Sunday, December 27, 2009

Asimov's Science Fiction December 2009

Another fine issue with some very good stories.

A Lovely Little Christmas Fire • shortstory by Jeff Carlson
Gene-modified super-termites with highly unlikely biochemistry eat all plant matter in seconds, have escaped to a city, and are destroying house and office buildings. Teams are fighting against them, but the termites seem to spread just too fast - like someone would be spreading them on purpose. Fairly standard story - nothing really bad but nothing especially good either. ***+
As Women Fight • shortstory by Sara Genge
The gender is determinated by fights occurring by set intervals. The winner can choose which body he/she wants to inhabit. Practically always the winner chooses the female body. The gender roles are very sharply defined – the female who takes care of the children seems to have most authority in the family, while the male provides the food. Pretty well told story, but there are a few problems. One would imagine that the ability to transfer personalities between bodies would lead to less clearly defined gender roles. Also, it doesn't seem plausible that those in female bodies seem usually have the upper hand in the fights. ***½
Animus Rights • shortstory by John Shirley
Two aliens inhabit human bodies as and fight as a sort of a game through centuries. Pretty old fashionable story with nothing really surprising. Could well be from the Galaxy magazines from 50s I have been reading. **1\2
Leaving the Station • shortstory by Jim Aikin
A young woman, who was able to see ghosts as a child, inherits an antique store from her uncle. As she doesn't happen to have a job at a moment, she moves in and starts to manage the store. Soon she starts to see ghosts again...Very good story, well written. The ending is a bit sad in a way. ****
Angie's Errand • shortstory by Nick Wolven
After war which has devastated everything a young girl tries to cope with pressures of raising her younger siblings. She feels unprotected as they live in a house which is separated from the main village without any adult males living with her. Well written but not much happens. The girl makes at least one just too stupid choice - but that is a choice some 16 year old girl makes somewhere every day. ***+
A Large Bucket, and Accidental Godlike Mastery of Spacetime • novelette by Benjamin Crowell
The ambassador of human race is is traveling between stars with ambassadors of several different species's. They are traveling at relativistic speeds, so time is passing very fast in outside universe. The human finds herself as a kind of leader for some of the races traveling on the ship. Will it be possible that the humanity will graduate to “Galactic Civilization”? Another very good story, well written, fascinating, would like to read more of the main character. ****-
The Bride of Frankenstein • shortstory by Mike Resnick
A diary of Dr. Frankenstein's wife. The main story is fairly same as Shelley's version, but the events happen in undefined time, somewhere between 1920-1930. And the ending is far more positive that in the original version. Well written, very good story. Not as sacharine as Resnick's stories tend to be. Woudn't be surprised if this will be found in ballots. ****+
Some Like It Hot • novelette by Brian Stableford
A man and woman have known each others since being small children. Their (single) parents both worked for EU, and later they also ”inherit” jobs working for EU. They meet usually once a year for their common birthday. The story tells mainly about their different approaches to the solving and adapting to the climate change. As such the content of the story is pretty good, but problem is that the story is ALL exposition. Discussions between the characters is mainly exposition, and that is juxtaposed by pure exposition between their meetings. Everything is told, practically nothing is shown. The story felt like an overlong draft for an interesting novel. ***½

Analog Science Fiction and Fact October 1964

Larger size magazine. Not very good, stories are fairly dated .

Situation Unbearable • novelette by Herbert Pembroke
Birth rate has suddenly gone down all around the world. The cold war has stopped for a while, when everyone is trying to find the solution to the current problem. For some very poorly defined reasons a few of the authorities suspect that one geneticist ,whose laboratory burned, and who went insane soon after that accident, was suspecting that something is happening even before anyone else had any knowledge of the problem. Was that the reason he went mad? No, he was just pretending being mad. He planned the infertility – only people from different parts of the world are fertile with each other. So cold war and “hotter” war would turn out to be impossible. Easily best story in the magazine, but that is not saying much. ***½
The Mary Celeste Move • shortstory by Frank Herbert
Many people, especially older ones are moving far from their home, sometimes even leaving their dinner on the table. Why? Apparently new roads with automatic cars with mandatory speed of 400 mph are so intimidating that if you happen to the fast lane, it is easier just to move where the car takes you. Stupid idea, not very good execution. **+
Flying Fish • novelette by John T. Phillifent
Intelligent life has been found for the first time – and it seems to have more than human intelligence. A group of men, lead by a woman who has lived on a planet for longer time, and who apparently had found the alien intelligence, goes to the jungle to find it. Not very well written, fairly disorganized story. The girl turns out to be a kind of a personification of the planetary intelligence, who apparently just want to be loved or something, as that, or something like that, is so fascinating and rare only human attribute – or something. I really didn't care. **-
Professional Dilemma • shortfiction by Theodore L. Thomas
Very boring story about patents, patent lawyers, and how little people are screwing up the big companies and vice verse. Titled as a “special feature”, not as a story, and it is not strictly science fiction at all. I wonder why this was published? *½

