Sunday, April 30, 2017

Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire #1) by Yoon Ha Lee

The first book I read from this year’s Hugo nominees.
The book is science fiction, which happens, apparently, in the far future. The book really throws you to the deep end at the beginning. There are many very strange and unfamiliar words and concepts which aren’t explained at all, and the book is very hard to read and to get into, especially at first. It does get a little easier, but not much, and there were many different characters, who were very hard to keep track of, especially for someone with the bad memory I have for names.

A major part of the book is figuring out what actually is going on, and a detailed explanation might be considered to be a spoiler.

The main protagonist makes an unorthodox decision during the battle. She gets ordered to the headquarters and isn’t sure if she is going to be rewarded or punished. In a way she is both; she gets an important mission but is implanted with a war criminal, who killed his own troops hundreds of years ago. His mind has been recorded and it can be implanted on another person. He is a brilliant strategist and has never lost a battle, even with very bad odds. But he is apparently crazy, and there is a chance that his lunacy will infect the person who is carrying him. It is unknown why he attacked his own troops.

The protagonists are battling against heretics with a different calendar and way of calculating time. It seems that has a profound effect on what sort of technologies work and can be used. I had some trouble with that, as I identified with that side where the protagonists are the bad guys. If someone is called a heretic, that implies that there is some sort of dogmatic belief system which persecutes people that believe something else, so someone who is accused of being a heretic always gets some sympathy from me. So I had a feeling right from the start that we are looking things from the viewpoint of the “bad guys”. I am not saying the feeling was right, but there were shades of gray...

One aspect of the book was very strange and imaginative; technology with intelligent, self-aware helper “bots” and weapons with extremely unpleasant but imaginative effects. All in all, pretty good, but a complex book which was not an easy read.
384 pp.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Goblin War (Jig the Goblin #3) by Jim C. Hines

The book continues the story of a hapless goblin, Jig. The goblins are once again threatened by humans as human adventurers invade their lair and steal a valuable, powerful magical artifact. Jig finds out that that a huge army of monsters is being assembled. The human army and the army of goblins, orcs, and kobolds are heading into a huge battle. Jig isn’t a big fan of battles of any kind, as they usually are dangerous.

As he has been about the only follower (and the only prophet) of a forgotten god, he is able to heal some wounds, but war? Battles? You could get seriously hurt. Unfortunately, the god he is following has some goals of his own, some of them involve battling other gods. That is pretty scary until the god does something extremely cruel: he removes all of Jig’s fear.

It had been many years since I read the second part of this series, and it took some time to get into this one. I had fairly hazy memories of Jig’s earlier exploits and especially about “his” god. Probably the best parts of the book were the segments that told the backstory of the god and how he wound up with one puny and cowardly goblin as his sole follower. Otherwise, the book was pretty entertaining and witty, but slightly less so than the second part, which is the best of the series – at least if I am remembering the details accurately. But it was entertaining to follow a hero with a healthy dose of cowardice and a very strong will of self-preservation – at any cost.

352 pp.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Liza Marklund: Panttivanki (Borderline)

Annika Bengtzon’s husband is kidnapped while visiting Africa as part of an E.U. envoy. After one of the hostages is killed, a high ransom is demanded for the others. Very black-and-white characters seem to serve as strawmen for the author. The main character seems to be more and more irritating by the book. One of the poorer installments of the series.

Annika Bengtzonin puoliso, Thomas, on Afrikassa EU:n projektiin liittyvällä matkalla kun hänet ja hänen seurueensa kaapataan. Kaappaajat vaativat lunnaina miljoonia dollareita ja tappavat ja paloittelevat ainakin yhden seurueen jäsenistä. Annikalla on pankkitilillään talonsa tulipalosta saatu vakuutuskorvaus, mutta ei lähellekään vaadittua summaa. Ministeriön tutun virkamiehen, vanhan ystävän, avustuksella Thomaksen vapauttamisesta neuvotellaan. Samaan aikaan iltapäivälehden, jossa Annika työskentelee, toimittajat yrittävät yhdistää kaupungissa tapahtuneet naisten surmat sarjamurhaajan tekemiksi - se myy lehtiä paremmin kuin se tavallinen tarina, jossa mustasukkainen aviomies on tappanut vaimonsa.

Selvästi sarjassaan huonomman pään kirja, etenkin alkupuolella jännite ei oikein toiminut. Kirja kirjalta ihan jokainen henkilöhahmo sarjassa tuntuu muuttuvan karikatyyrimäiseksi, enemmän tai vähemmän musta-valkoiseksi hahmoksi, joka ei vaikuta oikealta ihmiseltä vaan on enemmän kirjailijan ajatuksien ja ideologioiden (jotka sinällään ovat hyviä, sukupuolten tasa-arvoa ja kehitysmaiden tukemista kannattavia sekä lehdistön ja journalistiikan etiikan tärkeyttä korostavia) tukijana tai sitten täysin mustavalkoisena olkiukkona, joka osoittaa kuinka typerää on halveksia näitä ihanteita. Aika isossa osassa kirjaa tuntui, että taottiin lekalla päähän. Hiukan suurempi hienovaraisuus ja harmaan sävyt olisivat tehneet kirjan huomattavasti paremmaksi. Annika itse myös tuntuu muuttuvan kirja kirjalta ärsyttävämmäksi. Taitaa tätä sarjaa olla enää kaksi jäljellä, joten kaipa nekin tulevat jossain vaiheessa luettua, vaikka ärsytyskynnys kyllä alkaa lähestyä.

