poniedziałek, 30 października 2017

„Niepełnia” i Popmoderna

Stała się rzecz wspaniała: portal Popmoderna, który zawiesił działalność rok temu (kolejna oznaka tego, jak straszny był 2016), powrócił przed dwoma tygodniami! To jedno z fajniejszych moim zdaniem miejsc w polskim internecie, gdzie pisze się o szeroko pojętej kulturze – pop- i niekoniecznie.

Cieszę się z tego powrotu nie tylko dlatego, że będę miał co czytać, ale również ze względu na to, że zostałem zaproszony do ponownego nawiązania współpracy. W związku z tym od czasu do czasu na Popmodernie będą się pojawiać również moje teksty.

Pierwszy z nich właśnie zawitał na stronę. Jest to recenzja intrygującej powieści Anny Kańtoch pt. Niepełnia. Od lektury Czarnego jestem miłośnikiem nieoczywistych fabuł tej autorki, z przyjemnością zatem podjąłem próbę rozwikłania, o co tak właściwie chodzi w jej najnowszej książce. Zachęcam do lektury Niepełni i własnego omówienia tejże.

czwartek, 26 października 2017

[EN] The Overneath, by Peter S. Beagle

I’m far from an expert on the books of Peter S. Beagle. I’ve only read The Last Unicorn and A Fine and Private Place. The impression I’ve got from those two is that what he writes are not so much stories as tales. Even though they were created in the last few decades (and, like A Fine and Private Place, take place in a contemporary setting), they feel ancient, steeped in the old traditions of oral storytelling – so much so, that Polish SF writer Jacek Dukaj The Last Unicorn “the last fairy tale” in his review. In light of all this, I was very eager to read The Overneath so that I could see whether Beagle’s short stories – representing a more varied sample of his output – have the same quality.

The first four stories definitely fall into the category of “tales” – they take place long ago and far away (and, in the case of The Green-Eyed Boy, featuring Schmendrick the Magician, in the world of The Last Unicorn) and resemble folk stories the most. My favourite of the bunch is by far The Story of Kao Yu, which draws inspiration from Chinese folklore and follows a wandering judge, a wise, kind and honourable man, who becomes smitten with a beautiful thief. What in the hands of a less-skilled storyteller could become a cliché (and old man longing for a young woman), in Beagle’s telling becomes a slightly melancholic, humane tale where both characters are allowed to retain their agency.

The collection shifts somewhat after that and what follows are unmistakably stories. This in and of itself is not a judgment on their quality; Trinity County, CA, for example, is a humorous, inventive story that achieves a great effect through its juxtaposition of the mundane realities of being a ranger in remote woodland areas with the fact that the job of the main characters is tracking down people who keep contraband dragons. A similar effect is achieved is Kaskia, in which Beagle makes the realist story of a man in a disintegrating marriage who strikes up an online friendship fresh by the simple fact that his computer connects him with an alien being in a completely different part of the universe.

In fact, most of the pieces, regardless of whether they’re tales or stories, possess a mix of hope and melancholy that is, as far as I can tell, unique to Beagle alone. The characters often regard the world with a curious mixture of hope and cynicism: they are certain that nothing good can happen to them, and yet, despite that, they hope that it will – the same attitude is often displayed by the voice of the narrator as well. The best example of that may be The Green-Eyed Boy and Schmendrick Alone, because they utilise a character we already know very well from The Last Unicorn and create a powerful resonance with each other: in both Schmendrick experiences a tenuous connection with someone, a spark of warmth and companionship, but has to leave it behind when his magic gets wildly out of control. Because it happens twice, the effect compounds, making the reader acutely aware of the desperate loneliness that haunts the character.

This infusion of emotions elevates a lot of the stories in the collection, such as Music, When Soft Voices Die – Beagle’s attempt at steampunk – that reads a lot like a classic ghost story, until the poetic, achingly beautiful reveal of what it is exactly that haunts its protagonists. In fact, the collection seems to stumble precisely when the stories lack the warmth and wisdom – as in The Way It Works Out and All, which seems no more than a demonstration of a fantastical concept, or in Underbridge, which aims at a story of a man pushed to monstrosity by his obsession and alienations (it brought to my mind characters from Edgar Allan Poe’s stories), but feels mean-spirited in a way that struck me as wholly uncharacteristic of Beagle and in effect created a strong dissonance with the rest of the collection.

Unicorns are a recurring motif for Beagle (they feature, in very different versions, in three stories in this collection), so it seems fitting that one appears at the very end. Olfert Dapper’s Day starts as a story (a very good one, although a big part of that might be my predisposition to like stories about conmen) – and then, at some point, with the appearance of the unicorn, the story seems to transform into a tale of a man who, if not exactly bad, was never particularly good, and who suddenly has to use his one true talent – lying – not to serve himself but to save another person. In the end, he loses something, gains something, and I felt that he will never be the same again, although it would be hard to define how exactly was he changed.

