Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Richard Wiseman: Yliluonnollinen ilmiö totuus on jossain sisällämme (Paranormality: Why we see what isn't there)

An excellent and well written review of how people are scammed with paranormal claims. There is nothing really new for a hard core skeptic, but a book which is well worth reading.

Mielenkiintoinen katsaus siihen, miten ihmisiä huijataan ”yliluonnollisilla” ilmiöillä. Mitään kovin uutta ja erityistä ei piintyneelle skeptikolle kirjassa ollut, mutta mukava, helppolukuista ja ajoittain varsin hauskaa tiedeviihdettä kirja tarjosi. Kirjan antaa aika perusteelliset ohjeet siihen, miten voisi itse alkaa meedioksi tai selvänäkijäksi. Pitäisiköhän vaihtaa ammattia, ihmisten herkkäuskoisuudella ei tunnu rajoja olevan? Oikeastaan kirja oli nuorisolle lahjoitettavaksi tarkoitettu ja siihen käyttöön se on mitä parhain.

349 ss.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Frederik Pohl: Avaruuden portti (Gateway)

A classic I have read a few times, but it has been at least thirty years since the last time. The book was even better I remembered.

Siitä kun edellisen kerran luin tämän kirjan on kulunut varmasti kolmisenkymmentä vuotta. Kirja tuli vastaan Finnconin myyntitiskillä nykyään keräilykirjaksi luokiteltavalle kirjalle kohtuullisella hinnalla, joten piti ottaa talteen. Aikomuksenani ei ollut kirjaa heti lukea, mutta Illalla asunnolla yksin ollessa aloin kirjaa selailla ja melkein samoin tein tuli luettua ensimmäiset 70 sivua. Kirja oli jopa parempi kuin muistinkaan, ja aikaisemmin tylsähköiksi kokemani psykiatrijaksotkin tuntuivat toimivan nyt huomattavasti paremmin. Kirjahan kertoo takautumina Robinette Broadheadista, joka on rikastunut tuntemattomien alieneiden aluksella suorittamallaan tutkimusmatkalla. Matkalle hän on lähtenyt Tukikohdasta, joka sijaitsee ontoksi kaiverretulla asteroidilla, jonne on jäänyt tyhjien käytävien lisäksi runsas määrä toimintakykyisiä avaruusaluksia. Ongelmana vain on, että kukaan ei osa aluksia ohjata. Nappia painamalla aluksella pääsee jonnekin, ja jos on hyvä onni, nappia painamalla alus palaa takaisin. Jos on aivan erikoisen hyvä onni, aluksen määränä olleessa kohteessa on jotain arvokasta. Robinette on siis kuulunut näihin onnistuviin palaajiin, mutta jotain hänen viimeisellä retkellään on mennyt pieleen, sillä rikastuneena hän tarvitsee intensiivistä psykoterapiaa syyllisyydentunteidensa hallintaan. Kirjassa nämä tietokoneohjelman vetämät psykoterapiajaksot ja kertomus Tukikohdan tapahtumista vuorottelevat. Mukavana todentuntua antavana piirteenä kirjassa ovat satunnaiset, mm. tukikohdan elämään liittyvät irralliset raportit tai mainokset, joita tekstin lomassa on. Kirja on aikoinaan voittanut Hugo-palkinnon, ja on selvästi parhaimmistoa palkinnon voittajista.

336 s.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Reijo Mäki: Mustasiipi

Vares, a private detective from Turku who tends to drink too much and meet beautiful women often enough has a problem. Someone tried to kill him, but he has no recollection of what happened. Or why. A pretty good and very readably part of the series.

Vares-sarjan kirjat ovat aina olleet mukavaa kevyttä kesälukemista. Tämäkin osa toimi kyseisessä tarkoituksessa vallan mainiosti. Kirjan alussa Vares asustelee eristyneellä saarella selvittyään täpärästi tapon yrityksestä. Yritys oli ollut siinä määrin tehokas, että toipuminen sairaalassa oli kestänyt pitkään, eikä muistinsa menettäneellä Vareksella ole aavistustakaan siitä, kuka yrityksen takana on ollut. Vähemmästäkin tulee hieman vainoharhaiseksi, ja yksinäisellä saaristoelämällä oli yllättävästi vetovoimaa. Lopulta jo yksitoikkoiselta tuntuvaan piileskelyyn tulee virkistävä tauko, kun viereisen saaren huvilaan muuttaa viehättävä nainen...
Sujuvaa tekstiä kuten tavallista ja viihdyttävästi kirjoitettuna. Kyseessä on sarjansa parempaan päähän kuuluva kirja. Sattumalla on taas melkoinen osuus loppuratkaisussa, mutta sehän on Vareksissa enemmän perusominaisuus kuin varsinainen vika. Paha saa palkkansa ja Vares naisensa kuten asiaan kuuluu.