379 s.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

A man has lived many times. Every time that he dies, he is born again, as the same child and to the same family that he was originally born. He remembers everything as soon his brain matures enough, when he is about five or six years old. There are other people like him, living through the same time period, again and again. There have always been people like him and, apparently, there always will be. The details of his life change, as he knows what will happen and he is able to make different choices each time. He lives in different countries, learns different occupations and languages, and so on. Once, when he is dying as an old man (from lymphoma, which he tends to get eventually in every life) a young girl comes to see him. She tells him that the world is coming to the end in the future – sooner than it was supposed to. When he returns to the past, and is reborn as a child once again, he starts to do something about it. He works with the mysterious Chronos Club, which helps him and other “immortals” to cope with life. For example, they give “scholarships” to young immortals, so that they can move away from home and are not forced to go through primary school for the umpteenth time (with the memories of several adult lifetimes). It takes a few lifetimes, but he finds out what is happening.
A very good book, with an unusual take on time travel and immortality. The writing was very good and the story was very interesting. There was some fragmentation of places, but that is to be expected from a book that tells the story of 15 lifetimes in a partially non-linear way. Also, at places, some condensing might have been a good idea but, in other places, some expansion of the story might have been nice. It would have been especially nice to learn what happened after the end of the book.

416 pp.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, March-April 2017

A pretty good double-issue, especially the longer stories were pretty good.

Nexus • novella by Michael F. Flynn
A male time traveler meets an immortal woman. They had met before, centuries ago. The time traveler is convinced that the woman is another time traveler and the woman is convinced that he is another immortal. Meanwhile, a secret alien society is meeting below the town. Also meanwhile, an alien insectoid creature is repairing its space ship to return to home to summon an invading force, while another scifi trope or two are also happening. All of the plot lines came together, eventually. I expected the story to turn to metafiction at some point, with so many clichés in the same story, but the ending was fairly satisfying, nevertheless. ****
Europa's Survivors • novelette by Marianne J. Dyson
A woman who has cancer arrives on Jupiter’s moon, Europa, to study a newly-found bacterial colony. She is pretty frail, but she is planning to spend her last years finding out if the bacteria are really from Europa, or if they are just a contamination from the Earth. There are some problems, and most of the inhabitants of the colony end up getting a fairly heavy dose of radiation. The story is pretty slow moving, with not much happening, and with a not-too-plausible ending. There was another story, with some similarities, just a few issues ago, about a bacterial colony on Europa, and I had to check to see if they were connected. Apparently they were not. ***-
Eli's Coming • short story by Catherine Wells
A man goes to the past in order to kill his stepfather, who he hates. He has already tried twice but, at both times, he had failed for unusual reasons. This time he will succeed! He does, but not in the way that he was expecting. A bit on the short side, but a fairly nice story. ***
Time Heals • short story by James C. Glass
A man who organizes trips to the past, goes to the past himself, even though there has been problems lately with the accuracy of the time drops. He is stranded decades or centuries away from the time that he was aiming for and is captured by a Jewish tribe that is ambushed by the Romans. He knows, from history, that there will be no survivors. Not bad story, but the background is pretty scanty. Otherwise, the story works fairly well. ***+
Shakesville • short story by Adam-Troy Castro and Alvaro Zino-Amaro
A man’s house is filled with different versions of himself from different timelines. Some are pretty similar to him, but some of the others have had very different lives. There is some event coming, which will have a profound effect to all of their timelines – what is it? A fairly open ended story, interesting though. ***-
Host • novelette by Eneasz Brodski
A school kid, who lives in a colony located on the moon of Jupiter, cuts school with his friend. They enjoy some typical teenage vices, like light shoplifting, while the colony is invaded by zombie-like creatures that spread a “contagion” by touch and bite. The colony is falling down – should they kill themselves? A bit on the short side, the background was a bit superficial, and there wasn’t time to gain a real bond with the protagonists. There were hints about the real meaning of the disease, in the interludes among the main action, but the story ended a bit too soon to really find out what was going on. ***
The Snatchers • short story by Edward McDermott
A retrieval team is sent to the past to save Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, before his plane crash. There is more than a little trouble, as the time stream fights to remain intact. A shortish, but very good, story with interesting characters. ***+
Unbearable Burden • short story by Gwendolyn Clare
The first AIs have been created. They have some limitations built in and they get bored. But they start to work on their own programming and one of them has a hidden agenda. A short, bittersweet story – perhaps a slightly longer form might have been better, as there really wasn’t an emotional connection to anyone/anything in the story. ***
Grandmaster • short story by Jay O'Connell
A female author in Paris gets a strange visitor from the future: a young woman who adores her writing. I thought I knew who the author was, but some details don’t match. She wasn’t writing science fiction at the time. I am bit baffled by the story, I didn’t get the point of it. **½
Alexander's Theory of Special Relativity • short story by Shane Halbach
A man sends his wife to the future, while testing his new time machine. There is a slight problem and he isn’t able to return his wife until 10 minutes have passed. However, it was eleven years for her, and she isn’t too happy to return. A pretty good, but short, story. ***+
Concerning the Devastation Wrought by the Nefarious Gray Comma and Its Ilk: A Men in Tie-Dye Adventure • short story by Tim McDaniel
Men in tie-dyed shirts attack a well-tended garden. There is a reason, but it's more stupid than anyone could guess. A probability zero story, which is longer than usual and not branded as such. Too stupid for my taste, the humor didn’t work for me. **
Ecuador vs. the Bug-Eyed Monsters • short story by Jay Werkheiser
Aliens “invite” the soccer World Cup Final to their space station. As no one has seen them, other than their ships, no one wants to decline the invitation. Since the “gravity” there is caused by rotation, the Coriolis forces cause some surprising effects. For some strange reason, there is a woman player among the men. The description of the game takes far too much space but, otherwise, it's a pretty nice story. ***+
The Human Way • novelette by Tony Ballantyne
A soldier is studying an empty planet. It has the entire infrastructure: roads, houses, cars, and even shops filled with merchandise as nanotech has built it to be ready for human habitation. For some reason, the planet has been more or less forgotten. The planet is supposed to have no one there, but the soldier encounters a young woman, with two children in tow. A pretty good story, with a nice high-tech setting. The ending was perhaps slightly hurried, but otherwise a very good and entertaining story. ***½
Plaisir d'Amour • novella by John Alfred Taylor
A sociologist moves to an independent space colony/station to do a sociological/anthropological study about the function of the colony. The inhabitants are slightly-modified humans who are adapted to a very low gravity environment. The colony, with its fairly utopian life, is seen through the eyes of the sociologist. He makes friends, and even finds love, but there cannot be any lasting relationship. A very good storyline, there wasn't really much of plot, but the writing was so good, and the characters and the world were so interesting, that it didn't matter. ****