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

A Hugo award winning novel.
Time travel is being used for historical research, and one female scientist is planning to travel to the medieval Britain, a few decades before the plague. After she has gone there, the technical in charge of the ”net” used from time ”drops” collapses from an unknown disease. It shouldn't be possible for diseases to travel upwards in the time stream. Just before he collapses he seems to indicate that something has gone wrong in the time jump. And the person who went back in time, Kivrin, starts to feel very ill very soon after arriving to the past. A severe, sometimes deadly disease starts to spread in modern times, and at the same time Kivrin is struggling for her life in middle ages with the same(?) disease. The idea is pretty good, but execution is less so. The book is overtly talky and overlong. Every character seems to engage in smalltalk with every other character talking about idle things. Also, many of the characters seem to be very stupid. And many events in the story depend on some pretty unlikely coincidences. Also, the technology seems to be extremely poorly thought about. There are no mobile phones, but a lot of wordage is used in describing phone calls which are NOT made by normal phonelines, as the lines aren't functioning. The are hardly any computers, and those there are seems to be pretty ineffectual. The calculation of the time drop is apparently something computers can't handle, as it demands a certain technical, and when he falls ill, no-one can use the net, or even check the results of the former drop. The book was written in about 1992, and cell phones were not so rare then (I checked, there were hundreds of thousands them for example in Finland at that time), and when some plot points involve badly functioning phones in the future of 2050, when there were better functioning phones in 1992, it gives an impression of one pretty lazy, and not very well informed author. Laziness of the author can be also seen in the writing. It is extremely loose with a lot of repetition, especially in the beginning where very little happens. One of the more baffling Hugo wins.
578 pp.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact January 1974

Niven's short story is very good, otherwise not too good issue. Long interesting editorial by Heinlein.

The Horus Errand • novelette by William E. Cochrane
It is possible to be reincarnated! Apparently soon after death everyone's mind goes to a mind of a close-by baby which happens to be born around the time of death. Usually adult mind goes crazy inside an unformed infant mind, dies out, and a new mind then takes over. But a telepath is able help the adult mind adjust so that it will survive the transition. For some reason the telepaths helping on those transitions work for police, not for healthcare. And one team consists of one telepath, and two armed police officers. One transfer goes bad, as after the mind ”donor” dies, the baby who was supposed to be born at just the right moment wasn't born yet, and the mind has gone amiss. Now there are only a few hours to find the right newborn baby with the right mind. Very strange story – there are implications of very strange world.
1. Resurrection is enforced by armed police.
2. Parent's consent apparently is not need or asked.
3. Rich and powerful are able to have resurrection, normal people apparently not at all.
4. The police seems to have practically unlimited powers to perform searches without any due process when they are trying to find where the stray soul went.
The implications are that the story happens in some kind of fascist, or almost fascist, state, but that, or any other moral implications which the story raises are not treated at all, it's like they never even occurred to the author. And it it is not even very well written, and ends as a very irritating story. **-
The Astounding Dr. Amizov • shortstory by R. F. DeBaun
Short story of the amazing Dr Azimov, who has written hundreds of books covering dozens of different subjects. How he can do it all? The solution is simple: cloning. Nothing really special. **½
The Hole Man • shortstory by Larry Niven
A story I have read a few times. Expedition to Mars finds an alien artifact. There seems to be something strange with very high mass inside it. The mass is a miniature black hole, of course, which is dropped through one of the characters. Main weak point in the story is that it seems implausible easy to control alien machinery. Very good story anyway. ****+

Friday, December 18, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact September 1996

Only three stories as serial takes large portion of the available space in the magazine.
From this on I am starting to use spoilers - but with some protection.

