Friday, January 16, 2015

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, March 2015

A pretty average issue, none of the stories was unusually good. The back-story was lacking in many of them.

Tasha's Fail-Safe • novelette by Adam-Troy Castro

Belongs to a series about a woman who solves crimes or deals with trouble with aliens. There was little backstory and it took a while to remember at least some of the background of the world. Another member of the same agency has been on the trail of a spy, but the spy apparently caught her, as she is in self-induced unresponsive state. The most sensitive workers of the agency are taught to induce such coma to prevent being questioned. But there is a problem: she doesn't wake up as she was supposed to. And the spy is still unrecognized. Then she naturally saves the day, perhaps too easily. A well written story, but wasn't really easy to get into. ***
Brigas Nunca Mais • novelette by Martin L. Shoemaker
A story about wedding, told during a wedding. A pair of officers have a stormy courtship and a devoted relationship and are about to get married when a disaster strikes. A moving story, but when it is told from third person perspective it feels somewhat less emotional it might be. ***+
Robot Boss • shortstory by Erick Melton
A boss who is an AI might be hard to please, especially when it isn't supposed to be able to make mistakes. Especially, when it seems to have made one. It's clear who is to be blamed -or is it? An average story, slightly too long.***
Blue Ribbon • shortstory by Marissa Lingen
Children who have taken part in different competitions on Oort Cloud colony are shut away from the colony due to an epidemic. The actual "catastrophe " part was too short, and the scheming part after that was too long, especially when there was little backstory about the workings of the society.***+
Second Birthday • shortstory by Elisabeth R. Adams
A birthday party starring some giant sloths and other extinct animals. A very short – might be a parody of something, but I didn’t get it. **
The Badges of Her Grief • shortstory by Andrew Barton
A some sort of examiner comes to see if aliens are treated fairly on some sort of installation. A story which is very heavy on discussion, very light on backstory and pretty hard to get into. A slight twist at the end, but I didn't really care about the story. **+
An Immense Darkness • shortstory by Eric James Stone
A scientist working with a virtual recording of his wife (who was killed in a terrorist attack) is asked to interrogate the recording of the terrorist who is responsible for the attack. A good, moving and thought provoking story. ***½
The Extraordinary Extraterrestrial Togo Mouse from Ghana • shortstory by Ryan W. Norris
Zoologists find mouse that look almost exactly like normal mouse, but have totally alien biochemistry up to and including DNA. A nice idea and the writing was ok, but there isn’t much of a story here. ***-
Karma Among the Cloud Kings • novelette by Brian Trent
Buddhists take care of a pumping station on planet which is pumped for its hydrogen. They find out that they have been lied to, and the planet has been a stage of a great injustice. But they might still make things right. Talky, somewhat overlong story with a fairly familiar plot (which is reeled in very fast, when the story eventually gets going.)***

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Leena Lehtolainen: Minne tytöt kadonneet

Maria Kallio is a female police who works in an unit established for unusual and significant crimes. She has narrowly escaped a bomb attack while founding a school for policewomen in Afghanistan. After she has returned to Finland her unit tries to find young refugee women who have disappeared without trace. They have all been members of a “girls’ club” established to improve relations between refugees and locals. Then one member of the club is found dead near her school. Is there a connection between her murder and the disappearances? A pretty good police procedural book, vastly better than the last book I read by this author.

Maria Kallio on ollut Afganistanissa auttamassa poliisikoulun perustamisessa. Selvittyään täpärästi maantievarren miinahyökkäyksestä hän palaa takaisin Suomeen Espoon poliisiin. Espoossa ensimmäisenä juttunaan hän alkaa selvittää minne useampi nuori maahanmuuttaja tyttö on kadonnut. Osassa omaiset vaikuttavat olevan oikeasti hädissään, osassa he taas ovat erikoisen välinpitämättömiä asiassa. Yhteisenä tekijän tapauksille vaikuttaa olevan vain tytöille tarkoitettu kerho, jossa myös Marian oma tytär usein viettää aikaansa. Tutkimukset ovat vasta ehtineet alkuun, kun yksi maahanmuuttajatyttö löytyy koulunsa lähimetsästä kuristettuna. Liittyykö tämä murha aikaisempiin tyttöjen katoamisiin? Ja onko Afganistanin tapahtumilla jotain yhteyttä siihen, mitä Maria tutkii Suomessa.