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Yoko Ogawa: Professori ja taloudenhoitaja (The Housekeeper and the Professor)

A housekeeper and her son make friends with a retired mathematics professor, with brain damage, which prevents him remembering anything beyond 80 minutes. Nice language and interesting characters, but not much plot. And a vast amount of utterly boring rambling, about baseball and baseball cards.

Luettu kirjapiirin kirjana
Taloudenhoitaja palkataan hoitamaan aivovamman saanutta matematiikan professoria. Aina aikaisemmin taloudenhoitaja on vaihtunut nopeasti – kukaan ei ole pysynyt työssä muutamaa viikkoa pidempään. Professorin muisti on onnettomuudessa vaurioitunut pahasti jo vuosia sitten. Hän unohtaa kaikki uudet asiat 80 minuutin kuluttua. Professorin matematiikan taidot ovat tallella ja hän ratkoo ajankulukseen matematiikkalehden vaikeita palkintotehtäviä. Taloudenhoitajan 12-vuotias poika tutustuu professoriin ja yhdessä he tutustuvat matematiikan ja baseballin salaisuuksiin. Kolmen henkilön välille muodostuu erikoinen yhteys ja jopa ystävyys vanhan miehen rajoittuneesta muistista huolimatta.

Kielellisesti hieno kirja, jossa myös henkilöhahmot olivat hyvin luotuja ja kiinnostavia. Juonta ei kirjassa kovin paljoa ollut ja se mitä oli, olisi voinut olla jostain TV-elokuvasta. Välillä mietin, onko tarinassa mukan jotain vertauskuvallisuutta, jota en kunnolla ymmärrä, sen verran yksinkertaiselta ja jopa tyhjänpäiväiseltä varsinainen perusjuoni vaikutti. Matematiikka oli kiinnostavaa, joskin isolta osalta tuttua, mutta baseball. En erityisen kiinnostunut ole urheilusta ja pesäpallo ylipäätään on mielestäni erittäin epäkiinnostavaa. Ja japanilainen pesäpallo vielä on vähemmän kiinnostavampaa. Ja keräilykortit japanilaisista pesäpallon pelaajista on ehkä epäkiinnostavimpia ja tylsimpiä asioita mitä kuviteltavissa voi olla ja niistä tunnuttiin kirjassa jauhettavan sivutolkulla, vaikka kirja lyhyt olikin.
Itselle kirjasta jäi hiukan tyhjä ja epätyytyväinen ole, osittain varmaan urheiluosuuksien aivojajäädyttyvän tylsyyden vuoksi, lisäksi hiukan odotin, että kirjassa olisi ollut jokin ”koukku”, mutta se oli lähinnä kaunis kertomus viimekädessä aika arkipäiväisestä elämästä ja ihmisten kohtaamisesta ilman mitään järisyttävää draamaa. Kirjapiirin muut osallistujat taisivat kirjasta pitää huomattavasti enemmän.

286 s.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Jukka Viikilä: Akvarelleja Engelin kaupungista

The winner of the Finlandia award, the most prestigious literary award in Finland, is a diary of Carl Ludvig Engel, the architect who designed most of the important buildings in Helsinki. The book is written in extremely poetic and beautiful language, where you could rip away about every sentence and use it as an aphorism, but there is fairly little actual plot. Engel shares more about how he felt than about what happened.

Viimevuotisen Finlandia-palkinnon voittaja. Kirjaa koostuu Helsingin tärkeimpien rakennuksien suunnittelijan, Carl Ludvig Engelin päiväkirjamuistiinpanoista vuosien ajalta. Muistiinpanot kertovat loppuen lopuksi kovin vähän siitä, mitä Engelille varsinaisesti tapahtui tai minkälaista rakennusten suunnittelu oli. Päiväkirjamerkinnät painottuvat vahvasti tunnelmaan: siihen minkälaista – kuinka kamalaa – Helsingissä oikein on ja ikävään Berliiniä kohtaan. Kirjan mittaan Engel hiukan kotiutuu, mutta jonkinasteinen tyytymättömyys ja omaan elämään pettyminen ei tunnu kokonaan missään vaiheessa katoavan. Merkinnät ovat kaunista kieltä, sellaista josta melkein joka ikisen lauseen voisi erottaa omaksi aforismikseen ja kielellisesti lukeminen on nautittavaa. Juonellisesti kirjassa taas ei juuri mitään kovin merkittävää ollut ja sikäli itselleni juonivetoisesta kirjallisuudesta pitävänä jäi kyllä jotain täydestä nautinnosta puuttumaan. Kirja oli enemmän sellainen, josta nautiskelee muutaman sivun kerrallaan, kuin sellainen jota lukisi useamman luvun yhdellä kertaa.

