Tuesday, May 30, 2017

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

The story of two unusual youths. One is a boy with unparalleled technical skills, and another is a girl, who is a witch. The boy had already built a time machine when he was still in elementary school (the machine had a small drawback - it enabled only three-second jumps to the future) and a bit later he designed a computer with artificial intelligence, as an after school pastime. The girl has been able to talk with animals - at least sometimes - and had a deep discussion with a powerful tree while she was lost in the woods as a little child. They are both outcasts, and they are drawn together. Their parents are negligent in different ways, and they don’t get any support from them. An assassin is apparently trying to kill them, as he has foreseen that they might contribute to the destruction of the world. Later they are separated by events and time, but they meet again as adults, and they are drawn together, again. Soon they find themselves on opposing sides when the world is falling down, but will they find a way to work together?

The book was a fairly uneven mixture of science fiction and fantasy. The first quarter of the book reads just like a young adult book, or rather almost like a parody of a typical YA book, where the protagonists are 'special', and everyone is against them, everyone popular at school just hates them, and the adults don't understand them at all. Their parents were so dysfunctional that they seemed to verge on parody. Later the themes matured very much. The pacing of the book was a bit off, after a fairly fast beginning, everything pretty much stopped for a long time, until the events really took off, and then a lot seemed to happen in the last few dozen pages. The ending was very sudden and more than a little 'Deus ex machina' like and somewhat open. The world is ending, but at least the lovers found each other, and who cares what happens then?

320 pp.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Erkki Tuomioja: Häivähdys punaista

A biography of Hella Wuolijoki, one of the most renowned playwrights in Finland. Her life was very unusual and even contradictory; she was born to a middle-class family in Estonia. Later she emigrated to Finland and worked as a very successful business woman, who turned to Stalinist communism (and at the same time she owned a very large country estate). She was imprisoned during the war as she was suspected of espionage. When she was released from prison after the Second World War, she worked as the chairman of Finnish radio for several years. And during all that, she wrote plays that are still being produced, and one has even been filmed as a Hollywood movie. This biography concentrates on her political career and is written in a very matter-of-fact style and doesn’t tell us much about her personal life.

Luettu lukupiirin kirjana.
Elämänkerta Hella Wuolijoesta, naisesta joka eli elämän, joka vaikkapa elokuvan aiheena olisi niin epäuskottava, ettei sitä kukaan uskoisi. Virossa syntyneestä porvariperheen tyttärestä tuli kova liikenainen, kartanon omistaja, stalinisti, rauhanneuvottelija, mahdollisesti vakooja, Yleisradion pääjohtaja ja samalla maan johtava näytelmäkirjailija. Tämä kirja painottui paljolti hänen poliittiseen toimintaansa ja herätti mielenkiintoa siihen, mitä muuta hänen elämässään tapahtui – sillä ne muut asiat jäivät tässä kirjassa pahasti sivurooliin. Ehkä osittain aihepiiriin liittyen teksti oli jotenkin kovin kylmän kliinistä, sisältäen huiman määrän faktaa henkilönnimien ja vuosilukujen muodossa. Mielenkiintoiset anekdootit ja ”mieltä lämmittävät” tarinat kohdehenkilön elämästä jäivät tässä kirjassa varsin pienelle huomiolle. Kielellisesti teksti oli selkeää ja välillä ehkä hiukan tylsän puoleista. Tuomiojan omassa ajatusmaailmassa kiinnitti huomioita mm. se, että Yrjö Leinon erottamista hallituksesta hänen luovutettuaan Suomen kansalaisia Neuvostoliittoon nimitettiin ”sattumien ohjaamaksi tapahtumaketjuksi”; oikeastihan tuollainen teko olisi lähinnä elinikäisen vankeustuomion ansaitseva toimi. Kirjassa käsiteltiin myös Hella Wuolijoen siskoa, joka asui Englannissa ja oli perustamassa Englannin kommunistista puoluetta. Nämä jaksot olivat turhan liitännäisen oloisia ja sinällään hänen toimintansa oli viime kädessä aika merkityksetöntä ja jäi lähinnä kuvaukseksi nimilistoista henkilöistä joita he tapasivat ja lehdistä joita he julkaisivat. Mitään tarkempaa analyysia toiminnasta ei esitetty ja muista lähteistä selvitellen toiminta jäi kokonaisuuden kannalta aika yhdentekeväksi. Kirja oli aika puhtaasti historiakirjoitusta eikä viihdyttäväksi ”lukuromaaniksi” tarkoitettu elämänkerta. Kirjapiirin mielipide oli aika pitkälle samanlainen kuin omani. Kirjoitustyyliä pidettiin kuivana mutta informatiivisenä, ja kirja herätti kiinnostuksen siihen, mitä laajemmalti Hella Wuolijoen elämässä tapahtui.

