Sunday, May 10, 2015

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, May 2005

A nice issue with interesting stories.

Footsteps • novelette by Shane Tourtellotte
A dead man is found on the lunar surface. He wears ordinary clothes and he is far too far from any airlocks for a quick suicidal dash. And there are marks on the ground of any vehicle which might have dropped the body. Was it a murder? And if it was, how in hell it was accomplished? A pretty good detective story on moon. The main characters were strangely fascinated and even obsessive about fame. ***½
Death As a Way of Life • [Jack Sawyer's Doppelganger] • novelette by Grey Rollins
A detective who has a few copies of himself running secretly on computer networks studies a case where a man a killed himself in a TV show was not reviewed in a clone body as expected. It was first written down as a machine malfunction, but it turns out there was something else going on. A fairly standard detective story - not great literature but entertaining. ***+
The Inn at Mount Either • shortstory by James Van Pelt
A husband loses his wife in a mystical inn which seems to span several dimensions. He tries to find her, but he is lost more and more. A decent story but stupid characters: wouldn’t the visitors know where there going – even the most basic details? And some extremely badly planned safety features. ***+
Tainted • shortstory by Jerry Oltion
A single intelligent and immortal creature evolves on a planet where life is very different. He/she/it slowly explores the galaxy and fails to find other life until he finds Earth – which is destroyed by a nuclear war fought centuries or millennia ago. A nice bittersweet story. ***+
Tomorrow's Strawberries • shortstory by Richard A. Lovett
In a future earth, the entire surface of the planet is covered by a city – except a largish park. The right to visit is only by lottery. An old man (who body is in pretty good condition due to advanced medicine) gets the privilege. It affects him profoundly. A pretty good and well-written story. ***½
Smiling Vermin • [Jessie and Gus] • shortstory by Ekaterina Sedia and David Bartell
A retired genetic engineer decides to design some small pet dolphins for his wife as a present. Everything doesn’t go well…A light story, but unbelievably indifferent attitude to the spread of new and unpredictable life forms by people who surely should know better. ***+
High Moon • novelette by Joe Schembrie
Remote drones are used for prospecting palladium in moon. The drone operators for a society modeled (very closely ) on the wild west. An Evil Drone run by a Palladium Consortium is a bad guy. A stupid story. It might have worked better with less ridiculous western motives or going even more to the direction of crazy farce. I wonder why the prospectors didn't record the evil works of the evil drone. As they worked using remote viewing it should have been totally trivial. This way they would have had concrete evidence against the consortium – but then there would have been no story. ***+

Friday, May 1, 2015

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, June 2015

The thousandth issue of Analog/Astounding ever. A pretty nice one. The theme seems to be aliens and alien influence. There are a few essays about the history of the magazine. The most of those were very good and interesting.

The Wormhole War • novelette by Richard A. Lovett
A wormhole experiment leads to apparent war against aliens (or perhaps against the whole galaxy) where humans are sending wormholes at relativistic speeds to prevent the alien wormholes reaching the earth. Ok story, but a little overlong. And it is hard to believe that the political leaders and different countries would be so unanimously for the continuing battle when the goals of the aliens aren't known and even the war itself is somewhat open to interpretation. ***+
Very Long Conversations • shortstory by Gwendolyn Clare
A joint expedition of humans and aliens explore a new planet which is supposed to be uninhabited. They find strange stick figures. Are they being pranked by some other members of the expedition or what is going on? A pretty simple and short story - a pretty inventive concept of language though. ***
The Kroc War • shortstory by Ted Reynolds and William F. Wu
Short personal viewpoints of soldiers, who fight at war between humans and ruthless aliens. But war changes those who take part on it. Too short pieces and about too many people. **
Strategies for Optimizing Your Mobile Advertising • shortstory by Brenta Blevins
A short and fairly stupid story about an age where advertising rules everything, including relations. **+
The Odds • shortstory by Ron Collins
Not a story – just a philosophical pondering about the likelihood of life in the universe. **
The Empathy Vaccine • shortstory by Charles Coleman Finlay [as by C. C. Finlay ]
A ruthless businessman wants to be really ruthless and goes for an undercover scientist, who has developed a "vaccine" against empathy. Not bad, with a couple of nice twists. Short, but doesn’t necessarily need to be any longer. ***½
Three Bodies at Mitanni • shortstory by Seth Dickinson
A story which seems to continue an earlier one. An expedition is checking human colonies which have been separated from Earth for centuries. If the colony might present danger for humanity as large, the expedition has been to exterminate it. There has been a close call, and now the next colony seems to be very malignant and powerful at the same time. A fairly nice story, but constant references to earlier events to something, what happened at “Jotunheim” with no real explanation feels kind of irritating. But the “culture” they encountered was refreshingly interesting and there were some real interesting moral points to ponder. ***+
Ships in the Night • shortstory by Jay Werkheiser
A spaceman, who travel with ships at relativistic speeds between solar systems, tell tall tales to locals at a bar. A simple story, not bad, but not especially good. ***
The Audience • novelette by Sean McMullen
A human ship encounters some very strange but powerful aliens who live under the ice which covers a rogue planet which passing fairly close to the sun at about Kuipier belt. The aliens seem to take an interest to humans with pretty unfortunate results for most of the crew. The lone survivor takes drastic measures to protect the earth from possibly devastating alien interest. A pretty good and interesting story. ****-

