Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tommi Kinnunen: Neljäntienristeys

An excellently written novel about the life of one family spanning over hundred years by a first time author. The story of the family is told by short glimpses from pivotal moments, or often just before the pivotal moment. The writing is excellent and the book was one of the best reads this year.

Runsaasti positiivista huomiota saanut esikoiskirja, joka myös tuntuu ansaitsevan saaneensa huomion. Kirja kertoo yhden perheen elämästä useiden perheenjäsenten näkökulmasta, kattaen pitkän ajan, noin 100 vuotta. Luvut kirjassa ovat lyhyitä, ja monet niistä loppuvat juuri siihen vaiheeseen, kun dramaattiset tapahtumat varsinaisesti alkaisivat, ja kertovat enemmän siitä miten tilanteeseen päädyttiin. Perheenjäsenillä on salaisuuksia ja kaikki eivät tule toimeen keskenään kunnolla, mutta eri henkilöillä on eri näkökulmat asioihin ja jokaisen näkökulma on aina ymmärreltävä ainakin jossain määrin. Tärkeä osa kirjaa ovat ihmisten väliset suhteet, se kuinka ihmiset eivät saa kunnolla yhteyttä toisiinsa, vaikka asuvat samassa talossa. Kirjan ehkä merkittävin henkilö on kunnan kätilö, joka aloittaa työnsä 1800-luvun puolella pienessä maalaiskunnassa, ja joutuu ansaitsemaan itse kunnioituksensa seudulla, jossa naiset saavat runsaasti lapsia uskonnon kieltäessä senkin vähän perhesuunnittelun, mikä tuohon aikaan mahdollista olisi ollut. Kätilö saa aviottoman lapsen, ja kantaa ylpeänä ja ympäristöstä piittaamatta vastuunsa. Aikanaan aikuistuttuaan tämä lapsi alkaa myös odottaa lasta ennen avioliittoa. Hänellä taas on miehen löytäminen tärkeää, ja sellainen löytyykin, mies, jolle vieraskin lapsi on äärimmäisen arvokas. Yhteinenkin lapsi parille myöhemmin syntyy. Parin yhteiselo, eikä myöskään taloon myöhemmin tulevan miniän ja anopin toimeen tuleminen ei mitään ruusuilla tanssimista sitten myöhemmin ole.
Kirja oli mukavaa luettavaa ja se oli kirjoitettu nautittavalla ja hienolla, mutta silti helppolukuisella kirjoitustyylillä. Yksi parhaista kirjoista mitä vähään aikaan olen lukenut. Hämmästyttävää, jos kirja ei ole Finlandia-palkintoehdokkaina tänä vuonna, hyvin suositeltava lukuelämys.

335 s.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, October 2014

A slightly above average issue.

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

Monday, July 21, 2014

Analog Science Fiction -> Science Fact, January 1967

A pretty bad issue with overlong and dated stories.

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

Sunday, July 20, 2014

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

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

340 pp.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, September 2014

A fairly nice issue, slightly better than average.

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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

My Hugo votes 2014, part 4, novels

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

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

Warbound: Book Three of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia

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


Monday, July 7, 2014

My Hugo votes 2014, part 3, short stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 6, 2014

My Hugo votes 2014, part 2, novellettes

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

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

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

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

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

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

My voting order will be:

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

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Parasite by Mira Grant

After Mira Grant finished one series about zombies, she starts a new one about them. Different book, slightly different zombies. Once again evil scientists and an evil corporation have designed something which turns out to be harmful. This time zombification isn’t due to run away genetically engineered diseases, but from runaway genetically designed tapeworms, which were supposed to monitor their owner’s heath. The main protagonist is a young woman, who apparently was saved by her tapeworm after being diagnosed as being brain dead. She has however lost all her memories of her former life. After five years, she has slowly adjusted to life and has gotten a cute boyfriend, who just happens to be an expert in parasitology. (There is a slight yuckiness factor, when someone who could essentially be considered to be five years old dates seriously. At first I suspected that the boyfriend is a plant of the Evil Corporation, but it doesn’t seem to be so.) The beginning of the book is pretty slow and not a lot happens. Soon there starts to be “sleepwalkers”, people who stop what they are doing, and just wander aimlessly, but eventually they turn to more or less full-ledged zombies, who are attacking people. If Mira Grant’s earlier series was pretty unbelievable, this one is stupid beyond any belief. At the end of the book, she credits people for medical and parasitological help. I wonder if she has managed to pick up people, who just pretend to be experts, or if she has just chosen not to listen to their advice. The book is filled with extremely stupid science and medicine at many levels, from small irritating errors (X-rays on film on a top-notch laboratory in 2027 – film hasn’t been in use at any major centre for years) to very stupid errors (a large bridge is so powerful Faraday cage, that it prevents all possible listening devices and even disrupts a Bluetooth connection between cell phone and headset, but doesn’t prevent the phone call going through) to extremely major stupidities rendering the plot totally nonsensical. (Human DNA is special and it has major effects – as has toxoplasma DNA – even when humans and tapeworms already probably share something like 60-70% their DNA anyway. Also the sophisticated medical faculties are unable to notice parasites teeming in muscle and brain tissue - apparently it doesn’t occur anyone to do any MRI or ultrasound scans of the patients. Also, worms take over most powerfully some brain dead people. The brain dead people don’t have any brains to be taken over by definition. The text is easy and fast to read, but the stupidities and very poorly described characters and fairly bad writing started to grate my nerves. I was able to finish this book by making an itemized list of all major stupidities in the book. I didn’t start at the beginning, and I run out of steam a little before the end, but I got to somewhere over 25 entries. The earlier series wasn’t any great literature, and had a lot of huge faults of logic, but this one is whole in a class of itself considering implausibilities. This one will be under the “no award” on my ballot.

