Sunday, June 28, 2020

A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan #1) by Arkady Martine

Another Hugo nominee. A new ambassador from a large, independent, space station is needed for a giant and very powerful Teixcalaanli Empire, which is a cultured place, so cultured poetry is used for everyday letters. When the new Ambassador, Mahit Dzmare, arrives it turns out that the old one has died from an “allergic reaction”. Mahit was supposed to have the memories of the older ambassador implanted in her mind (the common practice at the station to prevent the loss of important and vital skills and information), but, for some reason, the memory capture is badly outdated. And what makes it worse is that it soon stops working at all. At the same time, the supposedly peaceful Teixcalaanli Empire is apparently headed towards civil unrest and perhaps a civil war, as the succession of the elderly, and possibly soon dying, emperor is uncertain. Some forces of the empire are using expansionism to smooth internal unrest, and that might threaten the independence of the space station. At the same time, there is an important piece of information that the space station has to offer to the empire. The ambassador is needed more than ever, and being unable to function in her role might be extremely dangerous.

A pretty interesting book, with some similarities in the plot (and writing style) with that of The Machineries of Empire Series by Yoon Ha Lee - both used the mind/memory recordings in an interesting way, and even the writing felt somewhat similar. The first part was a little slow and hard to get through, as not much background was given. The format of the story mostly relied on dialogue, which is a writing style I am not a fan of; so, even though the book wasn’t bad, it won’t be my top choice, especially as the nominees seem to be very good this year, but if it happens to win, I would be totally ok with that.

462 pp.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Axel Munthe: Huvila meren rannalla (The Story of San Michele)

A memoir of a Swedish doctor who was mostly trained at Paris (and Charcot was one of his teachers - a fact mentioned several times) and who worked at Paris and Rome and lived very colorful life. The book was supposed to be about a villa he built on Capri, but that was on a small sidetrack on the book which was more about his works and philosophy. The structure of the book was fairly disjointed, it felt like someone who gets extremely easily sidetracked was telling stories of his life, and there were some pretty jarring transitions. It’s as a whole interesting, easy to read book, which was written in a quaint, old-fashionable style and language.

Muistelmakirja lääkärinä toimimisesta 1900-luvun vaihteen seudussa. Kirjan otsikon ja osittain takakannenkin perusteella oletin kirjan kertovan enemmän Caprilla sijaitsevasta vuoristohuvilasta, mutta se oli lopulta aika vähäpätöisessä sivuosassa muuhun sisältöön nähden. Pääosa tarinasta on aika tajunnanvirtaisella tyylillä kerrottuja muistelmia elämästä ja lääkärinä toimimisesta. Munthe ehti olla monessa mukana mm. seurapiirien suosimana “hermolääkärinä” Pariisissa ja Roomassa, matkailla Lappia myöten, hoitaa enemmän tai vähemmän hermoheikkoja potilaita, mutta myös auttaa epidemioissa, joissa ihmiset sairastivat kurkkumätää (johon tuohon aikaan ei vielä ollut edes seerumihoitoa olemassa) ja koleraa, olla Messinan maanjäristyksen tuhojen jälkiä ihmettelemässä (tässäkin kohtaa oli kumma siirtymä, yhtäkkiä vain hypättiin aikaan maanjäristyksen jälkeen, eikä oikein selvinnyt oliko Munthe ollut järistyksen sattuessa paikalla vai oliko hän tullut paikalle avustusretkikuntien mukana - tosin ainakaan hän ei ollut mitenkään valmistautunut avustustoimintaan, hänellä ei ollut ruokaa, lääkkeitä, välineitä eikä oikein vaatteitakaan matkassaan. Muutenkin kirjan tyyli oli hyvin hypähtelevä, ja tuli vaikutelma kuin jokin hyväntahtoinen, mutta hiukan jo höpsähtänyt setä kertoilisi muistelmiaan siinä järjestyksessä kuin niitä mieleen sattuu tulemaan. Yksi Munthelle tärkeimpiä ihmisiä näyttää olleen Charcot, kuuluisa ranskalainen psykologi/neurologi, joka oppilaana olemisen Munthe mainitsee noin joka toisella sivulla (vaikka sitten riitautuikin myöhemmin hänen kanssaan). Ongelmistaan huolimatta kyseessä on mukaansatempaava kirja, joka oli hienolla vanhahtavalla kielellä kirjoitettu. Se kirjassa kiinnitti hiukan huomiota, että henkilökohtaisista asioistaan, esim. puolisoistaan (joita googlaamisen perusteella hänellä ehti olla useampia) Munthe ei maininnut käytännössä mitään. Kirja oli kirjapiirin kirjana, ja oli yleisesti ottaen varsin pidetty.