This is one of the stories that demonstrate what I love about Beagle best: his characters are often weak and failing, yet all the more heroic when, through chance or grace, they manage to rise to the trials that stand before them. At his best, he opens your heart up and, through his writing, makes you want to speak in poetry. And that’s exactly what happens when you read The Overneath.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

wtorek, 5 września 2017

[EN] The New Voices of Fantasy, anthology

This is not fantasy in the sense of “imaginary adventures in secondary worlds”. This is fantasy in the broader sense of “writing about impossible things”. A lot of the stories in the collection take place in the real world and combine pressing personal/social issues with strange, fantastic occurences. At worst, they are brief flights of fancy or allegories where you think “oh, right, X stands for Y” – but that’s only a handful. At best, they create complex knots of meaning that cannot be reduced to a simple moral, ones that you’ll be able to tease out over many evenings, while feeling them instantaneously on a gut level. The anthology as a whole goes to the very limits of what fantasy can do.

A lot of the stories are award-nominated or -winning, so I feel they merit going through one by one. Here’s what I thought about all of them.

Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers, by Alyssa Wong – a vampire story with a twist: the protagonist feeds on dark, violent impulses and thoughts. She swallows the darkness, but the darkness threatens to swallow her when she feeds on thoughts of a killer. I loved her complexity: she is broken and flawed, and pushes people away, but we learn a lot about what made her be that way. The story has great wordlbuilding, slowly opening to show us a glimpse of a whole society of people (beings?) that are like the main character. With all the darkness, the story never loses its humanity: it’s a very touching tale about the struggle to allow yourself to be loved.

Selkie Stories are for Losers, by Sofia Samatar – this story shares a few elements with the previous one: it is also about the relationship between mothers and daughters, about stuff that screws you up. The protagonist embarks (tentatively) on a new relationship, all the while remembering how her mother, a selkie, abandoned her. The narrative is quite fragmented, woven through with different stories about selkies and the narrator’s thoughts and responses to them – the result is aching, urgent and full of longing and resentment. As much as you wish the protagonist could be healed, you fully understand why she won’t, at least not any time soon. A sweet and quietly heartbreaking story.

Tornado's Siren, by Brooke Bolander – a tornado falls in love with a girl. At first she runs, trying throughout the years to lead a “normal” life, not even realizing how stiffling it is for her. The main idea feels a bit like a clever spin on The Wizard of Oz, and it’s a fascinating concept, but the story suffers in comparison to the previous two stories, as it’s not nearly as complex. And the message ends up being very simple as well: don’t be afraid to lead a different life.

Left the Century to Sit Unmoved, by Sarah Pinsker – there is a pond outside the town. When people jump in, sometimes it swallows them and they never return. People jump in anyway. Much like that pond, the story is simple and unassuming on the outside, but quietly opens onto vast reservoirs of emotion. Accepting loss, feeling young and on the cusp of growing up, being alive. Rather than telling you about all those things, the story makes you feel them, with all of their enormity. One of the best stories in the collection for me, thanks to its sheer evocative power.

A Kiss With Teeth, by Max Gladstone – a vampire leads a quiet, suburban life with his wife (former vampire hunter) and son. He’s feeling dissatisfied with his life, but tries to contain those feelings. Then, when his son struggles at school, he meets one of his teachers and starts to get the cravings. Much as I like the portrait of marriage this story presents in general, the resolution to the protagonist’s issues, and the whole concept of suburban vampire, the relationship between the real-life issues the story portrays and the fantasy elements is quite simple, so this one is not as good as the more thorny and complex stories mentioned earlier.

Jackalope Wives, by Ursula Vernon – the jackalope wives take off their skins and, as beautiful women, dance in the night. A young man tries to steal and destroy the skin of one of them – with disastrous results. Grandma Harken – a brusque, no-nonsense figure – takes it upon herself to fix the resulting mess. The story is steeped in American folklore, at times feeling not unlike American Gods, but deeper, more mysterious. Like it was part of folklore itself, rather than just a post-modern variation on it. Very good and very touching.

The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees, by E. Lily Yu – a story of political turmoil, imperialism and striving towards a utopia. And yes, it really is about wasps and bees. This again feels like a more complex story, without easy correspondences – this is not Animal Farm – but with a lot to say about how the seeds of change might be sown, even when its initiators perish in the process. A tale as glorious as the revolution.

The Practical Witch's Guide to Acquiring Real Estate, by A.C. Wise – exactly what it says on the tin, and not much more. There are several tiny tales, or anecdotes, embedded inside, and I wish there were more of them, because they demonstrate what could have been done with the premise. Other than that, I don’t have much to say about this one.

