Thursday, July 24, 2014

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, October 2014

A slightly above average issue.

"Opportunity Knocks", Joyce and Stanley Schmidt (Short Story)
Apparently continues some earlier story. The first quarter is a very heavy and dense infodump, which was hard to understand. The later part was okay and involves some Halloween trick and treaters meeting an alien. The story might have worked better as a separate one, omitting the force feeding of the details (most of which weren’t even important for the story itself anyway) and slightly rewriting the end part. Even then more of a prequel than an actual story. ***-
"Threshold", Tony Ballantyne (Novelette)
A guide on an alien planet is hired to take a group of three women to see a special feature of the planet: floating swarms, which are “insect” colonies which are on flight all the time and often reacted to environment in fairly predictable manner. It turns out that the women have a more sinister agenda. A pretty good and well written story. I must wonder though: how lax immigration is on the planet if the group was able to get all those things through customs? ***½
"Chrysalis", David Brin (Short Story)
Biologists have been able reprogram human cells, first to produce new organs to replace diseased ones, later grow back limbs. What is the next step? The story is told mainly by expository dialogue, where people tell what they have done or plan to do. It feels more like a transcript than a real story. Readable and even thought provoking, though. ***+
"Each Night I Dream of Liberty", Andrew Barton (Short Story)
A some sort of agent examines shady medical research on some sort of planet. A lot of exposition, some very strange leaps of logic. Someone has aphasia - oh, he must have been a victim of weaponized aphasia some terrorists were using years ago. Someone hasn't slept; oh she must have fatal familiar insomnia - an extremely rare disease with an incidence of something like 1:10000000. I found it hard to keep track what was going on. **
"Unfolding the Multi-Cloud", Ron Collins (Short Story)
A woman misses her loved one, who works in extremely well paid work, where he uploads his consciousness to net to find new or forgotten things. He might not come back as whole. Very well written and good story heavy with metaphors. Better than most of this year’s Hugo - nominees in the short story category, which were also heavily loaded with metaphors, but that is not saying much, though. ***+
"The Hand-Havers", Mary E. Lowd (Short Story)
Underwater intelligent beings give live apparently pretty American style life with central families and strong sex taboos. The unfertilized pregnancies (for both sexes?) produce "hands", some sorts of telepathically controlled beings which help in everyday life. Adulthood comes after the birth of the first hand. A young female creature is fascinated by an older male creature, who has six hands and is very smart and resourceful. He works as a kind of inventor for the community. An ok story, somewhat rushed and too short. Also, the very middle class American values on an alien species felt pretty stupid and irritating. ***+
“The Jenregar and the Light", Dave Creek (Novella)
Continues an earlier story. Insect like aliens are invading earth. The solution which was discovered at the end of an earlier story isn't working well any more. The story is split: one half tells about an attack to Nairobi and devastation the alien hive is causing there, the other half tells about Mike Christopher, artificial man who runs in to another alien infestation. Interspaced are segments about a scientist who is discovering a new method to destroy the aliens. Is total genocide justified? Not bad, but the parts didn't much to do with each other’s. Might have worked better as two separate stories. ***+

Monday, July 21, 2014

Analog Science Fiction -> Science Fact, January 1967

A pretty bad issue with overlong and dated stories.

Supernova • [David Falkayn] • novella by Poul Anderson
A star has gone nova. A some sort of federation, where earth is apparently one of the leaders, tries to help the inhabitants of a relatively close solar system, which will be hit by the nova in a few years. The inhabitants have only spread to a few planets. A lot of political scheming and story concentrates more in how the help is accepted, if it is accepted, than to the actual impact of the catastrophe. Ok, somewhat overlong. ***
A Criminal Act • (1966) • shortstory by Harry Harrison
After you get too many children you are declared to be an outlaw for a day. Someone may volunteer to kill you by any means possible. How many stories with an approximately similar premise are there? Hundreds? This has some semi interesting semi intellectual discussion about if something, which is completely legal, is also automatically a moral thing to do. The main character couple seems to be idiots. Wouldn’t it be easier just use some birth control? **½
The Old Shill Game • shortstory by H. B. Fyfe
A few friends have robovendors, who sell things to people on the streets and on subway. They first star to use robot shills, so that the vendors seem more popular and there would be more customers. In addition there are other schemes, also. Boring as hell, a badly overlong story. *½
The Last Command • [Bolo] • shortstory by Keith Laumer
An old battle robot wakes underground. It has been deactivated after a war. But a mining operation wakes it up. It believes the war is still going on, and it starts to approach inhabited areas...but one old veteran might recognize what is going on. A slightly overlong, but readable story. ***+

