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.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, January-February 2015

A pretty good issue, mostly nice, well written stories.

Malnutrition • novelette by J. T. Sharrah
An alien ambassador is almost murdered at a diplomatic reception. The species in question has an extremely strong taboo against eating in public. While he is unconscious he is fed and that causes “some” problems for all concerned. The first half of the story was better than the last half where events “rolled in” fairly fast and fairly unsatisfactorily. Also, I wonder how the diplomatic corps (both alien and human) are so unfamiliar with different customs and can’t really even suspect that the alien habits might be unfamiliar and strange. ***+
The Yoni Sutra • shortstory by Priya Chand
A short story about future India where women wear implants which prevent any men (outside of family) even touching them. And even looking at a woman without permission is punishable – painfully so. Just a glimpse to a fascinating world. A newlywed woman (with no knowledge of sex) is coping with different pressures and attitudes. Good writing, but too short. ***+
The Great Leap of Shin • novella by Henry Lien
A prequel (?) for a story which was published in Asimov’s. A scientific advisor of the emperor of China is trying to trigger a huge earthquake (by getting almost everyone in China to jump at a harmonic frequency – among other schemes). The resulting earthquake would destroy the island of Pearl, a wonderful island made from extremely slippery material enabling skating everywhere. A group of youngster has come to make the plea for stopping the “great leap” so that their home would be saved. An excellent and well written story. If this were published later in the year, it would have been a strong contender for awards. Now it is going to take more than a year before it is eligible. ****+
Just Browsing • novelette by Stephen Lombard
Aliens have come. They have only limited time, but one thing they want to see is a library in a small town. Why? There is a somewhat good reason and they find something else interesting, another fairly good story, but the relationship stuff somehow didn't ring true. ***
Ulenge Prime • shortstory by Chuck Rothman
An African dictator builds a space station by a rule of terror. When the inevitable coup comes he escapes there with his wife. Is there a reason for his madness? A short, implausible but even sad story. ***
Long Way Gone • shortstory by David L. Clements
A copy of a man despairs on an alien planet. He and his wife were supposed to be copied simultaneously to a ready built (by nano machines) base, but for some reason she didn't do it. He has some trouble adjusting. Another well written story, but it is just a glance, just a "changing point", and something is lacking from the whole. ***
Why the Titanic Hit the Iceberg • shortstory by Jerry Oltion
Earth is almost destroyed. The richest of the rich live at a huge space station enjoying indecent luxury, while the service staff is planning a revolution. A good but nihilistic and pessimistic story. ***½
Fool's Errand • shortstory by Judith Tarr
A horse wakes up from deep sleep during a hyperspace journey. Unfortunately, no living things can survive jumping phase of the trip without proper shielding (except cats and ferrets). Should the magnificent animal be put down or is there a way? A fairly good story with perhaps too easy ending. ***
Samsara and Ice • shortstory by Andy Dudak
Two soldiers have battle which last centuries. The wake up periodically, and one kills another. The is a conditioning to perform like that. But once another put down his weapon. The back story in the beginning was pretty thick, but when the story got going it was pretty good.***+
Unmother • shortstory by Lex Wilson
Sentient white cells/nano machines/alien invaders (?) live inside a human brain. One of the “cells” (or whatever they are) leads a mutiny of sorts against theirs “mother” and helps other to escape probable doom (a brain tumor?). A pretty strange story where it was kind of hard to grasp what really was going on, and what the protagonists were. But surprisingly readable in spite of that. ***
Marduk's Folly • shortstory by Sean Vivier
Aliens are approaching solar system, and miss earth as they believe no habitable planets might be so close the sun. Very short, nothing really special. **
Usher • novelette by Jay Werkheiser
Aliens have landed on Canada. They don't seem to be able to hear anything and they don't respond to any visual means of communication, either. A psychologist with Usher's syndrome (almost blind and deaf, using cochlear implants) tries to establish contact. But the UN troops are arriving to take over. Unreasonably unreasonable UN troops who apparent are able to arrive to Canada by jaunting, or how the takeover is so fast? But the way the aliens perceive the reality is pretty novel. Not bad, but the hint of US paranoia with invading UN troops is irritating. ***+
Defender of Worms • [Floyd and Brittney] • novella by Richard A. Lovett
Continues a series an Artificial Intelligence, who was born more or less accidently. She is on run, as other AIs who live on the Internet want to assimilate her – and as she really values her individuality she really doesn’t want that. She lives inside a chip which is installed in a rich heiress, who is avoiding the politician mother. Together their form a firm friendship and try to survive “off the grid”. A good story, like the other instalments of the series. Probably wouldn’t work alone, as it is an integral (the last one?) part of the series. ***½

