Thursday, December 29, 2011
The theme of the issue seems to be genetic manipulation. Pity that none of the stories is really good.
The Mycojuana Incident • novella by Fran Van Cleave
A country doctor encounters some very strange fungal infection which has not been discovered earlier. He discovers (by a pretty large leap of reasoning) that a fungus designed to kill off the marijuana plants is responsible. Very soon, surprisingly soon government agents are making threats against him. Eventually, he manages the overcome both problems – the infection and government.
More than a little paranoid story. The beginning was pretty good, the last half wasn’t as enjoyable due to a clichéd mustache twirling bad guy totalitarian government agent and the plot and writing were somewhat less engaging, also. ***
Fresh Air • shortstory by Brian Plante
A colonists of a new planet must design their children to survive on atmosphere poisonous to humans. That means children and their parents can't breathe the same air. But when gene manipulation gets more sophisticated there’s a solution. Children who can breathe both atmospheres. Short story which goes for a mood, ok. ***-
The Fine Art of Watching • novelette by Allen Steele [as by John Mulherin ]
A very important secret of a drug company has been embezzled. They are very good reasons to suspect one employee, but there is no way he could have gotten the information out. A team of security experts tries to catch him. The only science fictional part was the method the industrial spy used and that really wasn’t something which would have worked well. There would have been some much work involved that someone would have noticed. ***
Or Die Trying • [Jack Sawyer's Doppelganger] • shortstory by Grey Rollins
A man has been murdered. That usually wouldn’t be a big deal, but all his personality copies have also been deleted. The detective who examines the case soon finds himself as only a computer copy, also. The crook with fairly vague motivations is caught easily. ***-
Nanoweights • shortstory by Shane Tourtellotte
Boxers use nanotechnology and other technologies and fight in stables of biotech companies. One fighter starts to suspect that his company isn’t completely behind him. A sports story. About boxing. Two negatives won’t make a positive in this case. . Writing is ok, but the subject matter is something I have no interest whatsoever. **
Mirka's Wings • [Epona] • novelette by Wolf Read
An Epona story. Kids play with their alien friends on Epona flying on some sorts of wings. One gets in a trouble as she behaves as a total irresponsible idiot. I would think that there would be some sort of age limit and/or screening before being allowed to fly.
The story has an annoying brat and pages and pages descriptions of flying. A very boring and very irritating story. **
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
The third and final part of a novel series which covers Finnish history from the late part of 19th century to the middle part of 20th century. The main events were the rise of the right during thirties and the Second World War. The events are followed through the lives of a small rural community.
Väinö Linnan ”Täällä Pohjantähden alla” on melkoisen klassikon maineen saanut kirja. Itse asiassa kirjan maine on niin suuri, että lienee melkein pyhäinhäväistys siitä mitään moitteen sanaa sanoa. Jotain valitettavaa siitä kyllä minä ainakin löydän. Ilmeisesti tässä vaiheessa Väinö Linna oli jo niin suuri tähti, että hän ei enää tarvinnut kustannustoimittajaa. Etenkin kirjan alkupuolella oli paljon turhia rönsyjä, joilla ei ollut mitään merkitystä miltään kannalta, ja joita olisi hyvin voinut karsia. Kirjan rakenne on sinä mielessä hiukan tavanomaisimmasta poikkeava, että siinä ei ole varsinaista päähenkilöä, vaan kirjassa seurataan pienen kylän ihmisten tapahtumia enemmän kokonaisuutena, eikä siinä myöskään ole varsinaista juonta perinteisessä mielessä. Kirja seuraa historian kulkua on enemmän tai vähemmän niin kuin se tapahtui ja historian vaikutusta eri ihmisiin. Tämän viimeisen osan tapahtumat kattoivat ajan kansalaissodan jälkimainingeista toisen maailman sodan päättymiseen ja maan uudelleen rakentamiseen tämän jälkeen. Yksi koko kirjasarjan heikkous joka tuli tässäkin osassa esiin olivat liiat poliittiset palopuheet, jotka pahimmillaan ovat sivujen mittaisia. Kirjan loppu oli selkeästi alkua yhtenäisempi ja miellyttävämpi lukea. Kokonaisuutena kirja oli hienoa ajankuvaa lähihistorian tapahtumista ja koskettavista ihmiskohtaloista ja oli kyllä kovastikin lukemisen arvoinen pienistä rakenteellisista heikkouksistaan ja osittaisesta mustavalkoisuudesta huolimatta.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Some of the most interesting and sometimes very bitter disputes between medical researchers, starting from the opposition Harvey faced when he dared to claim that the circulation of blood doesn’t work the way ancient authorities had described and ending at the feud between Gallo and Montagnier about who really discover the HIV virus. (Well, in that case I didn’t have much sympathy for Montagnier who seems to have totally made himself a fool with his latest research involving the radio signals from DNA. See for example NeuroLogica blog.).
