Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Kaikki mikä kiiltää (Antti Hautalehto #5) by Christian Rönnbacka

Lisää Hautalehdon ja hänen tutkimusryhmänsä seikkailuja. Tällä kertaa Hautalehto kiinnittää huomionsa siihen, että hänen tuttunsa keskusrikospoliisista vaikuttaa postaavan jotakuta aivan Hautalehdon kotikentillä ilman, että hänelle olisi tästä mitään tiedotettu. Ilmenee, että kyseessä ovat pari entistä koulukodin kasvattia, joilla näyttää olevan kummallisen paljon rahaa käytettävissään. Ja pian ei vain poliisi, vaan myös konnat, jahtaavat samoja nuoria.

Ehkä aavistuksen heikompi kirja kuin edelliset sarjan osat. Osasyynä lienee se, että kesti aika pitkään ennen kuin Hautalehto ja hänen poliisiryhmänsä pääsivät kirjassa varsinaisesti esille ja turhan pitkään seurattiin nuoria, joihin ei kovin suurta emotionaalista kytköstä vielä siinä vaiheessa ollut. Loppua kohden kirja parantui selvästi ja oli loppupuolellaan ihan samaa korkeaa tasoa kuin muutkin sarjansa kirjat letkeällä humoristisella kielellä maustettuna.

Another police procedural abut inspector Hautalehto and his group. This time they try to find a group of youngsters who have angered some really, really bad people after their smuggling kick went wrong. Nice and entertaining writing, but not without some gore, like the earlier parts of the series.

287 pp.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Middlegame (Middlegame #1) by Seanan McGuire

The last of the Hugo nominees this time. The evil alchemists have created human constructs that could control all forces of nature. The latest attempt has been divided into two parts: to twins being raised as ”cuckoos” in normal families. The twins have been able to communicate telepathically since childhood, but on more than one occasion the alchemists have put a stop to it, believing that premature contact would ruin the experiment. After they establish contact again, after a long pause, they start to grow stronger—and because the alchemists still think of them as something of a test run for the pair that will actually be used for nefarious purposes, they now face termination.

The book was written in nice, easy-to-read, but fairly meandering language. There were many descriptions of mundane details having little to do with the plot; sometimes it felt like even the description of a person waking up in the morning and dressing themselves took several pages. As a whole, it wasn’t a bad book at all, but exceptional children on the run from an ancient and powerful organization is an old trope. In fact, there was another nominee this year with a strikingly similar plot—The Ten Thousand Doors of January—and that book did it better. I will reiterate: this wasn’t a bad book at all, and the last half was particularly enjoyable, but it will not be in the running for my top choices given this year's stiff competition.

492 pp.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

My Hugo award votes 2020 part 4: Novels

All nominees were pretty good this year and there are many past winners who were (much) worse than any of the nominees. Another nice detail was that there were no second or third parts this time; all novels were stand-alone works, or the first parts of their series, so they were also more eligible than many earlier nominees for that reason. The exact order of the novels was difficult to decide, however, as said, there wasn’t anything really bad. A few of the works were a bit heavy-handed with slightly ponderous writing which, in places, wasn’t easy to go through. I decided to put in the first place the book which was the most entertaining and which was, by far, the most exciting to read. The writing in it perhaps wasn’t so ”artistic” as some of the other nominees, but very competent anyway. The book was supposed to be a stand-alone one, but I can easily see there might be other stories worth telling in that world. The second place goes to the imaginative use of an old trope of a soldier going through the basic training and fighting battles against a strange enemy. The third, fourth, and fifth places were very difficult to decide, I changed their order a few times, but the following was my final voting list. The City in the Middle of the Night was left in the last place, but by no means is it a bad book.

1. The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow (Redhook; Orbit UK)
2. The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley (Saga; Angry Robot UK)
3. Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
4. A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine (Tor; Tor UK)
5. Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir (Tor.com Publishing)
6. The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor; Titan)

Monday, July 20, 2020

Kylmä syli (Antti Hautalehto #4) by Christian Rönnbacka

Kesällä on usein paljon autossa istumista ja samalla tapanamme on kuunnella äänikirjoja. Nyt jatkoimme samaa sarjaa kuin edellinen kuuntelemamme kirja.