425 s.

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) by Becky Chambers

The second book I read for the Hugo voting.
For the most part, the book has two separate stories. One is about a young girl who escapes from a "factory" where she and many other young girls work to salvage usable parts from trash. She has never been outside of the factory, and has spent her entire life in a dormitory with other girls. The children are supervised by robots. She escapes and is rescued by an AI that lives in an almost destroyed spaceship. She and the AI decide to repair the ship so that they’ll be able to escape the country-sized junkyard they are in.

Another thread of the book follows an AI who is uploaded to an android body, and who tries to adjust to life as a “human.” She is cared for by a woman, who was raised by an AI when she was young. (It isn’t hard to guess who she is...).

Apparently, the book is the second part of a series, but it works perfectly well as a separate piece. In fact, it is fairly difficult to imagine what the first book might be about - perhaps how the ship became abandoned?

Particularly in the beginning of the novel, the scenes which occur in the past are vastly more interesting. I almost was tempted to skip the “boring” parts to find out what happens to “Jane” (the girl) and “Owl” (the AI). The parts that are set in the "present" are nowhere near as gripping, but slowly, as the personality of the AI grows, they become more and more interesting.

The stories pretty much converge at the end. The book was very well-written and entertaining. Its only weakness is the pacing, which is slightly off. The last chapters were a slight let-down compared to the intensity that had built up previously. But it was a very enjoyable book, nevertheless.

365 pp.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Joss Whedon: Geek King of the Universe - A Biography

This is a biography of Joss Whedon that covers his life pretty well. As I am fairly familiar with his career, there were few real surprises here, but it was still a very interesting read. I might have liked a more detailed take on some of his more famous works, like Buffy. There is some stuff on his earlier years that might have been shortened to give room for that. Also, the book felt pretty impersonal for the most part; apparently, Whedon himself didn’t have much influence on the book.

448 pp.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Astounding Science Fiction, March 1954

Only three stories as a pretty unremarkable serial by Isaac Asimov take a lot of space. The stories are fairly tolerable examples of their time.

Immigrant • novella by Clifford D. Simak

A man has gotten the permission to emigrate to Kimon. That is rare, as only the smartest applicants, who are able to pass very demanding tests, qualify. It is supposed to be a land of opportunity with very high wages (and mastery of instantaneous travel with the power of mind alone). When he arrives at the planet, he finds out that he hardly qualifies for any position. Not bad, but the blurb at the beginning of the story spoils the end (everything is just “training” to be something bigger), and the man who is supposed to be one of the smartest on Earth is incredibly stupid and dense. ***
I Made You • short story by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
An automated battle robot is guarding his perimeter at the moon. There is one organic thing hiding in a deep cave he must still destroy, but he can’t get to the cave, and the puny thing that claims stupid things – like that he has designed the robot – can’t escape. A fairly good but a bit dated story. ***
Final Exam • novelette by Arthur Zirul
An alien ship is wrecked over Earth. Its crew is stranded on different parts of the world. The Earth had seemed very civilized, but the behavior of the people seems to be less so. The story is somewhat overlong, but otherwise not bad. A bit of an untypical story for the Analog of the time, as humans aren’t the most smartest people of them all. ***-