Sunday, June 28, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact September 1995

Average issue. One story which was so bad, that it was entertaining, other mainly fairly good.

Touchdown, Touchdown, Rah, Rah, Rah! • novella by W. R. Thompson
A private entrepreneur on an alien planet gets a lot of opposition from UN, who thinks their (UN's) way of making business is the only right one. He is able to sell rights to alien sport if a human player takes part on the event. Pity, that the human who is supposed to partake the game is a stupid jackass. Especially pity, when requirement for sports is good scholastic aptitude, and the emphasis is heavily on teamwork. Nice light comedic story. Before I started reading I thought that the story would be a some kind of tribute to Robert Heinlein, and RAH would refer to him...kept waiting for some reference to him. By the way, author seems to think that milk allergy has something to do with lactose (the character who makes the mistake would certainly KNOW it doesn't). ****-
Kath in Winter • shortstory by Marc Stiegler
Old film actress meets a mountain climber, who tries make her interested in cryonics.
So bad it approaches being good. I wonder if this is a spoof of some kind, or has it really been written with serious intent? If it is a spoof I don’t recognize the source material. Pretty badly written, but the plot is absolutely laughable, with so strange coincidences that it is hard to believe. The medical science presented is also totally ludicrous. The story is supposed to happen a few decades (?) in the future, but neurosurgery at least is old-fashionable even for the time of writing. The mountain climber tells for the actress about new, revolutionary technique for operation of cerebral aneurysms (they supposedly have always been inoperable before) using lowered body temperature (and for some very strange reason leaching away all the blood from the body - as if lowering blood pressure to about zero wouldn’t be enough - and that is supposed to be very new and untested technique. In reality that type of operations have been done for a long time). Lo and behold! The actress then gets just that type of aneurysm about 20 seconds after hearing that story. What a coincidence! And that experience makes her ready for cryogenics, even though no one has never be successfully revived from that state - as it so similar to that body temperature lowering already done in the brain operation. Very logical. It about the same that thinking that if you survive being hit to your head with a novelty hammer made with foam rubber, you naturally will be able to stand being hit to the head with a sledge hammer - it is almost the same thing...While the actress is recuperating from the operation, the mountaineer is run over by avalanche, and dies there on the Himalayan mountains. Before that he has found a rare flower from the mountains, and done what every nature lower naturally does, ripped it from its’ roots and sent it for his love. It’s also probably easy to return to nearest post office from top of mountains, to mail murdered rare flowers to your loved ones...The story ends in the far future when the actress has been woken from her cryonic suspension, and has found the body of her mountain man, who has been deep frozen in the glacier, and wakes him up, also. Very believable, as the cryogenic suspension is naturally almost the same as been crushed by a few tons of ice for a few decades. After that there is room only for saccharine sweet happy ending.
Really, really horribly bad story, but very fun story to rip apart. *
The Chronology Protection Case • novelette by Paul Levinson
Universe seems to protect itself from a destruction time travel might cause, and scientists, who is about to publish article about test results hinting to possibility of it, start to have bad luck. Extremely bad luck. Nice and well written, interesting story, but I would think it would have safer and simpler for universe just to make our sun go to nova…***½
The Secret Life of Gods • novella by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
A history professor is on an excavation of ancient alien city. He interprets everything in terms of religion and cults. When other members of the teams try to offer different interpretations, he ridicules them and ultimately makes drastic measures to prove himself right. It isn’t hard to guess who was right. Ok story, nothing surprising in any way. ***
Ben Franklin's Spaceship • shortstory by Joseph J. Lazzaro and Peter L. Manly
A cargo space ship (which needs beamed energy from a ground station) loses its' energy beam and seems to be abandoned. The crew must find a way to survive. Very short story, a bit too fast and easy ending. Expansion of the story might have been a good idea. ***+

