Thursday, June 28, 2012

Jar Jar Binks Must Die... and other Observations about Science Fiction… by Daniel M. Kimmel

A Hugo nominee in the “related works” category. A collection of essays about science fiction movies which cover practically the entire history of cinema. A very enjoyable book with some interesting essays and insights. A nice read which motivated me to add a few movies to my shopping basket in Amazon. The largest downside was that sometimes plot descriptions were too detailed as by far the most of the movies discussed were familiar to me. An interesting and fascinating read which is most likely going to be my number one choice in the final voting.

190 pp.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Reijo Mäki: Keltainen leski

A comedic fast moving detective story. A shady businessman escapes from prison to get millions he has stashed away. But there are many, many obstacles. Especially the mobster who used own than money is not happy to let him get away with it. And the private detective Vares from Turku finds himself in middle of action.

Turkulainen yksityisetsivä seikkailee jälleen. Tällä kertaa kirjan tapahtumat eivät sijoitu Turkuun, vaan vähän laajemmalti Etelä-Suomeen, osittain jopa Tampereelle. Vares tapaa sattumalta armeija-aikaiseen tuttavuuteensa, entisen naisupseerin, jonka vangiksi hän on sotaharjoituksissa on kertaalleen jäänyt. Nainen on karkumatkalla miehensä kanssa. Mies on talousrikollinen, joka on juuri karannut vakilasta häidensä varjolla, ja jolla on miljoonia kuumaa rahaa jemmattuna johonkin. Vareksen lähes kirjaimellisesti kompastuessa tilanteeseen on nainen viitta vailla hengestään pääsemässä, koska hän on tarkoituksensa täyttänyt mahdollistaessaan vankilapaon. Tarinaan liittyy tietenkin paljon konnia, petturuutta, murhia, mafiapomoja ja äkkinäisiä tapahtumia, joissa mielikuvitusta on enemmän kuin tarpeeksi sekä tietenkin hauskaa huulenheittoa. Uskottavuus tapahtumilla ei kovin korkea ole, mutta ei tämä niin pitkälle epäuskottavuudessa mene kuin sarjan huonommat kirjat. Kokonaisuudessaan kyseessä on aika tyypillinen, ehkä jopa keskitasoa parempi, sarjansa kirja. Ihan mukavaa kevyttä kesälukemista.

367 s.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, September 2012

A fairly average issue.

Done That, Never Been There • novelette by Brad Aiken
A detective story of a kind. The surgeon who made the first neurosurgical operation in the moon (done from earth using remote operating software which used a some sort of faster than light link (which isn't explained or much in other way in the story, but is mentioned)) is almost murdered and all information concerning the operation is removed of his patient database ( well, usually patient databases are very secure, and it is impossible to remove any data, at least without root privileges and intimate information concerning the database used, if then). A little earlier the woman whose life the surgeon saved is killed in the moon. The writing was pretty ok, but the plot was very contrived and totally ridiculous at places, especially the reasons why the data was tried to remove were not plausible. That act only made the crime which it supposed to hide much more noticeable. ***
Mythunderstanding • shortstory by Carl Frederick
A man who evaluates planets takes a vacation on his home town and visits a strange church which spreads apple trees and a religion based on them around the galaxy. He finds that a soil sample from one planet where apples can't grow contains high levels of osmium, which has a lot of commercial value. After a race to the planet it turns out that the aliens there seem to be very slow and stupid. There are some nice ideas there, but I am not sure if fitting them all in the same story was a great idea. The story was fragmented and I wasn't too happy about the writing. **+
The Long View • shortstory by Jerry Oltion
A millionaire has spent a significant amount of his wealth for a trip to the moon. He intends to leave a shire of all human knowledge and art there for all eternity. On top of a crater mountain where he was supposed to leave the artefact is a surprising find which will change everything...a pretty nice story with an optimistic ending. ***½
Elmira, 1895 • novelette by Michael F. Flynn
Rudyard Kipling comes to see Samuel Clemens about a story involving flying ships with monkey crews. A lot of discussion, little story. The writing is excellent, but the really interesting story would start where this story ends. ***+
Rent in Space • novelette by Susan Forest
A man whose company has just folded finds a "rent" in space from his living room. It is an area which swallows everything without any apparent consequences. He tries to contact government agencies without any success as no one takes him seriously. Then an old friend takes some interest on the fold, but his motivations might somewhat selfish. The beginning of the story was pretty good, but then it decayed beyond all believability. Another rent? In that location? Expelling THAT product? Really? Purely by change? Even the writing seemed to decay, but that might just be due my increasing irritation. ***
The Voices • novelette by Alec Nevala-Lee
A young woman who has heard voices for all her life takes part in an experimental treatment program which uses MEG recording combined with magnetic stimulation to remove the hallucinations. There are some consequences, though. A pretty good story which almost isn't science fiction. Only a few small nitpicks: auditory hallucinations don't automatically mean schizophrenia. Probably the best story in this issue. ****-

