Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Indrek Hargla: Apteekkari Melchior ja Olevisten kirkon arvoitus


Dekkari, joka tapahtuu keskiajan Tallinnassa. Korkea-arvoinen saksalaisen ritarikunnan jäsen löytyy murhattuna - eikä vain yksinkertaisesti tapettuna ja pää irrotettuna ja tappiin lyötynä. Suuhun on tungettu epätavallinen kolikko. Tämä on jo itsessään koko kaupunkia vavisuttava tapaus, mutta kun löytyy toinenkin kuollut niin syyllisen löytämisellä on kiire. Apteekkari Melchior alkaa selvittelemään kuka on syyllinen. Kirja on erittäin hidasliikkeinen, ja alun murhan jälkeen tapahtumien liikkeelle lähteminen on hyvin hidasta ja jaarittelevaa. Loppuratkaisu oli myös niin puhtaasti keskiaikaisiin taikauskoihin pohjautuvat, että se antoi vähän hatusta tempaistun vaikutelman, eikä motiivi ollut nykypäivän ihmisen näkökulmasta vähäisimmässäkään määrin uskottava. Loppuselvittelykohtaus oli suoraan Agatha Christieltä lainattu - kaikki hahmot ovat paikalla, kun etsivä seikkaperäisesti selvittää tutkimuksiensa tulokset. En suuremmin kirjaan ihastunut, eikä mitään kiirettä sarjan muihin osiin tutustumisen kanssa ole.

This is a detective story occurring in Tallinn in the late Middle-Ages. A high ranking German knight has been murdered, and not only murdered but also decapitated. That shakes the little close-knit town and when another victim is found dead, the town elders demand that the guilty (or at least someone who can be blamed) be found and punished quickly.  The town pharmacist takes an interest and eventually finds the offender. This is a very slow-moving book. The first half especially seemed to last forever. And the motive for the killings was pretty unbelievable for the modern man. The rest of the series isn’t going to the top of my reading queue.  

349 pp.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, November-December 2020

An ok issue, but Analog would, really, really need a science editor. More and more stupid errors seem to creep in issue by issue.

Together, We Can Be More! • novelette by Juliette Wade

A space station is repurposed for several different alien species so that they can learn co-operation, their languages, habits and to make friends. Told in snippets from different (in most cases alien) viewpoints (the aliens having pretty human psyches and even languages which resemble English in structure [two personals pronouns for genders]). A bit of an overlong story with little cohesive plot. **+

This Hard World of Unwanted Beauty • novelette by Evan Marcroft

A human ship has crashed on a world where most life is apparently silicon-based ends horribly sharp and maims and kills when touched. However, somehow there are intelligent creatures, who help humans, carry them around apparently as pets, give them pieces of their flesh to eat, and parts of their skin as “cloth” (I don’t really understand the biochemistry of that). The humans consider this horribly demeaning and try to get to the emergency transmitter to get help. The aliens feel a bit anthropomorphized and chemistry is bizarre. Human behavior and attitudes feel strange, also. ***½     

A Purpose for Stars • short story by Brad McNaughton

An altruistic doctor is on an alien planet performing procedures for a condition that affects the faces of the local intelligent species. The colors on faces are used as part of local communication, so the condition which prevents that is socially debilitating. One child has a heart condition that poses a huge risk for the procedure and it is most likely the child will die from it. The mother presses for the operation. What should they do?  A pretty good but slightly short story. ***½

Ghost Strike • short story by Brenda Kalt

Down in his luck, asteroid prospector gets an offer he can’t refuse. He is supposed to find an old discarded lump of ore. He doesn’t find that but something more valuable. A problem-solving story with nothing really new. ***

Peaceweaver • short story by Marissa Lingen

An artist joins an alien race to enhance co-operation and friendship between species. How does a composer present his art to a species which has no concept of music? There is something all artists everywhere share. Reading critiques. A short entertaining story. ***

The Polar Bear Sleeps On • short story by M. Bennardo

A polar bear escapes the zoo and has moved into an upper-class apartment. The people there have died. There are food stores but they don’t last long. A well-told postapocalyptic story. I don’t get why the bear was so lethargic, though. ***-

Beloved Toiler • short story by George Zebrowski

Orson Welles’s Magnificant Ambressons is being recreated but the original footage which was thought to be lost is found - or something. The first half of the story is the history of Orson Welles and Citizen Kane and Magnificent Andersson told in more than 100-word-long sentences (no kidding, I counted). A pretty bad story; more of a history lecture and not very well told. **-  