Something on my Mind • novelette by Grey Rollins
A geologist on a survey trip on an alien planet encounters a small friendly carrion eating animal. He takes a habit shooting food for it. The animal turns out to be able capable of mind control, and is using the geologist for its own good. Nice story, maybe a bit too long with fairly unnecessary romance and jealousy subplot. ***1/2
Beyond the Volcano • novelette by Ned Farrar
A crisis manager travels to a planet where all habitation is on a large domed volcano top, the rest of the planet is Venus style of hot desert with CO2 atmosphere. The inhabitants of the place are for some reason making some decisions which might endanger the whole ecosphere of the dome. Now they are planning to destroy a marsh-land area and build a virtual reality park on it is place. Why are they being s shortsighted? They are building control station from where they are planning to terraform whole planet when the current habitat would turn out to be inhabitable, so they is no point of conserving any marsh-lands. Ok story, surprisingly high sexual content for a Analog story. ***+
The Negative Butterflies • shortstory by Laurence M. Janifer
Butterfly flapping its wings may cause a storm on the other side of earth. What if that could be controlled? By making a lot of mechanical butterflies. Stupid, overlong probability zero story, but not named as one. **

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Väinö Linna: Täällä pohjantähden alla 1 - Under the North Star part 1

One of the "national epics" of Finland. The story happens in small rural village, starting in the late 19th century. The first part spans about 25 years. The focus is on one family who lives as tenant farmers, who were obliged to work certain number of days for their landlord, local vicar. The life of the main character is followed from his father's young adulthood to his own wedding, and at same time the Finnish history of that era unfolds.

Väinö Linnan toinen suurtyö Tuntemattoman sotilaan ohella. Tuntemattoman olen vuosien kuluessa lukenut muutamaankin kertaan, mutta Pohjantähteä en koskaan aikaisemmin ole lukenut. Tarkoitus on pidempään ollut, ja nyt lopultakin tuli urakka tällä ensimmäisellä osalla aloitettua. (Tämä ei liittynyt mitenkään elokuvaversioon, itse asiassa en sellaisen tuloa edes muistanut ennen kuin olin jo kirjassa pitkällä). Ja kyllä lukeminen kannatti, ja jossain vaiheessa ensi vuotta loppuosatkin tulen melkoisella varmuudella lukemaan. Kirja kertoo kuvitteellisesta pienestä hämäläisestä kylästä, ja sen asukkaista. Tapahtumat kuvataan yhden torppariperheen, Koskelan torpan näkökulmasta. Vähitellen päähenkilöksi muodostuu torpan omin käsin raivanneen Jussin poika, Akseli. Hän elää nuoren pojan ja miehen elämää, joka torpparina sisältää paljon työtä. Vähitellen myös sosialismi saapuu paikkakunnalle, työväentaloa rakennetaan, kokouksia pidetään ja maaltaan karkotetun torpparin puolta yritetään pitää. Kirjan kerronta on hyvin totuudenmukaisen ja elävän tuntuista, ja historian tuntu on selvä. Tämä totuudenmukaisuus kyllä välillä aiheuttaa hitauden tuntuakin, ja paikoitellen, mm. pitkien poliittisten puheiden kohdalla mennään jo pitkästyttävänkin puolelle. Kirjailijan ns. "pointtina" on varmaan ollut verrata oikeiston ja vasemmiston puheiden erilaista tyyliä ja retoriikkaa, mutta aika tylsältä molemmat kumminkin vaikuttivat. Oikeastaan koko kirja on ehkä enemmän prologia seuraavalle osalla, jossa todennäköisesti pääaiheena ovat kansalaissodan tapahtumat, mutta kiinnostavat henkilöhahmot kyllä kantoivat hienosti jännitettä koko ajan. Kirja on kirjoitettu murteella, joka yleensä on minulle aika kova kynnys lukemiselle, mutta tässä kieli on niin elävän ja aidon tuntuista, ettei asia haittaa mitenkään.
460 s.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact March 1978

Surprising issue. I wonder if this was a test of some sort? Two stories by first time authors, and one by someone who had published only one story earlier, and that in a minor market. And none of them never had any other stories in any of better magazines, and no more than one in any magazines. And all of them seem to be, well, lets say, slightly lower quality. Was Ben Bova bored, and picked a few stories out of the slush pile more or less in random?
Also, second part of a serial by Joan D. Vinge.

