Thursday, January 28, 2016

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, March 2016

An average issue. Something good, something average, mostly readable stories.

The Coward's Option • [Andrea Cort] • novella by Adam-Troy Castro
This story continues an earlier series. A legal investigator, who specializes in relations and cases between aliens and humans, is called to audit a case where a human has killed an alien in the course of a robbery. The sentence for murder on the planet is death by slow crushing, lasting days or even weeks. There is no question of guilt. Is there anything which can be done to alleviate the sentence? It turns out that there is an option: something for total cowards or people who have some absolute commitments in their life who cannot face the death sentence. Would that opinion be possible? It turns out it could - but it could have severe repercussions for human society. A pretty good part of the series - readable, even exciting and thought provoking. ****-
Unlinkage • novelette by Eric Del Carlo
Some sort of modification has been used to create super soldiers who are “Hulk-sized” or larger. Unfortunately, the treatment renders the soldiers mental capacity to “angry-Hulk” level as well. To overcome this, “ordinary” soldiers use a sort of mental link to control the Brutes. One such controller, who after the military lives a pretty sedate life as a mother, finds that her mind link starts to work again - even when the recipient was killed in action years ago, and the link is very specific; it functions only between certain individuals. Ok story, not bad but bit slow in places. ***+
Elderjoy • shortstory by Gregory Benford
Everyone has an implanted monitor which monitors their heart rate and sends a bill when people have sex. The fee is higher for elderly, ostensibly for health reasons. (no logic there...). A horny elderly couple finds a way to beat the charges. A short story which is mildly amusingly. ***+
The Perfect Bracket • shortstory by Art Holcomb and Howard V. Hendrix [as by Howard Hendrix and Art Holcomb ]
A man has correctly predicted the outcome of 63 basketball games and has won a billion dollars. (I wonder what kind of betting agency would offer such a wager - and what is even more important - would be able to PAY it to the winner.) But there is someone who wants to find out how the deed was done, and suspects that he knows the answer: time travel. However, there is another way to accomplish the perfect betting score (which I guessed). Ok story but with some pretty confusing and clumsy parts, I didn’t really understand why the crowd got so angry at the end. ***-
Snowbird • shortstory by Joe M. McDermott
RV cars which are equipped with AI automatic drive start to converge on a remote farm. The drivers cannot be seen and when local police gets the necessary warrants to go inside, the occupant in the first car is found to be dead for a long time. Why are the cars coming with the drivers? A pretty strange story, which is not very logical. ***-
Drummer • novelette by Thomas R. Dulski
A traveling salesman goes from a solar system to another trying to sell power systems. He encounters another salesman who tries to sell longevity drugs with poor success. He later meets him again when he tries to peddle religion - once more with mediocre results. Years later, he meets the same man for the last time - under pretty unusual circumstances. The writing itself was pretty nice but otherwise an overly long and disjointed story. ***

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Just City (Just City 1) by Jo Walton

The Greek gods Apollo and Athene want to see how Plato’s Republic would work. They bring on the island of Thera (which will be completely destroyed in volcanic eruption removing any changes to the real timeline) 10,000 ten-year-old children, who are bought from the slave traders during several centuries and adult supervisors (who at some time have prayed for Plato’s Republic being real) through history – many of them women who haven’t been able to be what they want at their own time. The children are then brought up using the teachings of Plato as a guide. The city is filled with real artwork which has been rescued from fires and disasters during the whole human history and its library is lifted from Alexandria just before the Fire. Both Apollo and Athene are living in the city disguised as children. Everything seems to go according to the plan, but when children are old enough, Socrates is brought in to teach rhetoric and he starts to ask questions, some hard and very disruptive questions.

An extremely good book which examines the fascinating basic idea from many different viewpoints without forgetting some of the less idealistic and ethical details of the great plan. Are they supporting and encouraging slavery when they bought the children? Is it ok to bring children, even freed slaves, to the city without their consent? Is Plato’s idealistic and utopic plan really the best way to run a city? Why are the gods doing what they do? Is it reasonable to assume that gods – especially Greek gods – are good or mean well? An enjoyable thought experiment, which demanded some background checking about ancient philosophers and philosophies. The downside is that the story will continue in the next book – I believe that this story could and should have been told in one book.

368 pp.

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Seppo Jokinen: Kuolevaksi julistettu

Another police procedural from my home town. A solid book like practically all others from the series. This time there are several cases: a lost daughter of a police colleague, a nurse who apparently killed an old pensioner by mistake a while ago is being chased by some unknown party and someone is drugging females at popular restaurants.

