Thursday, March 23, 2017

Liza Marklund: Panttivanki (Borderline)

Annika Bengtzon’s husband is kidnapped while visiting Africa as part of an E.U. envoy. After one of the hostages is killed, a high ransom is demanded for the others. Very black-and-white characters seem to serve as strawmen for the author. The main character seems to be more and more irritating by the book. One of the poorer installments of the series.

Annika Bengtzonin puoliso, Thomas, on Afrikassa EU:n projektiin liittyvällä matkalla kun hänet ja hänen seurueensa kaapataan. Kaappaajat vaativat lunnaina miljoonia dollareita ja tappavat ja paloittelevat ainakin yhden seurueen jäsenistä. Annikalla on pankkitilillään talonsa tulipalosta saatu vakuutuskorvaus, mutta ei lähellekään vaadittua summaa. Ministeriön tutun virkamiehen, vanhan ystävän, avustuksella Thomaksen vapauttamisesta neuvotellaan. Samaan aikaan iltapäivälehden, jossa Annika työskentelee, toimittajat yrittävät yhdistää kaupungissa tapahtuneet naisten surmat sarjamurhaajan tekemiksi - se myy lehtiä paremmin kuin se tavallinen tarina, jossa mustasukkainen aviomies on tappanut vaimonsa.

Selvästi sarjassaan huonomman pään kirja, etenkin alkupuolella jännite ei oikein toiminut. Kirja kirjalta ihan jokainen henkilöhahmo sarjassa tuntuu muuttuvan karikatyyrimäiseksi, enemmän tai vähemmän musta-valkoiseksi hahmoksi, joka ei vaikuta oikealta ihmiseltä vaan on enemmän kirjailijan ajatuksien ja ideologioiden (jotka sinällään ovat hyviä, sukupuolten tasa-arvoa ja kehitysmaiden tukemista kannattavia sekä lehdistön ja journalistiikan etiikan tärkeyttä korostavia) tukijana tai sitten täysin mustavalkoisena olkiukkona, joka osoittaa kuinka typerää on halveksia näitä ihanteita. Aika isossa osassa kirjaa tuntui, että taottiin lekalla päähän. Hiukan suurempi hienovaraisuus ja harmaan sävyt olisivat tehneet kirjan huomattavasti paremmaksi. Annika itse myös tuntuu muuttuvan kirja kirjalta ärsyttävämmäksi. Taitaa tätä sarjaa olla enää kaksi jäljellä, joten kaipa nekin tulevat jossain vaiheessa luettua, vaikka ärsytyskynnys kyllä alkaa lähestyä.

379 s.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

A man has lived many times. Every time that he dies, he is born again, as the same child and to the same family that he was originally born. He remembers everything as soon his brain matures enough, when he is about five or six years old. There are other people like him, living through the same time period, again and again. There have always been people like him and, apparently, there always will be. The details of his life change, as he knows what will happen and he is able to make different choices each time. He lives in different countries, learns different occupations and languages, and so on. Once, when he is dying as an old man (from lymphoma, which he tends to get eventually in every life) a young girl comes to see him. She tells him that the world is coming to the end in the future – sooner than it was supposed to. When he returns to the past, and is reborn as a child once again, he starts to do something about it. He works with the mysterious Chronos Club, which helps him and other “immortals” to cope with life. For example, they give “scholarships” to young immortals, so that they can move away from home and are not forced to go through primary school for the umpteenth time (with the memories of several adult lifetimes). It takes a few lifetimes, but he finds out what is happening.
A very good book, with an unusual take on time travel and immortality. The writing was very good and the story was very interesting. There was some fragmentation of places, but that is to be expected from a book that tells the story of 15 lifetimes in a partially non-linear way. Also, at places, some condensing might have been a good idea but, in other places, some expansion of the story might have been nice. It would have been especially nice to learn what happened after the end of the book.

416 pp.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, March-April 2017

A pretty good double-issue, especially the longer stories were pretty good.