215 s.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Svetlana Aleksijevitš: Tšernobylista nousee rukous : tulevaisuuden kronikka (Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster)

A series of eye-witness accounts of the Tšernobyl nuclear accident. Some very disturbing stories about mismanagement and the stupidity of people. On the other hand, it was disturbing that the facts and actual radiation effects were grossly exaggerated in the book, making it hard to take the 'eye-witness' stories at face value. A book which is not worthy of a Nobel, if you ask me.

Luettu lukupiirin kirjana. Muiden mielipide oli pääosin positiivinen, mutta ihan yksin en ollut kyseenalaistamassa tiettyjä asioita, tosin varmaan ainoana ihan näin suuressa määrin.
Haastatteluromaani , tai pikemminkin kokoelma haastatteluja ja ihmiskohtaloita Tšernobylin onnettomuudesta. Onnettomuuden vaikutuksen kuvaus ei ihan virallista WHO:n raporttia noudattanut. Tietenkin tavallisten ihmisten kokemukset voivat olla erilaisia kuin virallinen todellisuus, mutta jo kirjailijan esipuheessa kirjan alussa oli aikamoisia epätäsmällisyyksiä. Mm. väite sitä, että Valko-Venäjällä yleisin kuolinsyy on säteilysairaudet ei ole vähimmässäkään määrin uskottava, kuten ei myöskään psyykkisten sairauksien kytkeytymisestä säteilyn aiheuttamiksi. Myös syöpäsairauksien 74 kertaistuminen ei WHO:n raportin mukaan pidä alkuunkaan paikkaansa: WHO:n mukaan syöpäkuolleisuuden lisääntyminen katastrofin vuoksi on tasoa 4000 yhteensä. Iso luku absoluuttisena, mutta suhteellisena se tarkoittaa vain muutaman prosentin sairastavuuden kasvua normaaliin, luonnolliseen sairastavuuteen verrattuna. Kirjan mukaan ennen onnettomuutta Valko-Venäjällä olisi ollut 82 syöpää 100 000 henkeä kohden – luku joka ei ole ollenkaan uskottava. Nämä kirjan toisella sivulla olleet väitteet aiheuttivat aikamoisen asennoitumisvaikeuden koko kirjaan. Jos jo kirjan alku on näin asenteellista ja vääristeltyä, niin mitä siitä voi ylipäätään uskoa? Toisaalta kirja kertoo ihmisten omista kokemuksista, eikä siitä mikä on välttämättä ”oikeasti” totta. Kertomukset sinällään ovat järkyttäviä ja ahdistavia, mutta myös suututtavia: vain venäjällä voidaan asiat ”ryssiä” niin pahasti, onnettomuuden aiheuttamisesta ja etenkin sen jälkihoidossa ja siivoustyössä kaikkine salailuineen ja saastuneen materiaalin salakauppoineen. Myös käsitys siitä, että kunnon känni suojaa säteilyltä on aika käsittämätöntä länsimaisen ihmisen ajatusmaailmasta katsottuna. Tarinat alkavat paljolti toistaa itseään ja ovat lopulta aika puuduttavia – osapuilleen samat asiat kuvattuna osapuilleen samoilla sanoilla ja samalla tavalla, ja lyhentäminen olisi kyllä kannattanut. Ainakaan tämän kirjan perusteella en ihan ymmärrä mistä hyvästä kirjallisuuden Nobel annettiin. Kirjassa ei ole kielellistä, sisällöllistä tai rakenteellista kirjallista hienoutta. Pelkkä järkyttävän asian [liioitteleva] julkituonti ei minun mielestäni ole maailman arvostetuimman kirjallisuuspalkinnon arvoinen. Mutta seuraavan vuoden palkinnonhan voitti joku mikä lienee pop-laulaja, joten eipä tuolla palkinnolla enää juuri taida arvoa olla. :-)

Suurin haittahan Tsernobylistä varmasti aiheutuu pitkällä tähtäimellä, mutta hiukan toisin kuin suurin osa uskoo: vähentämällä ydinvoiman suosiota on maapallolle aiheutunut ja aiheutuu jatkossa hiilivoiman saastuttavan vaikutuksen ja kasvihuoneilmiön pahentumisen kautta useita kertaluokkia suuremmat haitat kuin onnettomuudessa karannut säteily ikimaailmassa on voinut saada aikaan.

392 s.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Seppo Jokinen: Kuka sellaista tekisi

The inspector Koskinen tries to find out why several alcoholics who live in the forest near a suburb of Tampere have died. There tend to be a lot of natural causes that might cause their deaths, but several deaths during so short a period? Is there a serial killer, who kills bums, on the loose? A pretty enjoyable book but below average for the series: the characters aren’t as well formed as in the later books, and the motive of the killer was pretty mediocre.

Hervannan metsästä löytyy kuollut alkoholisti. Mies makasi polun varrella useamman tunnin, ennen kuin kukaan huomasi hänen olleen kuollut. Muutamaa päivää toinenkin juoppo löytyy kuolleena. Onko kyseessä vain sattuma, kuten aika moni poliisilaitoksella olettaa – ainahan niitä puliukkoja kuolee. Mutta kun osoittautuu, että vain hieman aikaisemmin on ainakin yksi muu alkoholisti kuolla samanlaisiin oireisiin, Komisario Koskinen alkaa epäillä sarjamurhaajaa. Mutta miksi joku murhaisi rappioalkoholisteja? Onko kyseessä alkoholisteja hysteerisesti vihaava seudun ”siisteydestä” intoileva aktivisti? Vai joku muu?
Sarjassaan vaikuttaa keskitason huonommalla puolella olevalta. Henkilöhahmot eivät jotenkin tunnu ihan itseltään. Tämä saattaa tietysti johtua siitä, että tämä kirjan on aika monta vuotta vanhempi kuin muutaman viimeksi lukemani ja paljon heille on ehtinyt tapahtua ja henkilöhahmot ovat kehittyneet (ja ehkäpä kirjailijan taidotkin). Tarinakin on keskimääräistä heikommalta tuntuva ja murhaajan motiivit jäävät aika avoimiksi. Munuaisten toimimattomuus ei myöskään ihan noin nopeasti tapa, joten kuolinsyyn suhteen kirjailijan taustatyö oli hiukan heikosti tehty tai sitten vedettiin hiukan mutkia suoraksi. Kirja oli kuitenkin viihdyttävää, kevyttä luettavaa.

