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.

Proofreading by

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