Friday, July 31, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact February 1999

Ok issue. Maybe a bit better than average.

Mount Olympus  • novelette by Ben Bova
Second Martian expedition travels to Mount Olympus and encounters some trouble. Story of survival. A part of a novel, which works fairly well as a standalone story. Back-story might have been a bit better established. ***+
Vultures • novelette by Stephen L. Burns
A police-officer suffering of an untreatable form of aids works as undercover, to bust charlatans offering bogus treatment. But everything seems to seem just too good... Pretty good, not too plausible for biological viewpoint.***1/2
Odysseus • shortstory by John G. Hemry
Minor malfunction causes an interstellar ship to drop out of the warp. To everyone's surprise they receive a distress call. They discover the first ever interstellar ship, and they must decide what to do with it. Fairly simple story, writing is adequate. ***+
Found in Space • shortstory by David J. Strumfels
A producer of science fiction virtual simulations tries to make them less stupid. Surprisingly he get some sympathy from tv channel manager. Wish-fullment story, a bit to naive to be good. **1/2
Nor a Lender Be • shortstory by James Van Pelt
A very good teacher sells his teaching style to a giant company only to find out that he can't continue teaching, as that would infringe the licensing rights. A bit stupid story - hard to believe that even the most litigious company would be ready to face bad publicity just for sake of one teacher "infringing" the copyright. ***
Circles of Light and Shadow • novelette by Christopher McKitterick
Scientists are experimenting with tachyon transmitter. At the same time there are increasing reports of sightings of "ghosts". The principal scientist gets visited by his wife who died two years ago in a car accident. Are the sightings related to the tachyon experiments? What do they mean?  Good well written emotional story. Probably best of the issue. ****

The Galactic Gourmet by James White

A Sector General book. As most (?) will probably know, Sector General is a giant hospital serving a sort of galactic federation with multi-species patients and employees. This time the main protagonist of the book is a master cook, not a doctor. He is facing next to impossible mission of making hospital food taste great – and he might have even greater task ahead him than he thinks. After some misfortunes he is practically kicked out of the hospital, and he has to join an unusual interplanetary rescue mission, where the feeding habits of a whole planet might need some influencing. Pretty standard James White book, not one of best. The new way at looking at Sector General was refreshing, but at least I felt that the earlier books with more medical slant were more interesting. The best parts of this book were those which were dealing with medical problems. Also, a slight condensing might have this book better - the original Sector General novellas were tight and entertaining, this had a bit too much fluff.

312 pp.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact May 1965

A bit older issue this time.
Most of the issue is taken by a Dune serial by Frank Herbert. Otherwise fairly mediocre issue.

Trouble Tide • novelette by James H. Schmitz
Modified earth animals are used on a colonized planet as a meat source. Hippopotami which are modified for sea life is probably the most important variety of them. For some reason those animals seem to be disappearing. A pair of researchers start to investigate and they'll find more than they expected... The story contains some extremely implausible biology. The beginning of the story is bit slow, and ending is very rushed (one character just explains to another what happened). Writing is ok, but with some irritating problems – writer intentionally withholds critical information from the reader. **1/2
Planetfall • shortstory by John Brunner
Two youths, one from earth, and one from a visiting sub-lightspeed spacecraft meet. Both are bit jealous of the lifestyle of another. Very well written excellent story. A few problems with logic. If the travel time between stars is decades, why the visit to earth is so rushed that shore leave time is measured in hours? And healthy 19-year-old boy saying "no" for a beautiful and eager girl of the same age? This is science fiction, but there are some limits in believability. :-) ****-
The Captive Djinn • shortstory by Christopher Anvil
The aliens have captured a powerful wizard (who actually is a human visiting the planet). How are they going to imprison such a powerful creature? This story has very strong YA-feel in it. The aliens are modeled on earth cats – far too closely to be believable in any way – up to litter boxes. Mildly entertaining, but nothing special. ***-

Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny

The last of the Hell's Angels is drafted to transport essential vaccines through post apocalyptic America. There has been a major nuclear war, and everything between west and east coast is dangerous wasteland. Very fast moving, entertaining fantasy novel. Not science fiction – there is no way the described conditions would be scientifically possible, among them horrible wind circling the whole world making airplanes impossible, mutated bats, Gila-monsters and spiders. I also wondered why those dog sized bats would present any kind of threat for someone traveling in an armored car... And the global catastrophe seems to have left practically all roads, overpasses and bridges untouched and drivable. :-) Also, the characters are smoking and drinking coffee all the time - where could they get those in that kind of world? But if one reads this book as fantasy, details of this kind won't harm it and the book is very readable and fine. This is a book that reads like a movie script – in fact if the producers of Escape of New York didn't pay any royalties for Zelazny, they are scoundrels the main character of that movies is the same person than the protagonist of this book in all but name.
157 pp.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact April 1999

Average issue. The high point was Flynn’s novelette.

Seed of Reason • novella by Daniel Hatch
A Chamal story. For most part story consist of two separate stories, another of genetic researchers who got audited and who haven't had much success in deciphering the strange genetics of Jamal, another half is about a couple of Jamalian "animals" who are trying escape another Jamal's animal’s genocidal manners. The two halves are very separate and practically this could have been split two separate stories. Even in the end they don't really intertwine properly. Ok, but I didn’t really get in the story. ***-
Democritus' Violin • shortstory by G. David Nordley
Physics department students try to make a copy of obnoxious professor's Stradivarius violin. A fairly nice story, ending was somewhat too easy. It is also hard to believe that a professor of a minor(?) collage would own a real Stradivarius. ***+
The Company Man • novelette by Kent Johnson
A manager of a large company, with several genetic and computer augmentations, is just and just managing his high pressure job. Ending is about what you would expect from a bit preachy story like this. ***-
The Dashing About Flying Box People • shortstory by Uncle River
A survey team finds an alien culture with complicated language and customs. One of the aliens even learns human language, even if it is so simple and not very descriptive at all. The next ship brings tourists... As a story ok, but really, really, really heavy-handed preaching, which made the story irritating. **1/2
Remembrance of Things to Come • shortstory by Lawrence Watt-Evans
Literature professor is bothered by his favourite author’s story, which meaning is changed completely by changing just one letter. The original manuscript has both letters on it - which is correct? Luckily, his friend in physics department has developed something resembling time travel. Ok story which is a pretty basic time travel story with a ending which is not probably surprising anyone. ***+
Prudence and Fortitude • novelette by Michael F. Flynn
A girl who used to belong to some kind of feminist "sisterhood" is travelling to join an astronaut training camp. She just misses her flight and is forced to take a rental car. The plane where she was supposed to be in falls down and everyone in it was killed. That is a spoiler - but that is a spoiler, which was in the interior illustration for the story. Personally, I would have not wanted to know that detail. The she has some trouble adjusting. The first part of the story was very good, but the ending wasn't on par with it. I had some trouble understanding the motivations of some of the characters. There seemed to be some interesting back-story which didn't get covered - I probably must try to find out if there are more stories on the same background. Easily the best story in magazine. ****-

Monday, July 20, 2009

Grumbles from the Grave by Robert A. Heinlein

The book consists of Heinlein’s letters. There are addressed mainly to his agent, and cover various subjects, among others editorial corrections and mild censorship of his early juveniles. It seems the editors of juvenile books were a bit paranoid at that time – and some very strange things were considered to be too raunchy. Some of the letters are very interesting, and some aren’t interesting at all, sometimes it is hard see why just those one were selected, or why those parts of the longer letters were selected. Heinlein spends a lot of time bitching about time spend on fans coming to visit him and other things which took time from writing. Understandable, but if it was so irritating, why pay any attention to them?
The letters are ordered by subject matter, which isn’t very good idea in my opinion. Chronological order would have much better and logical, and the result would have resembled more autobiography which he didn’t do. He did had plans for such a book, and it was supposed to be called “Grumbles from the Grave”, we got this instead - which is a great pity.
325 pp.

Galaxy October 1954

Worse than average issue. A lot of talent, but not with their best work.

