Sunday, July 1, 2018

Review: The Heroes

The Heroes The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is what would happen if you combined the battle perspective of "Killer Angles" with the grit of game of thrones and the dark view on war in 7 Samurai. The meaningless of the whole thing is played out with humanizing and dehumanizing scenes of two opposing armies fighting over some high ground between their respective lands. Many different arcs and stories intertwine to bring out the true brutality of what happens when armies collide. The harshness against the wounded and prisoners, the politics between factions on your own side, and the difference between officers and the grunts. The level of butchery accepted by the leaders takes any romance out of the whole thing.

As with the other books in this series, I thoroughly enjoyed this and the message that war is horrible and bullshit, is never a bad one in a fantasy series :D

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Monday, June 11, 2018

Review: Best Served Cold

Best Served Cold Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have never read a book about revenge which was as visceral as this one before. What starts out as an intense drive to pay back a betrayal turns into a bloody and unrelenting shit show which makes one question whether revenge is every really worth it.

This book is like a combination of the Count of Montecristo and Game of thrones but even more depressing... and ruthless. While I loved the First Law trilogy which preceded this book, I liked this story even more. It was amazingly powerful and poignant and the best story I have ever read dealing with themes of vengence.

The book follows some side characters in the original trilogy and a few others and really fills out another part of the world, which seems a bit like 15th century Italian city states, complete with mercenary armies, and ruthless political machinations. Rated it 5 stars!

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Review: Last Argument of Kings

Last Argument of Kings Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third installment of this gritty fantasy brings to an epic conclusion the events that were culminating in the last 2 books. Like Game of Thrones, it is also unique in that many of the characters do horrendous things but still simultaneously are 3d enough to make you understand their motivations.

The drive to power and the ruthlessness with which it is carried out, particularly by characters who are supposed to be the good guys flips the genre on its head and makes you question whether several characters are actually the bad guys after all.
It does this while maiming or killing off a number of important characters and continually enticing you to see how it all ends and what this is all leading to.

If you like situations with closure or clean neat divisions of black and white.... this isn't a book for you.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Review: Before They Are Hanged

Before They Are Hanged Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second book in this series was even better than the first. I have read few gritty fantasy stories that are worthy of note. This ranks up there with the Black Company and following a little bit behind game of thrones in its character creation and in the unexpected happening.

This story is not always filled with happy endings, but it is filled with some of the most vivid action sequences of any story I have ever read. Furthermore it critiques power, certain ideas of masculinity, makes it unclear in many cases who is actually a "good guy", and meanwhile weaves together interesting cultural, political, and social differences between different lands. Not the best story of this type I have read, but definitely hard to put down. Battles, intrigue, and lots of weird awkward sexual encounters.

Logen Nine-Fingers is Brock Sampson/Conan. I still find Glocta, the tortured and crippled ex hero to be really interesting, and cant wait to see where this leads.

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

My Review of The Blade Itself (Book 1 of the First Law trilogy)

The Blade Itself (The First Law, #1)The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This gritty light fantasy is reminiscent of a Game of Thrones in tone and perhaps even more critical of power and power brokers.
I found myself being really addicted to this story despite not having any characters with pure/spotless personas. There were few "heros" per se and unlike the Kingkiller Chronicle or Gentleman Bastards series, there isn't a central character to focus on. Instead, the world portrayed is built up from different vantage points portraying the heiarchical and sometimes violent region called the Union and its growing border disputes.

Sand dan Glokta to me is the most interesting character in the story, as he is different from any character I have ever seen in a fantasy story. The dashing and wealthy character and expert swordsman who gets captured and tortured, lends him to bitterness and completely incapacitates him leading him to put more weight on his mind than his body. Without spoiling anything, I find his motivations to be super genuine given what has happened to his body.

There are wizards in this story, but magic isn't super defined or aggressively powerful. Furthermore they are so removed from the world that most people dont even believe they exist.

I am definitely excited to read the next one as its exciting to find another fantasy story done in a refreshingly different style.


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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Review: Diary of a Madman and Other Stories

Diary of a Madman and Other Stories Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Nikolai Gogol
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always liked Gogol, but wow, the Russian 19th century writers really catch the subtleties of society and the underclass like nobody else I have read. Gogol is no exception. His stories showcase the life of underpaid bureaucrats and working stiffs getting screwed by the system, show the slow decline into madness, and the utter spite and desire to wield power of the upper class.

Despite reading quite a lot of the major authors of the day, I am not sure why writers like Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and later Bulgakov were so adept at depicting the eccentricity of life. Perhaps its because Russia was a massively changing society with a fierce repressive apparatus and a heavily politicized cultural and artistic society. You can see how Gogol weaves criticism while staying a little bit beneath the careful eyes of the censors.

I think of all the stories in this compendium, the overcoat really hit my soul the most, because a poor man that meant completely well just was utterly fucked by a combination of fairly normal people trying to act important and leaving this worker to just fall through the cracks. Its a masterpiece of build up and subtlety, and you can totally see how it influence later stories like A Christmas Carol. Dostoyevsky later remarked "We have all come from under the overcoat"....and I agree. If anything, this just makes me want to read more of Gogol.

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Review: The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have so many mixed feelings on this collection of Conan stories. On the one hand many of them are massively influential on the fantasy genre, contain really poignant moments and powerful action sequences. Conan is a visceral brock sampson like force of nature who has his epic of a life told out in viking saga style stories of bravery. I did like some of the imagery of lost civilizations, poetic speeches, villainous wizards and priests, and gritty as fuck interactions which dont really leave you feeling that anyone is a good guy. (and most of these were written in the 30s, so its before the genre was really fleshed out.)

