Saturday, July 31, 2010

Astounding Science Fiction December 1959

Not as bad as the issues from the beginning of fifties I read a while ago.

I have two copies of this issue (this is the main reason why I picked this issue for reading; I was traveling and wanted to have with something I could lose without actually losing something from my collection). So, I declare a competition. I will mail a copy of this issue to someone who asks for it, selected in random. So, if you want to have a copy, send me an email to, with subject line "Astounding" . After a month (end date 30th August 2010) I will select a winner in random, and I'll send the issue anywhere in the world post paid.

The Destroyers • novelette by Randall Garrett
A peasant in a feudal world is living a peaceful life when the world is invaded by off-worlders. The story goes about where I was excepting. Well told, readable story, but not consistent at all places. (If/ when the purpose of the invasion is to liberate a backward world, the tactics used by the invaders are not realistic or believable). ***½
The Big Fix • novelette by George O. Smith
Mixture of psi-powers, horse-racing and betting. Written in style of a hard-boiled detective story which is taken to ridiculous lengths. I even wondered if the story was meant as a parody, but I seriously doubt that. Extremely uninteresting story, which is not too well written. *+
Mating Problems • shortstory by Christopher Anvil
A colony on an alien planet has some trouble with a dangerous plant and with a wife and some daughters of obnoxious tourist, who got himself killed and at the same time manages to kill several of the females of the colony. There might be a way to kill two birds with one stone. ***+
Tell the Truth • shortstory by E. C. Tubb
An apparently violent alien race wants to test one single human to see if the humanity is a potential threat which should be destroyed, a potential ally, or just a nuisance to be ignored. A very typical Campbell story where humanity is always better and more cunning than any alien race. ***+

Friday, July 30, 2010

Analog Science Fiction and Fact February 1971

There have been worse issues, but there certainly have been better ones.

Polywater Doodle • novelette by Howard L. Myers
Seems to continue some earlier story fairly directly, so the beginning was a bit confusing as little back story was given. After that, the story was a pretty straightforward adventure story. The style was extremely pulpish, and it could easily have been written in 40s. Surprisingly lack security, and lunatic method of controlling spaceships. Anyone who happens to stroll along to a super secret, superpowerfull spaceship which have not yet been assigned to anyone can take control it just declaring to be its master. ***
Wrong Attitude • shortstory by Joseph Green
An expedition to another star has found an alien space ship with ftl-drive, which they are taking back to earth. And that is about it. (I was reading this as an electronic file, I “found” from somewhere. When I was reading this story, I thought that it was truncated somehow. As I do have the actual magazine, I dug it up and checked. The story did start from nowhere and ended in about the same place).**
The Claw and the Clock • interior artwork by Leo Summers
An alien fleet wants to conquest a planet which is inhabited by apparently completely pacifistic humans. They happen to have something in their back pocket – very literally. Campbell style story where resourceful humans beat aliens easily. ***+
The Pickle Barrel • shortstory by Jack Wodhams
An expedition from Mars is returning and has a lot of trouble with their life support system. They are able to adjust, until they return to earth...
Pretty stupid story with stupid ending.**+

I, Robot : The Illustrated Screenplay by Harlan Ellison

A movie scrip which is based on Asimov's short story collection. Unfortunately this movie was never produced, and the movie which uses the same name, as is supposed to be based on the same collection has nothing to do with this script (or with the story collection, either). This script follows fairly closely many of the stories, is bound together with a Citizen Kane – like story where a journalist tries to find out what kind of character the Susan Calvin really was. This could have been the best science fiction movie ever. The storyline is pretty good. However, the script would not work as written anymore – many of the stage directions feel very old fashionable and are directly from the seventies. Time lapse shots of sun moving through sky would probably feel pretty quaint in a modern movie.

288 pp.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Galaxy Science Fiction June 1953

