Monday, July 17, 2017

My Hugo award votes 2017 part 4: novels

I have read all the nominees in the novel category. As I have been traveling and been both busy and sick lately, I haven’t had time to write a blog post about Cixin Liu’s "Death’s End", but I will in a few days. I also read the second part of the trilogy, which had been published earlier. They were entertaining books, but not without faults. All nominees were pretty good, at last, on some level, and it wasn’t easy to put them in order. None of the novels was totally unworthy of an award. The "Ninefox Gambit" felt most innovative, and I put it in first place. "Like the Lighting" was a bit too hard to read for my taste, even though it was a fair book, also. Altogether, I can accept any of these books as a winner; most of them were very literary works, perhaps even a bit too much.

My voting order was:

1. Ninefox Gambit
2. The Obelisk Gate
3. A Closed and Common Orbit
4. All the Birds in the Sky
5. Death's End
6. Too Like the Lightning

Sunday, July 9, 2017

My Hugo award votes 2017 part 3: short stories


In this category, the rabid puppies chose the third alternative action: self-gratification and pushed for the nomination of a story that was written by their leader – who “ordered” the nomination of his own story by his loyal gamergate henchmen, who live in their parent’s basements. The overall quality was fairly average: better than the last few years, but that wasn’t hard to do. The stories were mostly very literate, with somewhat experimental writing styles. The first place was easy to decide – I preferred the story with the most traditional writing style. The order of the other stories was less easy to decide, except for the last place – there was no contest for that. That story is below “no award.”


“Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)
A story of two women with an at least partly self-imposed punishment/task. One is supposed to wear down seven pairs of metal shoes; another is supposed to stand on a glass mountain. They meet, discuss their fates, and choose to escape their punishments together. A very allegorical story, which makes certain that you understand the allegories. Not bad, after I got into it, following a few fairly demanding first pages.

“The City Born Great” by N. K. Jemisin (Tor.com, September 2016)
A young man is drafted to work as the “midwife” for the city of New York. The city is going to be born, apparently, as a conscious being and there are powers that oppose this. A poetic and fairly confusing story, not really my cup of tea.

“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny Magazine, November 2016)
A serial murderer kills a woman, but that woman happens to be a god of sorts, who has been in corporeal form for a while. She and her sisters avenge her death. A very short revenge fantasy, which is written very well, almost poetically, but it is too short to work really well.

“That Game We Played During the War” by Carrie Vaughn (Tor.com, March 2016)
A nurse arrives at a former enemy country soon after the armistice has come into force. She knows a man who is being treated for his wounds in a hospital. She had taken care of him when he was a prisoner, and later, she was his war prisoner. They formed a friendship and played chess; which might be a bit of a different game if one player can read the other’s thoughts. A nice story, with nice characters, but a bit too scene-like.

“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” by Alyssa Wong (Tor.com, March 2016)
A story of two sisters who are apparently able to control reality. One kills herself and the other tries to undo it. Or everything is just in her mind, as she runs through scenarios of how the death could have been prevented. A pretty good literary story about facing sorrow. If I read the story correctly, there are hints about the reason that the sister killed herself.

“An Unimaginable Light” by John C. Wright (God, Robot, Castalia House)
A robot (or rather an android) and a sort of robot inquisitor have a discussion. A pretty bad and very illogical story, which is written in a ponderous language, with inane digs at modern egalitarian culture and openly sadistic violence toward women. A bad story on all levels.


My voting order is:

Short Story:
1. "That Game We Played During the War"
2. "Seasons of Glass and Iron"
3. "The City Born Great"
4. "A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers"
5. "Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies"
6. No award

Thursday, July 6, 2017

My Hugo award votes 2017 part 2: novelettes


Novelettes is the second category I have finished. The overall quality of the stories was fairly good, but somewhat worse than in novellas. In this category, the evil leader of the rabid puppies went for trolling and nominated a lizard sex story, again. Otherwise, the order was fairly easy to decide. The only thing that was a little harder to decide was the order of the two best stories, but eventually, I went for the more straightforwardly science fictional story. Similarly, when deciding the order of third and fourth places, I went for the science fiction, even when the actual speculative content of the story was fairly minor.

"Alien Stripper Boned From Behind" by The T-Rex by Stix Hiscock

Last year, the rabid puppies and Vox Day, along with his minions, nominated a gay sex story involving a Tyrannosaurus Rex. This year, their contribution to the nominations was a straight sex story involving a Tyrannosaurus Rex. I wonder what kind of pervert is so captivated by lizard sex? In this story, a three-breasted alien stripper, who shoots laser beams out of her nipples when she has an orgasm, hooks up with a tyrannosaurus and has a lot of steamy sex. The tyrannosaurus is extremely well endowed for a lizard (which usually don’t really have much external genitalia at all). This was much worse than last year’s porn story, which at least managed to be pretty funny. This wasn’t even arousing and the writing was pretty bad. It lands below “no award” for me.

