Monday, July 6, 2015

The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson

The book consists of short chapters, following sevral different characters. It continues an earlier long series and starts a new one.
There are several subplots. One involves a man who kidnaps his son from her mother as he belies that the base they live in is too unsafe. Another involves a doctor who collects rare diseases and a ruthless man who helps her. Another is about strange creatures, who appear to produce ekti, a volatile substance which is needed as fuel for interstellar travel. And a strange creature straight from the ancient myths which seems to consist of pure darkness is waking and wants to destroy all intelligent life from the universe.
This book works fairly well even without detailed knowledge of the first part of the series. The major drawback was that as the characters were not familiar, it was hard to form any emotion attachment towards them, especially as most of them weren’t necessarily very sympathetic. Some of the events were pretty separate and seemed superfluous. The subplot involving an alien plague had little to do with the rest of the book and could have been omitted with no consequences to the rest of the plot. There were some huge coincides – once one person just stumbles upon a secret base where other people are working and they even know each other’s. It must be a really, really small universe! The book was readable, but not special in any way. It could have been drastically shorted by leaving away unneeded subplots and by leaving away some of the tendency to explain everything in detail, often several times. There was also a slight anti-science and anti-technology bias- scientists and industrialists were mostly bad guys and the few sympathetic characters were mystic monk-like figures. The ending had more than a shade of deus ex machina. Mystic creatures only briefly mentioned earlier appear and save the day. A pretty average book, not worth of any awards, which feels more fantasy than science fiction.

672 pp.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

My Hugo award votes 2015 part 3 – Novellas

All nominees in the novella category originated from the puppy lists –most of them from the rapid puppies list. The stories were even worse than in the other categories. I wonder what kind of mindset you must have, if you really think these represent the best writing of the year. Three stories by John C. Wright? Really? I do understand something about what the puppy organizers claim they are trying to say, but by nominating these stinkers they lose all possible credibility. (The paranoid drivel about social justice warrior conspiracy doesn’t really give a picture of most stable psyches, either).The question isn’t about stories. It is about sad little men who can’t face that the world is changing. There is no question how my voting will go in this category. I would be hugely surprised if the award goes to somewhere else than “no award”. Of course, it is possible that the gamergate idiots have bought the election…let’s hope it isn’t so.

“Pale Realms of Shade”, John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)

The story starts as a sort of supernatural thriller. A detective has been murdered and his ghost has been waked up. His wife wishes that he should reveal his murderer and rule out the suicide in order to release the insurance compensation. (I wonder how the suicide is even suspected as apparently the victim was shot several times). He then meets temptations before finally he gets an atonement. The first few chapters offered some promise – the writing was slightly clumsy, but the premise as itself seemed interesting. Alas, the story went from below average to mediocre and eventually to ridiculously bad. The writing was clumsy, there were sentences like this: “Sly had come across the dead body of a man who had — let’s be frank with this now — I rode him pretty hard some times.”. What does that even mean? The plot went from allegorical to pounding heavy-handed religion with a sledgehammer. What we learn from this story: a freethinker is about same thing as a devil worshipper. One of the worst things I have read.

One Bright Star to Guide Them, John C. Wright (Castalia House)
A sort of continuation of the Narnia books by C.S Lewis. A group of children has had adventures in a magical and as a child and they have brought back a few magical items, like a sword, a book and a shard of magical mirror. One member of the group encounters the magic cat, who used to help them in the fantasy land. Then he tries to find the other children, but one of them has turned to a devil worshipper, one has died and one has grown old prematurely and is pretty disillusioned and passive. And then there are some battles against evil and some pretty confusing scene changes. And the characters give each other’s extremely pompous expository long speeches about what they encountered and what they did in childhood. Most of the story was very clumsy and overwrought writing. What we learn from this story: You should blindly follow your [religious] leader and you’ll get to be a Christ figure in another world. Another of the worst things I have ever read.

