Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse


The first part of a new urban fantasy series (or the book is in the form of an urban fantasy, even though it happens in the countryside). Oceans have risen and everything has gone from bad to worse. Luckily, the American Indian reservations have built (or used magic to build) a wall to protect them from the barbaric hordes outside of their realm. Somehow the catastrophe has also broken the wall between magic and reality, and the Navajo gods (and devils) roam their land. People have received some special powers according to their clans. As it happens, that hero of the book, Maggie Hoskie’s special power is being very good at killing people (and monsters).

I haven’t read many urban fantasy books, but the setup for this one was exactly the same as those I have read: The heroine, Maggie, lives alone, has some magic powers and has been in relation with someone/something very powerful, but that has ended. She meets someone new, and it turns out that the old flame might be involved with something important. I remember at least two books which started in a more or less similar way.

It seems that someone is creating monsters which are very hard to defeat. And the local law enforcement (which is more or less a vigilante gang) doesn’t feel very sympathetic toward a known “killer.” Will Maggie be able to find the culprit while avoiding the local “militia”?

The book was a pretty nice and entertaining read, but it wasn’t special in any way; it rather felt quite ordinary. I really don’t see why it got so many nominations for the Hugo award. The writing was average, the plotting was average – everything felt very average. There was nothing bad, but nothing really memorable either; a solid three-star book in way of reckoning. (A three-star is average. There are a few books every year worthy of four stars. And there are a few books every decade worthy of five stars.)

287 pp.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Consider Phlebas (Culture #1) by Iain M. Banks


The first of the Culture novels, and one of the few that I have read before.
An Idiran Empire, which considers that it has a religious mission to conquer lesser species and bring order to their existence. It has encountered the Culture and is sure that they will soon conquer that peace-loving anarcho-communist society. At the beginning of the war, the Idirans were advancing and the Culture was retreating; however, in the long run, there really was no contest about the winner.
The book happens at the beginning of the conflict. Horza, a shape-changing mercenary, has been working for the Idirans. He is in a tight spot when he encounters a Culture agent, a worked for “special circumstances” (an organization which works as a kind of spy agency and as the first line military response for the Culture). The roles are soon reversed as Balveda is imprisoned by Idirans, who rescues Horza. And then the Culture forces attack the ship and they are separated - for a while. Ultimately, both are trying to find a Mind, a powerful AI which is stranded on a strange planet filled with deep underground caves. After several adventures, Horza manages to imprison Belvda and takes with him to the planet where the AI is situated.


The book was pretty episodic, especially for the first half, where there were adventures which didn’t really had much connection to each other. The last half formed a bit more of a coherent whole. The storytelling style was not black and white: the “hero” (or anti-hero?) of the book worked against the Culture and considered it abhorrent and demoralizing and promoting a decadent, lazy lifestyle, especially at the beginning of the book. But he later learned to see some good in it, also. Nice book, but perhaps a slight disappointment.


471 pp.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Robert Galbraith: Valkoinen kuolema (Cormoran Strike #4) (Lethal White)


The latest Cormorran Strike-book. Badly overlong and in severe need of a good copyeditor to cut out about hundred pages and to write away a few characters and at least one extremely stupid subplot. The worst book in the series, by far.

Uusin Cormorran Strike-sarjan kirja.

Kirja jatkuu suoraan siitä, mihin edellinen osa loppui.
Pääosan kirjan alkupuolesta kuluu Cormoran ja hänen sihteerinsä Robinin välien selvittelyyn. Edellisen kirjan lopussa Robin meni naimisiin pitkäaikaisen poikaystävänsä kanssa, vaikka jo olikin ilmiselvästi rakastunut Cormoraniin. Robin aikoo jättää sulhasensa heti häämatkan jälkeen, mutta tämä sairastuu matkalla ja Cormoranillakin on uusi suhde, joten Robin jää epätyydyttävään avioliittoonsa. Henkilöiden suhteita sitten käsitellään noin sata sivua, ennen varsinaisen mysteerijuonen alkua.
Robinin ja Cormoranin toimistoon ilmaantuu selvästi mieleltään järkkynyt mies, joka kertoo sekavan tarinan lapsena näkemästään lapsen murhasta. Mies on selvästi psyykkisesti sairas, mutta hänen tarinansa kuulostaa oudon vakuuttavalta. Mies pakenee ja katoaa ennen kuin poliisi ehtii paikalle. Etsiväpari hieman selvittelee asiaa, mutta heidän palkataan auttamaan kiristyksen kohteeksi joutunutta hallituksen jäsentä, joka kieltäytyy paljastamasta, mikä on se asia, josta häntä yritetään kiristää. Robin päätyy työskentelemään valeasussa parlamentissa, jossa erilaista salattavaa tuntuu olevan yhdellä jos toisellakin. Lopulta sitten (noin kirjan puolivälissä) tapahtuu myös murha, jonka selviäminen on sitten parivaljakolta sekä fyysistä, että henkistä ponnistelua vaativa asia.