“The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon

An old woman lives alone and raises the best tomatoes anyone has ever tasted. She is waiting for one especially juicy tomato to reach peak ripeness, when it disappears during the night. And then the next one is also stolen. And the next. Clearly, something must be done. It turns out that the old lady (and the world itself) were not so simple as they first seemed to be. The quest for the tomato thief turns out to span several dimensions and is a very dangerous adventure, which involves space shifters and some even more strange creatures. A fun fable-like story, which turns more and more fantastic it goes on and is very well told.

“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” by Alyssa Wong

Young orphan boy and girl live on a whorehouse and help with all of the chores there are to be done. The boy has some strange powers: he can animate the dead, up to and including the chicken legs that are being cleaned for cooking. A group of strange men comes to the town. They demand that the boy come with them to examine a mine that was destroyed in an accident. He does, but things don’t go as planned. Nice writing, but a bit of an over-surrealistic end for my taste, which doesn’t really explain any of the fantasy elements.

“The Art of Space Travel” by Nina Allan
The first Martian expedition ended in disaster over twenty years ago. A new one will be launched soon. A young woman takes care of her mother who suffers from an Alzheimer's-like disease. It turns out that her unknown father just might be one of the members of the first expedition. A well-written story, but with fairly minor science fictional plot elements.

“Touring with the Alien” by Carolyn Ives Gilman
Aliens have arrived in impenetrable domes around the world. After a short time, humans who were apparently kidnapped as children, exit from the domes. They are supposedly translators for the aliens. Then one of them asks for a bus. A young woman works as a driver for him and an alien, and they mainly just drive around. A very good story, which is refreshingly real science fiction, not fantasy with irritatingly unexplained mystical events.

“The Jewel and Her Lapidary” by Fran Wilde
Pretty generic fantasy, where jewels have mystical and magical properties. The story involves a member of the royal family and her “lapidary”, a person who is able to command the stones. Their country is invaded and they must try to survive and protect some of the most powerful and important jewels. I didn’t get into this story at all. The characters spent most of their time discussing the magical properties of the jewels and little seemed to happen. Overall, the story felt like pretty generic fantasy, which was well written, but fairly boring.

My voting order is:

1. "Touring with the Alien” by Carolyn Ives Gilman
2. "The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon
3. “The Art of Space Travel” by Nina Allan
4. “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” by Alyssa Wong
5. “The Jewel and Her Lapidary” by Fran Wilde
6. No award
7. Alien Stripper Boned From Behind" by The T-Rex by Stix Hiscock

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Kari Häkämies: Presidentin murhe


The husband of Finnish president disappears and later he is found murdered. Is the murder connected to the murder of shady businessman from Iceland, whose body was found nearby somewhat earlier? An easy to read crime story, where the description of the political life is top notch, but the characterization might have been better.


Poliittisessa maailmassa tapahtuva dekkari. Naispresidentin hiukan epämääräisen taustan omaava puoliso aluksi katoaa ja löytyy myöhemmin kuolleena. Onko hänen kuolemallaan jotain yhteyttä hiukan hämäräperäisen islantilaisen liikemiehen kuolemaan? Asiaa selvittelee sekä poliisi, että Helsingin Sanomien toimittaja, joka on siirtynyt rikostoimitukseen taloustoimituksesta. Ja onko presidentinkin taustoissa jotain epäselvää? Mutta kumpi löytää syyllisen ensin, toimittaja vai poliisi?
Kirjassa ei ole varsinaista päähenkilöä, vaan tapahtumia seurataan useammasta tai ainakin kahdesta eri näkökulmasta. Tämän vuoksi kirja vaikutti hieman hajanaiselta eikä henkilöiden kuvaus ei myöskään ollut mielestäni mitenkään erityisen hyvää. Kovin paljoa vihjeitä murhaajasta ei myöskään saatu eikä ”arvoitusta” itsenäisesti käytännössä olisi pystynyt ratkaisemaan. Se, mikä kirjassa oli parasta ja kiinnostavaa sekä ilmeisen asiantuntevasti kirjoitettua, oli poliittisen taustan kuvaaminen. Ihan mukava välipala kumminkin raskaamman ja englanninkielisen kirjallisuuden välissä vaihteluna, enkä pitäisi mahdottomana, että lisää saman sarjan kirjoja lukisin.

278 s.

Friday, June 30, 2017

My Hugo award votes 2017 part 1: novellas

Novellas are the first category of the Hugo nominations that I finished. After the changes in the nomination process, the trollers had less of an impact this year. As a drawback (or bonus) there was more to be read, as there are six nominees in each category.