Big Boys Don’t Cry, Tom Kratman (Castalia House)
A rip off of the Bolo series by Keith Laumer. A have read only a few of those, but there were much more interesting than this story. An intelligent tank has been badly damaged. It is being dismantled for scrap and that opens new connections to the brain of the tank and it remembers past missions and experiences which have been restricted from the active memory. They consist mainly from more or less bloody battles and very detailed descriptions of the turrets of tanks and so on. The writer sure seems to love his guns! On the other hand, his knowledge of physics is really badly lacking. In one place, he describes antimatter mines which are able to harm the tanks described in the story through the thinner armor plating at the bottom. As 50 grams of antimatter corresponds an explosive power worth of 150 Hiroshima bombs it will undoubtedly slightly harm the armor. Or vaporizes everything within a few dozen meters. The writing is fairly clumsy, worse than Laumer’s, but vastly better than Wright’s. What we learn from this story: pacifists should be hanged at the nearest lamppost. And feminists are badly disturbed people who push worlds to civil war just because they want to be as good as men.

“Flow”, Arlan Andrews, Sr. (Analog, 11-2014)
Continues an earlier story, which happens apparently on a post-apocalyptic earth or on another planet. A man who earlier sold ice goes to visit a larger city with a slightly higher level of civilization. The story consists mainly from sightseeing and how the “hero” is trying to find things to steal. There is practically no actual plot at all. The world as itself is fairly interesting, but a good story should be some kind of real plot going on. Little happens here other than descriptions of the world. I didn’t like the first installment and I didn’t like this one. Compared with the other nominees the writing is vastly superior, though.

“The Plural of Helen of Troy”, John C. Wright (City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, Castalia House)

A private detective of sorts works at a town which detached from time and is ruled by some sort of time masters who are able to do almost anything. The pretty confused and convoluted plot involves Helen of Troy/Marilyn Monroe and a version (or versions) of apparent John Kennedy. People are trying to kill former versions of themselves and battle against some sort robotic law enforcers. The setting itself is pretty interesting, but the story is badly overlong and rambling. This was perhaps the best of the Wright stories – which isn’t saying much. With some drastic cuts there just might be a tolerable story here somewhere. What we learn from this story: rapists should make amends for women they rape – they should at least be ready to marry those women.

My voting:
1. No award

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ilkka Koivisto: Ovela lintubongari ja muita tarinoita

A collection of short stories written by a former curator of the Helsinki Zoo. The stories are simple, naïve and containing preaching about small problems. The best example ever I have ever seen of a book, which is published solely on the name of the author (who was pretty known in Finland a decade or two (or three) ago). A first time author would never, ever, had been able to publish this.

Kokoelma lyhyitä novelleja. Tarinat ovat aiheiltaan vaihtelevia. Monessa lintubongaus tai ainakin luonnossa liikkuminen on jos ei muuta niin tärkeä sivuaihe. Uskottomuustarinoita myös oli useampi, yhdessä tarinassa uskoton mies jää kiinni typerällä tavalla, toisessa taas pettäjänainen kokee äärimmäisen kaukaa haetun koston. Ainakin kahdessa tarinassa soitto jo melkein unohdetulta nuoruudenrakkaudelta estää juuri tapahtumassa olevan itsemurhan. Tarinoiden henkilöt jaarittelevat pitkiä, kertomukseen juuri mitenkään liittymättömiä, puolifilosofisia yhteiskuntaa pinnallisesti ja naivisti kritisoivia puheita. Kirja oli nopeasti luettava ja varsin tyhjänpäiväinen. Paras osoitus ikinä siitä, että kustantajat julkaisevat kirjoja kirjoittajan nimen perusteella. Tätä kirjaa ei ikimaailmassa olisi julkaistu jonkin aloittelevan kirjailijan kirjoittamana – se ei ole ikinä päässyt edes ensimmäisen kustantamon testilukijan ohitse paperinkierrätysroskista pidemmälle. Hyvä, että ei tarvinnut tästä mitään maksaa, vaan kirja oli Helsingin sanomien ilmaiskirjana luettavissa.
231 s.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

My Hugo award votes 2015 part 2 – Short stories

All nominees in this category originate from the “puppy lists”. And it shows. I wonder why selected these stories to their slates. There are mostly a celebration of mediocre writing and extreme stupid plotting. The only decent story was Totaled by Kary English. As the nomination was manipulated (and stories were mostly bad) I will vote “no award” for the first place and put the only decent story to the second place.

