Monday, August 31, 2009

Asimov's Science Fiction, September 2009

I haven't read any Asimov's SF magazines for a year. This was very pleasant surprise, story quality was very high. I read this issue as an ebook from Fictionwise.

Away from Here • shortstory by Lisa Goldstein
A young 15 years old girl is working at her parent's hotel. One day a very strange troupe of characters check into the hotel. They seem to be magicians or at least some kind of circus people. By accident she sees them doing some very fascinating things. Very well written story, but that type of magical realism is something I usually don't like. Strange thing happens with no "why" or "how". And the ending is extremely depressing and irritating if one thinks about it. ***1/2
Camera Obscured • shortstory by Ferrett Steinmetz
A young boy is trying to succeed in a world where everything is a competition with charts and positions found on the internet. He has tried several hobbies with only moderate success, achieving top ranking placements in order of few hundred thousands. He sets for himself a new goal - to be the world's best lover in male (hetero) category and starts by asking a girl for a date. With her he finds something beyond the rankings. Very good story, well written. Maybe a bit too short - I would like to hear more about this characters. ****-
Soulmates • novelette by Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn
A nightwatchman who has recently lost her wife in car accident is slowly killing himself with alcohol. A repair robot tries to “repair” him, and not so surprisingly succeeds. Typical saccharine Resnick robot story. Very well written, but really irritating in it's overbearing sweetness. I wonder if this will be a Hugo-nominee - hopefully not, but Resnick stories of this style seem to have a lot of fans. ***1/2
In Their Garden • shortstory by Brenda Cooper
A teenage (?) girl is living in a closed community in post apocalyptic world. She would like to see the outside world. Ok, but feels more like the first chapter of a novel than a stand alone short story. ***+
The Day Before the Day Before • shortstory by Steve Rasnic Tem
Time travel story. The protagonist is a member of a "time team" which makes slight changes to the past. They themselves don't ever know the consequences of any change. Story is internal monologue of one such trip. Fairly well written, but a bit too little real story content. Concept is fascinating as such, but more background and more real events would have been nice. ***
Tear-Down • shortstory by Benjamin Crowell
Artificial intelligence house gets new owners. Both the owners and the house have some training to do. Nice, good story. ****-
Her Heart's Desire • shortstory by Jerry Oltion
A boy meets a girl. He breaks the girl's wishing bowl which was supposed to grant her hearts wish. Magical realism untypical for Oltion. This story could have been written by Resnick - in both good and in bad way. Well written, even a bit moving, but a bit saccharine and strange things happen for no reason or explanation. ***1/2
Broken Windchimes • novella by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
A male soprano (and if you know something about music you should know what that implicates) has been performing for years alien audience. The alien species in question values precision over anything, and even one missed note usually means the end of a career. Inevitable happens and the career of main protagonist is ended. He travels to nearby space station where there is a musical conservatory and discovers that there as much more to music than he ever thought. Another excellent story. ****

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact May 1992

Only three stories in this issue, as the bulk of the space is taken by a serial, The Modular Man.

Adoption • novelette by J. Brian Clarke
A spaceship has fallen down while making the final approach to the humanity's first colony planet. It almost seems like it was shot down by some strange weapon. Three woman start to travel towards the colony to fetch some help. They encounter some strangely confidence arousing catlike birds.
Very good, interesting story. Nor entirely logical at all places (hard to understand why the alien species has devolved in that degree it has – there shouldn't be any evolutionary force driving it that direction). Anyway, very entertaining tale anyway. Would like to see more stories on the same background. ****
The Golden Life • shortstory by Pete D. Manison
A daughter brings her mother to an old people's home, which uses virtual reality entertainment to make its' residents life comfortable. At the same time social inequity has reached new heights, and a resistance is forming. Very simplistic story in its' solutions, irritating simplistic.**½
The Fundamental Right • novelette by Doug Larsen
The US president election is coming, and the nominees are even worse than usual (another has made himself and his wife to look like Kennedys, and the another is even loonier). The sitting president and his aides conspire to rig the election so that people's real opinions of matters count. The story tries to be a parody, but is a bit too unbelievable, and is a bit too simplistic. **½

Thursday, August 27, 2009

When the Air Hits Your Brain by Frank T. Vertosick Jr. M.D.

