Sunday, January 29, 2012

Seppo Jokinen: Koskinen ja taikashow

A police procedural which partly happen in my home town. A pretty nice book where a magician’s assistant commits a strange suicide. A bulk of the book happens on a ferry between Finland and Sweden. Some of the partying on the boat could well have been cut from the book, otherwise pretty readable detective story.

Valitsin tämän kirjan luettavaksi lähinnä siksi, että se tapahtuu Tampereella ja ajattelin olevan kiinnostavaa lukea tutuilla paikoilla tapahtuvasta rikoksesta. Tässä suhteessa hiukan joutui pettymään, sillä vain kirjan alkupuolisko sijoittui Tampereelle, pääosa kirjasta tapahtui ruotsinlautalla.
Kirjan päähenkilö, Komisario Koskinen on tutkinut itsemurhaa, jossa taikurin avustaja on jättäytynyt junan alle. Tätä ennen hän oli käyttäytynyt vainoharhaisesti ja oli jättänyt asunnolleen aika erikoisen itsemurhakirjeen. Koskinen jostain syystä pitää kovin kummallisena ja epäilyttävänä sitä, että nainen oli ostanut juuri ennen tekoaan suuren keittiöveitsen. Itse en oikein ymmärtänyt mikä siinä niin huomiota herättävää oli, ei se mikään kovin kummallinen ostos vainotuksi itsensä tuntevalle ole. Koskinen sitten oikeastaan sattumalta tutustuu kyseiseen taikuriin, ja jouduttuaan poliisilaitokselta lomautetuksi ja riideltyään sekopään vaimonsa kanssa päätyy laivamatkalle, jossa taikurin ja hänen uuden avustajansa on määrä esittää ensimmäistä kertaa uusi, vallankumouksellinen taikatemppu, kuoleman suudelma. Kuolema sitten pian onkin konkreettisemmin läsnä kuin piti.
Kirjan alkupuoli oli mielestäni varsin hyvä. Kiinnostavuus lässähti sitten tarinan siirtyessä laivalle aika pahasti, ja kirjan keskivaiheella oli aivan liian pitkään kuvausta laivamatkasta ja biletyksestä. Loppupuolella tarinan vauhti ja kantavuus sitten taas parantuivat, mutta loppuratkaisu tapahtui varsin nopeasti ilman suurempia mutkia tullen samalla aikalailla ”puun takaa”, ilman, että syyllisen arvaaminen edes teoriassa olisi kunnolla voinut olla mahdollista.
Kokonaisuutena kuitenkin ihan kohtalainen kirja, paremmin kirjoitettukin kuin vaikkapa Leena Lehtolaiselta viimeksi lukemani kirja, Henkivartija, joka kyllä taisi minut vieroittaa pysyvästi siitä kirjailijasta. Pitänee joskus kokeilla jotain muutakin Seppo Jokisen kirjaa, josko jokin niistä jopa tapahtuisi kokonaan Tampereella.

379 s.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Wanderer by Fritz Leiber

Another Hugo-winner. An earth size planet appears suddenly from hyperspace close to the moon and causes catastrophe all around the earth with its’ tidal forces. Soon it starts to dismantle the moon.
The events are followed from multiple viewpoints in typical disaster novel style. The book has a lot of characters from around the world and for someone like me who has extremely poor memory for names it was kind of hard to keep track of all of them, as transitions weren’t always very clear. Also, somehow the worldwide destruction didn’t really come out as powerfully as it could have come, as many of the character spent a lot time discussing subjects sometimes only tangentially connected with the disaster. The action perked up somewhat when the aliens appeared, but they played too little role to really rise the book to the higher standard. The attitudes and roles of the males and females were very old-fashionable which gave very dated feel for the book overall. Especially the beginning was fairly slow and the large cast of characters made reading pretty heavy. Much more interesting story might have been the aftermath of the catastrophe and possible contact with the super advanced aliens.
One reason why this book won the Hugo might be that some of the characters in the book were science fiction readers and several sf authors were name checked, among them Robert Heinlein and (naturally, when you are talking about entire planets which move through hyperspace) Doc Smith. Otherwise the win isn’t one of the easiest to understand and this book is clearly a below average Hugo winner. It is also perhaps the worst book I have ever read by Fritz Leiber.

346 p.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, April 2012

A fairly good issue in spite of one infuriating short story. There seems to be a theme: how easy it is to misunderstand the customs of a different species. (and a subtheme: homages to classic stories if you count the Probability Zero story, “To Serve Aliens (Yes, It's a Cookbook)”, another homage is the Kevin J. Anderson's story )
And beware, there are spoilers for stories in these reviews!

