Saturday, May 20, 2017

Erkki Tuomioja: Häivähdys punaista

A biography of Hella Wuolijoki, one of the most renowned playwrights in Finland. Her life was very unusual and even contradictory; she was born to a middle-class family in Estonia. Later she emigrated to Finland and worked as a very successful business woman, who turned to Stalinist communism (and at the same time she owned a very large country estate). She was imprisoned during the war as she was suspected of espionage. When she was released from prison after the Second World War, she worked as the chairman of Finnish radio for several years. And during all that, she wrote plays that are still being produced, and one has even been filmed as a Hollywood movie. This biography concentrates on her political career and is written in a very matter-of-fact style and doesn’t tell us much about her personal life.

Luettu lukupiirin kirjana.
Elämänkerta Hella Wuolijoesta, naisesta joka eli elämän, joka vaikkapa elokuvan aiheena olisi niin epäuskottava, ettei sitä kukaan uskoisi. Virossa syntyneestä porvariperheen tyttärestä tuli kova liikenainen, kartanon omistaja, stalinisti, rauhanneuvottelija, mahdollisesti vakooja, Yleisradion pääjohtaja ja samalla maan johtava näytelmäkirjailija. Tämä kirja painottui paljolti hänen poliittiseen toimintaansa ja herätti mielenkiintoa siihen, mitä muuta hänen elämässään tapahtui – sillä ne muut asiat jäivät tässä kirjassa pahasti sivurooliin. Ehkä osittain aihepiiriin liittyen teksti oli jotenkin kovin kylmän kliinistä, sisältäen huiman määrän faktaa henkilönnimien ja vuosilukujen muodossa. Mielenkiintoiset anekdootit ja ”mieltä lämmittävät” tarinat kohdehenkilön elämästä jäivät tässä kirjassa varsin pienelle huomiolle. Kielellisesti teksti oli selkeää ja välillä ehkä hiukan tylsän puoleista. Tuomiojan omassa ajatusmaailmassa kiinnitti huomioita mm. se, että Yrjö Leinon erottamista hallituksesta hänen luovutettuaan Suomen kansalaisia Neuvostoliittoon nimitettiin ”sattumien ohjaamaksi tapahtumaketjuksi”; oikeastihan tuollainen teko olisi lähinnä elinikäisen vankeustuomion ansaitseva toimi. Kirjassa käsiteltiin myös Hella Wuolijoen siskoa, joka asui Englannissa ja oli perustamassa Englannin kommunistista puoluetta. Nämä jaksot olivat turhan liitännäisen oloisia ja sinällään hänen toimintansa oli viime kädessä aika merkityksetöntä ja jäi lähinnä kuvaukseksi nimilistoista henkilöistä joita he tapasivat ja lehdistä joita he julkaisivat. Mitään tarkempaa analyysia toiminnasta ei esitetty ja muista lähteistä selvitellen toiminta jäi kokonaisuuden kannalta aika yhdentekeväksi. Kirja oli aika puhtaasti historiakirjoitusta eikä viihdyttäväksi ”lukuromaaniksi” tarkoitettu elämänkerta. Kirjapiirin mielipide oli aika pitkälle samanlainen kuin omani. Kirjoitustyyliä pidettiin kuivana mutta informatiivisenä, ja kirja herätti kiinnostuksen siihen, mitä laajemmalti Hella Wuolijoen elämässä tapahtui.

425 s.

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) by Becky Chambers

The second book I read for the Hugo voting.
For the most part, the book has two separate stories. One is about a young girl who escapes from a "factory" where she and many other young girls work to salvage usable parts from trash. She has never been outside of the factory, and has spent her entire life in a dormitory with other girls. The children are supervised by robots. She escapes and is rescued by an AI that travels in an almost destroyed spaceship. She and the AI decide to repair the ship so that they’ll be able to escape the country-sized junkyard they are in.

Another thread of the book follows an AI who is uploaded to an android body, and who tries to adjust to life as a “human.” She is cared for by a woman, who was raised by an AI when she was young. (It isn’t hard to guess who she is...).

Apparently, the book is the second part of a series, but it works perfectly well as a separate piece. In fact, it is fairly difficult to imagine what the first book might be about - perhaps how the ship became abandoned?

Particularly in the beginning of the novel, the scenes which occur in the past are vastly more interesting. I almost was tempted to skip the “boring” parts to find out what happens to “Jane” (the girl) and “Owl” (the AI). The parts that are set in the "present" are nowhere near as gripping, but slowly, as the personality of the AI grows, they become more and more interesting.