Memoirs of a neurosurgeon in training. Some pretty interesting medical anecdotes and personal feelings about training and demands it causes. A lot of simplified medical background, probably good and interesting for a lay person, but a bit boring for someone with good medical knowledge. Some interesting insights about clinical practice in US, some surprising as example the bad relations between neurology and neurosurgery clinics. In my experience those relations are usually very good and close here in Finland, probably as there is no financial competition. Also, it is surprising that the neurosurgeon had his neurology training in England. It might be one birthplace of neurology, but certainly isn't considered as one of pinnacles of clinical neurology anymore, at least I have got such impression. Ok book, easily worth of one read.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Galaxy November 1954

Not too bad. Some very good stories, but also some fairly ridiculous ones when taken from a modern perspective.
How-2 • novelette by Clifford D. Simak
Everyone uses "do it yourself" kits for everything. A man who has ordered a "do it yourself" for a robotic dog kit gets by a mistake a robot kit. When he has finished assembling it, the robot starts make new robots. Parodic or ironic story which can't decide just what it is parodying. The aim drifts from hollowness of life to government byrocracy to courtroom drama. Story goes bit too much all over, and it might have been better if it had concentrated more on fewer things to make fun off.
The Nostalgia Gene • shortstory by Roy Hutchins
A man who feels he has born too late uses a time machine to get to the time he wants to live in. And he trusts his secret to his grandchild who has similar likes. Begins fairly well, but seems that that the author didn't really know how to end the story. ***
The Laxian Key • shortstory by Robert Sheckley
AAA interplanetary decontamination service gets its' hands on an device what makes something for free. Too bad that the stuff it makes turns out to be pretty much worthless and they can't turn off the machine. Nice humorous story, not too logical but isn't supposed to be. ***1/2
The Music Master of Babylon • novelette by Edgar Pangborn
One of last men in the earth has lived alone years or decades in an abandoned museum. Slow moving story mirroring the slow life of the lonely man. Well written, melancholy story. ****
Up for Renewal • shortstory by Lucius Daniel
Rejuvenation treatments which take twenty years out for appearance are commonplace. The bad part is that each treatment takes 5 years out of the lifetime, so redoing the treatments are increasingly risky. Really ridiculous premise, really ridiculous execution. **-
The Age of Kindness • shortstory by Arthur Sellings
Everyone in earth is beautiful and intelligent. Everyone except one man, who is a some kind of throwback of evolution. A trip to Venus is being planned, and the lonely “ape-man” wishes to take part on it. Pretty stupid story, not too well written. **-
Big Ancestor • novelette by F. L. Wallace
There are different species of man living on different planets. It is supposed that all those were colonized by some mythical species of man eons ago, and now an expedition consisting of different species is trying to find the origin planet. Some of the species of man are supposedly more advanced than the others, but with same intelligence level. There are some more than a bit racist, slightly disturbing, undertones in the story, and author's concept of evolution is fairly weird. Writing wasn't too good either, and story is pretty irritating (and not in good way). **+

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin

A human colony is using an alien planet for timber and is using local natives as slave labor. One day the natives decide to fight back. About 2000 humans against a few million natives, how will it end?

A thinly disguised allegory of the Vietnam war, fairly black and white, and very rooted in the attitudes and even customs of late sixties. Most of the characters are crude stereotypes. The book also has some totally ridiculous premises - transporting logs across light years as in the earth "wood is more valuable than gold" - it is hard to think about any application where wood would so irreplaceable. And if all trees in earth would have died, and no new trees could be grown, ecosphere would be irreplaceable destroyed anyway. The natives are supposed to have some kind dreaming ability, which is emphasized on the blurb of the book - but it isn't really used to any real purpose other than for some hippy nonsense about alpha waves. Also, one person uses ergots for his migraine, apparently medical treatments haven't advanced at all after sixties – or the author has severe lack of skill in extrapolation :-). As nutshell, well written book which so tied to its' time, that it feels pretty old fashionable.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Paratiisi, Liza Marklund

Detective story where a journalist finds out the secret behind an elusive ”Paradise” foundation while trying to find out the culprit for multiple homicide living through a personal crisis at the same time. Fast read, but not among Marklund's best books. Read in Finnish, so the more detailed review is in Finnish.