512 pp.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross

The book happens in the same world as Saturn’s Children, which was nominated for the Hugo award in 2009. Humans are still extinct – they have been revived a few times, but as they are so very fragile when compared with cybernetic lifeforms, they haven’t been able to survive for long. It is a few thousands or tens of thousands of years later that the earlier book. The artificial lifeforms, the descendants of humans, have spread across the galaxy and they are still spreading. The forming of new colonies is extremely expensive and depends on a pyramid scheme like financing, where a new colony is able to pay of its’ debts by establishing a few new colonies. Krina Alizond is an accountant, who has a special interest in the history of accounting practices and different accounting and pyramid scams, especially something called FTL scam, where people are lead to believe that someone has invented an FTL drive. That would totally revolutionize the whole society and monetary system. She is on the way to meet her sister, Ana, but she seems to have disappeared. Krina starts to follow Ana’s trail, but that turns out to be much more eventful than a humble accountant had ever suspected. Eventually, she ends somewhere she could never have foreseen – in more than a one level.
The book is a real avalanche of ideas and events. A lot of happens and with sudden and even sometimes surreal succession. There are a lot of gags and really unexpected events. I was reminded at places of Monty Python, especially when an insurance company turned to space piracy made an appearance. In spite of that, the book is not a farce, at least not for mostly. One of more interesting and entertaining sf books I have read for some time. This will most likely be my number one choice in Hugo voting.
336 pp.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

My Hugo votes 2014, part 1, novellas

The all nominees in the novella category were pretty competent. None was bad, but neither none of them was unforgettable good and all had a few failings. It wasn't easy to put them in order. The writing in most of them was very good, but it could be argued that all of them weren’t even speculative fiction - I might have put the Wakulla Springs to the first place, if there would have been even slightly more fantastic content. The Six-gun Snow White was slightly too open. The Butcher of Khardov seemed too connected to its’ franchise. So eventually the Stross’es story was the one which ended to the first place by default. None of the stories was so bad that I should have but it under the “no award”.

“The Chaplain’s Legacy”, Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)

Continues an earlier story. The advanced aliens, who have already destroyed several other sentient species, have stopped just before they were going to destroy humanity. They want to study a very strange human phenomenon: religion. Now their leaders start to believe that there is nothing new to be learned from humans and what has been paused for a while should soon be finished… The transformation of the alien queen was “slightly” too convenient and the story continues the old pretty stupid convention that humanity is special in some way. A pretty good and exiting story in spite of religious undertones anyway. Very traditional science fiction compared with most of the other nominees. Perhaps too traditional for award.

Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean Press)
A little more realistic retelling of Snow White fairy tale. This Snow White is a half breed Indian born to a beautiful American-Indian women after a rich prospector falls for her and practically buys her from her parents and tribe. At first orphaned Snow White lives moderately comfortably in a vast mansion and spends her ample free time by learning to shoot and to play cards, but when her step mother arrives, things turn bad. As in the original version she runs away, but there are some slight differences: the snow white in the original fairy tale didn’t support herself by gambling and sharpshooting. The writing style is reminiscent of fairy tales, but the content for most part isn’t. And the ending naturally isn’t clear and unquestionably happy one. A nicely written story, but it felt somewhat overlong. Also, the writing was smooth and enjoyable, but somehow I was left expecting some kind of more meaningful resolution and point for the story.

“Wakulla Springs”, Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages (Tor.com, 10-2013)
Story (or stories) about Wakulla Springs, a real fresh water area in Florida, which has been used for filming Tarzan movies and Creature of Black Lagoon, among others. The first segment tells about a black girl who works on the kitchen during the shoot of a Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan film. The second segment tells about her son and third about the son’s daughter. The last, a very short one, gives a glimpse to the fourth generation of the family. The story is very well written and interesting. The major failing was the (almost - one or two completely throw away sentences really doesn't count) lack of any speculative content. Normally, that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but when you are reading a Hugo nominee you keep expecting that something fantastic would happen. That partly spoiled the story, it would probably have better without predispositions. In spite of that, this was a good story - but it is not really science fiction or fantasy.

The Butcher of Khardov, Dan Wells (Privateer Press)
This novella is connected to some sort of game which is apparently played by miniature figures, and which happens in some sort of steampunk world. I never had even heard of the game ever before. The story tells a backstory of a giant axe wielding solder, who ruthlessly kills everyone he even suspects being unloyal. The story is presented in nonlinear manner with short episodes of his life. He is presented as psychotic and unbelievably violent man, but there are logical or almost logical reasons for him being such man. As I was unfamiliar with the world and the backstory there were a lot unfamiliar terms, which somewhat hampered reading the story. There was a glossary of the terms which were used, but that was at the END of the story – not much help there.

“Equoid”, Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)
A story about a secret British X-files style government organization. An agent is sent to investigate a possible infestation of unicorns. The unicorns are real, but thankfully rare creatures, with some very "interesting" qualities. They are meat eating, extremely vicious and their reproductive cycle is pretty unique and involves their horn (which actually really isn't a horn...). A pretty good story with pretty unique style with Lovecraftian undertones and even with a dash of tentacle porn. The writing is good, at places bit thick (which is part of the plot - the protagonist is reading Lovecraft's letters and complains that their style is contagious). An enjoyable and entertaining and at places pretty amusing story.

My voting order will be:
1. “Equoid”, Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)
2. “Wakulla Springs”, Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages (Tor.com, 10-2013)
3. Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean Press)
4. The Butcher of Khardov, Dan Wells (Privateer Press)
5. “The Chaplain’s Legacy”, Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)