Monday, August 26, 2019

Revenant Gun (The Machineries of Empire #3) by Yoon Ha Lee

The last part of the trilogy, "Shuos Jedao" (whose mind of the “main character” in the earlier books), awakens in his own adult body but doesn’t remember anything that has happened after he was a cadet at a military academy. He is more than a little surprised to hear that he became the best military leader of all time who finally turned traitor and slaughtered his own troops. What is going on?
It has been nine years after the events of the second part, where the “high calendar” system and brutal autocracy was broken. But there is a force who aims to return to the old “calendar” and uses the genius Jedao to achieve that aim.
The book was better than the second part of the series, even though the number of characters and the nonlinear style of events make it sometimes a bit demanding to follow. Would it be so horribly hard to indicate when and where the events are happening, especially if there are flashbacks and two points of view at the same time?

427 pp.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Thomas Mann: Taikavuori (The Magic Mountain)

A classic where a person is visiting his cousin at a tuberculosis sanatorium and ends up staying seven years. There he meets many people and discusses the prevalent philosophies and ways of thinking at the beginning of the 20th century. An interesting book, but it felt like the author wanted it to be overlong and added superfluous parts, like synopses of a couple of operas, for apparently no reason.

Klassikko, joka on luettu kirjapiirin kirjana.
Päähenkilö, Hans Castorp, menee tapaamaan vuoristoparantolassa tuberkuloosihoidossa olevaa serkkuaan. Tapaamisen oli tarkoitus kestää pari viikkoa, mutta kun hänellä itsellään todetaan tuberkuloosi (johon diagnoosiin myöhemmin kyllä kohdistuu epäilyjä) vierailun kesto muodostuu lopulta seitsemäksi vuodeksi. Seitsemän vuoden aikana elämä asettuu vahvasti urilleen ja päähenkilö “laitostuu” tasaiseen parantolan elämään muutamassa viikossa. Parantalossa on laaja valikoima hyvin erilaisia ja omaperäisiä henkilöitä ja suuri osa kirjasta koostuu keskusteluista heidän kanssaan.

Paikoitellen tuntui siltä, että kirjailija keinotekoisesti pitkitti kirjaa: mukana oli muutaman sivun selvitys solubiologiasta kirjoittamisajan näkökulmasta ja muutamia sivuja käytettiin mm. parin oopperan juonitiivistelmään. Päähenkilön musiikki-innostus kokonaisuudessaan oli kyllä hiukan irrallisen tuntuinen Olikos kirjoittaja lukenut jonkin yleistajuisen esityksen tai sattunut käymään oopperassa ja vuodatti nämä sitten kirjaansa?

Kirjan hahmot olivat mielenkiintoisia ja edustivat aikansa eri aate/filosofisia suuntauksia, ehkä päähenkilöä lukuun ottamatta. Hän oli hiukan naiivi, joka uskollisesti kuunteli milloin kenenkäkin esitelmiä heidän tavastaan ajatella. Naiivius tuli esiin myös hänen kovin ”soveliaassa” rakastumisessaan ja kovin innokkaana innostumisena aina vuoron perään eri asioihin.

Kirja ei ehkä niitä mukaansatempaavimpia teoksia ollut, mutta siinä piili ihan yllättävääkin humoristisuutta paikoitellen, mm. ironisen kertojaäänen päästessä ääneen. Pituudeltaan paikoitellen kirja tuntui kyllä paisutellulta, saman asian ajattelutapojen esittelyn olisi kyllä tiiviimminkin voinut esittää.

725 s.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, July-August 2019

Pretty varied bunch of stories: some pretty good, but many which were less so.