The Tallest Doll in New York, by Maria Dahvana Headley – on Valentine’s Day, the buildings come alive. This is a sweet, charming story, where everything works as it should. A nice, satisfying breather after the first half of the collection.

The Haunting of Apollo A7LB, by Hannu Rajaniemi – by turns funny and quite touching, this is a story of a haunted space suit that comes to visit a person important to both it and the person who once occupied it. I like the light infusion of racial politics that helped to deepen the story a little.

Here Be Dragons, by Chris Tarry – two wandering conmen pretending to save towns from dragons of their own making return to their families and struggle with settling down. As much as I like stories that deal with masculinity (because it is in crisis and we – by which I mean men, who much too often try to put that burden on the shoulders of feminists as a way of impeding the struggle for women’s rights – should be analyzing it and proposing ways out), this was a bit challenging for me to read, because I like stories where people do manage to change and adapt and become better. This story, while it did a very good job with portraying the narrator’s struggles with his new role as stay-at-home father and homemaker, as well as the temptations that his old lifestyle offered, did not give me that.

The One They Took Before, by Kelly Sandoval – a woman thrown out of Faerie browses Craigslist in search of hints of their presence. This is an affecting story of loss, trauma and addiction. In that last respect it bears passing similarities to Here Be Dragons, while the emotional tone was more like Selkie Stories are for Losers. The contrast between the subtle, wondrous magic of faeries and the mundane realities of internet advertisements worked well, and the portrayal of the protagonist’s struggle no to give in to the allure of her past was very affecting.

Tiger Baby, by JY Yang – a young woman working a boring job dreams of becoming a tiger. Loved the quotes from Blake’s The Tyger woven into the narrative, as well as the evocation of the protagonist’s feelings of disaffectedness and disconnect from her job and family life – as much as I thought the text looks down a little on those who adapt and somehow push on through the dreary realities of life, I felt on a visceral level the main character’s desire to escape in a way that I didn’t in Tornado’s Siren. The ending was surprising and funny, with the protagonist’s wishes coming true, although not quite in the way she expected them to.

The Duck, by Ben Loory – a duck falls in love with a rock. This is a very short story, written in a children’s-book style (and with a similarly simple message) that throws enough weirdness and even genuine pathos into the mix that it doesn’t outstay its welcome, even though it really is quite simple in the end.

Wings, by Amal El-Mohtar – this is Amal El-Mohtar, so of course it’s poetic and extremely well-written, but it didn’t speak to me at all. It seems to me that it was about fleeting moments of instantaneous connection, when the right person (not necessarily in the romantic sense) comes along and you instantly click, but it was too impersonal. We never learned anything about the main character – maybe that was part of the point, as she only ever told her secrets to one person, but in that case, well – I’m not going to feel guilty for not connecting with her. I tried.

The Philosophers, by Adam Ehrlich Sachs – three very short stories about fathers and sons, and philosophers. I love, love, love this sort of thing, which brings to my mind short pieces of Calvino and Borges. In this instance, they are all very well executed, slightly absurdist parables that illuminate some aspects of the themes of the whole, but defy succinct interpretation. My favourite of the three was The Madman’s Time Machine, which plays with the Grandfather Paradox in a very interesting way.

My Time Among the Bridge Blowers, by Eugene Fischer – a pointed satire on “benevolent” colonialism, written as a diary from an expedition a man undertakes to a remote mountain village of the titular Bridge Blowers. He is generally a good person and quite oblivious to the problems of his attitude, and the narrative does a stellar job of portraying the dissonance between how he sees himself and his actions and how he comes across to the villagers. A quietly funny story with a lot to say.

The Husband Stitch, by Carmen Maria Machado – a woman with a ribbon that she never takes off her neck (if you’re into urban legends, you probably know what’s up with that) tells a story of her marriage. A wonderful, sex-positive, bittersweet and scary story that excels at portraying the small horrors of patriarchy, where men (even, as the story explicitly points out, and it’s that insight that makes it brilliant and absolutely soul-shattering, good men) feel entitled to the entirety of a woman’s body and soul. The Husband Stitch was thoughtful and excellently written, and now I am very happy that I have Carmen Maria Machado’s short story collection on pre-order. Also, men should be forcibly made to read that story (and, I don’t know, write a 3,000-word essay on it to demonstrate they understood).

The Pauper Prince and the Eucaliptus Jinn, by Usman T. Malik – a grandfather tells his grandson a story that launches the latter on a search for his legacy and, possibly, the key to metaphysics. This story introduces a huge imbalance into the collection (at over 20,000 words it takes up a quarter of the whole book and qualifies more as a novella than a short story), but I get why the editors wanted to put it in the book. The main character’s (a Pakistani American) struggles with his identity are portrayed in a very affecting way, and the story successfully mixes his personal quest to get to know his family history with the fate of a much larger (though largely unseen *wink wink*) part of the world. Reminiscent of Gaiman and G. Willow Wilson, but very good in its own right.