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Pekka Matilainen: Kupoli

A murder has been done in 15th century Florence. There are eye witnesses and the sentencing should be easy, even though the obvious murderer denies everything. Early on it turns out that he was framed. But why and by whom? A fairly disjointed book with a fair amount of lecturing. A disappointment.

1400-luvun Firenzeen sijoittuva dekkari. Mies on murhattu, syyllinen on vangittu ja syyllisyys on selvä, onhan tapahtumalla useita silminnäkijöitä. Odotellaan vain paavin erityislähettilästä, jotta oikeudenkäynti voidaan suorittaa ja ilmeinen syyllinen hirttää, vaikka tämä typerästi edelleen syyttömyyttään yrittää vakuutella. Mutta asiaa alkaa selvittelevän hieman salaperäinen mies, jonka avustajana on lahjakas latinaa uutterasti opetellut poika. Asiat eivät niin ilmiselviä olekaan, kuin aluksi on näyttänyt ja vastoin epäilyksiä syytetty vapautetaan – jo varsin varhaisessa vaiheessa kirjaa. Mutta miksi murha tapahtui? Ja miten varsin suunnitellulta vaikuttava lavastus oikein tapahtui? Kirjassa on liikaa jaarittelua, esitelmöintiä, asioiden ja paikkojen kuvailua. En mitenkään erityisen ihastunut teokseen, vaan se oli keskitasoa huonompia tänä vuonna lukemistani. Lisäksi otsikon Kupoli – Firenzen tuomiokirkon pääkupoli - ei kirjassa näyttelyt juuri minkäänlaista merkittävää roolia. Olisin odottanut että se ja sen rakentaminen olisivat tulleet selkeämmin esille. Kirjan juoni on liian hajanainen ja välillä melkein unohtuu. Kirja alkaa murhatarina, mutta muuttuu sitten hiukan sekavaksi kadonneen kirjan suhteellisen laiskaksi metsästykseksi, sisältäen lopulta myös ripauksen melko kornia teiniromantiikkaa.
Kirjassa henkihahmojen määrä on suuri ja nimet eivät helpoiten muistettavia ole. Kirjoitustyyliltäänkään kirja ei mielestäni ollut mitään parhaita, vaan oli jonkin verran yksitoikkoisen tuntuinen. Hajanaisuus myös kiusasi minua, aika monenlaista kirjassa ehti tapahtua, mutta näiden tapahtumien väliset yhteydet eivät olleet aina kovin loogisia, vaan jäivät välillä keinotekoisen tuntuisiksi. Aika monesti juonta edistettiin siten, että joku selitti mitä tapahtui - jotenkin olisi tuntunut paremmalta, että olisi noudatettu ohjetta show, don't tell. Dekkarina kirja ei toiminut siinäkään mielessä, että olisi edes teoriassa ollut mahdollista päätellä kuka murhaan oli syyllinen. Jonkinasteinen pettymys kiinnostavan idean ja kehuvien arvioiden jälkeen.

300 s.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

A collection of essays from a wide variety of subjects. What would happen if the earth would stop rotating? What would happen if a baseball would be pitched at light speed? What if you would go for a swim in the nuclear waste pool? The scenarios are mainly fairly preposterous, but they are handled seriously, or at least almost seriously. With a nice XKCD twist at places. A very interesting, entertaining and fun book to read. And no apparent mistakes – or at least none I noticed straight away.