The Most Invasive Species • novella by Susan Forest
Humans are studying (and colonizing) a planet with indigenous aliens. Aliens seem to mistreat their children with copious kicks, hits and bites whenever they misbehave even slightly. When the mother of one family group is killed in an accident colonists adopt the children. Soon they start to get sick… The reason is obvious, of course. The kids NEED the punishments to develop normally. A fairly nice story in spite of not too surprising end-twist. ***+
Ecce Signum • [Marrion's Kids] • novella by Craig DeLancey
A part of a series where children who have been gene modified to really care about the future are taking over the world. Some of them are being murdered by very strange and high-class assassins just when they are getting ready for a wide spread roll out of a new technology. A “Wikileaks”-story? :-) A well written and entertaining story, which isn’t very tightly connected to others in the same continuum. ***½
A Delicate Balance • shortstory by Kevin J. Anderson
Colony has run into a serious trouble as the planet wasn’t habitable for human life as it supposed to be. It can only sustain a set number of people until relief comes decades later and for every new child an older member of the colony must die. Then a sixteen-year-old girl gets pregnant and her father is the next in line to die..So stupid story at so so many levels. Oh there is no birth control for all fertile women, or compulsory sterilization for all males (and artificial insemination for the planned pregnancies). And sixteen year olds are stupid enough to have unprotected sex in THOSE conditions, don’t they have any sex ed? And it ok to demand people to suicide, but abortion is a no-no? And don’t they do any prenatal ultrasounds in THOSE conditions to find out if the fetus is even viable? And the standard method of committing suicide is to walk out into chlorine based atmosphere? If the existence would really be so on the edge, that would destroy a great amount of extremely valuable carbon-oxygen based biomass which would in invaluably for the colony. I do realize that this story is supposed to comment the unbelievable medieval attitudes in America towards sex education and abortion, but really? **
You Say You Want a Revolution • shortstory by Jerry Oltion
A mutiny occurs in some human worlds which have been politically stable for centuries. An alien gives his viewpoint on what is happening. A story which is very similar in the theme as the first novella of this issue.
Human customs how to treat children aren’t always the right ones for aliens. For example, if you are not allowed to eat your leftover children, there might be some serious consequences. ..Another nice story. ***½
Follow-Up • shortstory by Stephen L. Burns
A surgeon repairs war wounds with extremely advances nanotechnology surgical apparatus. It seems a patient comes to her more than once. A fairly nice story, but I was left wondering what the point of the story was. What was the point of the repetition? Was the whole situation just some sort of a test for the skills of the surgeon? Or are the same soldiers being wounded time and time again? I am not sure. ***+

Monday, January 23, 2012

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, January-February 2006

A below average issue.

The Balance of Nature • novelette by Stephen L. Gillett, Ph.D. [as by Lee Goodloe ]
A protected area of volcanic activity is under study on a colonized planet. Some wardens of the conservation area are against all intrusions of the nature park. A really major eruption starts during the exploration trip. Not my cup of tea. A lot of too much detailed description of driving around the park. And conservationists apparently tend to turn to knife-wielding lunatics at a moment’s notice. **½
Dinosaur Blood • novelette by Richard A. Lovett
A super-rich girl and her friends are using the last gallons of gasoline on earth for a field trip on a refurbished Hummer. An alien probe observes them from the orbit pondering if the human civilization is worth saving, or has it entered a dead end as there is no more exploration going on anywhere and there is hardly anything new happening. But the girl and her friends might be on the cusp of something… maybe the humanity still has a chance. A pretty good story, or at least the first half of a story. ***½
Mop-Up • shortstory by Grey Rollins
An alien delegation has been on earth for a long time, but diplomatic negotiations aren’t going anywhere. Then one of the aliens begins to bond with the janitor of the conference building. A lighthearted piece, ok. ***
Kamikaze Bugs • [Jessie and Gus] • shortstory by Ekaterina Sedia and David Bartell
A scientist inadvertently helps to create locusts that destroy tobacco plants. Now he must help to stop them. A very short fairly lighthearted story which apparently has the same characters as in some earlier ones. I don’t remember reading those, and so the background was unfamiliar and the story didn’t really work for me. ***-
Report on Ranzipal's Plus-Dimension Carry-All • shortstory by Mark W. Tiedemann
A company sells bags which are basically bags of holding from D&D, which are larger from inside than from outside. A very short story where one malfunctions. ***-
Written in Plaster • novelette by Rajnar Vajra
The story happens in Britain in 1937. A young half Jewish boy who gets bullied in the school finds some strange pieces plaster from a forest. Even though there doesn’t seem to be any sharp edges he gets pricked by something. Later, a golem like creature appears to protect him. The story first seems to be a fantasy, but there turns out to be a science fictional explanation. Maybe a somewhat too neat an explanation. Writing was ok. ***+
Change • shortstory by Julian Flood
An alternative reality where Co2 has gone down and the climate is cooling. Practically all food has been produced on trees since ancient times and they have been cultured for centuries. I am not sure that the effect would be that, but very nice story nevertheless. ***+
"The Night is Fine" the Walrus Said • novella by John Barnes
Some kind of conspiracies, secret agents, hybrid human/AI personalities, clever murder attempts and a LOT of discussion. Everything for some fairly poorly defined reason, done by a very poorly defined secret organization. I didn’t really get into the story and didn’t care about it all although I struggled through it. **

