Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Galaxy Science Fiction, January 1951

The fairly new magazine was still seeking its’ tone. This bunch of stories was mainly pretty bad and from today’s perspective very old fashionable.

Dark Interlude • shortstory by Fredric Brown and Mack Reynolds
A visitor from the future comes to observe what life was like in 20th century earth. He ends up in a rural area, falls in love with a beautiful local girl, and life seems to be pretty good. Until a horrible fact about his heritage is revealed: he is a quarter "nigger". Naturally there is only one thing girl's family can do: kill the bastard. And local sheriff is naturally very sympathetic, what else they could have done? Not a bad story with a small end twist revealing attitudes the visitor from the future could never even have suspected. ***½
Rule of Three • novelette by Theodore Sturgeon
Three aliens who each consist of three subunits come to evaluate earth. They are horrified as everyone in earth seems to be infected by a dangerous space parasite which causes erratic behavior. They divide into subunits and inhabit humans to get a grasp of the situation. Afterward they have a lot of trouble to get together again, as humans tend to pair, and units of three are uncommon. (a slight mishap from the superpowerful aliens...) After a LOT of talking and scheming, they manage to get together again. A badly overlong and very talky story. There are some aspects which are interesting, though: alien parasites which cause all human neurosis and harm thinking, and are the cause of psychological problems, wars and violence, and psychotherapy is an extremely clumsy way of trying to address the problem, but it is possible to get rid of the parasites and clear you thinking. It sounds like the most of the most secret teachings of the scientology were lifted directly from this story and when one considers the time period it is practically certain that Hubbard read this story. Smells fishy to me… **+
Susceptibility • shortstory by John D. MacDonald
An inspector comes to a colony planet which hasn't been in touch for long time. The last inspector who visited the planet sent his resignation taped on the controls of his space ship which was sent to return on automatic drive. All colonists seem to live on countryside living simple life, and no one lives in automatic cities enjoying food made automatic machines and using product made by automatic machines. Soon this inspector sends his resignation as the simple life is so much more enjoyable...not bad, simple story. ***
Made to Measure • novelette by William Campbell Gault
For some unstated reason there are much more women than men. The women live in some sorts of centers, and men can come to meet them in controlled "well lighted" situations. If they like what they see, they get the women they want as a wife - but at any time they can return her to the centre - no questions asked. A man isn't happy with his wife as she isn't perfect. So he returns her to the centre and creates an android using his own mind set as a model. As can be expecting that doesn't work well. A pretty bad story. There isn't a single one half believable character. The story feels like something written by a 14-years old boy with no experience at all about any kind of human relations. *½
The Reluctant Heroes • novelette by Frank M. Robinson
There is a change of shift in a lunar colony where only men are working. There is a LOT of talking, about how wonderful it will be to get back to earth and bickering by one guy whose turn will continue. Little happens except one man gets a "Dear John" letter. There is a good reason for the letter, however. The writing was average. **+

Friday, July 20, 2012

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, April 2001

A pretty average issue.

May Be Some Time • [Captain Titus Oates] • novella by B. W. Clough [as by Brenda W. Clough ]
A member of Scott’s Antarctic exploration team (who disappeared without trace) is snatched to the future to escape a certain death as a test drive of alien technology. Not much happens in the story – it tells more about his adjustment to a radically changed world. A pretty nice and well written tale. The best in issue. ****
What Weena Knew • shortstory by James Van Pelt
Well’s “Time Machine” from the viewpoint of Teela, the young and innocent Eloii the Time traveler encounters in the future. She might not have been as degenerate as she seemed for the traveler. Another pretty good story. ***½
The Wanderlust • [Wally Mason] • shortstory by Brian C. Coad
A retired patent attorney gets a visitor who seems to be somewhat unbalanced. He doesn’t seem to be able to make any choices anymore. Too bad that everyone must make so many choices as all computer programs and appliances offer some many option to choose from. Probably best I have read in this story-series, but not especially good. Far too many different ideas for such a short story. ***-
Pressure Gradient • novelette by Pete D. Manison
A space ship has dropped on a Venus-like planet and a drone with a personality transfer style of AI is trying to find if anyone survived – or even was on the ship when it crashed). The AI in the drone is from a man who is in love with a woman who probably was in the ship.
The story is told at several time levels, and it turned out to be somewhat confusing. The short form didn’t allow enough space for the romance flow naturally or believably and the story felt too fragmentary. ***-
The Rise and Fall of Paco Cohen and the Mariachis of Mars • novelette by Ernest Hogan
The “suits” of a commercial Mars colony draft a singer to improve the sentiments of the colonists. He becomes pretty popular, but when he has served his purpose, he may go away. Not one of my favorites, fairly confusing and fragmentary, I didn’t like the writing too much. **
Talking Monkeys • novelette by Rob Chilson
Life on a colony planet where a significant percentage of the surface consists of diamonds. Machines break and wear easily, but most of the problems are caused by “monkey problems” i.e. human emotional problems. Another extremely fragmentary story, just “glimpses” of the colony life. Clearly better than the two former ones, though. ***

