Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Analog Science Fiction November 1992

Ok issue, all stories at least fairly good.

Embracing the Alien • novelette by Geoffrey A. Landis
Story which is told from a viewpoint of an alien who is partaking a scientific mission aboard a human space station. Plotline is very much Star Trek type. The space station encounters a higher being who lives near a black hole, and the being sends the ship across the space-time to face a hard moral dilemma. There are probably only about 50 Star Trek episodes from all the incarnations of the series with about the same storyline. Anyway, a pretty good story. ****
Steelcollar Worker • shortstory by Vonda N. McIntyre
A worker who is very good in her job is asked to partake an examination. She has avoided it already several times, but at this time she can’t avoid it anymore. A well written story, but it seems that the school system of this future is extremely poor if protagonist’s condition wouldn’t have been recognized and treated in some way. ****-
High On Life • shortstory by Greg Costikyan
All drugs which give pleasure are harmful and dangerous - and forbidden. But if someone gets off with his work… Pretty simple, one-joke, nice story. ***½
P.C. Software • shortstory by G. David Nordley
Political correctness going to the ultimate limits is a pretty American thing, which is not completely unknown elsewhere. Tells about extreme political correctness in a sf-magazine’s editorial office, and how to get around it. Ok, pretty simple but nice. ***½
Naught Again • novelette by John E. Stith
A private investigator and his AI car happen to stumble upon a plot involving murder and cryonics. Nice short story, depends on several coincidences. Writing is ok. ***½

Sunday, March 29, 2009

When They Come from Space by Mark Clifton

First book by Mark Clifton I have read. I got this book because Barry N. Malzberg gave very warm recommendation for this author in his book Breakfast in the Ruins. This book was okay, but I don’t really yet see what the fuzz is.

Aliens are coming! Good thing government has been wise enough to prepare beforehand, and establish a Department of Extraterrestrial Life Research with a two billion dollar budget, even before there was any inkling of the aliens. Too bad that it is a government department, and spending and bureaucracy are a bit rampant. E.g. there is an entire department which function is to draw on a vertical small horizontal lines to represent the minutes and hours. And of course there is master copy, and working copy of the line. And why create such line: when another life form is discovered, the instant of such importance will be marked on the chart as a permanent record for all posterity. The aliens luckily seem very benevolent, and as their first task they seem to chase away other aliens which are howering in dark, scaring spaceship over most major cities.
The book is more a parody of government, media and human stupidity than anything else. For most part it seems to be very bitter parody, and at a few places the story stops for page or two for a rant of stupidity of it all. Writing is ok, maybe a bit clumsy at some place, but for a book which is almost fifty years old the readablity was pretty ok. ***½

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Story about lives of two afghan women, who are living through soviet occupation and later under Taliban rule. One, Mariam, is a bastard of a wealthy man, who didn't get any formal training. After her mother's death she is married off to much older man. Another, Laila, younger one, is a daughter of former teachers. When they die in a bombing, she is also forced to be married to the same man. The two women form a tight friendship, which last through some very hard times. But for most of their lives, if there is something that can go wrong, it will.

The is very moving and sad book, but I might be called a cynic, but at times (well, at most times) the events and the storyline seemed to be calculated to give maximum emotional impact even at cost of character development or believability. Somehow the characters didn’t really grab me. This was a fast read, pretty good read, but it really was not one of the most enjoyable reads I have had (on many levels).