“Totaled”, Kary English (Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, 07-2014)
A neuroscience scientist is killed in a car accident and her brain is used for testing a new method of keeping a brain alive. She ends as a brain in a pot, and is able to finish her research- and sees her children for the last time. Not bad, a pleasant surprise considering from where the nomination came. The story could have been longer, now it felt slightly rushed. By far the best of this sorry bunch.

“On A Spiritual Plain”, Lou Antonelli (Sci Phi Journal #2, 11-2014)
A planet with poor mineral deposits has an extremely strong magnetic field (that is extremely strange, as a strong magnetic field hints to very high concentration of metals.) The natives believe in the afterlife and they have proof. The dead ones stay with them for a long time as the planet's strong magnetic field keeps their essence intact. Then the first human death occurs, and the man stays "alive" as a ghost of sorts. The minister helps him to the pole of the planet where it is possible for the "souls" to disperse. I wonder why the priest is pushing so extremely heavily for the trip and for something which is essentially a suicide when the person himself is somewhat ambivalent? Another clumsy story with very heavy-handed Christian morality - and very strange morality as such.

“Turncoat”, Steve Rzasa (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)
Posthumans (who are human personalities uploaded to computers), who work with “real” AIs are fighting against biological humans. A ship AI starts to resist the posthumans, who apparently want to exterminate the mere biological humans. The story starts with a boringly described battle, which feels like a transcript of a war game. The Ai starts to get doubts due to a verse from the bible, and eventually does what the spoilerific title tells. And the story ends with a reference to obscure character from US history. (The name didn’t say anything for me and using the Google gave little help as the name in question is fairly common. ) A fellow blogger helped me out eventually. Why would a future computer intelligence know or care about such fairly insignificant centuries old detail or person? A pretty bad and stupid story.

“The Parliament of Beasts and Birds”, John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
Men have disappeared from the world (which was very sinful, there were venereal diseases and people were cremated without proper rites) . Animals discuss what has happened and who should take the lead. They discover that they talk "in the language of Adam" and walk in two feet. And the horror of the horrors - they are naked. All that is written in very pondering language. Extremely, ridiculously bad story, by far the worst of the nominees and with a wide margin. What we learn from this story: if you take up the religion, you turn to human and if you don't you stay animal and you must probably be killed at some time.

“A Single Samurai”, Steven Diamond (The Baen Big Book of Monsters, Baen Books)
A samurai warrior burrows into the brain giant lizard which is devastating everything is closing to a major city. The creature apparently has very unusual anatomy with large air filled empty spaces besides its’ brain. He doesn't do the logical thing (hack the brain to pieces with his samurai sword as it supposed to be too big for that) but rather kills himself which somehow magically destroys the beast because the sword is destroyed if the samurai dies and that somehow that kills the monster, also. Kind of far-fetched. A very stupid and not too well-written story.

My votes will be:
1. No award
2. “Totaled”, Kary English

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, July-August 2015

A varied bunch of stories. A serial (which I haven’t started yet) takes a lot of space.