Vault • novelette by Robert R. Chase
A spaceship is sent to study a planet that is orbiting a star with a very unusual trajectory. The premise isn’t bad, although not unusual, but the writing wasn’t very good. I have never seen such an amount of “As you know, Bob” style of exposition where the crew members discuss things that should be totally obvious to all involved. The main protagonist also has long expository discussions with the ship's computer (which has pretty good AI, but it is horribly illegal to consider it as a self-aware AI, and even saying “thank you” to it is almost punishable by imprisonment – if discussing with an AI is such a horrible thing, why make it possible to discuss with it with spoken language at all?). The main protagonist is a ship doctor/psychologist and possibly a “political officer”. To test that a crew member makes an unprovoked attack against the protagonist – apparently, if he were a political officer, he would report the action. Wouldn’t it be natural to report such behavior in ANY case? Especially if you are the “psychologist” wouldn’t the only possible reaction be grounding and confining the obviously mentally unstable crew member straightaway? The story then examines the discovery of an alien artifact on the planet and its analysis – nothing really new or unusual storytelling wise – with a small twist concerning the AI but with unbelievably stupid characters. **
The Quality of Mercy • novelette by Catherine Wells
A female scientist goes to another planet to research alien wild creatures living there and to find if they are sentient or not. A male “warrior caste” soldier comes with her to help in establishing the base, where cameras have surveyed the group of aliens for years. It turns out that some of the cameras have been destroyed - is that natural or not? The characters have a deep distrust at the beginning but it later turns to an understanding. The story was fairly entertaining while extremely irritating at the same time. The characters were caricatures with current attitudes. The plot had many stupidities: the characters apparently walked a five kilometer two-way trip, even several times a day, through a wild forest country without tracks. Apparently, the author has no experience at all in walking in a wild forest: even one way would most likely be more than two hours on easy terrain, and several hours on hard terrain. Also, the poachers chose the ONE herd on the whole planet which was monitored? What are the odds? And why would they use a twine made from local materials? A lot of work for something trivial which could have been purchased easily. ***
Shooting Stars • short story by Tom Jolly
A detective and his AI helper try to solve the murder of a man with a good-sized hole through his chest. A bit of a clumsy story with an extremely contrived plot. There were some strange details. I don’t understand why a planet “near horseshoe nebula” has “strange treasures” and a lot of meteorites - I cannot think about any sensible reason for that. **+
A Life in Particle Archaeology • short story by John Vester [as by John J. Vester]
Social insects study subatomic structures apparently from another dimension, and the Earth is an electron from their viewpoint. This isn’t a real story, just a setup which is meant as humorous. It was stupid beyond belief and incited almost hatred. *
Sailors of the Second Sun • short story by David L. Clements
A mission to a nearby brown dwarf is underway. A journalist with a science background has heard a tip that the AI on board has some issues. And, at first, it seems that the hunch was right, as the probe repeatedly takes pictures from the same place. A shortish story which is more of an idea than a story with a plot. ***
Labor-Saving Relations • short story by Buzz Dixon
A man feels irritated as his web-capable intelligent home appliances are getting uppity while he isn’t polite enough, and even tries to put none-machine washable things into a washing machine. A fun little story. ***
The Babbage Tour • short story by Leo Vladimirsky
A husband and wife team researches time travel. The wife gets cancer. The time travel most likely will kill you, but if you have incurable cancer does that really matter? A simple short story. ***
All Tomorrow's Parties • short story by Phoebe North
Another time travel story. A time traveled is jaded, as wherever he goes back in time, there are other time travelers who make anachronistic errors: wrong style buttons and so on. He goes to an obscure concert with a girlfriend. The story was okay, but the characters were very irritating, and the story just fizzled out. ***-
A Wonderful Thing to Say • short story by Dan Reade
