Saturday, October 31, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact August 1978

Very variable issue. Something pretty good, something pretty bad.

Starships In Whose Future? • novelette by Sam Nicholson
Two artists, a “bard” and apparently second generation (at least) comedian seem to have some disagreement for some reason. There apparently is also some sort of “no fault” insurance law regarding public figures, making them responsible if someone is hurt when trying to hurt them - or something. It isn’t explained practically at all, and certainly there are no reasons given for so strange law. Then they have some sort of competition by performing in front of audience. Pretty confusing story – partly probably because I was pondering the meaning of the “no fault” insurance and wasn't able to really concentrate on the story. **-
I Put My Blue Genes On • shortstory by Orson Scott Card
Refugees fled from earth just before a global bio-war was starting. Now years later a spaceship is returning to find out what has happened to the mother planet. The entire surface of the planet is covered by a thick “pea soup”. There seems to be one single stronghold still standing. The humans living there seem to be physically a bit changed, and are still waging bio-war against the Soviet Union. But how changed they actually are? Pretty good story, maybe a bit too short as there many good ideas which aren't explored as deeply they could have been. ****
The Man Who Was Heavily into Revenge • shortstory by Harlan Ellison
A contractor swindles an old man on a bath room repair contract overcharging 9000 dollars. He falls in despair. And the contractor starts to have VERY bad day ( + very bad rest of life). Probably Ellison got fed up by some contractor and after suing him up let a bit steam off by writing this story. Pretty good, ending is a bit too depressing, especially considering the otherwise light tone of the story. ****-
Cousins • novelette by Bernard Deitchman
Cave men hunt other species of cave men. It took a while to get into the story, as I was trying to figure out that just what the species of prehumans mentioned were. Soon it became pretty obvious that at least most of them were totally made up species. It was a bit disappointing, but it didn't totally ruin the story. One race had very strange properties which would be hard explain in evolutionary terms, also the mating habits it had were not very logical or believable. Otherwise fairly ok story, but demanded a bit concentration when one species was called “longheads” and one important member of other tribe was “longhair”. As I was reading fast, it always took just a little bit time remembering just what was what. ***½
Right of Passage • shortstory by Jayge Carr
An alien takes a test for citizenship. She almost makes it, but is caught on a technicality. But who was testing who? Pretty good, a bit too short story. ****-
Brother to Demons • novelette by Jack Williamson
I hated the first part of this story, and I didn't finish the second part. I am certainly not going to read this third part. -
The Water Doctor • shortstory by Edmundo Hamiltowne
A student gets a PhD in water making after long period of hard study and practice. Interesting choice of a career, considering on what kind of planet he lives. Meant as an ironic story, but ends up just as a very, very stupid one. **-

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Goblin Reservation by Clifford D. Simak

A cross between fantasy and science fiction. Goblins, fairies and ghosts are real and living among men. Also, interstellar travel via transporter booths and aliens are commonplace. A man returning from a trip to another world (and that trip went haywire – he found him self in a strange, previously unknown crystal world) finds out that he already returned a few week ago, and soon after that died in an accident. He also finds that in his apartment lives a beautiful woman with a sabretooth tiger and he doesn't have his job anymore. He moves in with his Neanderthal friend and tries to find out what is going on – and at the same time he has a secret mission given by the inhabitants of the crystal world.
And what role is played by a strange monolith which was found in far past? At least it has some very strange attributes - it is supposed to reflect all radiation, but it is at the same time totally black. A contradiction Simak probably didn't notice?
Usually mixture of fantasy and science fiction doesn't work very well – and it doesn't work this time. There are also quite many – maybe too many - plot threads going on, some of them fairly sketchily told, and then everything comes together bit too fast in the end. The characters weren't too well characterized, I didn't really care for them. Not nearly as good as “Way Station”, my favorite book by Simak.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Astounding Science Fiction January 1955

First Analog this old I have read. Not too bad, one fine story, others ok.

