Thursday, January 28, 2016

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, March 2016

An average issue. Something good, something average, mostly readable stories.

The Coward's Option • [Andrea Cort] • novella by Adam-Troy Castro
This story continues an earlier series. A legal investigator, who specializes in relations and cases between aliens and humans, is called to audit a case where a human has killed an alien in the course of a robbery. The sentence for murder on the planet is death by slow crushing, lasting days or even weeks. There is no question of guilt. Is there anything which can be done to alleviate the sentence? It turns out that there is an option: something for total cowards or people who have some absolute commitments in their life who cannot face the death sentence. Would that opinion be possible? It turns out it could - but it could have severe repercussions for human society. A pretty good part of the series - readable, even exciting and thought provoking. ****-
Unlinkage • novelette by Eric Del Carlo
Some sort of modification has been used to create super soldiers who are “Hulk-sized” or larger. Unfortunately, the treatment renders the soldiers mental capacity to “angry-Hulk” level as well. To overcome this, “ordinary” soldiers use a sort of mental link to control the Brutes. One such controller, who after the military lives a pretty sedate life as a mother, finds that her mind link starts to work again - even when the recipient was killed in action years ago, and the link is very specific; it functions only between certain individuals. Ok story, not bad but bit slow in places. ***+
Elderjoy • shortstory by Gregory Benford
Everyone has an implanted monitor which monitors their heart rate and sends a bill when people have sex. The fee is higher for elderly, ostensibly for health reasons. (no logic there...). A horny elderly couple finds a way to beat the charges. A short story which is mildly amusingly. ***+
The Perfect Bracket • shortstory by Art Holcomb and Howard V. Hendrix [as by Howard Hendrix and Art Holcomb ]
A man has correctly predicted the outcome of 63 basketball games and has won a billion dollars. (I wonder what kind of betting agency would offer such a wager - and what is even more important - would be able to PAY it to the winner.) But there is someone who wants to find out how the deed was done, and suspects that he knows the answer: time travel. However, there is another way to accomplish the perfect betting score (which I guessed). Ok story but with some pretty confusing and clumsy parts, I didn’t really understand why the crowd got so angry at the end. ***-
Snowbird • shortstory by Joe M. McDermott
RV cars which are equipped with AI automatic drive start to converge on a remote farm. The drivers cannot be seen and when local police gets the necessary warrants to go inside, the occupant in the first car is found to be dead for a long time. Why are the cars coming with the drivers? A pretty strange story, which is not very logical. ***-
Drummer • novelette by Thomas R. Dulski
A traveling salesman goes from a solar system to another trying to sell power systems. He encounters another salesman who tries to sell longevity drugs with poor success. He later meets him again when he tries to peddle religion - once more with mediocre results. Years later, he meets the same man for the last time - under pretty unusual circumstances. The writing itself was pretty nice but otherwise an overly long and disjointed story. ***

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Just City (Just City 1) by Jo Walton

The Greek gods Apollo and Athene want to see how Plato’s Republic would work. They bring on the island of Thera (which will be completely destroyed in volcanic eruption removing any changes to the real timeline) 10,000 ten-year-old children, who are bought from the slave traders during several centuries and adult supervisors (who at some time have prayed for Plato’s Republic being real) through history – many of them women who haven’t been able to be what they want at their own time. The children are then brought up using the teachings of Plato as a guide. The city is filled with real artwork which has been rescued from fires and disasters during the whole human history and its library is lifted from Alexandria just before the Fire. Both Apollo and Athene are living in the city disguised as children. Everything seems to go according to the plan, but when children are old enough, Socrates is brought in to teach rhetoric and he starts to ask questions, some hard and very disruptive questions.

An extremely good book which examines the fascinating basic idea from many different viewpoints without forgetting some of the less idealistic and ethical details of the great plan. Are they supporting and encouraging slavery when they bought the children? Is it ok to bring children, even freed slaves, to the city without their consent? Is Plato’s idealistic and utopic plan really the best way to run a city? Why are the gods doing what they do? Is it reasonable to assume that gods – especially Greek gods – are good or mean well? An enjoyable thought experiment, which demanded some background checking about ancient philosophers and philosophies. The downside is that the story will continue in the next book – I believe that this story could and should have been told in one book.

368 pp.

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Seppo Jokinen: Kuolevaksi julistettu

Another police procedural from my home town. A solid book like practically all others from the series. This time there are several cases: a lost daughter of a police colleague, a nurse who apparently killed an old pensioner by mistake a while ago is being chased by some unknown party and someone is drugging females at popular restaurants.

