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Words, words, words

"“I’m Margarita Staples.” She bowed in her harness. “Extreme librarian. Bookaneer.”"
Un Lun Dun - China Miéville

Un Lun Dun by China Miéville

Un Lun Dun - China Miéville
"A dark- windowed diesel train burst out of the building, close enough to make the bus shake. It helter- skeltered downward into the earth. “Where’s it going?” Zanna said. “Crossing the Odd, to some of the other abcities,” Jones said. “If you’re brave enough to try, you might be able to catch a train from UnLondon to Parisn’t, or No York, or Helsunki, or Lost Angeles, or Sans Francisco, or Hong Gone, or Romeless…It’s a terminus.”"

from The Gulag Archipelago, Volume II by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956 - Edward E. Ericson Jr., Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

He took an ax with him. It was summer. He made his way through the taiga in wind and woods. The walking was very difficult, but on the other hand, he didn't run into anyone for a whole month. Tying up the sleeves and collar of his shirt, he caught fish in it and ate them raw. He collected cedar nuts, mushrooms, and berries. Half dead, he nonetheless managed to get to the Trans-Siberian trunk line and happily went to sleep in a haystack.


He was roused by voices: they were picking up the hay with pitchforks and had already found him. He was fagged out and prepared neither to run away nor to put up a fight. And he said: "Well, all right, take me. Turn me in; I am a fugitive."

There stood a railroad track walker and his wife. And the track walker said to him: "Oh, come on now, we are Russians. Just sit there and don't give yourself away." They went off. But the fugitive didn't believe them; they were, after all, Soviet people, they had to denounce him. And he crawled off into the woods. From the edge of the forest he watched and saw the track walker return, bringing clothing and food. That evening the fugitive walked along the track and at a forest whistle stop boarded a freight train, jumping off before morning and going into the forest for the day. Night after night he moved on in this way, and when he grew stronger, he even got off at every stop, hiding in the foliage or walking on ahead, getting in front of the train, and then jumping on it again while it was moving. That way he risked dozens of times losing an arm, a leg, his head. (That was how he paid for the few easy glides of the pen of the stoolie who had turned him in.) But on one occasion, just before reaching the Urals, he changed his rule and went to sleep on a flatcar carrying logs. He was wakened by a kick and a lantern shining in his eyes and a demand for "Documents!" "Just a minute!" He rose and with one blow knocked the guard off the car and jumped off the other side — and onto the head of another guard! He knocked that one off his feet and managed to make his getaway under the nearby trains. Outside the station he boarded a train while it was moving.


He decided to bypass Sverdlovsk by walking around it, and in the suburbs plundered a trade stall, got clothes for himself, put three suits on, and collected some food. At one station he sold one of the suits and bought a ticket from Chelyabinsk to Orsk and Central Asia. No, he knew where he was going — to Vienna! But he had to cover his tracks and let the pursuit die down. A Turkmen, chairman of a collective farm, met him at the bazaar, took him to work on the farm even though he had no documents. And his hands justified his calling as a mechanical engineer. He repaired all the farm machinery. After several months he took his pay and went to Krasnovcik, near the border.


After the train left Mary, a patrol came along, checking documents. At this point, our mechanical engineer went out on the car platform, opened the door, hung onto the toilet window, where they could not see him from inside because of the frosted glass, and only the toe of one shoe remained to support him and enable him to get back on the step. The patrol failed to notice the toe of a shoe in the comer of the door frame and went on into the next car. And so the awful moment passed.


Having crossed the Caspian Sea without incident, the fugitive got on a train going from Baku to Shepetovka, and from there he made for the Carpathians. With great caution he started to make his way across the mountainous border at a remote, steep, forested place — but still the border guards caught him! How much had he had to sacrifice, to suffer, to invent, and to endure since his Siberian camp, since that first felled pine tree — and right at the very end everything was wrecked in one instant! ... And his strength left him, just as it had back there in the haystack at Taishet, and he couldn't resist any longer, nor lie, and in a final fury he merely shouted: "All right, take me, you executioners! Take me, you are stronger!" "Who are you?" "A fugitive! From the camps! Take me!" But the border guards acted rather strangely: They blindfolded him, took him into a dug out, and there unbound his eyes — and questioned him again — and suddenly it emerged that they were friends: Banderists, Ukrainian nationalist partisans! (Fie, fie! educated readers will frown and wave their hands at me: "Well, you certainly picked some character — he regarded the Banderists as friends! A real rotten fruit, that one!" Well, all I can do is spread my hands myself: That's how he was. That's how he was when he escaped.That's what the camps had made of him. These camp people, as I can tell you, live on the basis of the swinish principle "Existence determines consciousness." Not by what the newspapers say. To camp inmates, friends are those with whom they were tormented in camp. And enemies are those who put the dogs on their trail. Lack of conscientiousness!) And so they embraced! The Banderists still had their own border cross at that time, and they gently led him across. And so there he was in Vienna again! But this time in the American zone. And submissive still to that enticing materialist principle, and not forgetting for one moment his bloody death camp, he no longer sought work as a mechanical engineer but, instead, went to the American authorities to unburden his soul. And he began to work for them in some capacity. But! It is a human trait to relax one’s vigilance as soon as the danger is past. He planned to send some money to his parents in Odessa, and to do that fie had to exchange dollars for Soviet money. Some Jewish businessman invited him to his apartment in the Soviet zone of Vienna to make the deal. People used to shuttle back and forth all the time, paying no attention to the zones, but he should never have gone into the Soviet zone! He went, however — and was captured at the apartment of the money-changer. Now this is a very Russian story of how superhuman feats are strung on and on and then thrown away for a glass of vodka.


Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer - John E. Woods, Patrick Süskind Groveling, repulsive husk of a man with exceptional nose but no body odour butchers virgin women in the attempt to turn them into perfume, is caught and released due to having driven the people of France to orgiastic adoration, decides there's no space for joy in his blackened heart and returns to Paris to enchant the Parisians into cannibalizing him with the power of his ~heavenly scent~ *flips hair and throws glitter in the air*

On a side note, the Parisians' uncontrollable descent into adoration-driven cannibalism upon Grenouille's opening of the perfume bottle isn't very far from Grenouille's sudden obsession with the scent of virgins. Lesson: all humanity is repulsive, not just Grenouille.

Royal Assassin

Royal Assassin - Robin Hobb First and foremost : the fool is the most beautiful thing to happen in this series.

Having said that, this book is as slow as a crippled sloth. It not only suffers from Recap Syndrome typical of middle novels, but when there's any chance a bit of plot might be in sight it gets buried under pages of painful honey-coated romance. If I ever again hear how sweet Molly's perfume is and how nice her hair and how Fitz's heart lurches in his chest SO HELP ME GOD. (Aside: "my heart [insert verb] in my chest" is a phrase Hobb uses so often i started wondering if In this series hearts are not usually located in the chest but maybe, say, in the left foot?)

The characters, at least, get a bit of development. Fitz is whinier and more arrogant from the very beginning, which at least delivers him from the Unfailingly Noble role I feared he'd be confined to. King Shrewd, poor thing, had his potential for of depth but was unconscious for too much of the time for anything to come out of it. Verity gets some wonderful character flaws and his affection for the Fitz doesn't preclude his making use of him left and right just as a king would a subject. Nighteyes is just a dear. But tis to Burrich and the Fool that my affections went this time round: Burrich's combination of down-to-earthness, stoicism and gruffness fit perfectly with the unfolding of his backstory, while the Fool's lack of foolishness, excess of unconcealed emotional pain and existential doubts made him my only reason for not putting down this book. Because in the end however interesting your intrigues and well defined your characters, If you compress the plot of a 750 page book in the last 200, I'm going to have slog through 500 pages of scented candles and thumping hearts which greatly dampens my enthusiasm and, in more stressful hours, greatly endangers my kindle.

A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly - Philip K. Dick Meh. PKD had all the elements for a perfectly ingenious story but he drowned it all in unresolved subplots, endless conversations amongst stoned-out-of-their-minds junkies, psychological insights of the shallowest sort, disjointed and unresolved would-be plot twists, a half-sketched conspiracy that sees women raped and drugged, and children injected in the cradle in order to grow up as addicts – all contradicted at length by the narrator's afterwords on his intention to portray drugs as a conscious choice – and a sanctimonious "I have been to hell and back, listen all ye not-yet-hopeless sinners" attitude, all crammed in a plot with more holes in it than a captured traitor's chest in times of war. It is dubious whether PKD had any idea what he was aiming at.

The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem - Liu Cixin, Ken Liu “As you know, the sophons move at close to the speed of light. The surface of the Earth is a tiny space for sophons. If sophons patrol around the accelerators on Earth at this speed, then, from the perspective of humans, it is as if they simultaneously exist in all the accelerators and can almost simultaneously create erroneous results in all the accelerators.”

There aren't sufficient neurons in my brain to neatly package in a line or two how perfect this book's plot is, how elegantly it glides through science, history, physics, technology, surrealism and respect for intelligent life, to end in the sheer horror of having aliens dabbling with the the Earth's physics in order to discourage all efforts of scientific progress, to lead scientists to madness and suicide because all they have devoted their life to - the rational understanding of reality - is suddenly, constantly proven wrong. Imagine how clueless, how blind, how utterly, utterly powerless any kind of intelligent life would be in a world with no patterns, where observation, deduction and rational thought were irrelevant because phenomena just happened to happen.