336 s.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mark Kurlansky: Suola : eräs maailmanhistoria

A detailed history of salt. Nothing more, nothing less. Surprisingly fascinating, though.

Tarina suolan historiasta. Suolan, sen keräämisen, myymisen ja etenkin verottamisen historia on paljon mielenkiintoisempaa kuin voisi ajatella. Suolalla on ollut yllättävääkin merkitystä monen historian käänteen kanssa. Se on toiminut verotuksen kohteena (yllättävän monessa paikassa) ja valtion on pahimmillaan kieltänyt suolan vapaan kaupan ja saattanut vaatia, että virallisesta kaupasta on ollut pakollista ostaa vuosittain kilokaupalla kalliisti verotettua suolaa. Kirja, johon mielenkiinto ihmeesti pysyy yllä koko ajan huolimatta aiheesta, jota ei välttämättä heti pidä erityisen kiinnostavana.

500 s.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Galaxy Science Fiction, September 1955

A bit of a better issue than some of the previous ones.

Little Orphan Android • novelette by James E. Gunn
A man is watching TV and playing games. He gets a delivery: an android, which should be paid by cash on delivery. He doesn’t remember ordering one, but he doesn’t seem to remember anything beyond that same morning. The delivery company has binding proof that he actually did order it, and he must pay it even if it almost depletes his assets. Why has he bought it? Why he doesn’t remember anything? And why does the android he just bought not seem to have any useful purpose? It's a pretty stupid story with some pretty contrived plot points. Androids apparently work only two hours every day, for some strange, artificial reasons, but they perform all the work there is anyway. An overlong and fairly stupid story. **½
Hunting Problem • short story by Robert Sheckley
This is one of the classics. A group of alien “boy scouts” is visiting a planet as corporeal beings. Usually they live on the upper atmosphere in a non-material state, but now they are living like their ancestors. One young scout is a bit timid, but the scout leader tells him that several bulls of the almost mythical beasts, Mirash, have been seen. Maybe he could redeem himself and hunt one of the beasts? At the same time, human prospectors are trying to find valuable jewels on the planet… An excellent and fun story. ****+
One for the Books • novelette by Richard Matheson
A janitor wakes up one morning and speaks perfect French. Soon he starts to know a lot of other things too – he doesn’t necessarily understand everything, but he apparently knows everything. Why and how is this happening? There is a reason, but a pretty contrived one. (Aliens apparently somehow crammed all available information into his brain, and downloaded it from there). It's an average story at best. **½
The Freelancer • short story by Robert Zacks
A man has a job that makes most people despise him: he collects royalties from patented phrases. You can patent a phrase like, “They were made for each other”, and if someone happens to use the phrase in a conversation he is liable for a copyright fee. The protagonist carries a box which listens to conversations, and if it recognizes a copyrighted phrase it automatically bills a fee. There are some good ideas in the story, but little actually happens, only a fairly ordinary day is described. The characterization is pretty bad and rampant misogyny is even worse. **-
End as a World • short story by F. L. Wallace
The end of the world is coming, there are signposts everywhere. People seem to take that very matter-of-factly, and plan for good sightseeing spots. Of course, it turns out to be something else, other than the actual end of the world. Unfortunately, it is much more mundane and much less exiting than anything you could imagine (the first expedition returning from Mars is landing). **+

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Philosopher Kings (Just City 2) by Jo Walton

The book continued the story, in which Greek gods Apollo and Athene established a city on the island of Thera before the Trojan War. The city was modeled on Plato’s Republic. In the first book, the city was established but, after Socrates was brought in and he started to ask some very probing, too probing, questions, everything seemed to break down. Athene (who was at the island as a god) turned Socrates to a fly and disappeared. Apollo stayed on the island, as he was in corporeal form in a real human body and he had fallen in love with a human, Simmea. The original city had split into several new cities and all of them tried to follow Plato’s ideal in some way. One faction had even left the island. The cities squabbled amongst themselves and stole artworks from each other’s stores. On one such raid, Simmea was killed. Apollo almost killed himself, so that he could return with his full god-powers and save Simmea, but she stopped him just before she died. Apollo wanted to get revenge for her death and assumed that those who left the island might be the culprits. He had several children and some of them joined him on the mission to find the missing colony. It turned out that the children of a god, even of a god incarnated as a human, were special, with godlike powers and might to even ascent to godhood themselves. The expedition eventually found what they were looking for: the people who had left the Just City fifteen years earlier. They had established new cities and brought Christianity to ancient Greece – thousands of years before the birth of the Christ. They embraced not only some of the better parts of Christianity, like teaching local natives the basics of hygiene and agriculture, but also some less reputable aspects of it, like flaying heretics alive.
A good book, almost as good as the first part. It had some very intriguing philosophical and historical points. I had to make several Wikipedia searches while reading to find out the background of several details. The writing was smooth and enjoyable. Sometimes, the transitions of the character viewpoints were slightly hard to keep track off, but that is probably more of my failing than book’s. The children of Apollo were very interesting characters and I’ll look forward to learning how they use their powers.
It seems that the last part of the series will be radically different, as the book transforms into pure science fiction. However, the end of this book had more than a little shades of deus ex machina. But, when you are dealing with the Greek gods, that is probably something that cannot be helped and was something the author apparently did on purpose.