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Speculative Fiction 2012: The best online reviews, essays and commentary

A collection of essays, which have been published online 2012 with a wide variety of subjects, which start with book reviews and ending to critical essays and opinion pieces. I had already read a few of them, but a vast majority was unfamiliar. As can be expected some were interesting and some of the essays were less so. Probably the least interesting were a few long critiques about books I hadn’t even heard, while the most fun were a few trashings of apparently rotten books which have written by people who don't have the slightest about the culture there are writing books about (Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff, review by Cynthia Martinez; Fey and Fallen by Stina Leicht, review by Martin Mcgarth). Other memorable assays were “Are Elves Gay?” by Gav Thorpe and “sour grapes” lamentation about the Clarke Awards 2012 by Christopher Priest . There were a few that I disagree with, even when I like them (But, But, But, -Why Does magic Have to Make Sense? By N.K. Jemisin - if it works, it MUST somehow make SOME sort of sense). A few were about subjects I didn’t really understand or care (e.g. The Circus as Fantastic Device – Who cares?). As a whole pretty interesting book. I wonder if there will other collections like this?

340 pp.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, September 2014

A fairly nice issue, slightly better than average.

Plastic Thingy • novelette by Mark Niemann-Ross
A cute young woman comes to a hardware store. She needs some sort of red plastic thingy. She doesn’t exactly know what it is, or how it is supposed to work, or it is supposed to do. At first, it is kind of hard for the young salesman, who first suspects that someone with so stupid request must certainly be a secret shopper. But then the woman shows where the thing is needed. On an alien space ship, of course. A lighthearted, fun, well written story. Easily the best in the issue. ****
Release • shortstory by Jacob A. Boyd
The story is written mostly in second person present tense. Mankind is at war with a savage species. Human ships have as a last resort defense a button which releases a “zero bubble” which is some sort of stasis field which stops all momentum inside. (I don’t understand what that kind of invention isn’t used for other purposes – stick for example a giant bomb inside and send it to the enemy fleet). A pilot has pressed the Button, and is captured inside a field with an alien in another ship. They are so close that they are able to make gestures to each others. Should he release the bubble or not? Interspaced are reminiscences how the pilot was trained and even changed to be able to fly the space ship. Too gimmicky writing, not too logical plot. ***-
Vladimir Chong Chooses to Die • shortstory by Lavie Tidhar
A man goes to a death booth, where he can choose the manner of his death after a long life. He remembrances the deaths and lives of family members. Nice writing, but nothing special in the plot. ***
Artifice • shortstory by Naomi Kritzer
A group of friends meet regularly to play board games. One of them decides to take a humanoid robot as a perfect boyfriend. He even starts to play games with the group, especially Diplomacy, where a computer brain doesn’t have an unfair advantage. Nice writing, but nothing really surprising, including the non-logical ending. ***
Calm • shortstory by Alec Austin and Marissa Lingen
Aliens have arrived and started to uplift humans to truly sentient level. Everyone –or at least those who work with aliens - carry computers which evaluate to what degree imbalanced hormones and nerves affect the ability to make informed decisions. But there is a new race, which seems to have hugely worse problems with bad nerves than humans have ever had. A pretty good light hearted story. ***+
Beneath the Ice of Enceladus • (2009) • novelette by James C. Glass
An expedition is studying the ocean under the ice of Enceladus, a moon of Saturn. A pretty predictable story. There is some personal tension, there is problems during the expedition and guess if they find life on not? A very standard story which is standardly written. ***
Championship B'tok • [InterstellarNet] • novella by Edward M. Lerner
A group of aliens live on a moon of Uranus. They apparently try to invade the Earth, but were defeated. The remnants live on the moon in kind of reservation. They have had some accidents which are being investigated. They might also have some hidden agenda. And there might also be something even more secret going on. Part of a series and feels fairly separate as itself. Ends to cliffhanger. I haven’t been a great fan of this series and I don’t love this instalment, either, but perfectly ok story. ***