Komisario Koskinen selvittelee tällä kertaa samalla kertaa useampaa eri asiaa: Poliisikollegan tytär on kadonnut selittämättä jo puolisen vuotta siten. Nainen on palannut sairaslomalta työhön, mutta käyttää aikansa yrittäen keksien yhä epätoivoisempia teorioita siitä tyttärelle tapahtui. Toisena juttuna komisario selvittelee miksi työstään kuolemantuottamuksen vuoksi poispotkittua lähihoitajamiestä näytettäisiin vainottavan ja miksi tämä suhtautuu poliisin avustusyrityksiin kovin vastentahtoisesti. Lisäksi pitää metsästää naisille paikallisissa ravintoloissa tyrmäystippoja juottanutta miestä. Asioille löytyy osittain jopa yhteyksiä ja kaikki tapaukset ratkeavat kirjan kuluessa. Koskisen yksityiselämässä myös vaikuttaa tapahtuvan jonkinasteista edistymistä naisrintamalla.
Kirjan sarjansa vakaata tasoa, ei ehkä parhaita, mutta ei missään nimessä huonoimpiakaan. Tässäkin tosin käytetään poliisikirjojen kliseetä – käytännön asioita ymmärtämätön pomoa - hiukan liikaa. Pieni kirjailijan käytännön asioista tietämättömyydestä kertova virhe kirjasta löytyy: yksityisen vanhustenhoitolaitoksen lähihoitajalla ei todellakaan olisi kokemusta ”satojen nesteinfuusioiden aloittamisesta”. Ja pitkälle edennyttä syöpää sairastavan naisen mahdollista morfiini yliannosta tuskin olisi alettu selvittelemään vaan vastaava lääkäri olisi seuraavana työpäivänään kirjoittanut kuolintodistuksen asiaa sen kummemmin miettimättä (+ JOS asiaa olisi selvitelty, niin morfiinikirjanpidon epäselvyydet olisivat herättäneet epäilyt jostain epätavallisesta aika nopeasti).

331 s.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos

In a future America the only way to escape slum life where you spend your life ducking bullets and eating non-appetizing welfare food is to join the military. And that isn't easy. The main character manages to do it and even finishes the basic training which is designed to drop out about half of the candidates. He is disappointed when he is ordered to the Terrestrial Army as he was hoping to get to the navy to see space and alien worlds. But even being an ordinary army grunt beats the slum life, but army life isn’t easy or safe either. After a few unfortunate events he gets what he was wishing for - a transfer to space - but it turns out that fighting battles on Earth might have been preferable.

An easy to read and fast moving book, which is certainly entertaining. What I was hoping for was some information on the social and economic structure of the world. Now it was kind of hard to see how the world functioned. And the killing of scores of civilians (and the why and how the said civilians were fighting with such powerful weapons) was pretty much glossed over. The writing isn’t worse than very similar books by Robert Heinlein or John Scalzi (Haldeman’s Forever War – another book with a very similar basic plot is better written in my opinion), but what is lacking is the description of society which was essential even in very militaristic Starship Troopers. Also, when the aliens (yes, there are aliens - this is science fiction even if parts in the beginning didn't really feel like it) appear, they are pretty strange beings who apparently have never heard of the square cube law of animal (and machine) size. I don’t exactly see how such creatures could exist. In spite of some problems, this was a nice and extremely entertaining read of old-fashioned fiction which aims just to entertain without any other goals. I wonder if the society will be described better in the next books of the series. I will probably have to read them to find that out…

334 pp.

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Friday, January 1, 2016

Kjell Westö: Kangastus 38

A story about Helsinki just before the Second World War. An attorney hires a new secretary with a hidden and traumatic past from the Finnish civil war. The descriptions of locales, time and people are excellent, but the plot takes its time to get going.

Kertomus Helsingistä ajasta ennen sotaa, ajasta jolloin tulevan sodan asenteiden kiristyminen oli jo näkyvissä ja sisällissodan vaikutukset olivat vielä vahvoja. Keskinkertaisesti pärjäävä, avioerostaan toipuva asianajaja on palkannut hieman salaperäisen ja visusti taustoistaan vaikenevan rouva Wiikin sihteerikseen. Asianajaja kuuluu herrasmieskerhoon, jonka tapaa kerran kuussa. Yksi kerhon jäsenistä vaikuttaa ihastuvan rouva Wiikiin, mutta ihastus ei ole molemminpuoleista ja heillä saattaa olla jotain yhteistä historiaa, tosin tästä on tietoinen vain rouva Wiik.
Etenkin alkupuoleltaan kirja on enemmän ajankuvausta kuin varsinaisesti juoneen painottuvaa kerrontaa. Jos tuntisi Helsingin paremmin, kirja olisi saattanut olla kiinnostavampi – nyt kun eri paikannimillä on itselle aika vähäinen merkitys, paikkojen ja kaupungin kuvailu ei erityisesti kiinnostanut eikä ihan niiden perässä ja merkityksissä varmastikaan aina pysynyt ja piilomerkityksiä kaupunginosiin liittyen jäi huomaamatta. Sinällään ajankuvaus oli kiinnostavaa ja jopa ajankohtaisempaa kuin muutama vuosi sitten, kun kirja kirjoitettiin. Yhtä suurta vaikutusta kirja ei tehnyt kuin Westön aikaisempi teos Missä kuljimme kerran, vaikka hyvin kirjoitettua tekstiä tämäkin oli. Henkilökuvaus oli myös hyvää ja oikeastaan kaikki kirjan hahmot olivat moniulotteisia ja vaikuttavia. Kokonaisuutena ihan vakaata keskitasoa.