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, July-August 2006

A large double issue. A varied bunch of stories, some good, some less so.

Witherspin • novelette by Alexis Glynn Latner
A man and woman are on a leisure space station. The man is some sort of superhuman modified for military purposes who has run away from his creators, the woman with for some reason. For some reason they are attacked (or they at least assume so) and they try to escape through different zones of the station. For some reason Coriolis Effect affects them a lot, even though the habitat must be gigantic, miles in diameter, to include all the zones which are described, so I can’t believe that it would be that great. Naturally the couple falls in love and most of the story is spent in describing that love story. And for some reason the story ends without real resolution to the main story. The story felt like an excerpt from a novel, but it isn’t branded as such – it started from the middle and ends in the middle, and writing at places is like something from a romantic novel. I really didn’t like it all. **
Total Loss • shortstory by James Hosek
A man who has been in a car accident is declared to be “a total loss” by his insurance company. So it isn’t worth to continue his treatment and any body parts which are salvageable can be used for organ transplants. An ironic “if this goes too far” style of story, not bad. ***½
The Keeper's Maze • novelette by Joe Schembrie
A freelance spaceship crew gets a mission: they have to retrieve a genemodified unicorn from an abandoned research facility. There is a reason it was abandoned though, and none of earlier attempts have been successful. An entertaining story, but nothing ground shaking. ***
Kremer's Limit • [The Black Hole Project] • novella by C. Sanford Lowe and G. David Nordley
A story about a gigantic project to create an artificial black hole. The project spans for years and years, and there is a lot of opposition to it, and all opposing factions won’t play nice. A somewhat overlong and fragmentary story with a too large cast of characters. **+
The Software Soul • shortstory by Brian Plante
A robot priest continues its’ virtual services even though there are no real people taking part any more. Eventually, it turns out that humans have been exterminated by aliens who are politely apologetic of it all. A nice little tale which leaves a lot open. ***½
Willies • shortstory by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
A psychiatrist is treating a binge eater (who apparently is allowed to call doctor at will, even at weekends! Probably not the best treatment strategy for someone with issues on control). There are some novel treatment strategies, though. A simple, but well written story. ***+
The Teller of Time • shortstory by Carl Frederick
A scientist has returned to his home village to test his hypothesis involving church bells ring in perfect harmony. It should cause a sort of time slippage effect. He meets a childhood sweetheart who has married another guy, their common friend. As young the scientist had never courage to ask her out. They wonder how things might have gone. After that the ending is fairly obvious. ***+
Environmental Friendship Fossle • novelette by Ian Stewart
An undercover inspector who tracks downs the trade of illegal animal parts finds a mammoth tusk from one old man who used to ramble about hunting mammoths. The trade with fossil animal parts is legal but this tusk seems to be fresh. The secret I is what you are expecting, but it certainly takes time for the protagonist to get there. And then the ending of the story just leaves hanging. ***-
String of Pearls • novelette by Shane Tourtellotte
A man works for aliens on an alien planet. The alien's language is very hard and they haven't been very helpful in teaching it. A secondary (or in reality the primary) goal for the man is to learn the real grammar of the language. The aliens have a scrabble-like game they use to play. The man uses that to learn the language and challenges the father and daughter of the family he lives in. A pretty good and well written story. There are problems, though. The protagonist pouts like a five year old when he loses in the game, feels like an irritating brat, and it is totally, completely unbelievable when he finally wins. In language he just has really learnt he is supposed to beat someone who has played the game for years in his native language. No way, never, ever. (said by someone who can understand a foreign language practically completely, is able to write it at least in some manner and has tried a few language games). ****-

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Anu Kaipainen: Kun on rakastanut paljon

A short autobiography of a Finnish author which was written soon after the death of her husband apparently as a part of healing process.