Saturday, June 27, 2009

My Hugo award votes part 4: Novels

The unusual thing in this year’s Hugo award nominations for the in novel category was a predominance of young adult fiction. Three of the nominated works can be classified to that category, one book might even be considered as a children’s book, at least considering the writing style (The Graveyard Book). Another thing that comes to mind about nominated books is that the authors with large online following seem to get nominated easier than others. I don’t think that it is entirely coincidence that three of nominated authors (Scalzi, Doctorow, Gaiman) have a great degree of internet fame. All those books were pretty good, but I have some suspicions that some lesser known authors might have been overlooked when fans were nominating books by author fame only. Another recognizable trend in this year nominations are homages of different sorts. Two of the nominated works are clear homages - The Graveyard Book is a homage of Kipling’s Jungle Book, and Saturn’s Children is a homage of later day Heinlein, especially of Friday. Zoe’s Tale could also be considered as an another homage of Heinlein, this time more of his juveniles, more in the general writing style (and quality) as a conscious attempt to imitate style. It is book that works very well for both adult and (presumably) for teenage readers - it is very good and entertaining story. Doctorow’s Little Brother is also fairly readable for readers of all ages, but it suffered a bit from a “syndrome” affecting some books meant for young readers: all adults are worthless and irritating idiots. Also, those info dumps which halted all action for page or two in several places were kind of irritating. The Graveyard Book isn’t one of Gaiman’s best books. The language was probably a bit too childish, , especially considering the content. However, it managed to quite poetic at the same time. I found the ending to be a bit too abrupt, but on the other hand it was left bit too open.
The Saturn’s Children wasn’t one of Stross’s best works, and his last year’s nomination, Halting State, was much better (and was my number one in Hugo-votes). I have hard time understanding why that period of Heinlein’s career would need a whole book worth of “imitation”.
Anathema is clearly the best nominee as book. But it isn’t exactly as clear if it is best book as science fiction. I am not still sure if it needed 900+ pages to tell the story it did, but as a whole it was very interesting. Part of reason why it felt so thick was fairly tight schedule I had when I was reading it.

I thought I would have trouble deciding to order of books in my vote - but after thinking about it for a while everything feels very obvious, and it was not hard at all to put these works in “correct” order.
My voting will be the following:

1. Anathem by Neal Stephenson
2. Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi
3. Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross
4. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
5. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi

Tells a story of last year's "Lost Colony" from a different viewpoint. The main character is 17 years old Zoe, who is a stepdaughter of former colonial union soldiers. When her parents are recruited to lead the latest human colony she follows them. But the colonial union isn’t playing with open hand, and there are some pretty sinister plans developing behind the scenes... and it isn’t even so clear-cut who is the enemy.
This book might be classified as a young adult book. In spite of that (or because of that?) it was very nice read, plugging several small plot holes from the Last Colony. Well written, very fun to read and enjoyable book, very much in style (but probably better, at least from perspective on this era) than the best of Heinlein’s juveniles. And it’s better than Last Colony. Even knowing the most plot points beforehand didn’t hurt the book at all. And Zoe - what a wonderful character! Easily in par with Candy from David R. Palmers books - who has been my favorite young female “star” from science fiction for so far.

Saturn's Children by Charles Stross

All humans have died out about two hundred years ago. The robots and androids are left to continue civilization at least in some manner. They are managing fairly well, but there are problems, as many of them have a hard wired obedience for "creators", which limits free will, and some of more ruthless types of robots tend to exploit others using that tendency to obey. The main character of the book is Freya, an android courtesan, who has been designed to serve humans in all manners imaginable - and there are no humans left to serve. After insulting a member of new elite, an "aristo", she is forced to run for her life... Her journey takes her through the solar system habited by several different types of robots and androids, giving at the same time a tour for a reader.
Written in first person present tense (which took a bit get used to). Entertaining tribute to later day Heinlein. The book is dedicate to Heinlein and Asimov, but the writing style is as about far from Asimov as possible.
The main character seems to be modeled on Heinlein’s Friday, and there are even some fairly direct quotes of Heinlein’s some more famous ( or infamous) passages "my nipples went …" :-)
Well, I am not sure why the later day Heinlein would need a tribute of this kind - but fairly decent read this was (but maybe not in all meanings of the word "decent"). I believe that last years Halting State was clearly better book. But I haven’t read a great amount of late Heinlein (practically only the aforementioned Friday), so a greater familiarity with the influencing material might have increased enjoyment.

Monday, June 22, 2009

My Hugo award votes part 3: Novellas

My Hugo shortlist for novellas

The novella category was fairly good, clearly better than last year - but that not saying much as last year most of nominees were pretty bad (and the winner was hideous - the most blatant home field win since Hominids). There three good stories, which weren’t very easy to put in order, and two stories which I am apparently just too stupid to understand.

