Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Hugo Winners I. Edited by Isaac Asimov

The collection of early Hugo award winners in short fiction categories. A fairly varied bunch of stories with some real gems.

The Darfsteller • (1955) • novella 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 a 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 anymore 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 former 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
Allamagoosa • (1955) • shortstory by Eric Frank Russell
A spaceship is facing an official inspection and inventory of _everything_ in it. It would be very bad if there were any shortages, but it would be even worse if there were any surplus of any item on the ship – that might indicate possible intention of theft of government’s assets. But there is a problem: They seem to be lacking one piece of an offog. What is worse, no one seems to remember what an offog even is. And the inspection is coming closer… A pretty simple story – entertaining but nothing really special. I wonder why it got the award. ***½
Exploration Team • [Colonial Survey] • (1956) • novelette by Murray Leinster
An inspector lands on a planet. He expects to find a thriving colony, but he finds a single illegal inhabitant who lives with a few selectively bred giant Kodiak bears. The original animals of the planet are extremely dangerous. After the illegal immigrant doesn't kill the inspector (which would have been a smart move as illegal occupation on a planet is for some unnamed reason an extremely serious crime) they together try to find out what has happened to the colony. They are facing a dangerous journey to the site where seem to be transmission coming. A pretty nice story, writing was good for the time period. I do wonder why the robots were so poorly programmable. ****-
The Star • (1955) • shortstory by Arthur C. Clarke
An expedition studies the remnants of a supernova. There find a vault where a fine and proud species has left all the major achievements of their culture. A priest has problems with his faith where it is discovered that the nova was THE star of Bethlehem. One of the all-time great science fiction stories and well worth its’ reputation. *****
Or All the Seas with Oysters • (1958) • shortstory by Avram Davidson
Inanimate objects start to be something else than inanimate. Why there always is a shortage of safety pins, but there always seems to be extra wire hangers around?
The story seems to have pretty ordinary plot for its time, I seem to remember several other stories where ordinary objects were something else than ordinary. The writing was very well, and the title was excellent. Maybe those were the main reasons for the win in the Hugo voting, but I wasn’t too happy about the story. The characters were irritating and their behavior was extremely unbelievable. As whole better than the average for the time period, but the story was a pretty major disappointment, especially considering the title with poetic and mysterious connotations. ***-
The Big Front Yard • (1958) • novella by Clifford D. Simak
A man who fixes appliances and trades with antiques first finds that a few things which were waiting to be repaired have been repaired and vastly improved, for example an old b&w TV is turned to a color set. And his house is being enforced by unscratchable plastic-like material. And then a portal to an other world appears…Another story with thematic similarities with the Waystation. A well-written story, but perhaps slightly too disjointed at places. ****-
The Hell-Bound Train • (1958) • shortstory by Robert Bloch (variant of That Hell-Bound Train)
A deal with the devil story. A drifter gets an offer he can’t refuse – he can ask for anything, but he must step on the devil’s train when he dies. He asks for the ability to stop the time when he is happy. He gets what he wishes, and starts to work towards that happy moment. But if you are happy, can you be sure that you couldn’t be even happier? A really good and well-written take on the old cliché. ****
Flowers for Algernon • (1959) • novelette by Daniel Keyes
A young man with mental retardation is drafted to a medical trial which raises his IQ from about 70 to about 210. The story is presented as a diary. At first the writing is simple and filled with mistakes but slowly the increase of the mental faculties of the man can be seen in the structure and grammar of the notes. But the effect isn’t lasting…I have read the novel version at some time, so the basic plot was familiar. An excellent story, one of the all the greats. ****½
The Longest Voyage • (1960) • novelette by Poul Anderson
An expedition on a giant planet with vast seas is on an exploration journey. They encounter ancient relics and finally meet a man who claims to come from the stars with a ship which is capable of traveling through space. The writing was very good, but the story was fairly slow and took its’ time to get going. However, as a whole it has hold time fairly well. ***

