Thursday, February 16, 2017

Seppo Jokinen: Kuka sellaista tekisi

The inspector Koskinen tries to find out why several alcoholics who live in the forest near a suburb of Tampere have died. There tend to be a lot of natural causes that might cause their deaths, but several deaths during so short a period? Is there a serial killer, who kills bums, on the loose? A pretty enjoyable book but below average for the series: the characters aren’t as well formed as in the later books, and the motive of the killer was pretty mediocre.

Hervannan metsästä löytyy kuollut alkoholisti. Mies makasi polun varrella useamman tunnin, ennen kuin kukaan huomasi hänen olleen kuollut. Muutamaa päivää toinenkin juoppo löytyy kuolleena. Onko kyseessä vain sattuma, kuten aika moni poliisilaitoksella olettaa – ainahan niitä puliukkoja kuolee. Mutta kun osoittautuu, että vain hieman aikaisemmin on ainakin yksi muu alkoholisti kuolla samanlaisiin oireisiin, Komisario Koskinen alkaa epäillä sarjamurhaajaa. Mutta miksi joku murhaisi rappioalkoholisteja? Onko kyseessä alkoholisteja hysteerisesti vihaava seudun ”siisteydestä” intoileva aktivisti? Vai joku muu?
Sarjassaan vaikuttaa keskitason huonommalla puolella olevalta. Henkilöhahmot eivät jotenkin tunnu ihan itseltään. Tämä saattaa tietysti johtua siitä, että tämä kirjan on aika monta vuotta vanhempi kuin muutaman viimeksi lukemani ja paljon heille on ehtinyt tapahtua ja henkilöhahmot ovat kehittyneet (ja ehkäpä kirjailijan taidotkin). Tarinakin on keskimääräistä heikommalta tuntuva ja murhaajan motiivit jäävät aika avoimiksi. Munuaisten toimimattomuus ei myöskään ihan noin nopeasti tapa, joten kuolinsyyn suhteen kirjailijan taustatyö oli hiukan heikosti tehty tai sitten vedettiin hiukan mutkia suoraksi. Kirja oli kuitenkin viihdyttävää, kevyttä luettavaa.

336 s.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mark Kurlansky: Suola : eräs maailmanhistoria

A detailed history of salt. Nothing more, nothing less. Surprisingly fascinating, though.

Tarina suolan historiasta. Suolan, sen keräämisen, myymisen ja etenkin verottamisen historia on paljon mielenkiintoisempaa kuin voisi ajatella. Suolalla on ollut yllättävääkin merkitystä monen historian käänteen kanssa. Se on toiminut verotuksen kohteena (yllättävän monessa paikassa) ja valtion on pahimmillaan kieltänyt suolan vapaan kaupan ja saattanut vaatia, että virallisesta kaupasta on ollut pakollista ostaa vuosittain kilokaupalla kalliisti verotettua suolaa. Kirja, johon mielenkiinto ihmeesti pysyy yllä koko ajan huolimatta aiheesta, jota ei välttämättä heti pidä erityisen kiinnostavana.

500 s.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Galaxy Science Fiction, September 1955

A bit of a better issue than some of the previous ones.