I also really wonder what it was that these stories got nominated over some clearly better ones, especially why Tenbrook of Mars by McLaughlin wasn't nominated is really strange. (except that those casting nominating votes seem really, really, hate Analog and think that anything published in that magazine is worthless). Other noteworthy stories which are in my opinion better than most of those which got nominated are Hob Carpet and The Room of Lost Souls from Asimov's.

The Political Prisoner by Charles Coleman Finlay
A story about former political officer of a religious dictatorship who is taken to a concentration camp for forced labor after a coup. Good, exiting and well written story. However, it could be argued that the story isn’t really science fiction, as all events in the story might have happened in any generic gulag, the oppressed gene modified people might have been Jews or some other persecuted group and so on. Very good and moving story nevertheless.

“Truth” by Robert Reed
A very strange prisoner is kept under the most careful guard possible in underground prison. There is extremely good proof that his has come from the future among a larger terrorist group which is planning to change the world. His main interrogator has just committed suicide, and his replacement is brought in. Meanwhile, the world seems to be going to hell…
Pretty good story, the first part seems to go on for a bit too long, the ending is very good.

“The Erdmann Nexus” by Nancy Kress
A few old people living in a supported living home start to experience strange spells where they feel as part of something greater and then lose their consciousness. The attacks repeat more and more often, and they start to be more profound. Eventually they even seems to have effects to the outside world.
Very good story, well told. The weaker part was the ending which felt a bit rushed and not entirely satisfying.

“The Tear” by Ian McDonald
Galaxy has apparently been inhabited by humans long ago, and there are many different types of humans who are each adapted to different local conditions. One type is able to hold several personalities or ”aspects” at the same time and switch between them, another appears to be more of a kind of hivemind. The last mentioned are for some reason chased by ruthless enemies. And there are complicated space battles, love and so on. In fact too much seems to be happening just for a longish novella, with too many abrupt changes of viewpoint written by overtly long and complicated sentences. This is another story where I felt that I am just too stupid to appreciate the literary fine writing. At places reading was more than a bit of a struggle.

“True Names” by Benjamin Rosenbaum & Cory Doctorow
Post singularity (?) intelligences live fight and love. Or at last it seems so. Extremely hard story to get into. I am just probably too stupid for it, but I couldn't care of the "characters" at all or really follow what they were doing. I must confess that I had give up after about 40% of the story as I just couldn’t give a sh*t about what the characters were doing or about the storyline.

I think my votes will be in this order:
After thinkin about it for a few days, it wasn't so hard to put these stories in order after all.

1. “Truth” by Robert Reed
2. ”The Political Prisoner” by Charles Coleman Finlay
3. “The Erdmann Nexus” by Nancy Kress
4. "The Tear” by Ian McDonald
5. No award
6. “True Names” by Benjamin Rosenbaum & Cory Doctorow

Analog Science Fiction and Fact December 1999

Fairly uneven issue. The finishing story is excellent, a couple of others were very so-and-so.

Heat • novelette by Robert R. Chase
The story revolves around important rescue mission in Venus - the first star drive has dropped to there. Why it is so impossible just to build a new one, using the schematics of the first one, rather than develop totally new technology to retrieve the first from Venus is never mentioned - and how a prototype star drive meant for interstellar travel just happens to have a landing module able to withstand Venetian temperature and pressure - but pretty good archetypically Analog story anyway.
To Him Who Waits • shortstory by H. G. Stratmann
Getting stuck to airport - in really bad way, especially if you use a stasis chamber with a slightly ambiguous directions concerning when to stop the stasis, might be a slightly inconvenient, and generally not recommendable. Humorous short story, pretty adequate.
Dancing in the Light • novelette by Diane Turnshek
Astral projection is real and used for exploration of space. Solar flare threatens earth, but earth governments for some very strange reason don't cooperate fully with astral projector, who might have a way to save the planet. Somehow the timetable seemed wrong, there seems to be a lot time to discus things while the flare is traveling towards the earth. Contains also very tacked on saccharine romance subplot. **-
You May Already Be a Winner • shortstory by Stephen L. Burns
Aliens learn to use junk mail for their advantage. Short, humorous story, ok. ***
The Terraformers • novelette by Charles L. Harness
An attempt to terraform an alien planet which exists in another timeframe. For some poorly stated reason, that is supposed to happen in one go, with an absurd time limit of a hundred years. And there might be an ecoterrorist on board, also. For some reason I found this story to be very irritating, I didn’t like the writing, plot wasn’t very logical or well plotted. Well, there seems to be many reasons not to like this, after all… **-
Ark Ascension • shortstory by James Van Pelt
Earth is dying out from some sort of genetic disaster for which no cure (or not even any reason) has been found. But there might be some hope on an orbital space arc - if just there would be any new births there. Very short, feels more like an outline or a short scene from a longer story. **½
Twenty-One, Counting Up • novella by Harry Turtledove
A young high school kid meets his older alter ego with very strange proposition involving his girlfriend. Excellent and well written story. There is ”other half” for this one, written from the viewpoint of the older ”half” of the protagonist, which would be very interesting to read. There are some a bit weak spots - it is hard to understand, how you could ”fix” a relationship years before there anything wrong in the said relationship, at the time everything seems to be just perfect? Clearly best story in this issue. ****½