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Analog August 1977

Fairly good issue, the novellas/novelletes are both very fine, shorter works are ok for most part.
Cold Cash War • novelette by Robert Asprin
Major corporations wage war with each others. Governments of most countries aren’t very happy about that, and try to stop that practise. But very well trained mercenaries tend be much better fighters than regular army troops…Well written, pretty intriguing story. It’s hard say to who to root for, when the main characters probably are pretty bad guys, but are portrayed sympathetically. There some minor nitpicks. It seems strange that the general population seemed to be easily and completely on side of mercenaries, as they are pretty ruthless against the government troops, when one supposes that most of government forces have families and friends around. Why be so sympathetic to someone who might kill your son, brother or close friend? ****+
The 63rd of August • shortstory by W. Macfarlane
A nerdish inventor invents a chamber where times seems to move extremely fast. Story which is more than a little hard to understand. Contains a lot of pretty uncongenial language - it is probably just me, but I really didn’t get the story. Anyway, there didn’t seem to be much of a plot. *½
Information Station Sabbath • shortstory by Kevin O'Donnell, Jr.
A researcher is living on a planet where there is just one religion, with no real difference of opinion. The aliens seem to think, that their god is literally true, and literally visits them. The scientist is naturally sceptical, but then he starts to get very strange feelings about an invisible powerful being…Pretty good, well told story, the ending is probably the worst part. ***½
Ender's Game • novelette by Orson Scott Card
One of the best stories ever. I have read the novel version, and I am pretty sure I have read this novella version earlier, too. This time I mainly skimmed the story, but it is as good as I remember. Well, most probably know the main story: kids train on an orbital “battle school” for a future fight against a ruthless alien race. One kid, very bright one, seems to be able to win everyone else even when the rules of the games are being changed, and the training seems to speed up. Very good story. One gripe is that while Ender (the hero) is considered to a tactical genius, and extremely intelligent, his innovations in the war games seems pretty obvious, something which should have been invented years ago by others pupils of the school (who are all supposed to be the brightest of earth - well, on the other hand they really don't give that impression in other ways, either). *****-
Rotating Cylinders and the Possibility of Global Causality Violation • shortstory by Larry Niven
Timetravel seems to be theoretically possible, but the universe seems to go extraordinary lengths to prevent it. Could that phenomena be used as a weapon of war? Nice but short story. ****-
Skysinger • shortstory by Alison Tellure
Continues a story from June 1977 issues (fact that isn’t stated anywhere). A sentient, sea living, life form in another world battles against its’ predecessor with help of land living creatures. A bit too heavy on battles, otherwise nice story, a bit longer version might have been easier to follow up, as events seem to happen too fast. ***½
The Fourth-Stage Polygraph • shortstory by Sam Nicholson
A sea captain who usually works on container ship is ordered to work on a cruise ship to relieve captain who suspected of wrongdoings, and at same time to investigate the chief steward who might have some shady dealings going on, also. At the same time he should investigate if a novel development of a lie detector would be any use in the investigation. Story is meant as a funny, but isn’t, not at least funny enough. ***½

Monday, March 16, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact May 2009

Ok issue. Nothing really bad, most stories pretty decent, nothing extremely good.

Rendezvous at Angels Thirty • novelette by Tom Ligon
A virtual reality story. A wealthy man recreates a second world war air battle, where his ancestor was presumable killed. Magic-tech is used to read personality “engrams” of the actual participants of the battle. The battle is fought and won with the protagonist’s support (he is naturally expert in flying 2nd world war fighter planes). I didn’t really get the whole point of recreating the whole battle and re-fighting it, as the same tech which was used for recreating it could simply have been used to find out what happened to the lost fighter squad. Also, recreating self-aware AIs with human thought patterns, and start thinking about ethical consideration only when it would be time to turn of the simulation? Well written admittedly, even entertaining, but personally I didn’t like the main character. ***½
A Measure of Devotion • shortstory by Shane Tourtellotte
A former leader on starship program wants to make a comeback, starting on a public and important debate about future of space exploration. But he is very jumpy and insecure. Told ok, but not very logical story on several levels. That way the main character ended the way he is, isn’t really logical, and way he returns is really strange - any sensible board of trustees would never have allowed him to be first speaker in such important discussion. ***-
Among the Tchi • novelette by Adam-Troy Castro
A semi-famous writer is invited to a alien world to present his stories. The aliens happen to have a "slight" habit of nitpicking stories and asking questions on minor details, dealing among others the number of freckles the main character has on her face. Funny, entertaining story. ****-
Quickfeathers • novelette by Alexis Glynn Latner
Human colonists find on a strange planet markings made by a bird-like species. Those tell an epic story of bird hero of past. The planet itself is very strange, metal poor, with really strange apparently artificial moon. The background seem more interesting that the story itself. I wonder if the author intends to write more stories about these colonists, as most questions are left almost completely open. ***½
A Story, with Beans • shortstory by Steven Gould
Short story about a world which is infested by metal eating, extremely dangerous bugs. Warden/guide to a restricted zone tells a story about love and suffering. The story and writing are fine, but the background of world is much more interesting than the pretty short and simple story in itself. ***½
The Brother on the Shelf • shortstory by Philip Edward
The older brother goes to interstellar war, the younger stays at home as too young to fight. He has a collectors card of his brothers battleship, which is supposed to change color if the ship is destroyed. Inevitable happens. First story by a new author. As such pretty nice. Good ideas, nothing really surprising, but nice mood piece which might have been better as a bit longer. ***
The Sleeping Beauties • novelette by Robert R. Chase
A xenobiologist and a musician are going to get married when the xenobiologist turns down a possibility to take part on an expedition to Saturn. The musician bride turns down the engagement so that her fiancé could fulfil his dream. Sappy romantic story, writing ok, nothing special. ´The story feels a bit rushed, longer form and a bit more development might have made the story better. ***+

