Sunday, May 31, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact August 1967

A little bit older issue this time. Surprising good stories, Mack Reynolds’ story screams for a reprint.
Starfog • novella by Poul Anderson
Previously unknown humans arrive from a previously unknown area of galaxy. The newcomers are physiologically a bit different, and they don't volunteer for genetic testing, so their human ancestry can not be verified. The area they claim to originate consists of stars which are very closely packed together, and with a lot of interplanetary dust, so navigation is next to impossible in that area. They would need some help to get home, but there is some suspicion, if they even are human. They are eventually able to join an expedition to that area, but is there some ulterior motive for that expedition? And are they able to find their way to home - and are they even human? Pretty good story, but some needless naive romance could have been toned down. ****-
Babel II • shortstory by Christopher Anvil
A bit fragmented, and even confusing story about how the language increasingly differentiates because the experts are experts in increasingly narrow subjects, and use more and more specialised vocabulary. Interesting idea, but for some reason the story didn't really impress me. ***-
The Featherbedders • novelette by Frank Herbert
Shape shifting aliens, who are thinking about invasion/colonization are exploring a small rural community, and there seems to be something very strange going on. Well written, amusing and even exiting story. Ending is the worst part and doesn't completely fulfil the expectations. ****-
Cows Can't Eat Grass • shortstory by Walt Richmond and Leigh Richmond
A single survivor of a space accident falls on a planet, where there are no edible plants. For their surprise the rescuers find an alive survivor. Is he an impostor? Or is he under alien influence? Pretty ok story, nothing surprising. ***½
Depression or Bust • shortstory by Mack Reynolds
Depression of all times has started - and everything the government does, seems just to make it worse. But maybe a very through study of the origins of depression might give some pointers, how it would be possible to turn the tide. Extremely timely story - someone should reprint this! Some shades of Probability Zero stories, but good anyway - might even be better now that in 1967. ****+

Thursday, May 21, 2009

My Hugo award votes, part 1 : Short stories

Short stories is the first Hugo-awards category I have finished reading. I am still going thorough the other categories, but it seems it will take some time (Anathem is a bit on the thick side.. .. and text in it is something not to be read very fast).

“26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson
Fantasy story about a circus act, some monkeys, mystery and finding one’s own place in the world. Very well written, but a bit too much fantasy for me. Strange things happen, but with no real reason, or with no good explanation. I have always suspected when reading this type of story that even the author couldn’t give explanations to most things left unexplained.

“Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick
A robot working for a priest in a small congregation gets taste of religion. Another well written, pretty typical Mike Resnick story. The allegories a more that a bit heavy-handed, and there are some major problems with logic. A robot which is supposed to be absolutely logical (as stated in the story) doesn’t find anything contradictory or illogical in the bible? And falls for religion?

“Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal
Extremely short story about monkey working with potter’s wheel. Pretty good, but nothing special. I really don’t understand why this story was nominated over so many other good stories, I can’t find it special in any way. Nice little mood piece, but that’s it.

“Exhalation” by Ted Chiang
Robots which use pressurized gas loaded from a special reservoir for sustenance, live on a large, closed world. A scientist type among them tries to find out who their brain works among other things. Excellent, very well written and thought provoking story,

“From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick
Story starts straight away in action. Human station on an alien planet has been attacked, and sole survivor, his AI survival suit with a personality modeled on his girlfriend killed on the attack and an alien must make a hasty escape. The start of the story is a bit confusing, as fairly little back-story is given. The story improves a bit towards the end, when it comes a bit easier to understand just what the hell is going on. I wonder if this story is a part of some series?

The best story was very easy to pick. The other places aren’t so clear. Nothing was bad, or so horribly irritating like the last years “Last Contact” was - however, the Resnick‘s robot story is pretty irritating in it‘s saccharine style. Second place was mainly due to the quality of writing. First I was not going to use the “no award” category, but after some thought I have decided to put "no award" to fourth place. Kowal's story's nomination really baffles my mind. Why? Even Resnick's nomination is easier to understand.

My votes will be in this order:
1. “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang
2. “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson
3. “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick
4. No award
5. “Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal
6. “Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact July/August 2009

Double issue with two long novellas and some shorter works. Contains also the first part of a serial by Barry Longyear which I haven’t started yet. I usually try to read serials only after getting all the parts - and I am busy reading Hugo-nominated works, anyway.