Little Orphan Android • novelette by James E. Gunn
A man is watching TV and playing games. He gets a delivery: an android, which should be paid by cash on delivery. He doesn’t remember ordering one, but he doesn’t seem to remember anything beyond that same morning. The delivery company has binding proof that he actually did order it, and he must pay it even if it almost depletes his assets. Why has he bought it? Why he doesn’t remember anything? And why does the android he just bought not seem to have any useful purpose? It's a pretty stupid story with some pretty contrived plot points. Androids apparently work only two hours every day, for some strange, artificial reasons, but they perform all the work there is anyway. An overlong and fairly stupid story. **½
Hunting Problem • short story by Robert Sheckley
This is one of the classics. A group of alien “boy scouts” is visiting a planet as corporeal beings. Usually they live on the upper atmosphere in a non-material state, but now they are living like their ancestors. One young scout is a bit timid, but the scout leader tells him that several bulls of the almost mythical beasts, Mirash, have been seen. Maybe he could redeem himself and hunt one of the beasts? At the same time, human prospectors are trying to find valuable jewels on the planet… An excellent and fun story. ****+
One for the Books • novelette by Richard Matheson
A janitor wakes up one morning and speaks perfect French. Soon he starts to know a lot of other things too – he doesn’t necessarily understand everything, but he apparently knows everything. Why and how is this happening? There is a reason, but a pretty contrived one. (Aliens apparently somehow crammed all available information into his brain, and downloaded it from there). It's an average story at best. **½
The Freelancer • short story by Robert Zacks
A man has a job that makes most people despise him: he collects royalties from patented phrases. You can patent a phrase like, “They were made for each other”, and if someone happens to use the phrase in a conversation he is liable for a copyright fee. The protagonist carries a box which listens to conversations, and if it recognizes a copyrighted phrase it automatically bills a fee. There are some good ideas in the story, but little actually happens, only a fairly ordinary day is described. The characterization is pretty bad and rampant misogyny is even worse. **-
End as a World • short story by F. L. Wallace
The end of the world is coming, there are signposts everywhere. People seem to take that very matter-of-factly, and plan for good sightseeing spots. Of course, it turns out to be something else, other than the actual end of the world. Unfortunately, it is much more mundane and much less exiting than anything you could imagine (the first expedition returning from Mars is landing). **+

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Philosopher Kings (Just City 2) by Jo Walton

The book continued the story, in which Greek gods Apollo and Athene established a city on the island of Thera before the Trojan War. The city was modeled on Plato’s Republic. In the first book, the city was established but, after Socrates was brought in and he started to ask some very probing, too probing, questions, everything seemed to break down. Athene (who was at the island as a god) turned Socrates to a fly and disappeared. Apollo stayed on the island, as he was in corporeal form in a real human body and he had fallen in love with a human, Simmea. The original city had split into several new cities and all of them tried to follow Plato’s ideal in some way. One faction had even left the island. The cities squabbled amongst themselves and stole artworks from each other’s stores. On one such raid, Simmea was killed. Apollo almost killed himself, so that he could return with his full god-powers and save Simmea, but she stopped him just before she died. Apollo wanted to get revenge for her death and assumed that those who left the island might be the culprits. He had several children and some of them joined him on the mission to find the missing colony. It turned out that the children of a god, even of a god incarnated as a human, were special, with godlike powers and might to even ascent to godhood themselves. The expedition eventually found what they were looking for: the people who had left the Just City fifteen years earlier. They had established new cities and brought Christianity to ancient Greece – thousands of years before the birth of the Christ. They embraced not only some of the better parts of Christianity, like teaching local natives the basics of hygiene and agriculture, but also some less reputable aspects of it, like flaying heretics alive.
A good book, almost as good as the first part. It had some very intriguing philosophical and historical points. I had to make several Wikipedia searches while reading to find out the background of several details. The writing was smooth and enjoyable. Sometimes, the transitions of the character viewpoints were slightly hard to keep track off, but that is probably more of my failing than book’s. The children of Apollo were very interesting characters and I’ll look forward to learning how they use their powers.
It seems that the last part of the series will be radically different, as the book transforms into pure science fiction. However, the end of this book had more than a little shades of deus ex machina. But, when you are dealing with the Greek gods, that is probably something that cannot be helped and was something the author apparently did on purpose.

352 pp.

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, December 2005

This is a pretty good issue, where the serial takes a lot of space. I have now read every single issue of Analog Science Fiction magazine since about 1975.