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Embassytown by China Mieville

The first ”pure” science fiction novel by China Mieville.
A woman who has spent most of life travelling on the galaxy has returned to her birthplace, Embassytown. It is a town on an alien planet which specializes in communicating with very strange aliens who live on the planet. The communication with them demands special “ambassadors”; which are identical twins tweaked with genetic manipulation. The major plot point of the book is the alien language and its intricacies. It is so major plot point, that it is practically impossible to discuss it without major spoilers. Let’s say that the language aliens speak is very unique and fascinating and has major implications to the entire though process of its speakers.
The writing is excellent and complex and the plot is entertaining. The end resolution seemed slightly too easy, but it was surprising and logical. This is a very good book, but for some reason it didn’t grab me as powerfully as his “The City and the City”. Especially the beginning was weaker than the last half, and it took fairly long time before the main plot started. However, I believe that this book will very like be found as a nominee of most major awards.

368 pp.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, April 1976

Only three stories as serial and a long fact article take a lot of space.

Rebounder • [Chap Foey Rider • 3] • shortstory by Hayford Peirce
The Galactic Postal Union has some reservations about humans as they are violent and have wars. The representative of earth turns that to a benefit. A short humorous story, nothing very impressive. **½
Transfigurement • shortstory by Bob Buckley
Some of the humans in the Mars live in domed cities, part of them have been transformed and are able to on open. The relations between the factions aren’t too good. An elderly senator tries to find the “changelings” to make some amends. A fairly readable story with a not too surprising end twist. (The changelings age very slowly and live for centuries). ***+
Quarry • shortstory by Mary H. Schaub
A scientist is perfecting his latest invention: An android assassin who can alter its appearances at will when he dies from a heart attack. The android has disappeared. A former friend of the scientist is drafted by a totalitarian government to find the android as the government wants to use it as soon as possible. A fairly nice story, with an expected end twist. (the android has been designed to fight against the government). ***

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Rosa Liksom: Hytti nro 6

The winner of this year’s most prestigious literature award in Finland. A nameless young woman travels through Siberia in a train. In the same cabin travels an older man, a former convict, who tells more or less disturbing stories of his past. An extremely well written story which tells about ugly and disturbing things with beautiful and poetic language.

Tämän vuoden Finlandia-palkinnon voittaja. Nimeämätön nuori nainen matkustaa 1980-luvun lopun Neuvostoliitossa Siperian halki hitaalla junalla, joka pysähtele enemmän tai vähemmän ränsistyneille asemille pitkiksi ajoiksi, jopa päiviksi kerrallaan. Hyttikaverina hänellä on venäläinen mies, joka kertoo tarinoita värikkäästä ja pääosin surkasta elämästään. Tarinat ovat melkoisia, seksiin ja väkivaltaan painottuvia, ja miehen käytös suurelta osalta vastaa hänen tarinoitaan. Junassa istumisen täyttämien päivien kuluessa henkilöille vähitellen kehittyy jonkinlainen, läheinenkin, yhteys. Kirja kuvaa kauniilla runollisella, joskus oikeastaan puhtaaksi proosarunoksi muuttuvalla kielellä ympäristön rappeutuneisuutta, likaisuutta ja kuluneisuutta, ihmisten ynseyttä. Kirja jos jokin on varsinaista rumuuden estetiikkaa, kertoo vastenmielisistä maisemista ja ihmisistä kauniisti ja kauniilla kielellä. Kielellisesi nautiskeltavaa luettavaa, juonellisesta lähinnä vahvistaa sitä kovin matalaa mielikuvaa mikä valmiiksi Neuvostoliitosta/Venäjästä ja sikäläisistä ihmisistä on. Oli tämä kuitenkin selvästi paras Finlandia-voittaja kolmeen vuoteen.
Usein ”pidän” asiavirheiden bongailusta kirjoissa. Ainakin yksi sellainen ”asiavirhe” tässäkin kirjassa löytyi: kirjan päähenkilö ihailee Siperian revontulia Habarovskin eteläpuolella. Kyseinen seutu sijaitsee osapuilleen Etelä-Ranskan leveyspiirillä, ja revontulet olisivat niin etelässä kyllä aikamoisen harvinainen tapahtuma. Siperia on aika paljon etelämmässä kuin luulisi.