Brought Near to Beast • short story by Gregor Hartmann

Pleistocene ecology with mammoths and dire wolves has been created in North America after ChoRen, a group that took global power and eliminated religion and superstition (and most of the humans). A game warden has lived for a long time with animals and when a veterinarian comes to visit, is gone pretty much “native”. The professionalism of them seems to be pretty bad, as the feed rhododendron leas for the mammoths - it is a poisonous plant, after all. The leader of Choren is coming to visit. A pretty clumsy and bad story with a LOT of forced exposition and explaining. **+ 

Trial and Error • novelette by Grey Rollins

A research group has landed on an alien planet with sentient aliens. The aliens are not at all interested in humans and mostly ignore them. There is a disastrous encounter where both humans and aliens end up dead. The cook of the ship has a plan for a peaceful solution, but some hotheads want revenge at almost any cost. I don’t understand why the members of a research/diplomatic mission would be horribly stupid, bigoted, and violent persons. Wouldn’t there be some sort of vetting process to weed out idiots? Otherwise a very good and well-written story. ****-

Asleep Was the Ship • short story by Eric Del Carlo

A human is working as a “breath” on an alien space ship. He stays awake as the alien pilgrims sleep while the ship passes a region of space which for some reason is harmful to the alien minds. He must watch over the sleeping alien during the transit. A few days into the journey he hears steps… is someone else there? A fairly good story, but 40 days at about half food rations (apparently there is no leeway in the food stores at all) isn’t going to kill or even seriously hurt anyone. ***½

Ashes • short story by Mario Milosevic

Hundreds of years' old woman is at her mother’s funeral, who died by suicide when she was 950 years old. They have evolved to live for a long time by conceiving from the last possible egg. The funerals are bittersweet and festive and the won powders on her own life. Otherwise a nice story, but the premise was horribly stupid. EVOLUTION DOES NOT WORK THIS WAY. The genetic set-up of a child doesn’t depend on which order the children are born. The second story with Lamarckian evolution in Analog in a short while. **-

State of Grace • short story by Clancy Weeks

An interstellar spaceship encounters a disaster mid-transit. The automatic systems can’t handle it and the ship AI wakes one passenger, an engineer who can make the repairs. The downside is that repairs will cause radiation damage which will certainly kill him from cancer in a few years. Actually, it doesn’t work like that - after a single radiation dose (which apparently doesn’t even cause severe radiation sickness) the cancer risk goes well up, but cancer is anything but a sure thing. According to the data I found, a single 1000 mSV dose, which will give you pretty bad but usually survivable radiation sickness, gives you a 1:13 risk of cancer due to radiation, and it takes years or decades. In spite of the bit shaky background, the story was very good with a nice development of the characters. ***½ 

Why Things Work on a Starship • short story by Stephen R. Loftus-Mercer

An engineer in a space ship is very good and is able to improve on the designs on the ship. The captain recognizes that but warns him of two original designs as more or less mediocre other crew wouldn't understand in a dangerous situation, but...  A nice, but short story. ***

Winter's Spring • novelette by A. P. Hawkins

A ship that has run from the Earth, which is under an alien attack has arrived at its destination. The planet they are supposed to colonize is cold - very cold. Much colder than it was supposed to be. Is it even possible to establish a colony so that the crew will be able to WAKE up the sleeping colonists? They try to establish farming, but the ground doesn’t seem to warm as it should. As a surprise discovery they find out that the frozen ground acts as a heat sink. No shit. Who would have thought? The energy needed for heating is running out. Using geothermal energy and drilling through 10 meters of frozen ground would be too demanding so they invent another approach: build gigantic wind turbines on the other side of the planet (where it is constantly windy) and use robot tractors to haul loaded batteries from there - that uses so much fewer resources! The writing is average, but the characters are stupid beyond belief. **

Enter the Fungicene • novelette by J. M. Swenson

A small group of clones are working to restore Earth. Most humans are dead; only a few cloned women have been single-mindedly worked towards their goal for thousands of generations. Vivian 2698 is an engineer (as are all her predecessors). She is known for being sometimes unorthodox and behaving in somewhat novel ways, something the other clones, who work as scientists, really don’t understand. The earth is filled with a wide variety of fungal growth. A breakthrough aiming for the reintroduction of normal plants seems to be very near, possibly in a few weeks. Like it has been for the last thousand years or so. Is there a way to turn the biosphere back to what it used to be? Or should it be done? A pretty good story, perhaps some small tightening might have made even better. ***½

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Skirmishes (Diving Universe #4) by Kristine Kathryn Rusch


The next part in the Diving Universe series. This part continues pretty much from where the former ended while there are some chapters which are flashbacks to earlier books which are now presented from another point of view. For example, we learn what happened at the Room of Lost Souls. It wasn’t as straightforward an operation as Captain Jonathon “Coop” Cooper - who was flung from the past in a working Dignity Vessel (which paradoxically is by far the most “modern” and powerful warship ever seen by any living person) - was led to believe. The “Boss”, the heroine of the earlier parts is starting to study the “graveyard”, a location in the space filled with shipwrecks, and which is protected by a forcefield. And the Empire who lost its main research base in a raid organized by “Coop” and the “Boss” is not going to stand quietly by when their “cloaking” experiments are destroyed. A very exciting book that was fast and fun to read, and it was very easy to follow in spite of several viewpoint characters and several timelines it tracked. It is a vastly better book than the plot synopsis (which sounds slightly “pulpish”) with well described and believable characters and enjoyable writing. I already purchased the next part.