397 s.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, October 2013

Not bad, the best issue for some time.

Lune Bleue • novella by Janet Catherine Johnston
A radio telescope which is used for SETI research on the far side of the moon is manned only by three people: a couple who has fallen in love and a very strangely behaving man who has spent several consecutive shifts on the moon already. The political situation has meanwhile grown tense, and a war between Russia and China is expected to start at any moment. A well written but perhaps overlong story. The ending was weak and almost deus ex machina. Also, I wonder if the far side of the moon would be a good or logical place for activities of that kind. (a secret missile base) ***+
Sixteen Million Leagues from Versailles • novelette by Allen M. Steele
A valuable vase from Versailles has been on an exhibition on Mars. The shuttle carrying it has dropped on a gorge. A small expedition is launched to retrieve it. A pretty standard run of the mill Analog style of story. A fair amount of exposition and not a lot happens. The writing was competent, clear and easy to read. ***+
Following Jules • novelette by Ron Collins
Two stupid and irritating female college roommates almost live in a virtual world and dream of uploading themselves (or at least one of them) to the computer world. Writing was good, but the characters were unbelievably irritating and stupid which made me really, really, really hate them. ***-
Putting Down Roots • shortstory by Stephen R. Wilk
A short “bar room discussion” about the evolution of intelligence and what influence some surprising factors might have had. A simple “story” without real point. ***-
Things We Have in This House for No Reason • shortstory by Marissa K. Lingen
A list of unneeded things a teenager who lives on Mars has on his home. Nice writing which goes for subtext. I probability didn’t get everything. ***
At the Peephole Palace • shortstory by William R. Eakin
Peepshows have slightly different sorts of shows in this future. Writing ok, but I didn’t get why such shows would have been so strictly illegal. ***-
Fear of Heights in the Tower of Babel • shortstory by Carl Frederick
The elevators of a new building with the latest AI programming have kidnapped VIPs who were on route to the opening ceremony of the building. A computer expert is asked to negotiate. A short, fairly stupid story where the solution to the problem was something everyone with a half a brain would have done as the first action. ***-
Conscientious Objectors • shortstory by Jay Werkheiser
There has been a devastating was between China and USA. The relations are still really tense, but a Chinese neuroscientist has come to study the American veterans of the war who suffer from a strange condition which causes locked in style symptoms. A well-written story which was a bit too short and with a slightly too easy solution. The missing chapter breaks made the Kindle version hard to read. ***½

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Asimov's Science Fiction, August 201

Ok issue, average or above average. There was one major flaw, though. My copy, which was read from Zinio, was full of all sorts of typographical mistakes. There were extra space in the wo rds, there extra space before comma , there were letters crammed together. Someone forgot proofreading? Or some sort of problem in preparing the electronic copy?

The Ex-Corporal • shortstory by Leah Thomas
Father switches to another personality from an alternate reality during epileptic seizures. First he has even enjoyed “travels between dimensions” but then a very obnoxious personality seems to take over. This story could be classified as horror rather than science fiction or fantasy. Writing is pretty good, but perhaps the story was slightly too short. ***
Stone to Stone, Blood to Blood • novelette by Gwendolyn Clare
A half brother of the ruling regent get a body guard as present when he turns nine. The ruling family has a special gene which allows them to somehow tune with some rare mineral deposits on the planet or something. The bodyguard carries an implanted implementation or brainwashed orders which forces him to guard the prince at any cost. Their relation has turned to a deep friendship. The prince is facing a “brainwashing” himself. Well written, good story, but perhaps too short for the fairly complex background – or are there other stories in the same series? ***+
Arlington • novelette by Jack Skillingstead
A sixteen years old boy, who is lying his first long solo flight in a small airplane in 1981 lands on a remote little used airfield after being lost for a sort time in a strange cloud. The airfield seems to have surprisingly many planes from many eras. Parallel to these events the same person as a grown man with a strange untreatable disease is considering a life changing decision. A well written, very god story which feels like an episode of Twilight Zone, in a good way. ****-
Lost Wax • novelette by Gregory Norman Bossert
A story about some sort of "scientific golems" made from yeast orsomething. A pretty confusing and hard to follow story. I didn't get it. **
The Application of Hope • [Diving Universe] • novella by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Apparently a start for a new series. A fleet of human spaceships has traveled centuries is space encountering other cultures, trading, fighting and exploring. The ships use a "foldspace" for fTL travel. Sometimes ships disappear to foldspace and are never found again. The father of the main protagonist disappeared when she was a child. She becomes a foldspace expert who could for first time search thing from the fold space and later one of the most accomplished captains of the fleet. Another ship disappears, and its' captain was her close fried and lover. Fairly little happens in the story, mainly it is exposition. The exposition is done pretty well however, it didn't felt like massive infodump crammed to the brain of the reader. Not bad, bad long for actual plot. I might very well buy the book where this story is a few first chapters. ***+