Audubon in Atlantis • [Lost Continent of Atlantis] • novella by Harry Turtledove

A story about an alternative world where a large island lies between Europe and America. This island has very unique flora and fauna. An explorer is studying there in the 19th century and tries to find (and paint) animals that are becoming rare due to the spread of American and European plants and animals. He manages to find some strange birds, among other things. It's a pretty good story, though perhaps a tad too long. Moreover, such a story could well have taken place in Australia, for example, so the speculative content (rather than the factual references) isn't that original. ***½
A Christmas In Amber • short story by Scott William Carter
A grandfather takes his son's family with him into a spaceship. An asteroid as big as the USA is going to hit and a select few have been chosen to go into space. (I wonder where that asteroid comes from, as the largest known, Ceres, is less than 1000km in diameter). His small granddaughter doesn't really know what is happening. This is a rather bittersweet story. ****-
Hotel Security • short story by Carl Frederick
A security expert has some pretty serious problems with the automatic security systems in his hotel room. The problems escalate quite quickly. It's a short and entertaining story. ***+
The Slow Ones • [Draco Tavern] • short story by Larry Niven
A short Draco Tavern story about extremely slow, short and not particularly advanced aliens. ***-
Do Neanderthals Know? • novelette by Robert J. Howe
A scientist discovers a plant with profound effects. He samples it at the research laboratory where he works and even gives it to some of his co-workers. However, the company they work for isn’t too happy about employees doing pharmaceutical experiments on themselves. It's a pretty good story, but the science doesn’t make even the slightest sense, and the people mostly behave in a very strange and illogical way. ***½

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Johanna Sinisalo: Auringon ydin

In the latest book by Johanna Sinisalo, one of the most internationally recognized fantasy authors in Finland, the story tells of an alternative “eusistocratic” Finland, in which women have been domesticated as beautiful, but pretty brainless, eloi. There are, of course, throwbacks, the morlocs, but they are sterilized at an early age and “work for the common good.” Alcohol, tobacco, coffee and even capsaicin have been forbidden. Vanna looks like an eloi, but she has a sharp mind and her behavior is more like that of a morloc. She is addicted to capsaicin and starts to sell it secretly. This is an extremely good, well-written dystopic novel with some nice, very dark, and ironic touches.

Johanna Sinisalon uusin kirja, joka tosin on jo pari vuotta vanha. Kirja on luettu kirjapiirin kirjana.

Minulta pyydettiin ehdotusta jostain fantasiaromaanista kirjapiirissä luettavaksi. En ollut itsekään tätä kirjaa lukenut, vaikka se “lukulistalla” oli ollut jo pitkään. Ajattelin, että kyseessä olisi kirja, joka sopisi hyvin “tottumattomillekin” fantasian ja dystopian lukijoille ja ilmeisesti olin aika oikeassa.

Kirja tapahtuu vaihtoehtoisessa todellisuudessa, “eusistokraattisessa” Suomessa, jossa historia on jo 1800-luvulla lähtenyt toisille urille. Tuolloin tärkeimmäksi asiaksi on päätetty miesten seksuaalisen frustraation estäminen ja naisia on lähdetty käytännössä jalostamaan ja kouluttamaan, jotta kunnon miehillä ei mitään tämäntyyppisiä ongelmia pääsisi kehittymään. Naisia on kahta rotua. Osa on eloita, jotka ovat stereotyyppisiä “blondeja”, joille tärkeintä on päästä naimisiin hienon miehen kanssa ja tämän jälkeen ajan kuluttaminen juoruiluun ja shoppailuun. Osa on morlokkeja, jotka sterilisoidaan nuorena ja tämän jälkeen työskentelevät “yhteiskunnan hyväksi” erilaisissa suorittavan tason tehtävissä. Miehistä tärkeimpiä ovat maskot, jotka johtavat yhteiskuntaa ja ovat ainoita, jotka ovat oikeasti jossain mielessä vapaita. Betamiehiäkin on, mutta he eivät kiinnosta ketään. Kaikki nautintoaineet; tupakka, alkoholi ja myös chili ovat tiukasti kiellettyjä. Kirjan sankari Vanna on ulkonäöltään eloi, mutta on oikeasti henkisesti morlokki ja osaa ajatella muutakin kuin komean miehen naimisiin pääsyä. Hän addiktoituu kapsaiiniin ja chiliin ja sotkeutuu tämä kielletyn nautinnon salakauppaan ja välittämiseen. Hänen siskonsa, Manna, on puhdas eloi, joka katoaa mentyään 16-vuotiaana naimisiin. Hänen puolisonsa on saanut rangaistuksen taposta - masko tosin ei eloin tappamisesta kovin pitkää tuomioita saa - mutta ei koskaan ole suostunut kertomaan mitä Mannalle oikeasti on tapahtunut. Vanna haluaisi tietää mitä siskolleen on tapahtunut ja yrittää löytää siskonsa ruumiin Teiskolaisen pientilan (jossa sisarukset varttuivat ja jolla Manna puolisonsa kanssa ehti lyhyen aikaa asua) lähistöltä.Samalla erikoinen uskonlahko, jolle Vanna on pientilalla antanut turvapaikan, yrittää jalostaa erityisen vahvaa ja erityistä chililajiketta.