The stories pretty much converge at the end. The book was very well-written and entertaining. Its only weakness is the pacing, which is slightly off. The last chapters were a slight let-down compared to the intensity that had built up previously. But it was a very enjoyable book, nevertheless.

365 pp.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Joss Whedon: Geek King of the Universe - A Biography

This is a biography of Joss Whedon that covers his life pretty well. As I am fairly familiar with his career, there were few real surprises here, but it was still a very interesting read. I might have liked a more detailed take on some of his more famous works, like Buffy. There is some stuff on his earlier years that might have been shortened to give room for that. Also, the book felt pretty impersonal for the most part; apparently, Whedon himself didn’t have much influence on the book.

448 pp.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Astounding Science Fiction, March 1954

Only three stories as a pretty unremarkable serial by Isaac Asimov take a lot of space. The stories are fairly tolerable examples of their time.

Immigrant • novella by Clifford D. Simak

A man has gotten the permission to emigrate to Kimon. That is rare, as only the smartest applicants, who are able to pass very demanding tests, qualify. It is supposed to be a land of opportunity with very high wages (and mastery of instantaneous travel with the power of mind alone). When he arrives at the planet, he finds out that he hardly qualifies for any position. Not bad, but the blurb at the beginning of the story spoils the end (everything is just “training” to be something bigger), and the man who is supposed to be one of the smartest on Earth is incredibly stupid and dense. ***
I Made You • short story by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
An automated battle robot is guarding his perimeter at the moon. There is one organic thing hiding in a deep cave he must still destroy, but he can’t get to the cave, and the puny thing that claims stupid things – like that he has designed the robot – can’t escape. A fairly good but a bit dated story. ***
Final Exam • novelette by Arthur Zirul
An alien ship is wrecked over Earth. Its crew is stranded on different parts of the world. The Earth had seemed very civilized, but the behavior of the people seems to be less so. The story is somewhat overlong, but otherwise not bad. A bit of an untypical story for the Analog of the time, as humans aren’t the most smartest people of them all. ***-

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire #1) by Yoon Ha Lee

The first book I read from this year’s Hugo nominees.
The book is science fiction, which happens, apparently, in the far future. The book really throws you to the deep end at the beginning. There are many very strange and unfamiliar words and concepts which aren’t explained at all, and the book is very hard to read and to get into, especially at first. It does get a little easier, but not much, and there were many different characters, who were very hard to keep track of, especially for someone with the bad memory I have for names.

A major part of the book is figuring out what actually is going on, and a detailed explanation might be considered to be a spoiler.

The main protagonist makes an unorthodox decision during the battle. She gets ordered to the headquarters and isn’t sure if she is going to be rewarded or punished. In a way she is both; she gets an important mission but is implanted with a war criminal, who killed his own troops hundreds of years ago. His mind has been recorded and it can be implanted on another person. He is a brilliant strategist and has never lost a battle, even with very bad odds. But he is apparently crazy, and there is a chance that his lunacy will infect the person who is carrying him. It is unknown why he attacked his own troops.

The protagonists are battling against heretics with a different calendar and way of calculating time. It seems that has a profound effect on what sort of technologies work and can be used. I had some trouble with that, as I identified with that side where the protagonists are the bad guys. If someone is called a heretic, that implies that there is some sort of dogmatic belief system which persecutes people that believe something else, so someone who is accused of being a heretic always gets some sympathy from me. So I had a feeling right from the start that we are looking things from the viewpoint of the “bad guys”. I am not saying the feeling was right, but there were shades of gray...

One aspect of the book was very strange and imaginative; technology with intelligent, self-aware helper “bots” and weapons with extremely unpleasant but imaginative effects. All in all, pretty good, but a complex book which was not an easy read.
384 pp.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Goblin War (Jig the Goblin #3) by Jim C. Hines

The book continues the story of a hapless goblin, Jig. The goblins are once again threatened by humans as human adventurers invade their lair and steal a valuable, powerful magical artifact. Jig finds out that that a huge army of monsters is being assembled. The human army and the army of goblins, orcs, and kobolds are heading into a huge battle. Jig isn’t a big fan of battles of any kind, as they usually are dangerous.

As he has been about the only follower (and the only prophet) of a forgotten god, he is able to heal some wounds, but war? Battles? You could get seriously hurt. Unfortunately, the god he is following has some goals of his own, some of them involve battling other gods. That is pretty scary until the god does something extremely cruel: he removes all of Jig’s fear.