Another time-related story. After her husband died, the wife uses a contraption that can travel into the past to read a letter the husband wrote. A technically nice story, but considering the end, I don’t understand why she paid for an apparently expensive procedure as the marriage was already over in two ways anyway.***
Portle • short story by Robert Scherrer
A machine which enables instantaneous travel was discovered on the moon. A young child (whose journal mostly IS the story) is afraid of going through the portal, as she believes that her parents change each time she goes through. It turns out that the portal opens to other realities and only a select few are able to remember the realities they come from. The beginning was a very good story, but I found the ending to be very disappointing and illogical. If the capability to see through all dimensions makes those who can do it immensely intelligent, why did the prehumans who supposedly had the ability not create a culture? What about animals? If the primitive humans had the ability, what about higher apes? Or other almost human species like Neanderthals or Denisov people? And it is very contrived that the child is able to go to any reality but not her original one - or even to any that very closely resemble it. There should be an infinite number of realities anyway. The first half was over four stars, but the last barely two. ***+
Monarch of the Feast • novelette by Paul Di Filippo
A poet from mid-19th century Italy encounters a strange man who appears to have strange capabilities and strange machines. He wants to unite Italy and possibly the world. The poet himself also believes in the united Italy, and he is ready to help. But another strange man gives him a serious warning of a possible consequences. A somewhat sketch-like time travel story which is described from the point of view someone who lives in his own time. The motivations of the characters were left very open for everyone involved. There was at least one anachronism. It is very unlikely that sparkling wine would be available in about 1850 Italy and certainly not in a pitcher. ***½
What We Named the Needle • short story by Freya Marske
A culture sends a smart teen to the stars in suspended animation pods for badly defined reasons. The pod is captured by an intelligent ship whose designer is becoming demented. A fairly good story. ***½
Uncommon • short story by Leah Cypess
A woman can get a curative treatment for her cancer - but she would lose her immunity to all sorts of common cold type infections. Too horrible to even think of. Very stupid story. If the overwhelming majority were immune to colds the herd immunity would practically prevent it for those without immunity anyway. And the choice is ridiculous anyway. ***-
Captain Zack & the Data Raiders • short story by Steve Rasnic Tem
A group fights against data corruption. Governments, interest groups and what not erase data from the internet and a group fights back. Just a scene; not actually a story. **½
Dreaming Up the Future • short story by Julie Novakova
Some sort of essay of peer review process mixed with a rudimentary “story”. Very non-interesting. **-
Finnegan, Bring the Pain • short story by J. M. McDermott [as by Joe M. McDermott]
A girl is moving to stars with her family. Her friends, especially one boy, arrange a farewell party for her. A pretty good, bittersweet story. ***½
A Neighborhood for Someone Else • short story by Alison Wilgus
A translator is working on an alien planet. She has had augmentations for the sense of smell, as smell is important for the communication between aliens. She doesn’t really belong with humans or aliens and feels very alienated. Not a story; just a scene. (I wonder why scenes presented as stories are so rampant in Analog nowadays? I really don’t care for them.) ***
The Eyes of Alton Arnhauser • novelette by Nick Wolven
A street punk steals a contraption from an abandoned building which uses all possible outlets to get as much as possible information through the internet about anyone who wears the interface built onto contact lenses. It is far too much information for anyone to bear. The system apparently works with magic – and the way it grows attached to eyes was also kind of farfetched. ***
The Slipway • novelette by Greg Egan
A strange area appears in the sky. It is like the stars were replaced with something from another, denser part of the sky. And the area is growing – far too fast for it being a very remote phenomenon. What is happening? Is an opening of a wormhole approaching the Earth? But then calculations show a surprising fact: Earth might have already gone thought it... An excellent story, with a very open end. I look forward to a continuation. ****

