Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Jennifer Egan: Sydäntorni (The Keep)

A man has had to escape his old life for undefined reasons. He goes to work with his cousin, who has become very rich and has bought a castle in Europe. Their relationship in childhood ended with some very bad blood, but now past is past, and they are renewing their relationship. The events slowly turn almost surrealistic. At first, the book felt at best mediocre, but rarely has the ending of a book changed my conception of the book to such a degree.

Mies, joka on joutunut jonkinlaisiin tarkemmin kuvailemattomiin vaikeuksiin ja joutuu käytännössä pakenemaan, saa työtä rikkaalta serkultaan. Serkku on rikastunut osakevälityksellä ja on nyt nuorena eläkkeelle jäämisen jälkeen ostanut Euroopasta vanhan linnan. Hän on remontoimassa sitä kovan tason retriittihotelliksi. Serkukset olivat olleet lapsena kaverukset, kunnes välit rikkoutuvat osittain ryhmäpaineesta aiheutuneen aika rajun kiusaamisepisodin jälkeen. Mutta mennyt on mennyttä ja serkkujen suhde on lämpiämässä uudelleen. Tosin etäällä oleva linna, jonka alueella ei ole kännykkäverkkoa ja kaikki sähköiset laitteet toimivat heikosti, ei ole välttämättä kovin auvoisa paikka miehelle, joka on addiktoinut kännyköihin ja yhteydenpitoon. Linnan keskellä on vanha sydäntorni, jossa vielä asuu linnan omistajasuvun vanha jäsen, joka ei ole suostunut muuttamaan pois. Linnan aluetta kunnostamassa on melko sekalainen ryhmä ihmisiä, mukana myös kesätyössä olevia opiskelijoita. Pikkuhiljaa tapahtumat muuttuvat kummallisemmiksi ja melkein surrealistisiksi. Tämän kirjan päätarinan välissä on lukuja, jotka kertovat vankilassa olevan vangin kirjoitusharjoituksista ja hänen kehittyvästä suhteestaan vankilassa käyvään luovan kirjoituksen opettajaan.
Kirja vaikutti alussa melko kömpelösti kirjoitetulta sekä hiukan sekavalta ja epäloogiselta ja jotenkin ärsyttävältä. Loppuratkaisu oli kumminkin sen verran yllättävä ja hyvä, että nämä virheet voi antaa anteeksi (ja oikeastaan ne jopa selittyvät). Aika harvoin on alustava mielipide kirjasta muuttunut niin paljon niin nopeasti kuin nyt, kun matto vedettiin jalkojen alta siihen malliin, että sama kappale piti lukea muutamaan kertaan, jotta oikeasti ymmärsi mitä juuri tapahtui. Kirja melkein pitäisi lukea uudelleen, nyt kun tietää, mistä milloinkin on oikeasti kyse. Lopputuloksena kirja oli kuitenkin hyvin mielenkiintoinen lukuelämys.

347 s.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Salla Simukka: Valkea kuin lumi (As White as Snow)

A Finnish YA-book which has gotten some international fame. The main character of the series is spending some vacation time in Prague after the events in the first book. She is approached by a young woman who claims to be her sister. Could that be true? A smoothly going book with some hard to believe plot points, but it was nice light reading anyway for young spirited people of all ages.

Toinen osa kansainvälistä huomiota saaneesta suomalaisesta nuortenkirja-sarjasta. Kovien koettelemuksien jälkeen Lumikki on matkustanut Prahaan lomalle. Siellä hänelle aikaisemmin tuntematon nuori nainen lähestyy häntä ja kertoo olevansa hänen siskonsa. Puhuuko hän totta? Onko Lumikin perheessä salaisuus, josta ei ole puhuttu? Tämä ainakin jotenkin tuntuisi olevan totta, mutta onko Lumikin isä joskus yli kaksikymmentä vuotta sitten käynyt Tsekeissä, ainakaan ennen Lumikin matkaa asiasta ei ollut mitään puhetta. Lumikin siskoksi esittäytynyt nainen näyttää elävän osana kummallista uskonlahkoa. Lumikkia näyttää alkavan vainota joku, joka oikeasti haluaa tappaa hänet. Mitä ihmettä oikein on meneillään?
Sujuvasti kirjoitettu nuortenkirja; tosin joten vaikutti hiukan heikommalta kuin ensimmäinen osa. Kyseessä tietysti osaltaan voi olla trilogioiden toisen osan vaikeus – henkilöt ja tausta on esitelty, mutta loppuratkaisuja ei vielä päästä tekemään. Juonen uskottavuudessa oli jonkin verran epäuskottavuutta, mutta vetävästi kirjoitettu kirja oli, ja siinä jäi ihan mukavasti auki asioita päätösosaan. Eiköhän sekin jossain vaiheessa pidä lukea.