The Smell of Blood and Thunder • novelette by Liz J. Andersen

A veterinary doctor who works sometimes for interstellar community tries to settle a dispute between intelligent fleas, dogs and cats. Light and very stupid, not as good as the previous installments of the series. ***-
Breakfast in Bed • shortstory by Ian Watson
A man realizes that he slipped to an alternative reality or time stream as his arm isn’t over the bedsheet but rather under it. And then he discusses that realization with his wife. In boring detail and confusing things happen. Another short and stupid non-story.**½
Potential Side Effects May Include • shortstory by Marissa Lingen and Alec Austin
A young woman takes part in the study which studies ways to remove anxiety reactions. The treatment works very well, but some degree anxiety at some situations might be really usefully. At first she worries about it especially after a dangerous situation, but then decides not to feel too anxious about that. A pretty good and well-written story, which might have been longer. ***+
Guns Don't Kill People • shortstory by Jacob A. Boyd
A very short story which involves guns, clones or something like that and some sort of inspection. A LOT of backstory and very hard to get into, I didn't get into it at all and didn't really get it.**
Pincushion Pete • shortstory by Ian Creasey
A man who works for rights of “intellectually challenged” is found to have many mental genetic engineering patches in his mind. It is alleged that his is addicted to patches and he must leave his job. But he certainly isn’t addicted; he can stop using the patches at any time. Or at least after he tries the latest one… ***+
The Narrative of More • shortstory by Tom Greene
An anthropologist/ "missionary " studies a newly found planet which apparently was colonized by humans centuries ago. All humans who are left are gatherers who use hardly any tools and seem to be completely without any tendencies to co-operate any way. How could a human society work like that? The story is told by short portions of notes the anthropologist makes. A very good and interesting story. The protagonist should have seen what was coming. ****-
The Tarn • novelette by Rob Chilson
A village of apparent idiots starts to dig a nearby pond for valuable remnants of an earlier civilization on the basis of vague rumors. All characters add "ah", "heh" and other grunts to their speech, and so appear complete idiots - and also behave mostly in idiotic way. The writing is very flowery and irritating. Overlong and stupid story- which I didn't finish. *
Tumbling Dice • shortstory by Ron Collins
A man who can influence dice wines against a casino. He gets an offer he can’t refuse, meets an exotic woman and must make a decision. Structurally pretty interesting, but plot wise nothing unusual – but isn’t supposed to be. A pretty satisfying story nevertheless. ***
Dreams of Spanish Gold • shortstory by Bond Elam
A computer which apparently runs things impersonates a human and finally understands what it is to be human. A short – perhaps too short - , but well-written story. ***½
Sleeping Dogs • novella by Adam-Troy Castro
A retired spy has been hiding on a backward planet for years fishing living “under the radar” spending his time fishing and living peaceful life. After he retired he was imprisoned for a while. One day the man who was responsible for his incarceration appears to the village. It can’t be a coincidence, or can it? A well-written story which seems to continue an earlier story. ( it appears this story was originally written as a sequel to the “Prisoner” TV-series, I can see the continuity even if some of the serial numbers has been filed away. A pretty nice story, but it is just a segment of a larger part and I really don’t get the logic of the main protagonist. Is he supposed to be insane at the end or does he just behave like it? ****-
Ashfall • shortstory by Edd Vick and Manny Frishberg
After a volcanic eruption bees are suffering, but a young computer hacking youngster teaches the robotic bees how to co-operate with the real bees. A very short story or rather a scene. Ok story as such, but it is just a setup. ***

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

The first part of a series which apparently is very popular in China. The story starts during the Cultural Revolution and ends in the near future. It tells a story of a science project, which was started in the middle of political turmoil and produced results which will shake the whole world decades later. I don’t believe that if I reveal that the main theme of the book is a contact with extraterrestrial civilization spoils too much. There has been a contact with extraterrestrials and it seems they won’t be friendly. The book is told large part by flashbacks and by just telling what has happened. The book really doesn’t follow the common writing advice “show, don’t tell”.

In the afterword, the translator states that he aimed to preserve the structure of language. That probably explains part of at places awkward writing. I pretty much disagree- I believe that the translator should aim to convey the plot and characters as smoothly as possible and not care about the linguistic structures of the original language. And this translator apparently also believes that the readers are morons and inserted copious amount of footnotes, which not only explain cultural details - most of which should be pretty clear from the circumstances and from the common knowledge of the Chinese history even a westerner with a normal education should have - but also some pretty basic scientific concepts. I was almost insulted by some of them. There also were some pretty bad problems with science, for example the scene where police was evaluating which of (all very small, too far too small for reasonable critical mass + triggering device) several bombs contained a real nuclear explosive with a scale was jaw-droppingly stupid. There were some other very stupid details: A character who specializes in nanotechnology states that the only form they are able to create from nanomaterial consists of a single filament. On the next page it turns out they have flat sheets of material - did the author manage to forget what he stated a few paragraphs earlier? Also, antimatter apparently exists in space in amounts usable for collection for propulsion? If there were such amounts of antimatter in interstellar space, there should be very common occurrences of matter -antimatter collisions with heavy radiation. And a virtual reality computer game, which is pretty crucial for the plot, apparently involves mostly only observing and it is so intriguing, that it induced people to betray everything, literally everything, - and is at the same time so complex that only the most intellectual people care to "play" it? Also, in China tree saplings grow to a forest in three years after planting?