Kirja oli selvästi ylipitkä ja olisi tarvinnut kipeästi taitavaa kustannustoimittajaa. Juoni oli rönsyilevä, henkilöitä oli paljon ja heidän toimintansa välillä erikoista. Yksi alajuoni oli todella typerä, miksi ihmeessä kukaan jossain kolmannen maailmaan maassa maksaisi suunnattomia summia jostain, jonka pystyy rakentamaan ihan kuka tahansa, jolla on edes minimaalista rakentamiskokemusta ja jonka tarveaineiksi riittää saha, kasa nauloja ja pino puutavaraa?

Ja Robin ei osaa katsoa mistä numerosta hänen puhelimeensa tuleva viesti oikein on peräisin? Oikeasti? Kirjan loppuratkaisu kuullaan syyllisen pitkänä luentona, kun hän kertoo tarkkaan mitä teki. Tässäkin: oikeasti? Show, don’t tell, vai mitenkäs se kirjoittamisen pääsääntö oikein meni? Ja loppuratkaisua lukijan olisi ollut käytännössä mahdoton päätellä, riittävästi tietoja ei ollut kunnolla olemassa.

Selvästi huonoin sarjan kirjoista, pahasti ylipitkä, jaaritteleva ja juonellisesti sekä sekava, että epäuskottava.

687 s.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Siiri Enoranta: Tuhatkuolevan kirous



The winner of best YA-book of the year in Finland. The starting point was very "harrypotter", but the book got a lot more violent and raunchier quite soon. It told about a magical world where the essential ingredient is something out of the body of the person performing the spell. Body hair, nail clippings, menstrual blood, semen...So it is cool to be as hairy as possible so that you could have plenty of ingredients for good spells. Soon there is a civil war going among wizards between a Gestapo-like organization and a guerrilla organization. The hero of the book, a young girl, finds herself at the center of the action as the leader of the freedom fighters, and is a good friend of her mother’s. There are some attempts to bring shades of grey in on the action, but everything was (or at least seemed to be) very black and while. I was hoping for a drastic turn of things, but I had to be disappointed. The writing was ok, but the book was pretty violent - I wonder what was the age group this was aimed?


Tämän vuoden Finlandia-junior palkinnon voittaja parhaasta nuorten- tai lastenkirjasta.
Kirja tapahtuu fantasia-maailmassa, jossa on mm. kaksi kuuta ja jossa taikuus toimii. Taikoja eivät voi kuitenkaan tehdä kaikki, vaan vain osa ihmisistä ja kyky siihen kulkee suvussa.
Kirjan päähenkilö Pau elää rauhallista elämää taiteilijaäitinsä ja kalatutkijaisänsä kanssa. Hänen suvussaan on ollut taikuutta ja kun hänen veljensä saa kutsun taikakouluun hän itsekin uskaltaa toivoa samaa.

Vuotta myöhemmin myös hänelle tulee kutsu kouluun. Taika-akatemiassa on osaltaan samanlaista kuin hän oli ajatellut, mutta toisaalta erilaista - totuusjuomaa juottavat “ajatuspoliisi” ötkyt olivat jotain mitä hän ei ollut odottanut. Ötkyt haluaisivat valvoa taikuutta ja kauppaavat fosoraa, jonka pitäisi estää taikuuden haitallisia vaikutuksia. Pääsykokeiden jälkeen Pau hylätään koulusta, vaikka hän oli jo osoittautunut ikäänsä voimakkaampaa taitoa taikuuteen. Kotiin palattuaan hän aluksi yrittää palata aikaisempaan elämäänsä, mutta sitten käy ilmi, että oikeastaan mitään mitä hän oli perheestään ajatellut, ei olekaan totta.