A World of Talent • novelette by Philip K. Dick
Earth colonies are battling against the earth to gain their independence. They are using people with different psi-power to survive. A pair of precogs has a child with no apparent power who seems to behave autistically. A husband of that team has found a girl who is able to stop telepathy, and probably other psi-powers also. And then there is jealousy, murder and mayhem. A bit too long story and not so much happens, writing is ok but not something you might expect from Dick. ***
Ghost V • shortstory by Robert Sheckley
Two guys have established a company which renovates planets. Business is slow, until they get their first job. A planet appears to be haunted...nice funny Sheckley classic, not one of his best however. ***+
Idiot's Crusade • shortstory by Clifford D. Simak
A village idiot is suddenly able to do almost anything using a sort of mental power. Does he use it for good or bad things - and is what he thinks as good necessarily good for other people? Pretty good story, might have even been better without the alien mind infestation subplot - or that should have been fleshed out better. ***1/2
$1,000 a Plate • shortstory by Jack McKenty
Fireworks from a nearby gaming casino disturb an observatory in Mars. After some plotting they come to a mutually satisfying agreement. Pretty silly little story which isn't even funny in any way. **-
Jebaburba • shortstory by Daniel F. Galouye
It is fairly hard to discipline a child who can teleport at will. Especially when his parents are alien diplomats. A other fairly silly and not funny story, with some problems in logic. **+
Spy • novelette by J. T. McIntosh
A spy who is working for a colony world in earth starts suffering a sickness which causes very realistic hallucinations, just when he is about to get the information he is trying to get. The hallucinations are very realistic and hard to distinguish from the reality. And there is a beautiful girl, of course. Not very good story, pretty standard spy stuff. The science fictional element is the disease causing the hallucinations, and that turns out to be fairly minor plot point after all. The ending is especially poor, and as whole this is overlong and pretty boring story. **1/2

Roger Zelazny: The Guns of Avalon / Avalonin luodit

Second part in Amber series. Continues straight from where the first book ended. Corwin has escaped from prison and is planning to return to Amber and to defeat his brother Eric. Well written, exciting and felt better than the first part of the series. Read as a Finnish translation, so I‘ll write the main review in Finnish.

Amber-sarjan toinen kirja. Corvin on paennut vankilasta ja yrittää koota voimiaan taistellakseen veljensä Erickin kanssa. Mahdollistaakseen tämän hän palaa maailmaan jonka valtias hän oli kauan sitten, ja josta hän voi löytää ainetta joka mahdollistaa tuliaseiden käytön Amberissa. Tapahtumia kirjassa on paljon ja mielenkiinto pysyy yllä koko ajan. Kieli on aika omaperäistä ja erikoista lyhyine lauseineen, mennen välillä melkein proosarunon puolelle etenkin silloin kun päähenkilö matkaa eri ulottuvuuksien välillä. En yleensä fantasiasta ole erityisen innostunut, mutta tämä kirja on aika virkistävä poikkeus - yhtenä syynä se, että tässä kirjassa hyvä tarina ei vaadi viittäsataa sivua, mikä nykyfantasiassa tapaa olla se vähimmäisvaatimus. Käännös oli yleisesti ottaen aika hyvä, mutta siinä oli paikoitellen pientä hiomattomuutta, joitain jäykähköjä lauseita ja vähän erikoisia termien valintoja, mutta mikään helppo suomennettava tämä ei varmasti ollut. Itse pidin tästä osasta selvästi enemmän kuin ensimmäisestä. Toivotaan, että loputkin osat suomennetaan. Suosittelenkin kaikkia hakeutumaan kipinkapin Vaskikirjojen sivuille ja hankkimaan omat kappaleet sarjaa.

236 s.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

Another book by Oliver Sacks featuring neurological case studies, this time about connections between music and neurology. Several different types of abnormalities and other aspects are covered in detail. For main part very interesting book, the least interesting part was the beginning; where a lot of space and several separate case studies were spend on musical hallucinations. The case studies seemed to repeat themselves, and that kind of hallucinations aren't even so rare - I have encountered them a few times in my own work. Also, how many times he mentions his severe foot injury? Twenty? If there were a drinking game about this book that would be in it :-).
For most part very interesting and fine book, a slight condensing might have made even better.

Elävät ja kuolleet - Hannu Mäkelä

An unusual book, part novel, part historical study of people long since dead. The author sees an old crime-scene photo in a exhibition about the history of police department. It fascinates him so, that he first writes a story of what happened as he imagines it, and then tries to find out from old archives what really happened. Fairly good, but first part is very traditional, even too traditional, story, well written though.