That's not the only point of the novel, but if you think you know your horror, and your horror is a monster standing above you with an axe, imagine the madness of a reality were the laws of physics were proven wrong.

Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon - Richard K. Morgan This book took me to nasty places, and it was too early in the journey that I had to resign myself to having committed my time to a crime novel — which is all well and good if it is intricate crimes and well thought out deaths that you're after, but the sci fi elements were so intriguing that I had high hopes they would take the main role and shine. Tis a pity the societal and ethical issues the novel brushed past were of far more interest to me than the crime itself, and I suppose it is my bad luck that I found the main character a mixture of bland and annoying, and managed developed no interest for any other character, or I would have levelled this babble up to four stars. But my expectations being immaterial, and the plot being extremely well crafted, this is by no means a book to shun for the seekers of futuristic crimes.

The Shadow of the Torturer

The Shadow of the Torturer - Gene Wolfe Imagine me holding the book upside down, cocking my head to the side and squinting while gritting my teeth. That's the depiction of my bafflement.
I do not know what I've done wrong with this book; I have seen Gene Wolfe showered with praises left, right and from Neil Gaiman's lips, and cornered with ferocious attacks front, back and center. To my eyes, it was a downhill read from a quite "Mhmm" of interest to an abyss of lethargic silence.

I was interested in the guild of torturers, but nothing of much interest was revealed. I was interested in the details of the torturers' work, but that is apparently for others to know. I wanted some argute psychological insight into the mind of a person raised to be a torturer, but Severian's mind is void of any insight (despite Thecla's "You're so intellectual, you will be the most cerebral torturer in history" – now THAT would have been a story worth the reading).

But no, I have found nothing that would justify the reading of the second book. Some details here and there (the chaps that eat corpses, the guild of the librarians, some thoughts on clemency and so on) gave me some vain hope that something interesting would happen in the next page , but the plot was so flat it would have needed surgery to draw the eye. The characters were so bland and insipid they resembled actors more than people – not one breath of psychological undertone in their existence. The female characters, this should be said, were especially atrocious: if Severian's inclination to fall in what he called love suddenly and for no apparent reason was hard to believe, every woman's continued effort to present herself in various states of semi undress when in front of him was probably the greatest fictional ingredient of the whole sorry story. The ending was so abrupt one would think someone has chopped the last chapters off out of frustration and they have been reprinting the book like that ever since.
Except tht it's not a book that compels frustration, just a very quiet, very disappointed sigh.

The Heroes

The Heroes - Joe Abercrombie A compendium of everything Abercrombie does best: characterization, dark humour, and blood-drenched barbarians swinging axes and gutting enemies through putrid, mud infested battlegrounds. Bayaz is a joy to hate, Shivers is officially worthy of his name, and the surprising return of Bremer dan Gorst, who reappears to take his place amongst my favourite bitter, self-pitying, blood thirsty characters.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, A Novel

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, A Novel - David Mitchell The day I discovered that David Mitchell the author was not David Mitchell the comedian I was so miserable I took an immediate dislike towards the fellow (the author that is) and refused to read anything by him for years. I was, no need to be polite about it, the very example of a perfect imbecile.
I arrived to this book out of sheer boredom and in one chapter it had me purring and writhing my toes in delicious bliss. Whatever might be said about the spidery intricacy of the story lines or the sometimes-indecipherable-if-you-don't-have-a-manual-handy names of the characters, this is book will make you want to stare at words and mouth words and sniff words and inject words directly in your veins like a non fatal drug that causes your brain functions to focus only on stories and characters so real and weak and flawed and *there* that you'll want to think and relish no other book or idea for days afterwards.

The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss I wouldn't have rolled my eyes and sniggered quietly quite as often if the "I need to be epic" syndrome of the book had remained confined to the third person frame. But switching to a first person narrative makes passages such as ~I had perfectly smooth skin and a deep powerful voice and unmatched wits and I can make grown men weep with my lute playing skills~ seem like an inner monologue taken out of one of those badly written Draco Malfoy fanfiction. Worse still, the main character is made out to be likeable. Had he turned out to be a Jorg-like psychopath, the nice, self-congratulatory side of the man would have generated laughs a-plenty, but *this character* makes my mouth gape only at the sheer unmatched scope of his narcissistic disorder.

King of Thorns

King of Thorns - Mark  Lawrence The murderous lunatic is finally kinging it from his golden throne, when horror, gore, necromancy, bloodshed, carnage, splattered brains, and butchered human entrails happen again. Good times.

Assassin's Apprentice

Assassin's Apprentice - Robin Hobb The erstwhile king's illegitimate child is appointed killer-in-training by the new king but is also a clueless sort of St Francis of Assisi who might or might not have any talent for telepathically interacting with other people but can talk to puppies. Some delicious political intrigues and a delicious Fool.