448 pp.

My Hugo award votes 2020 part 1: short stories

Short stories were the first category I finished, as all of them were freely available and I didn’t have to wait for the release of the Hugo package. The central theme in many of them is revenge and making things right, usually with a lot of violence. All, except “A Catalog of Storms”, could be classified in that category, at some level at least. All stories were at least fairly good, and only two had more of an experimental writing and style than storytelling, even though almost none of them was ordinary - except, perhaps, “Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, which with swapped genders wouldn’t really have been a worthwhile story at all, and I don’t believe that an old story with different genders is enough.

Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, by Rivers Solomon (, 24 July 2019)
The story happens in a military world where women are warriors and may take both male and female spouses. The main protagonist is the wife of a warrior; she is a medicine woman and a midwife and has already helped her wife to give birth to several babies. The babies are mainly expected to become warriors, at least the female ones. This is a story about the futility of war and warlike mentality. There was nothing really new except the gender swap. Swap the genders back and you have a run of the mill and very forgettable story.

“A Catalog of Storms”, by Fran Wilde (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2019)
The town is threatened by severe weather. Luckily some of the townspeople are able to affect the weather, but some of them might metamorphose to weather phenomena. It doesn’t make much sense to me. The story is scant on plot and heavy on style and metaphor.

“Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare Magazine, May 2019)
Short paragraphs “quoted” from several sources which together tell a story of children brought to Britain from Ratnabar Island after the British massacred most of the inhabitants. But the brightest of the girls serves a “special” meal… Structurally an interesting story, but too short and disjointed.

“As the Last I May Know”, by S.L. Huang (, 23 October 2019)

Long after a devastating war, a country allows nuclear weapons, called for some reason “seres”, to be used only if the president personally kills a young girl. War is going on and it is not going very well. Is the president up to the task? A pretty good story, but it could not be more unsubtle in its message.

“And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, by Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons, 9 September 2019)

An old Indian woman makes wonderful dolls. The governess of the region wants one, but the old wife declines as she protests the unfair rule of the British. For war related reasons the Brits later cause a more or less artificial famine. The old woman is extorted to make a doll, but she has revenge in her mind. A pretty simple revenge fantasy where the magic happens for no explained reason. The writing somehow wasn’t on the same par as the other nominees.

“Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, by Rivers Solomon (, 24 July 2019)
A slave girl kills all the females in her ”family” after the ”lord” of the house dies at war. After that deed, she gets instantly pregnant and gives birth to a child who grows up to be a redheaded teenage girl in seconds. The recently born girl - who has been dead for some time - takes charge, cleans the house, and causes the former slave to give birth to more people who all transform to adults instantly after their birth. Eventually, the all-new people form a kind of family. Another story heavy on revenge full of fantastic events happening for no reason whatsoever. The writing was pretty good.

The best story was pretty obvious. Also, the last two were not hard to find. My voting order will be:

1. “As the Last I May Know”, by S.L. Huang (, 23 October 2019)
2. “Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, by Rivers Solomon (, 24 July 2019)
3. “Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, by Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 2019)
4. “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, by Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons, 9 September 2019)
5. “A Catalog of Storms”, by Fran Wilde (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2019)
6. “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare Magazine, May 2019)

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, May-June 2020

A lot of space is taken by the classic story (Weyr Search by Anne McCaffrey) which I read not long ago, and by a serial (which I hope to read later). The quality of the stories was pretty average, or even below average, and there were some very stupid details in many of the stories. Is the editing of Analog going downhill?