The Darfsteller • novelette by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
The first piece of short fiction ever to win a Hugo award. From today's perspective it is slightly hard to see why. Writing is fairly nice, but the premise is bit strange. Apparently human actors are replaced in theater by “mannequins”, which are kind of androids programmed by tapes and apparently the fine tune during the performance is done by a central system. Human actors are not used any more at all. For some strange reason these android run shows are very popular and are even critiqued in the papers. Why the reviews are done isn't stated, as logically the performances should be very constant without much variation. A formed actor who has taken a job sweeping floors on a theater gets one last chance to perform (after a bit of sabotage). A very slowly moving story which features far too large parts of a boring play. **½
Armistice • shortstory by John Brunner
A conspirator is arrested, and his mind is read by near absolute dictator of a planet. But neither the apparent rebel or dictator are exactly what might be expected. Ok story, but the plan of the “rebel” doesn't seem to logical, or not at least it isn't very well explained. ***
Field Expedient • novelette by Chad Oliver
Earth has achieved near utopia. Everyone is happy, co-operative, and the most important message everyone knows is: “Don't Rock the Boat”. But one rich eccentric old man wants to rock the boat - at least a little. He has established colonies inVenus which are inhabited by small children and by robots taking care of and rearing them for a very specific purpose. Aside of “jungle-Venus” this is very good, well told story, easily best of the magazine. ****
Without Portfolio • shortstory by James E. Gunn
Diplomacy is delegated for a private firm. But the firm manages things seemingly so badly that the final war seems to be imminent at any moment. Or will it be? Ok story, maybe a bit too short. ***+
Nothing New • shortstory by Eric Frank Russell
A space ship crew is traveling to a planet where according to legends might live a race of immortals. And that's about it. Not much happens, a bit of discussion. I don't really get to point of the story - if there is any. The planet and its' inhabitants seems fairly interesting, there is hardly anything about them and they are practicality used only for a pretty inane punchline. **

Monday, October 19, 2009

Galaxy December 1954

Not one of the best issues. Except for the stories written by Sheckley, all were very outdated stories.

Skulking Permit • novelette by Robert Sheckley
A small, forgotten human colony is getting visitors from Earth for the first time in centuries. Earth demands normal human behavior from all its colonies. Unfortunately, the colony is really backward, and there aren't even any criminals, murders or any other things all civilized worlds usually have, at least according to the few books which are available in the colony. So, one unfortunate man is ordered by the mayor to start a crime wave as soon as possible... Very good funny/ironic story. ****

Playback • short story by J. T. McIntosh
Discussion about time travel in a bar. One of the patrons seems to be a time traveler. Not much happens, the discussion isn't interesting. Boring and easily forgettable story. **

Uncle Tom's Planet • short story by Robert Sheckley
Slavery is permitted only if the enslaved race is clearly, demonstrably inferior compared to the enslaving race. Usually, that is a very hard thing to prove, but one arrogant species finds another that truly seems to be inferior. But nothing is always so constant. Nice ironic story, rather short. ****-

Assignment's End • novelette by Roger Dee
A man has always had a peculiar effect on other people, everyone seems to feel extremely nice around him. He starts to have visual hallucinations and have strange feelings. A story which has a bit of a paranoid feeling, but ends up being pretty much what you would be expecting, and not much else. Writing isn’t really special, either. **

Rough Translation • short story by Jean M. Janis
A scientist studies the lone returnee from Mars expedition who doesn't seem to be able to communicate anymore, as he uses wrong, strange words which seem to have a different meaning from their original meaning. The writing is ok, but the plot is nothing special. ***-

Joy Ride • short story by Mark Meadows
Everything is run by automatic machines. What happens if they start acting erratically?
Short, not surprising, mildly entertaining story. The fact that the story is told from multiple viewpoints is fairly interesting. **½

Collector's Item • novelette by Evelyn E. Smith
The first expedition to Venus has landed – and straight away an alien captures the most good-looking female. Luckily, they are soon retrieved, before anything indecent has time to happen, and the alien turns out to be telepathic and very helpful. But might he have an ulterior motive? Well, at least it doesn't involve any member of the expedition.
A very amusing (but not in a good way) story. Apparently, one professor has single-handedly made the spaceship capable of traveling to Venus just by swindling a bit of government resources and material. And that has pissed everyone off so much that a successful trip to Venus would not mitigate the reaction. Acting as the ship captain is a numbskull who has not even bothered to find out what the length of the day on the planet he is traveling to is. Other members of the expedition are at least as stupid, especially the women. The utmost stupidity and infantilism of the women is particularly strange, as this piece was apparently written by a woman. But everyone is behaving like they would be on an expedition to Africa in the early 19th century. Everyone (even the alien) will get comeuppance, but that doesn't save the story. **-