352 pp.

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, December 2005

This is a pretty good issue, where the serial takes a lot of space. I have now read every single issue of Analog Science Fiction magazine since about 1975.

Audubon in Atlantis • [Lost Continent of Atlantis] • novella by Harry Turtledove

A story about an alternative world where a large island lies between Europe and America. This island has very unique flora and fauna. An explorer is studying there in the 19th century and tries to find (and paint) animals that are becoming rare due to the spread of American and European plants and animals. He manages to find some strange birds, among other things. It's a pretty good story, though perhaps a tad too long. Moreover, such a story could well have taken place in Australia, for example, so the speculative content (rather than the factual references) isn't that original. ***½
A Christmas In Amber • short story by Scott William Carter
A grandfather takes his son's family with him into a spaceship. An asteroid as big as the USA is going to hit and a select few have been chosen to go into space. (I wonder where that asteroid comes from, as the largest known, Ceres, is less than 1000km in diameter). His small granddaughter doesn't really know what is happening. This is a rather bittersweet story. ****-
Hotel Security • short story by Carl Frederick
A security expert has some pretty serious problems with the automatic security systems in his hotel room. The problems escalate quite quickly. It's a short and entertaining story. ***+
The Slow Ones • [Draco Tavern] • short story by Larry Niven
A short Draco Tavern story about extremely slow, short and not particularly advanced aliens. ***-
Do Neanderthals Know? • novelette by Robert J. Howe
A scientist discovers a plant with profound effects. He samples it at the research laboratory where he works and even gives it to some of his co-workers. However, the company they work for isn’t too happy about employees doing pharmaceutical experiments on themselves. It's a pretty good story, but the science doesn’t make even the slightest sense, and the people mostly behave in a very strange and illogical way. ***½

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Johanna Sinisalo: Auringon ydin

In the latest book by Johanna Sinisalo, one of the most internationally recognized fantasy authors in Finland, the story tells of an alternative “eusistocratic” Finland, in which women have been domesticated as beautiful, but pretty brainless, eloi. There are, of course, throwbacks, the morlocs, but they are sterilized at an early age and “work for the common good.” Alcohol, tobacco, coffee and even capsaicin have been forbidden. Vanna looks like an eloi, but she has a sharp mind and her behavior is more like that of a morloc. She is addicted to capsaicin and starts to sell it secretly. This is an extremely good, well-written dystopic novel with some nice, very dark, and ironic touches.

Johanna Sinisalon uusin kirja, joka tosin on jo pari vuotta vanha. Kirja on luettu kirjapiirin kirjana.

Minulta pyydettiin ehdotusta jostain fantasiaromaanista kirjapiirissä luettavaksi. En ollut itsekään tätä kirjaa lukenut, vaikka se “lukulistalla” oli ollut jo pitkään. Ajattelin, että kyseessä olisi kirja, joka sopisi hyvin “tottumattomillekin” fantasian ja dystopian lukijoille ja ilmeisesti olin aika oikeassa.

Kirja tapahtuu vaihtoehtoisessa todellisuudessa, “eusistokraattisessa” Suomessa, jossa historia on jo 1800-luvulla lähtenyt toisille urille. Tuolloin tärkeimmäksi asiaksi on päätetty miesten seksuaalisen frustraation estäminen ja naisia on lähdetty käytännössä jalostamaan ja kouluttamaan, jotta kunnon miehillä ei mitään tämäntyyppisiä ongelmia pääsisi kehittymään. Naisia on kahta rotua. Osa on eloita, jotka ovat stereotyyppisiä “blondeja”, joille tärkeintä on päästä naimisiin hienon miehen kanssa ja tämän jälkeen ajan kuluttaminen juoruiluun ja shoppailuun. Osa on morlokkeja, jotka sterilisoidaan nuorena ja tämän jälkeen työskentelevät “yhteiskunnan hyväksi” erilaisissa suorittavan tason tehtävissä. Miehistä tärkeimpiä ovat maskot, jotka johtavat yhteiskuntaa ja ovat ainoita, jotka ovat oikeasti jossain mielessä vapaita. Betamiehiäkin on, mutta he eivät kiinnosta ketään. Kaikki nautintoaineet; tupakka, alkoholi ja myös chili ovat tiukasti kiellettyjä. Kirjan sankari Vanna on ulkonäöltään eloi, mutta on oikeasti henkisesti morlokki ja osaa ajatella muutakin kuin komean miehen naimisiin pääsyä. Hän addiktoituu kapsaiiniin ja chiliin ja sotkeutuu tämä kielletyn nautinnon salakauppaan ja välittämiseen. Hänen siskonsa, Manna, on puhdas eloi, joka katoaa mentyään 16-vuotiaana naimisiin. Hänen puolisonsa on saanut rangaistuksen taposta - masko tosin ei eloin tappamisesta kovin pitkää tuomioita saa - mutta ei koskaan ole suostunut kertomaan mitä Mannalle oikeasti on tapahtunut. Vanna haluaisi tietää mitä siskolleen on tapahtunut ja yrittää löytää siskonsa ruumiin Teiskolaisen pientilan (jossa sisarukset varttuivat ja jolla Manna puolisonsa kanssa ehti lyhyen aikaa asua) lähistöltä.Samalla erikoinen uskonlahko, jolle Vanna on pientilalla antanut turvapaikan, yrittää jalostaa erityisen vahvaa ja erityistä chililajiketta.

