Tuesday, July 17, 2018

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

A story of a reasonably near future after the sea level has risen. The lower part of New York is covered by sea water, but the more sturdy buildings are still in use. The more poorly constructed structures have mostly been destroyed or are at least in danger of falling down. In spite of all this, the city lives a pretty normal life as a sort of modern-day Venice. There are new technologies: sprayable diamond coatings so on, which help to waterproof buildings and even underwater parts are now been taken into use with these. Life as such largely goes on and the severe financial crises the rise of the water level brought have largely passed. Day trading goes on, the financial institutions work as usual and are greedy as usual, people live their lives, meet at nightclubs, date, fall in love and so on.

The book follows the lives of several people, who at first don’t seem to have anything to do with each other. Slowly there are connections as they meet and even befriend each other. The book starts when two computer nerds decide to do something, as they believe the financial system is unfair and creates too much money basically from nowhere, with great risks, which eventually will fall on the public - as they have always fallen in the previous financial crises. About as soon as they try to do something they disappear. Among the other main protagonists are a day trader, a police chief, and a videoblogger/TV-persona (pretty much the same thing at this time). Eventually, things lead to an attempted, more or less socialistic, peaceful revolution.

A pretty good book with a nice environmental plot. As could be imagined, the book was sometimes slightly preaching. Also, the cardinal fault the author has had in some of his other books was evident here, also. There were too many descriptions even about some fairly trivial points. For example several pages of description of how futures and financial derivatives and day trading involving the value of partially submerged coast areas really glazed my eyes. Also, the author apparently doesn’t know much about diving and needs stops to equalize pressure changes. The plot was enjoyable and satisfying (not very believable though – like those choices would ever be accepted in the US). The characters all were well drawn and interesting. A surprisingly socialistic book to come from the USA.

As a whole book had many more positives than negatives and most likely it is one of my top choices in the Hugo voting.

624 pp.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Astounding Science Fiction, April 1954

A surprisingly good issue for its time.

Fighting Philosopher • [Philosophical Corps] • novelette by Everett B. Cole [as by E. B. Cole]

A new civilization has been found on a planet. It seems pretty barbaric and primitive. Usually, all contact with such worlds has been prohibited, but now a new commander has something else in mind. There are already a few rogues living on the planet illegally. Would it be possible to change the society from the inside? A fairly nice story, but slightly overlong. ***+
Marshmallow World • short story by Joseph Whitehill
An absolute dictator learns that there is a man who got almost absolute power after a scientific experiment. What to do? A very short story, which wasn’t bad at all. ***
Rite of Passage • novelette by Chad Oliver
Most of the crew of a spaceship are killed by a strange disease. As there are no longer enough people to properly fly the ship, they must land on a strange, unknown planet. There appear to be pretty primitive natives on the planet who live in small communities. All communities seem to be on the same technological level. But something seems to be off, and one crew member finds a cigarette on the ground. It is better quality than anything made on Earth, and it is clearly produced in a factory. What is going on? A fairly good story – eventually. The first part was far too long and the description of the death of the crew was completely unnecessary for the main plot. ***
The Thousandth Year • novelette by Robert Abernathy
An alien race has spotted another race near its territory. It has prepared for centuries to intercept a ship that is approaching. Everything is ready for a very demanding capture. The ship is a human ship with few arms and it is bearing colonists to a new world. They are captured and interrogated. As this story is published in Astounding, the humans are the bestest race ever, anywhere, anytime and eventually are able to beat everybody without even really trying. A pretty readable story in spite of that. ***
Age of Retirement • short story by Hal Lynch
A military commander is facing retirement, as he is considered too old to fight, with too many other interests and declining conviction – at 15. A short story, not bad. ***-

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Seppo Jokinen: Lyöty mies

Kokoelma Komisario Koskinen novelleja. Vaihtelu tarinoiden välillä oli suurta, osa kertomuksista oli oikein hyviä, osa taas – etenkin sellaiset joissa Koskista itseään ei edes ollut – olivat varsin vaatimattomia, etenkin tarina luuserista jonka avopuoliso pistää ”ulkoruokintaan” ja joka lopulta palaa takaisin kotiin ja myös tulee otettua takaisin jätti hiukan kummastelevan tunteen. Tuskin olisi jonkin tuntemattoman kirjoittamana missään julkaistu. Parhaita tarinoita ovat ehkä niminovelli, ”Lyöty mies” sekä ”Naistenpäivä” joka kertoo naisesta, joka vangitsee entisen opettajansa, jonka kokeen kiusanneen häntä kouluaikoina. Läpimenevänä tarinana novelleissa on Koskisen naisystävän, Linnean sairastaminen ja hänen vointisan vähittäinen hiipuminen.

