Tuesday, June 25, 2013

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

The next of the Hugo-nominees. I don’t think I have read any of Kim Stanley Robinson’s books before (The Mars trilogy has been in my reading queue for a long time). This book apparently happens at the same universe somewhat later. The solar system is widely inhabited and “balkanized”, Mars has already been terraformed, Venus is undergoing terraforming and there are many habitats some of which have been built from asteroids, some are on the moons of the giant planets, all are independent more or less. The lifespan is long; the most people are hermaphrodites with both male and female genitalia. The book is more of a travelogue of the future solar system than a real novel with a real plot. There is a kind of plot, which is even somewhat interesting, but for most part it seems pretty extraneous in comparison with extremely detailed and wordy descriptions of the wonders of the solar system. The plot revolves around a terrorist attack against a giant city which moved endlessly around Mercury on tracks following the twilight zone. There are some interesting sidelines of the plot, like the more or less forced “terraforming” of Earth, which has been devastated by rising sea levels and widespread extinction of the most animal species. The plot could have been presented in half of the pages the book actually has. The characters take several sidetracks which don’t serve the main story in the slightest, but serve only in showcasing still more details of the solar system in mind numbing detail. Most of those sidetracks don’t even serve the evolving love story of the two main protagonists. Also, especially in the beginning the characters seem to be mainly bystanders with no relation to those few events which actually are happening. Maybe the book would have been more accessible for me I had read the earlier books about the same universe and would have been interested for a look into this phase of the development of our solar system. This isn’t going to be my top choices in the Hugo ballot.
561 pp.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Asimov's Science Fiction, July 2013

About average issue of Asimov’s.

Haplotype 1402 • shortstory by Ted Kosmatka
A post-apocalyptic story about US where a widespread and drug resistant strain of tuberculosis has killed most of the population. An advance scout of a small and ruthless partly, who travels on countryside has a bad encounter with a surviving farmer on his farm. That eventually leads to some grave consequences. A very well written story, where the background was perhaps too sketchy. ***½
The Art of Homecoming • novelette by Carrie Vaughn
A member of diplomatic corps is taking a vacation to meet her family on a farm after a failed mission. She reconnects with her family members, milks goats, eats real food and discusses things with her family. A simple story, good writing, but somehow there was practically no real plot at all. ***-
Blair's War • shortstory by Ian Watson
An alternate history story, where British forces take part to the Spanish civil war. Pretty short story which felt too long as everything is loaded at the last line reveal - which wasn't really surprising or astounding. **½
Yubba Vines • novelette by Rudy Rucker and Paul Di Filippo
A carriage which offers extremely tasty (and apparently mildly narcotic) foods appears in the town in surprising locations.
Something funny going on, as some people who have visited the diner seems to disappear. The beginning of the story was pretty good, but there were some pretty easily drawn conclusions and the ending went in a too surreal direction. **½
What is a Warrior Without His Wounds? • novelette by Gray Rinehart
An officer of Russian military is waiting for a honorable discharge after he has lost his leg and arm in a battle. Instead of a release, he gets ordered back to the very prestigious military academy he graduated from some years ago. The academy has produced some very capable and precocious cadets. There is reason for that...not very surprising story, but it is well told and written. ***+
Today's Friends • shortstory by David J. Schwartz
Aliens have appeared everywhere. Mostly they just observe, but they have a strange fascination on music. If they hear any music or even musical sounds - even bird song - they enter the mind of a person (or animal) who is responsible for the sound and force them to repeat it several times. And usually they rip the brain more or less to shreds at the same time. The protagonist of the story makes a mistake by humming at a public place. He is deeply scarred and changed after an alien fingers his brain. A well-written story - perhaps slightly too short. ***+
At Palomar • novelette by Rick Wilber

Apparently several forces battle for the control of several alternative worlds. A former baseball player is supposed to kill a certain person on a world, where part of the US is ruled by Germany and another part by Japan. The new optic lens which is being transported to the Palomar observatory has an important role. Extremely similar background as in the story by Kristine Kathryn Rush a few issues ago. This was lot less good, though. The back plot was a little confusing - there apparently has been a former part and the story was slightly too talky. ***-

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

A Hugo award nominee. A book which is part of the Vorkosigan series, but has the usual main character Miles Vorgosigan in only a very superficial role. The main protagonist of the book is Miles’s cousin Ivan Vorpatril, who is in a fairly high place in the line of possible successors to the throne of Barrayar, but has always tried to keep a low profile and to avoid anything, which would make him appear as any sort of competitor of that title. He has lived as a middle level officer of the Barrayar military and has usually had very active bachelor life. The book starts when a friend of his, Imperial Security agent Byerly Vorrutyer asks him to protect a beautiful woman who might be in some sort of danger. About 24 hours later he finds himself to be a married man due to some very special circumstances. And he is going to face some explaining to do for his mother and other relatives. And that’s the starting point of the novel – there are many twists along the way, especially after the in-laws arrive.

This was a fun book! Much better than the Bujolds previous Hugo nominee two years ago – which was about the worst of her books I have read. This was about the best one. It was very entertaining, funny and witty with something for everyone (in a good way): romance, action and comedy all in good balance. The book also works very well as a single story even though it is a part of a ling series. As matter of fact, it might even be a good starting point for the whole series, as the Barrayar and Barrayarian culture and society are seen mainly from the point of view of someone who isn’t familiar with it. After I have read three of the nominees in the novel series this is my leading candidate by far.
422 pp.