My Hugo votes 2012, part 3: Novellettes

The quality of novellettes was pretty low this year. There were no stories I really loved, and the order wasn’t easy to decide. I am still toying with an idea to put “no award” at the first place, as none of the stories was really, really, Hugo worthy and might very well do it the actual voting. On the other hand, none of them was really, really bad, either. Especially it was hard to find a story worth of the first place, but eventually I settled Paul Cornell’s story. It at least has some inventiveness and enjoyable writing. The order of other stories settled itself eventually.

“What We Found” by Geoff Ryman
A story about a scientist making a far fetching breakthrough in science which will rock the foundations of the universe. At same time we see glimpses of his childhood, family and life in a developing country, and how he struggles not to be like his father. The science parts were pretty good, but the other parts weren’t as interesting. The writing was good.
“The Copenhagen Interpretation” by Paul Cornell
The story apparently happens in the same world as the Hugo nominee One of Our Bastards Is Missing two years ago. There was still very little background and especially in the beginning it was hard to understand what was going on, or even what the setting was. First it seemed to be some sort of steampunkish 19th century, but it turned out to be apparently an alternative 21st (?) century. The main character who is seemingly a some sort of spy for the British Empire meets his former girlfriend, who has been missing for fifteen years but looks hardly any older. There is some pretty interesting intrigue and there story gets better when it progresses, but the end is fairly sudden. This is the second story from this continuum I have read, but still I wasn’t able to get the background of the world and it doesn’t work too well as a separate story.
“Six Months, Three Days” by Charlie Jane Anders
A story of a man and woman who both can see the future – but in slightly different ways. The man can see one future, which apparently can’t be changed, and the woman sees the different futures, the all possibilities any action might cause. Those two have an affair – an affair they both know isn’t going to end well. The story begun pretty well, but then it decayed a lot and felt overlong and threaded the same water for a long time.
“Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky
A man has died. He finds himself in a very strange heaven where people he used to know and celebrities have a nonstop party. The most important individual he meets is a childhood sweetheart who died young. A fairly confusing story with some nice ideas, but they really didn't construct a really working whole. The story had a lot of purposeful surrealistic details to convey the strange afterlife, but it didn’t' quite work.
“Ray of Light” by Brad R. Torgersen
A strange alien space ship arrived and deposited millions of mirrors in space which block the sun. The last humans live at the bottom of ocean tapping geothermal heat. A daughter of the main character has disappeared. A very good story about hope, which is well written, but could have been somewhat longer. There were more than a few problems with logic. It is also has a somewhat old fashionable feel, it might well have been written in fifties.

