I'll post here all the book related content that I usually share on my blog, be it comments, reviews, quotes or whatever else.
(this review was originally posted and has a portuguese version on my blog.)
With this work, Ian Mortimer intends to a analyse the last ten centuries and determine the changes in human civilization - focused on the so called western world - with the purpose of finding the one which saw the biggest changes.
The author starts by explaining his approach, justifying the option for the western civilization, and then, chapter by chapter, describes each century taking into account the changes and the agents of those changes at the time. This method ends up becoming a good way to remember history and the pathway our civilization has treaded before it became what it is today.
After this, the author looks back and uses some criteria to be able to determine the main changes and agents and the centuries that saw them happen.
I didn't always agree with the author's choices or opinions - something that is obviously related to individual values and perspectives, as the author himself refers - but he does explain his options showing sound logic and justification.
The main relevance of the book, in my opinion, much more than finding out in which century we changed the most, is what the subtitle asks - "Why it Matters to Us?"
"Breaking down the overarching concept of change into smaller facets has allowed us to glimpse the dynamics of long-term human development. We can see that not all change is technological: it includes language, individualism, philosophy, religious division, secularisation, geographical discovery, social reform and the weather."
Mortimer ends with a very relevant analysis of our civilization's evolution and a prediction of what our future can hold.
The winning century? It is but a detail.
I had free access to this book through NetGalley.
I knew Michael Avon Oeming from his work on Powers and some Marvel stuff and that's why I started following him on twitter. Through his account I was able to follow the creative process of The Victories, because the author often spoke about it. He got me interested enough in checking something that he wrote and illustrated himself. Oeming didn't disappoint. The Victories is a pessimistic view of a society with "super-heroes". The story is told through the heroes' point of view, themselves far from the usual exemplary people one would expect, are after all quite flawed. The author uses their status as super-heroes to further amplify and analyse such human flaws.
The context is a futuristic and rather dystopian civilization, where people are constantly spied by drone cameras but corruption is still ubiquitous, young people are addicted to some new kind of drug and super-heroes seem to be the only hope of cleaning it all up and saving society. It's as familiar as if one was looking outside the window (television?) in a rainy day and actually paying attention. Of note is the author's use of the drug, which far from the traditional cliché is presented here as a substance with an understandable appeal. Faustus, the main character of the first volume is interesting to follow because the author left him with an immature personality, somewhat incomplete and with unfinished business (sometimes reminding me of the typical anti-hero with past issues), a young man in a process of self-discovery and definition.
This is how Oeming sets out to explore the place we give to these supposed exemplary figures, at the same time dealing with what people have best and worst, their reactions to extreme situations where they risk winning or losing everything they care for. The Victories is a comic wrote for mature readers and will probably be enjoyed the most by those who have read the more typical comics with their traditional superheroes, idealized worlds and self-discovery epics because they will see here a smart counterpoint.
The illustration is so adequate to the setting and tone that I can't really point anything wrong with it. Whoever knows and likes Michael Avon Oeming's art won't be disappointed.
My only negative criticism towards this book is that, as an introductory volume, the storytelling often looses momentum with the flashbacks and some infodumping that disturb an otherwise enjoyable read.
I'm now waiting for the next volume!
After being widely recommended, finally a friend lent me her copy of The Lions of Al-Rassan translated to Portuguese. I am quite thankful. Though it didn't become an instant favourite, as was the case with some of my friends, it still was a very interesting and rewarding book to read. This is often considered a historical fantasy work, for its indirect depiction of the wars of reconquest of the Iberian peninsula from the Moor occupiers by the Christians of the north. Al-Rassan represents the Moorish Iberian territory, Asharites are Muslims, Jaddites are Christians, Kindath are Jews and there is even a character based on El Cid.
Because I don't have enough time to write a very detailed and thoughtful review, I'll try to talk about some moments and themes that not only make reading it mindfully worthwhile, but also convinced me to try another of Guy Gavriel Kay's works.
I must start with the first event that showed how rewarding reading this book would be, a conversation between Jehane and Velaz where one easily understands that the author won't just fantasize an alternative history, but will mostly use it to make the reader think. Jehane is in a situation in which she feels the opposing forces of loyalty to her people, her professional obligations and her individual moral and ethics. As Velaz tries to convince her not to risk herself, their conversation brings forward the consequences of being neutral or passive before injustice.
In order to share them with those who read the book, but avoiding spoilers, I'll just enumerate the other key moments where Guy Gavriel Kay's prose is specially well accomplished: the massacre in Orvilla - where the author explores the contrast between the glory and the tragedy inherent to war; the Carnival in Ragosa - probably the epitome of the book's prose; and the fire in Fezana - because of each characters decision, of the transformations forced upon them by the event and the use of the fire as a weapon both of purification and terror.
Last, I must highlight the epilogue, not only because it closes the plot beautifully, but specially for the way the author made the storytelling accelerate with the approximation of the climax and then, as if experiencing an anxiety crisis, makes the author loose some of the crucial moments, being only able to look at and analyse them in retrospective. A mark of a great writer.
As for the themes explored in The Lions of Al-Rassan, they include as expected, religion and the consequences of war, but there is also a well accomplished analysis of a person's story taking into account and confronting her cultural background, her mutating context, her self-image and her idea of valour and personal fulfilment.
On religion, the story of Al-Rassan illustrates quite well how it can unite groups and communities but on the other hand do it while isolating or hurting others. Its use as an excuse for war, as a motivation to get people to follow their leaders' greed and lust for glory. There is still time for the characters to be forced to question their beliefs and morality by all the events happening around them.