320 pp.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, June 2004

A fairly nice issue.

Time Ablaze • novella by Michael A. Burstein
A time traveler goes to the New York of the beginning of the 20th century to see a boat disaster. He moves to live with a family of widower mother and her daughter. The pair of women sees a fairly handsome single and apparently fairly well to do man, as a good prospect for possible marriage. But the daughter finds out that the man doesn’t have the job he claimed on a newspaper, and he has a strange looking book about a horrible disaster which hasn’t happened yet. (Very serious sloppiness for the time traveler) . But can she stop the accident? And should she? Or will she even be able to? A very good story plot wise, the writing was ok, but to as good as the plot. ****-
On the Tip of My Tongue • [Victor and Martin] • novelette by Grey Rollins
A pair of detectives (human who is good looking man but not too smart, and an alien who looks like a banana and loves rotten food)solve a crime involving super rich collector of exotic animals. Light and entertaining story. Nothing really deep, but isn’t meat to contain anything profound. ***+
Blu 97-032D • shortstory by Alexis Glynn Latner
Old satellites start to disappear. And the disappearances seem to follow a set trajectory. What is eating space junk? Another short story with a decent idea, but not much else. ***
The Bistro of Alternate Realities • [Alternitech] • shortstory by Kevin J. Anderson
Different versions (from different timelines) of the same woman meet on a café and change ideas, information and even a boyfriend. There are some problems, though. A pretty good, but slightly too short story. ***+
Caretaker • shortstory by Richard A. Lovett
A man lives alone on a beautiful planet. A colony ship approaches. He isn’t happy about it and tries to persuade the colonists to leave. But what can he do? Quite lot as matter of fact. A pretty good but too short almost solipsist story. ***+
PeriAndry's Quest • [Old Earth] • novelette by Stephen Baxter
Happens on the far future earth where time passes at different speed at different heights. The higher the elevation, the faster time goes. The aristocracy uses people who live higher to cook their food, mend clothes and so on. A young man falls for a beautiful young woman from higher altitude. Not only the class division is something frowned upon, but he must hurry or the young woman won’t be so young anymore. A fairly good story, but I really don’t get the economic system of the world? What kind of influence the slower zones have for the faster zones? Why the faster zones slave away for the slow zones? ***+
Greetings from Kudesh • novelette by J. T. Sharrah
A diary of a young woman, who works as a missionary on an alien planet. The aliens have asked for someone to tell them about human religion. The story is told by a diary recording. The girl is somewhat naïve and a reader can spot some hints of what is to come she doesn’t see. A well written story but a stupid, stupid, but brave girl. ***½

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Humanity has spread around the stars. Not only faster than light space travel has been invented, but instantaneous travel through “farcaster” network is commonplace. The same network is used for information exchange, and super intelligent AI:s with partly unknown motives also use that network for their own purposes. A group of pilgrims is on way the meet shrike, a vicious alien who lives around the “time tombs” on a remote planet, Hyperion. The time itself seems to behave strangely in that area. No space ship can approach, as every member of all crew has always vanished without a trace. A war is coming, and “Ousters”, humans who live in deep space are attacking. This expedition might be last for a long time if not ever. The pilgrims start to tell stories of why they a taking the hard and dangerous journey which most likely will kill them. The stories all involve Hyperion and time tombs in some way, mostly very disturbed (and fascinating) way. Those involve immortality (with a cost) and accident which causes a young woman to grow younger day by day until she is an infant.
This is just the first half of the book and it ends when the group arrives at their destination. Practically everything is just setup and shrike and timetombs are left largely as a mystery. The writing was good and the stories itself were very engaging and interesting. The combining parts them were luckily short and a struggle to get through at least in comparison. One of the better Hugo winners.
I have now read 93% of all Hugo award winning novels. Four to go.