It seems that the recipe to produce disputes is not only to find out a new, controversial medical fact, but being extremely stubborn about it up to point being abrasive against anyone questioning the invention in anyway without worrying too much about really proving the discovery. Being too sure even while being right doesn’t seem to work too well. A very interesting and even enjoyable book.
Monday, December 26, 2011
A pretty average or slightly over average issue. Most of the stories might have been longer.
"The Ediacarian Machine" by Craig DeLancey
An apparently alien probe is found embedded in ancient rock formation. A woman who found it asks help from a former boyfriend whose company specializes in microrobots. There start to examine to artifact using a virtual reality interface. The artifact is in surprisingly good condition and the power appears to be on, even after a few million years. A pretty nice story, especially the first half. The second half was weaker, but it really would have been hard to follow the setup of the story. The story could have been the first part of a novel. ***½
"Mother's Tattoos" by Richard A. Lovett
Tattoos are being used as a sort of surveillance against terrorism. The people who wield the special tattoos get a monthly stipend, while the tattoos alert officials if the detect traces of explosives or other similar things. The problem is that they are starting to be too sensitive and there are false positives. Also, what constitutes threating behavior…? A pretty good story, another one which was slightly too short. ***+
"Ernesto" by Alec Nevala-Lee
There surprising cases of people getting cured from cancer during the Spanish civil war. Those who have been healed have stayed in a monastery and have had stigmata. An interesting story. There really seems to be some anecdotal evidence for the described method for curing cancer. However, I don’t see how erysipelas could be on all limbs at the same time. Also, before penicillin that would have been very life threatening infection. Not a very science fictional story, but pretty good anyway. Too short. ***+
"Upon Their Backs" by Kyle Kirkland
A some sort of super-secret agent tries to find out the meaning of several naked bodies that are apparently in some sort of suspended animation from a strange cave. At the same time, he has some qualms about his job. Apparently the story happens in some sort of alternative future, where paper is still used for EEG registrations – in our world computerizes systems have been used for almost inclusively almost a decade :-). Somehow I didn’t really get involved in the story – neither the mystery of strange clones nor the battle of the consciousness of the main protagonist. The former wasn’t defined well enough and I couldn’t identify with the main character enough to care about his worries. Maybe a longer form might have served the story giving more background to the characterization and the plot. ***-
Saturday, December 17, 2011
This issue was read from my cell during lunch hours and waiting for different things. A serial takes a lot of space and there were only four stories. A pretty good, above average issue.
Farmers in the Sky • novelette by Rob Chilson
A young woman has returned to an asteroid farm where she lives from the earth. She has spent several years there studying. A man who has fallen in love with her comes to visit the asteroid as a surprise. Is he going to emigrate to the asteroids? A story which has more than a little YA-vibe with some young love. Writing is ok, but pretty simple. There were some strange scenes. When a young man meets for the first time the family of his girlfriend the main discussion point is assets of her family? There is very little drama, but the story is pretty readable anyway. ***½
Lazy Taekos • shortstory by Geoffrey A. Landis
A fun little fairytale about a lazy boy with a few, about a billion or so, nanotechnology robots, a fair maiden and her evil step father. A fun short story. ***½
Slide Show • shortstory by Jerry Oltion
A man takes astronomical pictures is shocked when he hears that color slides film isn’t made anymore. He tries to do something to prevent the obsolescence of both the film stock and slide projectors. The writing is pretty good, but the premise seems pretty strange. I can’t really imagine that anyone taking astronomical pictures would have been so stuck on taking pictures using slide film even in 2006 considering the quality and possibilities the digital photography offers. ***½
The Scarlet Band • [Lost Continent of Atlantis] • novella by Harry Turtledove
Sherlock Holmes (or “Athelstan Helms”) and Dr. Watson (or “Dr. Walton”) journey to Atlantis to find why a strange religious sect is committing murders. The story happens on an alternative earth where Atlantis exists. Is seems to be a pretty large land area somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean. The Americas seem to exist also, so I am somewhat confused about the geology, but that didn’t hurt the story which is pretty nice “eye winking” Sherlock Holmes story with some pretty funny moments. Humor is nice and presented with a “straight face” which always more to my taste than shouting aloud: “This Is Funny”. The only strange thing is why the “Watson” was made to be a complete prick, especially in the beginning. ****
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
A very average issue with mainly very average and unsurprising stories.
