Saturday, March 23, 2019

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, March-April 2019

Beneath a Red Sun • novelette by James C. Glass
An exploration ship arrives on a planet that orbits a red sun. There doesn’t seem to be any life, but the atmosphere contains 1% free oxygen. The crew starts conducting scientific studies, as it should not be possible for free oxygen to exist if there isn’t a source for it. They find a cave where the oxygen percentage seems to go up, even approaching 10%. Inevitably there is a crisis in which a few crew members must find shelter in that cave and eventually to determine whether or not they can get some sustenance from the little oxygen that is available. The writing was pretty good, but the crisis situation felt forced and even unnecessary. And the actual percentage of oxygen isn’t very important and actually may be irrelevant; however, the partial pressure is important. Low pressure and 100% oxygen suffocates, but in deep sea diving, even gas mixes containing 2-4% oxygen can be used. The percentage of oxygen alone means practically nothing. If one assumes that the pressure was something normal like Earth, breathing a low 10% oxygen mix would have been extremely dangerous; one probably would just lose consciousness very fast without any other symptoms, and the expired air would most likely contain more oxygen than inspired, meaning there would have been a net loss of breathable air. Also, the story just felt like it was part of a larger tale. ***+
Hop and Hop with Gleepglop Gleep!: A Bedtime Reader • short story by Tim McDaniel
Alien siblings fight, and one wins and gains dominance over the other siblings. All this is told as a fairy tale with pictures. I didn’t really understand the point of the story, but it was mildly amusing. **
Negotiating Traffic • short story by Brad Preslar
When all cars are self-driving, how does AI analyse who is more important in a crisis situation? A businessman narrowly escapes an accident when a car avoids him, hits a hot dog stand and kills a homeless man who was behind the stand, unseen by the cameras of the car. He feels guilty as he was on his phone at the time. He wants to quit his job, but his company doesn’t think he should leave as he is too valuable an employee and they resort to extortion. A too short and implausible story with an unreasonable evil company and with far too easy manipulation of all driverless cars around. Also, why would the AI system be made to recognize all people on an individual basis? ***-
The God of All Mountains • short story by Jo Miles
A Chilean woman climbs Olympus Mons on Mars. She wants to be the first person to reach the top, not only the first woman. A much better-equipped man is also attempting the climb. She is losing, but then she gives up the race and feels free... The writing is ok, but I remember a few very similar stories. I found it difficult to sympathize with the characters, as I found it hard to understand the drive to be the first at something, which is quite pointless after all. ***
Parenting License • short story by Leah Cypess
A woman found out that she is pregnant, and she still hasn’t her parenting license. This is a catastrophe as it is impossible to get decent health care, daycare or practically anything child related without the license. Now she must find a bit shady place to get care – or she must find another solution. A fairly good story, but somewhat stupid on many levels. Would it really be totally impossible to learn things needed for a license in 8 months, especially as she had already done a few courses? If it is so impossible, why be so careless with prevention? Or if having a child is SO hard without the license, why an abortion is not even mentioned or briefly considered? ***+
Fine-Tuning • short story by Bond Elam
A man is working on a new planet. A woman he knows to be an android is pushing for a calculated risk in a mining operation, but he finds the risk to be too great. But who is actually the android? A very short story which depends on a slight twist. ***-
Running the Gullet • short story by Vajro Chandrasekera
The story happens in some sort of post-human culture where the sun is dying out. Someone tries to motivate a group of “children“ to play a “game” which lasts a millennia and involves death. The story consists mainly of a detailed and boring description of the pretty inane “rules” of the game, with a slight, but not surprising, twist at the end. ***
Second Quarter and Counting • short story by James Van Pelt
A man and woman have had a deep friendship throughout their lives; both have been married but their friendship has endured. It has become possible to rejuvenate one’s body, but there is a risk of memory loss. Will the friendship endure that? A bit short and glimpse-like story. ***
Final Say • short story by Eric Del Carlo
Demented people can be wakened for a few minutes of clarity with special brain stimulation. After the moment of the clear mind, they will die. A technician has performed that procedure for years. His father has dementia. Their relationship has always been problematic - should he perform the procedure for his father? Not bad, but one more story which might have benefitted from a slightly longer form. ***+
Dangerous Company • novelette by C. Stuart Hardwick