Puolison suosituksesta luettu kirja. Anu Kaipaisen lyhyt omaelämänkertakirja, joka etenkin alkupuoleltaan on hyvin ulkokohtaisen tuntuinen ja elämää kursorisesti kuvaileva. Myöhemmin, puolison äkkikuoleman jälkeen ote on hieman persoonallisempi, tosin samalla sekavampi – mutta sekavaa kirjailijan elämäkin siinä vaiheessa nähtävästi oli. Siihen, mikä kirjailijaelämänkerroissa tavallisesti on se kaikkein kiinnostavin asia, eli kirjojen syntyyn, puututaan vain hyvin kursorisesti. Vaikutelmaksi tulee, että kyseessä on usein psykoterapian aloittamisen yhteydessä kirjoitettava elämänkerta, eikä välttämättä ensisijaisesti kirjalliseksi tuotokseksi tarkoitettu teos. Rivien välistä lukien alkoholiongelmia perheellä nähtävästi oli, ja mahdollisesti tällä oli omat vaikutuksensa puolison kuolemaan ja kirjoittajan rajuun reaktion tähän.

134 s.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi

A story which could be said to be the viewpoint of the ”redshirts” in a Star Trek like TV-series. When ensign Andrew Dahl gets assigned to the Universal Union flagship Intrepid, he is first thrilled. Soon he finds that the younger crew is very nervous and tries very hard NOT to get drafted to away missions as in every mission a junior crew member seems to die in gruesome manner while the senior crew survives either without any injuries or with injuries which seem to unbelievably fast without leaving any permanent marks. Also, the laws of nature seem to bend strangely when it is dramatically appropriate or for example the survival of a senior crew member hangs on a discovery of a new “counter-bacterial” for a lethal plague in 30 minutes. Is there any way a new crew member can survive more than a few weeks? And even more importantly, what the hell is going on?
The idea was very nice and engaging. The novel consists of the main tale which is intentionally badly written with short and sparse sentences apparently imitating the run of the mill media novelizations and from three separate” codas” which add detail to the main story and tell the story of a few more peripheral characters. The three codas were by far the best part of the story, and the writing there was totally different than in the main story. Probably one reason why Scalzi added those was to tell: “Yes, I CAN write well and writing of the main part of the novel WAS intentional”. The bad quality of the beginning went somewhat too far – it took some time to get used to it as it tended to be sometimes even distractingly bad. In spite of that an entertaining and fast book to read. I didn’t exactly get the absolute end of the main part of the book – what was the meaning of that?

320 pp.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Startide Rising by David Brin

A triple award winner (Hugo, Nebula and Locus) and deservedly. A second part of series, but apparently the first part of the series has little to do with this book aside of the same background. The background as such is extremely inventive and interesting: the galaxy is filled by alien races and every one of them has been “uplifted” by another race from presentience. A race which has been upflifted owes a 100 000 years of service for the uplifting race. As humans don’t seem to have mentors they are looked upon with suspicion and even hatred. Humans themselves have uplifted dolphins and chimpanzee to intelligence. The book starts when a scout ship mainly staffed by dolphins has escaped to a sea planet called Kithrup which hasn’t been visited by anyone in millions of years. Most of galaxy’s more conservative older races are trying to catch them as it seems that they have stumbled upon the remains of mythical “founders” the species there has ever been and which has started the uplift practice. The ship and its’ crew hides underwater, while a gigantic space battle is taking place all over the whole solar system where Kithrup is as entire fleets of alien battle out who gets to capture the earthlings. While the earthlings repair their ship and try to find out a way to escape from there the planet they are on appears to be somehow strange with the planet itself. Also, the stress is starting to affect the dolphins and some of them are reverting to mentally unstable presapient form and there might be a mutiny brewing among the crew.
A very enjoyable book which had some very exiting parts. It wasn’t without flaws, though. The mutiny subplot came as a surprise and not in a good way. There didn’t seem to be a foundation for that kind strife among the crew. Also, some of the Galactics felt like caricatures of intelligent animals. It is hard to believe how such creatures would have survived millennia as apparently is a standard for a Galactic race. The writing was nice, but the cast of characters was very large and sometimes it was kind of hard to remember who was who, at least for someone with a poor memory for names like me. A book which is well worth of reading and one of the better Hugo-winners around. (now I have read 81.7 % of all Hugo award winners)
496 pp.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Galaxy Science Fiction, September 1951

An average issue for its’ time.