Olin Leena Lehtolaisen kirjoista aikaisemmin pääosin pitänyt, mutta katastrofaalisen huonon Henkivartijan jälkeen oli korkea kynnys palata kirjailijan teoksiin. Elisa-kirjan hyvä tarjous oli sitten sen verran houkutteleva, että ajattelin antaa vielä yhden mahdollisuuden. Ja ihan hyvä kirja tämä oli, ihan toista tasoa kuin Henkivartija – ja ehkä jopa parempi kuin edellinen Maria Kallio – sarjan teos, jonka lukemisesta kyllä on jo kulunut melkoinen aika. Nopeasti luettava ja viihdyttävä teos, jossa oli jopa jonkintasoisia yllätyksiäkin juonessa ja joka tarjosi myös ajattelun aihetta enemmän kuin moni tusinadekkari.

342 s.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, November 2001

A fairly good issue.

Club Masquerade • novella by Kevin J. Anderson

People have learned to exchange personalities at will. Practically no one lives long in the same body. A group of students have lived for all their lives in an orphanage for children who are born to mothers with random, unknown personalities. They are taught how to change minds, but of them one isn't able to do that - but he is instinctively able to know who the person actually is regardless what body he or she is wearing. A bit overlong, and disjointed story. **+
The Thrill of a Lifetime • novelette by Brian Plante
A man has died in a traffic accident. His mind has been uploaded to a computer and he uses an android body for extreme sports. The computer which runs his “program” is in a rented apartment. Once it is stolen by a burglar. Luckily, the burglar doesn’t close the program but uses the computer to run a violent FPS-game. Will the computer be found? A pretty good story, which could have been longer. ***½
Trafalgar Square • shortstory by Sarah A. Hoyt
An alternate world where Europe and Asia have changed “tracts”. Asia is industrialized, rich and developed. Europe is full of poor people just escaping from totalitarian governments – except the UK which is an analogue for the modern China with totalitarian “communism” with a sort of free market at the same time with severe restrictions on the freedom of thought and speech. A fairly good story, but it was far too literal treatment, everything up to Tiananmen massacre finds its’ correspondence. ***
Nefertiti's Tenth Life • shortstory by Mary A. Turzillo
A story of a euthanized cat, whose mind has been uploaded to a robot body. She is mildly amazed when her slaves don’t seem to love her as much anymore and her sense of smell and appetite seem to have disappeared. Apparently, the robot body is somewhat stronger (and perhaps smarter) than the original cat. A nice story, which could have been longer. ***+
Jake, Me, and the Zipper • shortstory by Rajnar Vajra
Alien children save a small child in an emergency due to extremely contrived circumstances. They live on a planet with mostly pleasant climate so windows are just holes on the wall (no wind what so ever?) but there are occasional very heavy storms and there are automatic systems inside the walls which launch shatterproof screens to the window holes when needed. The system malfunctions and a small child is left inside with no way out. The liens save the day risking themselves. The writing was ok, but the plot was as said very contrived. ***-
The Return of Spring • novelette by Shane Tourtellotte
A man "wakes up" after a treatment for Alzheimer's. He returns home and his family and he himself have a lot adjusting to do. There are many similarities with a (later) Hugo winner, Rainbows End. At places, the technology of 2030's already felt old fashioned. The description of the Alzheimer symptoms didn't ring completely true: I haven't encountered a tendency to destroy things very often and there fairly good drugs to smooth the symptoms. As a whole a pretty good and well written story anyway. ****-

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Pirkko Saisio: Punainen erokirja

Unlinear memories about love, Stalinism, coming out from the closet and studying at University at 70s. Writing was very fresh and enjoyable; but the contents felt like the similar story had been told countless times before. A winner of the Finlandia award.

