Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer



This book is another Hugo nominee. It's a sort of future history that supposedly tells a story that happened decades or centuries ago. To show that the story takes place in the past, it is written in a very old style of language and storytelling (the book actually happens hundreds of years in the future from the real current time). One of the narrative devices is a narrative voice that comments on events and sometimes even argues with itself about details of the book, like about who is the main character of the book.
Religion has been all but outlawed after a devastating war that was caused by religious beliefs. Religion cannot be publicly discussed, if a professional called a sensayer isn’t present. The nations have also vanished, and they are replaced by clans of sorts that bind people who have similar interests. The clans take care of their members, and most people belong to very tight families that usually consist of several people of different sexes. And the mere mention of sexual differences or even gender is very much taboo.
The main character, Carlyle Foster, is a sensayer. His friend, Mycroft Canner, is a slave of sorts, due to crimes he has committed. The crimes he committed are very extreme, but he has been “adjusted”, and he isn’t able to harm even insects anymore. They are taking care of a very special child who apparently can perform real miracles — like waking up toy soldiers as real, intelligent, and self-aware creatures.
The language and the structure of the book are pretty heavy, hard to read, and exhaustive, and at places very irritating. The plot itself was pretty good, but the fairly experimental narrative technique made the book pretty hard to follow, and it was a struggle to read at places. This is a book that might be easier to understand on a second reading, and I probably didn’t get everything out of it after the first reading. Also, the capabilities of the child were slightly too much on the fantastical side for a book that otherwise is very science fictional. This won’t be one of my top choices in the Hugo voting.

432 pp.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, May-June 2017


A lot of short stories in this issue – many of them lacked proper beginning and end.