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

A Hugo nominated book which got the nomination for its’ own sake and was not recommended on either of voting blocks, not on the naïve but fairly understandable voting block favoring militaristic, “fun” books leaning on the right; or on the bloc run by racist who was kicked out of the Science Fiction Writers of America and who apparently drafted idiot gamers who have ruined they brains by playing computer games and who were responsible for the “gamergate” scandal to ruin this thing, too.
The elf king and his closest sons have been killed in an accident which turns out to be sabotage. His only surviving son is a half-goblin who is a result of a political marriage (apparently elves and goblins belong to the same species in this universe – which is kind of strange) He has lived solitary life for most of his life and is more than a little overwhelmed when he ends up as the king of all elves. But he turns out to be a more capable ruler than anyone suspected.
The book could be called “comfortable”. Most of the people behave peacefully and even the bad guys who plot against the new king don’t seem caricatures and their actions are understandable, at least mostly. The main character is very sympathetic, maybe even too much. He doesn’t really seem to have any real flaws – even his shyness and slight social awkwardness seem minor and sensitive features.
The book has a vast number of characters and it is extremely hard to keep track of them, especially for someone who is bad with names, like me. The Kindle app in IPad makes an automatic list of all names in the book. It isn’t completely accurate, but it gives a good ballpark figure. According to that analysis, this book has 136 different characters! That is kind of high figure for 512 pages, especially when most people have fairly hard and complicated names. Another flaw is that fairly little happens in the book. Most of the book is filled with the fairly mundane matters of governing the state. A lot of space is used for the description of balls and other official events and what kind of clothes everyone wears and what the king should wear. Also, the discussions about the king’s marriage (king’s marriage is done mostly to strengthen alliances) takes many pages. The book was readable, but it isn’t really “my style of book”. Somehow the book felt pretty similar to the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin which was nominated for the Hugo awards a few years ago. I think I prefer that book to this one and I am not sure if this is an award worthy book. This probably won’t be at the first place on my list.
512 pp

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Suzanne Collins: Nälkäpeli (The Hunger Games)

One of the more popular books among the young people. Read in Finnish, so the main review is in Finnish. Entertaining and even addicting story in spite of more than a little unbelievable political and economic system. The concept itself wasn’t one of the most sensible in the literature – but I –who rarely remembers dreams and NEVER dreams about what I read – had a dream about this book when I was reading the most action filled parts. So there apparently IS something in this book which is able to get into your mind.