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Asimov on Science Fiction by Isaac Asimov

Collection of essays connected someway to science fiction. The quality of the articles is very variable. A few are good, many pretty indifferent, a few bit strange. Many of the essays are former editorials from Asimov’s Science Fiction, and especially those are pretty short, light, and evidently written quickly without too much thought. Also, same things are repeated several times, especially the early history of science fiction - it might have a good idea not to include so many so similar essays in the same collection.
Especially the review of Orwell’s book 1984 seems a bit strange, as Asimov seems to think that the point of the book is to predict future (where the book of course fails) and thinks that even in totally totalitarian country human spirit would prevail and the government would naturally face heavy opposition and the book fails to appreciate human spirit in its‘ pessimistic world view. Just ask any North Korean about how easy it is to oppose totally oppressive government, or even really realise after lifetime of brain washing, that the government IS totally oppressive.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

”John Berry did two things on his seventy-fifth birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army”.
Humans have expanded to space, but there are aliens there, also. And for the most part they aren’t really nice and cuddly. Habitable planets are very rare, and there is very intense competition of them, and that competition leads very often to military interventions. Space colonialisation, and especially military actions, are lead by Colonial Defence Forces. Everyone in western countries gets a choice to join the military after their seventy-fifth birthday. The military service is said to last at least two years, but no longer than ten years, and after that the survivors are able to move to a colony planet if they wish. There aren’t too many survivors, though. The challenges which the characters meet are often dangerous, and often ethically and morally very much to the gray zone. This first book didn’t explore very much the ethical side of war, but it seems that side will be explored in more detail in the second part (and even more in the third part – which I have already read)

The book is well written, exiting, very much in style of Robert Heinlein at his best. Better than Heinlein, though, in my opinion. If this book had been written in 60s or 70s, this would probably be one of the great classics of science fiction. Nowadays, one might not get the greatest admiration by writing very well told, fast moving space operatic military science fiction, but, boy, isn’t it fun to read sometimes! I have read one book by John Scalzi earlier, which as mentioned is in fact the third part of a trilogy started with this one. That was a book I enjoyed, but this was clearly better – of course probably partly because starting from the third part isn’t usually advisable.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Analog January 1977

One of the worst Analogs I have ever read. Very light, overlong, and badly written stories, with usually a single “amusing” plot point if any.

Christmas Eve • shortstory by Alan Skinner
Two american astronauts who apparently have defected to Soviet Union after US space program was closed watch from orbit the launch of the first interstellar space ship. Simple, boring story. **
Yes, Virginia • shortstory by Allison Tellure
Another very simple, but boring, thankfully short story about the Santa Cause following mother and daughter (in future?). What was the point of this piece - if there was, I didn’t get it. **-
The Man Responsible • novella by Stephen Robinett
Pretty long story telling about an eccentric widow who feels that she has been swindled in investment deal for 160$. As she likes good legal battles, she hires her lawyer to investigate the company in question. Story is very noirish detective story bordering on (probably) unintentional parody of that genre. The science fictional content is fairly slight, and for most part very unnecessary. Very overlong, a good amount of tightening would have been a good idea. **
Alba Krystal • shortstory by Bud Sparhawk
Snow white and seven dwarfs in science fictional setting. Far too long for something which is essentially one joke story. **
The Missionaries' Position • shortstory by Hayford Peirce
A galaxy wide culture might have some need for human byrocrats, and earth gets good revenue out of them. Not very interesting story, once again badly overlong of its’ slight content. **
The Mildews of Mars • shortstory by Arsen Darnay
Another noirish detective story, this time the “hero” is industrial spy. Happens in a world where completely human looking androids, “surrogates”, are very common. Told in first person narrative. The story takes several times asides for lengthy infodumps about society and technology of its world. The hero seems pretty unlikable, and the ending is hardly a surprise for anyone who has ever read any science fiction. The writing is fairly clumsy, also. *½
Stepson to Creation • novelette by Jack Williamson
Might have been the best story in this issue, but that is not saying much. A throwback to 40s (or maybe even 20s) style of science fiction. There are several human races, the original humans are dying out, are called “premen” who have earlier created (with genetic manipulation) “trumen“, “mumen” and ultimately extreme powerful beings calling themselves (and acting like) gods. And that is not all - the last remaining premen have a legend of “multiman”, who will rescue the premen from the evil rule of later forms of man and from false gods. The story is even worse than it sounds. At times I thought it might have been a parody of a really old style of storytelling, but I believe this story was meant to be taken “seriously”. Would have seemed very old fashionable even in Galaxy magazines from 1954 I have been reading. **½

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Puhdistus by Sofi Oksanen

A book which I have read in Finnish, so my review will be in Finnish. Winner of Finlandia award, the most prestigious literature award in Finland. Well written book about tragic life of women in Estonia at different eras.