The Girls with Kaleidoscope Eyes • novella by Howard V. Hendrix
An FBI detective arrives at a small town where a teacher has apparently tried to kill and burn several of his young female students, rescuing them at the last possible moment and endangering his own life. The teacher seems to have a history of failure of sorts. He has had some pretty good positions, but has had some unorthodox opinions and eventually he has fallen back to teaching at the high school at his old home town. The town has an NSA data center, with some very secret and advanced data processing faculties. The children who almost were killed are all girls; all look very similar and inhabit some very strange thought patterns.
A pretty good story; a digital take on Midwich Cuckoos. There were some irritating jabs on “SJW”-style of thinking which were unnecessary for the story. ****-
To See the Elephant • novelette by Julie Novakova
An animal psychologist has arrived to find out why a young male elephant is behaving very strangely. As elephants are dying out, due to widespread disease, every single one counts. She is able to create an almost telepathic connection with EEG electrodes which are attached to the bull. A story that is written to showcases a couple novel ideas. A fair one as such, but otherwise not very memorable. ***
The Chatter of Monkeys • short story by Bond Elam
The ecosystem has apparently pretty much fallen. The nations are still battling for some pretty unspecified reasons. An alien robot has arrived on Earth and is able to offer a solution for the catastrophe. But humans don’t seem too interested in the solution. Scant backstory and caricature-like characters make this pretty average story. ***-
A Grand Gesture • short story by Dave Creek
A man who inadvertently caused the death of several people faces an ethical dilemma on a foreign planet. Should he save possibly sentient aliens at cost of human lives? A pretty nice story. ***
Decrypted • short story by Eric Choi
Digital encryption falls down, causing severe unforeseen consequences; among others, a loss of the secrecy of previously unknown messages. Another story that is a bit too short and cursory; more of a scene than a real story. ***
Seven Ways to Fall in Love with an Astronaut • short story by Dominica Phetteplace
A love story of sorts, between scientist/astronauts who work in space and study Martian micro-organisms. The story goes more for a mood than a plot. ***
Focus • short fiction by Gord Sellar
Students in Vietnam revolt against scrupulous factory owners, but the government apparently has some plans. Not really a story, but just a short scene. There was not much backstory, and the story just ends on an emotional scene with no real resolution. ***
Ténéré • short story by Manny Frishberg and Edd Vick
A caravan finds out that an oasis has dried out. There is a new structure nearby and they go there to get water and to find out what has happened to the oasis. The factory uses solar energy to scrub CO2 from the air and uses the carbon to produce carbon nanotubes. A fairly good story, but unreasonably unreasonable nomads, especially considering who financed their caravan. Also, the science of the "problem" doesn't make any sense at all. As the carbon dioxide content of the air is pretty low as a percentage, and one molecule of carbon dioxide produces one molecule of oxygen, it simply isn't possible that there would be significant oxygen surplus around the factory. ***+
The Final Nail • novelette by Stanley Schmidt
A country doctor notices that there are more and more cases of meat allergy, a known syndrome that is usually spread by ticks, but there are no such ticks where he lives. Then his doctor friend who practices at nearby town notices the same thing. Apparently, someone is spreading the disease intentionally. Everything is pretty obvious and the reader knows what is going on earlier than the characters in the story. The end is a bit simplistic: the impact of widespread veganism has been discussed time and time again. But it is nice to read a story with a clear beginning and end. There have been far too many stories lately in this magazine which lack those. ***½
The Speed of Faith in Vacuum • short story by Igor Teper
The powerful "immortals" visit a struggling colony every few hundred years. They offer continuity and sometimes solve problems. The colony has encountered a new, very serious disease. The immortal, who is visiting seems to very frightened of the disease. Are they so powerful after all? A pretty nice story, could be just the beginning? ***½
Facebook Screamed and Screamed, Then I Ate It • short story by Sam Schreiber
An AI emerges on the Internet and invades Facebook. The writing was ok, but once more, too short and scene-like story to have real impact. ***
Vulture's Nest • short story by Marissa Lingen
A family of "scavengers" finds derelict space ships that are tainted by some kind of plaque and breaks them up into parts. One time, the family who used to own the ship objects. Short, but pretty nice simple story.***
In the Mists • short story by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzeberg
A man has been living alone on a planet for seventeen years. He is writing a journal, and wonders if he is sane. Another short, but pretty nice story. ***+
The Return • short story by Bud Sparhawk
A very short story about an old astronaut who goes back to space on an anniversary of space travel. Okay, but too short. ***
Lips Together • short story by Ken Brady
A woman spreads a genetically engineered Streptococcus mutant by kissing select men. So? ***-
The Banffs • short story by Lavie Tidhar
A writer befriends a member of a powerful group who apparently are aliens (or journeyer from another timeline). He works as a housekeeper and lives at vast mansions in the most interesting parts of world. But then the aliens go home, and then the story pretty much ends. Okay, but somewhat unsatisfying. There really wasn’t much of a point anywhere, the writing itself was pretty good. ***+
Where the Flock Wanders • short story by Andrew Barton
A derelict hull of a war ship which possibly had a pivotal role in a conflict between Earth and colonies in space is found. The safe in it has sealed orders, unopened. Those are most likely very important historical documents. Or are they? A pretty nice story, which is actually a fairly self-contained story, not a scene, like so many others in this issue.***+
Proteus • short story by Joe Pitkin
A spy goes to a floating city on Venus to find out if illegal gene manipulation is done there. Everyone seems to be beautiful and the life seems nearly utopian. Is it too good to be true? A nice story, which could have been longer with a bit more detail, as the motivation of the main character wasn't entirely shown. ***+
Kepler's Law • novelette by Jay Werkeiser
A colony ship arrives at a planet in another solar system. They land several exploratory shuttles (manned by idiots; one manages to crash, as the pilot pushes it in order to be the first one landing). The most passengers of the crashed ship die horribly, soon after landing (as they truly are idiots they almost all go together outside without any real protective suits). As all the members are idiots there is some nationalistic quarreling and they even seem to hate foods that aren’t native to their own countries. The planet also has some plants that are in suspicious straight lines (which were not detected in a “thorough” survey they made before landing). A fairly good story, but with irritatingly stupid characters. It might continue an earlier story, it rings some bells, but I didn't find the first part. The setup is pretty generic though; there are probably dozens of stories where ships leave Earth after some catastrophe. ***+