Tulevaisuuden Amerikassa totalitaarinen hallinto vaatii vuosittain jokaiselta alueelta yhden tytön ja yhden pojan osallistumista gladiaattorityyliseen kisaan, jossa oikeastaan ainoa sääntö on, että viimeisenä eloonjäänyt voittaa. Entinen Pohjois-Amerikka on jakautunut kolmeentoista eri alueeseen, josta jokainen on erikoistunut jonkin asia tuottamiseen. Osa alueista, pieninumeroisemmat, ovat rikkaita ja niiden teknologia on korkealle kehittynyttä, osa alueista on sorrettuja, edes ruokaa ei ole riittävästi ja elämän täyttää työ. Tämä jako on jäännöstä sisällissodasta, joka käytiin Panemia, keskusvaltaa, vastaan. Kapinaa johtanut alue 13 tuhottiin tuolloin täysin. Kirjan alussa päähenkilön, Katnissin, pikkusisko arvotaan osallistumaan kisoihin. Kaniss uhrautuu siskonsa puolesta ja lähtee taistelemaan henkensä edestä muiden alueiden nuoria vastaan.
Erittäin luettava kirja, joka oli oudon addiktoiva. Kielellisesti se ei ollut mitenkään erityisen luova, mutta tämä on toisaalta täysin ymmärrettävää, koska kirja on kokonaan 16- vuotiaan, suuren osan elämästään kirjaimellisesti metsässä asuneen tytön minä-muotoista kerrontaa. Kirjan maailma ei ollut kovin looginen, sillä poliittinen ja etenkin taloudellinen järjestelmä vaikuttivat enemmän kuin vähän epäuskottavilta. Myös se, kuinka suuria sektorit oikein ovat jäi epäselväksi, esim. sektori kaksitoista, josta kirjan sankari on kotoisin, vaikutti välillä lähinnä yksittäiseltä kylältä, jossa kaikki tuntevat toisensa, toisaalta tribuuttia arvottaessa oli arvonnassa mukana tuhansia arpalippuja ja muutenkin niin pieni koko kokonaiselle alueelle tuntui kummalta. Ja mitähän muulle maailmalle on tapahtunut, jos Panem pitää valtaa Pohjois-Amerikassa? Ihan kuin pelkkä Pohjois-Amerikka olisi ollut koko maailma. Ja mikä motiivi matalanumeroisten alueiden vapaaehtoisilla kisaajilla oli ylipäätään osallistua kisaan? Arviolta 90% todennäköisyys kuolla, panoksena yltäkylläinen elämä, jonka saa jo muutenkin ilman kisan osallistumistakin. Tosin sanoinkuvaamattoman ammattitaidottomia ammattilaisia kyseessä kyllä oli, sen verran huonosti he suoriutuivat. Mutta kirja oli kokonaisuutena oikein viihdyttävä välipala, minä näin jopa kirjasta unta. Ja minä en KOSKAAN näe unia siitä mitä luen.

374 s.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Kurt Vonnegut: Teurastamo 5 (Slaughterhouse Five)

This is probably my favorite book ever. Tells a story of a man unstuck in time while commenting on war, human condition, philosophy and almost everything. Well worth of re-read after 20 years.

Tämä on ehkä suosikkikirjani kautta aikojen. Edellisestä lukukerrasta oli jo kulunut varmaan 20 vuotta, joten ihan tarkkaan tapahtumat eivät ihan kaikki mielessä olleet, mutta pääkohdat luonnollisesti kyllä. Itse asiassa muistin, että kirjassa olisi ollut enemmänkin tapahtumia kuin siinä oikeasti oli, todennäköisesti Vonnegutin muut teokset olivat hiukan sekoittuneet tähän. Kirjahan kertoo epälineaarisesti miehestä, joka koki toisen maailmansodan aikana sotavankina Dresdenin kaupungin pommituksen (kuten Vonnegut itsekin). Mies joutui myöhemmin avaruusolioiden sieppaamaksi ja eli eläintarhassa heidän katseltavanaan. Kyseiset alienit näkevät ajan kokonaisuutena ja viettävät aikaansa lähinnä elämänsä hyvissä hetkissä. Jouduttuaan pahaan onnettomuuteen ja saatuaan aivovamman mies päättää kertoa kokemuksistaan maailmalle omaksuen saman filosofian ja alkoi pudota ajassa elämänsä tapahtumasta toiseen. Koko kirja kerrotaan lyhyinä parin kappaleen välähdyksinä miehen koko elämän varrelta ja ne voisi teoriassa lukea missä järjestyksessä hyvänsä - käytännössä palat tietenkin muodostavat loistavan kokonaisuuden juuri siinä järjestyksessä kuin ne ovat. Kirjan pääteemana voinee pitää sodan turhuutta ja elämän hyvistä hetkistä nauttimista. Teos on Vonnegutin pääteos, johon suuri osa hänen muista kirjoistaan liittyy tavalla tai toisella; kirjan ohimennen mainitut sivuhenkilöt ovat myöhempien kirjojen päähenkilöitä. Rakenteellisesti kirja on erittäin omaperäinen ja todella miellyttävä ja mieltä kiehtova lukuelämys.
189 s.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Astounding Science Fiction, October 1958

A fairly good issue – including one Hugo award winner.