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Hugo award votes, part 2: Novellettes

Novellettes is second Hugo category I have finished reading. Here are my thoughts about nominees and my ballot:

“The Gambler” by Paolo Bacigalupi

A Political refugee from Laos works on a internet news portal, and has some trouble with his employers as his writes from uninteresting, depressing subjects as extinction of butterflies and global warming instead of stories with real interest. As pedophile rock stars running away from the police. Well written, very good story. But I really don’t see why this is science fiction - it seems to happen a few years in the future, but that is about all.

“Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel

Jane Austen characters meet Mary Shelley characters, written in Austen style.
Well written, slow moving and not much happens, except a lot of discussion about relationships in best Jane Austen style. Isn't bad, but nothing very special either. And the Frankenstein parts seem mainly to be based on movies on the subject, rather than to the original novel which is kind of disappointing.

“The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner

A young boy finds an alien ray-gun from a forest beside a small crater. Owning the gun and keeping it secret molds his life and loves. Excellent and entertaining story, written in bit fairybookish style. Very good ending which even manages to be bit chilling in contrast of light tone of story, especially if you consider the implications.

“Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” by Mike Resnick

Two old men try to find a magic shop where they used to frequent as children. Not so surprisingly, they find it with the same sales clerk. Typical Resnick’s magical realism story . Very good if you are in to this sort of stuff, a bit too sweet for me, and I didn’t totally understand the motivations of another of the main characters.

“Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear

Shoggots (which are apparently imaginary beasts from Lovecraft’s horror novels) are real animals which once a year migrate to shallows. A black scientists comes to study them just before second World War. There are several references to Lovecraftian stories. Nicely written, but pretty inconsequential story in my opinion, personally I have never really cared about horror genre in literate or Lovecraft. Maybe if I were familiar with those I would be able to appreciate this story more.

I believe overall quality was better last year in this category, and last year's winner was clearly better than any of these stories. It was interesting to note that two of the stories were literary pastiches at least to some degree. I enjoyed most Gardner’s story so I am entering it at the first place. I even toyed putting “no award” next, as none of remaining stories was something I really loved - but I didn’t hate any of them either. And I won’t be slitting my wrists if any of them wins. I am predicting a win for Resnick’s story.

My votes will be in this order:

1. “The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner
2. “Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” by Mike Resnick
3. “Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel
4. “The Gambler” by Paolo Bacigalupi
5. “Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Galaxy December 1953

Fairly nice issue with pretty good stories, no stinkers or really badly old-fashionable ones here.
The Dark Door • novelette by Alan E. Nourse
A man feels he is chased by invincible and unseen enemy, or special breed of men who can see in forth dimension. Is he paranoid, or who is paranoid and in what way? Fairly average "invasion" story. ***
One Man's Poison • shortstory by Robert Sheckley
A spaceship has run out of food. Luckily the crew finds a planet with a huge warehouse. Unluckily they can read the descriptions of contents of the packages only in fairly limited way, and there is some trouble knowing just what is edible and what is not. Ok, but maybe a bit easily and conveniently solved puzzle-story. ***1/2
Mr. Costello, Hero • novelette by Theodore Sturgeon
A very polite gentleman makes suggestions, and is able to get some strange suggestions through. McCarthy cautionary tale with blatantly obvious collaterals. Fairly well written, but works only if the narrator and 99% everyone else are total idiots. Also, future with spaceships, where compact sound recording and sound editing are novel concepts? ***+
Hall of Mirrors • shortstory by Fredric Brown
A man is transplanted from friends swimming pool to dark closet. Outside of the closet there is a strange room with unfamiliar objects and a letter on the table. The letter contains the key to the puzzle. Saying that the story is about time travel is a slight spoiler, or not even so slight as there are hardly any real surprises to be found in the plot after knowing that.***+