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Seppo Jokinen: Hiirileikki (Koskinen #11)

Pikkuisen vanhempi Koskis-kirja, joka tarttui antikvariaatista mukaan. Tällä kertaa komisario selvittelee varsinaista maanlaajuista rikossarjaa. Useampia miehiä on pahoinpidelty vakavasti tai he ovat jopa kuolleet nostettuaan suuren määrän rahaa 500€ seteleinä. Henkiin jääneet ovat olleet oudon haluttomia keskustelemaan pahoinpitelyyn johtaneista tapahtumista. Aluksi yhteydet tapauksien välillä eivät ole selviä, mutta vähitellen asiat selkiytyvät ihan kunnon poliisityön ja pienen onnenkin myötä. Koskisen yksityiselämässä mustasukkaisuus aiheuttaa ongelmia ja poliisilaitoksen henkilökunnan piirissä tulevat vaalit työntekijän edustajan valinnasta johtoryhmään nostavat tunteita.
Kirja on ihan tuttua laatua, varmaan sarjana keskitasoa, mukavaa kevyttä kesälukemista raskaampien kirjojen välissä.

This is a pretty average inspector Koskinen crime procedural where Koskinen and his fellow policemen stumble upon a case that might cover several towns around Finland, not just Tampere. It is light, nice entertaining reading where the personal life of the main character is at least as important as the crime he is investigating.

282 s.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Tommi Kinnunen: Pintti

Tämäkin kirja on äänikirjana kuunneltu. Kyseessä on Tommi Kinnusen kolmas romaani. Itse pidin kovasti Neljäntienristeyksestä, mutta Lopotti oli siihen verrattuna pieni pettymys. Uusi kirja, Pintti, kertoo kolmesta sisaruksesta, kahdesta tytöstä ja lievästi kehitysvammaisesta, ilmeisen autismikirjon alueelle asettuvasta pojasta. Jokainen henkilöistä on päähenkilönä yhdessä luvussa, joista jokainen kertoo yhden päivän tapahtumista. Tapahtumien taustana on lasitehdas, joka hallitsee koko kylän elämää ja jossa kaikille on paikkansa, jopa vammaiselle pojalle hiukan suojatyöluonteisissa tehtävissä. Kinnuselle tyypilliseen tapaan kirja ei ole mikään iloinen ja onnellinen kertomus, mutta siitä huolimatta se on hyvin mukaansa tempaava ja kiehtova. Henkilöhahmot olivat hyvin kuvattuja ja kerronta osien välillä oli toisistaan poikkeavaa, etenkin ensimmäisen jakson yhteydessä, jossa vammaisen pojan kokemat valot, värit ja muodot tulivat erittäin elävästi esiin. Kirjan muut osiot olivat oikeastaan hiukan pettymys alkuun verrattuna, mutta kielellisesti ja kerronnallisesti teos oli ensiluokkaista työtä.

This book tells the story of a small society that is formed around a glass factory. Everyone knows their place, as the glassworkers have a clear social structure. The author describes a family of three siblings who are on the lower end of the social “pecking order”. The adult son has some kind of autism spectrum disorder, but even he is employed at the factory, helping out where he can. The events of the book happen on three separate days, a bit after the Second World War. The writing is excellent, particularly the description of life and characters in this world, even though life is hard, and some unfortunate events happen.

291 pp.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee

A complete history of the early years of the Astounding Science Fiction Magazine and four important persons involved with it: Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, editor John W. Campbell and Ron Hubbard of the scientology fame. Although I was quite well informed about many details and events of that era, as I have read Isaac Asimov’s extremely detailed autobiographical works and also some biographical material about Heinlein, there were many things I didn’t know, especially concerning Hubbard.
At times, it felt like the book had a bit too much wordage for Ron Hubbard however, he was apparently a very important person for John W. Campbell, the long-term editor of Astounding. What was surprising was how mentally disturbed many of the people felt like, especially Ron Hubbard who seems to have been a compulsive liar with significant personality disorders. Furthermore, John W. Campbell, who considered himself to be a man of science, apparently had no concept at all about a scientific principle, or even about logical thinking. When he got older, Heinlein developed some “interesting” personality traits and some very far-right political opinions. Asimov was apparently fairly sane; he just had some narcissistic tendencies and might this day and age be classified as a sexual predator. So, pretty jolly bunch, however, the book was extremely interesting in spite (or because) of that. It was well-written, meticulously researched, with extensive sources. It was my number one choice at the Hugo voting on its category.

544 pp.