Kirjan taikajärjestelmä on kiinnostava ja originelli. Taikuuteen tarvitaan jotain osaa omasta ruumiista, joten mitä karvaisempi on, sitä parempi - karvat kun mahdollistavat vahvemmat taiat. Myös kaikkia muita eritteitä kuukautisverta ja siemennestettä myöten voidaan käyttää hyväksi. Sinällään hiukan ihmetytti miten karvat riittävät - kunnon taikaan kun tarvitaan useampia grammoja hiuksia tai ihokarvoja - joka kyllä on melkoisen suuri kasa, esim. pelkistä ihokarvoista ei taida sellaista määrää edes olla mahdollista kerätä.

Kirjan alku herätti hiukan pahoja aavistuksia, sillä se oli niin harrypottermainen kuin ikinä mikään. Sävy muuttui sitten aika nopeasti tummasävyisemmäksi, enemmän kapinasta kuin koulusta kertovaksi. Pau ystävineen joutuu tiukkoihin paikkoihin ja tekemään raskaita ratkaisuja.
Kirjan maailman toiminta jäi paljolti auki ja asioita jäi selittämättä. Itselle jotenkin jäi epäily siitä, että edes kirjailija ei kunnolla tiennyt/tiedä sitä miksi asiat toimivat niin kuin toimivat, kunhan vain halusi luoda jänskiä tilanteita. Harmaan sävyjä oli yritetty saada mukaan, mutta silti jäi pahasti auki, miksi “pahikset” olivat niin pahoja kuin olivat ja kuinka ihmeessä he olivat onnistuneet värväämään niin suuren määrät täydellisen uskollisia kannattajia etenkin huomioiden kirjan maailman yleisen luontoa ja elämää yli kaiken kunnioittavan filosofian jonka nähtävästi käytännössä kaikki jakoivat. Kielellisesti teksti oli hyvää, mutta tosiaan juonellisesti jossain määrin petyin. Pau itse vaikutti suhteellisen lapselliselta ja jotenkin koko kirjan ajan suhteellisen samantapaiselta, vaikka kehitystä sinällään olisi olettanut tapahtuvan aika rajujen tapahtumien jälkeen. Kirjan loppu oli oikeastaan kliseinen, hyvä voitti ja paha hävisi rajun taistelun jälkeen. Hiukan ilmiselvästi yritettiin vastapuolta osittain inhimillistää, mutta paha oli kuitenkin pahaa loppuun asti. Toisaalta kapinallisjohtaja kyllä kuvattiin varsin fanaattisena Che Quevara-tyyppisenä hahmona, joka ajoi asiaansa kaihtamatta mitään. Pienenä toiveena minulla oli, että lopussa olisi osoittautunut, että “ötkyt” ovat olleet koko ajan oikeassa ja taikuudella olisi maailmaa vahingoittavaa vaikutusta, mutta ei. Kirjassa oli myös mukana muutama nuortenkirjaksi suhteellisen seksipitoinen kohtaus. Muutenkaan ei ehkä kyseessä ole ihan alla 12 v luettavaksi sopiva kirja.


443 s.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Mia Kankimäki: Naiset joita ajattelen öisin


Hieman samassa sarjassa oleva kirja kuin “Sankaritarinoita tytöille”- kirjat mutta aikuisille kohdennettua (ja kirjoittaminen mitä ilmeisemmin on aloitettu ja paljon ennen kuin nämä nuortenkirjat tulivat suosituiksi).
Kirja esittelee naisia, jotka ovat omana aikanaan olleet rohkeita ja tehneet jotain, mitä nainen “ei voi” tehdä. Alkupuoli kirjasta käsittelee Karen Blixeniä, joka yksi ylläpiti farmia Afrikassa vuosia sairauksista, koettelemuksista ja huonoista sadoista huolimatta. Ja metsästi suurriistaa, erityisenä intohimona leijonien metsästäminen.