Pikkujoulusta palaamassa ollut nuori mies katoaa. Matkareitillä on joki ja oletus on, että hän on pudonnut matkalla veteen. Jokin jää hiukan kiusaamaan komisario Antti Hautalehtoa, mutta valvontakameroiden ja joen pohjan tutkimisen lisäksi aika vähän on tehtävissä. Mutta sitten vedestä löytyy henkihieverissä poliisiharjoittelijana toiminut yhden Antin tutkimusryhmän jäsenen poika, joka ei edes ollut paria olutta tukevammassa humalassa ja joka oli suorittanut armeijan taistelusukeltajana, joten ihan helpolla ei hänen olisi pitänyt veden alle vahingossa joutua. Paikalla oli lisäksi nähty vettä valunut hupparipäinen hämärähkö tyyppi. Onko liikkeellä häikäilemätön murhaaja? Ja kun aletaan käymään läpi vastaavia kuolemantapauksia näyttää siltä, että kyseessä on sarjamurhaaja. Tästä alkaa tutkimus, jossa on paljon pelissä, myös Antin itsensä henkilökohtainen turvallisuus.

Kirja oli samaa tasoa kuin aikaisemmat sarjan kirjat: mielikuvituksellista ja vauhdikasta tarinankerrontaa mukavalla huumorilla ja yllättävillä juonenkäänteillä (kuitenkin pääosin loogisilla) maustettuna. Aika vetreässä kunnossa ollut sairaseläkeläinen syyllinen tosin oli, ei olisi varmaan todellisuudessa eläkehakemus mennyt läpi. Kielellisesti ainakin kuunneltuna kirja oli hyvin sujuvaa tekstiä, joka ei ”tökkinyt” missään vaiheessa.

Another Antti Hautalehto book which I listened to during commutes to the summer cottage and back. The police are now trying to find a serial murderer who drowns young inebriated men returning from restaurants at night. There might be many victims, as deaths like that are most likely considered to be accidents. Exciting and easy listening with many surprising turns. Dialogue was very ”manly”, but funny at the same time. Looking forward to the next book.

317 pp

Sunday, July 19, 2020

My Hugo award votes 2020 part 3: Novellas

All novellas were pretty good. Two of them went for extremely flowery and literary writing style. As I am more a plot driven reader, there were not my favorites, even though they might be in high positions at final voting. The order of the stories was clear this time: the best was the best by a wide margin. Also, the second was such a fun story that it was easy to put on a high position. The worst wasn’t bad, but it felt so ”mundane” that I put it in the last place. The others were also pretty easy to put in order, also.

To Be Taught, If Fortunate, by Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager; Hodder & Stoughton)
Four explorers wake up from a suspended animation near a star they are supposed to study. There are several planets orbiting the same star, and they spend time on each of them. They are so concentrated on their studies that it takes weeks to notice Earth hasn’t sent any messages for months.
They find life on planets and spend time to explore them. They have some fairly minor setbacks and eventually must decide what they are going to do: shall they return to Earth or travel to the next star with no chance to ever to return to Earth. They take a very strange and not logical choice. The story consists mainly of lecturing about exobiology and is badly too long with little action and few solutions.

“Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom”, by Ted Chiang (Exhalation (Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf; Picador)
It is possible to buy a ”prismn”, which is a device that splits realities when it is activated. It enables you to change information, and even communicate through video with your alternate self. As time goes on, the probabilities diverge and changes cumulate. There is a limit to how much information can pass through before the prismn becomes useless. A con artist uses prismns for nefarious purposes with the help of a woman who has a troubled past. There is a prismn which they want, as it is a possibility for a great profit. The concept of the story is very interesting, and the story takes its time to evolve - it is done very well. The conclusion is moving and very well done. An excellent story, but I don't really see why you would want to discuss with your alternate self - what good would come from that? If you do worse than your ”alternate”, you feel bad, if you do better, you feel bad for your alternate version...so, whatever happens, you don’t feel good.

This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (Saga Press; Jo Fletcher Books)
Two sides are caught in a time war, trying to destroy each other. Two agents representing each side, Red and Blue, start messaging and fall in love. They send messages through poetic yet impractical mediums, for instance, encoding them in the yearly growth of trees. Their love spans eons while they destroy the world the other has tried to create. A very poetically written story, with beautiful language, but the plot was scarse and we were supposed to feel deep sympathy for characters who destroy cultures and cause uncountable deaths with reckless abandon.