All of the stories were at least fairly good, none was bad, not even the rapid puppies nominee, the story by China Miéville. Apparently that nomination was mostly a “human shield” style of nomination: nominating something which most likely would be on the list anyway. The order of the stories wasn’t too easy to determine, but I read the story by Seanan McGuire first and it pretty much remained my favorite. None of the stories was something that wouldn’t be award-worthy at all. None of the stories will be below “no award.” After some pondering, I chose my voting order. (This year’s voting system is extremely nice to use and it made putting the stories in right order very easy).

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire


Young teenagers, mostly girls, have gone to alternative worlds where they felt at home. The alternative worlds are mostly different, some are fantasy lands, others are based on logic, some are based on some kind of horror motive, and so on. In the most cases, the youths felt at home on those worlds. For some reason, some of them have been cast out. Time has moved at a different rate for them in many cases. It might have been years in our world and their parents assumed that their children had been abducted/run out and are most likely dead. The relationships between the children and their parents are usually very strained – and usually they were strained even before the youths went away. The victims are gathered to a special school, which is run by an old woman who herself had the same fate as a teenager. She looks middle-aged but is possibly much older. A young girl goes to the school. Soon other pupils start to die - gruesomely. The other pupils naturally first have some suspicion toward the new pupil, especially as she comes from a world where death himself is an important figure.

A pretty good story with a new look at what Alice in Wonderland and Narnia (according to the novella, Lewis didn’t really know anything, he just used stories he had heard - badly) might actually mean. A nice and interesting story, with unusual characters and excellent writing.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

This story is kind of the reverse of the one above. This story happens in a dreamland, where the sky is patterned and close to the ground, and it is ruled by several gods. Most of the gods are not benevolent and they are ready to destroy whole towns for minor infringements, or even just to annoy another god. A pupil from a women’s university has escaped. Apparently, she has fallen in love with a man who comes from the waking world. A teacher, who as a young woman had many adventures, must bring her back, as her absence threatens not only the school, but the whole town. But it isn’t easy for someone, who is from the dreamland to go the waking world…

The beginning and the end of the story were excellent, but the middle part consisted mostly of a travelogue of the dreamland and all of the action pretty much stopped. Due to that, the story felt too long. However, both the beginning and the end were excellent.

Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold

This novella continues the story of Pendric and his demon, Desdemona. It has been a few years after the last story and Pendric has grown accustomed to the demon he carries, at least more or less. He must interrupt his studies for a while, as he and his ward are needed to a shaman, who apparently not only murdered his friend but destroyed his soul, as it was nowhere to be found. (In this world the souls are very real and they literally go to the gods at the funeral rites). Eventually, they naturally find what they were looking for. A pretty good story, but it was a bit overlong and there was far too little of Desdemona. Not as good as the first part of the series.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

At the beginning of the 20th century, a black man from Harlem delivers a strange book for a peculiar old woman who lives in an affluent part of the New York City, which is written in an unknown language. He has left away the last page of the book as a precaution. Soon, he gets an offer he can’t decline from a strange man and is chased and bullied by a plain clothes detective. And then everything starts to be more and more strange and dangerous. A story, which is an homage to the Cthulhu stories. In the beginning of the story, the slight horror elements were pretty good; the later part, with more surrealistic bloody horror, was much less appealing - but I have never been a great fan of horror and even less of the Cthulhu stories. The writing was very good, though.

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

The story happens at different times. One part of the story is a romance between two males in the vaguely fantastical medieval style world. Another part of the story happens much later and shows that the two lovers didn’t get each other. This latter part of the story has science fictional elements. Apparently, the world is a colony world and there are “gods” or people with access to high technology who have very long life spans. The romance parts took the bulk of the story, and there was nothing really special there: two lovers from different ladders of the society who eventually can’t be together. How many times has this story been told? The sexes of the partners had no real significance; the same story could have been told about a male and a female just as well. Perhaps that was a part of the point the story was making, but the romance parts felt very dull and they had no scifi or fantasy content at all. And the ending, if I understood it correctly, was a cheat.

This Census-Taker by China Miéville

A young boy lives with his parents on a mountain side. The father is a “keymaker,” who makes keys for the villagers. The keys apparently have some supernatural properties. The father sometimes kills animals. Then the mother disappears and the boy claims that the father killed her. The villagers examine their house and don’t find any proof of the crime: but the mother supposedly has written a letter which states she has run away. The boy must return to his father, but he is afraid that he will be killed. But then a man, a census taker, arrives and he interviews the boy and believes his story. The story has very beautiful language, but the plot has a lot of vague unexplained mysticism, and the story seemed to end a bit too soon. The point of the story is also left more or less open and the slightly mystical points are not explained at all.