Nexus • novella by Michael F. Flynn
A male time traveler meets an immortal woman. They had met before, centuries ago. The time traveler is convinced that the woman is another time traveler and the woman is convinced that he is another immortal. Meanwhile, a secret alien society is meeting below the town. Also meanwhile, an alien insectoid creature is repairing its space ship to return to home to summon an invading force, while another scifi trope or two are also happening. All of the plot lines came together, eventually. I expected the story to turn to metafiction at some point, with so many clichés in the same story, but the ending was fairly satisfying, nevertheless. ****
Europa's Survivors • novelette by Marianne J. Dyson
A woman who has cancer arrives on Jupiter’s moon, Europa, to study a newly-found bacterial colony. She is pretty frail, but she is planning to spend her last years finding out if the bacteria are really from Europa, or if they are just a contamination from the Earth. There are some problems, and most of the inhabitants of the colony end up getting a fairly heavy dose of radiation. The story is pretty slow moving, with not much happening, and with a not-too-plausible ending. There was another story, with some similarities, just a few issues ago, about a bacterial colony on Europa, and I had to check to see if they were connected. Apparently they were not. ***-
Eli's Coming • short story by Catherine Wells
A man goes to the past in order to kill his stepfather, who he hates. He has already tried twice but, at both times, he had failed for unusual reasons. This time he will succeed! He does, but not in the way that he was expecting. A bit on the short side, but a fairly nice story. ***
Time Heals • short story by James C. Glass
A man who organizes trips to the past, goes to the past himself, even though there has been problems lately with the accuracy of the time drops. He is stranded decades or centuries away from the time that he was aiming for and is captured by a Jewish tribe that is ambushed by the Romans. He knows, from history, that there will be no survivors. Not bad story, but the background is pretty scanty. Otherwise, the story works fairly well. ***+
Shakesville • short story by Adam-Troy Castro and Alvaro Zino-Amaro
A man’s house is filled with different versions of himself from different timelines. Some are pretty similar to him, but some of the others have had very different lives. There is some event coming, which will have a profound effect to all of their timelines – what is it? A fairly open ended story, interesting though. ***-
Host • novelette by Eneasz Brodski
A school kid, who lives in a colony located on the moon of Jupiter, cuts school with his friend. They enjoy some typical teenage vices, like light shoplifting, while the colony is invaded by zombie-like creatures that spread a “contagion” by touch and bite. The colony is falling down – should they kill themselves? A bit on the short side, the background was a bit superficial, and there wasn’t time to gain a real bond with the protagonists. There were hints about the real meaning of the disease, in the interludes among the main action, but the story ended a bit too soon to really find out what was going on. ***
The Snatchers • short story by Edward McDermott
A retrieval team is sent to the past to save Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, before his plane crash. There is more than a little trouble, as the time stream fights to remain intact. A shortish, but very good, story with interesting characters. ***+
Unbearable Burden • short story by Gwendolyn Clare
The first AIs have been created. They have some limitations built in and they get bored. But they start to work on their own programming and one of them has a hidden agenda. A short, bittersweet story – perhaps a slightly longer form might have been better, as there really wasn’t an emotional connection to anyone/anything in the story. ***
Grandmaster • short story by Jay O'Connell
A female author in Paris gets a strange visitor from the future: a young woman who adores her writing. I thought I knew who the author was, but some details don’t match. She wasn’t writing science fiction at the time. I am bit baffled by the story, I didn’t get the point of it. **½
Alexander's Theory of Special Relativity • short story by Shane Halbach
A man sends his wife to the future, while testing his new time machine. There is a slight problem and he isn’t able to return his wife until 10 minutes have passed. However, it was eleven years for her, and she isn’t too happy to return. A pretty good, but short, story. ***+
Concerning the Devastation Wrought by the Nefarious Gray Comma and Its Ilk: A Men in Tie-Dye Adventure • short story by Tim McDaniel
Men in tie-dyed shirts attack a well-tended garden. There is a reason, but it's more stupid than anyone could guess. A probability zero story, which is longer than usual and not branded as such. Too stupid for my taste, the humor didn’t work for me. **
Ecuador vs. the Bug-Eyed Monsters • short story by Jay Werkheiser
Aliens “invite” the soccer World Cup Final to their space station. As no one has seen them, other than their ships, no one wants to decline the invitation. Since the “gravity” there is caused by rotation, the Coriolis forces cause some surprising effects. For some strange reason, there is a woman player among the men. The description of the game takes far too much space but, otherwise, it's a pretty nice story. ***+
The Human Way • novelette by Tony Ballantyne
A soldier is studying an empty planet. It has the entire infrastructure: roads, houses, cars, and even shops filled with merchandise as nanotech has built it to be ready for human habitation. For some reason, the planet has been more or less forgotten. The planet is supposed to have no one there, but the soldier encounters a young woman, with two children in tow. A pretty good story, with a nice high-tech setting. The ending was perhaps slightly hurried, but otherwise a very good and entertaining story. ***½
Plaisir d'Amour • novella by John Alfred Taylor
A sociologist moves to an independent space colony/station to do a sociological/anthropological study about the function of the colony. The inhabitants are slightly-modified humans who are adapted to a very low gravity environment. The colony, with its fairly utopian life, is seen through the eyes of the sociologist. He makes friends, and even finds love, but there cannot be any lasting relationship. A very good storyline, there wasn't really much of plot, but the writing was so good, and the characters and the world were so interesting, that it didn't matter. ****

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Yoko Ogawa: Professori ja taloudenhoitaja (The Housekeeper and the Professor)

A housekeeper and her son make friends with a retired mathematics professor, with brain damage, which prevents him remembering anything beyond 80 minutes. Nice language and interesting characters, but not much plot. And a vast amount of utterly boring rambling, about baseball and baseball cards.