The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)
Supernatural creatures are commonplace in alternative Egypt. Certain types of djinn are used as guiding intelligence and power sources for half-automatic tram cars. One of the trams apparently is haunted, and a spirit has been attacking women traveling on it. Two members of a government bureau dealing with such things come to investigate. A very imaginative world, with interesting characters. At times, it felt very much like a Supernatural fan fiction with a modified setting - the feel of the storytelling was very similar. A fun and entertaining story in any case.

In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
The story belongs to the author's Wayward Children series. A serious and smart girl, who is good at following rules, leaves the real world for a place where everything is traded at fair value. The Market itself enforces that - if the trade isn’t fair, there are severe consequences. The girl likes it there, she makes friends, but then returns home. She travels between worlds several times but is eventually faced with a choice: which world does she want to live in? A well-written story with beautiful language, but there were several faults. I don’t believe that the protagonist got a ”fair value” at least two times at any stretch. Also, I don’t understand why the ultimate choice was so hard - the lure of the fantasy world seemed very trivial compared to what she had in the real world.

The Deep, by Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes (Saga Press/Gallery)
The pregnant slaves who were thrown out of the slave ship gave birth to children who magically turned to mermaids. Their descendants have forgotten their past, but there are ”historians'' among them who can relive those events and give those memories for others to experience. For one historian the stress is too much and she flees. After being hurt she encounters ”two feets” and makes a connection with them. The story is written with flowery poetic language, but it is pretty slow moving and at end turns even somewhat surreal. In spite of language I wasn’t a great fan, some condensing may have helped. Also, I am not a fan of stories where magic happens just because it happens - not to say anything about a very irritating main character.

My voting order will be:

1. “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom”, by Ted Chiang
2. The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark
3. In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire
4. This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
5. The Deep, by Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes
6. To Be Taught, If Fortunate, by Becky Chambers

Friday, July 17, 2020

Kuiva kausi (Aaron Falk #1) by Jane Harper (The Dry)

Talousrikoksiin erikoistunut poliisi Aaron Falk palaa syntymäpaikkakunnalleen hautajaisiin. Hänen paras lapsuudenystävänsä on ampunut perheensä ja itsensä. Paikkakunta on pieni ja sisäänlämpiävä. Poliisi itse on joutunut aikoinaan muuttamaan pois kaupungista jo nuorena kun hänen ystäviinsä kuollut tyttö löytyi epäselvissä olosuhteissa kuolleena. Osoittautuu, että aluksi selvältä näyttänyt laajennettu itsemurha ei olekaan niin selvä, miltä aluksi näytti ja paikkakunnan poliisikin on huomannut muutamia erikoisia yksityiskohtia kuolemissa. Falk pidentää hautajaismatkaansa ja yrittää löytää totuuden. Tämä ei kuitenkaan ole helppoa, koska paikkakunta suhtautuu epäillen ulkopuolisiin, etenkin sellaisiin jonka maine on menetetty jo vuosikausia sitten. Lisäksi pitkään jatkunut kuivuus on saanut kaikkien hermot kireälle.

Hyvä, hyvin kirjoitettu dekkari, joka toi hyvin esiin pikkukaupungin elämän ja sään kaupunkia uhanneen vaikutuksen. Ihmiset oli kiinnostavia, mutta ehkä jossain määrin aavistuksen kliseisiä. Kovin paljoa vihjeitä lukijalla ei myöskään ollut käytettävissä, joten arvoitukset ratkaiseminen ei kovin helppoa olisi ollut. Kokonaisuudessa kirja oli mukavaa luettavaa.

A policeman returns to a small town where he was born (and from where he was forced to flee after his friend died in suspicious circumstances). His childhood friend has apparently murdered his family and himself. It turns out that the case isn’t as clear cut as it seemed at first. A nice crime novel with interesting but perhaps slightly stereotypical characters.

381 pp

Rakennus 31 (Antti Hautalehto #3) by Christian Rönnbacka

Antti Hautalehto -sarjassa seuraava kirja. Antti on pitkälti toipunut edellisen kirjan tapahtumista. Hän asuu surkeassa vuokra-asunnossa, koska ei ole ehtinyt etsiä uutta asuntoa edellisessä kirjassa tuhoutuneen tilalle ja deittailee hyvin aktiivisesti lääkäriä, jonka tapasi edellisen kirjan tapahtumien yhteydessä.