The Sense of Wonder • shortstory by Milton Lesser
A man in a generation ship is showing a little bit initiative and sometimes looks out from a view-screen. When the ship eventually lands, he takes some action. Unbelievably stupid characters, it is hard to think that no one would have no interest at all on anything. Writing was subpar. ** 1/2
If You Was a Moklin • novelette by Murray Leinster
It should be very easy to have a trading station on a planet where the natives are extremely friendly and want to imitate humans in everything up to in 100% accurate in appearance. If it wouldn't start to be more than a little bit creepy. A pretty nice and fun story. The ending is just about what you would expect. 100 % mimicry, mind you? ***+
Cabin Boy • novelette by Damon Knight
A cabin boy (really an ameba like creature, living in a very alien spaceship with very alien ways, all his actions are “simplified” to human analogues) meets some strange creatures (humans) and is thrilled by them. A pretty fun story which could have been tighter. ***
What Is Posat? • shortstory by Phyllis Sterling Smith
A scientist, an unemployed man and a cat lady read an advertisement about a secret society from a magazine. They all answer it for various, different, reason and get somewhat different return mailings. It turns out that there really IS a real ancient secret society with scientific secrets, and it is drafting new researchers. A simply story, writing was average. ***-
The Biography Project • shortstory by H. L. Gold
Scientists are spying the past masters of science and art and wonder why they all go paranoid and mad. Because they are spied, of course. A short and stupid story. **-

Thursday, July 5, 2012

My Hugo votes 2012, part 5: Related works

Related works was a very heterogeneous category. The nominees mostly had nothing to do with each other’s: a collection of essays about science fiction film, a coffee table book about steam punk, a net site containing the new Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, a collection of songs by a science fiction author and a podcast series about writing science fiction.

The encyclopedia of SF seems to be very much work in progress. The first article I checked (about Finland) was apparently written about twenty years ago, and has never been updated after that. It really didn't give a very flattering impression.

I tried the music album by Seanan McGuire. I am a very unmusical person, I practically never listen to any music by choice and even while driving a car if I don't happen to have any podcast to listen I try to find a radio channel without any music or sports (usually an extremely hard task) . It isn't probably surprising that I really don't even understand why the music album was nominated. Even the lyrics seem to have hardly anything to do with sf. If a singer is a sf author, that shouldn’t be a reason for a nomination. This was something which was really easy to put under ”no award".

The “writing excuses” is a podcast about writing speculative fiction. It isn't the only one on that subject, and after I had listened a few episodes it doesn't seem to be the best one. The actual books in the category were both at least ok, so it was easy to put them at the top positions. My voting order is probably going to be:

1. Jar Jar Binks Must Die...
2. The Steampunk Bible
3. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Third Edition
4. Writing Excuses
5. No Award
6. Wicked Girls

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, March 1974

A fairly average or below average issue for its’ time.

High Justice • novelette by Jerry Pournelle

Seems to continue an earlier story. The former confident of the US president has apparently blown the whistle in a wide spread corruption scandal and has become a persona non grata. He goes to Mexico where a former lover has established an empire of space transportation. The beginning has a lot of discussion about the evils organized labor and improvement of the work conditions and long lectures of the economics of private space exploration and the evilness of governments. In addition there is an added on plot about a murder in a space station, which is finished in about three pages in the best of libertarian style. The writing is ok, but the background isn't very clearly presented and the overall philosophy of the story is mainly appalling if you really think about it. ***
Walk Barefoot on the Glass • shortstory by Joseph Green
A leader of a moon observatory is trying to get a budget approved for the next few years without real success as the people of the US have turned inside and apparently think that they must feed the people of Brazil (for free?) rather than use money for exploration. He also meets his family and overreacts badly when there is some difference of options. A very black and white story with naive caricatures as characters and an unbelievable ending. If the public opinion is what the story describes and as strong, would anyone really have cared about what happened in the moon? ***-
Closing the Deal • shortstory by Barry N. Malzberg
A father tries to sell a daughter who can levitate to a company and isn't getting enough money. A simple and simplistic story. **+
Some Are Born to Sweet Delight • shortstory by Wayne Barton
People of the future are happy and adjusted. If they aren't, they will be adjusted to be happy. For some reason everyone isn't too ready for that, and have escaped the civilized world. Officials are trying to find a leader of the refugees... There is a nice surprise at the end, but not really special story. ***-
Fourth Reich • shortstory by Herbie Brennan
A monastery of some kind has the only complete historical database. They find that history is cyclical, and a new Hitler is rising. They advise a preventive strike against his country. Ok story, but the almost supernatural nature of the inevitability of repeating history is irritating (all attempts to murder the "new Hitler" fail, as it is so certain that he will get to power.) **+