Ok issue, some pretty old-fashionable stories, but even they were fairly entertaining.
Tangle Hold • novella by F. L. Wallace
A criminal gets a replacement skin after accident. The skin is much better and more durable than the original one, but when the next robbery turns out to be a stake-out by the police, he starts to suspect that there is a some sort of monitoring device built in the skin. Fairly bad idea, and when the ”hero” is a common criminal, there isn't really anyone the root for. The police has some fairly harsh methods, but that doesn't make the planned robberies any more acceptable. The writing isn't too good either and the story felt really overlong. **
The Water Eater • shortstory by Winston K. Marks
A guy ends up creating a water eating creature after some experimenting with oil, lye and soap. Short and fairly amusing story. ***+
Warm • shortstory by Robert Sheckley
A recursive story which ends to its beginning. The plot either involves the ultimate solipsism, or someone going mad and ending catatonic. ***
We Don't Want Any Trouble • shortstory by James H. Schmitz
Aliens want to visit earth. Their representative is captured. It claims that they should not be bothered, and they can not be harmed at all. To prove that false someone shoots and kills the alien, but unfortunately that has some unforeseen consequences. (the alien can jump to other persons taking over their mind)***
First Lady • novelette by J. T. McIntosh
Two agents of Terran Control are escorting a young woman to be a First Lady of a new space colony. Apparently living in space causes some sort of strange Lamarckian evolution to happen, and sometimes the children which are born in a colony are not completely human, but are more evolved for the planet they are living on. And for some reason that is horribly bad. So it is very logical that the first million or so colonists are all male, and they build most of the infrastructure, and then the first woman is brought on, she gets pregnant, and child will be tested. If the child is completely human, the colony will go on, if it is not, the colony will be abandoned. It probably would too simple to test for viability of children first, and then built the colony. Considering that the premise is totally lunatic, story was fairly ok. ***-
If You Were the Only -- • shortstory by Richard Wilson
Tale of two robots who are made to look completely human and to behave practically identically to humans. After that breakthrough, they are just put to the warehouse, as there is a war going on and resources are needed to “more vital” things. They happen to wake up in the warehouse, and live there until their (power runs out). A pretty pointless story. **
Colony • novelette by Philip K. Dick
A spaceship is examining a new planet for colonization, and it seems that the planet is absolutely perfect – there is nothing dangerous on the planet at all. Until a microscope tries to strangle a scientist using it. An early story by Dick, where themes he later used for good effect can already be seen. What is real, and what is not? Very good story, the writing is still a bit clumsy. ****-

Friday, July 23, 2010

Analog Science Fiction and Fact December 1998

Maybe a bit better than average issue.

Aurora in Four Voices • novella by Catherine Asaro
A man (Jato) is kept as a prisoner on a planet inhabited by pretty peculiar colonists. There value art and mathematics over everything. Jato has been charged for a murder he did not commit, and now he has to pose for an artist who is very unusual even for pretty strange standards of the planet. And beautiful young woman who happens to be a some sort of government inspector/law enforcer comes to visit. Well written and entertaining story, there was more than a little back-story missing. ****-
 Zwarte Piet's Tale  • novelette by Allen Steele
Christmas story from Mars. “Christmas” on Mars has decayed for a good reason for adults to get drunk and rowdy. Two guys decide to make some amendments. The explanation why the meaning of Christmas was forgotten was not entirely convincing, but very good and entertaining story. ***½
 Outsider's Chance • shortstory by Geoffrey A. Landis
Space pirates attack to slow tug ship transporting raw materials. A game of wits decides who gets the cargo. Pretty average story of its type, entertaining. ***+
 Ataxia in Ataraxia • novella by Fran Van Cleave
A clone of a more or less benevolent dictator is kidnapped after he and his “father” have been on a negotiation trip on a nearby colony. Not entirely consistent at all places, nothing surprising in this coming of age story which is written more than a little in YA-style. ***-
High Flight • shortstory by Bud Sparhawk
A really irritating and neurotic sister (who studies storms) has come to Jupiter where her brothers work as pilots piloting sailplanes. Inevitable tragedy and growing up happens. Another pretty average story, nothing really excellent, but not bad. ***-

Thursday, July 22, 2010

This is Me, Jack Vance! by Jack Vance

The better name for this book would be: The list places I have visited, some people I have met, and not much else. Certainly Jack Vance tells very little of himself, and practically nothing of his writing. The book consists mainly about simple and short anecdotes about people no one has ever heard of in style of: “the hotel owner such-and-such was pretty friendly in some-or-other place. We used our car to take her to town, as she had no car of her own, and we got to be very friendly with her. We never heard anything about her later”. Doh. We also learn that he got stuck be a bee in some meadow, or him saw once a nice looking girl in some bar, with whom he fell in love instantly. The girl or the “love” are never mentioned again. The book feels like a stream of consciousness reminiscences. If you want to learn something about his writing, how he got his ideas, how he got published, what he was thinking when he was writing, or anything you usually are excepting when you are reading an author biography, you will be deeply disappointed. I thought that the first part of the book was boring. (There he mainly tells of several different jobs he worked on), and I was excepting to get to the interesting parts later when he started his career as author. However, the last part of the book was even worse. Who is interested about the list of places he has visited? The book doesn’t even work as a travelogue as he tells practically nothing about the places he mentions. This is most likely going to on the last place on mine list of “related works” category - it is hard to imagine that any of other nominees could be worse. And certainly “no award” will be in the higher position. By far one of the worst things I have read this year.