Poliisille tulee ilmoitus avoimesta haudasta. Kun mitään varsinaiseen rikokseen viittaavaa ei löydy, poliisi ei aluksi asiaa kovin aktiivisesti tutki - mutta sitten löytyy toinen ja kolmas avoin hauta (hiukan ihmettelen kuinka helposti käsipelillä metsämaahan hautoja saa kaivettua - itse kun joskus jotain pikkuruista kuoppaa on yrittänyt metsään kaivaa niin käsivarren paksuisia juuria ja kuutiosta alaspäin kooltaan olevia kiviä on vastassa 5 cm maan pinnan alla ihan riittävästi). Kun lopulta viimeisestä haudasta löytyy riistiinnaulittu mies lannevaatteeseen puettuna pistohaava kyljessään, niin poliisilla on tutkittavanaan todella kummallinen rikos. Antilla on vielä lisävaivana ilmeisen häiriintynyt stalkkeri, mutta on toisaalta hänellä uusi tyttöystävä, jonka kanssa harrastaa (paljon) seksiä.

Kirja oli vetävän humoristista kieltä jota autossa mökkimatkoilla kuunteli mielellään. Välillä kirjassa oli hiukan edellä poliiseja ongelman ratkaisemisessa. Mukana oli myös joitain epäloogisuuksia (ei potilaspapereita todellakaan jätettäisi jälkeen hylättyyn sairaalarakennukseen), mutta kyseessä oli viihdyttävä kesäkirja kumminkin.

A police procedural where police inspector Antti Hautalehto (who has an obsessive stalker) tries to find who behind the empty graves which have been found in the woods. At first the police isn’t too worried - after all if someone is digging graves in someone else’s forest, the crime is so small that it really doesn’t warrant much investigation. But then the fourth grave is found with a body in it. And as the body is of a long haired, thin man who has been crusified, has stabwound at his side of chest is who is dressed only in a loincloth, the case is really strange. A smoothly written and easy to read (and listen) entertaining crime novel.

350 pp

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

Two young girls, Sophie and Bianca, live on a planet which is tidally locked to its sun. One side is always toward the sun and is extremely hot; another is always away from the sun and it is very cold. Life is possible only on a narrow strip between those sides. A ”Mothership” brought human colonists to the planet centuries ago and established a colony. There had been some unrest and even apparent ethnic cleansing during the generations long journey. The contact with the Mothership has been lost and technology is slowly failing as weather patterns grow worse.

Sophie is from a poor family and managed to get to university by sheer will and brilliance. Bianca is a privileged, rich, beautiful and popular girl who was always destined to go to the best of schools. Sophie has fallen desperately in love with Bianca, and when Bianca does something which could cause severe punishment, just for kicks, Sophie takes the blame. Police pick her up, and just toss her over the wall on the dark side to die. As she is freezing to death she sees a ”crocodile”, a huge vicious beast that lives in the cold, sometimes kills people and are usually killed on sight. As she has nothing to lose and is dying anyway she succumbs to the beast. It turns out that the ”beast” is an intelligent being who belongs to a species which communicates by sharing their memories and saves Sophie. The crocodiles have a vast city under the ice on the cold side, and they are interested in forming relations with humans. Sophie returns to city and lives more or less underground, fearing the police. She eventually establishes contact with Bianca and they together go to the another town on the planet with some smugglers. Sophie has plans for mutiny and changing the ways of her home town.

The setting was interesting, but I don’t think that the weather would work like that. I would think that the huge temperature difference would cause non-ending cyclone level winds. The aliens were also well described and fascinating. The human characters, though, were irritating and far too much time was spent on Sophie's pining for Bianca, when it was very soon very obvious that Bianca was just using Sophie, and demanded trust and love when she herself had none to give. But love is apparently very blind. The book ended just when things got interesting and the events at the end happened very fast and mostly off screen. Maybe a few dozen pages Sophies dreaming of Bianca could have been cut and the fairly open ending expanded a bit. The writing itself was pretty good, and there were interesting ideas, but there were parts of the book which were a struggle to get through especially about half-way. It will not be one of my first choices in the voting.

366 pp.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

My Hugo award votes 2020 part 2: Novelettes

Most of the nominated stories were fairly good, but forgettable. Finding the best story was very easy as it was the only really excellent novellette. The “Omphalos” can be classified as a real classic which should never be really forgotten, one of the best nominees I have read in years. On the other hand, “The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye”, was easy to put at the last place. The setting was nice, but the characters felt hollow, and the ending was very hurried. A bit longer format with a bit more mystery and more gradual reveal might have made the story a lot better. The second place was also easy to decide; “Away With the Wolves” was pretty good, even if it was also somewhat hurried with a bit too fast of an ending. The order of the rest of the stories was harder to decide. “The Archronology of Love”, was fairly satisfying even though there is little that is really new or inventive. And as Emergency Skin had a too heavy political message, I preferred the simple but amusingly written cat story over it.