Toisena osana kirjaa ovat naispuoliset tutkimusmatkailijat 1800-luvulta, naisia jotka (osa reilusti yli 50-vuotiaina) lähtivät täysin tuntemattomille alueille alkeellisilla varusteilla varustautuneina pitäen samalla tiukasti kiinni säädyllistä pitkistä hameistaan yläluokan brittiläisestä käyttäytymisestä. Tässä osiossa olisi ehkä hiukan voinut olla tiivistämisen varaa, päähenkilöt kun olivat kuitenkin aika samantapaisia.

Tämän jälkeen kirja käsittelee varhaisia naistaiteilijoita aikana, jolloin naisen “uran” vaihtoehdot olivat vähissä: oli mahdollista mennä naimisiin ja synnyttää lapsia, kunnes kuolo kohtasi, muuttaa luostariin tai alkaa ilotytöksi. Muutama kuitenkin onnistu tästä murtautumaan ja jopa elättämään itseään ja perhettään taiteella.

Viimeisenä yönaisista on Yayoi Kusama, omatakeista taidetta tuottava, mielisairaalassa asuva, taiteilija, jonka näyttelyssä HAM:ssa itsekin kävin.

Kirja oli paitsi näistä naisista kertova, vaan myös kirjoittajasta itsestään ja siitä miten hän koki tutkimiensa naisten taustan selvittelyn ja miten se käytännössä tapahtui. Tämä osuus oli oikeataan yhtä kiinnostavaa, kuin varsinainen ”historiaosuus” eikä oikeastaan ole siitä erotettavissa olevakaan. Kirja oli varsin vetävästi ja sujuvalla kielellä kirjoitettu. Kirjapiirissä suurin osa piti kirjasta, jotakuta kirjan loppu, joka kertoi eräänlaisesta taiteilija ”kommuunista”, jossa kirjailija viimeisteli teostaan turhana. Toisaalta mahdollisuus elellä taiteilijaresidensseissä ilman mitään kelloon sidottua aikataulua viehätti aika montaa herättäen kateutta.


