The Summer Tree • 1984 • Fantasy novel by Guy Gavriel Kay

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Five Canadian students are thrown into the magical land Fionavar threatened by a god. Each one shows heroism in different ways.

This start of the Fionavar-trilogy feels like a template mashup of Silmarillion, Zelazny’s Amber series and Wheel of Time (I know, the last one was written later) and there are people discarding it as a copy-over. But wait!

Silmarillion: mythopoeic style with all the short introductions of names, hints and titbits of ancient history and landscape descriptions. Kay helped Christopher Tolkien with editing the Silmarillion before, and this influence certainly shines through. There is the one god-like antagonist coming up. The landscape is Beleriand with Angband in the North, the Blue Mountains in the East and the Elves’ target in the West. Mix it with “Native American’s” Dalrei instead of Rohirrim and Brennin instead of Gondor and Pendaran instead of Mirkwood.

Amber series: contemporary characters brought to a mediaeval world like Amber, a world which is at the center of things.

Wheel of Time: weaving a destiny pattern.

I love all three themes and series, especially the mythopoeic aspect. I can see where others would have problems with that one, though. Probably it is a matter of taste and background.
If you haven’t thrown it away because of this style and references, you will discover richness: oh those background stories and those epic deeds!

Kay is no GRRM but some of his protagonists will suffer horribly and in epic ways and it is not certain that good will succeed. The novel is a strong contrast to Kay’s newer work which are not so fast-paced.
The characters develop, overcome their problems and we get a very deep impression how they feel and why they react in certain ways.
His world-building is good, though not original: There are real mages, interferring gods, flying unicorns. He references our world’s mythology in numerous places, like the world-tree Yggdrasil for the Summer Tree, the ravens Huginn and Muninn or the Wild Hunt from German mythology.

One complaint I have is that we don’t get a good motivation why the students choose to go Fionavar.

His writing is sophisticated and beautiful but not flowerish. You can feel how it developed in later works, e.g. in Tigana but this already is great stuff, an easy read with a good tension arc.

For more information and background, go to the author’s authorized website Bright Weaving!

Meta: isfdb. This is a copied review from GR; I’ve read it in 2014

Posted in Fantasy, Novel | Tagged , | 2 Comments

One Day All This Will Be Yours • 2021 • Time travel novella by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis: The unnamed narrator is the last time soldier, surviving the War To End All Wars, and the end of causality. He created a kind of bottleneck at the end of times where everyone who wants to time travel to the future has to pass through. There, the narrator holds his grounds and kills off the trespassers, no matter if they come from the steamage, from ancient Greece, or newer times. His motivation for this is that there he wants to prevent another time war. After having killed other time travellers with his superior technology, he uses his own time machine, travels back to the deceased one’s time, and corrects everything there so that nothing can come up from there anymore.

The personal downside for him is that he is a single, won’t ever produce offspring.

He’s dumbfounded when a pair of humans arrive at his planet and call him Grandpa. Even more astonished, he finds out that his future-to-be-love-interest is quite different than expected.

Review: With this hilarious novella, Tchaikovsky enters Scalzi-territory: Grand schemes waved away with a half-sentence, comical scenes, flippant tone of the grumpy, mysanthropic narrator.

The last couple of books I wondered if Tchaikovsky will go into a repetitive production cycle, or find back to his creative mood again. What a joy that he’s back again.

There is also an interesting romance in it, because the narrator’s relationship with his future wife is the exact opposite of romantic. The narrator wanted to fall into his arrogant trap that he will win against everyone, just because he can. But Tchaikovsky resists the easy way out and gives him an equal opponent.

Just don’t expect a Hard SF explanation of the setting or proper analysis of time loops. But if you love cats or dogs, you’ll adore Miffly, the fluffy pet dinosaur.

Recommended for some light, fire-and-forget reading session.

