passed, they had time to gather experience, but still, one wouldn´t think them capable of doing much harm. And yet they manage to kidnap some high representatives of the taglian establishment, even the ruler, Radisha herself, and all this under the nose of the biggest ever pain in the ass of company history: the Soulcatcher. So much, that even Soulcatcher herself is seriously injured:

Willow Swan asked me, “What did you do now ?”

“Not me. Doj. He totally obliterated her means of transport. She is on her own two hooves now. She´s  a hundred miles from her only friend. And Goblin´s already fixed up one of her feet so she can´t run or dance.”

“What you´re telling me, then, is that you´ve created another Limper.”

And this reference is a hell of an inside joke, so it´s not only the Black Company that´s outdone itself, but also Cook. We have the most interesting annalist till now, and more dirty action, than ever before, and I haven´t even revealed all the cards that were hidden in the hand of the writer. And I would be totally satisfied if the things remained at this stage, as this was what I signed for in the books of the north, the first story arc of the series.

But in the last four books Cook has hinted at something much bigger, and there were some strong hints in the last book, but nothing got really explained, but that´s what the second half of this book holds for us. After deciding that they have pissed Soulcatcher enough, the Black Company Decides it´s time to return to the Plain of Glittering Stones and free, or at least retrieve their captured brothers.

It´s here that the presence of the Nyueng Bao starts making sense. Cook just like he did it before in the fifth book, Dreams of Steel finds and or creates a convenient device ( which I didn´t like then, and I don´t like now either ) and tells of a much wider universe than what he has shown till now. First Doj explains to Sleepy that the Nyueng Bao, like the Nar are descendants of a Free Company whose mission was  the resurrection of Kina, but that they come from a different place, not Khatovar. Next, when the Black Company is reunited at the Plain of Glittering Stones, the guardian of the fortress, and the plains in general offers help, and insight into the history of the Plains which reveals it to be a place in between of different worlds that are interconnected through the shadowgates. So we actually have science behind all the magic. And all the creatures: the shadows, the guardian himself, and the artifacts of the plain have been created for the purpose of waging war against intruders, conquerors from other worlds, or as defensive measures against those same intruders. Interesting development as it ties in to what we have seen on the Plain of Fears, and they might be connected somehow, but that remains to be revealed in the next book.

And of course we have some other new players beside Sleepy. Tobo for example. The fourteen year old son of our favourite standardbearer Murgen and his lovely wife Sahra. The youngster not stopping to surprise us throughout the book: he starts out as a fledgling rogue, just to become a talanted wizard apprentice as we near the end of the book. Is this a rise of a new “Raven” ? Well that remains to be seen in the next and ( for now ) last book in the series. But the tendencies are strong.

And we also have a game changing departure too to emphasize the message of the Company changing in form and substance. Goblin sacrifices himself in a direct clash with Kina – who is no god, but just another mad sorceress like the Dominator and the one burried under Father Tree – One-Eye suffers a stroke. And theabsence of Goblin, and diminishing of One-Eye is a strong message. They have been with us for nine books, them and their bickering being a constant and defining point for the whole of Black Company. But now there is no more Goblin, and no more shenanigans between the two wizards of the company. Almost like there is no more company, more so like when the company was reduced to seven members at the end of the fight against the Dominator in The White Rose. There was no such defining character death perhaps since the death of the old captain in Shadows Linger. I salute to you Mr. Cook.

And there is a minor mystery to be resolved at the end – also thanks to the guradian of the Plains. Do you remember Lisa Bowalk, first introduced in the second book of the series, mentioned above already couple of times. Her appearance, return in the fourth  book was one of the surprises I wasn´t counting on, just as wasn´t counting on many others yet at that time, but that were trending then. Well as a part of a cosmic joke this poor soul that is captured in the form of a bloodthirsty beast manages what Croaker didn´t: to get to Khatovar. Is this just bad Karma or Cook playing another joke on the Black Company. I´m not sure, and also I´m not sure I care. I kinda lost the interest in getting upset for such things after the “unexpected” returns of the fourth book.

In general I did enjoy this volume, more the first half of it, than the second, but it did expand into something bigger than expected, though it could have happen at an earlier stage perhaps. Then I might have enjoyed more this expanded aspect of it, and even the storyteling might have benefited if it have beeen revealed at an earlier time. But even so this volume is a strong contestant at becoming a favourite volume of the series, but the first volume: The Black Company is still running strong, as I can still quote almost word for word the first chapter. No matter how much more expanded this universe has become in this last volume, and how good a storytelling has done in the first half of the book. that worldbuilding coupled with that gripping storytelling of the first chapter in the first book is still unmatched.

And that is all for tonight and this month folks. All that remains is to wrap up this project nexth month, and to wait for the next two books in the series that have been announced earlier this year. Till then have fun and take care ! 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

Silver Spike – The Black Company reread part 6

Bleak Seasons – The Black Company reread part 7

She is the Darkness – The Black company reread part 8

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