200 pp

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Galaxy Science Fiction November 1950

The second issue of Galaxy. Clearly better that the first issue (and better than the third issue). Interesting fact article about the history of the continents on earth. Continental drift theory is dismissed as impossible. :-)

Honeymoon in Hell • novelette by Fredric Brown
No more male children are born in Earth. The officials suspect an alien plot, and they draft two spacepilots, one male from US, and another a female from USSR to fly to the moon and test if it would be possible to conceive a male child there. And the most important part of that plan is that they should get married as soon as possible. :-) And they get a case whiskey to make things smoother (!? was the author alcoholic? Only an alcoholic would think that a CASE of whiskey would be suitable dose of alcohol for two person for a week) Fairly simplistic but entertaining story. ***
Transfer Point • novelette by Anthony Boucher
A kind of meta-science fiction story. Some sort of alien attack is threatening earth, and most of the humans have died out, when the last man on earth finds a science fiction story which describes exactly the situation they are living up to names of the people. Really bad pulp writing, but it might be in part intentional. Not too good as a story anyway. **+
Misbegotten Missionary • shortstory by Isaac Asimov (aka Green Patches)
Expedition to another planet examines why an earlier expedition failed. The story is written from an interesting point of view. From a viewpoint which abhors all competition. Very good, above average Asimov story. ****
Coming Attraction • shortstory by Fritz Leiber
A future where all women have started to cover their faces as a fad, but that eventually has turned out to more or less compulsory. There has also been a third world war, and there are areas with high radiation. Nice mood piece which is well written. Not too much plot. ***
To Serve Man • shortstory by Damon Knight
Apparently very benevolent aliens have come to earth bearing gifts. Almost all of them have a copy of a book. Someone who doesn't entirely trust the aliens ultimately is able to translate the name of the book: “To Serve Man”. Eventually the contents of the book is also found out. All together now: “It's a cookbook”. ***½

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My Hugo award votes 2010 part 4: Short Stories

The stories in this category were fairly average. There was now as clear best story as there was the last time, but as an average, the stories were a bitter this time. But that is not saying much, as there were so many short stories last year which were really, really bad. The best story was easy to pick, as was the last one. After some thought the order of the other places was pretty straightforward, also.

“The Bride of Frankenstein”, 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 saccharine as Resnick's stories tend to be.

“Bridesicle”, Will McIntosh
A woman has been put to some kind of stasis-field after an accident. The only way she can be revived is to get picked up as a bride by one of the men visiting her. Well, at least she got rid of her mother, who was uploaded to her head. A very good story.

“The Moment”, Lawrence M. Schoen
Several different alien races honor the last surviving mark of humanity – a footprint on the moon. Extremely densely written story, I rather liked it, but the ending was something hard to comprehend.

“Non-Zero Probabilities”, N.K. Jemisin
The most unlikely occurrences possible start to happen. And they might be stopped by crossing fingers or by finding a four leaved clover or other such thing. Writing is ok, but the style of the story is something I usually hate: strange things happen for no reason what so ever.

“Spar”, Kij Johnson
A woman is rescued to alien spaceship after am accident in space. She and the alien are in a cramped cabin having sex in all imaginable ways possible all the time. And that is the story. I really don't get it.

And my voting order will be:

1. “Bridesicle”, Will McIntosh
2. “The Bride of Frankenstein”, Mike Resnick
3. “The Moment”, Lawrence M. Schoen
4. No award
5. “Non-Zero Probabilities”, N.K. Jemisin
6. “Spar”, Kij Johnson

Sunday, July 11, 2010

My Hugo award votes 2010 part 3: Novelettes

“Eros, Philia, Agape”, Rachel Swirsky

An heiress who has some serious father issues has a robot boyfriend. She wants that the robot is independent and happy, but that causes some unforeseen consequences – the robot decides it is better that they do not live together, and there is something he wants to do. Very well written, not entirely logical story, but enjoyable nevertheless.

“It Takes Two”, Nicola Griffith

A business woman has very important business negotiation, and as part of that, she ends up in a strip joint. As a major surprise, for both parties she and a stripper fall head over heel in love with each other. And there is a reason why that happens. Fairly average story. It takes at least halfway before there is any speculative material.

The Island”, Peter Watts

A spaceship in the far future is building portals for ftl-travel. Due to relativistic speeds millenniums have passed. As they are ready to create another portal, they find a kind of living Dyson-sphere. If they create the portal as planned, the creature will be killed. But changing the plan isn't so easy, as the ship is mainly controlled by not too bright, not too flexible AI. The idea was ok and the writing was good. Unfortunately, the story concentrated mainly to plotting and machinations of humans and AI on-board the ship, and almost ignored the living sphere which would have more interesting detail.

“Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast”, Eugie Foster

A world where everyone wears a mask. The mask thoroughly defines the person. Everyone must change the mask every day, to wear same mask too often is considered perverse and even criminal. But does everyone have a mask?
Another story that is extremely well written. The idea is fairly good, not too logical. I really didn't get the end “twist”, and I didn't find it believable or reasonable.

Overtime”, Charles Stross

Worker working for a some kind of secret government organization has to be on call for Christmas. The organization apparently deals with some supernatural phenomena. He must spend the holidays apparently empty office building. Or is there something happening, what is that bearded evil looking man wearing red clothes doing? A Christmas story. Not especially good, I really wonder why this was nominated? Not bad, but especially good story either. Probably it was published just before nominations, and stuck to the mind of some voters who read little sf.

“One of Our Bastards is Missing”, Paul Cornell

I am entirely sure if the story was happening in some kind of alternative steampunkish past, or in fairly far future where countries of early 19th century have come back. The princess of British empire is almost kidnapped from a wedding, there are plots by Prussian nobles, interdimensional holes and so on. As a whole not too bad story, but there probably are more stories happening in the same background. I am not sure this worked perfectly alone.

This category was not too strong, clearly worse than last year, when most of the stories were pretty decent. Well, almost all, except the one which won. None of stories was truly remarkable. Rachel Swirsky's story was the first I read, and I enjoyed it, but I was pretty sure that something would be better. I was wrong. Eugie Foster's story was a Nebula winner, and it was good, but not exceptional. The last place was fairly easy choice, and other places fell fairly easily to their places.

1.“Eros, Philia, Agape”, Rachel Swirsky
2.“Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast”, Eugie Foster
3.“One of Our Bastards is Missing”, Paul Cornell
4.The Island”, Peter Watts
5.“It Takes Two”, Nicola Griffith
6.“Overtime”, Charles Stross

My Hugo award votes 2010 part 2: Novels

For some reason, there were six nominees in most categories this year, and novel category was one those. The quality of the nominated novels was pretty good as a whole. A kind theme this year was steampunk: one of the books was clear steampunk, another could be considered as steampunk even if it happens in the future (Julian Compstock), and a third one has some very close similarities to that genre (Windup Girl). My favorite was fairly easy to choose. In my opinion, City and the City was clearly the best book of these six. Another easy choice was the bottom two, but that was pretty hard choice: Is a book which is well written, but has incomprehensive plot, better than a book with pretty interesting and entertaining plot, but where the writing is not too strong? After some thought, I decided to put Palimpsest to the last place on my voting list – if I had not been reading this book as a part of my Hugo awards ”marathon”, I certainly would not have finished it.

Windup Girl was easy to put to third last place due to its extremely shitty science. The hardest two novels to place in order were Boneshaker and Julian Comstock. Both were nice, entertaining reads, with some similarities in style. I believe that Boneshaker was a bit more satisfying. The Julian Constock was good, but there was something missing, something I can not clearly define.

1. The City & The City, China Miéville
2. Boneshaker, Cherie Priest
3. Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America  Robert Charles Wilson
4. The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi
5. Wake, Robert J. Sawyer
6. Palimpsest, Catherynne M. Valente

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson

Julian Comstock is a nephew of the president of the United States in 22nd century. The United States consist of most of the North America excluding the northern parts which are occupied by “Dutch”, which means middle-Europeans in general. The president is elected in an “election” where there is only one candidate, and the landlords are able vote for their workers. Julian’s father was a war hero who was executed after trumped up charges of conspiracy. Julian himself has lived on countryside hiding from his uncle, and while living there he has made friends with Adam Hazzard, a country boy with aspirations to be an author. The oil has run out, cities have fallen, population is diminished, and religious police, Dominion, rules. (And apparently all alternative power sources, like nuclear energy, wind power and hydroelectric power have been forgotten). Life isn’t as unpleasant as it might be, rather it is fairly peaceful in a kind of 19th century way. Julian and Adam try to escape draft, but end up in military and to the front line of battle against Dutch. Slowly Julian rises in the hierarchy to end which has been fairly inevitable from the start.

The writing is interesting, as the character describing the events clearly isn’t as smart as most of the other characters, and often doesn’t fully understand what is going on and why. That style is reminiscent of Mart Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, as was also the style of writing. The story was entertaining, but it was a fairly straightforward tale of power and how power corrupts. Somehow I was expecting something more. The world building was very good - but I would have liked to have a closer look to what is happening and has been happened in the Europe.

As a Hugo award nominee, this book is going to place to somewhere middle-places in my voting list.

624 pp.