Epälineaarinen, mielikuvituksellisella ja luovalla tyylillä kirjoitettu muistelmateos kirjailijan elämästä, joka painottuu eniten 70-lukuun. Kirja muistuttaa usein enemmän jonkinlaista proosarunoa kuin varsinaista tavanomaista suoraa proosakerrontaa. Tarinan sisältö ei sinällään ole poikkeuksellista, kyse on rakkaudesta, eroista, opiskelusta, oman seksuaalisuuden tunnistamisesta ja vanhempien reaktiosta homouteen ja opiskelijoiden kommunismiherännäisyydesta. Etenkin viimeksi mainitun vuoksi kirjoittajasta saa aika naivin henkilön kuvan, oikeastiko 70-luvulla "kommaripropaganda" noin kokonaisena nielaistiin? No toisaalta, ilmeisesti kyllä nieltiin. Ensimmäisessä luvussa kirjailija väittää menettäneensä kirjansa aikaisemman version vahingossa. Tapa millä tämä olisi tapahtunut kuulostaa todella epäuskottavalta ja naurettavalta. Jaa että kokonaisesta kirjasta ei olisi varmuuskopiota, ei yhtään eri nimellä talletettua versiota ja kun vahingossa merkkaa koko tekstin ja deletoi sen ja sitten nähtävästi tallentaa sen tyhjän tiedoston aikaisemman päälle? Oikeasti? Kai sitä kirjailijan pitäisi osata työvälineitään edes jotenkin käyttää? Kyseessä oli aika nopeasti luettava, eikä mitenkään huono kirja. Kielellisesti kyseessä on oikein kiinnostava ja jopa nautittava kirja, joka on vähintäänkin keskitasoa Finlandia-voittajista. (joista vuoden 2000 jälkeen palkituista on nyt vain yksi kpl enää lukematta uusimman lisäksi).

298 pp.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge

A group of human explorers have found an ancient and valuable data archive. While they study it, they accidentally wake up a powerful artificial intelligence with apparently very malicious goals. One of the human ships manages to escape and eventually lands on an unknown planet. The natives are dog-like creatures with a group intelligence of sorts. A single unit is slightly smarted than a common dog, a group of five or six is at least on the human level. All the adults of the ship are killed in a surprise attack and two young children survive in care of two different and opposing groups of aliens. Meanwhile, the newly woken intelligence seems to be spreading. At first it is assumed to be a “normal" transcended “evil” AI, which appear about once every century and usually run their course in about a decade and generally destroy only a few dozen civilizations at most - nothing really significant from the galactic viewpoint. But it seems that something more might be going on.
The universe where the book happens is an interesting one: there are zones which enable different levels of technology and thought. Near the core of the Milky Way there are areas where all intelligence is impossible, a little farther (where the Earth is situated) the birth of intelligent species is possible, but true artificial intelligence, faster than light travel and antigravity are impossible. Farther out those are possible and common and there are god-like supers intelligences which usually have little interest on the affairs of lesser races.
The book was slightly overlong and especially those parts, where the rescue ship was slowly approaching the planet felt pretty slow. And the parts which happened on the planet involving the dog creatures and children felt far too short and too far apart, those were the interesting bits. This was probably my least favorite book by Vernor Vinge, but it was by no means a bad one, but I was expecting more from it – I had read so many positive reviews of it. Hugo winners: three to go – the completion of that reading challenge might happen during the next year.