Sunday, July 13, 2014

My Hugo votes 2014, part 4, novels

The voting order in the best book category was pretty easy to determinate. There were two good books, one entertaining, but not in any way special pulpy book, which was third in a series; one really, really bad rehash of the author’s earlier series and one nominee was a ridiculously long fantasy series, which represent everything which is very, very wrong in the fantasy literature. My opinion is that the Wheel of Time should not have been nominated. A fourteen books long series can’t be compared with single volumes. There is no way anyone would really need so many books to tell a good, coherent story for any other reasons except self-indulgence and milking fans for the money. To say the truth, I have not read a single works on the series, but after reading many reviews of the books I haven’t even slightest interest in starting to read the series.
Only the two good books will be before the “no award”. I will put Correia’s book next in my voting order, as it is clearly better than the book by Mira Grant. Grant’s book and Wheel of Time are both so horrible nominees, that I am not able to put them in order, so I just leave them away from the ballot. A win for either of them would be utterly preposterous. Probably and hopefully that isn’t a great threat.

So, my votes will be in the following order:
1. Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross
2. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
3. No award
4. Warbound: Book Three of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia

Warbound: Book Three of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia

A book from a series I had never before even heard by an author who is at most only a superficially familiar name. At first I thought that this would be a spoof in manner of Scalzi’s short story which was nominated a few years ago, the title seemed to be so ludicrously preposterous. But no, this is a real series done apparently with an (almost) straight face. The Grimnor is an organization who fights against supernatural threats in an alternative 1930s world. Superpowers are common. There are people who can teleport, mess with gravity, be super intelligent, be unbelievably strong and so on. They tap some sort of “power” and are often able to augment their powers by crossing it with technology. A some sort of alien creature who craves the “magic” for its’ sustenance is coming to earth, to kill and destroy everything. It has sent its first influence ahead and that has infiltrated at least the Japanese government. The Grimnor starts to fight the evil influence. As this was the third part of the series, it took some time to get what was going on and who was who. By the end of the book there was a lot of fighting. And mean a lot. I saw the battle scenes in mind’s eye as an anime. They were so preposterous, that they could only be imagined as cartoons. However, it can be said that they were entertaining, at least at some level. The book had some slightly racist, antigovernment and pro weapon slant. Every single gun was described by the make and the caliber.
The book was fairly entertaining, but nowhere Hugo worthy. It didn’t really work as itself, the writing was ok, but not unique, and the plot wasn’t really surprising or complex.


Monday, July 7, 2014

My Hugo votes 2014, part 3, short stories

There were only four nominees this year. Most of them were short and based more on allegories than on the actual plot. There was no competition for the first place; in my opinion Chu’s story was by far the best one. The order of the others was less easy: I didn’t really like any of them, even though they were all well written. They felt more like poetic mood pieces as actual stories with a real plot and real characters.

“Selkie Stories Are for Losers”, Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)
Two young girls who work at a restaurant bond and ponder about Selkie stories and abandonment issues. Very short, well written sad melancholy story. Didn't really had interest for me. Partly because I am not familiar with the concept Selkies - the first time I ever heard about them was from a last year's nominee - and that apparently wasn't that kind of Selkie story, this story is talking about. Also, there seems to be hardly any actual speculative material in the story.

“The Ink Readers of Doi Saket”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (, 04-2013)
Villagers from a Thai village pick up wishes people have left floating on the river which flows nearby. They collect gifts people have included in the small paper boats where the wishes are. Some wishes might be granted in some way, sometimes there might be some sort of exploitation of the gifts, and sometimes the wishes the villagers themselves have might come true, but not necessarily in a way they were hoping for. A poetic story.

“If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love”, Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine, Mar-2013)
A kind prose poem about how awesome dinosaur the loved one would be, if he would be a dinosaur. Very short, nice language, metaphors, but nothing else really.