Annika Bengtzon kirja, eli Liza Marklundin jo parin aikaisemman kirjan tarinaa jatkava dekkari, joka kertoo rikosjournalistista. Tässä kirjassa hän tosin ei vielä ole saanut varsinaista vakanssiaan, vaan on hyllytettynä yövuorossa lähinnä oikolukijan työtä tehden. Sattumalta hän saa kuulla salaperäisestä ”paratiisi” säätiöstä, jonka tavoitteena on ”hävittää” vainottuja ihmisiä. Ja samaan aikaan lehtitilaa vie salaperäisesti murhattujen Jugoslavian alueelta olevien nuorukaisten ja kadonneen salakuljetetun savukelastin tapaus. Ja Annikalla on myös omat ongelmansa käsiteltävänä. Kirjassa on hiukan liian montakin rinnakkaista juonikuviota, joilla kyllä on yhtymäkohtia keskenään, mutta ne eivät ole kuitenkaan kovin kiinteitä. Tämä tekee kirjan hajanaisuutta, eikä Annikan ajoittain hiukan lapselliselta vaikuttava käytös asiaa auta. Juonen logiikassa on myös jonkin asteissa ongelmia paikoitellen, ja konnien toiminta välillä tuntuu palvelevan enemmän juonta, kuin heitä itseään. Helppo, nopea ja viihdyttävä luettava, mutta ei parhaita Marklundeja.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact September 1992

Fairly nice issue, all stories were enjoyable.
Human Lives • shortstory by Brian C. Coad
A employee of a factory specializing on carbon and graphite products makes an invention enhancing the production and improving workplace safety. It isn't patented, but is kept as a trade secret. There is also a long story inside story about the history of the company. The story isn't science fiction almost in any way, even the invention involved is very mundane. Very nice story, however. ***
Things Not Seen • novelette by Martha Soukup
A science fiction detective story. How it possible that an important scientist has been brutally murdered in his study when there was an automated robot guard recording everything? Not very surprising. As soon it is mentioned that part of research involved clones, a part of solution is clear. Another part is a totally ridiculous and stupid cheat. Irritating story. **
Invitation to Ecstasy • novelette by Grey Rollins
First contact story. A creature living in space enters to solar system seeking a mate. An observatory in Moon finds its' radio signals and comes to assumption that it is an alien space ship. Pretty good and enjoyable story and even moving.  ***1/2
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry ... • shortstory by David J. Strumfels
Credit card which checks from the future if the purchase will be paid in full. Probability zero story (but not labeled as such, probably due to the length). Mildly confusing ending. **½
Chrysalis • shortstory by Alexis Glynn Latner
A young man who has lived all his life in a closed biosphere. He is forced out by accident, and he is won't be able to return. On the other hand, he isn't too keen on returning, as he wants to see what kind the outside world is. Nice, well written story, but feels like a second chapter from a book. Some background and a LOT of continuation would be nice. ****-

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact June 1978

Pretty bad issue, one of the weakest I have read.

View from a Height • shortstory by Joan D. Vinge
A lone woman is travelling away from earth on a space ship. She has been a volunteer for an one way voyage on a research ship, as she suffers from very severe immune deficiency and wouldn't be able to have any contact with other people anyway. Story consists of her diary writen during a few days while she encounters a personal crisis. Very well written, but fairly little happens. Premise as such is good, but could have had more story, now it feels more like a segment from a book or something. However, by far the best story in magazine. ***½
Backstage Lensman • novelette by Randall Garrett
Apparently a parody of Lensman stories. Personally I have never read any of them, so I don' know the source material. Intentionally pretty badly written, and the plot is pretty ”interesting” - involving interstellar criminals and drug trafficking. Too long to sustain the joke, at least when I don't really get the joke... **-
The Great Gray Dolphin • shortstory by Ben Schumacher
Heroic dolphin poetry translated to English. Tried from the beginning, but didn't have the slightest interest to continue, having no real interest for poetry or for heroic fantasy. *
Starswarmer • shortstory by Gregory Benford
Alien story told from the viewpoint of aliens. The plot felt fairly awkward, and I didn't really like the writing either, didn't get into the story and mainly just skimmed it. **-
Empty Barrels • novelette by Steven E. McDonald
A colony of young settlers who have psi-powers is threatened by a warship of another colony. Young adult story, not very good one, predictable and most of the characters are irritable. Plot is not plausible at all. **+
Carruthers' Last Stand • novelette by Dan Henderson
What to do when you are in telepathic contact with very rude aliens – of course you try to find a certified SOB to take care of the contact from the human end. Very average, a bit overlong story but not necessarily too logical, very irritating main character (as intended). ***