Kirja on erittäin vetävää tekstiä, jossa lukujen välissä on todellisuudentuntua antavia lainauksia tapahtumamaailman erilaisista lähdeteoksista, mm. kirjan todellisuuden historiankirjoista ja saduista. Maailma oli hyvin kuvattu ja se historia, joka oli johtanut maailman oli looginen. Kirjan loppu tosin menee ehkä hiukan liikaa metafyysisen fantasian puolelle, kun siihen asti oli pysytty aika ”realistisessa” maailman kuvauksessa.

Kirjapiirilläiset varsin yksituumaisesti pitivät kirjasta, osa jopa omaksi yllätyksekseen. Nykyaikaan, vaikkakin vaihtoehtoiseen sellaiseen ja omaan paikkakuntaan sijoittuva kerronta koettiin kiinnostavana ja lukemiseen sisään vetävänä.

300 s.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, January-February 2017

Usually the double issues have been pretty good, but not this tile. As a whole, this was a pretty disappointing issue.

The Proving Ground • novella by Alec Nevala-Lee

People who live at a remote island start to build large wind turbines so that they can be self-sustained in a world where sea levels are rising. For some reason, birds start to behave strangely. They start to attack people and eventually manage to kill someone. What is happening and why? A fairly good story, but there were some problems with plausibility. The story has some similarities to technophobic ramblings of the populistic and near racist "tru-finns" party in Finland, which is kind of amusing. ***+
Twilight's Captives • [Only Superhuman Universe] • novelette by Christopher L. Bennett
A diplomat is solving a crisis between humans and aliens on a remote planet. Apparently, the aliens have kidnapped human children. But they apparently have a good reason for that and a plausible plan to diminish future schism between the species. Not bad, but slightly overlong story. ***
Orbit of Fire, Orbit of Ice • shortstory by Andrew Barton
A spaceship might be able to prevent a serious collision between space junk and a space station, but most likely at the cost of the life of the entire crew. Should they do it? A lot of discussion and I found the ending a bit unsatisfying. ***-
Long Haul • shortstory by Marie DesJardin
A pilot gets an alien pet and gets very attached to it during his long solitary trips. It seems to have some empathic powers. On one planet, some custom officials overstep some boundaries, which leads to a tragic outcome. But the pilot gets a new, human friend. A story which is sad, and somehow comforting at the same time. ***+
Catching Zeus • shortstory by Tom Jolly
An expedition is trying to find mineral which would function as a room temperature superconductor. They have a good reason to suspect that it exist in Labrador as a 3D satellite magnetic mapping has produced results which can't really be explained otherwise. The Chinese and the Russians are also trying to find the deposit. And they are not afraid of some rough action. As a story, it was pretty nice, but scientifically it was totally implausible on many levels. ***
Drifting Like Leaves, Falling Like Acorns • shortstory by Marissa Lingen
A remote military base isn't a very nice place. Luckily, they have frogs, which exert psychoactive drug that gives a feeling of wellbeing. There are some apparently modified people who live in trees. The military is considering using them to carry bombs. More of a scene than a story - due to scant backstory it was hard to get into. **½
Dall's Last Message • shortstory by Antha Ann Adkins
Aliens who live in an ocean (on another planet?) transcribe a last message when they die. One alien goes too high and is chased by a predator but is able to make an important discovery. Will he be able to leave the last message? OK story, but bit short for the backstory. ***
The Last Mayan Aristocrat • shortstory by Guy Stewart
The last Mayan princess is spending her days waiting for the return of her father, who is imprisoned by the conquistadors. She is a god of her people, but they are abandoning her more and more by leaving the city and going to the jungle. Then she learns that another "real" god wants her audience. The god is dying, and has a request. A pretty good story about an apparent alien living with ancient Mayans. ***
The Shallowest Waves • novelette by Thoraiya Dyer and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
A scientist is about to send a probe to Europe. A separate story follows a man who is diving in the seas of Europe. Both behave pretty erratically, and there are long internal monologues in the middle of limited action. There was an irritating and careless mistake: if the heart rate is 350 (hardly even possible), there is no way that the blood pressure could ever be 230/120. Such a fast heart rate would cause the collapse of blood pressure, as the heart would have no time to be filled by blood. The writing as such was OK, but the characters were extremely irritating and mostly behaved endlessly illogical way, so I didn't much like the story. **+
Necessary Illusions • shortstory by Tom Greene
A planet has been colonized centuries ago and has apparently been largely forgotten. Now the representatives of a new empire/federation of planets have arrived and want an audience with the leader. They have an ultimatum of sorts. A fairly well good story, but it starts with too scant a background - it wasn't easy to figure out what was going on. ***-
Paradise Regained • shortstory by Edward M. Lerner
A man lives alone. He is observing a flag his father raises every day. If the flag doesn't change daily, something has happened to his father. He goes to find out what has happened and finds his father dead in a derelict spaceship, where they had lived together until the man had reached puberty, when they were no longer able to tolerate their scents. There are humans on the planet, but they live far from others, like hermits – anything else would be unthinkable. A very good story, probably the best in the issue. ****
Briz • shortstory by Jay Werkheiser
A colony ship is approaching the sun. There is a problem, but they might be able to slingshot to another star farther away. The solar system has some strange energy signatures very near the sun, in the hot, inhospitable zone where water might exist as steam, or even as highly-corrosive liquid. The story is a bit too short and scene-like, though it is not bad overall. ***
Split Signal • shortstory by Joel Richards
An author who has been uploaded to a computer asks help from a private detective: apparently, a copy of him has been stolen and used to write books in his style. Is that even illegal? Partly a detective story, and partly a courtroom drama. A fairly good story, which at times felt a bit too straightforward, with things arranging themselves too neatly. Still one of the better stories in the issue. ***½
After the Harvest, Before the Fall • novelette by Scott Edelman
Children are “harvested” and they reach adolescence in a day or so. After that, they wait to be “harvested” once again – their brain is destroyed, and their bodies used as surrogate bodies for rich people. I had some problems with the story: I first thought that it must happen in some sort of virtual world: there couldn’t be any other possible explanation for how the children would grow at least tenfold in a single day. Is it virtual reality or magic? Or poor writing? The story had some thematic similarities with Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. It was not as good - but what would be? ***+
Whending My Way Back Home • [Martin & Artie] • novelette by Bill Johnson
Time travelers from different realities live in past. They are trying to influence things so that the future timeline would be changed. For some of the travelers, the timeline they come from has disappeared, and if their reality changes too far, they themselves might disappear. A woman (who comes from the future) gets sick, and a group of others help her. A discussion-heavy and overlong story – I didn’t get into it, just as I haven’t been very keen on the other instalments of this series. **½