The Old Die Rich • novella by H. L. Gold
Many old people die from hunger with a lot of money either on them or on banking account. Why are they not using their money to buy food? And their bank account books look very pristine and unused, but they are real - at least the deposits which have been made on them since the beginning of the century are on the banks. An actor who specializes in playing older people tries to find what is going on. Well, everyone who has ever read any science fiction naturally knows what is going on.
I had some qualms about this story before starting it: A story which is written by the editor of the magazine. In spite of this, the story was ok and didn’t suck. At least no more than an average story from the fifties. ***½
Games • shortstory by Katherine MacLean
A man who has imprisoned by the government as he doesn’t give up the secret of a super weapon he has developed somehow transfers his mind to a mind of a child. A pretty fragmentary and hard to follow story with not too good writing. **
Student Body • novelette by F. L. Wallace
A new colony has been established on a planet which according to the initial surveys was almost perfect. The planet is supposed to have a nice climate, fertile pastures and little animal life. Soon the colonists start to have a lot of trouble with different sorts of vermin which try eat food stores and edible plants. There is one (only ONE!?) scientist among the colonists who tries to find out what is going on, and tries to finds ways to fight against several sorts of animals the planet throws against the colony. A pretty ordinary story for fifties, average both in plot and writing. ***-
Secret of the House • shortstory by Anthony Boucher [as by H. H. Holmes ]
A young wife uses special spices to make impression to her gourmet husband. She uses exotic Venusian spices, but when she really wants to make an impression she has a secret: very well made food from good ingredients without any spices. Very, very fifties story in attitude, writing is standard quality. ***-
The Drop • shortstory by John Christopher
After a nuclear war a civilization has been established on other planets of the solar system and on asteroids. Earth is being used as a penal colony, from where no one returns. There is a conspiracy to overthrow authority, and a man gets sent to earth after he gets involved with the conspiracy partly unintentionally. But there is more to the conspiracy...it is a ploy to get the earth inhabited again. ***+
Horse Trader • novelette by Poul Anderson
Humans have established a “horse trading post” where different alien species can exchange ideas after negotiating what technologies or branch of sciences can be traded. The secrets of one species have been stolen and it demands retribution. The reputation of humans is at stake. A surprisingly boring story considering its fairly interesting premise, but it apparently strives for humor and doesn’t quite make it. **+
Sunday, December 11, 2011
A large double-issue with a lot to read. A fairly average issue. Writing in most of the stories is very good,
Stealth • novella by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
“Diving in the wreck” -story. This time the story isn't about driving in a concrete ship wreck, but rather about the consequences of strange technology which has been retrieved from ancient spaceships. Military has a lot of interest for a cloaking device. Unfortunately, it seems to be extremely dangerous and people studying it tend to disappear without leaving any trace. Sometimes whole laboratories or even space stations where the experiments have been done have vanished. A woman who may have a better grasp of the tech than anyone else has been responsible for themain lab studying the cloaking tech. The story starts when the lab is being evacuated as apparently something has gone very much wrong. Then the story is told on several time levels, some covering past of the scientist, while the events after the accident are also being followed. A very good story, some parts were somewhat heavy with discussion, but very enjoyable nevertheless, however it is not among the best stories by one of my favorite authors. ****-
The Cult of Whale Worship • shortstory by Dominica Phetteplace
A first story of a new author. A scientist who studies toxoplasma wants to stop whale hunting by designing a new strain of toxoplasma which would apparently affect somehow human though patterns concerning whales. It isn’t explicitly stated what the influence would be. Would people start to like whales? Or would they be indifferent towards them? Both alternatives might have some serious consequences. Writing was ok, especially for a first timer. ***-