The Big Front Yard • novella by Clifford D. Simak

A man who fixes appliances and trades with antiques first finds that a few things which were waiting to be repaired have been repaired and vastly improved, for example an old b&w TV is turned to a color set. And his house is being enforced by unscratchable plastic-like material. And then a portal to an other world appears…Another story with thematic similarities with the Waystation. A well-written story, but perhaps slightly too disjointed at places. ****-
The Yellow Pill • shortstory by Rog Phillips
A man has killed several people in a supermarket. He is brought to see a psychiatrist. The murderer behaves very calmly and explains to the shrink that he is the sane one and he has just saved their space ship from Venusian lizards, who tried to board the ship. And the psychiatrist is his friend and crewmate, who has some severe mental troubles and tends to imagine strange things - like living on earth and being doctor. A pretty amusing short story. ***½
Big Sword • novelette by Pauline Ashwell [as by Paul Ash ]
Human explorers live on an unknown planet. They are slowly exploring the planet but aren’t aware of a sentient species with an unusual life cycle and means of communication. And the aliens can’t contact humans with their telepathic powers as human minds are always so busy. But the commander’s son is a curious young man, and he might be able to bridge that gap. A pretty good story, but slow and overlong at places. I wonder if Orson Scott Card has read this story before he wrote Xenocide, there are some slight similarities. ***
... And Check the Oil • novelette by Randall Garrett
A chemist is drafted by a friend to a secret government project: They are studying an alien spacecraft and are trying to make friendly contact with its’ crew. There seems to be a fair amount of distrust between humans and aliens, but a female scientist finds an innovative way of proving good intentions. It involves something which sounds pretty risqué for this time period’s Astounding: stripping naked to prove you are not carrying any weapons. A fairly nice story, perhaps slightly overlong, but writing ok and the plot isn’t bad. ***½
False Image • shortstory by Jay Williams
Explorers meet strange giant aliens whose behavior is strange. The aliens turn out to be humans (in the past) and the explorers are aliens. About as bad and stupid it sounds. **+

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Hugo Winners I. Edited by Isaac Asimov

The collection of early Hugo award winners in short fiction categories. A fairly varied bunch of stories with some real gems.