447 s.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, March-April 2019



Beneath a Red Sun • novelette by James C. Glass
An exploration ship arrives on a planet that orbits a red sun. There doesn’t seem to be any life, but the atmosphere contains 1% free oxygen. The crew starts conducting scientific studies, as it should not be possible for free oxygen to exist if there isn’t a source for it. They find a cave where the oxygen percentage seems to go up, even approaching 10%. Inevitably there is a crisis in which a few crew members must find shelter in that cave and eventually to determine whether or not they can get some sustenance from the little oxygen that is available. The writing was pretty good, but the crisis situation felt forced and even unnecessary. And the actual percentage of oxygen isn’t very important and actually may be irrelevant; however, the partial pressure is important. Low pressure and 100% oxygen suffocates, but in deep sea diving, even gas mixes containing 2-4% oxygen can be used. The percentage of oxygen alone means practically nothing. If one assumes that the pressure was something normal like Earth, breathing a low 10% oxygen mix would have been extremely dangerous; one probably would just lose consciousness very fast without any other symptoms, and the expired air would most likely contain more oxygen than inspired, meaning there would have been a net loss of breathable air. Also, the story just felt like it was part of a larger tale. ***+
Hop and Hop with Gleepglop Gleep!: A Bedtime Reader • short story by Tim McDaniel
Alien siblings fight, and one wins and gains dominance over the other siblings. All this is told as a fairy tale with pictures. I didn’t really understand the point of the story, but it was mildly amusing. **
Negotiating Traffic • short story by Brad Preslar
When all cars are self-driving, how does AI analyse who is more important in a crisis situation? A businessman narrowly escapes an accident when a car avoids him, hits a hot dog stand and kills a homeless man who was behind the stand, unseen by the cameras of the car. He feels guilty as he was on his phone at the time. He wants to quit his job, but his company doesn’t think he should leave as he is too valuable an employee and they resort to extortion. A too short and implausible story with an unreasonable evil company and with far too easy manipulation of all driverless cars around. Also, why would the AI system be made to recognize all people on an individual basis? ***-
The God of All Mountains • short story by Jo Miles
A Chilean woman climbs Olympus Mons on Mars. She wants to be the first person to reach the top, not only the first woman. A much better-equipped man is also attempting the climb. She is losing, but then she gives up the race and feels free... The writing is ok, but I remember a few very similar stories. I found it difficult to sympathize with the characters, as I found it hard to understand the drive to be the first at something, which is quite pointless after all. ***
Parenting License • short story by Leah Cypess
A woman found out that she is pregnant, and she still hasn’t her parenting license. This is a catastrophe as it is impossible to get decent health care, daycare or practically anything child related without the license. Now she must find a bit shady place to get care – or she must find another solution. A fairly good story, but somewhat stupid on many levels. Would it really be totally impossible to learn things needed for a license in 8 months, especially as she had already done a few courses? If it is so impossible, why be so careless with prevention? Or if having a child is SO hard without the license, why an abortion is not even mentioned or briefly considered? ***+
Fine-Tuning • short story by Bond Elam
A man is working on a new planet. A woman he knows to be an android is pushing for a calculated risk in a mining operation, but he finds the risk to be too great. But who is actually the android? A very short story which depends on a slight twist. ***-
Running the Gullet • short story by Vajro Chandrasekera
The story happens in some sort of post-human culture where the sun is dying out. Someone tries to motivate a group of “children“ to play a “game” which lasts a millennia and involves death. The story consists mainly of a detailed and boring description of the pretty inane “rules” of the game, with a slight, but not surprising, twist at the end. ***
Second Quarter and Counting • short story by James Van Pelt
A man and woman have had a deep friendship throughout their lives; both have been married but their friendship has endured. It has become possible to rejuvenate one’s body, but there is a risk of memory loss. Will the friendship endure that? A bit short and glimpse-like story. ***
Final Say • short story by Eric Del Carlo
Demented people can be wakened for a few minutes of clarity with special brain stimulation. After the moment of the clear mind, they will die. A technician has performed that procedure for years. His father has dementia. Their relationship has always been problematic - should he perform the procedure for his father? Not bad, but one more story which might have benefitted from a slightly longer form. ***+
Dangerous Company • novelette by C. Stuart Hardwick
A sort of tourist trip to the moon on a replica LEM module is interrupted when the man who paid for the trip knocks down the pilot and takes over the ship. He has something he wants to find on the moon. Russians apparently secretly sent a man to the moon before Apollo missions, and his family apparently knows what happened, even when radio communications failed, and a Russian “personality” stays in the family for generations even when living abroad. There was no background – just a pretty simplistic survival plot with some stupid plot points. (Mannitol is apparently so good for brain swelling that a small dose of it makes you wake up right away and apparently even cures brain injuries.) ***+
Tea Time with Aliens • short story by Jack McDevitt
An alien ship appears to orbit. A satellite launch was just being prepared, and it is revamped as a first contact mission in a few hours. The astronauts meet an alien ship, which lands on a remote island. The shuttle captain decides to do the same (totally ridiculous - as are the orbital mechanics which are described, the author apparently has no knowledge what so ever of calculating orbits). They meet the aliens and have a discussion. A too short and rushed story with a few pretty ridiculous details. ***
The End of Lunar Hens • short story by M. K. Hutchins
A moon colony tries to raise chickens as part of the ecosystem, but the chickens turn nasty in low gravity. Rabbits are next, but they don’t really tolerate the conditions. Apparently, there isn’t enough CO2 for plants; not really a believable problem, excess carbon dioxide would more likely be a problem. A mildly entertaining, but fairly stupid story with extremely stupid characters. ***-
The Invitation • short story by Bud Sparhawk
A party for time travelers doesn’t really work if you book the day in your own past. A short story which doesn’t make much sense. **
Rising Stars • short story by Elisabeth R. Adams
An astronomer who is finishing her thesis gets a surprise visit from her anthropologist friend. She has found cave paintings decapitating stars and needs astronomical experience to date the paintings. They travel to the South Africa to see the paintings. I don’t exactly understand how shutting down the light inside a cave to improve night vision makes you see the cave paintings better? There is no mention of luminous paint. Not bad, but the story ends just when it really gets interesting. ***½
The New Martian Way • short story by Brendan DuBois
A man has died on a remote Martian research station. The two surviving scientists state that it was an accident; a suit malfunction. But the suits are supposed to be foolproof and they have never been known to have fatal malfunctions. Was it a murder - and if it was, why would the two scientists have killed the third? Not a bad murder mystery story. ***+
Slow Dance • short story by Jay Werkheiser
Another murder mystery. A woman has been killed on a deep space mission, where the crew’s metabolism has been slowed twentyfold and their body temperature is below zero. The investigation isn’t easy and it is impossible to stop the mission. In principle, the members are all married couples but in reality, relationships between them are complex. A pretty average story, but the narrative structure was interesting. ***
The Walk to Distant Suns • novelette by Matthew Kressel and Mercurio D. Rivera
People can travel to a new world, a paradise, through a wormhole; it is extremely expensive, though. An operator of the hole has worked for a long time to earn enough to send her and her family through. Her mother has cancer and for some reason, she believes that cancer can be healed in the new world (and there apparently isn’t any public health care so the world is pretty barbaric). Then the travel fee is raised by a third. She takes things into her own hands. A fairly nice story without anything really surprising. (The world is not a paradise - it’s an ice hell which needs decades or centuries of terraforming.) ***+
Better • novelette by Tom Greene
Aliens have come bearing bad news: there is a ruthless species killing everything and destroying whole planets. All able-bodied humans are needed for the battle (sounds pretty fishy to me). It turns out that everything was true, and there really is a vicious species. Earth is fairly empty as a significant percentage of humans are fighting the war. There are a lot of alien refugees with very different cultures and behavior modes. A veteran who might have just a few days to live is in charge of a group of aliens. They must show that they can be useful by performing a very easy task, but the problems in communication and the completely different ways of thinking make the task more difficult than it sounds. A pretty contrived story in some places. The function of the toxin which the veteran is carrying seems to be more magic than science: an altruistic action stops its function. WTF? Also, it is very hard to believe that some aliens following their described evolutionary customs would ever have developed sentience. The evolutionary “explanation” for some human behaviors doesn’t hold water. There are social structures with ”leaders” in many sorts of animal species who have not evolved in trees. The writing itself was ok. ***½
A Mate not a Meal • novelette by Sarina Dorie
A giant spider lives underground and eats animals it can lure to its cave. Its mother and sister have been killed and eaten by a spider which was the imposed male of the species; because of that, the spider is very wary of any spiders “singing“ to it. One day it hears strange singing which apparently comes from a curious creature with only four limbs. An excellent, creative and well-written story. ****