Hannu Mäkelä näkee näyttelyssä vanhan rikospaikka valokuvan, ja kiinnostuu siitä niin, että kirjoittaa kuvan perusteella ensin pitkän novellin ja yrittää sen jälkeen selvittää erilaista arkistomateriaalia käyttäen mitä todella tapahtui ja miksi, ja minkälaista köyhien elämä tuon ajan Suomessa oikein oli. Alkupuolen kuvitteellinen tarina on hyvin kirjoitettu, mutta se ei ole yllättävä millään lailla - tarinoita avioliiton ulkopuolella raskaaksi tulevasta tehtaantytöstä ja häntä vikittelevästä juoposta naimisissa olevasta retkusta kyllä riittää, mitään erityistä koukkua tarinassa ei ollut. Toisaalta ehkä parempi näin, kun tavoitteena oli miettiä mitä oli todella tapahtunut, eikä kirjoittaa tarinaa. Tarinana tapahtumat olivat ihan liian tavanomaisia, realistisia, mutta erittäin hyvin kirjoitettuja. Kirjan loppuosa jossa kuvan taustaa aletaan keriä auki, on pääosin todella mielenkiintoinen ja kiehtova. Hannu Mäkelä pääsee lähelle kohdettaan mutta paljon jää vielä aukikin. Hyvä kirjan ja hienosti kirjoitettu - alun lukemisessa meni aikaa, mutta viimeiset 2/3 meni oikeastaan yhdellä istumalla.
274 s.

Analog Science Fiction and Fact October 2007

Fairly average issue.

An Angelheaded Hipster Escapes • novella by Daniel Hatch
A boxed brain, who is usually mistaken as an artificial AI and treated as such, is captured (or liberated) from a space station he is working. His saviour is a young woman belonging to a noble family, and she is having some plans of her own - not connected to the main character. Pretty nice story, not entirely logical (why the rescue coincided so precisely with her other plans) but not bad anyway. ***1/2
El Dorado • novelette by Tom Ligon
This why I put this issue on top of reading queue. I enjoyed the companion piece of this story (Payback) in July/August issue of Analog, and wanted to read this part also. A message from an alien species has been discovered, and it seems to be threat, or rather a warning about the sure distraction of earth. A group of prospectors in the Oort cloud are planning a response. One of them has discovered a real mother load of precious metals and isn't so keen on suicide missions. Good story, probably not as good than the later one. A bit too much exposition in the beginning, some bit or more than bit unlikely coincidences which are supposed to give some almost supernatural tone to story.****-
A Bridge in Time • shortstory by Joseph P. Martino
Time travel is so commonplace that it is used to bypass a bridge for the time it is reconstructed. However, it strictly illegal to pass any information to past from the uptime. An engineer working on an bridge project meets a really nice woman, who is interested about his work. Ok, pretty standard timetravel story with a little romantic twist. ***1/2
Virus Changes Skin • shortstory by Ekaterina Sedia
Ecocatastrophe has made most of the US unliveable. Researchers in Alaska are trying to develop new strains of plants which are able to withstand the new climate. A woman scientist thinks to use virus to make the changes or something. I can't really make any sense about the ending. The most likely explanation is that she loses her mind. I didn't really like the story, to short and not too logical. **1/2
The Quantum Theoretic Implications of Newton's Alchemy • shortstory by Alex Kasman
Short humorous story about mathematician who is drafted to help in one man company which has pretty unique development goal. Ok, but I think that gold pipes would be more resilient than the lead pipes. ***
The Hangingstone Rat • novelette by Barry B. Longyear
Jaggers and Shad story. Happens in a future where imprinting human consciousness to animal "skins" is commonplace. What I don't understand is why anyone would want to be imprinted to a duck or cat. In this story Shad seems to be killed in an accident and Jaggers must try to find out what happened. Supposed to be funny, but doesn't really work for me. However, seems one of the better ones I have read in this series. ***

