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Martin Kopischke

Joined 9 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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Martin Kopischke's books

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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.

reviewed Dawnhounds by Sascha Stronach

Dawnhounds (2022, Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers) 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.

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) 3 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.

Escape from Yokai Land (2022, Doherty Associates, LLC, Tom) 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.

reviewed Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

Dune Messiah (EBook, 2019, Gollancz) 2 stars

Dune Messiah continues the story of Paul Atreides, better known – and feared – as …

This could have been good

2 stars

Oof”, that was all I could think of on finishing this. Having failed to muster the interest to do this 35 years or so ago, I have, post-movie, finally caved to the fan recommendations that one “must simply” read this and the next two, at the very least.

What shall I say? 35 years ago me was right on gut judgment and the assessment of entertainment value. Herbert might have intended the Dune cycle to be a meditation on power and Messianic figures from the start, or he might simply have known a good thing when he saw it and milked the success of the first book, but there is a reason why Dune the book is an absolute classic, and Dune the series is for fanpeople* only. The writing is good and moody, but the whole thing is strung out far beyond what the flimsy structure is …

Sharp ends (2016) 3 stars

The Union army may be full of bastards, but there's only one who thinks he …

Short Abercrombie is the best Abercrombie

3 stars

This collection of short to very short stories ties directly into the First Law universe. As a complement to the main arcs, they are an unmitigated good read, highlighting Abercrombie’s strengths (compelling characters and a master’s sense for a scene’s mood) without giving him the room to play to his favourite weaknesses (cynicism and crypto-antisemitic conspiracy threads). On their own, they will probably not do much for you.

Quantum of Nightmares (2022, Doherty Associates, LLC, Tom) 3 stars

It’s a brave new Britain under the New Management. The avuncular Prime Minister is an …

A whimsical gorefest

3 stars

Stross has commented in the past that the post-Brexit UK’s trajectory has a tendency to make his Laundry Files parallel universe far less outrageously “out there” than he intended. The spin-off New Management series, of which this is the second instalment, has thus dialed things up quite a bit, with the government taken over by a Lovecraftian Elder God who is slowly turning the UK into a hybrid of late capitalist dystopia and a very bloody occult domain.

All this to say: this is not for the faint of heart. As an introduction to the Laundry Files, New Management is not recommended, and this volume isn’t recommended as a starting point for the latter either. The goriness, ever lurking around in the series, attains new heights. At the same time, the characters are engaging as ever, the pacing and storytelling tight, the world-building superb, and there is an unexpected …

When the Tiger Came down the Mountain (EBook, 2020, Doherty Associates, LLC, Tom) 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 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, Tom Doherty Associates) 3 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 …