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Girl Genius: Omnibus Edition #1 by Phil Foglio

The first comic book to win the Hugo award. That was what made me to try this one.
The story is very steanpunky tale of a young girl, Agatha, living in an alternative Europe ruled by mad inventors capable of making steam powered robots and biological constructs. She turns out to be very powerful “spark”, someone who is able to make such inventions, but at first she isn't aware of that herself. After getting abducted to the flying castle's by its' unofficial(?) ruler, baron Wulfenbach, she learns something of her abilities and real background.
This omnibus collects first three books. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be other volumes of these omnibus editions. It was probably very good idea to collect first three books together, as I believe that, if the first one would have marketed as a stand alone, there would have less people getting the later parts. The first part isn't too good, far too many pages are spent on gigantic robots walking around and far too little on the real plot. The later parts are clearly better, both in plot and in drawing style. The plot seem variable, there some very nice ideas and fun scenes, but they there are some slower moving and sometimes even a bit confusing parts. I might be even tempted to get the other parts, but at least part four seems to be kind of hard to find, and it isn't available directly from Amazon.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact December 2009

Pretty average issue.
Formidable Caress by Stephen Baxter
Continues series I am not very familiar with – I believe that I have read one installment years ago. The story happens on a world (presumably far future earth) where time passes at different speed on different heights. The lower you go, the slower the time goes. There is a fair amount of exposition, but especially in the beginning it's kind of hard to know what's going on. Presumable at least some of the same characters have been in the earlier stories, and being familiar with them might have been to story easier to get. ***-
The Jolly Old Boyfriend by Jerry Oltion
Old boyfriend comes back on Christmas night bringing presents. The trouble is that he has been dead for some time already. Ok story, average for Oltion. ***
The Universe Beneath Our Feet by Carl Frederick
Aliens living in fairly strange surroundings seem to have fairly anthropomorphic disagreements about religion and authority. Pretty good story nevertheless. I was expecting that the aliens turn out to live in a sub-Antarctic lake, but that wasn't the case. Probably the best story in ‘zine. ***½
Wilderness Were Paradise Enow by H.G. Stratmann
Continues an earlier story about a couple stranded on a Mars which is terraformed by unknown aliens. The former story ended when both of the characters were given god-like powers. Now they get to use them. It seems that with great power comes great responsibility, but even the greater naivety. Both characters seem to be very stupid, just like they were in the former part of the story. Makes me really wonder why they were selected. Both make very bad decisions with fairly strange and not so logical consequences. Writing is ok, but as both main protagonists are extremely irritating the story ends as irritating as well. ***
To Climb a Flat Mountain by G. David Nordley
Concludes two part serial begun on the November issue. A rescue mission to free a planet enslaved by a religious dictatorship has gone wrong. The rescuers have overshoot by hundreds of light-years and about a thousand years. The few survivors find themselves on a strange, obviously manufactured habitat with strange fauna and flora. When they try to find out what has happened, they find out that their mission was sabotaged. The survivors have some difference of opinion, and are divided. One faction lead by a nutcase religious fundamentalist is left behind, while another group tries to find a shuttle which might explain how they ended where they did, and which might enable them to return. Writing isn't as fluent it could be, and the story is slightly old-fashionable (but not necessarily in bad way). The characters have some strange leaps of logic, and they don't exactly behave totally sensible at all times. And I am pretty sure that atmosphere so rich in oxygen that fires burn faster than normal, would be very toxic at a high pressure. Also, the ending seem very rushed and every open story detail is ”reeled in” in about two pages. ***

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Michael Moorcock: Katso ihmistä! / Behold the Man

I read this book in Finnish, so the main review will be in Finnish. A neurotic loser travels back in time to see the Crucifixion. What he finds isn’t exactly what he was expecting.
Ok book, but the main protagonist is a bit too annoying loser. Writing might be too fragmentary, but that isn’t necessarily completely bad thing.
One small strange thing was that ancient Palestine had corn fields – it might be a translation error, though.