A sort of tourist trip to the moon on a replica LEM module is interrupted when the man who paid for the trip knocks down the pilot and takes over the ship. He has something he wants to find on the moon. Russians apparently secretly sent a man to the moon before Apollo missions, and his family apparently knows what happened, even when radio communications failed, and a Russian “personality” stays in the family for generations even when living abroad. There was no background – just a pretty simplistic survival plot with some stupid plot points. (Mannitol is apparently so good for brain swelling that a small dose of it makes you wake up right away and apparently even cures brain injuries.) ***+
Tea Time with Aliens • short story by Jack McDevitt
An alien ship appears to orbit. A satellite launch was just being prepared, and it is revamped as a first contact mission in a few hours. The astronauts meet an alien ship, which lands on a remote island. The shuttle captain decides to do the same (totally ridiculous - as are the orbital mechanics which are described, the author apparently has no knowledge what so ever of calculating orbits). They meet the aliens and have a discussion. A too short and rushed story with a few pretty ridiculous details. ***
The End of Lunar Hens • short story by M. K. Hutchins
A moon colony tries to raise chickens as part of the ecosystem, but the chickens turn nasty in low gravity. Rabbits are next, but they don’t really tolerate the conditions. Apparently, there isn’t enough CO2 for plants; not really a believable problem, excess carbon dioxide would more likely be a problem. A mildly entertaining, but fairly stupid story with extremely stupid characters. ***-
The Invitation • short story by Bud Sparhawk
A party for time travelers doesn’t really work if you book the day in your own past. A short story which doesn’t make much sense. **
Rising Stars • short story by Elisabeth R. Adams
An astronomer who is finishing her thesis gets a surprise visit from her anthropologist friend. She has found cave paintings decapitating stars and needs astronomical experience to date the paintings. They travel to the South Africa to see the paintings. I don’t exactly understand how shutting down the light inside a cave to improve night vision makes you see the cave paintings better? There is no mention of luminous paint. Not bad, but the story ends just when it really gets interesting. ***½
The New Martian Way • short story by Brendan DuBois
A man has died on a remote Martian research station. The two surviving scientists state that it was an accident; a suit malfunction. But the suits are supposed to be foolproof and they have never been known to have fatal malfunctions. Was it a murder - and if it was, why would the two scientists have killed the third? Not a bad murder mystery story. ***+
Slow Dance • short story by Jay Werkheiser
Another murder mystery. A woman has been killed on a deep space mission, where the crew’s metabolism has been slowed twentyfold and their body temperature is below zero. The investigation isn’t easy and it is impossible to stop the mission. In principle, the members are all married couples but in reality, relationships between them are complex. A pretty average story, but the narrative structure was interesting. ***
The Walk to Distant Suns • novelette by Matthew Kressel and Mercurio D. Rivera
People can travel to a new world, a paradise, through a wormhole; it is extremely expensive, though. An operator of the hole has worked for a long time to earn enough to send her and her family through. Her mother has cancer and for some reason, she believes that cancer can be healed in the new world (and there apparently isn’t any public health care so the world is pretty barbaric). Then the travel fee is raised by a third. She takes things into her own hands. A fairly nice story without anything really surprising. (The world is not a paradise - it’s an ice hell which needs decades or centuries of terraforming.) ***+
Better • novelette by Tom Greene
Aliens have come bearing bad news: there is a ruthless species killing everything and destroying whole planets. All able-bodied humans are needed for the battle (sounds pretty fishy to me). It turns out that everything was true, and there really is a vicious species. Earth is fairly empty as a significant percentage of humans are fighting the war. There are a lot of alien refugees with very different cultures and behavior modes. A veteran who might have just a few days to live is in charge of a group of aliens. They must show that they can be useful by performing a very easy task, but the problems in communication and the completely different ways of thinking make the task more difficult than it sounds. A pretty contrived story in some places. The function of the toxin which the veteran is carrying seems to be more magic than science: an altruistic action stops its function. WTF? Also, it is very hard to believe that some aliens following their described evolutionary customs would ever have developed sentience. The evolutionary “explanation” for some human behaviors doesn’t hold water. There are social structures with ”leaders” in many sorts of animal species who have not evolved in trees. The writing itself was ok. ***½
A Mate not a Meal • novelette by Sarina Dorie
A giant spider lives underground and eats animals it can lure to its cave. Its mother and sister have been killed and eaten by a spider which was the imposed male of the species; because of that, the spider is very wary of any spiders “singing“ to it. One day it hears strange singing which apparently comes from a curious creature with only four limbs. An excellent, creative and well-written story. ****