In short: this is 100% the sort of anthology that you would expect Peter S. Beagle to put together. If you know and love his writing, read it. If you want to broaden your understanding of what fantasy can do, read it.

PS. An overwhelming majority of the stories gathered here have been published first in online magazines (I marked them with an asterisk). That tells you a lot about where to find the best speculative fiction nowadays, I think.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

wtorek, 4 lipca 2017

Musk vs Thiel

Choć ich moc płynęła z jednego źródła, nie mogli bardziej się od siebie różnić. Jeden – jasny, jego żywiołem: światło i boska iskra elektryczności. Drugi ciemny jak Ezaw, czerpiący z krwi i czarnej nauki. Bohater solarny i chtoniczna istota.

Jak doszło do ich starcia? Jeden wyruszył na zewnątrz, niosąc jasność w bezkresną przestrzeń wśród gwiazd, drugi za swoją domenę obrał oceaniczne głębie, które penetrował, budując podwodne miasta. Mogliby nigdy już się nie spotkać, a jednak coś ściągnęło ich z powrotem do siebie; może sama świadomość drugiego drażniła ich umysł jak zadra. Może wiedzieli, że ich wizje nie ziszczą się w pełni, póki istnieć będą wizje przeciwne.

Tak więc stanęli naprzeciw siebie dawni towarzysze, dążący różnymi drogami do przeznaczenia ludzkości. Jeden niesiony słonecznym wiatrem, drugi silny tętniącą w jego żyłach krwią niewinnych.

Obaj za swą dyscyplinę obrali naukę. Powinni byli wiedzieć, co się wydarzy, gdy zderzą się przeciwieństwa.

Cząstka i antycząstka.

Anihilacja.

Zniszczyli siebie nawzajem, a uwolniona energia przetoczyła się przez świat, odmieniając na zawsze jego oblicze. Tak narodziła się obecna epoka, w której  na zawsze odeszła nauka, a jej miejsce zajęła magia.

wtorek, 20 czerwca 2017

Conchita

To wasza wina
mówią chłopcy
w czarnych koszulach
nie dochowaliście czujności
zamieniliście mundury
na cekiny
do roztańczonej Europy już zmierza
car na żelaznym niedźwiedziu

więc spalić tęcze zgolić brody
zdjąć sukienki

niech przejeżdżając
czuje się
jak w domu

wtorek, 11 kwietnia 2017

Pocztówka z Norwich IV

Elm Hill



Ulica-zakładka, liść włożony między kartki. Trzeba chcieć na nią trafić, wiedzieć, w którym miejscu z głównej drogi skręca się w niepozorny zaułek. Koło kościoła kopczyk z okrągłym otworem, tumulus, wejście do faerie. Po prawej, za zakrętem: Elm Hill pełna chylących się ku sobie, tudorskich domów. Piękna jak z obrazka – nic dziwnego, że zagrała w filmie. Tak jak obrazek, dziwnie płaska i jakby zamknięta w szklanej gablocie. Spacerując po niej, można odnieść wrażenie, że to tylko dekoracje, że wystarczyłoby się obrócić, żeby zobaczyć wpatrzone w siebie twarze widzów.  Wszystko jest zaaranżowane, ale trudno sobie wyobrazić, że ktoś pracuje w tutejszych sklepach, dogląda pluszowych niedźwiadków, monet dla numizmatyków, odzieży vintage – że w mieszkaniach powyżej leży wzburzona pościel, gotuje się herbata. Że da się przejść przez malutkie, garbiące się drzwi.

Rozwiązanie tej zagadki kryje się w nazwie. W 1927, kiedy z Elm Hill usuwano slumsy i prowadzono renowacje, holenderska choroba wiązu trafiła na Wyspę. Przetrwały budynki, nie drzewa. Ktokolwiek naprawdę tu mieszkał, odszedł, a my się tylko bawimy. Została ulica-zakładka, liść włożony między kartki.


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Więcej zdjęć z Norwich znajdziecie na moim Instagramie.

wtorek, 4 kwietnia 2017

Whoiku

W ostatni weekend w Krakowie odbyła się druga edycja Whomanikonu – zlotu miłośników Doctora Who. Wśród prelekcji, dyskusji panelowych i szeregu innych atrakcji znalazło się miejsce na wystawę twórczości fanowskiej, na tej zaś wystawie: na kilka moich wierszy.

To w sumie dobra okazja (podobnie jak zbliżający się powrót serialu na antenę), żeby przypomnieć cykl haiku, który napisałem, inspirując się dziewiątym sezonem. Trzynaście wierszy do przeczytania pod linkiem:

http://gallifrey.pl/doktor-haiku-sezon-dziewiaty-w-trzydziestu-dziewieciu-wersach/