Meta: isbn 9781781088746. Published by Rebellion/Solaris at 2.3.2021

Posted in Science Fiction, Story | Tagged , | 17 Comments

Rereading the Wheel of Time – Progress Report 2

About the project

One part of my current reading project is a buddy read with my daughter: Rereading the Wheel of Time series, one chapter every other day. 

The first volume, The Eye of the World, will take some three months to get through.

If you missed the first progress report, here is Reread Part 1.

Progress in February

February has been far slower, because of my daughter’s final exams, and we paused the project for the first half of the month. We are at 60%, managed to read 14 chapters (32 in summary), and talked some 15 to 30 minutes about nearly each chapter. Giulia already marked the second book as to be read.

What has happened in the book?

Last time, the company – Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve, Tom, Lan, and Moiraine – stood just before the cursed ancient city Shadar Logoth.

Now, Shadar Logoth is creepy to the nth grade, and a highlight in this first book. As we will see, it throws a long shadow to the company’s future, especially for Mat, but also to their follower Padan Fain. Given all the adventures of the series, this is in fact central to the book’s tension arc and shows our not-yet-heroes that you simply cannot flee, cannot escape in this world.

Fleeing from Shadar Logoth resulted in a split company, each one for up for a special adventure. 

Nynaeve finds to Lan and Moraine, and Giulia is already shipping Nynaeve and Lan. I guess, she really needs some romance in that book 🙂

Rand, Mat, and Thom Merillin found their way on Captain Domon’s ship, travelling for two weeks to Whitebridge. Thom took the two youngsters as apprentice, Mat learned juggling, and Rand a lot of songs with the flute. A special showdown with a Fade awaited them there where Thom sacrificed himself to give the boys a chance to flee. Now the boys are on their own, freeze their asses off in hedges, get soaked by ice cold rain, are miserably hungry, and sometimes earn their meals and beds by demonstrating their new gleeman skills in taverns. This is a miserable Rand, we won’t see him so low anymore. 

Most interesting were Egwene’s and Perrin’s adventures: They met Elyas, who turned out to be magically connected to a couple of wolves, and Perrin slowly becomes aware that he is of the same breed. They meet the flowery Tuathan, travelling folk resembling Sinti and Roma, who contrast everything that Elyas is. They flee a huge flock of creepy, deadly ravens into an Ogier stedding, and from there into the hands of Children of the Light. 

This part of the reread concludes with Rand’s first real channeling (in fact its his third, but this one hits the reader on the head) when he wants to break free from a tavern.

The Tolkien flair from the first part seased slowly but still can be traced: The city Shadar Logoth resembles creepy Moria. It contains an equivalent to the Balrog in the form of the shapeless Mashadar which is an evil not controlled by the Dark One, similarly to the Balrog not controlled by Sauron. One further element, Mat’s dagger from Shadar Logoth remembers me of Weathertop where the witchking nearly killed Frodo and he needed magic healing to survive.

Great moments where the ruins of Shadar Logoth with its background story, and all those colorful adventures of Perrin. Moments of peace and joy with the Tuathan contrasted by one horror after the other. The whole world gets broader, shinier, colorful and darker at the same time. 

Posted in Allgemein | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

February Wrapup and Lookout for March

My very first monthly wrapup went fine, and you seemed to have liked it. Here we go with the second one:

Work

That research project takes most of my work:
Which innovations and usages are to be expected in the area of devices with embodied A.I.?
That is really fun. It includes lots of reading. See below for some non-fiction book reads, like the future of food production, or getting the superintelligence right.
There was some more crazy stuff like Asteroid mining and the Space Elevator. When you think it gets too crazy, then there are always engineers who are exactly working on this, right?