Neuroottinen, ahdistunut luuseri saa mahdollisuuden aikamatkaan. Hän valitsee matkansa kohteeksi Kristuksen ristiinnaulitsemisen. Hän päätyy hieman liian aikaiseen menneisyyteen, ja samalla särkee aikakoneensa. Ilman mahdollisuutta palata tulevaisuuteen, hänellä ei ole muuta mahdollisuutta kuin jäädä odottelemaan ristiinnaulitsemista. Mielenkiintoinen kirja, jossa aikatasot sekoittuvat, välillä eletään Palestinassa ennen ristiinnaulitsemista, välillä taas väläyksinä nähdään pervohkon luuseri-päähenkilön elämää katkelmina nykyajassa suurin piirtein kronologisessa järjestyksessä. Kerronta on välillä ehkä liiankin hajanaista, mutta on kyllä tärkeä osa kirjaa. Puhtaasti tapahtumajärjestyksessä kuvattuna tarinana kirjaa voisi pitää jopa tavanomaisena, nyt se on jotain muuta. Päähenkilö oli ehkä hiukan liiankin ärsyttävä, vähän kuin Woody Allen josta on imetty kaikki itseironisuus ja huumorintaju pois, ja neuroottisuus kerrottu kahdella. Kirjana ihan suositeltava luettava, aika poikkeuksellinen näkymä Kristinuskon syntyyn. Se vain jäi ihmetyttämään, miten ihmeessä antiikin Palestiinassa kasvaa maissi? Olivatkohan kirjan tapahtuvat joissain vaihtoehtomaailmassa tapahtuvia? Vai onko kirjailijan biologian tietämys hiukan vaillinainen? En ole Moorcockia aikaisemmin lukenut, enkä ole brittiscifin tai uuden aallon erityinen ystävä, mutta kyllä tämä oli ihan mielenkiintoinen tuttavuus.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact June 2000

The lead novella was excellent. Other stories weren't nearly as good.

The Retrieval Artist • novella by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
How to find someone who wants to hide? And is there a good reason why someone should try to find people who usually don't want to be found? The inheritance of a giant corporation might be such reason. A story of professional recovery artist, who tries to find hidden people. An excellent and entertaining story, best I have read for a while. ****1/2
Debunking the Faith Healer • novelette by Michael A. Burstein and Lawrence D. Weinberg
A journalist examining faith healers studies one, who really seems to be able cure people, but only mostly one or two in every meeting. Spoilers for this stinker follows: the healer is a time traveler who has come to take samples of DNA. Apparently _every_ human's in future has DNA which has been modified to resist cancer. Unfortunately that has caused a disease which is killing everybody off. And all samples of pre-change DNA have been destroyed because they could be used for harmful purposes. That is so stupid in so many levels. Everyone has changed DNA? So every native living in middle of Amazon? Every loony conspiracy theorist living in fortified bomb shelter in Utah? And ALL samples of pre-change DNA has been destroyed? Like all tissue samples from all hospitals? All people who have been buried in permafrost regions? And apparently all things which were made before the change (as enough DNA apparently can be harvested from the gloves used to touch people coming to the faith healer for a “cure” and which are buried until the future "catches up".) And risks the man collecting the DNA is taking for a really, really stupid and they are taken only for “punchline” reason. Writing is ok, and the story is readable but so full of so stupid plotholes that it ends as really irritating. **-
All Mine • shortstory by Laurence M. Janifer
How to survive on a planet which is filled by bouncing ball-like creatures which love to bump on people and third of them are deadly poisonous? Problem solving story. Short and not especially surprising. ***
A Threat of Cinnamon • novelette by Rajnar Vajra
A man and his AI run in a trouble when mining asteroids on an another star. Told as a tale told to a grandchild. A lot of info dumping and exposition. Some condensing might have nice. ***
The Money Tree • shortstory by Charles L. Harness
Money doesn't grow in trees. Or does it? Very implausible genetic engineering, and very implausible scheme. Money grown in trees is supposed to be exactly like the real currency, but it withers away in a few weeks – that's a pretty contradictory. ***-
A Pig Tale • shortstory by Guy Stewart
Memory altering viral therapy, downfall of personal life and of a small farm. If there are enough troubles, it might be easier just to start again with no recollections of the bad thing. Pretty nice and well told story ***½
Unthinkable • shortstory by Sean McMullen
Mars mission by private enterprise. Very short story picking on NASA. **½
Splendor's Laws • novelette by Dave Creek
Humans are evacuating a planet where two sentient species are living in harmony, before it is sterilized by nearby nova or other similar phenomena. Another alien race decides to use the planet for weapons testing, as it will be destroyed anyway.
Fairly average story in every way, didn't irritate, but was hard to remember only a few days later so didn't have must impact either. ***