It had been many years since I read the second part of this series, and it took some time to get into this one. I had fairly hazy memories of Jig’s earlier exploits and especially about “his” god. Probably the best parts of the book were the segments that told the backstory of the god and how he wound up with one puny and cowardly goblin as his sole follower. Otherwise, the book was pretty entertaining and witty, but slightly less so than the second part, which is the best of the series – at least if I am remembering the details accurately. But it was entertaining to follow a hero with a healthy dose of cowardice and a very strong will of self-preservation – at any cost.

352 pp.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Liza Marklund: Panttivanki (Borderline)

Annika Bengtzon’s husband is kidnapped while visiting Africa as part of an E.U. envoy. After one of the hostages is killed, a high ransom is demanded for the others. Very black-and-white characters seem to serve as strawmen for the author. The main character seems to be more and more irritating by the book. One of the poorer installments of the series.

Annika Bengtzonin puoliso, Thomas, on Afrikassa EU:n projektiin liittyvällä matkalla kun hänet ja hänen seurueensa kaapataan. Kaappaajat vaativat lunnaina miljoonia dollareita ja tappavat ja paloittelevat ainakin yhden seurueen jäsenistä. Annikalla on pankkitilillään talonsa tulipalosta saatu vakuutuskorvaus, mutta ei lähellekään vaadittua summaa. Ministeriön tutun virkamiehen, vanhan ystävän, avustuksella Thomaksen vapauttamisesta neuvotellaan. Samaan aikaan iltapäivälehden, jossa Annika työskentelee, toimittajat yrittävät yhdistää kaupungissa tapahtuneet naisten surmat sarjamurhaajan tekemiksi - se myy lehtiä paremmin kuin se tavallinen tarina, jossa mustasukkainen aviomies on tappanut vaimonsa.

Selvästi sarjassaan huonomman pään kirja, etenkin alkupuolella jännite ei oikein toiminut. Kirja kirjalta ihan jokainen henkilöhahmo sarjassa tuntuu muuttuvan karikatyyrimäiseksi, enemmän tai vähemmän musta-valkoiseksi hahmoksi, joka ei vaikuta oikealta ihmiseltä vaan on enemmän kirjailijan ajatuksien ja ideologioiden (jotka sinällään ovat hyviä, sukupuolten tasa-arvoa ja kehitysmaiden tukemista kannattavia sekä lehdistön ja journalistiikan etiikan tärkeyttä korostavia) tukijana tai sitten täysin mustavalkoisena olkiukkona, joka osoittaa kuinka typerää on halveksia näitä ihanteita. Aika isossa osassa kirjaa tuntui, että taottiin lekalla päähän. Hiukan suurempi hienovaraisuus ja harmaan sävyt olisivat tehneet kirjan huomattavasti paremmaksi. Annika itse myös tuntuu muuttuvan kirja kirjalta ärsyttävämmäksi. Taitaa tätä sarjaa olla enää kaksi jäljellä, joten kaipa nekin tulevat jossain vaiheessa luettua, vaikka ärsytyskynnys kyllä alkaa lähestyä.

379 s.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

A man has lived many times. Every time that he dies, he is born again, as the same child and to the same family that he was originally born. He remembers everything as soon his brain matures enough, when he is about five or six years old. There are other people like him, living through the same time period, again and again. There have always been people like him and, apparently, there always will be. The details of his life change, as he knows what will happen and he is able to make different choices each time. He lives in different countries, learns different occupations and languages, and so on. Once, when he is dying as an old man (from lymphoma, which he tends to get eventually in every life) a young girl comes to see him. She tells him that the world is coming to the end in the future – sooner than it was supposed to. When he returns to the past, and is reborn as a child once again, he starts to do something about it. He works with the mysterious Chronos Club, which helps him and other “immortals” to cope with life. For example, they give “scholarships” to young immortals, so that they can move away from home and are not forced to go through primary school for the umpteenth time (with the memories of several adult lifetimes). It takes a few lifetimes, but he finds out what is happening.
A very good book, with an unusual take on time travel and immortality. The writing was very good and the story was very interesting. There was some fragmentation of places, but that is to be expected from a book that tells the story of 15 lifetimes in a partially non-linear way. Also, at places, some condensing might have been a good idea but, in other places, some expansion of the story might have been nice. It would have been especially nice to learn what happened after the end of the book.

416 pp.

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