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:

Too many windows open and too much clutter

I started reading Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig and it is full of good stuff like this:

“I sometimes feel like my head is a computer with too many windows open. Too much clutter on the desktop. There is a metaphorical spinning rainbow wheel inside me. Disabling me. And if only I could find a way to switch off some of the frames, if only I could drag some of the clutter into the trash, then I would be fine. But which frame would I choose, when they all seem so essential? How can I stop my mind being overloaded when the world is overloaded? We can think about anything. And so it makes sense that we end up thinking about everything. We might have to, sometimes, be brave enough to switch the screens off in order to switch ourselves back on. To disconnect in order to reconnect.”
― Matt Haig, Notes on a Nervous Planet

via @goodreads

#books #quote #overload #reconnect

The amount of snow is the same

The amount of snow is the same

It’s that time of the year (middle of winter in the northern hemisphere) when I start to hear lots and lots of people complaining about winter. They say: “It’s too long, it’s too cold, it’s too much snow, it’s horrible.”

So here’s a message to leave those negative feelings behind:

“If you choose not to enjoy snow, you will have less joy in your life, but the same amount of snow.”

So, let’s choose to enjoy!

#winter #quote

Wealth of information creates poverty of attention

The other day I was watching this TED talk on “Mindfulness, Technology and Attention Activism” by Jay Vidyarthi and he mentions this quote from Herbert A. Simon back in the 60’/70’s.

Simon, a Nobel prize winner, was onto something here and I wonder what he would say about the world today… 🤔

“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”
Simon, H. A. (1971) “Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World” in: Martin Greenberger, Computers, Communication, and the Public Interest, Baltimore. MD: The Johns Hopkins Press. pp. 40–41.

#attention #quote

Robots and compulsory labor

In the introduction of his novel “The Naked Sun” Isaac Asimov wrote about the origins of the word “Robot”, which is very  interesting:

“Mechanical human beings are to be found in ancient and medieval myths and legends, and the word “robot” originally appeared in Karl Capek’s play R.U.R., which was first staged in 1921 in Czechoslovakia, but was soon translated into many languages. R.U.R. stands for “Rossum’s Universal Robots.” Rossum, an English industrialist, produced artificial human beings designed to do the labor of the world and to free humanity for a life of creative leisure. (The word “robot” is from a Czech word meaning “compulsory labor.”) Though Rossum meant well, it didn’t work out as he planned: the robots rebelled, and the human species was destroyed.”

Isaac Asimov, The Naked Sun, pg. 4, loc. 60-64. Kindle Edition

Robot Rebellion scene from R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) 1928-1929

Source: Computer History Museum