Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

A biography of sorts of Henrietta Lax, a poor black woman whose cervical cancer cells turned out to be immortal. That cell line has since been used as one of the most common cultivated human cell lines used for scientific research. The book examines first Henrietta’s life, and later her descendants' lives alternating with chapters which tell more about the cells itself. Not very much is known about Henrietta herself, as she died fairly young and had a fairly unremarkable life, so the book concentrates more on her relatives.
The parts which dealt with the cells were very interesting - a pity there weren’t more of those. There were many things I didn't know, like the fact the HeLa cells are so resilient that at one time they had contaminated most of the available human cell lines.
Unfortunately, the family of Henrietta wasn’t very interesting - pretty normal, uneducated folks. So uneducated that I wonder how bad the schools in the US really are in the poor parts of the country? Also, they were pretty irritating, and the late part of the book, which deals mostly with them, was almost unreadably dull. Also, the way the author inserted herself in the book was totally unnecessary, a major part of the book tells about the author researching the book. Who cares? A more rational and detached approach would have been much better. As a whole, the book was pretty average and a pretty big disappointment from what I was expecting.

381 pp.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

My Hugo award votes 2018 part 2: short stories

The short stories were also excellent and it was not easy to find the voting order. Once again I started from the last and the second to last stories, which were fairly easy to decide. After that, the order of the stories could almost be totally interchangeable. All stories were well written and most of them were entertaining and good reads.

“Carnival Nine.” by Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2017)

A wind-up “toy” who lives in a world filled with other wind-up toys (the spring is wound by the “maker” every night). Sometimes the spring is wound tightly and more can be accomplished in a single day, sometimes it is wound lightly and it isn’t possible to move far from home. Zee usually has a lot of turns, but when she and her lover build a new “toy”, the “child” has just a few and is severely “handicapped” because of that. The story is well written and examines the burden of the parents who have special needs children, a bit too obvious an allegory. The ending of the story is sad but a little too soft, like a spring which loses its tension for the last time.

“Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand.” by Fran Wilde (Uncanny, September 2017)
A tour of a museum filled with rooms with strange curiosities, starting with “A Hallway of Things People Have Swallowed” and following in the same vein. The writing is fine, but I don't get the point of the story at all. There are most likely some subtle allegories going on here, but I can’t gather enough interest to think about them.

“Fandom for Robots.” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Uncanny, September/October 2017)
An old robot who is in a museum (and is the only self-aware robot ever) starts to watch an anime series and becomes a fan – then takes part in the fan scene, writes fan-fiction and takes part in discussions. A light-hearted and fun story.

“The Martian Obelisk.” by Linda Nagata (, July 19, 2017)
Everything has gone wrong and the people of Earth have mainly given up hope. A billionaire and a first-class architect are building an obelisk to Mars on an abandoned colony site, using remote building technologies. The obelisk is supposed to last millennia and to serve as a tombstone of sorts for humanity. There has been a real colony on Mars, but it hasn’t had any radio contact for years and it is supposed to be lost. But now a vehicle is closing in on the obelisk. A very good and moving story, well written and offering small glimmers of hope.

“Sun, Moon, Dust.” by Ursula Vernon, (Uncanny, May/June 2017)
A farmer gets a magic sword as a gift from his dying grandmother. The sword contains three mighty warriors which can be summoned when needed. They could teach him swordplay and other military arts so that he would become an unbeatable conquering warrior. But he has so much farming to do and so little interest in fighting. A very nice, warmly amusing, and well-written story.

“Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™.” by Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex, August 2017)
A man who plays an Indian in some sort of virtual reality adventure meets a man, Wolf, who doesn’t join the “dream quest” as he is supposed to, but wants to meet him in real life. The men meet, befriend, drink and talk together until the Wolf starts to take over the life of the protagonist. But who is who in the end? The writing is fairly good, but the point of the story remains a bit unclear.

My voting order will be:

1. "Sun, Moon, Dust.” by Ursula Vernon
2. “Carnival Nine.” by Caroline M. Yoachim
3. “Fandom for Robots.” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad
4. “The Martian Obelisk.” by Linda Nagata
5. “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™.” by Rebecca Roanhorse
6. “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand.” by Fran Wilde

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

My Hugo award votes 2018 part 1: novelettes

This was the first category I finished this year.
All of the nominated novelettes were very nice and almost all of them could be award-worthy. As I was deciding on the voting order, I had to use a reverse strategy: which story did I like least? Even so, the order of the first three stories was very hard to decide - I considered them all to be practically as good and satisfying. There were no puppy nominees this year in this category – or in fact in any category.

“Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time,” by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny, May/June 2017)
A female to male transsexual who is in middle of treatments is bitten by a vampire. Vampires in this world have come out and drink their blood from blood bags gotten from blood banks. It is forbidden for them to bite unwilling humans, but sometimes the temptation is too great. The victim will most likely die if she/he isn’t turned into a vampire. But the sex change treatment doesn’t go too well, with being changed into a vampire. A pretty good story, with perhaps a tad too much very explicit sex; the writing was very good.

“Children of Thorns, Children of Water,” by Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny, July-August 2017)

When I started to read this story, I thought it belonged to the series where the descendants of Imperial China ruled space. There were mentions of “houses” like in those stories. I was slightly surprised when there suddenly was magic, alchemy, and dragons. This belongs to another series that I am unfamiliar with. It was pretty hard to get into, as the backstory wasn’t familiar at all. There was some kind of test, which the protagonists were supposed to take. I haven’t been the greatest fan of this author, and this story didn’t change that. I found the story overlong, well, but too heavily, written, and fairly boring.

“Extracurricular Activities,” by Yoon Ha Lee (, February 15, 2017)
A ship has been captured by enemy forces. A very skilled military commander must go undercover the retrieve the crew which is led by his old friend. He has some problems with the relaxed life of the undercover agents, but eventually, he accomplishes what he set out to do. A fairly simple adventure, in which it isn’t easy to say which side was “the better guys.” The main character, who apparently was meant to be sympathetic, was fairly irritating. I was expecting that he would eventually have been made to look like a fool, but unfortunately, I had to be disappointed. There were some structural problems; for example, there was a totally unnecessary flashback which stopped the flow of the story, but otherwise, the writing was well done.

“The Secret Life of Bots,” by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, September 2017)

A bot wakes up. Apparently, it has been a very long time since the last time he was awakened. There appears to be an extremely long queue of things that should be done, but the Ship has one thing for him to do: to hunt an incidental, a pest which is roaming on the ship. It turns out that humans are fighting against aliens and losing. Their ship is the last human ship, pulled from a scrap heap, and readying for the final battle. A nice story about a brave and extremely smart bot. One very stupid mistake, though. Nitrogen ice is several hundred Kelvins too warm for the intended purpose? Not possible. NOTHING is “several hundred Kelvins colder” than nitrogen ice.

“Wind Will Rove,” by Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s, September/October 2017)
A teacher who lives on a generation ship loves music; she plays old songs and keeps them in memory for her own part. The ship has lost all of its archives some decades into its journey, and people have recreated what they have been able to from memory - plays, music, books and even movies. Some of the younger generation doesn’t really see why the old things from Earth should be studied in school or even preserved. A well written, wistful story, but the main premise is too stupid to believe. A generation spaceship that stores all of its important archives to a volatile memory!? Who would be idiotic enough to plan things like that?

“A Series of Steaks,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld, January 2017)
A woman lives more or less underground, after she has some disagreements with some very shady individuals. She is a forger; she forges foods using a bioprinter and selling them as real. A well designed bioprinted food is practically indistinguishable from the real thing, but it is a lot less prestigious and cheaper. Then, she gets an offer that she is not allowed to refuse: a large number of prime cut steaks for an important dinner; more than her apparatus is really capable of. Another good, amusingly told story with a nice revenge twist at the end.

My voting order will be:

1. “The Secret Life of Bots,” by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, September 2017)
2. “A Series of Steaks,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld, January 2017)
3. “Wind Will Rove,” by Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s, September/October 2017)
4. “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time,” by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny, May/June 2017)
5. “Extracurricular Activities,” by Yoon Ha Lee (, February 15, 2017)
6. “Children of Thorns, Children of Water,” by Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny, July-August 2017)

Monday, May 28, 2018

Reijo Mäki: Valkovenäläinen (Vares #20)

A fast-moving and smooth-talking detective story, in which a private eye, who lives at Turku tries to find out who killed his acquaintance, a local, fairly famous author of detective stories. One of the better ones in the series.