On war, its obviously all over the place, as expected of an interpretation of the reconquest, superficially as a motor for geopolitical changes, but more deeply explored from the point of view of its impact on people, not as a group but as individuals, as lives, as stories, plans, dreams, feelings.
After loving the first volume, I didn't hesitate in ordering the second and reading it as soon as I got it. Is spite of being an interesting continuation of the story began in the previous book, this lacks that "wow factor" that made the first one spectacular. I specially liked getting to know Marko's parents and also enjoyed the final part of this volume. Other than these, this book does seem like a filler. However, one must admit that Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples still manage to keep the reader interested and enthusiastic with their story.
I still recommend reading Saga with no reservations and I'm looking forward to finding out how they are going to explore that royalty with TV set's for heads.
I had access to Great Pacific Volume 1: Trashed through NetGalley. The concept of a guy trying to turn a heap of trash into a nation really raised my expectations ever since I heard of it, probably too much for a beginning that, though far from bad, didn't really make my day.
Joe Harris has a lot of ideas for this work and maybe he just tried to use too many right from the start, resulting in a protagonist that is exposed to too many odd situations before I even know who he really is and that seem to have no palpable impact on him. I also had some trouble with the strange mixture between ecological utopian science fiction items and a series of events and elements that reminded me of post-modern narrative, something that could have been awesome but ended up uninteresting, perhaps due to some failure in storytelling, lack of flow or of a consistent and convincing beginning.
Martin Morazzo's illustration is competent, specially in terms of background and some specific elements, but is mediocre when considering some character's characterization, ending up with some very good panels and moments where it fails to help the storytelling.
This is an average comic, that would neither convince me to keep reading it nor really advise people to avoid it. In spite of this, I have heard that the next issues are much better than the one collected in Trashed, so I am actually considering giving it another go, if for nothing else, because I really want this concept to work out.
Last but not least, I must remind anyone reading this that the Great Pacific garbage patch is quite real and should probably, by itself, be making us change how we do a lot of stuff, shouldn't it?
When this book got to me, the sky was grey and tearful. The owner brought it together with another one that she had promised to lend to me, because she thought I should read it. We ended up both soaking wet. She was right, much more at that than what we both could have guessed at the time.
This book shows the story of Liesel, a German child living near Munich in Nazi Germany as the World War II and the Holocaust unfolded that was able to pique our narrator's - Death - curiosity. Through her experience and Death's "eyes" the author tells a story that at the same time is absolutely believable but also has the reader wishing it wasn't credible at all. Liesel and her family's extremely difficult life are explored in parallel with terrifying episodes of that time, such as the general installation of anti-Semitism associated with the economic problems and the transformation of Jews into lesser creatures, the attempt to convince Germans that a war was needed to get what is rightfully theirs and even the forced conscription to the army. As one follows and falls for the girl, one can't escape a constant terror of what can at any point happen to these people (I can't bring myself to think of them as just characters) that we feel we know and like. Beyond the allusion to the war, The Book Thief explores in more detail what affects each person, in this case the consequences of political dissidence, the need to appear totally supportive of the regime, the problems of wanting to survive as much as wanting to be true to oneself. The symbology interwoven through the narrative adds to the reading experience, from the association of words, writing, reading and books with ideas, hope, salvation and freedom to the use of basements to place a parallelism between Germans taking cover from air raids and Jews hiding from Gestapo. However, Markus Zusak doesn't simply deliver a mesh of dramatic events, as the context might have lead him to. He has subtlety in how he conveys ideas and emotions and he knows to intersperse drama, everyday life and even humour and sweetness giving complexity to a work of art that is already one of my favourites.
Finally, I must write about Death, a narrator with whom I immediately related and whose comments the author emphasizes graphically and comically, that go from historical data to simple opinions sometimes even spoiling future events and often surprising be it for their easiness be it for their crudity.
There would be much more to say about the events, the symbols and the writing in The Book Thief, but I don't want to give more details. I hope that what I wrote is enough a recommendation to this book, one that I send out to anyone that enjoys reading.
The day I finished reading The Book Thief the sky was blue, clear but for some smoke from forest fires around Vila Real - I was the one crying.
"I am haunted by humans."
Thank you Catarina.
Thomas Pynchon, Against The Day (2006)
I finally got to read Aliette de Bodard's Immersion, a short story that won the Nebula and the Locus awards and was nominated to the Hugo and BSFA. Ever since I heard of it I've been willing to check it out and kept a tab in Chrome with Clarkesworld where it was initially published. I found out it was also available in audio version, so I decided to listen and share it with a friend. Though the reader's interpretation wasn't particularly to my liking, I ended up really enjoying the story.
Without revealing too much and spoiling it, it's enough to say Immersion is a quite interesting exploration of the interaction between cultures when one of them is dominant and of how it can aggravate problems such as prejudice or need for acceptance and more so if people start considering its only natural to assimilate the dominant culture. In this story the issue is addressed through a machine that allows not only to automatically translate language but also to completely transform a person into what is expected in the culture that created it.
With this short tale, Aliette de Bodard makes us think on multiple problems that our civilization is going through right now and with which we must deal with in the best way, such as the assimilation of american culture by most developed countries - for example through cinema and literature with massive marketing - the confusion in Europe between belonging to the European Union and obedience to the decisions made by the economically dominant countries, the communication through social networks that not only give us false avatars but also define the ways we communicate - for example, the absence of intentional silence: or you comment a post or no one knows that you read it and decided to ignore it - or the limitation that one can feel when adapting to another culture - how can a person express herself fully, actually be her real self, when using a different language, in different daily situations, with different traditions and interpretations and how can that person recognize herself after a long period holding this culturally accepted avatar?
I can't recommend Immersion enough and I'm now looking forward to reading more from this author.