318 pp.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

A sequel to the book which won everything which is winnable in science fiction last year. The main character is the same and the story continues – kind of. The plot goes somewhere else I was expecting. Instead of dealing with the internal struggle of the world with literally divided leadership this book concentrates on smaller things. Breq, a war ship AI, who wears an “ancillary body”, is named as the commander of a war ship. She (everyone is called “she” in this book) is ordered to protect a remote outpost. There she seeks out a person whom she knows, or least whose sister she knew (and was forced to kill in the first book). This book mostly concentrates in the internal conflicts on an outpost while presenting much more background on the universe of the books. Especially of what it is to be an ancillary and how the society works in the basic level and the way people behave and think like they do. The writing felt even better and more fluent than in the earlier instalment. However, the plot was slightly slow at places and less engaging. Fairly little seemed to be happening in the main plot of the series – if there is such a thing as a main plot in these books – that remains to be seen. Probably – there were pieces falling onto interesting places here… The world as itself is a fascinating and the details we learnt were interesting. There are shades of feudalism and a tendency to vaguely eastern philosophical mode of thinking. Another aspect was tea. The planet which is central to the main events of the book was one of the most important produces of tea and as such a significant place. Drinking tea is considered as one of the most important things there is and proper and an old tea set is something valued more than anything. When Breq takes the charge of the warship her servant is very worried about the lack of proper table ware and is vastly relieved when she gets funds to buy one. As whole the book was very satisfying and will most certainly be a strong contender for this year’s awards.

400 pp.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, May 2015

A pretty average or perhaps even below average issue. The writing was mostly ok, but the plots were mostly below par.

Zen Angel • novella by Rajnar Vajra
An apparently immortal man is picked up by federal agents and transported to a secret base in a moderately near future. (agents don't recognize some pretty ordinary linguistic metaphors as they are so old fashioned- don't anyone read any older books or watch any movies older than a few decades anymore if common idioms are forgotten so soon?) It turns out that the aliens need him. They have found an artifact which is apparently older than the Big Bang and they need members of several different species to open it. But there are hostile forces working against that goal. And the alien's safety procedures seem to be horribly bad in spite of their high technology level. In the end, they are able to open the artifact which is colder than the background radiation of the universe? And no one seems to wonder about that (including the author). A straight adventure story which might be a start of a new series, but the story was somewhat disjointed. ***+
Slider • novelette by Bud Sparhawk
A sports story. About baseball. The premise as such couldn’t be much less interesting. A young man is succeeding in baseball – and the major leagues are showing some interest. But he should consent to a procedure which would prolong his active career with possible long term side effects. His father is a washed up player who never really got his chance at really important games, and is really pushing his son forward. A pretty predictable story. The writing was fairly good, but this really wasn’t science fiction at all. The premise of the treatment is the only part which can be considered as sf, but that wasn’t very important for the plot itself. ***
Sentience Signified • shortstory by J. L. Forrest
Human explorers have come to a new planet and they discover sentient life. Not much happens in this story, but it is pretty well written with some nice thoughts and technologies. But it feels like just a fragment of a larger story and as such not satisfying enough. ***
Arnheim's World • shortstory by Therese Arkenberg
A group of friends live on a private planet freshly terraformed. Colonists from a failed colony arrive and want to move in. The owner of the planet isn’t too happy about that. The writing ok, but pretty simple story, reminds me about a couple other fairly similar ones. ***-
No Gain • shortstory by Aubry Kae Andersen
Another sports story. A gymnast seems to be unbeatable. She came from nowhere, and trains merciless and seems to be able to tolerate vast amounts of pain. She has some small accidents, but those don't seem to be slowing her. She gets some plasma infusions and just goes on (that’s doping by the way, even though the author seems to assume it isn't). Is she doing something forbidden? Not very good story, which was pretty implausible. The pain tolerance would not be enough – if the body parts won’t take the damage they won’t. ***-
Cetacean Dreams • shortstory by Robert R. Chase
An expedition on Europa tries to find a strange animal which is much greater than the ecosystem supposedly could support. They have trained dolphins to assist in that task. But one dolphin attacks the creature apparently unprovoked. Why? A fairly average story and fairly implausible, also. ***-

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Kirstin valitut

A collection of answers of a newspaper’s ”Ask me anything” column. A wide variety subjects, mostly at least fairly interesting. Only a few mistakes, at least which I was able to spot.

