Thursday, August 22, 2019

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, July-August 2019

Pretty varied bunch of stories: some pretty good, but many which were less so.

Vault • novelette by Robert R. Chase
A spaceship is sent to study a planet that is orbiting a star with a very unusual trajectory. The premise isn’t bad, although not unusual, but the writing wasn’t very good. I have never seen such an amount of “As you know, Bob” style of exposition where the crew members discuss things that should be totally obvious to all involved. The main protagonist also has long expository discussions with the ship's computer (which has pretty good AI, but it is horribly illegal to consider it as a self-aware AI, and even saying “thank you” to it is almost punishable by imprisonment – if discussing with an AI is such a horrible thing, why make it possible to discuss with it with spoken language at all?). The main protagonist is a ship doctor/psychologist and possibly a “political officer”. To test that a crew member makes an unprovoked attack against the protagonist – apparently, if he were a political officer, he would report the action. Wouldn’t it be natural to report such behavior in ANY case? Especially if you are the “psychologist” wouldn’t the only possible reaction be grounding and confining the obviously mentally unstable crew member straightaway? The story then examines the discovery of an alien artifact on the planet and its analysis – nothing really new or unusual storytelling wise – with a small twist concerning the AI but with unbelievably stupid characters. **
The Quality of Mercy • novelette by Catherine Wells
A female scientist goes to another planet to research alien wild creatures living there and to find if they are sentient or not. A male “warrior caste” soldier comes with her to help in establishing the base, where cameras have surveyed the group of aliens for years. It turns out that some of the cameras have been destroyed - is that natural or not? The characters have a deep distrust at the beginning but it later turns to an understanding. The story was fairly entertaining while extremely irritating at the same time. The characters were caricatures with current attitudes. The plot had many stupidities: the characters apparently walked a five kilometer two-way trip, even several times a day, through a wild forest country without tracks. Apparently, the author has no experience at all in walking in a wild forest: even one way would most likely be more than two hours on easy terrain, and several hours on hard terrain. Also, the poachers chose the ONE herd on the whole planet which was monitored? What are the odds? And why would they use a twine made from local materials? A lot of work for something trivial which could have been purchased easily. ***
Shooting Stars • short story by Tom Jolly
A detective and his AI helper try to solve the murder of a man with a good-sized hole through his chest. A bit of a clumsy story with an extremely contrived plot. There were some strange details. I don’t understand why a planet “near horseshoe nebula” has “strange treasures” and a lot of meteorites - I cannot think about any sensible reason for that. **+
A Life in Particle Archaeology • short story by John Vester [as by John J. Vester]
Social insects study subatomic structures apparently from another dimension, and the Earth is an electron from their viewpoint. This isn’t a real story, just a setup which is meant as humorous. It was stupid beyond belief and incited almost hatred. *
Sailors of the Second Sun • short story by David L. Clements
A mission to a nearby brown dwarf is underway. A journalist with a science background has heard a tip that the AI on board has some issues. And, at first, it seems that the hunch was right, as the probe repeatedly takes pictures from the same place. A shortish story which is more of an idea than a story with a plot. ***
Labor-Saving Relations • short story by Buzz Dixon
A man feels irritated as his web-capable intelligent home appliances are getting uppity while he isn’t polite enough, and even tries to put none-machine washable things into a washing machine. A fun little story. ***
The Babbage Tour • short story by Leo Vladimirsky
A husband and wife team researches time travel. The wife gets cancer. The time travel most likely will kill you, but if you have incurable cancer does that really matter? A simple short story. ***
All Tomorrow's Parties • short story by Phoebe North
Another time travel story. A time traveled is jaded, as wherever he goes back in time, there are other time travelers who make anachronistic errors: wrong style buttons and so on. He goes to an obscure concert with a girlfriend. The story was okay, but the characters were very irritating, and the story just fizzled out. ***-
A Wonderful Thing to Say • short story by Dan Reade
Another time-related story. After her husband died, the wife uses a contraption that can travel into the past to read a letter the husband wrote. A technically nice story, but considering the end, I don’t understand why she paid for an apparently expensive procedure as the marriage was already over in two ways anyway.***
Portle • short story by Robert Scherrer
A machine which enables instantaneous travel was discovered on the moon. A young child (whose journal mostly IS the story) is afraid of going through the portal, as she believes that her parents change each time she goes through. It turns out that the portal opens to other realities and only a select few are able to remember the realities they come from. The beginning was a very good story, but I found the ending to be very disappointing and illogical. If the capability to see through all dimensions makes those who can do it immensely intelligent, why did the prehumans who supposedly had the ability not create a culture? What about animals? If the primitive humans had the ability, what about higher apes? Or other almost human species like Neanderthals or Denisov people? And it is very contrived that the child is able to go to any reality but not her original one - or even to any that very closely resemble it. There should be an infinite number of realities anyway. The first half was over four stars, but the last barely two. ***+
Monarch of the Feast • novelette by Paul Di Filippo
A poet from mid-19th century Italy encounters a strange man who appears to have strange capabilities and strange machines. He wants to unite Italy and possibly the world. The poet himself also believes in the united Italy, and he is ready to help. But another strange man gives him a serious warning of a possible consequences. A somewhat sketch-like time travel story which is described from the point of view someone who lives in his own time. The motivations of the characters were left very open for everyone involved. There was at least one anachronism. It is very unlikely that sparkling wine would be available in about 1850 Italy and certainly not in a pitcher. ***½
What We Named the Needle • short story by Freya Marske
A culture sends a smart teen to the stars in suspended animation pods for badly defined reasons. The pod is captured by an intelligent ship whose designer is becoming demented. A fairly good story. ***½
Uncommon • short story by Leah Cypess
A woman can get a curative treatment for her cancer - but she would lose her immunity to all sorts of common cold type infections. Too horrible to even think of. Very stupid story. If the overwhelming majority were immune to colds the herd immunity would practically prevent it for those without immunity anyway. And the choice is ridiculous anyway. ***-
Captain Zack & the Data Raiders • short story by Steve Rasnic Tem
A group fights against data corruption. Governments, interest groups and what not erase data from the internet and a group fights back. Just a scene; not actually a story. **½
Dreaming Up the Future • short story by Julie Novakova
Some sort of essay of peer review process mixed with a rudimentary “story”. Very non-interesting. **-
Finnegan, Bring the Pain • short story by J. M. McDermott [as by Joe M. McDermott]
A girl is moving to stars with her family. Her friends, especially one boy, arrange a farewell party for her. A pretty good, bittersweet story. ***½
A Neighborhood for Someone Else • short story by Alison Wilgus
A translator is working on an alien planet. She has had augmentations for the sense of smell, as smell is important for the communication between aliens. She doesn’t really belong with humans or aliens and feels very alienated. Not a story; just a scene. (I wonder why scenes presented as stories are so rampant in Analog nowadays? I really don’t care for them.) ***
The Eyes of Alton Arnhauser • novelette by Nick Wolven
A street punk steals a contraption from an abandoned building which uses all possible outlets to get as much as possible information through the internet about anyone who wears the interface built onto contact lenses. It is far too much information for anyone to bear. The system apparently works with magic – and the way it grows attached to eyes was also kind of farfetched. ***
The Slipway • novelette by Greg Egan
A strange area appears in the sky. It is like the stars were replaced with something from another, denser part of the sky. And the area is growing – far too fast for it being a very remote phenomenon. What is happening? Is an opening of a wormhole approaching the Earth? But then calculations show a surprising fact: Earth might have already gone thought it... An excellent story, with a very open end. I look forward to a continuation. ****