Seed of Revolution by Daniel Hatch
Chamal is a planet with very unusual (and unlikely) genetics. All the planet’s larger animals belong in principle to the same species, but with widely varying phenotype (and intelligence). A human scientist who has been studying Chamal’s society is found murdered. How? Why? Who?
A pastiche of hard-boiled mystery stories.
In my opinion the story seemed a bit overtly complicated, however, the ending felt a bit too easy. ***
The Bear Who Sang Opera by Scott William Carter
Another noirish detective story involving animal look-alikes. Seems that there is a theme in this issue? A android grizzly bear opera singer has lost his voice - literally. Some fairly mundane detecting follows. Humorous story, but the humor didn’t really works for me. ***+
Payback by Tom Ligon
Earth encounters an unprovoked attack from another solar system. The attack, which would have destroyed the sun is only narrowly defeated. But why would someone do such a thing? And how to respond to it? Very nice, good story. I believe the story might have been even better without the first chapter, where the motivation for the attack is at least partly explained, as it took away part of the mystery which actual protagonists in the story faced. Anyway, best story in magazine. ****
The Calculus Plague by Marissa K. Lingen
Viral though-patterns which are literally viral. Short, nice story. Might have been a bit longer. ***½
Duck and Cover by Don D’Ammassa
A story about very strange and very obnoxious solder in Vietnam War. Good, well written, exiting story. The ending didn’t seem right, however. If that would be reason for the existence of that/those soldier[s], why so unappealing behavior. ****-
Failure to Obey by John G. Hemry
Terrorists attack a space station, but they are narrowly defeated. That seemed pretty interesting. However, the gist of the story follows legal proceedings about a situation, which happened completely offstage of the events described in the first part of the story. And which is worse, a major part of the military tribunal seems to revolve around aspects of military obedience. When the proceedings finally get to the actual events, the charges turn out to be laughingly flimsy - at least to someone not familiar with military law. Well written, but not what I was expecting - I was looking forward to hear about the motivations and aims of terrorist and the actual aftermath of the attack - those were totally forgotten. ***½

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact April 1995

Below average issue. Stephen Burns’ story is very fine, others are pretty average at best.
The Human Animal • novella by Julia Ecklar
Belongs to a series I don’t have any recollections reading any earlier parts, even though I sure have (some fifteen years ago). The background for the story is probably for that reason fairly vague. A sort of law keeper (?) has heard that on an alien space station happens illegal trafficking of earth animals. But she finds out that the animal being shopped around is a bit surprising specimen. I didn’t really get into this story, and it felt overlong. Probably partly because I hadn’t any connection to earlier stories. ***
Capra's Keyhole • novelette by Stephen L. Burns
Wheelchair bound software developer, and his creation, possibly the first true artificial intelligence, face together a threat which endangers them both. A bit slow start, but pretty good story overall. Ending might be the weakest spot. Clearly best story in this issue. I would like to learn more of the characters. ++++
To Learn, To Love, To Live • shortstory by David J. Strumfels
A husband goes through very challenging school, while his wife feels neglected - but with good reason. Another good story, implausible, but if that were possible the world might be a lot better place. ***1/2
Deep Eyes • novelette by Gregory Benford
Tells about insectoid aliens, and probably humans probably battling common foe - or each others, or something. I _really_ couldn't keep my interest on this story. Somehow it felt very much like a continuation to some earlier story, but I wasn't able to find any confirmation for this. I tried, but I wasn't able to finish this one. I might have in wrong mood for this or something. **-
Impossible Alone • shortstory by Mark Rich
What kind of common interests might biologist who is cloning frogs and a space entrepreneur might have? I was not impressed - not very logical or convincing story. ***-
Litter Control • shortstory by T. Jackson King
Freelance photographer sees on a desert road sign which says, that cleaning duty is done by aliens. Hoax or what? Writing is ok, but plot really is not convincing, and feels forced and without any logic. A small town accepts aliens because everyone just takes care of his own things. Urgh. Usually the smaller place, the more interest and less tolerance for unusual behavior. ***

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Michael White: Asimov: The Unauthorised Life

Purposed to ”look closely at the man behind the myth”. Seems to be written mainly by using Asimov's autobiographies as a source. The book contains hardy anything which isn't from those volumes (or could not be deduced from them). The "unauthorized" bit seems to be mainly publicity ploy. There also seem to be couple of errors - apparently the author wasn't too careful when he read the source material. If you have read Asimov’s autobiographical books ”In Memory Yet Green” and ”In Joy Still Felt” you really should not bother with this book, and if you haven't read them you should rather go directly to the original works, and not this fairly sloppy condensed reworking which is written in much worse style and contains far less interesting and funny anecdotes. My copy of this book goes directly to bookmooch.

Friday, May 8, 2009

To the Stars by George Takei

Autobiography of Star Trek’s Sulu. I have earlier read two of Shatner’s biographies. This one gives a view from “other side” of things. In my opinion, this one is clearly better written, and it isn’t so smug as Shatner‘s books, and gives more honest feel overall.
Mr. Takei starts the by story of his commitment to Japanese-born people’s internment camps during the second World War. That part of the book is very interesting, and even moving. Next he tells about his pre-Star Trek life. The parts about his studies are a bit of drag, and eventually the “real meat” :-), the Star Trek part of his life, takes fairly short part of the book. I personally would have expected more details and material. Well, those things he does tell are for most part fairly interesting, and his non-Star Trek life isn‘t so uninteresting, after all.
One thing which is noticeable is that the book contains hardly anything about personal life. Considering that he come "out of the closet" just recently, long after the publication of this book, it isn’t surprising. But there should be interesting things to be told of that aspect of his life also - I am waiting for expanded second edition of the book.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact October 1998

Fairly good issue, lead novelette is fine.