Moral Biology • novella by Neal Asher
An expedition goes to a planet that is protected by orbital platforms. It is unclear if those platforms are supposed to protect the planet or to stop something from escaping. The expedition is led by AI, and a member of the away team is AI with an android body. Their ship is shot down; they land and study strange creatures that show clear indications of biological engineering, and seem very dangerous. A pretty clumsy and slow-moving story, with vast, vast amounts of exposition and a fair amount of "as you know Bob"-dialogue. The team takes totally stupid risks, and I don’t think that the end of the story (or anything really) worked. **-
A Breath of Air • novelette by Tom Jolly
A group of people has “homestead” rights to an area on Mars. The people who lived in that place had died in an accident. There seems to be a lot of bad luck and strange accidents - perhaps the less-than-friendly-looking neighbors are trying to drive them away? After a bigger accident, which practically destroys both farms, things look bad. Nothing unusual or new, but a smoothly written and entertaining story. ****-
Candida Eve • short story by Dominica Phetteplace
All but one of the members of a Mars expedition have died of a disease that has spread like a pandemic on Earth soon after their launch. She buries the dead members (wtf, why intentionally bring bacteria and even the deadly pandemic virus from Earth to Mars?) and starts to do whatever research she can do alone. The story has a nice feel, it is more relevant now than when it was being written, but there are a few too irritating stupidities in it. If you send self-learning robots on a vital space mission, wouldn’t it make sense to teach them the most basic functions before the mission leaves, so that they wouldn’t have to learn how to hold a screwdriver as the first thing on the mission? But, on the other hand, apparently no testing at all had been done about how drones work, otherwise their malfunction would have been easily prevented by ANY testing. ***½
A Compass in the Dark • short story by Phoebe Barton
A woman has moved to the far side of the moon and returns to bury her father, who believes that souls need a magnetic field to escape. The writing was nice, but the story was too short. And at the beginning, I was very baffled when it was mentioned that the Earth and the Sun are seen as sickles on the sky. I was trying to think about a place where that could happen, but wasn’t able to. I still can't think how that would be possible. ***-
It Was a Tradition When You Turned 16 • short story by Eric Cline
A treatise of electric cars, the disguise of a father giving his daughter a driving lesson while she thinks the whole thing is unnecessary and quaint. Not actually a real story. ***+
Calm Face of the Storm • novelette by Ramona Louise Wheeler
Bret is nearing the end of his adolescence and flies alone. He gets caught up in a storm and is blown away to strange lands. He meets an intriguing female of the other tribe, which was thought to be mystical, and she goes into winter hibernation, as is the way of her people. He flies farther, and finds strange but dangerous creatures. When he eventually returns home, he is not believed. A pretty standard coming-of-age story, but the setting was really strange. At first, I thought it took place on a colony planet, but then it was obvious that the planet was the home planet of flying creatures, who apparently have a spaceport and satellite location system, but don’t really know much of the geography, peoples, and animals of their own world...WTF is going on? Is there a rational explanation for this all, or is the author just lazy? ***

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

Another Hugo award nominee. A young girl, January, lives in a large mansion as the ”ward” of a peculiar gentleman collector. Her father works for the same millionaire and seeks out curious items all around the world and spends most of his time traveling. The girl is colored and no one never can guess her actual heritage as she apparently has an unusual exotic look; her father is black. As a small girl, she once found a door that seemed to go to another world. As she told her ”guardian” about it he reacted it to it pretty heavily, and told her to forget such imaginary nonsense, and started to raise her as a “real” lady with proper manners. She wasn’t allowed to play with her friend, a boy from a nearby village anymore either. Later the boy manages to give her a dog which grows up to be large and fiercely protective. She finds a book, which seems to tell about portals between different worlds. Soon after that, she gets bad news: her father is apparently dead, and her guardian might not be the nice old gentleman she thought…

A well written exciting and even moving book. The plot was exciting, the book-inside-a-book device worked so well I was surprised, and the character of January was very well described and interesting. I was sad to find that there is no second part available or even announced. On the other hand, the story was wrapped up fairly well in this book. I am looking forward to the new adventures of January, as many doors were left open for many new adventures for January and her friends.

385 pp