237 pp.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Dark Forest and Death's End (Remembrance of Earth's Past #2 and #3) by Liu Cixin

I read these two books back to back. I already have some trouble remembering what happened in which book, as they continue almost directly from the same story. Aliens are going to attack Earth. Luckily it is going to take a few centuries, so Earth will have time to prepare. Unfortunately, aliens have been able to prevent all high energy particle physics, so it is likely that humans will run against a technological barrier at some point. But as centuries pass, humans have built a huge space navy and are practically sure they will easily beat the invaders. But the science gap turns out to be vastly greater than almost anyone on Earth anticipated.
A lot happens in these novels – and I mean a LOT. The structure of one book is such that it leaps even centuries at a time, while the main characters spend their time in suspended animation. And then it is carefully explained what has happened; this book mostly tells things, doesn’t actually show them, except the most crucial moments. It is hard to give a very detailed plot description without spoilers, and because of the really vast scope the book covers.
There were some strange details, like smoking in a future restaurant (which had android waiters who looked completely human, but with such bad programming and pattern recognition that they are not able to recognize a removed table). And the behavior of some characters is incredibly stupid: after several failed murder attempts, one character casually orders drugs for very mundane reason, and almost takes them without a second thought.
Also, the strategies used by humans are completely insane. An unknown enemy probe with unknown capabilities arrives. Oh, let's arrange the whole human fleet in close proximity at STRAIGHT LINES very close to each others.
There were many problems with science; for example, interstellar dust is so dense that it slows spaceships which move at relativistic speeds by “drag” significantly? Electromagnetic pulse caused by a nuclear detonation causes such a heavy vibration of the space ship hull that it kills everyone inside?
The motives of many the characters are often very strange and hard to understand, and some actions even the nations took were very strange. There was no mention at all about opposition, which is active in all western countries; all political decisions were apparently unanimous with no one opposing sometimes very strange decisions, like classifying all attempts to build ships to escape the solar system and the coming invasion as “escapism” and extremely criminal – I didn’t get that at all (there was an explanation in book for that, but it was a ridiculously stupid one).
There is a lot of lecturing, explaining pretty basic scientific things, and if something isn't explained, there is a translator's note which explains it.
As a whole, the plot was interesting, but the writing style and behavior of many of the protagonists was pretty infuriating. However so much happened - sometimes pretty surprising (but depressing) things - that the books were an easy reads in spite of hefty page counts.

512 + 604 pp.

Monday, July 17, 2017

My Hugo award votes 2017 part 4: novels

I have read all the nominees in the novel category. As I have been traveling and been both busy and sick lately, I haven’t had time to write a blog post about Cixin Liu’s "Death’s End", but I will in a few days. I also read the second part of the trilogy, which had been published earlier. They were entertaining books, but not without faults. All nominees were pretty good, at last, on some level, and it wasn’t easy to put them in order. None of the novels was totally unworthy of an award. The "Ninefox Gambit" felt most innovative, and I put it in first place. "Like the Lighting" was a bit too hard to read for my taste, even though it was a fair book, also. Altogether, I can accept any of these books as a winner; most of them were very literary works, perhaps even a bit too much.

My voting order was:

1. Ninefox Gambit
2. The Obelisk Gate
3. A Closed and Common Orbit
4. All the Birds in the Sky
5. Death's End
6. Too Like the Lightning

Sunday, July 9, 2017

My Hugo award votes 2017 part 3: short stories

In this category, the rabid puppies chose the third alternative action: self-gratification and pushed for the nomination of a story that was written by their leader – who “ordered” the nomination of his own story by his loyal gamergate henchmen, who live in their parent’s basements. The overall quality was fairly average: better than the last few years, but that wasn’t hard to do. The stories were mostly very literate, with somewhat experimental writing styles. The first place was easy to decide – I preferred the story with the most traditional writing style. The order of the other stories was less easy to decide, except for the last place – there was no contest for that. That story is below “no award.”

“Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)
A story of two women with an at least partly self-imposed punishment/task. One is supposed to wear down seven pairs of metal shoes; another is supposed to stand on a glass mountain. They meet, discuss their fates, and choose to escape their punishments together. A very allegorical story, which makes certain that you understand the allegories. Not bad, after I got into it, following a few fairly demanding first pages.

“The City Born Great” by N. K. Jemisin (Tor.com, September 2016)
A young man is drafted to work as the “midwife” for the city of New York. The city is going to be born, apparently, as a conscious being and there are powers that oppose this. A poetic and fairly confusing story, not really my cup of tea.

“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny Magazine, November 2016)
A serial murderer kills a woman, but that woman happens to be a god of sorts, who has been in corporeal form for a while. She and her sisters avenge her death. A very short revenge fantasy, which is written very well, almost poetically, but it is too short to work really well.

“That Game We Played During the War” by Carrie Vaughn (Tor.com, March 2016)
A nurse arrives at a former enemy country soon after the armistice has come into force. She knows a man who is being treated for his wounds in a hospital. She had taken care of him when he was a prisoner, and later, she was his war prisoner. They formed a friendship and played chess; which might be a bit of a different game if one player can read the other’s thoughts. A nice story, with nice characters, but a bit too scene-like.

“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” by Alyssa Wong (Tor.com, March 2016)
A story of two sisters who are apparently able to control reality. One kills herself and the other tries to undo it. Or everything is just in her mind, as she runs through scenarios of how the death could have been prevented. A pretty good literary story about facing sorrow. If I read the story correctly, there are hints about the reason that the sister killed herself.

“An Unimaginable Light” by John C. Wright (God, Robot, Castalia House)
A robot (or rather an android) and a sort of robot inquisitor have a discussion. A pretty bad and very illogical story, which is written in a ponderous language, with inane digs at modern egalitarian culture and openly sadistic violence toward women. A bad story on all levels.

My voting order is:

Short Story:
1. "That Game We Played During the War"
2. "Seasons of Glass and Iron"
3. "The City Born Great"
4. "A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers"
5. "Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies"
6. No award

Thursday, July 6, 2017

My Hugo award votes 2017 part 2: novelettes

Novelettes is the second category I have finished. The overall quality of the stories was fairly good, but somewhat worse than in novellas. In this category, the evil leader of the rabid puppies went for trolling and nominated a lizard sex story, again. Otherwise, the order was fairly easy to decide. The only thing that was a little harder to decide was the order of the two best stories, but eventually, I went for the more straightforwardly science fictional story. Similarly, when deciding the order of third and fourth places, I went for the science fiction, even when the actual speculative content of the story was fairly minor.

"Alien Stripper Boned From Behind" by The T-Rex by Stix Hiscock

Last year, the rabid puppies and Vox Day, along with his minions, nominated a gay sex story involving a Tyrannosaurus Rex. This year, their contribution to the nominations was a straight sex story involving a Tyrannosaurus Rex. I wonder what kind of pervert is so captivated by lizard sex? In this story, a three-breasted alien stripper, who shoots laser beams out of her nipples when she has an orgasm, hooks up with a tyrannosaurus and has a lot of steamy sex. The tyrannosaurus is extremely well endowed for a lizard (which usually don’t really have much external genitalia at all). This was much worse than last year’s porn story, which at least managed to be pretty funny. This wasn’t even arousing and the writing was pretty bad. It lands below “no award” for me.

“The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon

An old woman lives alone and raises the best tomatoes anyone has ever tasted. She is waiting for one especially juicy tomato to reach peak ripeness, when it disappears during the night. And then the next one is also stolen. And the next. Clearly, something must be done. It turns out that the old lady (and the world itself) were not so simple as they first seemed to be. The quest for the tomato thief turns out to span several dimensions and is a very dangerous adventure, which involves space shifters and some even more strange creatures. A fun fable-like story, which turns more and more fantastic it goes on and is very well told.

“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” by Alyssa Wong

Young orphan boy and girl live on a whorehouse and help with all of the chores there are to be done. The boy has some strange powers: he can animate the dead, up to and including the chicken legs that are being cleaned for cooking. A group of strange men comes to the town. They demand that the boy come with them to examine a mine that was destroyed in an accident. He does, but things don’t go as planned. Nice writing, but a bit of an over-surrealistic end for my taste, which doesn’t really explain any of the fantasy elements.