Thursday, July 18, 2013

My Hugo votes 2013, part 4, novels

The novel category was pretty mediocre at best. All but one (Redshirts) can be considered a part of some sort of a series (although 2312 was somewhat separate from the Mars series, but it clearly happens in the same universe). There was a good book which belongs to a very long series (Captain Vorpatril), there was the third part of a series involving zombies in US with HUGE implausibilities, and a very mediocre first installment of a new fantasy series - a nomination which probably was one of the most baffling nomination choices this year considering all categories. And the book which is not a part of any sort of series was an intentional bad parody of a TV-series. I have read little of sf published last year, but really?
I was almost tempted to put “no award” to the first place, but my voting will most likely be in the following order:

1. Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
2. 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
3. Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, John Scalzi (Tor)
4. No award
5. Blackout, Mira Grant (Orbit)
6. Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

A fantasy novel by a new author and the last of this year’s Hugo nominees for me. The action happens refreshingly in a generic middle age Middle East instead of a generic middle age Europe. That’s about all which is unusual in this book. The plot and especially the characters are very generic and clichéd. There is an older ghoul hunter who feels too old for this shit, a young, overzealous holy warrior and an attractive very badly underused, very badly characterized, shapeshifting young girl who serves as a love interest for the youngster. Something very evil and powerful is rising, and it is up to our heroes to save the city, country and the world. The novel feels very generic in spite of the location. There are problems with the pacing, the writing feels pretty clumsy and especially the battle scenes feel transcripts of a role playing adventure. At times, it feels like the author threw dice and consulted random encounter tables, so random some encounters felt. The magic used in the book also felt to be very "D&D" stylishs with fireballs, spells glowing in the air and so on. I also would imagine that if magic really were so powerfull and common, the society and most functions of such world would be profoundly changed. That coudn't be seen in this book. I don’t see why this book was nominated and how it has so many so positive reviews in Amazon and Librarything. Will be on the last place in my voting.


Monday, July 15, 2013

My Hugo votes 2013, part 3, short stories

Short stories

There were only three short stories nominated this year as the votes from nomination spread too far. One story by Kij Johnson was nominated again just like in at least two previous years. I have never really understood any of her stories, but this year’s story is probably the worst of bunch. This will be on the last place and below “no award”. Ken Liu’s story was very moving and will earn the first place. Immersion took rereading before I really understood it, but it was probably the best thing I have ever read by Bodard and it was a very satisfying tale after all.

“Mantis Wives”, Kij Johnson
A very short “story” (I am not sure if this is “a story” by any definition) about the mating habits of the praying mantis. No plot, no real story or plot anywhere. 100% pure unadulterated metaphors, not even very interesting or good metaphors and nothing else.

“Immersion”, Aliette de Bodard
A story of “a developing” planet where the inhabitants of Chinese descent are using some sort of portable brain interface which helps them serve tourists better giving them insights of customs and language of the visitors. The story is told from two viewpoints – from a point of a poor girl whose family owns a restaurant, and from a point of a wife of a rich man who is hopelessly addicted and grown into the brain interface. A very good story after I got the shifting viewpoints. One small nitpick: the author doesn’t seem to understand the complexity of technology. No amateur tinkered could never, ever, reverse engineer even current high technology, it is totally ridiculous that someone would even try to do for future tech.

“Mono no Aware”, Ken Liu
A giant asteroid has hit Earth (and splinters hit Mars and Moon – talk about co-incidences!). The last humans are on a generation ship. The last Japanese got to the ship through his father’s good relations. A very well and poetically written, very sad and melancholy story with a tear producing end. A very good story in spite of a few logical inconsistencies.