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Chains of Command (Frontlines #4) by Marko Kloos

The next book in the series where Earth is threatened by giant, almost unstoppable, aliens. This time the main action is not against aliens, but against other humans. The leaders and the elite of the Earth had escaped the invasion and have taken with them the most modern and powerful battlecruisers. The rest of the fleet just barely stopped the invasion, and now it would be the time to start fighting back. To have any chance of success all possible ships will be needed. As it was found where the deserters went, it is now the time to get some of those ships back.

The large part of the book happens on a colony word where the deserters and the “invading” force are playing cat and mouse. That part of the book could have slightly tightened. As a whole a fun book to read anyway, and it left me waiting for the next part where the Earth forces probably will start the fight to recapture invaded Mars.

386 pp.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Tea with the Black Dragon by R.A. MacAvoy

This is a book where a mother looks for her daughter (who might have been involved in some criminal activity). The daughter had asked for her mother to arrive to meet her, but the daughter is nowhere to be found. The mother encounters an eccentric Chinese gentleman, who just might be a dragon in a human form. The man decides to help the mother while she is searching for her daughter. That mission eventually turns out to be dangerous for both of them.

In this short book, which is only borderline fantasy, the “dragoness” of the man was mostly implied. Especially, the beginning of the book was pretty slow. Some of the background concerning computers was pretty laughable: apparently, it only takes two people to design a complete computer system for a major bank. And those two people can work separately, each making one half of the program (to prevent any back doors – I can’t imagine why that would prevent the backdoors) – and then the two halves would fit seamlessly together, yeah, right. The writing as such was pretty good, but as whole, the book was a slight disappointment for me. It was fairly pointless, but a slow adventure.

166 pp.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Reijo Mäki: Kruunun vasikka

A Finnish-born policeman works undercover in Stockholm. His job is to infiltrate criminal gangs – the worse, the better. This wasn’t a very good book – too many characters, a fairly fragmented structure, and not really engaging at any level. Probably my least favorite book by this author.

Reijo Mäen kirja, jossa vaihteeksi on päähenkilönä joku muu kuin Vares. Kirjan päähenkilönä on suomalaissyntyinen poliisi, Sakari Roivas, joka työskentelee Tukholman poliisin peitetehtävässä. Roivaan tehtävänä on soluttautua alamaailman jengeihin ja näin estää rikoksia tai ainakin saada rikolliset kiinni. Tukholmassa on tehty erittäin uskaliaita ja tuottoisia pankkiryöstöjä. Markkinoille on ilmaantunut myös venäläistä vahvaa huumetta. Roivas sitten sattuu tietysti sekaantumaan vähän molempiin.
Varmaan huonoin Reijo Mäen kirja mitä olen lukenut. Kirja oli rakenteellisesti erittäin hajanainen, henkilöhahmot eivät olleet kunnolla kiinnostavia, vaikka ne värikkäiksi olikin tarkoitettu ja henkilöitä oli jonkin verran liikaa. Missään vaiheessa kirja ei varsinaisesti tempaissut sisäänsä ja oli parhaimmillaan tyydyttävä. Rahasummat vaikuttivat erikoisilta, ihan kuin Ruotsissa olisi ollut eurot käytössä. Kirjan ikä selitti tätä pääosin, kyseessä olikin 25 vuotta vanha teos, kun jotenkin kuvittelin sen olevan uudempaa tuotantoa. Ei erityisemmin houkuttele lisää tätä sarjaa lukemaan – melkein jopa Vareksien kiinnostavuus väheni siitä tympeähkön yhdentekevästä mausta mikä kirjasta jäi.