Hesarin kirjastosta ilmaiseksi luettu teos. Kyseessä on kokoelma Helsingin Sanomissa julkaistuja vastauksia lehden lukioiden lähettämiin kysymyksiin kaikesta mahdollisesta. Erittäin nopealukuinen ja ihan kohtalaisen kiinnostava kirja. Muutamia virheitä tai ainakin tulkinnan varaisuuksia mukaan oli kyllä päässyt, ainakin öljyn lisäämisestä pastaveteen (toisin kuin vastauksessa väitetään, siitä ei ole mitään hyötyä) sekä soopelin ja mäyrän sukulaisuudesta – kyseessä ei nähtävästi ole sama laji.
250 s.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold

This book continues the story from an earlier book (which I haven’t read). It took a little while to get into the story, but the book worked fairly well alone. A royal woman has been more or less forced to leave the court and she starts a pilgrimage. Soon she finds herself in a castle with some very peculiar inhabitants and finally is faced with a battle with hostile troops which are led by magicians, who are using demons to harness powerful magical powers. But when everything seems to be lost, a bit of deus ex machina (a completely _literal_ deus ex machina) saves the day. The way magic worked, demons and their influence on people (and animals) who harness their powers was the best part of the book and pretty interesting- that was the good part of the story. The bad part was the characters, who mostly were pretty annoying. The main hero is so highly regal, that she apparently can’t comb her own hair even when she is journeying through a forest. There is long discussion about how she could get a proper ensemble for her journey – including a maid to take care of the so important royal hair. There is certainly no lack of discussions in this book. I almost lost my patience in the beginning, where the characters discussed for pages what kind route she should take on her journey. And the route didn’t even matter at all as their journey was sidetracked soon after it started. At later all things will be discussed in mind numbing detail. The book was nowhere as good as any book in the Miles Vorkosigan series and was clearly below the average of the Hugo award winners. (Now I have still two to go).

496 pp.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Astounding Science Fiction, March 1956

A fairly readable issue.

Exploration Team • [Colonial Survey] • novelette by Murray Leinster
An inspector lands on a planet. He expects to find a thriving colony, but he finds a single illegal inhabitant who lives with a few selectively bred giant Kodiak bears. The original animals of the planet are extremely dangerous. After the illegal immigrant doesn't kill the inspector (which would have been a smart move as illegal occupation on a planet is for some unnamed reason an extremely serious crime) they together try to find out what has happened to the colony. They are facing a dangerous journey to the site where seem to be transmission coming. A pretty nice story, writing was good for the time period. A Hugo award winner. I do wonder why the robots were so poorly programmable. ****-
Man in the Sky • shortstory by Algis Budrys
The first man in space dies in his capsule. Everything seemed to go smoothly, and the capsule seems to be in perfect condition - it is assumed that he just had a freak heart attack or something. Should the space effort to be adjusted so that his body could be retrieved? Or should it be continued as planned? A discussion heavy story, little happens. **+
Minor Ingredient • shortstory by Eric Frank Russell
A young cadet goes to a space academy. He gets a personal valet who unpacks for him and looks after him. Later, he returns as an admiral to visit the school. Not much happens. The writing is pretty good, and the story is apparently meant as a poignant bitter sweet mood piece, but the main protagonist seems to be a real prick and the society seems to be disgustingly strict class society where there are loyal servants and noble better people who belong to a higher class. The story is somewhat disturbing as this was seen mostly as a good thing. **
A Nice Little Niche • shortstory by Herbert L. Cooper
An ecologist is pondering whether he should release a new planet for the colonialization. It seems perfect: no large dangerous animals, no poisonous plants, nice climate. But something is nagging him: why all mammals, including humanoid ones, disappeared about 20 000 years ago? And then members of the expedition start getting sick…An average story, entertaining enough. I suspect that the author got a prescription of Coumadin, which was a new drug at the time of the writing. **½