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Seppo Jokinen: Hiirileikki (Koskinen #11)

Pikkuisen vanhempi Koskis-kirja, joka tarttui antikvariaatista mukaan. Tällä kertaa komisario selvittelee varsinaista maanlaajuista rikossarjaa. Useampia miehiä on pahoinpidelty vakavasti tai he ovat jopa kuolleet nostettuaan suuren määrän rahaa 500€ seteleinä. Henkiin jääneet ovat olleet oudon haluttomia keskustelemaan pahoinpitelyyn johtaneista tapahtumista. Aluksi yhteydet tapauksien välillä eivät ole selviä, mutta vähitellen asiat selkiytyvät ihan kunnon poliisityön ja pienen onnenkin myötä. Koskisen yksityiselämässä mustasukkaisuus aiheuttaa ongelmia ja poliisilaitoksen henkilökunnan piirissä tulevat vaalit työntekijän edustajan valinnasta johtoryhmään nostavat tunteita.
Kirja on ihan tuttua laatua, varmaan sarjana keskitasoa, mukavaa kevyttä kesälukemista raskaampien kirjojen välissä.

This is a pretty average inspector Koskinen crime procedural where Koskinen and his fellow policemen stumble upon a case that might cover several towns around Finland, not just Tampere. It is light, nice entertaining reading where the personal life of the main character is at least as important as the crime he is investigating.