Voting order:

1. “Mono no Aware”, Ken Liu
2. “Immersion”, Aliette de Bodard
3. No award
4. “Mantis Wives”, Kij Johnson

Sunday, July 14, 2013

My Hugo votes 2013, part 2, novellettes

There was no clear winner in the novelette category. None of the stories was really exceptionally good, but neither any of them was really bad, in fact they were at least moderately good. Only two of the stories were science fiction and one of them only barely so. As I much prefer sf to fantasy that was a slight letdown. The first story I read was Heuvelt’s piece. I was pretty sure that I would eventually like something more than that, but I will probably put it to the first place.

“In Sea-Salt Tears”, Seanan McGuire

A fantasy story about women, who are able to turn seals by wearing a magic robe which is inherited from an older family member. A group of teenager is anxiously waiting for their own turn. One of them makes friends with a strange woman who first only visit when it is time for the ceremony where someone gets her robe. Later they become more than friends. A very bittersweet love story. Pretty good writing, but didn’t really get into the mood of the story.

“Fade To White”, Catherynne M. Valente
The story happens in an alternative world where Japan retaliated the nuclear attacks by nuclear bombardment of Seattle and other west coast US cities. The war is being fought against Japan and Russia on American soil. A significant degree of people has become infertile due to radiation, and there is a shortage of men as they needed on the battle lines. Meanwhile the life is following a rigid "American lifestyle" with father, mother and kids in a nuclear family. The father takes care of several families, though on alternative weeks. A very good story which is partly told as a memo of a propaganda commercial. The lifestyle which is being imitated is a fifties lifestyle, which isn't entirely logical if war had stretched out from what really happened.

“The Boy Who Cast No Shadow”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt
A boy who doesn’t cast a shadow befriends a boy who is made of glass and is extremely fragile. The glass boy has lived a sheltered life as the slightest hit might shatter him, but he has a dream of seeing an ocean. Together they escape from home and travel through half Europe to the coast of Portugal. The story has nothing to do with science fiction, more with magical realism and allegory. Nice writing, but somewhat too short.

“The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi”, Pat Cadigan
Most of the humans who live around Jupiter have changed themselves to look like crustaceans. A girl who has still been “two legged” decides to “go for sushi”, in other word turn herself to the sea animal look. There are several discussions and considerations before that, and there are some ulterior motives for some actions on some characters. A lot of back story for a story of this length. Enjoyable tale, but not the best possible.

“Rat-Catcher”, Seanan McGuire
The story happens apparently in the same fantasy universe as “In Sea-Salt Tears” by the same author. This time the protagonists are cats who can turn to humans. The main hero is the prince of the cat kingdom who enjoys watching theatre in the middle age London. His overbearing father summons him and has a task for him. The prince learns something which could change everything. A well-written story which was one of my favorites.

My voting order will most likely be:
1. “The Boy Who Cast No Shadow”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt
2. “Rat-Catcher”, Seanan McGuire
3. “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi”, Pat Cadigan
4. “Fade To White”, Catherynne M. Valente
5. “In Sea-Salt Tears”, Seanan McGuire

Monday, July 8, 2013

My Hugo votes 2013, part 1, novellas

The novella category was the first I have finished this year. The quality of stories was fairly nice for the most part, but not exceptional and there was only one story which I considered to be really good and well worth of the award. The order of the other stories wasn’t very easy to determine (except for the last place) as most of them were at least moderately good but had all some clear faults. None was so bad that I would use the “no award” category, though.

“The Stars Do Not Lie”, Jay Lake (Asimov’s, Oct-Nov 2012)
A scientist finds from stars something which shakes the official doctrine of an alternative earth (or a colony planet which has been named as earth and a nearby planet has been named as "Mars". He tries to announce his findings at a scientific conference, but he is apprehended before he has a chance to do that. And there are pirates in airships, some plotting and so on. There are some good parts, but the background has somewhat unclear and the narrative was fragmentary. A readable story. But not my favorite.

The Emperor’s Soul, Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications)
A wizard has been imprisoned by an empire which despises magic and even publicly denies it really works even if they use some forms of it commonly. She faces execution, but she is given a vast task: she should rebuild the personality of the emperor who barely has survived an assassination attempt. The attempt left his mind empty. By carefully studying the life of the emperor the magician might be able to succeed in that task. An excellent story with a very fascinating and interesting method of magic: By studying the material, object or people understanding them truly it is possible to rewrite their history and change them, eq. make a worn table to turn to a fine and beautiful antique piece. When the magician learns about the emperor she also leans to understand him better than anyone ever.