vares tutkii tällä kertaa turkulaisen kohtalaista kuuluisuutta saavuttaneen salapoliisiromaaneja kirjoittaneen kirjailijan Juhani Oxbackan kuolemaa. Häntä oli lyöty jollain kovalla esineellä päähän ja pudotettu Aurajokeen ja vain sattumalta ruumis löytyi ennen merelle joutumista. Kuka oli syyllinen ja liittyykö kirjailijan taannoinen Venäjän matka asiaan? Hän oli ollut matkan jälkeen jotenkin järkyttynyt ja oli kestänyt pitkään ennen kuin pääsi takaisin osapuilleen entiselleen ja kirjoittamisen kanssa on ollut edelleen hankaluuksia.

Tarinassa riittää monenlaista mutkaa ruumiinryöstöön asti. Paremman pään kirjoja sarjassaan ja vaikka mukana oli useita todella suuria sattumia, niin tällä kertaa Vares jopa ihan itse ratkaisi rikoksen, eikä vastaus tipahtanut suoraan häneen syliinsä jonkin kummallisen yhteensattuman jälkeen. Kielellisesti kirja on tuttua hupaisaa sanailua.

Pikkuisen kyllä ihmetyttää miksi muistikortteja pitää Venäjältä niin hankalasti salakuljettaa - taitaa todennäköisyys sille, että jotain yksittäistä muistikorttia tullissa alettaisiin tutkia olla aika tasan nolla. Menemättä nyt siihen, että tiedonsiirto kryptattuna netin kautta olisi ollut vielä varmempaa.

480 s.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Liza Marklund: Rautaveri (Järnblod/The Final Word)

The last of the series tells about a Swedish journalist who specializes in crime reporting. One of the better parts of the series, which cleverly returns to the beginning, was when Annika returns to her hometown and she also returns to the first murder she was reporting.

Tätä kirjaa en varsinaisesti lukenut, vaan se on kuunneltu äänikirjana automatkoilla. Viimeinen osa Annika Bengtsönistä kertovaa sarjaa ja on sille pätevä lopetus.

Kirja palaa osittain sarjan alkuun, mutta samalla kuvaa useita juonia rinnakkain. Annika alkaa tutkia uudelleen ensimmäistä murhaa, josta hän raportoi. Nämä tapahtumat kuvattiin kirjassa Studio Sex ja samalla hänen traagiset nuoruudenkokemuksensa ovat alkaneet vaikuttaa häneen entistä enemmän. Hän käy psykologilla juttelemassa kokemuksistaan saamiensa paniikkikohtauksien vuoksi. Lehti, jossa Annika on ollut töissä oikeastaan koko kirjasarjan ajan, aiotaan lopettaa - tai ainakin sen paperiversion julkaiseminen on tarkoitus lopettaa lähitulevaisuudessa. Viimeisimmissä kirjoissa lähes toiseksi päähenkilöksi kohonnut poliisi Nina Hoffman viimeistelee edellisessä kirjassa vangitun murhaajan tutkintaa. DNA-näyttö syyllisyydestä on lähes (mutta ei täysin) aukoton, mutta epäillyn olisi ollut erittäin vaikeaa päästä murhapaikalle ajoissa. Kaatuuko tuomio tähän? Kaiken muun lisäksi Annikan sisar näyttää olevan kadonnut, vai onko hän paennut puolisoaan?

Kirjan useat eri juonikuviot punoutuvat lopulta yllättävänkin hyvin toisiinsa. Kyseessä on selkeästi sarjansa paremman pään kirjoja, muutaman loppupään heikomman teoksen jälkeen. Kirjassa mennään syvemmälle Annikan elämään ja ajatuksiin kuin aikaisemmissa teoksissa - ja samalla palataan alkuun ja Annikan lapsuuden ja nuoruuden maisemiin mielenkiintoisella tavalla. Aikaisemmin olin melkein sitä mieltä, että sarja ei todellakaan jatkoa enää kaipaa, ja tämän viimeisen kirjan tulisin lukemaan vain täydellisyyden vuoksi, mutta nyt tämän kirjan jälkeen ei mahdollinen uusi kirja varmasti lukematta jäisi.