I do have some suspicions of what kind of plot twist might explain some of the stupidities, but that Matrix-like twist would be a reader betrayal of all times and I don’t think the author will go there. But if everything in the book turns out to be a computer simulation it would explain many things. In spite of its’ flaws, the book was entertaining. But is it worth a Hugo – I am not entirely sure.

400 pp.

Monday, May 25, 2015

My Hugo award votes 2015 part 1 – Novelettes

This is the first category where I have read all nominees. I am going to read all nominees of all fiction categories even if it might be hard - at least those two John C Wright stories I have already read, seem to be quite “interesting” and I am not exactly looking forward to reading the other nominees. All expect one of the nominees got their nomination from the “puppy lists”, lists which were designed by Americanocentric people from religious far right, who believe that recent nominees have been too diverse (and apparently far too well written, at least it seems so). And a mystic alliance of “social justice warriors” has been scheming to rob the valiant writers of “real” science fiction from well-deserved nominations. Those claims are pretty ridiculous as there have been several nominees and even winners which represent very well such science fiction they claim has been neglected. But those books were written by women - or worst of all, by John Scalzi, who writes mostly exactly the type of fiction the “dog lovers” claim has been neglected. But he happens to be a liberal and that is apparently one of the worst crimes there possibly can be. There is some evidence, that the more lunatic slate, the “rabid dogs”, which was organized by the openly racist Vox Day got its’ votes from the supporters of “gamergate” scandal – that is from those people, who have rotten their brains by playing too much computer games. The nominees of that list seem to be mostly pretty horrible, at least those I have read so far. In this category, there was only one nominee, which didn’t originate those slates – and that wasn’t very good. It is hard to understand how those sad wankers selected these stories for their lists. There were several from Analog (which actually _has_ been neglected in the nominations even in my opinion) – but they were nowhere among the best novelettes published last in the Analog magazine. None of them was even in the top two in the reader poll of that magazine. If either of those two stories (Life Flight by Brad R. Torgersen and Persephone Descending by Derek Künsken)– incidentally I nominated both of them for Hugos– were on the list, I would have put them above the “no award”. Due to bad or at best insignificant writing, I will vote “no award” for the first place in this category.

“The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014)

The only story in the category which is not from either of the puppy lists. Unfortunately, it isn’t too good, either. A man has broken with his girlfriend and the world turns upside down. Literally. People who were unfortunate enough to be outside are falling up to the sky, fishes which jump up out from the water are trapped on air a fall upwards (the water itself doesn’t fall down strangely enough). The man starts a journey with his girlfriend’s fish to find his former love. A very metaphoric story, so implausible that it is laughable and with extremely irritating characters. In normal year, this would have a solid contender of fourth or fifth place.

“Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium”, Gray Rinehart (Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, 05-2014)
Humans have lived on an alien planet, but alien have come and conquered the colony. They control the level of technology humans can use. The aliens have a severe hang-up about any ditches or anything buried. A human dies and the burial causes some "slight" consternation among the aliens, so much that the trying to decide between exterminating the humans of abandoning the planet. A pretty stupid story. Takes its time to get going and then ends very suddenly. The writing felt clumsy and hard to get into and the ending was ridiculous.

“Championship B’tok”, Edward M. Lerner (Analog, 09-2014)
A group of aliens live on a moon of Uranus. They apparently tried to invade the Earth, but were defeated. The remnants live on the moon in a kind of reservation. They have had some accidents which are being investigated. They might also have some hidden agenda. And there might also be something even more secret going on. A part of a series and feels fairly separate as itself, but the story ends with a cliffhanger. I haven’t been a great fan of this series and I don’t love this instalment, either, but perfectly ok story. As a part of series, the story isn’t a really good nominee to begin with.

