Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Jim C. Hines: Goblin Quest

Story about fairly typical D&D adventure from a Goblin’s point of view. As anyone who has any experience with roleplaying knows, goblins are irritating, stupid, easily killed creatures on the first level of any decent dungeon. But this goblin is different. He is near-sighted, clumsy, has no experience at all in combat, but he isn’t entirely stupid. After a group of adventurers takes him as a prisoner, he is forced to take part in a journey to get a magical “Rod of Creation” from a dragon’s lair. The band of adventurers consists of a human magician, a human warrior, a dwarf cleric(?) and of an elf thief brought on the journey without her full consent. On their journey they meet most of the clichés of role-playing. Book is filled with dry humor and nice one-liners and observations in style of: “He found it peculiar the way these adventurers thought anything they found was “rightfully” theirs.” As a whole fairly good book, especially last half or two thirds. Somehow the writing seems a bit clumsier in the beginning, but as this is the author’s first book it is understandable. As a whole pretty nice book, however maybe best suited juvenile readers and/or D&D players.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Galaxy August 1954

Pretty bad and juvenile stories in this issue. I haven’t read the last part of serial yet.

Party of the Two Parts • novelette by William Tenn
An alien criminal escapes to earth, and continues his criminal career by selling alien pornography. And what is even worse, his human accomplice uses those pornographic pictures for illustrations in a high school biology book. Ok story, nothing special, but not bad. Hard to believe that amoeba like species which procreates by asexual mitosis would even have a concept of pornography, or be so touchy about it. ***-
Subsistence Level • shortstory by Robert Sheckley Pioneering on a new planetoid can be very hard work. It might even demand up to four hour workdays, sometimes even longer. Also, it might be hard for your wife to live in a tiny five room cottage, where automation is so poor, that she must actually press the buttons on the robots to get things done. Also, simple, only about five course meals, are something you must get used to, but in the end such kind of rough living may be very rewarding. Pretty funny, but simplistic story. Not one of Sheckley’s best ones, but surprising that it has never been republished anywhere. ***½
The Impossible Voyage Home • novelette by F. L. Wallace
Spaceflight is very dangerous due to radiation which has cumulative effect, causing ultimately serious harm and hallucinations. A pair of fairly demented grandparents living in Mars want to journey back to Earth too see their grandchild, so they end up hijacking a spaceship. They manage to get to earth, and it turns out that radiation is beneficial for old people, and they are able to pilot space ships purely by intuition. Just as bad it sounds, or much, much worse. The plot is totally ludicrous, and writing is very clumsy. *
Invasion Report • novelette by Theodore R. Cogswell
Group of kids is playing on an abandoned space ship when an unknown alien ship approaches.
Totally ridiculous story which is written like an home essay by a not too bright high-school kid. A big interstellar spaceship with heavy armament was apparently built, and was then used just for a single trip to the closest sun, and when no life was found there, the ship was abandoned on orbit, so that nine to thirteen years old kids (who behave like five years younger ones) can use orbital space ships by themselves to go there for playacting. Believable - not. The writing is in par with the plot. Stinks to high heaven. *½
The Departed • shortstory by Arthur Sellings
War-torn and resource starved future (of 1990) sends its’ old people to future where it is assumed to be better possibilities to sustain them. But they are send a lot farther to the future than assumed.
Very talky piece, not surprising, the ending is irritating - why there must be “the last” human around languishing just when the troupe of clichéd characters arrive? **+

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Matti Rönkä: Hyvä veli, paha veli

Book about a former soviet citizen living in Finland who is working on the grey side of law. Ok, but not anything special. Read in Finnish, so the review is in Finnish.

Toinen Sortavalasta tulleen paluumuuttaja Viktor Kärpän elämästä kertovista dekkareista.
Helsinkiin virtaa uutta reittiä tavallista vahvempaa heroiinia, ja sekä poliisi että venäjän mafia kiinnostuvat moisesta yksityisyritteliäisyydestä. Viktor Kärppä yrittää näiden välimaastossa selvitellä samaa asiaa, välillä hiukan oman henkensäkin uhalla.

Aika hitaasti etenevä kirja, varsinaista juonta on aika vähän, suurempi paino on ihmiskuvauksessa. Ei siinä sinällään mitään pahaa, mutta ei valitettavasti oikein paluumuuttajan jokapäiväinen elämä ja ajatukset, sekä jatkuva lain rajamailla tapahtuva pikkuinen bisneksenteko ja ryssämafian metkut oikein kiinnosta. Pieniä uskottavuusongelmiakin kyllä on, pikkuinen teollisuusalueella tapahtuva sota, jossa käytetään aseina sinkoa ja raskasta konekivääriä, ei kutsu virkavaltaa paikalle lainkaan.