Sofi Oksasen Finlandia-palkittu teos, joka kertoo Viron historiasta ja yhden perheen naisten elämästä kahdessa eri sukupolvessa toisiinsa lomittuvilla eri ajoissa tapahtuvalla tarinalla.
Kirja tuntui parantuvan koko ajan loppua kohden. Aika hitaasti tapahtuva alku on selvästi kirjan heikoin osa, ja etenkin alkupuolella tapahtunut yksi koko kirjan avainkohtauksista oli uskottavuudessaan kuin suoraan Hertta-sarjasta tempaistu - ei sillä, että Hertta-sarjaa ikinä olisin lukenut. Oikeastaan kirjan kokonaisuudessaan katsoen korkea laatu huomioiden kyseinen tapahtuma on yllättävän teennäinen ja epäuskottava. Kohtauksessa kaksi sisarta on kylillä, kun toinen sattuu näkemään “unelmiensa miehen”, rakastuu silmänräpäyksessä, mutta kyseinen mies sattuukin näkemään ensin toisen siskoksista, ja he sitten rakastuvat silmänräpäyksessä toisiinsa. Ehkä jossain heikommanpuolisessa romanttisessa komediassa näin voisi käydä, mutta laatukirjallisuudessa, etenkin näin hyvässä kirjassa, tapahtuma vaikuttaa kyllä melkoisen epäuskottavalta ja kokonaisuudesta häiritsevästi erottuvalta. Tästä tapahtumasta aiheutuu juopa sisarusten välille, tosin yksisuuntainen sellainen, ja pitkälle salattu, sisällä pidetty, sydäntä kaivertava vamma, joka aiheuttaa syvää katkeruutta ja pahansuovuuttakin. Tämä nuorempi sisar on alkupuolella kirjaa varsin ärsyttävä hahmo, ja ihan alkupuolella ei hänen katkeruuteensa edes ole oikein muuta kunnon syytä kuin yleinen sisarkateus. Hänen myöhempään katkeraan elämänasenteeseen kyllä löytyy syitä, mutta siihen miksi hän jo kirjan alussa on sellainen kuin on, ei oikein hyvää selitystä ole. Kirja keskivaiheen koettelemuksethan kun eivät silloin vielä ole tapahtuneet.
Alkupuolen hiukan hajanaiset tapahtumat yhdistyvät kyllä sitten lopussa melkoisen hätkähdyttävällä ja unohtumattomalla tavalla. Kirja on kyllä todella hyvä - en kyllä tiedä onko kirja niin suvereenin ylivoimainen muihin viime vuonna julkaistuun teoksiin verrattuna kuin palkintojen määrästä voisi kuvitella.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Gladiator at Law by Frederik Pohl

Read in a serial form from old Galaxy magazines.
I was looking forward to reading this story, as I really like Space Merchants by the same authors. Alas, I had to be disappointed.
The setup as such is interesting and promising. The story happens in a future which is ruled mainly by giant corporations. The most important job positions are mainly hereditary. And the best bonus for working in a big corporation is the GML Home, a bubble home which only go to those with jobs. Those who aren’t employed must live in ordinary houses in “Belly Rave“, and that is considered as a fate almost worse than death. For those not working, there are “bread and circuses”. Basic food is free, and so are “Field days” which are bloody gladiator style games for the masses. Pity that the story itself isn’t very interesting. The main emphasis is how get controlling stock in GML company, the company which makes the bubble houses. One of the founders of the company was displaced, and his stock was hidden from his children. Now his son and daughter try to get their hands on that that stock, and get controlling amount of it. A huge amount of the story is spend in discussing stock, and ways of get it, manipulate it and so on. At least it feels like it. The best part of the story is the first third, where the world is described, but the second, and especially the third part were at places extremely boring. There are also some issues in characterization and world building I find a bit problematic. In middle part one of the main characters is sacked from the work and forced to live in Skid Rove with his family. About first thing his wife does is to kick their teenage daughter on the streets to earn some money with a threat of selling her for prostitution. Mind you, this is in a world where food is free, and housing in principle is free. Also the wonderfulness of the GML homes compared to regular housing seemed pretty forced and hard to understand. As a whole the story was pretty disappointing.