“The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale”, Rajnar Vajra (Analog, 07/08-2014)

A group of some sort of “space cadets” take part in a bar room fight. As a punishment, they must join a mission to a planet with apparently intelligent life, which has so far resisted all attempts of communication. Most life forms, especially the plants on the planet are extremely dangerous. One of the cadets claims that he will succeed at something dozens of scientists have failed: he is going to open the communications. Very much reminiscent of Heinlein’s juveniles - not as well and entertainingly written, but not too bad. Not great or unusual in any way, but readable in spite of somewhat irritating characters. In normal year a solid contender of third or fourth place.

“The Journeyman: In the Stone House”, Michael F. Flynn (Analog, 06-2014)

Continues an earlier story. A pair of friends are drafted to an army which fights against green-skinned men. The story apparently happens on a planet which was colonized by humans centuries ago and some high-tech relics might still be around somewhere. For most part the technology is medieval, but the green-skinned ones seem to have muskets and primitive cannons. Little happens in the story. The bulk of the tale is taken by a very detailed description of battle, which at places seems almost like a transcript of a war game which is interspaced with light humorous banter. The writing is pretty good, but again: where is the plot? As a part of series, the story isn’t a really good nominee to begin with and it doesn’t work very well alone.

My voting will be:

1. No award
2. “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale”, Rajnar Vajra (Analog, 07/08-2014)
3. “The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014)
4. “Championship B’tok”, Edward M. Lerner (Analog, 09-2014)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, May 2005

A nice issue with interesting stories.

Footsteps • novelette by Shane Tourtellotte
A dead man is found on the lunar surface. He wears ordinary clothes and he is far too far from any airlocks for a quick suicidal dash. And there are marks on the ground of any vehicle which might have dropped the body. Was it a murder? And if it was, how in hell it was accomplished? A pretty good detective story on moon. The main characters were strangely fascinated and even obsessive about fame. ***½
Death As a Way of Life • [Jack Sawyer's Doppelganger] • novelette by Grey Rollins
A detective who has a few copies of himself running secretly on computer networks studies a case where a man a killed himself in a TV show was not reviewed in a clone body as expected. It was first written down as a machine malfunction, but it turns out there was something else going on. A fairly standard detective story - not great literature but entertaining. ***+
The Inn at Mount Either • shortstory by James Van Pelt
A husband loses his wife in a mystical inn which seems to span several dimensions. He tries to find her, but he is lost more and more. A decent story but stupid characters: wouldn’t the visitors know where there going – even the most basic details? And some extremely badly planned safety features. ***+
Tainted • shortstory by Jerry Oltion
A single intelligent and immortal creature evolves on a planet where life is very different. He/she/it slowly explores the galaxy and fails to find other life until he finds Earth – which is destroyed by a nuclear war fought centuries or millennia ago. A nice bittersweet story. ***+
Tomorrow's Strawberries • shortstory by Richard A. Lovett
In a future earth, the entire surface of the planet is covered by a city – except a largish park. The right to visit is only by lottery. An old man (who body is in pretty good condition due to advanced medicine) gets the privilege. It affects him profoundly. A pretty good and well-written story. ***½
Smiling Vermin • [Jessie and Gus] • shortstory by Ekaterina Sedia and David Bartell
A retired genetic engineer decides to design some small pet dolphins for his wife as a present. Everything doesn’t go well…A light story, but unbelievably indifferent attitude to the spread of new and unpredictable life forms by people who surely should know better. ***+
High Moon • novelette by Joe Schembrie
Remote drones are used for prospecting palladium in moon. The drone operators for a society modeled (very closely ) on the wild west. An Evil Drone run by a Palladium Consortium is a bad guy. A stupid story. It might have worked better with less ridiculous western motives or going even more to the direction of crazy farce. I wonder why the prospectors didn't record the evil works of the evil drone. As they worked using remote viewing it should have been totally trivial. This way they would have had concrete evidence against the consortium – but then there would have been no story. ***+