This Petty Pace • shortstory by Jason K. Chapman
A man gets some advice from the future. Everything doesn’t go very well, but his life is pretty good anyway. He still gets a few messages which are garbled to some degree (or are not told to the reader). He starts to suspect that his line of research and/or his decedents will eventully cause something really bad. Pretty well written story, but there some less clear things in the ending especially the reason why the man did what he did. (Sent a letter for his descendent). ***
The Outside Event • novelette by Kit Reed
An author takes part on a strange author retreat. A group of authors live very isolated life, and they are eliminated one at a time. It is supposed to be some sort of reality show at the same time (but I wonder where the cameras are - they are not mentioned, and the protagonist even learns the “reality show” angle on the second day). There is a strange and agonizing atmosphere all the time. And there is a threat of “the outside event” which might have effect to the outcome of the competition. The writing is distinctive, perhaps too much so. I am not sure got the story, especially the ending was to a certain extent unclear. **½
The Pastry Chef, the Nanotechnologist, the Aerobics Instructor, and the Plumber • shortstory by Eugene Mirabelli
A woman starts to hear Italian from the water running through the kitchen faucet. Her live-in partner - a nanotech researcher - doesn’t hear it. She asks a linguistic to listen if the sounds really are Italian. And soon the toilet starts to speak in Turkish. The story revolves around unbelievable relationships and even more unbelievable unexplained strange happenings. Overall the content and style were something I usually hate. It that was pretty much true for this story, also. ***-
Free Dog • shortstory by Jack Skillingstead
After a divorce man got his dog, but the ex-wife spreads the template of the dog on the Internet. It gets popular for a while and people have copies of the dog as nano-swarmns. He isn’t too thrilled about that. He finds a new love, the real dog gets older and the story just fizzles out. Writing is good, but there isn’t real ending. ***
My Husband Steinn • novelette by Eleanor Arnason
A story about a woman who lives on a secluded area in Iceland. He meets some trolls, and eventually befriends one. Fairly nice story, but there was a very superfluous story inside a story which had nothing to do with the main tale and could easily have removed. ***+
To Live and Die in Gibbontown • shortstory by Derek Künsken
There apparently are only monkeys on earth, most countries have a majority of one monkey species. Euthanasia of the old monkeys is commonplace and encouraged. One monkey establishes an euthanasia service which offers its’ as assassinations. One old bonobo granny hires him to assassinate her so well that she doesn’t even notice it. A pretty unusual and interesting story. ***+
A Hundred Hundred Daisies • shortstory by Nancy Kress
Climate has changed and parts of the US are dried out. Former farmers live meager life on their already foreclosed farms. A water pipe from the great Lakes is running through area. Some people are starting to fight against it. A very good story, but it is far too short. Might very well be a first chapter of a novel, now it ends far too soon. ****
The Man Who Bridged the Mist • novella by Kij Johnson
Areas of “mist” separate different parts of the world. Mist is at least partly toxic and it is something between liquid and gas. It is possible cross on special boats, but that is often very hazardous. There are also strange and dangerous things living inside the mist. An engineer comes to build a bridge over a strait filled with mist, which will be the longest bridge ever to cross an area of mist. The story tells mainly about of the life man building the bridge, about his work and love and how he changed during the years. A rather long story, which is at places more than a little longwinded. Few actual events happen during the story. The setting was pretty interesting, but we didn’t learn anything about what the mist is or about any other details of the world. There was no reason at all why the story couldn’t have been told as a straight drama and the fantasy aspects are extremely superfluous. If you want to tell that story, why set the story in a fantasyland? Writing as such was excellent, though. ***-
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
A pretty average issue. It contains the first part of a new serial by Robert J. Sawyer. I am going to read it only when I’ll have at least three parts of the four to come.