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications)
A rucksack group of survivors of a major catastrophe which has rendered earth uninhabitable is kidnapping children from the present time with some sort of time machine which has been provided by strange creatures – possibly aliens or robots. A pregnant policewoman is studying the kidnappings which happen in partly predictable temporal and geographical pattern. At the same time, strange mutations are apparently spontaneously springing up in plant at different places of the world. A pretty good story, which was slightly overlong. The writing was interesting and engaging. Pity about the ending, though, it was far too deus ex machine - practically a literal deus ex machine - for me, not mention being overtly preachy.

On a Red Station, Drifting, Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
The story is a part of a series where China was the most dominant nation and future spacefaring civilization follows very strict rules concerning ancestors, propriety and customs. The ancestors are not only highly revered, the carried around as some sort of brain implants which are highly valued. An apparent refugee from a planet with some rebel action has come to a space station where some distant relatives live. She isn’t exactly welcomed, but she gets a place to stay. She is a relative, after all. Then there are some plotting, intrigues and poems which were horribly offensive for some reason. The story doesn’t really work alone without knowing more about the background of the world. The writing was pretty slow to read and didn’t manage to make me care about any of the characters at all – they could all have died horrible deaths without me caring even the slightest. And I really am not interested in knowing more about that horrible nepotic and tyrannical world, if the main plot between the stories isn’t about how the rebels will completely destroy the current system of “government” and custom. Somehow I think that the series won’t be about that, but I certainly am rooting for the rebels.

San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats, Mira Grant (Orbit)
A novella which is a part of author’s zombie series. Tells the story how the zombies took over the San Diego Comic Con and slaughtered thousands of genre fans. Moderately entertaining and better than the books from the series, but seem to be written for the self-gratification of the fandom telling how valiantly different fan groups fought against the horde of zombies. The writing was ok and the story was better than the novels from the series, but Hugo worthy – perhaps not.

My votes will be in this order:

1. The Emperor’s Soul
2. The Stars Do Not Lie
3. After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall
4. San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats
5. On a Red Station, Drifting, Aliette de Bodard

Friday, July 5, 2013

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, September 2013

A pretty average mix of stories.

A lone explorer is in a trapped under the ice of Europa, a moon of Jupiter. She has captured a body of an alien, which apparently died at the moment light from the vessel hit it. She has some strange dreams of her father. The body of the alien then releases a great amount of metallic compound which is badly needed to repair the radio transmitter. A pretty confusing story, which starts in the middle of a story and ends in the middle of a story. It almost felt like everything which happened was just a hallucination of the protagonist, but just almost. If the story wasn’t a hallucination, then the alien is pretty strange and is apparently capable of transmutating elements with no radiation whatsoever. ***
The first civilian expedition of mars has ended with a death of the leader of the expedition. But there seems to be evidence, which proves that the death was intentional. The expedition wasn’t apparently very expertly leaded, but who would have committed murder and why? And is the ex-girlfriend of the first officer who took part of the ill-fated expedition somehow involved? The story consists mainly from the eyewitness accounts of what happened. An ok story, perhaps slightly overlong. ***+
THE ORACLE, Lavie Tidhar
A story about an emerging all powerful godlike artificial intelligence. A very fragmentary, at places very confusing and unclear story. This didn’t work for me at all. **-
Working for interplanetary veterinary corps can be very demanding – especially when your working partner is a (almost) yellow submarine with an AI with some interesting characteristic. A light hearted story in the best James White style. An enjoyable read – nothing deep, but the story wasn’t meant to be something deep. ***+
Extending copyright by suspended animation may work, but there are some things which are hard to escape – like debtors. Another story in a light vein. It was probably overlong to some degree– might have worked best as a shorter Probability Zero story. ***-
THE WHALE GOD, Alec Nevala-Lee
A whale beaches in a war time Vietnam. The US army personnel tries to rescue it. Some of them see some strange shapes at a corner of their eyes, and they have strange feelings. A pretty nice story – but it is not exactly science fiction at all. By a remarkable coincidence, I read about the exact phenomenon which is described in the story just a few days before I read the tale. Pretty good and even moving story. ***+