Fantasy and Science Fiction August 2008

The first issue of F&SF I have ever read. The copy I had was bought from, and was read by Iphone over a long time, usually while waiting for something. It was pretty good, and might get more these at some later date.
The Political Prisoner • novella by Charles Coleman Finlay
A story about a former political officer of a religious dictatorship, who is taken to a concentration camp for forced labor. Good, exiting and well written story. It could be argued that it isn’t really science fiction, as all events might have happened in any generic gulag, the gene modified people might have been Jews or some other persecuted group and so on. Very good story nevertheless. ****+
Childrun • novelette by Marc Laidlaw
A wandering bard arrives to a small countryside town. He meets a lot of suspicion as almost all the children of the town have disappeared without a slightest trace. Well written, very nice story, good fantasy. ****+
An Open Letter to Earth • shortstory by Scott Dalrymple
Aliens using flying saucers for human abduction write a letter for humanity. Supposedly funny story. **
Another Perfect Day • shortstory by Steven Popkes
Alternative world Prokofiev meets an ardent fan from another alternative world. Nice, ironic story. ***½
Bounty • shortstory by Rand B. Lee
A group of hunters hunt a special prey. Nothing special in the story, might have worked as a part of collection of themed stories, but as such is a bit baffling. **+
But Wait! There's More! • novelette by Richard Mueller
Scriptwriter gets one very attractive offer for writing scripts for infomercials which offer new service which offers to pay hard cash for souls. ***½

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Analog January 1999

Not very good issue. Most of the stories were fairly mediocre.
Backfire • novelette by Ramona Louise Wheeler
A pair of explorers is forced to make an unscheduled landing to an unexplored planet which is undergoing an ice-age. They find a species of intelligent creatures (kind of cross between monkey and cat, with poisonous claws) with highly developed curiousness. One of the explorers ends up teaching the use of fire for the creatures - but much involvement is a good thing? Or should there be any?
A bit of condensing might have been a good thing, otherwise ok story. ***+
Shadows • shortstory by James C. Glass
Particle accelerator causes a collision between realities. A much exposition, too little story content, and not too well written. ***-
Finding a Voice • novella by Shane Tourtellotte
A spaceship has an accident and is forced to land on a fairly unknown planet. The crew must negotiate with the natives for a supply for osmium. The trouble is that the aliens have about medieval level of civilization, and they don’t approve any technological devices (e.g. translators), and have extremely hard, musical language. Luckily a bit strange fellow who is interested in old-time music is traveling on the ship, also.
Most of the characters are extremely irritating, some (including the captain of the spaceship) are unbelievably stupid. Story contains also a lot of irrelevant discussion of several subjects, among others music. Very boring story, could have been nice short story or novelette, now it was a struggle to read, at least for me. **-
Gems in the Rough • shortstory by Jerry Oltion
Dating in a world where you can rewrite reality at a whim. A couple decides to try something very wild: a date without any rewrites. Nice, fun, ironic story. Doesn’t really give answer how time would progress at all when _everyone_ is able to “turn clock backwards” for reasons like selecting too hot dish from a restaurant menu. ****-
Splitting Seconds • novelette by David L. Burkhead
MD working for the US navy has found that a few people have psi-like powers. Only trouble is that they are very limited in range and power. Her budget is being pulled away, just as she finds someone with almost useful talent: ability to predict future for almost a second. Nothing special, no surprises in this story. ***
Her Own Private Sitcom • shortstory by Allen Steele
Floating personal cameras have come commonplace, many are using them to make reality TV style programming of their own (and supposedly there is interest for those). A waitress in a rural diner starts making such show, and doesn't care for her customers. Not much of a story, simple, nothing really happens, and just the basic idea isn’t enough. **½

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact April 2008

April issue arrived before March issue.
Ok, nothing unforgettably good, but nothing is unforgettably bad.