While those reads where fun and fancy, I digged deeper into embodied AI for elderly care / “Ambient Assisted Living” – mostly Service Robots. This area hasn’t seen many productive solutions and I wondered why. As it turns out, this is one of most complex ares of robotics:
1. no separation from humans but needing to work with them, e.g. for lifting or laying down.
2. An unresolved problem is also universal gripping, e.g. when the robot would have to wash the person.
3. Those robots need to be very bulky, because lifting a person causes lots of force (as every nurse can tell you), and homes are often not large enough for all that metal.
4. And most importantly: previous projects most oftenly were technic oriented, instead of really taking care of the stakeholder (patients, nurses,…) needs.

Everyone tells me that they are far advanced in Japan, and I need to look into that further.

As for reading novels, things have been slower this month. I won’t list the numerous short story reviews, but here are novels, novellas, and chit-chat posts:

Read in February

I felt heavily pressed, having an obligation to read through far too many Netgalley ARCs. I pledged to stop pressing the request button during Lente, and I have been successful so far. The effect will be seen in one or two months, but at least the obligation doesn’t get denser in March. What I really want to achieve is to open up time for my tbr books.

I haven’t posted exactly as regularly as the months before, but on average there was one post per day. Nothing wrong with that, because work picked up, and I also viewed a little bit more on TV.

Novels

This was a really bad month for novels. The only real exception was my finished re-hearing of Sanderson’s Words of Radiance which took around 4 months (every now and then an hour).

Unfinished, but with progress is Rereading the Wheel of Time – Progress Report 2

Non-Fiction books

First time for this category.

Novellas and collections

Meta (Tags, Awards, Lists)

Statistics

The most often read posts were the same as the month before. This has a good chance of getting repetitive.

From this month’s posts, most often viewed were:

Reading Plans for March

The Wheel of Time ReRead will be continued.
Today, I started re-hearing Sanderson’s Oathbringer.
Then, there are lots of work reads (see above) and the following ARCs.

ARCs:

Five ARCs are planned in March:

  • One Day All This will be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky – already read, but not reviewed
  • The Conductors by Nicole Glover
  • William Gibson and the Future of Contemporary Culture – a non-fiction book
  • The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell
  • Robot Artists and Black Swans a collection by Bruce Sterling

Posted in Allgemein | 16 Comments

The Best of Walter Jon Williams • 2021 • Mixed Genre Collection by Walter Jon Williams

★★★★☆

Walter Jon Williams surfed the Cyberpunk wave in the 1980s, but never committed to one particular subgenre. This collection has twelve of his story spreading over 600 pages and demonstrates the variety in his styles. The reader never gets bored by the same trope but finds himself in ever fresh settings, ranging from posthuman, time travel, far future, first contact stories to completely different genres like a Californian Gold Rush Weird Western or a Lord Byron/Shelley Alternate History. 

The best story here is his “Prayers on the Wind” which shows us how humanity would fare as a society of Tibetan Buddhists in space, confronted by an alien captain Kirk. Most stories are above average, and his story notes were partly amusing and always enlightening. 

Highly recommended for readers of SF and speculative fiction who are up to some variety in their daily meals.

Contents:

