Reviews and Comments

Martin Kopischke

Joined 2 years, 7 months ago

Purveyor of finest boredom since 1969. Lost causes catered for. He / him (they / them is fine, too). English / deutsch / français. (@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

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The Gates of Europe (EBook, 2015, Penguin Books) 4 stars

Located at the western edge of the Eurasian steppe, Ukraine has long been the meeting …

I’m currently watching Timothy Snyder’s Yale class on the history of Ukraine from which I take away two points:

  1. Sheer, overbrimming brilliance and charisma go a loooooong way toward outshining teaching methods that, at my most charitable, I can only call lacklustre (Prof. Snyder beats me in erudition and intellectual potential by a factor that isn’t even funny, but when it comes to teaching, hoo boy, do I have notes).
  2. More to the point, Plokhy’s book is absolutely and avowedly foundational to this brilliant class.

So, humbly standing in a greater mind’s shadow, I can only say: if you only read one history of Ukraine, make it this one.

The Goblin Emperor (Paperback, 2019, REBCA) 4 stars

Maia, the youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, …

The power of kindness

3 stars

I’ve put off reading Addison’s Goblin Emperor a long time; I had heard it was lovely, but also disjointed and inconclusive. It’s taken the book’s inclusion in a list of Becky Chamberesque “novels where people are nice to each other” for me to finally take the plunge, and the only thing I regret is I didn’t do so much earlier.

I can see how people have a hard time adjusting to this novel: the intricate, Elven steampunk world it builds and the high stakes court setting seem to promise things the novel never tries to hold itself to. Instead, we are treated to the story of a young man who, motherless at an early age, despised by his cold and all powerful father who banished him to the shticks at the hands of a violently abusive tutor, finds himself on the throne. Faced with the barely hidden contempt of the …

The Gates of Europe (EBook, 2015, Penguin Books) 4 stars

Located at the western edge of the Eurasian steppe, Ukraine has long been the meeting …


4 stars

Two caveats first: one, A History of Ukraine is a bit of a misnomer; “A political history of Ukrainian state-building“ would be closer to the mark. And two, this is not an academic work, but a very erudite long form essay.

This being said, said essay is compelling once you adjust to its scope, and there can be little doubt on its baseline historical quality considering Plokhy’s academic credentials are above reproach. It makes for excellent reading and does a lot to ground and contextualise the current events, which the book does not predict, but very much explains. If you are fuzzy about that whole “Ukraine” thing, or have been wondering if there is anything to current Russian claims (spoiler: no), this is recommended reading, caveats and all.

The Dawnhounds (EBook, 2022, Saga Press) 3 stars

The port city of Hainak is alive: its buildings, its fashion, even its weapons. But, …

Wow. Just wow.

3 stars

From the flawlessly breathless pacing to the perfect tone, never mind the amazing world building and sheer, overflowing originality of it all, this is one hell of a debut. It’s as clever as Baru Cormorant, but far less conventional; as anarchically powerful as God’s War, but far more polished; as powerfully queer as Gideon, but far more organic.

Do not let my rating system hold you back: this is one unconditional reading recommendation.

Elder Race (EBook, 2021, Tom Doherty Associates) 4 stars

Lynesse is the lowly Fourth Daughter of the queen, and always getting in the way. …

Still labouring with my feelings about Tchaikovsky’s Final Architecture novels, and this one (which works well; hat tip to Soh Kam Yung’s review) makes me suspect the issue is emotional dissociation from the characters and how that works out for the novel in question. Anyway, good read.

Blood and Ruins (EBook, 2021, Penguin Books) 5 stars

Richard Overy sets out in Blood and Ruins to recast the way in which we …

Forget what you thought you knew about the Second World War

5 stars

Overy’s monumental, erudite take on current revisionist historical WW II scholarship repositions a conflict traditionally seen as a mostly Western one (with a Pacific sideshow) as but a part of the long death throes of territorial empire post WW I. The breadth and depth of the book is frankly mind blowing, even if some parts suffer a bit from being visibly based on elder, narrower scholarship (like the chapter on popular resistance, which almost entirely glosses over the South and South East Asian anti-Japanese resistance movements that play such an important role in the book’s opening and closing chapters), and some social science methodical rigour would have helped the more psychological analyses, but these are minor niggles that cannot mar a colossal achievement.

Overy never loses track of the grand picture; his views on race, gender and power in the conflict are unflinchingly clear and modern; and his writing is …

The Kaiju Preservation Society (EBook, 2022, Tom Doherty Associates) 4 stars

Jamie’s dream was to hit the big time at a New York tech start-up. Jamie’s …

Scalzi being Scalzi, in a good way

3 stars

KPS is not, and I say this with absolutely no slight intended, a brooding symphony of a novel. It’s a pop song. It’s meant to be light and catchy, with three minutes of hooks and choruses for you to sing along with, and then you’re done and you go on with your day, hopefully with a smile on your face.

Not much to add to that, really.

commented on Blood and Ruins by Richard Overy

Blood and Ruins (EBook, 2021, Penguin Books) 5 stars

Richard Overy sets out in Blood and Ruins to recast the way in which we …

Small quantities of high explosive bombs were mixed in with the incendiary load to blow in windows and roofs, and to deter the civil defenders. To discourage them further, explosives were fitted to a number of the incendiaries (around 10 per cent of the load) with fuses timed at different intervals. In 1942 small anti-personnel bombs were added to the aircraft bomb loads. The intention was to kill or maim any civil defenders unfortunate enough to be near them.

This is not about Syria or Ukraine today, but about the British bombing campaign of WW II. Chilling.

Escape from Yokai Land (EBook, 2022, Tom Doherty Associates) 3 stars

Regular readers of Charles Stross’s Laundry Files might have noticed Bob Howard’s absence from the …

Kawaii will never be the same again

3 stars

Trust Stross to get a sinister spin on seemingly child appropriate content … this parting shot ()? for the old Laundry Files is no exception, albeit not remotely as squeegorefesty as his spin-offs. If you want to cherish Neko as a picture of Japanese cuteness, stay away; otherwise highly recommended.

finished reading Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett

Monstrous Regiment (2003, Doubleday UK) 5 stars

In the twenty-eighth Discworld novel the Discworld goes to war.It began as a sudden strange …

Finishing this (on re-read, because I have read all of Pratchett’s novels, “as and when they becomes available”, starting around the softcover edition of Equal Rites, and no, I haven’t been logging or reviewing my re-reads, because, a) I might be an unreconstructed old white male, but even that doesn’t make me stupid enough to think I could do Terry Pratchett justice, and b) what’s the point of logging what you don’t review) I was left to wonder how anyone in their right mind would think the author of Monstrous Regiment could have opposed trans* rights. But then I remembered those are TERFs we are talking about, and well, there’s your answer, really.