“The Art of Space Travel” by Nina Allan
The first Martian expedition ended in disaster over twenty years ago. A new one will be launched soon. A young woman takes care of her mother who suffers from an Alzheimer's-like disease. It turns out that her unknown father just might be one of the members of the first expedition. A well-written story, but with fairly minor science fictional plot elements.

“Touring with the Alien” by Carolyn Ives Gilman
Aliens have arrived in impenetrable domes around the world. After a short time, humans who were apparently kidnapped as children, exit from the domes. They are supposedly translators for the aliens. Then one of them asks for a bus. A young woman works as a driver for him and an alien, and they mainly just drive around. A very good story, which is refreshingly real science fiction, not fantasy with irritatingly unexplained mystical events.

“The Jewel and Her Lapidary” by Fran Wilde
Pretty generic fantasy, where jewels have mystical and magical properties. The story involves a member of the royal family and her “lapidary”, a person who is able to command the stones. Their country is invaded and they must try to survive and protect some of the most powerful and important jewels. I didn’t get into this story at all. The characters spent most of their time discussing the magical properties of the jewels and little seemed to happen. Overall, the story felt like pretty generic fantasy, which was well written, but fairly boring.

My voting order is:

1. "Touring with the Alien” by Carolyn Ives Gilman
2. "The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon
3. “The Art of Space Travel” by Nina Allan
4. “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” by Alyssa Wong
5. “The Jewel and Her Lapidary” by Fran Wilde
6. No award
7. Alien Stripper Boned From Behind" by The T-Rex by Stix Hiscock

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Kari Häkämies: Presidentin murhe

The husband of Finnish president disappears and later he is found murdered. Is the murder connected to the murder of shady businessman from Iceland, whose body was found nearby somewhat earlier? An easy to read crime story, where the description of the political life is top notch, but the characterization might have been better.

Poliittisessa maailmassa tapahtuva dekkari. Naispresidentin hiukan epämääräisen taustan omaava puoliso aluksi katoaa ja löytyy myöhemmin kuolleena. Onko hänen kuolemallaan jotain yhteyttä hiukan hämäräperäisen islantilaisen liikemiehen kuolemaan? Asiaa selvittelee sekä poliisi, että Helsingin Sanomien toimittaja, joka on siirtynyt rikostoimitukseen taloustoimituksesta. Ja onko presidentinkin taustoissa jotain epäselvää? Mutta kumpi löytää syyllisen ensin, toimittaja vai poliisi?
Kirjassa ei ole varsinaista päähenkilöä, vaan tapahtumia seurataan useammasta tai ainakin kahdesta eri näkökulmasta. Tämän vuoksi kirja vaikutti hieman hajanaiselta eikä henkilöiden kuvaus ei myöskään ollut mielestäni mitenkään erityisen hyvää. Kovin paljoa vihjeitä murhaajasta ei myöskään saatu eikä ”arvoitusta” itsenäisesti käytännössä olisi pystynyt ratkaisemaan. Se, mikä kirjassa oli parasta ja kiinnostavaa sekä ilmeisen asiantuntevasti kirjoitettua, oli poliittisen taustan kuvaaminen. Ihan mukava välipala kumminkin raskaamman ja englanninkielisen kirjallisuuden välissä vaihteluna, enkä pitäisi mahdottomana, että lisää saman sarjan kirjoja lukisin.

278 s.

Friday, June 30, 2017

My Hugo award votes 2017 part 1: novellas

Novellas are the first category of the Hugo nominations that I finished. After the changes in the nomination process, the trollers had less of an impact this year. As a drawback (or bonus) there was more to be read, as there are six nominees in each category.

All of the stories were at least fairly good, none was bad, not even the rapid puppies nominee, the story by China Miéville. Apparently that nomination was mostly a “human shield” style of nomination: nominating something which most likely would be on the list anyway. The order of the stories wasn’t too easy to determine, but I read the story by Seanan McGuire first and it pretty much remained my favorite. None of the stories was something that wouldn’t be award-worthy at all. None of the stories will be below “no award.” After some pondering, I chose my voting order. (This year’s voting system is extremely nice to use and it made putting the stories in right order very easy).