A collection of crime short stories from Tampere, my hometown. Some pretty good, some less so.
336 s

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Provenance by Ann Leckie

This is a book that happens in the same world as the award-winning trilogy and supposedly at the same time or soon after. An adopted daughter of an important political figure tries to impress her mother and manages to get a family member released from “compassionate removal”, a sort of lifetime prison/banishment. This isn’t supposed to be possible.

This requires her to use all of her assets and if everything doesn’t go right she will be heavily in debt for years to come. Everything doesn’t go smoothly, as the released man looks a lot like the person she was supposed to release, but he denies this and says he is a forger who used to forge vestiges, historical memorabilia which are of an extremely valuable and expensive.. They are an important part of the society and might be very commonplace objects which were around close to important people or events in history. The man who she was supposed to be rescuing had, allegedly, stolen an immeasurably valuable cache of such objects. As the original plan didn’t work, they decide to try some sort of scam to retrieve at least some of the money she invested. But there are complications. The ship they booked passage on might have been stolen from aliens and, when they get home, an important official is murdered. They endlessly discuss motives, political allegiances, who did what, and when, while enjoying a hot tea-like drink, which is supposed to be an acquired taste. The book is well-written and the start was excellent, but then it turned almost completely to civilized discussions and was, for a large part, pretty boring reading. There were some short episodes of action, and the main character was fairly interesting, but as a whole, the book was a disappointment and not as good as the award-winning trilogy. There was some amusing play on pronouns, and “e”, “em”, “eir” were used when the sex of the person was not important or was ambiguous. As someone whose native language doesn’t have any sort of grammatical gender of differences between he and she, I did not find this very creative. And it would be impossible to translate to Finnish anyway. Another thing which was strange was the emphasis given on the last half for the main character's hair-pins. They are mentioned probably about a dozen times. I was waiting they would have some significance, but no.
This book won’t be among my top choices.

448 pp.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Seppo Jokinen: Suurta pahaa

One of the earlier installments of a crime series which takes place in my hometown. This time, the police try to find a man who is unremarkable and ordinary, with no connections to criminals. He has disappeared and soon a severed finger with man’s ring is found at a local library. Clearly a below average installment in the series: the crime was very unbelievable and the writing isn’t as good as in some of the later parts.

Aika varhainen komisario Koskinen -kirja.
Tavallinen perheenisä on kadonnut ja aluksi poliisit olettavat, että mies on vain eksynyt hiukan kyseenalaisille harharetkille eikä uskalla tulla kotiin vaimon luokse, mutta sitten kirjastotalo Metsosta löytyy miehen irtileikattu sormi. Sormessa on kadonneen miehen sormus. Pian löytyy hautausmaalta keskeneräisestä haudasta päätön ruumis, jolla on kadonneen miehen vaatteet päällään. Kummallisemmiksi asiat muuttuvat, kun osoittautuu, että löytynyt ruumis ei kuulu kadonneelle henkilölle, vaan on jonkun muun. Ilman päätä ja sormenjäljet tuhottuna ruumiin tunnistaminen ei ole helppoa, eikä ketään sopivaa henkilöä edes ole ilmoitettu kadoksissa olevaksi.

Koskisen yksityiselämäkin on monimutkaista, tässä vaiheessa sarjaa Koskinen oli toisaalta hiukan virittelemässä uudelleen suhdettaan ex-vaimoonsa, mutta toisaalta ihan työyhteyksienkin kautta miehestä oli useampi nainen kiinnostunut.

Kirja oli selkeästi sarjassaan keskitason alapuolella. Rikos on epäuskottava ja se ratkeaa osittain sattumien kautta. Ihmissuhde”säätökin” henkilöiden välillä on jotenkin epäuskottavan tuntuista. Kielellisestikään ei ole ihan samalla tasolla kuin sarjan myöhemmät kirjat, mutta oli viihdyttävä välipala kuitenkin..

312 s

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 (Tor.com, 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 (Tor.com, 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 (Tor.com, February 15, 2017)
6. “Children of Thorns, Children of Water,” by Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny, July-August 2017)