Trade Warriors • novelette by F. Alexander Brejcha
A lone human female tries to cope on an alien commercial school, which resembles a military boot camp. And the fact that the race is extremely male chauvinistic isn’t exactly helping. Very good, well written and exciting story. I would like to see more stories involving the same character. ****+
Drawn Words • novelette by Brian Plante
A young boy living on a farm starts to make marks representing words. His father freaks out. Eventually after some tragical events boy must leave his home and go to the town, where he meets some interesting people. Fairly good story, maybe a bit too short. Background of the world would have been interesting, also the events happen fairly fast. Reads like a detailed outline of the first quarter of a very good novel. ****-
Artifacts • shortstory by Jerry Oltion
A group of scientist examine an alien artifact, presumably a giant space habitat. But those scientists who have stayed on the station seem to act a bit differently. Nice, story, a bit implausible, hard to think that alien memes would transfer so easily to humans. ***½
O'Carolan's Revenge • shortstory by Rick Cook
An Irish bard gets some strange visitors who want to listen his songs, and they are even ready to pay for him. But are they planning to swindle him? Another pretty nice and entertaining story. ***½
Phoenix • shortstory by H. G. Stratmann
A time traveler appears to expecting mother and demands that she won’t stop smoking cigarettes. Short, but good story. ****-
Nor Through Inaction • shortstory by Charles Ardai and Michael A. Burstein
A space ship with an AI brain crashes. The sole human occupant survives only with extremely severe wounds with no chance of escape or long-term survival. But the AI is determined to keep him alive as long as possible. For some reason this story reminds me of Larry Niven. Fairly good, nothing really surprising. ***½
Living in a Stranger • shortstory by Paul Urayama
A man suffers from posttraumatic memory defect which causes him to forget everything always after a night’s sleep. Naturally he has some problems with adapting to this ailment, again and again. Good idea, nice story but ending is over sentimental and irritating. ***
Ashes to Ashes • novella by Grey Rollins
AI and its’ creator try to escape religiously oppressive earth to more open minded moon, and a simpleminded man with a cat is asked by Jesus to help them. Sound pretty strange, and it is. Continues earlier stories, and the first part felt really confusing - I almost gave up reading it - even though I believe that I have read at least one of the earlier stories years ago. ***

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact September 2002

Pretty good issue with very strong lead novellette.

Renewable Resources • shortstory by Jerry Oltion
A company wants to pump natural gas, but before that a great amount off
water must be pumped out. Conservationists and government agencies are
naturally against that. But there might be some solutions which are not so
obvious. Pretty good story, nicely written. Solution might be too
easy, but maybe worth of another story. ****
In Spirit • novella by Pat Forde
The ability to see and experience past is used to project the mental
image of a 9.11 convict to the actual happening. Maybe it is possible that he will get some understanding of the vastness of the catastrophe. Excellent, very
moving story. The technology is totally implausible, but that doesn't
harm the story. *****
Perchance to Dream • novelette by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.
Interplanetary relations bureau deals with a race that invades periodically another race to steal produce and slaughter innocents. Naturally they succeed, but not without some problems. Ok, pretty average story, nothing unforgettable. ***+
Protocol • novelette by Timothy Zahn
Alien species cohabiting humans on a colony planet demands that a very strict protocol is followed at every encounter with humans. Breaking the protocol causes instant death. Pretty good story - would like to read more detailed working of this world. ****
Chrysalis • shortstory by Larry Niven
Average Draco tavern story. A member of species which is sentient only in pre-adult form, seeks shelter as she isn’t too keen on growing adult. ***-

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

A smart seventeen years old kid, Marcus, heavily on internet and computers is arrested as a suspect for terrorist attack in San Francisco due to circumstance he happens to be after the attack. He is ruthlessly interrogated for several days, and then released with threat that he will be imprisoned indefinitely, if he ever talks about what happened to him. Meanwhile his home city is taken over by Department of Homeland Security's Nazi-like troops, who try to monitor about everything happening to find suspicious behavior. Trouble is, that they find very many things suspicious…

Marcus then uses his hacking and networking skills to fight back to return the civil liberties for the common people.

This very good book, which should be read by everyone. It is written very well, and pace get faster and faster all the time. There some problems with the book, but they are very understandable as the book is marketed as a “young adult” book. At places, especially at the beginning, there is pretty heavy info dumping about several things, among them networking, larping and cryptography, at worst a few pages where those concepts were explained in detail, and all the action stopped. Come to thing about it, the explanation of a few things, like larping, was meant for the more clueless adults readers.
Also, the stupidity of the adults and ingeniousness of teenagers is pretty much emphasized, but that of course has been typical for YA novels for all time.

This is a second book of this year’s Hugo-nominated works I have read. (The another is The Graveyard Book by Neil Geiman) Both are very good books, but I think I would put this ahead of Geiman’s book. This is a book I am going to recommend for my fifteen years old daughter.