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Young teenagers, mostly girls, have gone to alternative worlds where they felt at home. The alternative worlds are mostly different, some are fantasy lands, others are based on logic, some are based on some kind of horror motive, and so on. In the most cases, the youths felt at home on those worlds. For some reason, some of them have been cast out. Time has moved at a different rate for them in many cases. It might have been years in our world and their parents assumed that their children had been abducted/run out and are most likely dead. The relationships between the children and their parents are usually very strained – and usually they were strained even before the youths went away. The victims are gathered to a special school, which is run by an old woman who herself had the same fate as a teenager. She looks middle-aged but is possibly much older. A young girl goes to the school. Soon other pupils start to die - gruesomely. The other pupils naturally first have some suspicion toward the new pupil, especially as she comes from a world where death himself is an important figure.

A pretty good story with a new look at what Alice in Wonderland and Narnia (according to the novella, Lewis didn’t really know anything, he just used stories he had heard - badly) might actually mean. A nice and interesting story, with unusual characters and excellent writing.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

This story is kind of the reverse of the one above. This story happens in a dreamland, where the sky is patterned and close to the ground, and it is ruled by several gods. Most of the gods are not benevolent and they are ready to destroy whole towns for minor infringements, or even just to annoy another god. A pupil from a women’s university has escaped. Apparently, she has fallen in love with a man who comes from the waking world. A teacher, who as a young woman had many adventures, must bring her back, as her absence threatens not only the school, but the whole town. But it isn’t easy for someone, who is from the dreamland to go the waking world…

The beginning and the end of the story were excellent, but the middle part consisted mostly of a travelogue of the dreamland and all of the action pretty much stopped. Due to that, the story felt too long. However, both the beginning and the end were excellent.

Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold

This novella continues the story of Pendric and his demon, Desdemona. It has been a few years after the last story and Pendric has grown accustomed to the demon he carries, at least more or less. He must interrupt his studies for a while, as he and his ward are needed to a shaman, who apparently not only murdered his friend but destroyed his soul, as it was nowhere to be found. (In this world the souls are very real and they literally go to the gods at the funeral rites). Eventually, they naturally find what they were looking for. A pretty good story, but it was a bit overlong and there was far too little of Desdemona. Not as good as the first part of the series.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

At the beginning of the 20th century, a black man from Harlem delivers a strange book for a peculiar old woman who lives in an affluent part of the New York City, which is written in an unknown language. He has left away the last page of the book as a precaution. Soon, he gets an offer he can’t decline from a strange man and is chased and bullied by a plain clothes detective. And then everything starts to be more and more strange and dangerous. A story, which is an homage to the Cthulhu stories. In the beginning of the story, the slight horror elements were pretty good; the later part, with more surrealistic bloody horror, was much less appealing - but I have never been a great fan of horror and even less of the Cthulhu stories. The writing was very good, though.

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

The story happens at different times. One part of the story is a romance between two males in the vaguely fantastical medieval style world. Another part of the story happens much later and shows that the two lovers didn’t get each other. This latter part of the story has science fictional elements. Apparently, the world is a colony world and there are “gods” or people with access to high technology who have very long life spans. The romance parts took the bulk of the story, and there was nothing really special there: two lovers from different ladders of the society who eventually can’t be together. How many times has this story been told? The sexes of the partners had no real significance; the same story could have been told about a male and a female just as well. Perhaps that was a part of the point the story was making, but the romance parts felt very dull and they had no scifi or fantasy content at all. And the ending, if I understood it correctly, was a cheat.

This Census-Taker by China Miéville

A young boy lives with his parents on a mountain side. The father is a “keymaker,” who makes keys for the villagers. The keys apparently have some supernatural properties. The father sometimes kills animals. Then the mother disappears and the boy claims that the father killed her. The villagers examine their house and don’t find any proof of the crime: but the mother supposedly has written a letter which states she has run away. The boy must return to his father, but he is afraid that he will be killed. But then a man, a census taker, arrives and he interviews the boy and believes his story. The story has very beautiful language, but the plot has a lot of vague unexplained mysticism, and the story seemed to end a bit too soon. The point of the story is also left more or less open and the slightly mystical points are not explained at all.

My voting order is:

1. Every Heart a Doorway
2. The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe
3. Penric and the Shaman
4. This Census-Taker
5. The Ballad of Black Tom
6. A Taste of Honey