333 s.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Sujata Massey: Rei Shimuran ensimmäinen tapaus (Salaryman's Wife)

Sarjansa ensimmäinen osa. Englantia Japanissa opettava Rei Shimura on käyttämässä melko vähäistä vapaa-aikaansa ja vielä vähäisempiä rahojaan uuden vuoden lomaan majatalossa maaseudulla. Majataloon on kokoontunut erilaisia ihmisiä, mm. amerikkalainen rouva, teollisuuspomo puolisonsa kanssa ja heidän avustajansa, brittiläinen varsin kiinnostavan oloinen lakimies. Viikonlopun aikana teollisuuspomon puoliso kuolee. Kuolemaa epäillään ensin tapaturmaksi, mutta Ray alkaa epäillä murhaa ja lopulta poliisitkin ovat samaa mieltä, tosin alkavat epäillä lakimiestä, johon Rei on jo vähän ehtinyt ihastua. Mutta kuka oikeasti on murhaaja? Oliko naisella jotain salattavaa?
Ray alkaa selvittämään murhatun naisen taustaa ja sieltä vähitellen selviää kaikenlaista joka ehkä voi olla murhan syynä.

Kirjan on hiukan liian pitkä - nopeamminkin ja vähemmillä keskusteluilla tämän tarinan olisi kyllä voinut kertoa. Itsellä oli jo varsin varhaisessa vaiheessa varsin vahvat epäily murhaajasta - tosin motiivi puuttui vielä siinä vaiheessa. Kirja oli aika selvän tuntuisesti kirjoitettu naislukijoita ajatellen, siinä määrin se sisälsi komean miehen perään kuolailua ja tarkkoja kuvailuja kauniista vaatteista ja menee mieslukijalle ehkä aavistuksen liikaa chicklitin puolelle. Kirjassa myös hiukan liikaa seliteltiin japanilaisen kulttuuriin tiettyjä piirteitä ärsyttävyyteen asti. Joo - kyllä se, mistä salaryman-sana tulee on kuultu ja luettu monen monituista kertaa, ei kai sellaista tarvitse rautalangasta vääntäen selittää? Saa nähdä tuleeko seuraaviin osiin tartuttua.

Rei Shimura tries to find out who murdered the wife of a Japanese businessman. A bit too talky, too long and too chicklit for me, but readable in spite of all that. Irritatingly explains very carefully some pretty obvious aspects of Japanese culture. It feels like the author talks down to the reader.

433 s.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, May-June 2018

A fairly nice issue.

The Last Biker Gang • novella by Wil McCarthy
An elderly man in his eighties is in tolerable physical condition due to new treatments. His wife has had dementia for 10 years. She has been cured by a breakthrough. When she comes to her senses, she leaves him. With poor relations with his sons, he feels very useless. He starts to repair his old Harley and eventually becomes a member of a bike gang of eighty-year-olds picking fights and boozing. Seems like a fun story, but it isn’t. It’s tragic, moving, and a very well written tale of a man who isn’t able to feel a part of changed society. Perhaps he has never really been able to be part of society. ****-
Hubpoint of No Return • [The Hub Gates] • novelette by Christopher L. Bennett
Continues a story where an eager young man works on a “hub” which enables instant travel between different points in the galaxy. The downside is that there isn’t a way to predict where a certain movement vector will lead without trying it out. He is trying to find a way to change that and has bought a fish-like biological computer to help him in his calculations when a cat-like alien steals the fish. And then he finds himself kidnapped by space pirates. A pretty fun story with a lot of fast talking. ***½
Finding Their Footing • short story by Marissa Lingen
A divorced mother with her children is on the way from the Oort cloud to Callisto. They use their savings to have a little adventure and go to see the ice volcanoes of Triton. There is a problem on the ship and their ticket is canceled. Should they use the rest of their savings to change the booking and go for the adventure? Of course they do. Nice story, in spite of totally irresponsible and stupid behavior. ***+
Finding Their Footing • short story by Marissa Lingen
A colony planet is inhabited by humans and green aliens. One time when the parents are at the market an alien comes to visit a farm with a strange basket. A short, nice and heartwarming story.***+
Two Point Oh • short story by Robert Reed
A shady person (a criminal mastermind?) is hired for a job as he is known to be able to “persuade” people to do almost anything. He is paid very well, and his employer is apparently one of the aliens who live in the mountains of Bolivia. A pretty good story, but I just wonder if it is a part of some series, as there seemed to be little to no backstory and at first it wasn’t easy to figure what was going on, and who the main character was. ***+
The Willing Body, the Reluctant Heart • short story by Marie Vibbert
An alien seeks out a lung, a brain and a heart (they apparently are separate things who live in symbiosis) to meet strange creatures, humans. A short story with poetic language. ***
While You Sleep, Computer Mice™ Earn Their Keep • short story by Buzz Dixon
Mice (mice – or rats? The story first calls them mice but for some reason switches to rats at the end) with a computer chip implanted in their brains take care of household chores. They encounter a problem, but solve it with cool efficiency. A short, lightly-told story. ***
My Base Pair • short story by Sam J. Miller
Cloned celebrity sperm is readily available on the black market. Children born that way have limited rights and mostly live undercover. A man who has worked for law enforcement tracking illegal DNA suppliers tries to find a childhood friend and lover who ran away as a youngster and is the “child” of a celebrity. A pretty nice story which is well written. ***+
A Borrow for the Living • short story by Alison Wilgus
A few women who comprise the first expedition to Mars struggle after apparently having several accidents. A supply drop lands some distance away. They must get to it. A short scene-like story without much background. Good as such, but just a short glimpse of the whole story. ***-
Shooting Grouse • short story by Ian Creasey
Environmentalists use holograms to prevent grouse-hunting. A pretty well-told story which doesn’t describe the hunters as totally evil. ***
Mission Accomplished • short story by Stephen L. Burns
Political prisoners in fairly near future US work in a run-down satellite defense faculty shooting down satellites (as they are about the only ones capable of working with computers that demand scientific k-knowledge). A good story, an unfortunately too-realistic glimpse of the future. ***½