326 pp.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Atrocity Archives (Laundry Files #1) by Charles Stross

 Laundry is a British intelligence agency that specializes in supernatural threats. There are many of those, all carefully suppressed from the public, as the truth would cause panic. It turns out that Lovecraft and his descriptions of vile creatures preying on humanity were partly correct, but vastly optimistic. But as Laundry IS a British government agency, it takes proper bureaucratic procedures very seriously and paper clip audits are not unheard of. A new member of the organization is sent on a mission to the USA. He encounters a beautiful mathematical researcher, whose research might have supernatural significance. The supernatural world is contacted with a mix of mathematics and computers. Previously spells and such had some components right by accident which made them work in a haphazard way, at least sometimes. So, a good knowledge of both routers and some higher math is essential while trying to stop summoned devils and such, or defuse an occult plan the Nazis started during the second world war. Included in the book is a novella about using Medulla’s look, which turns everyone to stone on camcorders.  A pretty good and fun book with a nice mixture of comedy and horror. The writing was pretty good and the characters were engaging. I would like to read the other parts sometime in the future – in the next ten years or so when there is enough time.   

345 pp. 

Celeste Ng: Tulenarkoja asioita (Little Fires Everywhere)


Elena Richardson elää täydellisessä amerikkalaisessa lähiössä, jossa kaikki on kaunista ja talot sopivat toisiinsa, ihmiset ovat onnellisia ja ystävällisiä. Tai ainakin tämä on julkisivu. Elena vuoraa ylimääräisen huoneistonsa yksihuoltaja Mia Warrenille, jolla on teini-ikäinen tytär Pearl. Elena lapset ja Pearl ystävystyvät nopeasti. Mia Warren on valokuvaaja. Nähtyään mielenkiintoisen valokuvan Mian luona pikkulehden rivitoimittajana toimiva Elena alkaa selvitellä Mian taustaa. Taustalta sitten löytyy varsin kiinnostavia asioita. Samaan aikaan Elenan lapsilla ja Pearlilla on monennäköistä teinisäätöä, oka ei hirveän kiinnostavalta pääosin kirjan aiheena vaikuta.

Kirjan alku on varsin hidas, kun henkilöt tutustuvat toisiinsa ja samalla heitä esitellään lukijalle. Siten, kun paljastuu, että tyynen pinnan alla on monella jotain salattavaa tai jopa tiedostamatonta kirja muuttuu kiinnostavammaksi.

Ihan valtavan suurta vaikutusta kirja ei antanut, se tuntui hiukan tavanomaiselta ihmissuhteita käsittelevältä kirjalta. Miehet kirjassa oli kuvattu mielestäni aika huonosti, Elena puolison näkökulmaa asioihin jäin kovasti kaipaamaan, hän oli erittäin vahvasti vain taustalla oleva hahmo. Kielellisesti tarina oli hyvin kerrottu, ilman liikoja hienostelevia koukeroita. Hiukan jäi loppujen lopuksi tyhjä olo: tässäkö tämä nyt oli? Mitään varsinaisen uutta ja radikaalia kirjassa ei ollut, vaan se oli ”pikkusievä” ihan kiva teos. Yhden kummallisuuden huomasin, en tiedä onko kääntäjän vai kirjailijan numeron käsityskyvyssä vai mistä on kiinni: Erään tarjoilijan työskentelevä henkilön kerrottiin ansaitsevan tarjoilijan työstään vain tarjoilijan minimipalkan 2.35 dollaria + juomarahat ja työskentelevän 50 tuntia viikossa, jolloin hänen kuukausitulonsa jäävät 317.50 dollariin. Nuo luvut eivät ole mitenkään järkeviä, ovatko juomarahat negatiivisia, vai?

The book tells about a perfect little town where perfect, and perfectly behaving, and perfectly open-minded people live. When a photographer single mom, Mia, and her teenage daughter move into a small apartment rented by Elena, a woman working in a small paper, things become ruffled. The daughter, Pearl, makes friends with Elena’s children. When Elena starts to study Mia’s past, secrets are revealed.  An OK book which takes its time to get going, and some, felt fairly ordinary and a bit lukewarm. The writing was smooth and easy to read. There was a severe problem with math at one point, either there was a severe translation error or the author doesn’t handle basic calculations.

384 pp