1. No award (?)
2. “The Copenhagen Interpretation” by Paul Cornell
3. “What We Found” by Geoff Ryman
4. “Ray of Light” by Brad R. Torgersen
5. “Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky
6. “Six Months, Three Days” by Charlie Jane Anders

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Another Hugo nominee.
A strange mix of a noirish detective story, zombie horror and hard science fiction. The book starts with an apparent pirate attack against a space ship. Soon the attack turns out to be something which isn’t from ordinary space adventure but from a horror story. Then a space tug which was transporting an ice asteroid towards the inner systems receives the distress call from the attacked ship and finds something unexpected after finding it. At the same time, a work weary police officer is ordered to track down and if necessary to kidnap a young woman, whose influential family wants her out from the outer solar system, and sooner rather than later. While he is investigating the case he finds himself being fascinated by the life of the young woman.
Very soon events (which seem to be very carefully calculated to cause as severe effect as possible) cascade and it seems a major war covering the whole solar system is imminent. Why would someone want to cause the most widespread war in human history which might leave the major planets (Earth and Mars) devastated?
A fairly thick book, which was especially in beginning written in an irritating "bestseller" style, where every single chapter ended with a major cliffhanger. That tendency somewhat diminished when the plot got more complicated, but there were some shades of that through the whole book. The pace seemed to vary; there were some stretches where fairly little happened, and then stretches of furious activity. The writing was ok, not bad but not especially good either. Some condensing might have been a good idea. As whole this was a nice and readable action story, but nothing which would really have made an impression. This isn’t going to be my number one choice on the Hugo award voting.

592 pp.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

My Hugo votes 2012, part 2: Novellas

The overall quality in the novella category was pretty good. The writing of most stories was pretty god, but there some problems with the plot on some of them. The three best stories and the two bottom ones were fairly easy to choose, but their order was a harder thing to decide. The “Countdown” was far better than the novels in the “Newsflesh” series. It’s hard to say how it would have worked had I not read the novels.
Kij Johnson’s story had excellent writing. The speculative fiction aspects were mostly window dressing, but it was an enjoyable story nevertheless. Ken Liu’s story was somewhat too loose. These stories could go both ways, but at least now I would put Johnson’s story at higher place. “Kiss Me Twice” was a very clear choice for the middle place, as was “The Ice Owl” for the last place – above “no award” though.

“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu
A novella which written in form of a transcript of a documentary, which tell the story of a Japanese prison camp, unit 731, where the Japanese doctors performed cruel medical experiments on prisoners. A scientist has discovered a way to see the past. However, that can happen only as a personal experience, and it is also a destructive process – one time and location can be visited only once. The scientist has invited some surviving family members to take part on the experiment and see for themselves what happened. That has caused friction between China and Japan which is almost escalating to at least commercial war. The story is excellent and thought provoking. It could have been tighter. I believe that the “actual documentary” from which the story purports to be made would have actuality lasted several hours – all those interviews and testimonials take several pages each. The writing is nice, and the subject matter is moving. Despite some holes in logic one of the better candidates.

The Man Who Bridged the Mist • novella by Kij Johnson
Areas of “mist” separate different parts of the world. Mist is at least partly toxic and it is something between liquid and gas. It is possible to cross on special boats, but that is often very hazardous. There are also strange and dangerous things living inside the mist. An engineer comes to build a bridge over a strait filled with mist, which will be the longest bridge ever to cross an area of mist. The story tells mainly about of the life man building the bridge, about his work and love and how he changed during the years. A rather long story, which is at places more than a little longwinded. Few actual events happen during the story. The setting was pretty interesting, but we didn’t learn anything about what the mist is or about any other details of the world. There was no reason at all why the story couldn’t have been told as a straight drama and the fantasy aspects are extremely superfluous. If you want to tell that story, why set the story in a fantasyland? Writing as such was excellent, though. Also, after some time has passes from reading this story it is starting to feel better and better in my memory.

“Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal
A detective story in a future where AIs are becoming common. The police uses an AI to help officers in their duties. It can instantly access databases during interviews; it can make a composite sketch of the suspect on the fly during the interrogation and so. A detective is studying a murder when the AI suddenly informs him that an armed attack is going on the police station, and soon after that the AI goes off line. The attackers have stolen the central unit of the AI ( which apparently is protected with extremely poor security). Later, when they finally get the backup running there seems to be something wrong with it. A pretty smoothly going detective story with good writing. However, the story lacks uniqueness which would really raise it above other stories.

Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente
A story of an advanced artificial intelligence.
The story is written in beautiful language, but is extremely hard to get. There is no dialogue, and it is told in glimpses to different phases of the "life” and development of the AI with interludes consisting of metaphorical fairy tale adaptations. Little happens and the story is a typical example of style over substance.

Countdown by Mira Grant
A novella which explains who happened before Mira Grant’s zombie trilogy. Gives a logical explanation on how the different viral strands escaped and combined, and describes the very start of the zombie epidemic. An excellent story which was exiting and horrifying. Her novels have been pretty good and readable, but this story was clearly better than her novels and would probably have worked pretty well even without any knowledge of the books.

“The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman
A young girl who has travelled from place to with her somehow disturbed mother hasn’t been able to find her place. It is especially hard as the travel between stars has removed her in time from everything she has ever known. The school on the planet is destroyed, and she finds a private tutor who has a collection of rare and exotic items. The ice owl is one of them, another is a special painting made from the wings of the butterflies which can be seen differently depending of the viewing angle. The story took its time to start, and then it was over. The artifacts were the most interesting and imaginative part of the story, but they served only as a partly allegorical backdrop to the story. The story itself was a fairly simple tale of how certain things happen again and again in the history of humanity. It wasn’t too coherent and the plot seemed very fragmentary.

My voting order will be:

1. “Countdown” by Mira Grant
2. “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson
3. “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu
4. “Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal
5. Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente
6. “The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman

Saturday, June 9, 2012

My Hugo votes 2012, part 1: Short stories

“The Homecoming”  by Mike Resnick
A man is tending his wife who has a fairly advanced Alzheimer’s. Their son has moved years earlier to an alien planet and looks alien in appearance.  The parents have cut all ties with him.  The son comes to visit his parents as a surprise. There are eventually some bonding with the father and son. A well written story without any real surprises. This story could well have been written as a straight” story concerning for example homosexualismn.
“The Paper Menagerie”  by Ken Liu
The mother of a half-Chinese young man used to make paper origami which were alive. She was a mail-order bride and spoke English poorly, and the origami was the way she tried to connect with her teenage son. The son rejects his Chinese heritage and eventually his also mother. Later he believes that the moving paper animals were only a figment of his imagination. Later, after the mother has died from cancer he finds a box containing her legacy. A wonderful, well written and heartbreaking story.
“Movement” by Nancy Fulda
An autistic girl has a sort of temporal disconnect. Her parents ponder whether she should get a treatment which often – not always – work. She has a lot of trouble connecting with her family, but is able to see the beauty of small things. A well written beautiful story, but it is slightly simplistic.
“The Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” by John Scalzi
An April fool’s joke from last year.  A “prologue” of a new fantasy trilogy which plays on all the clichés of fantasy and bad writing.  Starts with sentence “It was dark and stormy night”, which has been stretched to cover a few paragraphs.  It must be hard to write so badly while writing so well and funnily at the same time. Just a joke, but a good one.
 “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu
A fairy tale style story of wasps who created maps of their surroundings to the structure of their nests and bees they enslaved. A nice allegorical story about tyrannism and freedom which is well written, but eventualy there really doesn’t seem to be a good point for the story. 

This year all stories were very good and I wouldn’t have any problems with any of these stories winning the award. The overall quality was better than in years. It was pretty hard put these stories in order, but  I enjoyed most Ken Liu’s story. I was somewhat ambivalent about Scalzi’s story as it was “just” a joke, but it was a really fun joke as that.   I am really looking forward to his Star Trek parody novel, Redshirts. The least satisfying stories were Fulda’s and Yu’s stories. But in another year, they might well have been contenders for the first place.

My voting order will be:
1. “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu
2. “The Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” by John Scalzi
3. “The Homecoming” by Mike Resnick
4. “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu
5. “Movement” by Nancy Fulda