  1. 11 • ★★★+☆☆ • Daddy’s World • 1999 • Posthuman novelette by Walter Jon Williams • review
  2. 45 • ★★★★☆ • The Golden Age • 2014 • Weird West novelette by Walter Jon Williams • a sailor turns supervillain in the Californian Gold Rush • review
  3. 81 • ★★★☆☆ • Dinosaurs • 1987 • Far future SF novelette by Walter Jon Williams • a posthuman ambassador doesn’t understand the problems of the natives • review
  4. 111 • ★★★★☆ • Surfacing • 1988 • First contact novella by Walter Jon Williams • A linguist explores the strange syntax of cetacean like aliens • review
  5. 179 • ★★+☆☆☆ • Video Star • 1986 • Cyberpunk novelette by Walter Jon Williams • a heist to steal drugs from a hospital • review
  6. 219 • ★★☆☆☆ • The Millenium Party • 2002 • Posthuman SF flash fiction by Walter Jon Williams • A thousand year old couple celebrate their anniversary by using a filtered memory showing only the good sides and best recipes
  7. 223 • ★★★★☆ • The Bad Twin • 1988 • Time Travel novelette by Walter Jon Williams • maxed out timeloops in ancient Greece • review
  8. 265 • ★★★★☆ • The Green Leopard Plague • 2003 • Near Future SF novella by Walter Jon Williams • Photosynthetic skin empower third world people • review
  9. 341 • ★★★☆☆ • Diamonds from Tequila • 2014 • Near Future SF novelette by Walter Jon Williams • Hollywood star encounters 3D printed drug • review
  10. 391 • ★★+☆☆☆ • Margaux • 2003 • novelette by Walter Jon Williams • Prequel to the Praxis • review
  11. 451 • ★★★★★ • Prayers on the Wind • 1991 • Religious SF novelette by Walter Jon Williams • Tibetan Buddhism in space is challenged by aliens • review
  12. 503 • ★★★★☆ • Wall, Stone, Craft • 1993 • Alternate History novella by Walter Jon Williams • The Shelleys meet Lord Byron, the man who caught Napoleon after Waterloo • review
  13. 595 story notes

Meta: isfdb, published at 28.02.2021 by Subterranean Press.

Posted in Anthology, Fantasy, Science Fiction | 3 Comments

The Real J.R.R. Tolkien: The Man who created Middle-Earth • 2021 • Non-fiction book by Jesse Xander

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Does the world need yet another Tolkien biography?

There is already the excellent and ancient 1977 “J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography”, and the newer 2012 “J. R. R. Tolkien: The Making of a Legend” by Colin Duriez. Other biographies focus on special topics, like two excellent books by John Garth: “Tolkien at Exeter College” from 2014, and the better known “Tolkien and the Great War” from 2002. Adding to that a huge number of articles in publications by several Tolkien societies and in the academia (just search at researchgate).

Enter the author, Jesse Xander, an unknown face in the area of Tolkien research, obviously a huge fan of Tolkien’s work, and a studied biological anthropologist. A first-time biographer who wants to add valuable insights from the point of view of an anthropologist. Like taking a fresh, new look at gender and racism topics and class it to the context of British first half of the 20th century.

That seems to be Xander’s mission. He brought forward his view by interpreting the females in the work mostly derived from Tolkien’s mother and his wife. Adding to that the implicit racism with Dwarves taking the roles of Jews in Middle-Earth. Both topics are highly disputable, and the author failed by providing only one view to the discussion, just like an essay would do.

Here is the most important error with this book: it is just too short and shies away everywhere where it could provide valid insights, because the author is just too lazy to bring own material or dig deeper than just scratching on the surface. Nearly all of his citations are based on Carpenter’s and Duriez’s former biographies plus the Tolkien Letters. I can’t see where he added additional, new contributions to the field.

Rewriting and shortening two existing biographies could be fun, but the author failed utterly in that regard. The outcome is a dry course through Tolkien’s life, failing to link to his works at essential milestones. Can you rely on a Tolkien biography which mentions The Inklings only once?

If Carpenter’s biography is too old, Duriez’s 230 pages still too long, and you see this very short and totally new book in the shelves, then do yourself a favor and just read through the wikipedia entry. Because the world needs a new view on the famous author, but not this one.

Meta: isbn 9781526765154. Published at 28.2.2021 by Pen&Sword.

Posted in Allgemein | 13 Comments

The Best of Elizabeth Hand • 2021 • Mixed Genre Collection by Elizabeth Hand

★★★☆☆

I always like to pick up a collection by Subterranean Press, because they often abduct me from my usual reading habits and introduce me to authors I haven’t experienced before. Elizabeth Hand is well-known, has won a large number of awards for her works – Tiptree, World Fantasy, Mythopoeic, Nebula, IHG, and Shirley Jackson. And yet, I didn’t come across her works.