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary… by Jeff VanderMeer, S. J. Chambers

A coffee table book about steampunk, covering its’ history starting from Verne (well, it is a matter of opinion if Verne was a steampunk writer – I would say he wasn’t) to a modern works and things which are tangentially connected to steampunk like cosplay with steampunk characters, steampunk music and building strange contraptions. Last three thing being examples of something I am either not much interested in or even antagonist to. A lot of pretty pictures, the text part was pretty fragmentary, sometimes interesting, sometimes irrelevant and sometimes felt like “necessary evil” for pictures. A nice looking book, but I wasn’t overly impressed.

221 pp.

Monday, July 2, 2012

My Hugo votes 2012, part 4: Novels

As it seems to happen on most years, there were no novels which would really have captured my imagination. The nominees were a varied lot. There are two middle parts from longer series; one book which starts a new series and two standalone works. Personally I believe that other that the first parts of longer series should be some really special to be even nominated for the award, so “A Dance with Dragons” and “Deadline” are handicapped straight away. And neither of them has such uniqueness in them that I would had even nominated them. However, on the other hand, neither of them is really atrocious either – rather pretty readable - so they will be at least above the “no award”. In my opinion there is no question what is the best book of this lot: it is “Embassytown”. I didn’t like it as much I liked “The City and the City”, but there aren’t many books I liked more during recent years. There are some problems with it and it is somewhat too complicated, but there are a lot of extremely nice ideas in it. “Among Others” was also fairly nice, but there were some things I didn’t like it – but it was probably the second best of this lot. The last places are hard to decide: the worst volume (so far) of an (so far) excellent fantasy series, the second part of a fairly stupid but very readable zombie-trilogy or a first part of somewhat uneven zombie-horror-detective-space-opera.
I believe my voting order will be:

1. Embassytown
2. Among Others
3. A Dance with Dragons
4. Leviathan Wakes
5. Deadline

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Galaxy Science Fiction, November 1953

A below average issue with fairly old fashionable stories.

Keep Your Shape • novelette by Robert Sheckley

A race of shape shifting aliens is going to invade earth. The invading expedition has only to smuggle a small device near a nuclear reactor, and the hordes of invaders are able to teleport to earth. There have been several earlier expeditions and they have all failed. And this one will fail also - there are so many exiting life forms to simulate that the invaders lose all interest at the invasion. A minor Sheckley, but enjoyable story anyway. ***½
Mr. President • shortstory by Stephen Arr
A man has been elected to a president with apparently near infinite power. He is soon swamped with important and far reaching decision and lasts about two days in office before a mental breakdown - just like all his predecessors. ***
The Book • novelette by Michael Shaara
An exploration ship gets a new captain, and there is one trip where both the new and old captains are taking part. They are flying to a star which is just emerging from an interplanetary dust cloud. There is a single planet where naturally humaniform life exists, and naturally there are very beautiful females. For some reason the inhabitants seem to have a very laissez faire attitude to everything. There are common meteor storms, and anyone might die anytime, so why bother much? A pretty bad story, but there are a few interesting ideas. **½
Unbegotten Child • shortstory by Winston K. Marks
A spinster is pregnant in spite of flatly denying any change of pregnancy. First a tumor was suspected, but then doctors find a heartbeat...
An extremely stupid story where tumors star to develop as fetuses as a new step of evolution. Badly written, also. **-
Clean Break • shortstory by Roger Dee
A vet is asked to take care of a sick bear on an eccentric looking gentleman's home. He is somewhat surprised about that, but he will even more surprised when he meets an exotic looking beautiful woman who speaks a strange musical language he has never heard before. Not so surprisingly (from a reader's point of view) he has stumbled upon an extraterrestrial zoo which is picking up animals from earth. The story is written in a quaint language which apparently is homage to something I don't recognize. Wodehouse perhaps? Well past its' due date – and probably was so already in fifties when it was published. **+