334 s.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, April 1974

A pretty average issue, nothing especially bad, nothing especially good.

Hot Spot • novelette by Brenda Pearce
A trip to the day side of Mercury. A scientist is taking important measurements while the crew of the vehicle takes care of flying. There is some sight-seeing, and eventually a crisis situation. The writing is fairly nice but the plot offers nothing new and the main character comes across as irritating and whiny. ***-
The Time-Traveler • [Callahan] • novelette by Spider Robinson
A Callahan’s place story. A former missionary has been imprisoned for years in a Latin American dictatorship. After he finally has been released he is facing a severe future shock, and finds himself at the Callahan’s place. At first, he tries to rob the bar, but he soon joins the “society”. It's not exactly science fiction at all, and nothing really unusual happens. A good story, though. ***½
A Kind of Murder • [Teleportation] • shortstory by Larry Niven
A woman is found murdered in her ex-husband's home. He has a good alibi, but what good is an alibi in a world where instantaneous travel by matter transmission booths is the norm? It's a fairly good story but the solution of the murder mystery is mostly based on the intricacies of imaginary technology that the reader cannot be aware of. ***
Scholarly Correspondence • shortstory by Charles Eric Maine
A fairly stupid pseudo-scientific paper about ghosts and a few replies to it, which are written in pseudo-scientific language. A pretty insignificant story. **-

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling): Käen kutsu ( The Cuckoo's Calling)

The first part of a detective series which is written by J.K. Rowling using an alias. A pretty good book with very fascinating and interesting characters. The second book in the series is better, though.

Ensimmäinen osa J.K.Rowlingin salanimellä kirjoittamasta Cormoran Strike-kirjasarjasta, Sarja kertoo yksityisetsivänä toimivasta jalkapuolesta entisestä sotapoliisista. Toisen osan olin jo lukenut aikaisemmin ja nyt tämä ensimmäinen täytti mukavasti tästä kirjasta jääneitä pieniä juoniaukkoja ja täydensi mielikuvaa päähenkilöiden persoonallisuudesta ja taustatarinaa.
Cormoran tutkii rikkaan ja kauniin mallitytön kuolemaa. Poliisi piti kuolemaa itsemurhana, mutta tytön velipuoli haluaa että asiaa selvitetään tarkemmin. Hän alkaa tutkia tytön viimeisten päivien tapahtumia ja erikoisia sattumia näistä sitten löytyykin. Salapoliisityössä apuna hänellä on tilapäistyötä välittävästä yrityksestä lähetetty nuori nainen, joka juuri mennyt kihloihin. Nainen on aina salassa haaveillut salapoliisin työstä, ja huomaa että tuleva vakavammin otettava ja paremmin palkattu toimistotyö ei oikein tunnu houkuttelevalta, vaikku sulhanen kovasti paremmin palkatusta ja vakaamasta työpaikasta yrittää vihjailla. Yhteistyöllä asiat sitten vähitellen selviävät ja murhaaja on yllätys. (itse tosin oli vahvat epäilyt tekijästä jo aika pitkään, ainoa vain, että motiivi oli auki). Kirjasta huomasi jonkin verran, että Rowling yritti ylläpitää mielikuvaa siitä, että kirja on miehen kirjoittama. Sen verran usein vaatteiden läpi kuullottavat tai muuten vain vilahtelevat söpöt nännit kirjassa mainittiin. Toisessa osassa, jolloin kirjoittajan henkilöllisyyden salaisuus oli jo paljastunut, ei tätä niin paljoa tuntunut esiintyvän. Kirja oli oikein mainio, mutta ei ehkä aivan yhtä hyvä kuin sarjan toinen osa. Ehkä jonkin asteista pientä tiivistämistä olisi voinut tehdä. Päähenkilöt oli kuitenkin kuvattu erittäin hienosti, ja henkilökuvaus oli kirjan selvästi parasta antia. Seuraavaa, eli sarjan kolmatta osaa odottelen mielenkiinnolla.
463 s.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, January-February 2016

A large double issue. Fairly average as such, but once more several stories which feel like just parts of a larger tale. That has been a common failing in Analog lately.