“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”, John Chu (, 02-2013)
Water starts to appear from now where if you lie about anything. A major lie completely drenches you. A guy couple is going to travel to the home of one of them. He hasn’t come out of the closet yet, and the parents believe that they are just good friends. And especially his sister seems lean very heavily to him getting settled, marrying a nice girl from the same ethnic group and starting to have children. How to survive the visit when it is impossible to lie? Another story which is heavy on metaphors. Good writing and moving story.

My voting order will be:
1. “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”, John Chu (, 02-2013)
2. “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (, 04-2013)
3. “Selkie Stories Are for Losers”, Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)
4. “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love”, Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine, Mar-2013)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

My Hugo votes 2014, part 2, novellettes

The stories in the novella category were pretty average for most part. Apparently two of the nominees ended to the list due coordinated voting effort by some readers of righter wing sf-blogs. The stories in question aren’t exactly bad, but not very good either – certainly not worth of an award. At best they can be considered average or at most slightly above average. Kowal’s and Chiang’s stories were the best ones by a good margin and was fairly easy to choose which of them was better one.

“Opera Vita Aeterna”, Vox Day (The Last Witchking, Marcher Lord Hinterlands)
This story was apparently voted into the final ballot by the right wing and bigoted part of US fandom as well as a few other nominees. The author got some notoriety by his extremely racist and misogynist opinions, which were so hate filled that Orson Scott Card started to feel like a moderate liberal free thinker. He got himself kicked out from the SFWA, but apparently collected some sympathy on that part of fandom who lives in the forests of Montana armed to the teeth waiting for the invasion of the UN troops
An elf comes to a monastery to study religious literature. He befriends (or at least comes accustomed with) the monks and decides to stay there studying sacred texts and copies and illuminates a major multipart religious text. He is wooed back to the kingdom of elves regularly, but he refuses. Not as bad I expected, but not very good either. The motivations of the elf were left very vague. As he knew for a FACT that the religion is bogus (he had "magical" abilities which he kept under control) why to spend years on the task? The writing felt slightly clumsy at places, certainly worse than the writing of the most of the other nominees.

“The Exchange Officers”, Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jan-Feb 2013)
Another story which is on the ballot apparently due organized voting. Chinese attack a space station US is constructing on the orbit. A pair of building crew, who use remote working system unsurprisingly defeat them. A pretty standard Analog-style story. The plot was unsurprising, but the fairly nice writing gave freshness to the otherwise very conventional plot.

“The Lady Astronaut of Mars”, Mary Robinette Kowal (, 09-2013)
An elderly female astronaut who lives on Mars gets a change to take one last job. She would jump for the change, but her husband is badly ill and will die in a year. They don't even have children as they decided early on their careers, that there would be no room for children in their lives. Should she take the once in the lifetime chance or should her stay home and take care of her husband? A well written, bittersweet, nice story.

“The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”, Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2013)
People have been using life recording devices for a long time. It has been very hard to access them, though. Now a new program, which enables pretty comprehensive search faculties, is being introduced. A man is testing the software and examines his own memories - do they correspond with the reality? A story of how technology shapes self-perception. Which is true - what really did happen or you conception and memory of the event? Interspaced with the modern (or future) story is a tale of how writing changed or almost changed tribal life n Africa. A good story, but at places especially at the end, feels more like a pamphlet than a "real" story.

“The Waiting Stars”, Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam)
Tells a story of a group of women, who have been raised at an orphanage, alternating with a story a group who is trying to find a derelict space ship. At the beginning, the stories don’t seem to have anything in common, but eventually there is a connection. Not very logical from a technological point of view, but not too bad from the emotional point of view. Apparently the world of the author’s Xuya-universe of the Chinese descent _has_ other societies, than the Chinese derivative, repulsive, one.

My voting order will be:

1. “The Lady Astronaut of Mars”, Mary Robinette Kowal (, 09-2013)
2. “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”, Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2013)
3. “The Waiting Stars”, Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam)
4. “The Exchange Officers”, Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jan-Feb 2013)
5. “Opera Vita Aeterna”, Vox Day (The Last Witchking, Marcher Lord Hinterlands)