The Darfsteller • (1955) • novella by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
The first piece of short fiction ever to win a Hugo award. From today's perspective it is slightly hard to see why. Writing is fairly nice, but the premise is a bit strange. Apparently human actors are replaced in theater by “mannequins”, which are kind of androids programmed by tapes and apparently the fine tune during the performance is done by a central system. Human actors are not used anymore at all. For some strange reason, these android run shows are very popular and are even critiqued in the papers. Why the reviews are done isn't stated, as logically the performances should be very constant without much variation. A former actor who has taken a job sweeping floors on a theater gets one last chance to perform (after a bit of sabotage). A very slowly moving story which features far too large parts of a boring play. **½
Allamagoosa • (1955) • shortstory by Eric Frank Russell
A spaceship is facing an official inspection and inventory of _everything_ in it. It would be very bad if there were any shortages, but it would be even worse if there were any surplus of any item on the ship – that might indicate possible intention of theft of government’s assets. But there is a problem: They seem to be lacking one piece of an offog. What is worse, no one seems to remember what an offog even is. And the inspection is coming closer… A pretty simple story – entertaining but nothing really special. I wonder why it got the award. ***½
Exploration Team • [Colonial Survey] • (1956) • novelette by Murray Leinster
An inspector lands on a planet. He expects to find a thriving colony, but he finds a single illegal inhabitant who lives with a few selectively bred giant Kodiak bears. The original animals of the planet are extremely dangerous. After the illegal immigrant doesn't kill the inspector (which would have been a smart move as illegal occupation on a planet is for some unnamed reason an extremely serious crime) they together try to find out what has happened to the colony. They are facing a dangerous journey to the site where seem to be transmission coming. A pretty nice story, writing was good for the time period. I do wonder why the robots were so poorly programmable. ****-
The Star • (1955) • shortstory by Arthur C. Clarke
An expedition studies the remnants of a supernova. There find a vault where a fine and proud species has left all the major achievements of their culture. A priest has problems with his faith where it is discovered that the nova was THE star of Bethlehem. One of the all-time great science fiction stories and well worth its’ reputation. *****
Or All the Seas with Oysters • (1958) • shortstory by Avram Davidson
Inanimate objects start to be something else than inanimate. Why there always is a shortage of safety pins, but there always seems to be extra wire hangers around?
The story seems to have pretty ordinary plot for its time, I seem to remember several other stories where ordinary objects were something else than ordinary. The writing was very well, and the title was excellent. Maybe those were the main reasons for the win in the Hugo voting, but I wasn’t too happy about the story. The characters were irritating and their behavior was extremely unbelievable. As whole better than the average for the time period, but the story was a pretty major disappointment, especially considering the title with poetic and mysterious connotations. ***-
The Big Front Yard • (1958) • novella by Clifford D. Simak
A man who fixes appliances and trades with antiques first finds that a few things which were waiting to be repaired have been repaired and vastly improved, for example an old b&w TV is turned to a color set. And his house is being enforced by unscratchable plastic-like material. And then a portal to an other world appears…Another story with thematic similarities with the Waystation. A well-written story, but perhaps slightly too disjointed at places. ****-
The Hell-Bound Train • (1958) • shortstory by Robert Bloch (variant of That Hell-Bound Train)
A deal with the devil story. A drifter gets an offer he can’t refuse – he can ask for anything, but he must step on the devil’s train when he dies. He asks for the ability to stop the time when he is happy. He gets what he wishes, and starts to work towards that happy moment. But if you are happy, can you be sure that you couldn’t be even happier? A really good and well-written take on the old cliché. ****
Flowers for Algernon • (1959) • novelette by Daniel Keyes
A young man with mental retardation is drafted to a medical trial which raises his IQ from about 70 to about 210. The story is presented as a diary. At first the writing is simple and filled with mistakes but slowly the increase of the mental faculties of the man can be seen in the structure and grammar of the notes. But the effect isn’t lasting…I have read the novel version at some time, so the basic plot was familiar. An excellent story, one of the all the greats. ****½
The Longest Voyage • (1960) • novelette by Poul Anderson
An expedition on a giant planet with vast seas is on an exploration journey. They encounter ancient relics and finally meet a man who claims to come from the stars with a ship which is capable of traveling through space. The writing was very good, but the story was fairly slow and took its’ time to get going. However, as a whole it has hold time fairly well. ***

318 pp.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

A sequel to the book which won everything which is winnable in science fiction last year. The main character is the same and the story continues – kind of. The plot goes somewhere else I was expecting. Instead of dealing with the internal struggle of the world with literally divided leadership this book concentrates on smaller things. Breq, a war ship AI, who wears an “ancillary body”, is named as the commander of a war ship. She (everyone is called “she” in this book) is ordered to protect a remote outpost. There she seeks out a person whom she knows, or least whose sister she knew (and was forced to kill in the first book). This book mostly concentrates in the internal conflicts on an outpost while presenting much more background on the universe of the books. Especially of what it is to be an ancillary and how the society works in the basic level and the way people behave and think like they do. The writing felt even better and more fluent than in the earlier instalment. However, the plot was slightly slow at places and less engaging. Fairly little seemed to be happening in the main plot of the series – if there is such a thing as a main plot in these books – that remains to be seen. Probably – there were pieces falling onto interesting places here… The world as itself is a fascinating and the details we learnt were interesting. There are shades of feudalism and a tendency to vaguely eastern philosophical mode of thinking. Another aspect was tea. The planet which is central to the main events of the book was one of the most important produces of tea and as such a significant place. Drinking tea is considered as one of the most important things there is and proper and an old tea set is something valued more than anything. When Breq takes the charge of the warship her servant is very worried about the lack of proper table ware and is vastly relieved when she gets funds to buy one. As whole the book was very satisfying and will most certainly be a strong contender for this year’s awards.

400 pp.