187 s.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Galaxy Science Fiction, April 1953

An average issue. The gender roles in most stories were more than a little quaint, the stories were entertaining nevertheless.

Made in U.S.A. • novelette by J. T. McIntosh [as by J. T. M'Intosh ]

A man sues his new wife for divorce as she didn't tell before marriage that she is an "android". (an android in this story means what a clone today means, the androids are completely human, they just are artificially grown and have a stamp "made in USA" in their navels. ) For some undefined reason androids cannot have children and that is the grounds for the divorce. in principle the androids have exactly the same rights as humans, they don't ever have to tell if they are androids or not. A pretty good story which addresses racism and intolerance. Well written, but the gender attitudes in this future are extremely fifties like. ***½
Seventh Victim • [Victim] • shortstory by Robert Sheckley
It is common and legal to murder someone if you want. The only catch is that if you want to kill someone, you must later be a voluntary victim, and it is up to you survive the murder attempt and be able to eliminate the would-be murderer. A man who has already done six murders (and survived six attempts against his own life) gets a name of his seventh victim, and it is a woman! Not fair! An amusing story with a nice end twist. A woman is very beautiful, seems to be helpless and is very afraid. The “hunter” can’t help himself and naturally falls in love with her and drops his guard. Then the woman shoots him in cold blood – it was her tenth case already. A very readable story in spite of the “slightly” old-fashioned gender roles. ****-
University • novelette by Peter Phillips (1920-)
A spaceship with multinational crew is travelling its' destination: another planet. The members of the crew are suspicious and are watching each other closely. They are apparently afraid that a member of the crew would plant a flag of his nation and claim the planet for that country. Apparently that would be an irreversible and legally binding and effective procedure for all time. The crew is then kidnapped by an advanced civilization so that humanity’s maturity could be evaluated. The result isn't a surprise. A pretty clichéd story, the writing wasn't too good. Was a struggle to read. Might be suited for reading aloud in a convention.., **-
Origins of Galactic Law • [Origins of Galactic . . .] • shortstory by Edward Wellen
Short "amusing" case studies how the law is interpreted in different galactic cultures. Better that most of the episodes in this series, but these vignettes would be better suited as space fillers between real stories. **+
Unready to Wear • shortstory by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
A part of humanity has become "amphiphious" which means they are able to leave their bodies at will. They have a reserve of very healthy are good looking bodies which can be used at will, most of time they spent as incorporeal happy beings. Those humans who haven't left their bodies consider them deserters. A fairly good story with a nice ironic tone running through it. Nice writing as could be expected from Vonnegut. ***+
The Sentimentalists • novelette by Murray Leinster
Two aliens in love stop to an outer planer of a solar system. In an inner planet is a human colony, where a man is slaving to keep his farm. The company which owns the planet is scheming to take over his farm and to force him to be a day laborer at a cut rate wage. The female observes this and starts to pity him. The male alien starts to feed the man’s mind with some nice inventions. A fairly nice story, but might have been a lot more tightly written. A fair amount of things happen in the story, but pretty slowly. ***

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, February 1974

The last story was very good; the others are fairly tied to seventies.

A Mind of His Own • novelette by Joe Haldeman

The story happens in a future where it is possible to buy and sell different talents. An embittered war veteran, who has lost his both legs, has already sold his piano playing skills and is contemplating selling his mathematics skills. His wife arranger him to go to psychiatric treatment where he must make the right choices in induced dreams. He opposes the treatment and keeps making the wrong choices. The end was somewhat ambiguous. ***+
The Amphibious Cavalry Gap • shortstory by James E. Thompson
A stupid shaggy dog story about horses in submarines. *+
Violence on TV • shortstory by Glenn Lewis Gillette [as by Glenn L. Gillette ]
An engineer builds a robot with a telemetric system to take care of his infant so that he and his wife can go to the movies without a babysitter. The practicalities or even the morality of this not questioned at all. The problems are caused by a burglar/kidnapper. The writing was ok, but the author hopefully didn’t have children before (or after) writing this story. **½
Wet Blanket • novelette by P. J. Plauger
A scientist finds out that there are two different states for the universe. He is able to switch the state in one direction locally around earth, but not back again. The altered state differs in one main detail: the fission reactions of heavy elements won’t work. That causes some very divided reactions. The ending of the story was more than a little strange.***-
A Bonus for Dr. Hardwick • novelette by Brian C. Coad
A brilliant young scientist goes to work on gigantic corporation full of bright ideas and enthusiasms. He doesn’t have time for reports and detailed memos, but makes a brilliant discovery during his first three months in a firm. He gets severely reprimanded as he has failed to make his reports, and has not even shaved his mustache as the company police dictates. As a punishment he literally loses years of his life. An excellent ironic story told in very straight forward manner. The end was left very open. Would be worth of a reprint somewhere. ****