Moontrack • novelette by George W. Olney
Aliens have established a secret base on the moon. For some reason they destroy a Mars probe. Then they start to destroy orbital satellites. The first attack against the base used light infantry forces and was a disaster. The aliens happen to be extremely experienced in light infantry battle. So it is decided to use a mechanized infantry force against them. The aliens just don't happen to destroy the troop transports bringing in the forces to the moon, and they just happen to be totally unfamiliar with that sort of combat troops. The rest of the story feels like a war game campaign transcript told as a story, with practically no characterization at all. Very stupid, illogical, badly written, and boring story. *½

To Keep and Bear Arms • shortstory by Larry Matthews
This story is the reason I picked up this reason for reading. September issue had several letters from readers who were enraged by this. The story is a ironic story about guns, and what kind of consequences the freedom to bear arms might have if it is taken to ridiculous extent. Well, if it were my business, I would be for gun control. But this story is really, really bad and stupid, and badly written. So bad, that I find it surprising so many people were so offended by this. I think it is too bad as a story to be offended by. *
Too Much at Steak • shortstory by Gary D. Douglass
Wordplay about food. Mercifully short. No plot, no content, nothing interesting. *
The Broken Dome • novelette by Vonda N. McIntyre
I read the book version just less than a year ago and I liked it. However, not so much that I would reread it so soon.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact September 1978

A large part of issue is taken by serial, Stardance II. I have read the book version a few years ago – liked it, but I am not going to reread it.

Banzai • novelette by Dean Ing
A deadly virus has killed everyone on earth. The only humans left alive are those living on a space station, and they are barely coping. They have mounted an expedition to earth to find vital supplies, or even a sort of cure for disease. But they find some evidence that there might be a survivor still alive...
Idea is fairly nice, but execution isn't so. There is a lot of fairly clumsy exposition in the beginning where the characters discus in detail things they all should perfectly aware. There is a lot of discussion, too much of it. The details of the viral plague are fairly strange, a viral disease should not survive with no hosts. And the ending and ”cure” are stupid and very unbelievable. Some condensing might have been a good idea. **
Starswarmer • (1978) • shortstory by Gregory Benford
Rerun of the story from June issue. The ending had been omitted by accident at that time. No wonder the story was pretty hard to understand...But as I didn't like even the first part at all, I am not going to reread this.
Stalking the Timelines • shortstory by Kevin O'Donnell, Jr.
A soldier jumps between different times and alternative earths, always working in the military. He tries to find a world without war – but is it possible? Nothing really surprising, very fragmentary structure – intentionally, of course, but not very good any way. **
State of the Art: The Morasses of Academe Revisited • essay by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.
Interesting non-fiction ”state of the art” piece. Mainly criticizing academic research of science fiction. And justly, at least if the examples given are representative. ****

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe

A novel which is made up from three loosely connected novellas. They happen on two colony worlds in the same solar system. One of them might or might not have been inhabited byrace of shapeshifters. There are hints that it is possible they have assumed a human form and replaced at least part of the inhabitants of the worlds.

The first novella is best in my opinion. It tells a story about a young boy living in a large house, where a bit shadowy authority figure performs several sorts of experiments, mainly psychological, on him. Slowly he find out what is going on, who he is, and what is his place is. Story is well told, but there seems to be very disturbing immorality as standard in world described. Slaves and even genetic modification of slaves, for pleasure or for work is totally normal and is not considered as unnatural or immoral at any level.

The second part is perhaps the weakest. It is presented as a story written by a minor character from the first part, an anthropologist visiting from earth. It tells a story of the mythological natives of one of the planets. The story is fairly confusing, and pretty dull.

The third is told in non-linear way. John Marsch, the anthropologist and the “author” of the second part has been imprisoned and is suspected of espionage. A security officer reviews his files, and reads parts of them, not in clear chronological order. The files include his diary of a long journey he took to find the last living native people, writings he has done in prison, and recordings of his interrogations. Slowly it is revealed what might have happened.

The book was pretty good, especially the first part, which was nominated for Hugo award. The world presented in it is both repulsive and fascinating at the same time, and would certainly have been good milieu for more stories. Second part was written in fairly different style (well, it is supposed to be written by another person), and the third part is again very interesting and thought provoking, and told in an unusual, fascinating style.