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Chains of Command (Frontlines #4) by Marko Kloos


The next book in the series where Earth is threatened by giant, almost unstoppable, aliens. This time the main action is not against aliens, but against other humans. The leaders and the elite of the Earth had escaped the invasion and have taken with them the most modern and powerful battlecruisers. The rest of the fleet just barely stopped the invasion, and now it would be the time to start fighting back. To have any chance of success all possible ships will be needed. As it was found where the deserters went, it is now the time to get some of those ships back.

The large part of the book happens on a colony word where the deserters and the “invading” force are playing cat and mouse. That part of the book could have slightly tightened. As a whole a fun book to read anyway, and it left me waiting for the next part where the Earth forces probably will start the fight to recapture invaded Mars.

386 pp.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Tea with the Black Dragon by R.A. MacAvoy



This is a book where a mother looks for her daughter (who might have been involved in some criminal activity). The daughter had asked for her mother to arrive to meet her, but the daughter is nowhere to be found. The mother encounters an eccentric Chinese gentleman, who just might be a dragon in a human form. The man decides to help the mother while she is searching for her daughter. That mission eventually turns out to be dangerous for both of them.

In this short book, which is only borderline fantasy, the “dragoness” of the man was mostly implied. Especially, the beginning of the book was pretty slow. Some of the background concerning computers was pretty laughable: apparently, it only takes two people to design a complete computer system for a major bank. And those two people can work separately, each making one half of the program (to prevent any back doors – I can’t imagine why that would prevent the backdoors) – and then the two halves would fit seamlessly together, yeah, right. The writing as such was pretty good, but as whole, the book was a slight disappointment for me. It was fairly pointless, but a slow adventure.

166 pp.