Monday, July 13, 2009

Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded by John Scalzi

Read as a e-book from the Hugo voters package.
Contains essays from Scalzi's blog, Whatever.
Subject matters vary very widely. Writing style is light, conversational, and for most part this was nice read, and I even agreed with huge majority of the stories. The main problem was that the essays were rants (and were supposed to be rants, of course), but at time they were a bit too ranty rants. First Scalzi makes a point, then he makes it again (with more or less same arguments), and then he makes it again for a third and fourth time. Some of the subject matters seemed a bit strange or uninteresting, why would anyone care about the characterization of a second rate children's cartoon, and the rants about obsolete details of US politics might have been better left out - although they might have some more interest for US readers.
Another thing I really don't understand is why this was nominated for a Hugo award in related works category? It is written by a science fiction author, but it has practically nothing to do with science fiction, there only some very passing mentions of sf or fantasy. Makes me wonder just why mindless hordes of fans nominate works just because it is written by their favorite author or it is recommended by him. The nominations in a few of fiction categories give at least for some reason to suspect that kind of behavior.
368 pp

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact September 2009

Ok issue, the lead novelette was fine, others a bit so and so.

Evergreen • novelette by Shane Tourtellotte
Children’s physical growth can be stopped using genetic manipulation. That stops ageing process, and gives greater intelligence as brain’s plasticity stays high. There is naturally some prejudice against the “frozen” persons, and each frozen has different ways dealing those and other pressures. The main characters are nearing thirty years in chronological age while being physically preadolescent. Good, thought provoking and entertaining story. There might be more stories worth telling about these characters. ****-
From the Ground Up • shortstory by Marie Desjardin
NASA has once more stopped spaceflight. A former astronaut goes to aunt’s farm which she has acquired after her aunt’s death. As a child she had a very significant experience there which guided her career. And there might be a way a spark a new interest in space flight. Very short story, which seems to be more like a prologue of the real story. Also, not very logical. An astronaut who had left THAT secret untouched for years. Yeah, right. **
Attitude Adjustment • shortstory by Eric James Stone
How to correct a trajectory of a spaceship orbiting moon after explosion has destroyed engines and computers onboard? Nice problem solving story, pretty standard Analog material. ***
The Last Resort • novelette by Alec Nevala-Lee
Surroundings of a small crater lake are being transformed to a ski resort. A herpetologist is surveying the surroundings to evaluate environment impact of the vacation centre. The ecoterrorists make a strike against the pumping centre which pumps water to cool skiing slopes, and they get more that they bargained…
Ok story, but with severe problems. The skiing centre is said to use water piped from the lake to cool the skiing slopes so that the snow doesn’t melt as soon. That is totally ridiculous. Water is ALWAYS warmer than snow, so that method would just cause the snow melt faster, not slower. Also, the snow melts mainly from the top down through sublimation. I wasn’t able to enjoy the story as that error bugged me far too much. Also, the characters were fairly dense – haven’t they ever watched any nature documentaries? I knew straight away what was causing the major problems they were encountering. **-

Analog Science Fiction and Fact December 1995

Not one of the better issues. A large part of the issue is taken by a serial by Lois McMaster Bujold, which I haven’t read.

A More Perfect Union • shortstory by Doug Larsen
Representation in government is done by computer programs. An expert is asked to check the behaviour of one program which might be behaving in an unusual way. A pretty short story with not entirely convincing plot. **½
The Maze • shortstory by Paula Robinson
An alien species invites a pair of human diplomats for a dinner. The aliens seem to have an interest in one special type of human behaviour, reproduction. What to do when asked for a demonstration.. as the aliens are easily offended. Nice, humorous story, a bit too short. Would like to learn more of these characters. ***½
Garbage In, Garbage Out • novelette by Grey Rollins
Another story in the series about two private investigators – one human, and one banana shaped, carrion eating alien. This time a member of another alien species has been killed. But why, as the alien belongs to especially nice and friendly species, and the murdered individual especially was loved by all. Another, nice humorous story. ***½
The Third Wave • novelette by Alexis A. Gilliland
A spaceship which uses nuclear bombs detonated behind the ship for propulsion is being planned. The major point of the plan is to get rid of the nuclear stockpiles on earth. The idea of the story is fairly good, but the story is unbelievably dull. Pages and pages of discussion political implications of the plan, and after that pages and pages pointless discussion the technical details of the plan. Very little seems to happen, I must admit that I just skimmed the end part of the story. *½