Wyatt Earp 2.0 • novella by Wil McCarthy
Wyat Earp is resurrected as a computer approximation which loaded to "printed" human body. He is supposed to help bring order to a Martian mining colony. He has some adjusting to do but eventually adjusts to future society. The writing is pretty good, but the concept is fairly ridiculous, even if it admittedly is entertaining and new. ***½
We Will Wake Among the Gods, Among the Stars • novelette by Tina Connolly and Caroline M. Yoachim
Apparently a planet has been colonized centuries (?) ago. Most of the settlements have lost the knowledge of developed technology and consider the remnants to be sacred gifts from the gods. An expedition is trying to find a mystical city, as to what happened to the earlier expedition, and especially what happened to the great amount of gold the expedition had brought with it for trading. They find what they were looking for, but it is not what they were expecting. A nice, well-written story but feels like a continuation of an earlier story and the background is too vague and the story isn't very original. ***-
Farmer • shortstory by Joe M. McDermott
A family of farmers produces organic food stocks. Apparently there are superbugs which are spread by food going around. One of their customers gets sick and they are facing a federal investigation and they might have something to hide. An average story with some irritating anti-GMO tendencies. ***-
Rocket Surgery • shortstory by Effie Seiberg
An intelligent and learning bomb turns out to be slightly too intelligent…A nice short story. ***+
Saving the World • shortstory by James E. Gunn [as by James Gunn ]
It turns out that reading science fiction alters the cognitive functions towards tolerance and creativity. Science has begun to be taught at schools and the world is saved. Ok story, I could have believed it before the rabid/sad puppies: if they read science fiction and are misogynist bigots, then apparently the science fiction doesn’t make people better. ***
The Persistence of Memory • shortstory by Rachel L. Bowden
Two nerdy young boys find a strange animal. Or do they? Nice writing, but not a lot of actual plot. ***-
Theories of Mind • shortstory by Conor Powers-Smith
A new recruit to the research base on a planet with really strange aliens runs into trouble on his first day. The concept of the alien’s language and thought patterns is very novel and interesting. On the other hand, the experienced leader of the research station should have been able to prevent the predicament in the first place. ***
Nature's Eldest Law • shortstory by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
An expedition is studying an extraterrestrial planet. They find strange plants which appear to simulate human thought processes, especially in decision making. One man isn't affected as strongly as others, as he has some dependency issues he is going through. But how is it possible that plants with such effects seem to appear so suddenly on an alien planet? A decent story, but far too short for all ideas. Once again, a little backstory is given, and the story ends when things become really interesting. ***
The Heat of Passion • novelette by Grey Rollins
A man is murdered. By chance, another man who is visiting his grandmother at an old people's home sees the murder. But there is a good reason why he can't contact the police. A pretty nice story in spite of some illogicalities. (If the genetic enhancements were so common among richer people, there would have been some powerful lobbying that the extreme persecution of the modified would never have happened). ***+
Woundings • shortstory by George Zebrowski
Men who live in space came down to stop coal fires used for energy, as that kind of pollution is apparently forbidden. The fire is used to power air conditioning of a library filled with original books no one can read anymore. More a philosophical discussion than a story. **½
The Shores of Being • novelette by Dave Creek
Continues an earlier series of stories where insectoid aliens with a hive mind have invaded Earth. Mike Christopher, who is an android, comes to examine an abandoned alien hive with a member of another alien species, a species that has also been invaded by the same enemy. They encounter some local militia men, who would like to keep the alien mound as a sacred place for those who died there. Ok story, not among the best of the series. Some of the attitudes of humans were more alien than most of the real aliens. ***
An Industrial Growth • novelette by David L. Clements
Feels like a second or third (or fourth) part of a series, but I am not aware of any previous installments. Earth has apparently been devastated by severe ecological catastrophes, and then by faulty nanotechnology, which was designed to overcome the first catastrophe. There is some sort of dangerous nanotech installation which should be destroyed. A group of people - two of them are people, who have mostly lived as computer uploads, go on the mission. The real humans blame them for the catastrophes as they did nothing to prevent them (that is not entirely logical at least from given scanty backstory). As such, a pretty decent story, but as there was no backstory it was hard to create any real emotional bond to any of the characters. If I don't know the world or the characters at all, why should I care about their mission or whether or not they survive? ***

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