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Year of the Quiet Sun by Wilson Tucker

Time travel book which is very much rooted to its' writing time (late 60s).
Brian Chaney is a historian, who has just made a new translation of the dead sea scrolls and by that caused a lot a controversy. His has worked earlier for government, and apparently that is the reason he gets drafted for government's time travel experiment. The first thing they want to know is if the current president will be elected again. The first half of the book consist mainly of discussions of different subjects, mainly having fairly peripheral connection to time travel. When they start their journeys the books gets marginally more interesting, but not much. The future is very sixties-like future, where racial war and increasing racial tensions are destroying the world. Practically all characters are irritating, and not likeable in any way. This book is among David Pringle's top 100 science fiction novels of all time. I don't really see why – the writing is ok, but it is not especially impressive, and feels fairly clumsy at some places, and the book doesn't really go anywhere.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

Book about what is real science and what is not, and especially how to interpret scientific studies. Debunks many pseudo-scientific treatments, among others homeopathy. Contains very severe criticism against antioxidant treatments, and some hair raising details about Durham fish oil ”studies”, and about several vocal nutrition ”experts” in UK with PhDs bought from internet, who spread their venom through ”scientific studies” published on evening magazines, and also about MRSA testing by ”expert” working in a garden shed in his back yard. He also has something to say about medical companies and their sometimes questionable practises, and the last part of the book criticizes British science journalists and especially MMR vaccination hoax. Extremely well written and interesting book which is warmly recommended for everyone. One of the best books I have read in a long time. *****
338 pp.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact October 2009

Very good issue, best in long time.

Where The Winds Are All Asleep • novella by Michael F. Flynn
An expedition is travelling to the heart of a dormant volcano trying to find evidence for a theory that life has begun more than once on earth. Inside the volcano they find more than they were expecting. Very good, exiting story. The only weaker point was the framing story. I found it a bit superfluous, and especially the first part was a bit too long. ****+
Teddy Bear Toys • shortstory by Carl Frederick
A student has been training a computer model of himself, which is able to make up stories where he himself is a protagonist. The stories are starting to be pretty realistic. Nice story, the ending is probably the weakest part. It is recursive, and it is the point, but it also doesn't come to satisfying conclusion. ***½
The Hanged Man • shortstory by William Gleason
A horror story happening in a kind of 50s science fiction world. Travel between different solar systems is trivial, there are a lot of unexplored planets with strange life and so on. The world itself, and even writing reminds me a bit of Robert Sheckley's short stories. However, this isn't a funny story, but rather quite creeping horror story. The beginning and the end wont fit together as well they could (office is inside a tank?), but otherwise good, entertaining piece. ****
Shallow Copy • novelette by Jesse L. Watson
Two smart kids design a self-aware AI before they really consider the ethical and practical considerations at all. Very good story, could have been longer and more detailed. ****+
An Idea Whose Time Has Come • novelette by Robert Grossbach
This might happen in same world that the above story, just a few decades later. USA has gone practically bankrupt. Everything is bad, and going to the wrong direction. President elections are coming, and an AI as a president might be just what the country needs. The start of the story is very good, and gave high expectations. It is a pity that the story turns to a parody of computer software in the middle. I felt that the tone shifted too much, and from mid-point onward the story felt pretty juvenile. ***
Cold Words • novelette by Juliette Wade
A story which is told from a viewpoint of an alien. Humans are trying to establish a space port on a planet, but the cultural barriers between them and the original inhabitants are harming understanding. Well written but almost from too alien point of view. I had some trouble following what was going on in, especiallyin the first part of story, as there was hardly any establishing back-story and it took some time to get the mindset of the alien. ***+
In The Autumn Of The Empire • shortstory by Jerry Oltion
Absolute emperor of earth has some strange fixations about astronomy...Probability Zero story in all but length. Nothing special, not among the best stories by Oltion. ***-