624 pp.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

I Think You'll Find it's a Bit More Complicated Than That by Ben Goldacre

A collection of mostly fairly short critical and skeptical essays. Most of them have been published on Goldcare’s column on Guardian (apparently the best newspaper in Britain). There were a few pretty random and not so readable or interesting ones (like a foreword to a book about small railroads – what did that have to do with this book?), but most of the essays were very good, even when some of them concerned pretty local details like some intricacies of NHS, while many have wider interest. Especially interesting were a couple articles about the “Medical Hypothesis” journal, the chosen journal where the Finnish scammer, Valkee, publishes its’ “studies” about how an ear light “cures” seasonal fatigue. The quality of that journal seems to be even worse than I imagined. Certainly there would be a dire need for a similar journalist in Finland, who is capable of critique stupid misuses of numbers, statistics and mathematics in journalism and in “public” science reporting which is made government and other official or semi-official organizations. Bad reporting and poor grasp of numbers is truly international. As a whole this is not as good and interesting book as “Bad Science” was, but very interesting one anyway. The book contains exhaustive references, so many them that I was surprised when the actual book ended – as according to the reading app there was still a significant percentage of the book left.

496 pp.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mauri Sariola: Susikoski ottaa omansa

A detective tries to find out who killed a beautiful young wife of a rich businessman. A smoothly written book which was fast to read. No a great literary work, but entertaining.

Olen viimeksi Mauri Sariolan kirjoja lukenut joskus noin 20 vuotta sitten. Niistä oli jäänyt ihan kohtalaisen hyvät mielikuvat, mitään suurta kirjallisuutta en niiden muistanut olevan, mutta viihdyttäviä letkeää kevyttä viihde luettavaa kuitenkin. Elisa kirjaan oli tullut Sariolan vanhoja dekkareita varsin edullisesti myytäväksi, ja ostin sieltä yhden aikalailla umpimähkään luettavakseni. Valitsin sellaisen, jonka nimi tuntui oudolta ajatellen, että näin ainakaan en lukisi uudelleen sellaista kirjaa, jonka olin jo aikaisemmin lukenut. Tämä kirja oli mitä siltä odotinkin, eli kevyttä varsin sujuvasti kirjoitettua ja viihdyttävää ja samalla melko perinteistä salapoliisi kirjallisuutta. Etsivä Susikosken nuori työtoveri lähtee alkoholin huuruisen illanvieton päätteeksi mukaan käytännön pilaan, jossa hän kutsuu jo tunnetun etsivän Kulosaarelaiseen hienostohuvilaan keksityn murhan varjolla. Yllättäen tuo ”keksitty” murha sitten osoittautuukin todeksi ja rikkaan teollisuuspampun nuori ja kaunis vaimo on myrkytetty vauhdikkaan illanvieton päätteeksi. Aluksi kenelläkään ei oikein hyvää motiivia tunnu olevan, paitsi vuorineuvoksen kauniilla tyttärellä, joka ei montaa vuotta äitipuoltaan nuorempi ollut, ja joiden keskinäiset välit vähemmän yllättävästi eivät kaikkein parhaimpia olleet olleet. Mutta voisiko fiksu, kaunis (ja rikas) tyttö, joka erittäin helposti kietoo kymmenkunta vuotta iäkkäämmän rikostarkastajankin pikkusormensa ympärille voinut syyllistä tällaiseen tekoon – ja etenkin mikä motivaatio hänellä olisi voinut olla pian tapahtuvaan toiseen murhaan? Voiko etsivä Susikosken objektiivisuuteen luottaa?
Tosiaan nopealukuinen ja viihdyttävä kirja, jonka loppuratkaisu olisi ehkä hiukan lian helppo, eikä välttämättä täysin looginen. Itse lukiessani keksi parikin muuta mahdollista syytä ja motiivia murhiin, jotka ainakin oman arvioni mukaan olisivat jopa toimineet paremmin.
272 s

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Mammoth Book of Science Fiction

A large (and pretty good) collection stories read piece by piece during the last 12-14 months. The overall quality was pretty good; most of the stories were well worth reading. There from a wide variety of source and time periods giving an interesting cross section of science fiction.