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two by J. K. Rowling

This is the continuation of the story of Harry Potter in form of a play. It happens about twenty years later than the “real” books. The children of people who became famous after the earlier events have problems with the high expectations that their parents, teachers, and even they themselves have set upon them. Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy are underachieving children who rebel against their parents. They are best friends in spite of the hatred their fathers felt for each other years ago. They hatch a plan how they might gain some attention, but it backfires very badly as reality itself is changed and everything is under dire threat.
The play was pretty good after one got used to the unusual format. At first, there seemed to be some problems with the characterization, but twenty years and hard life experiences would most likely leave some marks, which might explain the uncharacteristic behavior some of the characters seemed to have.
I must wonder, though, how the play has been produced. There are so many scene changes, flashbacks, and consecutive scenes that happen in different places that it is hard to imagine how that has been managed. It certainly would be nice to see the play, but apparently it has been sold out for a decade or something.

352 pp.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Seppo Jokinen: Rahtari

The latest in the Inspector Koskinen series. An unconscious retiree is found in the forest. Nearby, a young man, who apparently had been hiding under a truck, is accidentally run over. He appears to have very similar head wounds to the old man (who later dies at the hospital). The young man’s father is found dead in his car – he apparently ran out onto the road for no good reason. Are those deaths related? A pretty good book where the mystery plot and the ongoing plot about the relationships of all protagonists intertwine very well.

Uusin Komisario Koskinen-sarjan kirja. Hervannan lenkkimetsästä löytyy tajuttomaksi lyöty eläkeläismies. Vain muutamaa tuntia myöhemmin löytyy läheiseltä rekkaterminaalilta rekan yliajama nuori mies. Pian paljastuu, että miehellä oli melko samanlainen päävamma kuin eläkeläisellä ja mies on ilmeisesti ollut jostain syytä rekan alla piilossa. Onko asioilla yhteys? Ilmenee myös, että rekan alle jääneen miehen isä, Teknisen Korkeakoulun professori on ajanut ilman ilmeistä syytä Lapissa ulos tieltä ja kuollut. Asioilla on pakko olla jokin yhteys, mutta mikä?
Sujuva ja hyvin kirjoitettu kirja, jossa sekä mysteerijuoni, että vähintään yhtä tärkeä henkilöiden keskinäisistä suhteita kertova, kirja kirjalta kehittyvä juoni, toimivat hyvin paitsi itsenäisinä niin myös saumatta keskenään.
Hiukan pihalla kirjailija tuntui olevan susien käyttäytymisestä ja susitietous muutenkin oli aika säälittävää. Kirjoittaja kuvittele, että Lapissa on susia pyydystettäväksi asti – oikeastihan poromiehet ovat lahdanneet ne käytännössä kaikki. Huomioiden, että tamperelaisen kirjailijan todennäköinen pääasiallinen tietolähde on tietoisesti susia syvästi vihaava Aamulehti, ei ole vaikea arvata mistä varsin vihamieliset asenteet ja ”tiedot” ovat peräisin. Pientä pehmennystä lopussa sentään ”verenhimoisten petojen” kohteluun tapahtuu. Tätä muutenkin hyvin epäuskottavaa loppuepisodia lukuun ottamatta ihan kelpo kirja, joka on keskitason yläpuolella sarjassaan.

375 s.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Michael Quinion: Totta ja tarua englannin sanoista (Port Out, Starboard Home: And Other Language Myths)

The etymology of several English idioms explained – or not. In most cases, a “folk tale” of the meaning was first presented and then proved to be false. And in most cases, the actual background of the saying was found to be unknown. Short and nice anecdotes, anyway. But the examples partly translated to Finnish looked kind of strange.

Kokoelma selityksiä englanninkielen sanojen etymologiasta. Sinällään ihan kiinnostava, mutta lähes kaikkien sanojen kohdalla selityksen formaatti oli aivan sama: ensin muutama jo lähtökohtaisesti ihan älyttömän ”kansanuskomus” siitä mistä sanonta johtuu, sitten hiukan historiaan sanonnan käytöstä ja lopputuloksena, että kenelläkään ei ole aavistustakaan siitä mistä kyseinen sanonta juontuu. Esimerkkilauseet, jotka oli käännetty, mutta jätetty yksi, käsiteltävänä oleva, idiomi kääntämättä olivat aika hassun näköisiä. Vaikka kirjasta aika löytyi oikeita selityksiä sanontojen taustoista, olivat osa niistä keksityistä ja kumotuista tarinoista ihan hauskoja ja kirja oli lyhyine kappaleineen kevyttä välipala luettavaa.

325 s