Gunfight on Farside • novella by Adam-Troy Castro A young woman travels to meet a character of legends, the main character of at least two famous movies, the survivor of the first (and apparently only) gunfight in the moon. The events are well known on the surface, but why he (with several other old-time moon dwellers) has chosen to live alone on distant area? Especially most people who had any direct connection to the shooting? And why the government seems to support them?
Nice, well told story. Goes in the end a bit too far towards fantasy, but well written, nice story. ****-
The Final Element • shortstory by Eric James Stone
Copying matter down to atomic level is possible, but illegal. Someone has copied a Stradivarius violin. With isotope analysis it is supposed to be possible to distinguish a copy from the real one - but both violins seem to be identical even to the isotope level. Not too surprising detective story, writing is ok. ***-
A Jug of Wine and Thou • shortstory by Jerry Oltion
Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, try to survive in wilderness after crashing their flying car. Nice story, but not really science fiction, except for the futuristic car in the beginning - which really has nothing to do with main plot of the story. And that plot is pretty simplistic. ***
The Invasion • shortstory by H. G. Strattman
Ironic story about invasion of alien AI. The irony is a bit heavy-handed, slightly more subtle approach might have worked better. ***-
Steak Tartare and the Cats of Gari Babakin • novelette by Mary Turzillo Toxoplasma infection modifies the behavior of a Mars colony. Officials want to eradicate the infection, but the ”sufferers” might have a different opinion. Pretty nice story, not so implausible at all as one might think first. ***½
Foe • novelette by Mark Rich
Efficiency expert is evaluating the efficiency of a Martian colony. But always more efficient doesn’t mean more work. The end result shouldn’t be any kind of surprise of any expert worth his title, so it’s pretty surprising that the ”expert” is so surprised of the end result, also I didn’t entirely get his motivation for actions he took. ***+

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sarjakuvaromaani : ja kuinka se voi muuttaa elämäsi / Graphic Novels: Stories to Change your Life by Paul Gravett

An introduction to graphic novels. Contains very interesting analysis of several important works. About thirty different stories are introduced more thoroughly, overview is given for over a hundred. Seems that emphasis is given more to quantity of separate comics than to quality and the length of the introductions. A bit more detailed analysis of the more important series would have very interesting. The are some very surprising omissions, however. Elfquest by Wendy Pini and Valerian by Christin and Mézières are among omitted series which should have merited at least a mention as there are some series which arguable have a lot less influence and are much worse in both art and script. But of course, lines must be drawn somewhere, and they are matters of taste.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Neil Gaiman: The Graveyard Book

The latest book by Neil Gaiman. Marketed as a young adult or children’s book, but not really suitable for small children (not that they would necessarily have enough interest to read this.) Tells a story about a toddler whose family is murdered, and who himself escapes death only when the occupants of nearby cemetery take custody of him. Style is very typical for Gaiman, poetic, well written. Story consists separate stories, usually happening a few years apart which are connected to each others by the last (or next to last) story. The occupants of the graveyard are very fascinating as is the main character, “Bod” (Nobody) Owens. The owes a lot for Kipling’s Jungle Book (Something I haven’t ever read), I have read that there even several chapters which correspond each other. There was one early chapter which seemed to be included only because of the Kipling connection, but in the end even that had its’ own function. As a whole pietty nice, readable book.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre

The story happens in a postnuclearwar world. The main character is a healer who is able to heal sicknesses by snakes which are genetically modified to produce vaccinations and medications. In the beginning one of her snakes, a very rare and important dreamsnake, is killed by mistake. Rest of the book describes her quest to get back to healers home station, or find a new dreamsnake for herself. The book is well written and interesting, but it is combined from a few separate novellas, and the seams are showing in a couple of places. There were a few things which were considered commonplace from the middle part of the book onwards, but there were not even a slightest hint of them in the first part of the book. Especially it was pretty surprising when everyone suddenly acquired a mental ability for birth control. That was supposed to be very commonplace, something everyone is capable of, but there were not a slightest hint of that in the first half of book. Also, the importance of dream snakes was never really explained. They were supposed to be able to function as perfect pain killers, but apparently with no other abilities. But they are supposed to be so important that healers simply can’t function without them at all, and the limited supply of the dreamsnakes is supposed to be reason why healers are rare. But Snake, the heroine, works perfectly well as a healer for most of the book, while she is spending a lot of time and energy accusing herself for the loss of her dreamsnake. And with perfectly good reason: if the snakes really were so irreplaceable, she was unbelievable careless with her snake before she lost it.

I really can’t understand why the dream snakes are considered so important, there is no reason why medications should not work as painkillers as well as the dream snake venom. I waited that by the end of book she would realize that the dream snakes are not necessary after all - and that would have been the point of the book - but that didn’t happen. The ending was a slight disappointment because of that. Despite all the criticism I have, I enjoyed the book, but it might have been a bit better with some rewriting to remove the seams between the separate stories. ****-