This collection demonstrates the author’s literary variability by giving us works in subgenres of Magical realism, Dark Fantasy, Horror, Apocalyptic fiction, Weird fiction, and also plain literary fiction. She tends towards the creepy side, but often the stories are just plain beautifully narrated with only a hint of magic in it. 

Not all the stories were to my taste, some of them I just didn’t get at all, and clearly broke my comfort zone in a bad way. If you favor highbrowed darker fiction, then you’ll be fine, and there are really a couple of great gems to discover. My favorite was the last, long novella “Illyria”, and the first two stories. 

If you want more, please follow the links to the detailed reviews. 

Contents:

  1. 9 • ★★★★☆ • Last Summer at Mars Hill • 1998 • Magical realism novella • review
  2. 63 • ★★★★☆ • Pavane for a Prince of the Air • 2002 • Literary fiction novelette • review
  3. 95 • ★★☆☆☆ • The Bacchae • 1991 • Horror SF short story • review
  4. 113 • ★★★☆☆ • Cleopatra Brimstone • 2001 • Dark Fantasy novella • review
  5. 171 • ★★☆☆☆ • Ghost Light • 2018 • Crime flash fiction • A roadie’s helper has her revenge on a traveling solo musician. Interesting in the scope of this collection, because flash fiction and crime story. Beside of that nothing to write home about.
  6. 175 • ★★★☆☆ • The Have-Nots • 1992 • Magical realism short story • review
  7. 193 • ★★★★☆ • The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerphon • 2010 • Magical realism novella • review
  8. 249 • ★★★☆☆ • Eat the Wyrm • 2017 • Literary flash fiction • On Greenland, a pair travels for three days just to taste a special shot of Tequila in a famous bar. Strong visuals with complete open ended plot.
  9. 255 • ★☆☆☆☆ • Fire • 2017 • Apocalyptic fiction • a man together with a handful foreigners seeks shelter from a megafire in a bunker. It’s his turn to bring up a story. He’s constantly interrupted and reacts to that, nether getting forward with his narration. As short as it is, I never was able to connect to the narration, and DNFed it.
  10. 265 • ★★★☆☆ • The Lost Domain—Three Story Variations: Echo, The Saffron Gatherers, and Kronia  • 2005-2006 • Apocalyptic fiction short stories • review
  11. 299 • ★★★★☆ • Near Zennor • 2011 • Weird fiction novella • review
  12. 359 • ★★☆☆☆ • The Owl Count • 2020 • Weird short story • two people in a post-apocalyptic setting discover something unidentified monster while counting the population of owls. Ineffective, unsatisfying turn to horror.
  13. 383 • ★★★☆☆ • The Least Trumps • 2002 • Magical realism novella • review
  14. 443 • ★★★★★• Illyria • 2007 • Magical realism novella • review
  15. 549 story notes

Meta: isfdb, published at 28.02.2021 by Subterranean Press.

Posted in Anthology, Fantasy | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Illyria • 2007 • Magical realism novella by Elizabeth Hand

★★★★★

Synopsis: Maddie and Rogan are “kissing cousins” (born on the same day) in a large family, descendants from a famous actress. Beautiful, wayward Rogan (“Rogan looked like he’d fallen from a painting.“), gifted with a superb singing voice, is bullied by his older brothers, lest he becomes spoiled. Both cousins are secretly in love with each other, hiding away in a hidden chamber. 

That chamber contains a magical replica theatre, which gets somehow snowed on. Both are blown away, and in that magic moment when they discover it, one thing leads to the other and they get real kissing cousins. 

None of their parents really cares much what they’re doing, only their Aunt Kate takes interest. She invites both to the theatre, first as a birthday present, and then week after week. 

In their school, a Shakespeare romcom “Twelfth Night” is scheduled where Maddie gets to play main protagonist Viola, and Rogan gives the role of Feste the fool. Artistic gift battles artistic skill, and Rogan wins the audience’s heart. 