482 pp.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Astounding Science Fiction, July 1959

A fairly bad issue with dated stories. The last part of Dorsai! takes a lot of space.

But, I Don't Think • novelette by Randall Garrett
A guesser (who is able to guess the orbits of ships accurately during battle situations) is stranded on an underdeveloped planet after an attempt against his life. The world is very militaristic with extremely stiff class divisions. A light look to a pretty grim world, where the protagonist doesn't show any personal growth – and that is pretty much the point of the story. ***½
Broken Tool • shortstory by Theodore L. Thomas
A man due to space command faces the last test. He must visit his home town and see if he will regret abandoning the earth. He has no need for the Earth; all he wants is to get to space. So he fails the test. A very short bitter sweet story. Not bad. ***+
Straw • shortstory by Algis Budrys
Corruption and shady dealing on some sort of casino. Extremely boring and somewhat confusing. How was this science fiction? There might have been some speculative aspect, by mind was too glazed by total indifference to notice it. *
Leverage • [Federation of Humanity] • shortstory by Christopher Anvil
A space colony has serious problems due mosquito like insects and giant, violent birds. (I wonder why no one uses mosquito nets or helmets; apparently the author wasn’t familiar with areas with severe mosquito infestations). Then a stupid solution is found. A pretty bad and childish tale. **
Vanishing Point • shortstory by C. C. Beck
Man invents a sort of four dimensional device, which seems to suck the parallax out from the world. Or something. A very short and stupid story. **-

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Galaxy Science Fiction, March 1955

An average issue, but not quite as bad as couple previous ones.

Project Mastodon • novelette by Clifford D. Simak
Three men have invented time travel and travelled to a distant past. They try to sell past to military as a source of raw materials and a refugee area in case of the war, but they are laughed away. They return to the past and have an accident. Meanwhile the military learns that there really is a way to get to the past and gets very interested. Fairly little happens in the story and what happens happens very slowly. A pretty overlong but readable story. ***+
The Candle Lighter • shortstory by Frederik Pohl
A man who has been fighting for the human rights of Martians is appointed as the emissary of the humanity. He is keen to making some changes but the first thing he is supposed to do is an execution of a Martian. As he hasn't bothered to learn anything about the Martian culture he faces some hard learning. A pretty stupid story with even stupider characters. ***-
Dulcie and Decorum • novelette by Damon Knight
Two friends start to suspect that spelling mistakes contain information. But what, from where and why? Overlong, but the ending is rushed and the "secret " is just told by the author - the protagonists themselves won't learn it.**
One Way • shortstory by Miriam Allen deFord (variant of One-Way Journey)
The only son of a couple is selected for a secret mission where only top 200 students of the world is selected. His girlfriend and mother have a plan. She will get a child by the son, so the family will have something. But the baby will be born out of marriage! Horrible! An elaborate plan is needed. Pity that the women have forgotten how the government keeps track of its citizens, but thankfully the husband is smart and is able to find a solution. A pretty stupid story with badly outdated attitudes. It is surprising that even in far future the attitudes are exactly similar that those on 1950s US. **+
Who? • novelette by Theodore Sturgeon (variant of Bulkhead)
A man is having the final test before getting the command of interstellar starship. He must endure a long lone space journey. There is another person on the same ship, but he is behind an impenetrable wall. He could contact him by a press of a button. For some poorly defined reason he is supposed to hold out as long as possible before making the contact. When he finally makes the contact he is due to surprise. Not bad, writing good for its’ era, but the story is overlong with too much psychological non sense. **½
Big Stupe • shortstory by Charles V. De Vet
A ship from Earth has arrived at an almost unknown planet. They are supposed to create good relations, as the planet contains some rare elements worth mining. The natives are little apprehensive, but they seem to warm up and even give earthmen a goofy and stupid monkeylike animal as a pet. A short, simple and pretty stupid story which depends on a stupid end “reveal”. **+