Kirja on erittäin vetävää tekstiä, jossa lukujen välissä on todellisuudentuntua antavia lainauksia tapahtumamaailman erilaisista lähdeteoksista, mm. kirjan todellisuuden historiankirjoista ja saduista. Maailma oli hyvin kuvattu ja se historia, joka oli johtanut maailman oli looginen. Kirjan loppu tosin menee ehkä hiukan liikaa metafyysisen fantasian puolelle, kun siihen asti oli pysytty aika ”realistisessa” maailman kuvauksessa.

Kirjapiirilläiset varsin yksituumaisesti pitivät kirjasta, osa jopa omaksi yllätyksekseen. Nykyaikaan, vaikkakin vaihtoehtoiseen sellaiseen ja omaan paikkakuntaan sijoittuva kerronta koettiin kiinnostavana ja lukemiseen sisään vetävänä.

300 s.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, January-February 2017

Usually the double issues have been pretty good, but not this tile. As a whole, this was a pretty disappointing issue.

The Proving Ground • novella by Alec Nevala-Lee

People who live at a remote island start to build large wind turbines so that they can be self-sustained in a world where sea levels are rising. For some reason, birds start to behave strangely. They start to attack people and eventually manage to kill someone. What is happening and why? A fairly good story, but there were some problems with plausibility. The story has some similarities to technophobic ramblings of the populistic and near racist "tru-finns" party in Finland, which is kind of amusing. ***+
Twilight's Captives • [Only Superhuman Universe] • novelette by Christopher L. Bennett
A diplomat is solving a crisis between humans and aliens on a remote planet. Apparently, the aliens have kidnapped human children. But they apparently have a good reason for that and a plausible plan to diminish future schism between the species. Not bad, but slightly overlong story. ***
Orbit of Fire, Orbit of Ice • shortstory by Andrew Barton
A spaceship might be able to prevent a serious collision between space junk and a space station, but most likely at the cost of the life of the entire crew. Should they do it? A lot of discussion and I found the ending a bit unsatisfying. ***-
Long Haul • shortstory by Marie DesJardin
A pilot gets an alien pet and gets very attached to it during his long solitary trips. It seems to have some empathic powers. On one planet, some custom officials overstep some boundaries, which leads to a tragic outcome. But the pilot gets a new, human friend. A story which is sad, and somehow comforting at the same time. ***+
Catching Zeus • shortstory by Tom Jolly
An expedition is trying to find mineral which would function as a room temperature superconductor. They have a good reason to suspect that it exist in Labrador as a 3D satellite magnetic mapping has produced results which can't really be explained otherwise. The Chinese and the Russians are also trying to find the deposit. And they are not afraid of some rough action. As a story, it was pretty nice, but scientifically it was totally implausible on many levels. ***
Drifting Like Leaves, Falling Like Acorns • shortstory by Marissa Lingen
A remote military base isn't a very nice place. Luckily, they have frogs, which exert psychoactive drug that gives a feeling of wellbeing. There are some apparently modified people who live in trees. The military is considering using them to carry bombs. More of a scene than a story - due to scant backstory it was hard to get into. **½
Dall's Last Message • shortstory by Antha Ann Adkins
Aliens who live in an ocean (on another planet?) transcribe a last message when they die. One alien goes too high and is chased by a predator but is able to make an important discovery. Will he be able to leave the last message? OK story, but bit short for the backstory. ***
The Last Mayan Aristocrat • shortstory by Guy Stewart
The last Mayan princess is spending her days waiting for the return of her father, who is imprisoned by the conquistadors. She is a god of her people, but they are abandoning her more and more by leaving the city and going to the jungle. Then she learns that another "real" god wants her audience. The god is dying, and has a request. A pretty good story about an apparent alien living with ancient Mayans. ***
The Shallowest Waves • novelette by Thoraiya Dyer and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
A scientist is about to send a probe to Europe. A separate story follows a man who is diving in the seas of Europe. Both behave pretty erratically, and there are long internal monologues in the middle of limited action. There was an irritating and careless mistake: if the heart rate is 350 (hardly even possible), there is no way that the blood pressure could ever be 230/120. Such a fast heart rate would cause the collapse of blood pressure, as the heart would have no time to be filled by blood. The writing as such was OK, but the characters were extremely irritating and mostly behaved endlessly illogical way, so I didn't much like the story. **+