282 s.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Tommi Kinnunen: Pintti

Tämäkin kirja on äänikirjana kuunneltu. Kyseessä on Tommi Kinnusen kolmas romaani. Itse pidin kovasti Neljäntienristeyksestä, mutta Lopotti oli siihen verrattuna pieni pettymys. Uusi kirja, Pintti, kertoo kolmesta sisaruksesta, kahdesta tytöstä ja lievästi kehitysvammaisesta, ilmeisen autismikirjon alueelle asettuvasta pojasta. Jokainen henkilöistä on päähenkilönä yhdessä luvussa, joista jokainen kertoo yhden päivän tapahtumista. Tapahtumien taustana on lasitehdas, joka hallitsee koko kylän elämää ja jossa kaikille on paikkansa, jopa vammaiselle pojalle hiukan suojatyöluonteisissa tehtävissä. Kinnuselle tyypilliseen tapaan kirja ei ole mikään iloinen ja onnellinen kertomus, mutta siitä huolimatta se on hyvin mukaansa tempaava ja kiehtova. Henkilöhahmot olivat hyvin kuvattuja ja kerronta osien välillä oli toisistaan poikkeavaa, etenkin ensimmäisen jakson yhteydessä, jossa vammaisen pojan kokemat valot, värit ja muodot tulivat erittäin elävästi esiin. Kirjan muut osiot olivat oikeastaan hiukan pettymys alkuun verrattuna, mutta kielellisesti ja kerronnallisesti teos oli ensiluokkaista työtä.

This book tells the story of a small society that is formed around a glass factory. Everyone knows their place, as the glassworkers have a clear social structure. The author describes a family of three siblings who are on the lower end of the social “pecking order”. The adult son has some kind of autism spectrum disorder, but even he is employed at the factory, helping out where he can. The events of the book happen on three separate days, a bit after the Second World War. The writing is excellent, particularly the description of life and characters in this world, even though life is hard, and some unfortunate events happen.

291 pp.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee

A complete history of the early years of the Astounding Science Fiction Magazine and four important persons involved with it: Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, editor John W. Campbell and Ron Hubbard of the scientology fame. Although I was quite well informed about many details and events of that era, as I have read Isaac Asimov’s extremely detailed autobiographical works and also some biographical material about Heinlein, there were many things I didn’t know, especially concerning Hubbard.
At times, it felt like the book had a bit too much wordage for Ron Hubbard however, he was apparently a very important person for John W. Campbell, the long-term editor of Astounding. What was surprising was how mentally disturbed many of the people felt like, especially Ron Hubbard who seems to have been a compulsive liar with significant personality disorders. Furthermore, John W. Campbell, who considered himself to be a man of science, apparently had no concept at all about a scientific principle, or even about logical thinking. When he got older, Heinlein developed some “interesting” personality traits and some very far-right political opinions. Asimov was apparently fairly sane; he just had some narcissistic tendencies and might this day and age be classified as a sexual predator. So, pretty jolly bunch, however, the book was extremely interesting in spite (or because) of that. It was well-written, meticulously researched, with extensive sources. It was my number one choice at the Hugo voting on its category.

544 pp.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

My Hugo award votes 2019 part 5: Novels

It was very easy to decide what was the best book this year; there was no contest at all. There was only one book I really enjoyed, as the others had at least some faults. I have not yet finished Revenant Gun, but I find it to be better than the second part of the series, even though the number of characters and the nonlinear style of events make it sometimes a bit demanding to follow. Would it be so horribly hard to indicate when and where the events are happening, especially if there are many flashbacks?

The Calculating Stars will probably win, but little really happened there and I found it to be somewhat pretentious in places. Record of Spaceborn Few might have been pretty good if it had presented some kind of a plot. In spite of that, it will be the second one on my list. The last one was also pretty easy to decide; The Space Opera was mostly stupid without any real merits that I could see.

1. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
2. Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
3. Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee
4. The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
5. Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
6. Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

Thursday, July 25, 2019

My Hugo award votes 2019 part 4: related works

The best related works was a very varied category. Nominees were a net site achieving a huge amount of fan fiction, a documentary about why the trilogy of the Hobbit movies is so shitty, a history of Hugo winners, a memorabilia net site of Mexican authors who were visiting the last Worldcon, an interview book of Ursula K. Le Guin and a very detailed history of an important scifi-pulp Astounding science fiction. Fan fiction has never really been very interesting to me. I have ever read only a couple pieces of it. So the archive was pretty lukewarm for me. Neither did I find the travelogue of the Mexicans and samples of their fiction very interesting at all. The YouTube video series about the Hobbit was excellent and explained what was so wrong with that series. Personally, I stopped watching at the scene where dwarfs were escaping inside barrels in a stream. Just too stupid and cartoonish to be tolerated…

All three books were excellent. The one detailing Astounding spent a bit too much wordage for Ron Hubbard, but, apparently, he was a very important person for John W. Campbell, the long-term editor of Astounding. But it was altogether a very good and comprehensive history book, and I am now about 60% through it, and I will write a more detailed review of it later.

