My thoughts on “The Poppy War”

My thoughts on “The Poppy War”

“The Poppy War” by R.F. Kuang is a grim dark fantasy with war as a background. But the beginning of the book almost feels like a YA-Harry-Potter type of story. Until it isn’t. It’s definitely not young adult, although we follow a young war-orphan peasant joining a military school and going through all the discoveries and pains of growing up.

Rin, the main character, is goal driven and works hard to achieve what she wants: basically pass the hardest test of the Empire to join a prestigious military academy: Sinegard. She is smart. She is tough. She is focused. She is a quick learner. She becomes one of the few students to follow the path of Lore: an ancient skill that enables a connection with the Gods’ powers. And she is thrown into a merciless ongoing war between two Federations (Nikan and Mugen).

The writing is awesome and there are excellent dialogues between the students and the teachers about war strategy, logic and philosophy. There are references to Buddhism, Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”, meditation, shamans, martial arts. Also, the ugly brutality of war is there. War is not romanticized at all. There are gory descriptions of the aftermath of war. The decisions the characters have to make are not easy, there is no right or wrong, only what needs to be done to cause the less amount of damage.

The war described in the book was strongly influenced by the Second Sino-Japanese War during the Republican era (when Japan invaded China in the 1930s) and specifically the Nanjing Massacre (also known as the Rape of Nanking). It’s ugly. There is no better way of saying it. The third part of the book contains disturbing scenes that work as a reality check into humanity’s war history.

There is a passage when Rin tries to understand War:

“A rational explanation eluded her. Because the answer could not be rational. It was not founded in military strategy. It was not because of a shortage of food rations, or because of the risk of insurgency or backlash. It was, simply, what happened when one race decided the other was insignificant.” ― R.F. Kuang, The Poppy War

The magic being derived from the power of the Pantheon of Gods was an interesting take on fantasy magic systems. It’s hard, drug ingestion is involved in the process and the shaman can’t always control it. It’s like a raw force that is channeled. It seems like all shamans go insane one way or the other.

It’s an excellent dark fantasy-military historical read that defies what is fantasy and what is a hero. Rin is a fleshed out strong character with her flaws, fears and strengths. The narrative is not worried about our pre-established notions of what is a hero. The world building is fascinating. Reality is tough and there are not shortcuts to solve complex problems. Only hard work and difficult choices.

“War doesn’t determine who’s right. War determines who remains.”
― R.F. Kuang, The Poppy War


Book info:

What I read in August 2019

What I read in August 2019

This was definitely a Graphic Novel month with Near-future politics, Grim-dark fantasy and a hint of Time Travel paradoxes.

  1. Infomocracy (The Centenal Cycle, #1) by Malka Ann Older : This one is very social-political with interesting ideas of a different flavor of democracy. More thoughts here.
  2. One Word Kill (Impossible Times, #1) by Mark Lawrence: Time travel and Dungeons and Dragons, what could go wrong? Crazy, fun, and imaginative. How to time travel without creating a paradox? It’s a trilogy, so I’ll definitely grab the next one.
  3. Saga, Vol. 6 (Saga (Collected Editions) #6) by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
  4. Saga, Vol. 7 (Saga (Collected Editions) #7) by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
  5. Saga, Vol. 8 (Saga (Collected Editions) #8) by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
  6. Saga, Vol. 9 (Saga (Collected Editions) #9) by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples: I finished reading this excellent series!!
  7. The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1) by R.F. Kuang: grim dark fantasy with war as a background. But the beginning of the book almost feels like a YA-Harry-Potter type of story. Until it isn’t.

#readinglist #books #reading

Infomocracy by Malka Ann Older and democracy flavors

Infomocracy (The Centenal Cycle, #1)Infomocracy by Malka Ann Older
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one is very social-political with interesting ideas of a different flavor of democracy.

In a near future there are no countries as we have today, but rather groups of 100,000 people that make up a “centenal”. So while walking around you can cross various “centenals” on you path. Each “centenal” has its own political party. The political parties are like global governments, they can rule various centenals at the same time. Every 10 years there is a global election in which citizens choose their centenals governments. The most voted government becomes “The Supermajority”, but I could not understand exactly what is its power or its role in the global decision making process. It seemed a super important position to fight for, tho (maybe I have to read the next book in the series to find out).

Also, there’s “Information”, a large nonprofit organization that controls and vets what information people can access on their handhelds. I couldn’t help but think of Google. What if Google became a non-profit that everybody accepts as the only source of news, navigation maps, encyclopedia, social communication tools? That’s what’s going on here.

So there is espionage, political campaigns, activism and information censorship. Discussions about the elections process, democracy, monopolies, immigration, disinformation control, minorities representation, war, technology.

There is commentary about the Internet and how it transforms into an essential part of everybody’s life. How it is a tool to keep the system running and how it could be used to manipulate and control. Something that is actually disturbingly close to our present situation.

It’s a huge thought experiment on democracy and representation. We follow various characters, each one working for a different political government, or for Information, or just rebels that want to break down the system.

I thought the book was not so action-packed as I would like, but the thought-provoking ideas were worth the read!

View all my reviews

The end of Saga: Vol 09 (for now…)

The end of Saga: Vol 09 (for now…) Saga, Vol. 9 (Saga, #9)Saga, Vol. 9 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Apparently this is the last volume before the authors go on a hiatus. It’s heartbreaking because it doesn’t end anywhere near a happy note. The whole series I’ve known that the world of Saga is cruel and violent. I got the message. After seeing the main characters survive the most horrible situations I was not prepared for this ending. I don’t want to believe. And that’s how good this series is. I care about every character. Even the bad ones. Ok, not all the bad ones.
Hopefully we will see the continuation of the story soon!

View all my reviews

Saga Volume 7

Saga Volume 7

A reunification, someone gets high and have stupid ideas, a longer than expected stopover on a comet-planet settlement and more awesome (meaning pleasantly weird) alien species.
A family still trying to just…survive in a crazy world where appearances and race matter more than it needs to.

This series only gets better and better. Two more to go!

#saga #graphicnovel #reading

Are our brains being hacked?

I ask that because I noticed one day I was working extremely focused. The whole day. My working hours were highly productive. I was in a state of flow. It felt good. And that meant I didn’t check social media. I checked my personal e-mail only 3 times the whole day. It was one of my most productive days in months!

And when I got home in the evening I sat down to read a book. And I just couldn’t focus! I couldn’t get past the first sentence. My mind was searching for something. CRAVING for something. And 15 minutes later of reading the same sentence over and over I realized I wanted to check news. Updates. New information!

It seemed like my brain needed stimulation before doing focussed work again. Does that mean I got addicted to the dopamine release related to the social media usage?
I got my mobile phone and looked at the shiny screen…
…I opened Twitter, but there nothing much there anymore.
…2 minutes later I checked my 2 e-mails accounts. Nothing of importance.
…5 minutes later I checked Whatsapp and Telegram. Read all the messages. Nothing major to reply.
…10 minutes later I opened the Discord app. Read all the messages of the groups I currently participate on. Didn’t need to reply anything. Done.

And then I was good to get back to my book.

There is one good thing happening here: none of the apps that I looked into had an endless timeline. Twitter could potentially have the never ending scrolling feed but I only follow 9 accounts there, so nothing much to see. And so I spent 17 minutes checking my “feeds”, which is not much considering that in the past I used to be sucked into the Facebook feed for hours.

I think I’m making progress…

But I still think my brain is not the same.
Why did I had this urge to check any of those apps?
I felt like a lab rat pulling the lever to get some food.

Weird… I wonder if I will ever get rid of this brain hack.

#socialmedia #addiction