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

The first Hugo-nominee novel that I've read knowing it is a nominated work. I have already read two novels from the ballot before. The story happens in a world where cloning is commonplace and it is used to extend life. One’s mind can be recorded, and in case of death, a new adult clone body can be easily grown and the recorded personality can be uploaded to it. There are strict regulations concerning cloning, almost all modifications are forbidden and only one copy of the same person is allowed to be alive at one time. There is a very illegal underground for these modifications, even the personality can be edited if desired.

Six people awake in a spaceship in new clone bodies. The gravity is off, and there appear to be multiple dead bodies floating around, all apparently brutally stabbed. When the newly awaken clones are able to break out of their cloning vats, they notice that the dead bodies are theirs. And apparently, it has been twenty years since they left for their several-decades-long trip to another solar system. They have no recollection at all of that time. The clones have been uploaded with a very old memory recording, which was done when they started their trip. And the ship seems to be following a new course. What has happened?

The setup is very good, but the book has a few problems - both in points of plot and in the point of writing. The characters are not supposed to know what has happened for twenty years, but they have intense suspicion of each other. Even if one of them is a murderer, he/she wouldn't know it, and the personality which is twenty years younger wouldn't essentially even be exactly the same anyway as the one who committed the murders. Why such strong suspicions? There was one, apparently fairly unimportant point, which was brought to readers' attention many times - so many times that it was very clear that this would have some special meaning later in the book. Perhaps one or two mentions, at most, would have been enough, especially when the point was so stupid and contrived (the food synthesizer is able to analyze from a saliva sample, what the food preferences of a person is - and one character (who has lost the memory of the last twenty years) is totally sure that she has a backup file of those preferences. Well, I really don’t believe that a genetic profile would explain one's food preferences: the favorite foods of identical twins, when one lived his childhood India eating curries and another in Germany eating pork chops and sauerkraut certainly wouldn't have been the same tastes. And wouldn’t it easier to choose foods from a menu anyway? That capability is mentioned at least three or four times; pretty clumsy foreshadowing. The food synthesizer is also able to synthesize _anything_, up to living tissue, but capsaicin (actually a fairly simple molecule) is hard to synthesize and the synthesizer really doesn’t manage THAT? Also, the author seems to imagine that spinning in space takes energy. The ship spins for gravity. After a power failure, the spinning starts to slow down, but doesn’t stop right away due to “inertia”? And candles readily available? In a spaceship? And in exactly the same place as twenty years ago? The ending of the book almost felt like a cheat; everything folded up nicely, thanks to miraculous technology which really wasn’t convincing. The book was a nice pastime, but the faults were also clear, and it won’t be among my top choices in the voting.

364 pp.