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen: Harjukaupungin salakäytävät

A book best described as magical realism about a manager of a small publishing house, who rekindles a childhood friendship with a mysterious woman. She is an author who has written a worldwide bestseller about how movies could and can influence life. Soon his very small publishing house gets the rights for her next book, a magical travelogue about the small town he lives. It might references to strange secret passages beneath the town, where time and space seem to behave oddly. And his dreams are changing stranger and stranger… A well written book. I enjoyed especially the first half, but the strange events in the final part seemed to happen without any real internal logic or good explanations.

Toinen Helsingin Sanomien palvelusta luettavaksi saatu kirja heti perään. Kirja on ehkä parhaiten maagiseksi realismiksi luokiteltava tyylilajiltaan. Pienen kustannusyrityksen johtaja elää aika tavanomaista elämää omaten kovin tavanomaisen vaimon ja hoitaen iltaisin tavanomaisia luottamustehtäviä. Yhtenä uutena harrastuksena hänellä on elokuvakerhossa klassikkoelokuvien katsominen. Facebookin kautta hän ottaa yhteyden lapsuudenystäväänsä, joka on kirjoittanut maailmanlaajuista menestystä saaneen kirjan Elokuvallinen elämäopas. Kirjeenvaihto lämpiää nopeasti ja pian menestyskirjailija lupautuu kirjoittamaan seuraavan kirjansa Jyväskyläläiselle pikkukustantamolle. Kirjan aiheena olisi maaginen matkaopas kaupunkiin, keskittyen paikkoihin jotka ovat ystävyksille jo lapsuudesta tuttuja. Lapsena he olivat mukana viisikkomaisessa lapsiryhmässä, joka seikkaili kaupungilla eväitä syöden ja tutki mm. kummallisia salakäytäviä, joissa aika tuntui kulkevan erilaisella nopeudella kuin ulkomaailmassa ja joiden tapahtumat tuntuivat katoavan kummallisesti muistista. Vähitellen unet ja todelliset tapahtumat tuntuvat laskostuvan toisiinsa ja molemmat muuttuvat aina vain kummallisemmiksi.
Kielellisesti kirja oli sujuvaa ja helposti luettavaa ja samalla nautittavaa tekstiä.

Kirjassa oli kaksi vaihtoehtoista loppua. Mielestäni kumpikaan niistä ei ollut kovin hyvä - paras vaihtoehto ehkä olisi ollut että kyseessä olisi ollut kokonaan päähenkilön harhoista ja hän itse olisi ollut tapahtumien taustalla. Alkupuoli kirjaa oli huomattavasti parempi, sujuvampi ja kiinnostavamman tuntuinen. Nyt juoni oli vähän idioottijuoni - toimii koska nimihenkilö oli idiootti. Kuka tahansa ajattelukykyinen olisi noin puolenvälin kohdalla soittanut poliisille, jolloin lähes kaikki asiat olisivat ratkenneet. En myöskään oikein koskaan ole pitänyt tyylilajista, jossa tapahtuu mystisiä ja selittämättömiä asioita ilman mitään edes tarinan sisäistä selitystä, tulee mieleen, että kirjailija itsekään ei ole viitsinyt nähdä vaivaa miettiäkseen _miksi ja miten_ niitä mystisiä asioita tapahtuu. Tämä kirja meni osittain aika pitkälle tämän tyylilajin puolelle, mutta kuitenkin vielä siedettävissä rajoissa. Pidin kyllä kirjan monenlaiseen kulttuuriin, elokuvista taiteen kautta kirjallisuuteen liittyvistä viitteistä. Pari pikku virhettä myös löytyi, kovin tarkkaan kirjailija ei
MS-tautia tuntunut tuntevan, myös pieni epätarkkuus erään patsaan veistäjässä oli, kyseessä ei ole Berninin veistämä patsas vaan antiikin aikainen kopio antiikkisesta pronssipatsaasta, Bernini on tehnyt vain patsaan alustan.
375 s.