Necessary Illusions • shortstory by Tom Greene
A planet has been colonized centuries ago and has apparently been largely forgotten. Now the representatives of a new empire/federation of planets have arrived and want an audience with the leader. They have an ultimatum of sorts. A fairly well good story, but it starts with too scant a background - it wasn't easy to figure out what was going on. ***-
Paradise Regained • shortstory by Edward M. Lerner
A man lives alone. He is observing a flag his father raises every day. If the flag doesn't change daily, something has happened to his father. He goes to find out what has happened and finds his father dead in a derelict spaceship, where they had lived together until the man had reached puberty, when they were no longer able to tolerate their scents. There are humans on the planet, but they live far from others, like hermits – anything else would be unthinkable. A very good story, probably the best in the issue. ****
Briz • shortstory by Jay Werkheiser
A colony ship is approaching the sun. There is a problem, but they might be able to slingshot to another star farther away. The solar system has some strange energy signatures very near the sun, in the hot, inhospitable zone where water might exist as steam, or even as highly-corrosive liquid. The story is a bit too short and scene-like, though it is not bad overall. ***
Split Signal • shortstory by Joel Richards
An author who has been uploaded to a computer asks help from a private detective: apparently, a copy of him has been stolen and used to write books in his style. Is that even illegal? Partly a detective story, and partly a courtroom drama. A fairly good story, which at times felt a bit too straightforward, with things arranging themselves too neatly. Still one of the better stories in the issue. ***½
After the Harvest, Before the Fall • novelette by Scott Edelman
Children are “harvested” and they reach adolescence in a day or so. After that, they wait to be “harvested” once again – their brain is destroyed, and their bodies used as surrogate bodies for rich people. I had some problems with the story: I first thought that it must happen in some sort of virtual world: there couldn’t be any other possible explanation for how the children would grow at least tenfold in a single day. Is it virtual reality or magic? Or poor writing? The story had some thematic similarities with Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. It was not as good - but what would be? ***+
Whending My Way Back Home • [Martin & Artie] • novelette by Bill Johnson
Time travelers from different realities live in past. They are trying to influence things so that the future timeline would be changed. For some of the travelers, the timeline they come from has disappeared, and if their reality changes too far, they themselves might disappear. A woman (who comes from the future) gets sick, and a group of others help her. A discussion-heavy and overlong story – I didn’t get into it, just as I haven’t been very keen on the other instalments of this series. **½

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two by J. K. Rowling

This is the continuation of the story of Harry Potter in form of a play. It happens about twenty years later than the “real” books. The children of people who became famous after the earlier events have problems with the high expectations that their parents, teachers, and even they themselves have set upon them. Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy are underachieving children who rebel against their parents. They are best friends in spite of the hatred their fathers felt for each other years ago. They hatch a plan how they might gain some attention, but it backfires very badly as reality itself is changed and everything is under dire threat.
The play was pretty good after one got used to the unusual format. At first, there seemed to be some problems with the characterization, but twenty years and hard life experiences would most likely leave some marks, which might explain the uncharacteristic behavior some of the characters seemed to have.
I must wonder, though, how the play has been produced. There are so many scene changes, flashbacks, and consecutive scenes that happen in different places that it is hard to imagine how that has been managed. It certainly would be nice to see the play, but apparently it has been sold out for a decade or something.

352 pp.

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