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

This book happens in a world where the scientists of the world live in kind of monasteries which have several levels. They come out of them to ”secular” world only once a year, decade, century or millennia according to level where they live. The sciences they practice are mainly mathematics and other "pure" sciences, and they have (and they are not allowed to have) practically no machines of any sort. Their outlook on the life is for very long term - e.g. as a paper is used (gene modified?) leaves of a certain tree, which are useful only after a hundred years of storage. Apparently they used to have technology, but those scientific monasteries or ”concents” got "sacked" when they grew too powerful, and later re-established with even stricter restrictions. But now something unprecedented and unforeseen seem to be happening, the ancient knowledge of higher sciences might be needed more than ever, and old ways might not be valid any more. I am not going to the plot in any real detail, as the real plot really starts only about 200-250 pages to the book.

Well written but very slow moving book. It contains a lot of description and discussion of mathematical and philosophical matters, but those discussions are more interesting than you could think beforehand. The slowness of events seems to be done purposefully - and it must be admitted that it suit for world of the book, as the lives of the characters who live in concents is supposed to be slow and calm. And when finally something seems be starting to happen, the events seem to freeze totally a few pages later. At worst it even takes about ten pages for a few people decide who goes to which car with whom when they are starting a journey. The language of the book is fairly hard to read and it contains enormous amount of made up words, most with no good reason. Why call a mobile phone jeejah or a video camera speelycaptor, if they are exactly similar in function compared to their familiar counter parts from this our earth? Also, book is far too long. Over 900 tightly crammed pages is a LOT. Content is interesting, but it might have been a bit condensed. Taking away 300 pages would have left still hefty 600+ pages. Rereading this might be interesting and clarify some murkier bits of fairly complicated plot, but 900 pages...

This book is a Hugo nominee. It is fairly hard to say where this will go on my voting. The nominees this year are all very different and I'll probably decide the order after reading all the books (and probably will have trouble even after that).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact November 1999

Pretty nice issue.

Reality Check • novella by Michael A. Burstein
A physicist, orthodox Jew, is asked for his surprise to work on particle collider. His work happens to have more do with collider than he thought. It turns out that there is a contact to an alternate universe, where used to be his counterpart - who was not religious. Fairly well written story, but after all not much happens.
I Married a Robot •novelette by Ron Goulart
Probably the first Maggie and Ben story. They investigate why Ben is apparently dead and in a robot body. Beginning is good, nice light dialogue, but ending feels a bit rushed. Turning husband into a robot apparently is able to cure the relationship between a divorced couple. Feather light story as a whole.
Seen One Human • shortstory by Brian Plante
Arrogant aliens have for some reason interest for human lifestyle. A female restaurateur and male chauffer try to satisfy that curiosity and get enough money to travel back to earth. (why they are on that planet in first place is not told.) Pretty light, ok story. ***1/2
The Destiny Manifest • shortstory by J. W. Donnelly
Nature can have an effect to human life, as humans have effects to nature. Told in separate "what if” scenarios. Doesn't really work, feels a bit confusing. ***-
Psyscraper • novelette by Pete D. Manison
Architect who had a mental break fall used his personality for a basis of AI building. Not so surprisingly the building also starts to act crazily. Not very logical story - surely there would be careful screening, if for some strange reason human mind copies would be used as a basis for such things. Didn't really like the writing either. **
Food for Thought • novelette by Grey Rollins
Story about carrion eating alien shaped like a banana, with a long tongue, solving crimes. Another very light, detective style story, better than earlier robot story, which is very similar in style. The "crime" in question is more interesting and better described. ***½
Take a Load Off • novelette by F. Alexander Brejcha
Rich female investor banker suffering from a heart condition moves to Moon. She befriends a mine owner, who has mysteriously lost several mining robots. They decide to investigate while there are rumors of UFO sightings…
Nice but not surprising story, Very much Analog-style. Probably the best story in this magazine. ***½