“The Archronology of Love”, by Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed, April 2019)
Destroy Fantasy Special Issue, September/October 2019)

A colony world has failed and everyone there has died. A new expedition tries to find out what happened. As most of the members had friends and family on the planet, they really want to find out why everyone died. There is a way to visit the past, using a machine called “The Chronicle”, but it “smudges” the past world and the more you use it and the more you study the past, the harder it is to make things out. The main researcher who has lost her husband uses the device to observe the past. A well written bittersweet love story, but the tech used went to the realm of fantasy. Also, was it supposed to be a surprise that the plague was caused by nanites? It was very obvious from the start.
“Away With the Wolves”, by Sarah Gailey (Uncanny Magazine: Disabled People
A woman is a werewolf. In human form she suffers from severe pains, but in wolf form she is pain free, agile, and happy. She lives in a small village and has a very good friend who she isn’t ready to abandon. The villagers mostly accept her wolfhood, at least if she pays for chicken and other small animals she has killed. But then a goat is found dead and she has no recollection of killing it. Usually, she has at least some memories of what she does as a wolf. A well written story with a nice mood, but somehow felt a bit lacking, perhaps a little longer form might have made the characters more relatable.
“The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye”, by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny Magazine, July-August 2019)
A mystery writer has traveled to a remote cottage to write her latest book and everything is arranged by her very efficient assistant/friend. She starts well, but on the next morning the fuse burns out. She walks down to the village to find the guy they rented the cottage from. She finds him dead, calls for the police, and for her assistant. The assistant seems to know details of the murder she couldn’t know - is she involved somehow? And then everything is explained by a lecture given by the assistant. An entertaining story to read, but the writing wasn’t exceptional and the plot had holes in it. Also, the ending wasn’t “shown” rather it was wrapped down by just a detailed verbal explanation. I don’t really understand why this was nominated.
For He Can Creep”, by Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com, 10 July 2019)
A tomcat is protecting the members of a mental asylum from demons. One day the devil himself shows interest in a poet who is confined in the asylum. The devil wants the poet to write a poem - which would be tantamount to giving up his soul to the devil. The devil tempts the cat and even seems to succeed. A nice story with a nice humorous tone - pretty strange background though. Another story that feels just “comfortable” without a real edge.
“Omphalos”, by Ted Chiang (Exhalation [Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf; Picador])
The story happens in a world where there is irrefutable proof of creation: if you go back enough, you can find ancient trees where there are no growth rings, seashells have smooth contours until they start to show seasonal variation, and the oldest mummies there are have no navels and their skeletons show no sign of growth zones. All stars there are have been cataloged, no new ones have been found in centuries, even with better telescopes, and they are all alike. The existence of God is something no one doubts, and everyone knows that the world and humans are something God has planned. But then there is new research, which shows that everything everyone has always "known" isn’t exactly what it has been believed, and it might be that there is no such thing as a God's plan after all - at least not for the Earth and humans. The story is told by letters written by a young female archeologist. The writing was extremely good, and the story was by far the best of the nominees. There were no explanations offered: apparently, the world really functioned that way and was created by a god. Or it was a computer simulation?
Emergency Skin, by N.K. Jemisin (Forward Collection [Amazon])
An explorer returns to Earth with a vital mission. He expects the planet to be dead, as it was dying when the Founders left. It turns out that the planet is thriving, there is no pollution, people are peaceful, and they even help the explorer, who is more of a biological construct than a normal person. All the smart, rich, and resourceful people who were thinking for their own benefit left - the planet should have died out without real competent leadership, so how can it be a near paradise? There is a slight political agenda in this story…. The writing isn’t bad at all.

My voting order will be:

1. “Omphalos”, by Ted Chiang (Exhalation [Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf; Picador])
2. “Away With the Wolves”, by Sarah Gailey (Uncanny Magazine: Disabled People
3. “The Archronology of Love”, by Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed, April 2019) Destroy Fantasy Special Issue, September/October 2019)
4. “For He Can Creep”, by Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com, 10 July 2019)
5. “Emergency Skin”, by N.K. Jemisin (Forward Collection [Amazon])
6. “The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye”, by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny Magazine, July-August 2019)