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Martin Kopischke

kopischke@bookwyrm.social

Joined 7 months ago

Purveyor of finest boredom since 1969. Lost causes catered for. He / him. English / deutsch / français. @kopischke@mastodon.social (@kopischke on BirdSite)

My ratings can look harsh, because they do not reflect how much I enjoyed a book; instead, I try to assess how exceptional a piece of literature I find it. I quite like a lot of books I “only” rate three stars, and I wouldn’t necessarily enjoy re-reading everything I rate above that, but the only service I use which helps me express that kind of nuance is Letterboxd.

For reference: ★★★★★ Flawless 
★★★★☆ Must read 
★★★☆☆ Above average 
★★☆☆☆ Oh, well
 ★☆☆☆☆ Blargh

Avatar by Picrew Shylomaton, courtesy of @Shyle@mastodon.social

Martin Kopischke's books

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When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain (EBook, 2020, Tom Doherty Associates) 4 stars

The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of …

Highly recommended

4 stars

I wasn’t quite sure how Nghi Vo would continue after her Empress of Salt and Fortune – after all, her main character Chih, the recording monk, is hardly fit to carry sustained narratives. I needn’t have worried: this never tries to burden them with that task.

Instead, we are treated (and what a treat it is) to another take on the magic of storytelling and the nature of truth. If Empress was all about the true story lying hidden, this is about how the truth of stories is negotiable. Formally consistent with, and sharing the same rich world building as its predecessor, this second instalment is as enjoyable as the first, a wonderful feat of complex storytelling happening without any of the usual fanfare.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune (EBook, 2020, Tom Doherty Associates) 3 stars

With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period …

Slow reading with a capital “S”

3 stars

– which, in case you were unsure, is a good thing, because you can enjoy peeling away fine layer after fine layer away from the story Nghi Vo so intricately wrapped for you. The experience is, there is no other word for it, exquisite.

Invisible Sun (EBook, 2021, Pan McMillan) 3 stars

Two twinned worlds are waiting for war …

America is caught in a deadly arms …

Sometimes, taking your premise and running with it is all that is needed

3 stars

Stross’ Merchant Princes series, of which the Empire Games trilogy this concludes is a part, is a poster child for this principle: assuming there are parallel Earth timelines in which development of society (and life, at times) wildly varies, what happens when one technologically less advanced line discovers it can travel to a more advanced one? Start with a knight armed with a submachine gun attacking your hapless protagonist, and take it from there until you arrive at transtemporal nuclear powered space battleships parked on the ISS’ lawn.

If you think this sounds like a silly, incoherent mess, you can be forgiven: in the hands of a lesser author, it easily might have been. What saves Stross are his well rounded characters and an ironclad grasp of what plotting individual arcs along the basic workings of society and history means. Add complex, richly textured world building, a healthy dose of …

The Black Tides of Heaven (EBook, 2021, Tom Doherty Associates) 4 stars

Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery …

Well, yeah, but, no?

3 stars

I really wanted to like this: I am a big fan of what Aliette de Bodard does with traditional Vietnamese influences both in her Xuya Universe and her Dominion of the Fallen series, so this one, with its Wǔxíng based magic system (Chinese, not Vietnamese version) looked great, and challenging Western binary gender representation is a bonus. One of my students recently did her graduation film on queer identity in a German-Vietnamese context, queer reclaimed Guanyin and all, so you could say this ticked boxes.

Unluckily, the novel is hamstrung by a meandering plot, shallow characterisation and haphazard world-building, with a magic-reinforced version of Imperial Chinese authority sitting smack in the middle of an otherwise unexplained technological revolution. As a piece of fantastic literature, this is simply not that interesting, I’m sorry to say (how good a novel of queer identity it is, I can’t tell, being as a heterosexual …

A Fortress In Shadow (EBook, 2007, Night Shade Books) 3 stars

Collects the two Dread Empire prequels:

  1. The Fire in His Hands (1984)
  2. With Mercy Towards …

This was … “interesting”

3 stars

… which is what my father says when he is too polite to tell people he doesn’t like something, but will grant them it was worth making the experience.

I was pointed to this by an /r/AskHistorians thread extolling Glen Cook’s virtues in portraying pre-modern warfare. Like my father, I will grant that reading the novels is not an experience I regret as such. Unlike him, I will come out and say I didn’t particularly relish the experience either.

Yes, this is well written enough; yes, it probably felt very fresh and unconventional in the early eighties; and yes, Cook does have a good understanding of pre-modern warfare both at the battle and at the campaign level. If that is your thing, go for it. Me, I wish Cook also had an idea of the logistics and societal / economic conditions dictating the operations of pre-modern armies, which he obviously …

The Wisdom of Crowds (EBook, Orion) 3 stars

Chaos. Fury. Destruction. The Great Change is upon us...

Some say that to change the …

Polished cynicism

3 stars

Many swear by Abercrombie and his First Law series, which this continues to expand on (set one generation later, it features characters out of the first series, their children, as well as characters from the spinoffs), but I am torn.

On the one hand, there is no doubt Abercrombie is a master storyteller with a far greater claim to “realism” in pseudo-medieval fantasy than, say, G.R.R. Martin, able to conjure up both engrossing landscapes of pre-modern society and attaching characters. That he has a decent understanding of pre-modern warfare also helps his military campaigns plot lines.

On the other hand, Abercrombie’s cynicism (“everybody is either weak or evil in the end”) is a real turn-off. The first series sacrificed all investment your might have made into its protagonists for the sake of an “if magicians existed, they’d be the biggest dicks of all” message (not that I quibble with that …