Ulla, Ulla • (2002) • shortstory by Eric Brown
The first expedition to Mars returns. There was a strange break-up of transmission during a Mars-walk, and rumors abound that the expedition made some strange discovery. The members of the expedition naturally deny everything and tell that to breakup was due from one member of the group dropping into a chasm. But there was really a find – something really unexpected. A very well told story. There was perhaps too little drama, but otherwise excellent story. ****
Deathday • [Confederation Universe Stories] • (1991) • novelette by Peter F. Hamilton
A man, whose wife has died from a disease on a new, very sparsely habited colony planet, hunts an alien beast as a way to cope with his grief. A well-written story with a twist which was surprising on other hand, but on the other was a pretty well know sf trope. ***½
The Infinite Assassin • (1991) • shortstory by Greg Egan
An assassin is able to perceive the countless (countless like the real numbers, not just countless like integers) alternative realities. His goal is to stop the spread of a vortex of slippage between realities, caused by dreams of a drug user. As he gets closer, the reality is shifting more and more. As he is the same in all the realities he, or at least some version of him, is able to get closer…A very good, well written alternative realities story. ****
Anachron • (1954) • shortstory by Damon Knight
A man discovers a way to make a sort of time portal. He starts to steal antiques through it. It seems that there are some strict natural laws preventing paradoxes. The story is fairly confusing, and even the protagonist has some trouble understanding what exactly is going on. A pretty average story. ***
Firewatch • [Time Travel] • (1982) • novelette by Connie Willis (variant of Fire Watch)
A story from the Oxford time travel series. As usual all characters are bumbling idiots and the organization of time travelers is totally incompetent. A student who was supposed to study the actual St Paul at Middle East journeys to the St. Paul Cathedral during the Blitz. I wonder if the world of these stories suffered some sort of plague, which lowered everyone’s IQ by 30-40 points? The “hero” of the story is a very good example of a typical whiny and stupid person, who is the common protagonist in Willis’s stories. ***
At the 'Me' Shop • (1995) • novelette by Robert Reed
A young boy is taking care of a shop, where you can’t book “a date” with yourself at earlier age. There are different people who meeting different age versions of themselves for different purposes. A poetically written story, but seems to lack something. ***
Vinland the Dream • (1991) • shortstory by Kim Stanley Robinson
A dig which studies the remains of the Vikings in the presumed site of Vinland. It is starting to seem that all the ruins are a very elaborate hoax from the 19th century. The writing is pretty good but aside some philosophical points I really didn’t get what was the meaning of the story. ***+
A Ticket to Tranai • (1955) • novelette by Robert Sheckley
A well known classic about a man who hears about a nice planet where life is really free. There are no taxes, there ample opportunities for everyone and women are young and beautiful. But it turns out that there are some catches. And then some more catches. And then even more. An excellent ironic story, one of the funniest and best science fiction novelettes ever. *****
The Exit Door Leads In • (1979) • shortstory by Philip K. Dick
A man takes part to a lottery and “wins” a compulsory military college education. The school and education seem kind of surreal and there might be a hidden agenda behind everything. Not one what could be expected, though. A pretty good story which felt a bit rushed, a slightly longer form might have been better. ***+
What Have I Done? • (1952) • shortstory by Mark Clifton
A man is able to “see” inside anyone almost instantly. He can tell what kind of person anyone is. He is working as an employment agent and is perfectly suited for the job. One day he meets a man who feels empty inside. He turns out to be an alien and the aliens are planning to conquer the Earth. The employment agent is more or less blackmailed to help the aliens in their assimilation. But he has a plan, a pretty nihilistic one. A pretty dark story considering that aliens are most likely defeated. Mark Clifton apparently really hated humankind. ***½
Finis • (1906) • shortstory by Frank Lillie Pollock [as by Frank L. Pollock ]
End of the world story. The light of the giant sun at the exact centre of the universe finally arrives at Earth. The scientific background was very quaint and likely implausible even from the standard of 1906, but the writing was surprisingly readable and even moving. I wonder if Larry Niven was familiar with this story – there is a major similarity with “Inconstant Moon”. ***½