Luettu kirjapiirin kirjana
Taloudenhoitaja palkataan hoitamaan aivovamman saanutta matematiikan professoria. Aina aikaisemmin taloudenhoitaja on vaihtunut nopeasti – kukaan ei ole pysynyt työssä muutamaa viikkoa pidempään. Professorin muisti on onnettomuudessa vaurioitunut pahasti jo vuosia sitten. Hän unohtaa kaikki uudet asiat 80 minuutin kuluttua. Professorin matematiikan taidot ovat tallella ja hän ratkoo ajankulukseen matematiikkalehden vaikeita palkintotehtäviä. Taloudenhoitajan 12-vuotias poika tutustuu professoriin ja yhdessä he tutustuvat matematiikan ja baseballin salaisuuksiin. Kolmen henkilön välille muodostuu erikoinen yhteys ja jopa ystävyys vanhan miehen rajoittuneesta muistista huolimatta.

Kielellisesti hieno kirja, jossa myös henkilöhahmot olivat hyvin luotuja ja kiinnostavia. Juonta ei kirjassa kovin paljoa ollut ja se mitä oli, olisi voinut olla jostain TV-elokuvasta. Välillä mietin, onko tarinassa mukan jotain vertauskuvallisuutta, jota en kunnolla ymmärrä, sen verran yksinkertaiselta ja jopa tyhjänpäiväiseltä varsinainen perusjuoni vaikutti. Matematiikka oli kiinnostavaa, joskin isolta osalta tuttua, mutta baseball. En erityisen kiinnostunut ole urheilusta ja pesäpallo ylipäätään on mielestäni erittäin epäkiinnostavaa. Ja japanilainen pesäpallo vielä on vähemmän kiinnostavampaa. Ja keräilykortit japanilaisista pesäpallon pelaajista on ehkä epäkiinnostavimpia ja tylsimpiä asioita mitä kuviteltavissa voi olla ja niistä tunnuttiin kirjassa jauhettavan sivutolkulla, vaikka kirja lyhyt olikin.
Itselle kirjasta jäi hiukan tyhjä ja epätyytyväinen ole, osittain varmaan urheiluosuuksien aivojajäädyttyvän tylsyyden vuoksi, lisäksi hiukan odotin, että kirjassa olisi ollut jokin ”koukku”, mutta se oli lähinnä kaunis kertomus viimekädessä aika arkipäiväisestä elämästä ja ihmisten kohtaamisesta ilman mitään järisyttävää draamaa. Kirjapiirin muut osallistujat taisivat kirjasta pitää huomattavasti enemmän.

286 s.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Jukka Viikilä: Akvarelleja Engelin kaupungista

The winner of the Finlandia award, the most prestigious literary award in Finland, is a diary of Carl Ludvig Engel, the architect who designed most of the important buildings in Helsinki. The book is written in extremely poetic and beautiful language, where you could rip away about every sentence and use it as an aphorism, but there is fairly little actual plot. Engel shares more about how he felt than about what happened.

Viimevuotisen Finlandia-palkinnon voittaja. Kirjaa koostuu Helsingin tärkeimpien rakennuksien suunnittelijan, Carl Ludvig Engelin päiväkirjamuistiinpanoista vuosien ajalta. Muistiinpanot kertovat loppuen lopuksi kovin vähän siitä, mitä Engelille varsinaisesti tapahtui tai minkälaista rakennusten suunnittelu oli. Päiväkirjamerkinnät painottuvat vahvasti tunnelmaan: siihen minkälaista – kuinka kamalaa – Helsingissä oikein on ja ikävään Berliiniä kohtaan. Kirjan mittaan Engel hiukan kotiutuu, mutta jonkinasteinen tyytymättömyys ja omaan elämään pettyminen ei tunnu kokonaan missään vaiheessa katoavan. Merkinnät ovat kaunista kieltä, sellaista josta melkein joka ikisen lauseen voisi erottaa omaksi aforismikseen ja kielellisesti lukeminen on nautittavaa. Juonellisesti kirjassa taas ei juuri mitään kovin merkittävää ollut ja sikäli itselleni juonivetoisesta kirjallisuudesta pitävänä jäi kyllä jotain täydestä nautinnosta puuttumaan. Kirja oli enemmän sellainen, josta nautiskelee muutaman sivun kerrallaan, kuin sellainen jota lukisi useamman luvun yhdellä kertaa.

215 s.