“A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that’s all one, our play is done,
And we’ll strive to please you every day.”

But Maddie wins a higher price, as her aunt finances an education at a London theatre school for her. 

Review: There will be people who are triggered by the cousin romance. That’s a cultural topic, as not every country stigmatizes first cousin marriages, other than currently 24 US states. I can understand, if someone feels offended and wouldn’t read this story. I don’t know if the author wanted to provoke that trigger in the U.S., but it’s actually no issue for me, beside of the fact that I’m not a fan of romances at all. 

There are a lot of literary references beside of Shakespeare which I didn’t get at all – I have to admit that I’m not fluent in English literature at all, and found them annoying after a while. 

The novella is quite long, at the verge of a novel in fact, but felt tight nonetheless. The story was never boring, always carried by Hand’s typical beautiful prose creating a 1970s atmosphere where children could play in the wilds, rock’n’roll was still raw, and teenagers consumed hash in their breaks. Its setting could have led to any number of fantasy plots, but even that magical theatre in the hidden chamber didn’t lead to a conclusive revelation. 

I had some ideas about fairy tale allegories, like Aunt Kate being a fay (Rogan calls her Aunt Fate), Rogan’s talent as a fairy gift, and the magical theatre resembling some fairy castle. But none of that produced a real outcome and it feels that I have to fiddle around more with those interpretations. In the end, I decided that all the magic lies in the story’s narration, and I can’t give Elizabeth Hand a greater compliment.

It will take me a while until I can fully digest this masterpiece, and I’m sorry that I’m not able to unfold it completely in this review. 

“And what should I do in Illyria? My brother he is in Elysium.”

Meta: isfdb. It won the World Fantasy Award. Published in the collection Best of Elizabeth Hand at 28.02.2021 by Subterranean.

Posted in Fantasy, Story | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Least Trumps • 2002 • Magical realism novella by Elizabeth Hand

★★★☆☆

Synopsis: Ivy is a young, well-situated woman, a daughter of a successful children’s books author. She lives on an island in Maine, where she converts her mother’s house “the Lonely House” to a tattoo studio. She doesn’t have to live from her art but can rely on an exclusive clientele who really want to have the art done by her. 

When she visits her mother, a kind of agoraphobia in the form of extreme nausea strikes her. She soothes it by an entertaining purchase at a flea market which turns out to be a special deck of tarot cards. 

Gladly, this doesn’t turn into yet another tarot trope, but into a an interesting story with only a touch of magical realism.

Review: I’m not much impressed by cool tatooists, but Ivy is an interesting woman consumed by her art. Gladly, the story didn’t transform into a sexualized Romantasy with all the fleshy tattoo job which she performs on herself and the long absent brother of her ex-boyfriend. 

The beautiful prose kept me reading where the plot just calmly moved along. 

Those tattoos keep together reality and Ivy’s imagination and synchronize them in a way. Like Ivy’s mother’s tales the story keeps up a fairy tale atmosphere, diving deep into her psyche. Which shouldn’t be surprising, given that the story’s title relates to John Crowley’s novel “Little, Big” where the “Least Trumps” play a significant role. 

The tale can be puzzling and needs careful thoughts to interpret it, but overall it is a satisfying read. 

Meta: isfdb. Published in the collection Best of Elizabeth Hand, published at 28.02.2021 by Subterranean.

Posted in Fantasy, Story | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control • 2019 • Non-fiction book by Stuart Russel — Look a Book

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Rating: 5 out of 5. A Superintelligence is an artificial general intelligence (AGI) which has an intelligence surpassing that of humans. A.I.s are in some specific cases already better than humans, e.g. by winning ever more complex games like chess,Go, or StarCraft against human champions. AGIs are not restricted to a specific field but […]

Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control • 2019 • Non-fiction book by Stuart Russel — Look a Book
Posted in Allgemein | Leave a comment