Komisario Koskinen selvittelee tällä kertaa samalla kertaa useampaa eri asiaa: Poliisikollegan tytär on kadonnut selittämättä jo puolisen vuotta siten. Nainen on palannut sairaslomalta työhön, mutta käyttää aikansa yrittäen keksien yhä epätoivoisempia teorioita siitä tyttärelle tapahtui. Toisena juttuna komisario selvittelee miksi työstään kuolemantuottamuksen vuoksi poispotkittua lähihoitajamiestä näytettäisiin vainottavan ja miksi tämä suhtautuu poliisin avustusyrityksiin kovin vastentahtoisesti. Lisäksi pitää metsästää naisille paikallisissa ravintoloissa tyrmäystippoja juottanutta miestä. Asioille löytyy osittain jopa yhteyksiä ja kaikki tapaukset ratkeavat kirjan kuluessa. Koskisen yksityiselämässä myös vaikuttaa tapahtuvan jonkinasteista edistymistä naisrintamalla.
Kirjan sarjansa vakaata tasoa, ei ehkä parhaita, mutta ei missään nimessä huonoimpiakaan. Tässäkin tosin käytetään poliisikirjojen kliseetä – käytännön asioita ymmärtämätön pomoa - hiukan liikaa. Pieni kirjailijan käytännön asioista tietämättömyydestä kertova virhe kirjasta löytyy: yksityisen vanhustenhoitolaitoksen lähihoitajalla ei todellakaan olisi kokemusta ”satojen nesteinfuusioiden aloittamisesta”. Ja pitkälle edennyttä syöpää sairastavan naisen mahdollista morfiini yliannosta tuskin olisi alettu selvittelemään vaan vastaava lääkäri olisi seuraavana työpäivänään kirjoittanut kuolintodistuksen asiaa sen kummemmin miettimättä (+ JOS asiaa olisi selvitelty, niin morfiinikirjanpidon epäselvyydet olisivat herättäneet epäilyt jostain epätavallisesta aika nopeasti).

331 s.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos

In a future America the only way to escape slum life where you spend your life ducking bullets and eating non-appetizing welfare food is to join the military. And that isn't easy. The main character manages to do it and even finishes the basic training which is designed to drop out about half of the candidates. He is disappointed when he is ordered to the Terrestrial Army as he was hoping to get to the navy to see space and alien worlds. But even being an ordinary army grunt beats the slum life, but army life isn’t easy or safe either. After a few unfortunate events he gets what he was wishing for - a transfer to space - but it turns out that fighting battles on Earth might have been preferable.

An easy to read and fast moving book, which is certainly entertaining. What I was hoping for was some information on the social and economic structure of the world. Now it was kind of hard to see how the world functioned. And the killing of scores of civilians (and the why and how the said civilians were fighting with such powerful weapons) was pretty much glossed over. The writing isn’t worse than very similar books by Robert Heinlein or John Scalzi (Haldeman’s Forever War – another book with a very similar basic plot is better written in my opinion), but what is lacking is the description of society which was essential even in very militaristic Starship Troopers. Also, when the aliens (yes, there are aliens - this is science fiction even if parts in the beginning didn't really feel like it) appear, they are pretty strange beings who apparently have never heard of the square cube law of animal (and machine) size. I don’t exactly see how such creatures could exist. In spite of some problems, this was a nice and extremely entertaining read of old-fashioned fiction which aims just to entertain without any other goals. I wonder if the society will be described better in the next books of the series. I will probably have to read them to find that out…

334 pp.

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Friday, January 1, 2016

Kjell Westö: Kangastus 38

A story about Helsinki just before the Second World War. An attorney hires a new secretary with a hidden and traumatic past from the Finnish civil war. The descriptions of locales, time and people are excellent, but the plot takes its time to get going.

Kertomus Helsingistä ajasta ennen sotaa, ajasta jolloin tulevan sodan asenteiden kiristyminen oli jo näkyvissä ja sisällissodan vaikutukset olivat vielä vahvoja. Keskinkertaisesti pärjäävä, avioerostaan toipuva asianajaja on palkannut hieman salaperäisen ja visusti taustoistaan vaikenevan rouva Wiikin sihteerikseen. Asianajaja kuuluu herrasmieskerhoon, jonka tapaa kerran kuussa. Yksi kerhon jäsenistä vaikuttaa ihastuvan rouva Wiikiin, mutta ihastus ei ole molemminpuoleista ja heillä saattaa olla jotain yhteistä historiaa, tosin tästä on tietoinen vain rouva Wiik.
Etenkin alkupuoleltaan kirja on enemmän ajankuvausta kuin varsinaisesti juoneen painottuvaa kerrontaa. Jos tuntisi Helsingin paremmin, kirja olisi saattanut olla kiinnostavampi – nyt kun eri paikannimillä on itselle aika vähäinen merkitys, paikkojen ja kaupungin kuvailu ei erityisesti kiinnostanut eikä ihan niiden perässä ja merkityksissä varmastikaan aina pysynyt ja piilomerkityksiä kaupunginosiin liittyen jäi huomaamatta. Sinällään ajankuvaus oli kiinnostavaa ja jopa ajankohtaisempaa kuin muutama vuosi sitten, kun kirja kirjoitettiin. Yhtä suurta vaikutusta kirja ei tehnyt kuin Westön aikaisempi teos Missä kuljimme kerran, vaikka hyvin kirjoitettua tekstiä tämäkin oli. Henkilökuvaus oli myös hyvää ja oikeastaan kaikki kirjan hahmot olivat moniulotteisia ja vaikuttavia. Kokonaisuutena ihan vakaata keskitasoa.

334 s.