On the other hand there are moment of serious racism and sexism which are really hard to ignore. In particular, is the trash of a story towards the end of the book, "The Vale of lost women" which literally includes the quotes from a racist and "helpless" white woman captured by a Black tribe:

"You are a barbarian like these others- only your skin is white, your soul is black as theirs...you care naught that a man of your own color has been foully done to death by these black dogs - that a white woman is their slave!"

and "Am I not fair? Am I not more desirable than these soot-colored wenches? Am I not a worthy reward for blood-letting? Is not a fair skinned virgin a price worth slaying for?" [the craziest thing about this story in particular is that its the most racist and sexist and is also written in 1967, 40 years after most of the others]

Now granted, Conan himself doesn't say these racist things, but the book portrays characters of Black men as rapists, violent, and utterly uncivilized. With white women being objects of desire who seems to often be lording over or captives of Black men.

Lastly, the stories differ in Conan's role: pirate, thief, king, warrior, wanderer, mercenary, etc... but they seem to have a similar style to HP Lovecraft (they were friends, which also explains the racism), which usually involves some woman or weak lord is in distress, bumps into Conan by accident, Conan agrees to help, kills lots of enemy people, then some crazy creatures show up scaring everyone and conan fights the thing, killing it and getting fucked up in the process.

I swear, with the amount of wounds conan takes, its amazing he doesnt end up crippled after each story. There is even one battle where his ear is half hacked off and his skin peeled off his whole back.

My take away. The first few stories are an interesting read and i enjoyed qualities of them. If you enjoy HP lovecraft, Brock Sampson, and Beserk, this is right up your alley. Some of it is too formulaic and racist for me though and I dont think Im going to read the second of the Anthology.

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Review: The Silmarillion

The Silmarillion The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I decided to finally read this book in full and OMG was it an endeavor. Definitely much more fulfilling and interesting than reading the Bible, but much of it is dry and notes based on the origins of specific places and family histories of the Elves and Humans. That being said, holy shit has my whole view of the Tolkien universe been turned on its head. Here are my thoughts:

-The Valar are purist assholes who despite the Noldor (elves) having their king murdered and most coveted possessions (jewels made of light of the trees of valinor which are literally an homage to their own culture) taken by Melkor who is himself a Valar, they not only dont help the Noldor but actively make them feel like shit for wanting revenge.

-The Noldor engage in first "kin killing". Yeah its shitty, but the Telari (shipbuilding elves in Valinor) also didn't want to help the Noldor despite them being so harmed and they violently fought them for trying to take some ships to ...Kill the most evil creature in the universe....so the Valar really need to cut them some slack.

-The Valar say as an excuse that the Noldor cant possibly defeat Melkor (Morgoth), so they shouldn't attempt to sail to Middle Earth to fight him and his servants. Yet Fingolfin, an elf, permanently wounds Morgoth in single combat and a fucking Eagle scars his face. Also another elf puts Melkor to sleep and they steal a Silmaril out from under his nose.

-Which brings me to another point. How shitty is Morgoth that he goes bossing around the Elves, Dwarves, and Humans of Middle Earth (races that are vastly inferior in power) and then the Noldor show up and fight his army to a Standstill. Not only can he not defeat the other Valar, but he cant even beat the Elves. And he was said to be the most powerful of the Valar?!

-Sauron is a wizard. Through the whole Lord of the Rings, I figured every Valar must have those magical powers, to put his spirit in multiple bodies, etc. But no, you see other Valar shape shift, but Sauron is actually a shrewd sorceror. (also one who is obsessed with werewolves...though you dont see any in the Lord of the Rings) His master Morgoth....not so much. Hes kinda a clunky shit warrier who mostly just tricks people a lot and for some reason commands ridiculous loyalty from his followers.

-Gothmog, king of the Balrogs, is a much better servant than Sauron. Every time there is killing of an important leader or storming of a fortress to be done... its pretty much Gothmog who does it. He kills Feanor after all.

-Sauron from the Second Age on seems kinda weak. Not to down play the orcs armies and Saruman and the nazghul... but the Anti-Morgoth forces in the First age had to deal with hundreds of balrogs and dragons and werewolves as the crack troops of the army... and yet they were still able to fight to a relative standstill. As a result, it almost seems anti-climactic. Granted, the Elves and Dwarves were very much diminished from what they were at the height of their marshal prowess.

-Lastly, Aragorn and Arwen are cousins. Though given the amount of cousins having kids in this story. Its not weird at all.

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Saturday, January 6, 2018

Review: Anarchy In The Uk: The Angry Brigade

Anarchy In The Uk: The Angry Brigade Anarchy In The Uk: The Angry Brigade by Tom Vague
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have thought about reading this book for a while because I have always thought the history of urban guerrillas was fascinating. Over time my views on the subject have changed and become more complex. Reading this book has even further contributed to that and especially in relation to this group.

This book has only further confirmed to me that situationism is stupid, vanguardist, and has contributed to the atmosphere of performance politics over substance that we have now in the left. The angry brigade is case in point. With a pre-punk chic, this group bombs symbols of power and destroyed a number of building facades to inspire people and draw attention to the role of the state and capital. However they explained their activity in the underground press, lacked any kind of working class avenger effects (in comparison to the Argentine Anarchists of the 1920s and 30s) and were counter culture to such an extreme that they lacked connection to anyone outside of the youth culture.

can attacks on symbols inspire people? when done right and not done with some nihilistic artistic asthetic. Apparently many of the hangers on of the angry brigade also helped form the sex pistols, which the book described as a situationist inspired group.

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