"Listen Up, Nitwits" by Jack McDevitt
A voice from Jupiter gives some hints to Earth on the brink of war asking humanity not to destroy itself. It doesn’t agree to answer any question except by those which are asked by one man. The answers he gets aren’t some of the most believable and most of the world pretty much ignores them. A fairly nice story.***+
"Humanity by Proxy" by Mark Niemann-Ross
A history of a mechanical donkey which was first developed by the military and then was adapted for civilian use, presented in reverse order. First the invention is used by a demented old woman in 2114, then by military in 2092 and last we are shown how it was developed 2052. The first segment is very good, the second segment is fairly good, but the last and longest is far too long and boring and heavy with discussion. ***+
"Ninety Thousand Horses" by Sean McMullen
A cyberpunkish tale of an inventor who builds a rocket in Yorkshire 1899 as means to revenge his father. The story is told from the viewpoint a maid (who in reality is a spy working for the inventor's father and has a very good education in mathematics and engineering.) A very good, well written and exiting story, which is easily the best in issue. ****
"Project Herakles" by Stephen Baxter
A story which happens in the Britain in the sixties. The British army (or secret service) has created human giants by selective breeding. Those giants are REALLY gigantic and weight much more than elephants. That apparently took about two or three generations of selective breeding. At the same time a greedy magazine publisher and the king plan a coup with the support of US forces (those who are planning the coup have promised forces for the Vietnam war).Will the people rise to oppose the insurgents? I am not sure what to think about this story. Was it written with serious intent? Or is it some sort of parody of the worst pulps of the 1930s? The biological and scientific details are completely ridiculous, so horribly bad that they surely must have intentionally ludicrous. But there wasn’t any humorous “eye winking” which would have typical for a parody - or at least I couldn't find it. It might very well be a parody nevertheless for all I know. But the writing also seemed to be somewhat clumsy, and I really, really did not like this story at all. Well at least it was easy to read and finish while trying not to drop my jaw from too far from the silliness of most of the details. **-
"An Interstellar Incident" by Catherine Shaffer
A young diplomatic aide must organize a gala dinner with an alien delegation. The trouble is that aliens consider human feeding habits disgusting (cutting dead meat to pieces and putting them openly to the mouth! Disgusting!) and humans aren’t too keen about the eating habits of the aliens (releasing a lot of small live furry animals in the room and bouncing over them). With the help of a corresponding junior aide from the alien delegation they almost manage. A light story with some small stupidities. Perhaps the security would have been a tad tighter for such an event. ***
"Doctor Alien and the Spindles of Infinity" by Rajnar Vajra
A doctor alien story. A psychiatrist who specializes in alien patients first treats a very strange alien with a memory trouble, after that he is invited to another galaxy give his opinion on an important matter. An overlong story which might have benefitted if it had been split in two parts and condensed. There is far too much discussing and describing going on which doesn’t really drive the plot forward. There were some pretty good parts, but they are being overshadowed by the dull parts. ***-
Sunday, December 4, 2011
A very original book about a literary detective in alternative 1985 where Crimean war is still going on, the charge of the light brigade is recent history (and the main protagonist, Thursday Next not only took part in it but lost her brother during the charge), Dodos are popular pets, Wales is a communist dictatorship and literature is much more important than in our world, so important that there is a special branch of secret police solely dedicated to crimes involving literature. Not a very important branch, but more prestigious than ordinary police. The first editions and original manuscripts are more valuable than anything and something master criminals crave. Thursday Next is drafted to a higher branch of secret service as she is one of the few people who can identify a master thief, Acheron Hades. Their first encounter is pretty much a disaster…and soon the barriers between books and real life apparently start to weaken, at least characters seem to disappear from books and appear in the real world.
A very entertaining and amusing book with nice characters, dry humor, a lot of action and a huge amount of literary allusions – some of which I surely missed. (I haven’t ever read Jane Eyre – a book which is very important for most of the plot, but reading the Wikipedia synopsis of the book helped a lot). The world was interesting and usual, something I would like to hear more about. Everything might not have been extremely logical, but the tone was light and entertaining that it didn’t hurt. I probably must pick up the next part of the series sooner than later.