283 s.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

I was looking forward to new book by Naomi Novik as really liked Uprooted, her earlier book. This is another book which is kind of based on a fairy tale. It is also an independent book, which tells its story and doesn’t need any further parts – even less than the Uprooted. This book is loosely based on the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin.

A young Jewish girl, Miryem, lives with his father and mother. The father is a moneylender, but he has so soft heart that he is almost unable to get any debts paid ever. As her mother falls sick and there is no money for medicines Miryem decides to collect the debts herself. She turns out to be so good in that, and the hard times of the family seem to be over. She collects debts as goods and is very good on selling them on profit. She attracts attention of Staryk, who is a sort of god and ruler of winter and has been expanding his realm, resulting on very cold weather. He leaves a bag of silver for Miryem and wants her to convert it to gold. She manages by making a ring out of the silver and selling it to duke of the town. But then the Staryk brings even larger purse of silver...

The ring which was made from the fairy silver turns out to have some magical properties. Duke’s daughter, Irina, who is plain looking but very sharp gets it. The duke hopes that the magic in ring makes it possible that the tsar will marry Irina enabling the duke to increasing his influence. But the tsar is inhabited by a demon who wants to devour Irina...

The third main character is Wanda, a daughter of a drunk man, who owes a lot of money to Miryem’s father. Miryem gets Wanda to work for her in order to pay off her father’s debts. Wanda is very happy about that, as it enables her to escape her abusive father (and to get properly fed). But her father wants marry her off to an old man and pocket the dowry.
All which is described above is just the starting point for the plot.

The story is complex as is the language. This isn’t a fast read by any means – but an excellent book in spite of all that. The characters are all complex and none is really black or white (well, perhaps excepting the demon, who is very demonic) with real, understandable, motivations. The plot is interesting and it gets more and more interesting until to the end. The weakest part of the book is the beginning which was slow and took its’ time before anything really started to happen. A very good book which was one of my nominations for the Hugo awards.

480 pp.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Galaxy Science Fiction, March 1956

A vastly better issue than a couple earlier ones.

A Gun for Dinosaur • [Reginald Rivers] • novelette by L. Sprague de Camp
Time traveling hunting guides journey back in time to hunt dinosaurs (as all big game on contemporary Earth have already been killed). They don't travel to the Jurassic or Cretaceous periods. The guide tells a tale for a prospective client about a hunting trip with some stupid and trigger happy customers that didn’t go well. The trip included several gory deaths. It is a humorous story, a bit behind its time. ***
Flat Tiger • short story by Gordon R. Dickson
A flying saucer has landed on the lawn of a White House. Its rear tiger has inflated (a creature which looks very much like a tiger but is able to bloat from power and enable space flight.). The saucer is invisible and only the President can see it and its occupants. The aliens make an offer: humanity could join the galactic community and get free interstellar travel, along with solutions to all its problems, with little asked in return. There is just a small catch, though. As everything edible (drinkable) closely resembles an alien species, humans must give up eating (and drinking) anything and consume only pure energy.
It's a funny and ironic story that hasn’t lost anything in six decades. ***½
Tsylana • novelette by James E. Gunn
A statistician 1st class has worked in his job for years. He lives in a society where everyone is tested and goes to work at his perfect job. There is no crime, everyone is happy, no one is maladjusted. But the statistician has noticed an anomaly: a candy was stolen from a baby. The next day, a child’s walker was stolen. The crimes increased until ten million dollars was stolen from a bank. Those crimes shake the statistician to the core. But if the society is perfect, is there room for growth? It is a well-written story. ***+
Little Red Schoolhouse • short story by Robert F. Young
A young boy has escaped his home and left his parents. He wants to go to his REAL home, from where put to a “stork train” and said that now it is time to go home. All he can remember is a nice life in the countryside where a couple (who never claimed to be his parents) took good care of him. He is a bit hazy on details on where to find that place, but he starts looking. He finds it, but it isn't exactly what he expected. (It is a method of raising children with an idyllic simulated environment with a goal of producing less neurosis for adults. It should work fine but apparently doesn’t...) ***-