The History of Hugos was a fascinating discussion about almost all winners and nominees until the year 2000. I wonder why that was used as a cutoff point – will there be a part two someday? Most opinions in the book were well justified, even if I didn’t always agree. There were some slight editing issues, as the material was first published as a blog. I got a fairly long addition to my TBR pile from this book.

The interview book with Ursula K. Le Guin consists of three parts. All three were interesting, but it is a pity that the most interesting one, the one about fiction, was by far the shortest one.

My voting order in this category is as follows:

1. Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, by Alec Nevala-Lee

2. An Informal History of the Hugos: A Personal Look Back at the Hugo Awards 1953-2000, by Jo Walton

3. The Hobbit Duology (a documentary in three parts), written and edited by Lindsay Ellis and Angelina Meehan

4. Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing by Ursula K. Le Guin with David Naimon

5. Archive of Our Own, a project of the Organization for Transformative Works

6. The Mexicanx Initiative Experience at Worldcon 76 by Julia Rios, Libia Brenda, Pablo Defendini, and John Picacio

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Agatha Christie: Lordin kuolema (Hercule Poirot #9) [Lord Edgware Dies]

A pretty standard, perhaps below average, Agatha Christie mystery. Without its pretentious diversion, I would have figured out the murderer about halfway through.

Autossa äänikirjana kuunneltu kirja, joka on varsin tavanomainen Agatha Christie, jossa yritetään selvittää kuka murhasi varsin epämiellyttävästi useampia henkilöitä kohtaan käyttäytyneen lordin. Paras motivaatio hänen murhaamiseensa oli lordin puolisolla, jonka jopa nähtiin tulevan lordin asuntoon juuri hetki ennen hänen murhaansa. Mutta vaimolla on täydellinen alibi: hän oli saamaan aikaan illalliskutsuilla, joilla useat henkilöt näkivät hänen olevan paikalla. Miten tämä on mahdollista?
Kirja oli aika standardi viihdyttävä dekkari. Itse tosin olisin keksinyt murhaajan ja murhatavan jo noin puolivälissä kirjaa, mutta kirjailija käytti aika raukkamaista harhautusta hiukan hämäämään lukijaa. (mainittiin, että kertojahenkilö ei nähnyt yhtä henkilöä enää koskaan paitsi yhden kerran joskus myöhemmin). Tämän vuoksi ja yhden toisen aika tarpeettoman, ilmeisesti lähinnä juonta mutkistamaan tarkoitetun yhden henkilön kertoman valheen vuoksi ei kuuluu kirjoittajansa parhaimmistoon.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Reijo Mäki: Hot Dog (Vares #27)

Another humorous detective novel about a private dick who works at Turku and likes his booze and women. Pretty average for the series, after a very slow start with nice banter and interesting villains who end up dead in fascinating ways.

Välipalana taas Vareksen seikkailuja. Tällä kertaa Vares selvittelee vanhan poliisikaverinsa katoamista. Tämä oli hiukan epäselvissä olosuhteissa irtisanoutunut poliisilaitokselta ja muuttanut sitten syntymäkotiinsa pohjanmaalle. Muutamia vuosia myöhemmin hän ilmaantui takaisin Turkuun metsittyneen näköisenä ja oli vihjaillut tietävänsä jotain muutamia vuosia aikaisemmin tapahtuneesta rikollispomon teloitustyyppisestä murhasta. Pian tämän jälkeen hänestä ei ollut jälkeäkään missään.
Kirja oli aika standardia Vares-laatua. Letkeää sanailua, jänskiä tilanteita ja hämyjä konnia, joille lopussa pääosin käy kovin huonosti. Alkupuoli oli kovin hidas, mahtaakohan kirjailija saada kovatkin lahjukset DBTL-festareilta, siinä määrin niitä käsiteltiin (pääosin ihan täysin turhaan) kirjan ensimmäiset lähes sata sivua. Melkein tuli jo uskonpuute siitä kannattaako kirjaa edes jatkaa, kun oikein mitään merkittävää ei tuntunut tapahtuvan, mutta sitten vauhti kyllä parantui. Kirja oli kevyttä, viihdyttävää kesälukemista, ei sen enempää eikä sen vähempää.

464 pp.