The Last Days of Earth: Being the Story of the Launching of the "Red Sphere" • (1901) • shortstory by Geo. C. Wallis [as by George C. Wallis ]
Another end of the world story. This time the sun is running out, and the few last humans are waiting for the failure of last human machines. For some reason they are allowed to leave only then in a ball shaped space ship, which is apparently run by magic. Clearly less good than the former story and more dated. **½
Approaching Perimelasma • (1998) • novelette by Geoffrey A. Landis
A trip through a black hole. The protagonist is an AI copy of a human who is loaded to a very tiny robot onboard a tiny experimental ship. A first part was kind of slow, but the second half gave a lot of wonderful sense of wonder. A nice story. ***½
The Pen and the Dark • (1966) • novelette by Colin Kapp
An expedition to a strange alien artifact, which seems to absorb everything, both matter and energy which hits it, and seems to suck out all energy which even comes near. A pretty talky and pretty stupid story, with fairly fascinating alien object, but with horribly inane science. So absurd, that it could have been written in the 30s. Badly overlong and with weak finish. **
Inanimate Objection • (1954) • novelette by H. Chandler Elliott
Physical objects have malicious effort against people, or at least a mental patient thinks so. His doctors might be persuaded to think so, also as the evidence seems to be mounting. Pretty unlikely, but okayish story. ***-
The Very Pulse of the Machine • (1998) • novelette by Michael Swanwick
A woman is trying to survive on Io. She is the lone survivor of an accident which left her friend dead. There is a fair chance that she is able to hike to a base where there is oxygen and supplies available. But then someone or something establishes a radio contact with her. Who is talking to her? Or is it only a hallucination? And should she do what the voice suggests? A well written and excellent story with interesting main character. Could have been longer. ****
High Eight • (1965) • novelette by Keith Roberts [as by David Stringer ]
People burnt to crisp are found more and more near electric installations. A maintenance boss of an electric company tries to find out what is going on. There doesn’t seem to be any god explanation why people suddenly electrocute themselves. A badly overlong and rambling story with a downbeat ending. **½
Shards • (1962) • shortstory by Brian W. Aldiss
The start is confusing and very fragmented, just a stream of feeling and sights. The end explains everything pretty well. A nice story which works pretty well. ***½
Except My Life³ • (1991) • novelette by John Morressy (variant of Except My Life, Except My Life, Except My Life)
A group of clones (who works as a private detective) tries to solve a crime involving the best actor/actress (also cloned) ever have existed. A pretty inventive and well written story, but some tightened might have made it more effective. A fascinating way to indicated what clone was doing and saying what. They were all “I”, but with different superscripts, like I1 and me3. ****-
Into Your Tent I'll Creep • (1957) • shortstory by Eric Frank Russell
An emissary of alien visitors finds that he can hear the thoughts of dogs. Dogs are apparently the real masters of the earth, subtly influencing humans via mind control. And humans have already donated a breeding pair of dogs for the aliens. And the dogs seem really, really cute and something which should be pampered…A fun little story. But I was slightly disappointed that the REAL masters of Earth were not mentioned. Not a word about cats. ****
A Death in the House • (1959) • shortstory by Clifford D. Simak
A lonely farmer rescues a ship wrecked alien. He tries to get help from someone, but doesn’t find anyone who would be able and/or ready to offer any. When the alien dies the local priest refuses burial in the cemetery. The farmer respectfully buries the alien on his own property. He is due for a surprise, but he must also make a sacrifice. A wonderfully story thematically very close to Way Station, one of my all-time favorite novels. This might even be a prequel of sorts? ****+
Refugium • shortstory by Stephen Baxter
Humans have started to explore other solar systems with remote probes. No intelligent life has been found, but there are a lot of ruins which seem abandoned. There are some strange looking bubbles orbiting many of those worlds. Then similar bubbles are found on Oort Cloud making it possible to get to them. Two men with severe financial trouble are more or less forced to go inside one by a fairly disrespectful business man. (I believe there would be a few million volunteers...). And there is a solution for the Fermi paradox. An excellent story, but too short. Well, _nothing_ would long enough to properly convey what might happen next. ****+

498 pp.