My voting order is:

Novella:
1. Every Heart a Doorway
2. The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe
3. Penric and the Shaman
4. This Census-Taker
5. The Ballad of Black Tom
6. A Taste of Honey

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer



This book is another Hugo nominee. It's a sort of future history that supposedly tells a story that happened decades or centuries ago. To show that the story takes place in the past, it is written in a very old style of language and storytelling (the book actually happens hundreds of years in the future from the real current time). One of the narrative devices is a narrative voice that comments on events and sometimes even argues with itself about details of the book, like about who is the main character of the book.
Religion has been all but outlawed after a devastating war that was caused by religious beliefs. Religion cannot be publicly discussed, if a professional called a sensayer isn’t present. The nations have also vanished, and they are replaced by clans of sorts that bind people who have similar interests. The clans take care of their members, and most people belong to very tight families that usually consist of several people of different sexes. And the mere mention of sexual differences or even gender is very much taboo.
The main character, Carlyle Foster, is a sensayer. His friend, Mycroft Canner, is a slave of sorts, due to crimes he has committed. The crimes he committed are very extreme, but he has been “adjusted”, and he isn’t able to harm even insects anymore. They are taking care of a very special child who apparently can perform real miracles — like waking up toy soldiers as real, intelligent, and self-aware creatures.
The language and the structure of the book are pretty heavy, hard to read, and exhaustive, and at places very irritating. The plot itself was pretty good, but the fairly experimental narrative technique made the book pretty hard to follow, and it was a struggle to read at places. This is a book that might be easier to understand on a second reading, and I probably didn’t get everything out of it after the first reading. Also, the capabilities of the child were slightly too much on the fantastical side for a book that otherwise is very science fictional. This won’t be one of my top choices in the Hugo voting.

432 pp.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, May-June 2017


A lot of short stories in this issue – many of them lacked proper beginning and end.

The Girls with Kaleidoscope Eyes • novella by Howard V. Hendrix
An FBI detective arrives at a small town where a teacher has apparently tried to kill and burn several of his young female students, rescuing them at the last possible moment and endangering his own life. The teacher seems to have a history of failure of sorts. He has had some pretty good positions, but has had some unorthodox opinions and eventually he has fallen back to teaching at the high school at his old home town. The town has an NSA data center, with some very secret and advanced data processing faculties. The children who almost were killed are all girls; all look very similar and inhabit some very strange thought patterns.
A pretty good story; a digital take on Midwich Cuckoos. There were some irritating jabs on “SJW”-style of thinking which were unnecessary for the story. ****-
To See the Elephant • novelette by Julie Novakova
An animal psychologist has arrived to find out why a young male elephant is behaving very strangely. As elephants are dying out, due to widespread disease, every single one counts. She is able to create an almost telepathic connection with EEG electrodes which are attached to the bull. A story that is written to showcases a couple novel ideas. A fair one as such, but otherwise not very memorable. ***
The Chatter of Monkeys • short story by Bond Elam
The ecosystem has apparently pretty much fallen. The nations are still battling for some pretty unspecified reasons. An alien robot has arrived on Earth and is able to offer a solution for the catastrophe. But humans don’t seem too interested in the solution. Scant backstory and caricature-like characters make this pretty average story. ***-
A Grand Gesture • short story by Dave Creek
A man who inadvertently caused the death of several people faces an ethical dilemma on a foreign planet. Should he save possibly sentient aliens at cost of human lives? A pretty nice story. ***
Decrypted • short story by Eric Choi
Digital encryption falls down, causing severe unforeseen consequences; among others, a loss of the secrecy of previously unknown messages. Another story that is a bit too short and cursory; more of a scene than a real story. ***
Seven Ways to Fall in Love with an Astronaut • short story by Dominica Phetteplace
A love story of sorts, between scientist/astronauts who work in space and study Martian micro-organisms. The story goes more for a mood than a plot. ***
Focus • short fiction by Gord Sellar
Students in Vietnam revolt against scrupulous factory owners, but the government apparently has some plans. Not really a story, but just a short scene. There was not much backstory, and the story just ends on an emotional scene with no real resolution. ***
Ténéré • short story by Manny Frishberg and Edd Vick
A caravan finds out that an oasis has dried out. There is a new structure nearby and they go there to get water and to find out what has happened to the oasis. The factory uses solar energy to scrub CO2 from the air and uses the carbon to produce carbon nanotubes. A fairly good story, but unreasonably unreasonable nomads, especially considering who financed their caravan. Also, the science of the "problem" doesn't make any sense at all. As the carbon dioxide content of the air is pretty low as a percentage, and one molecule of carbon dioxide produces one molecule of oxygen, it simply isn't possible that there would be significant oxygen surplus around the factory. ***+
The Final Nail • novelette by Stanley Schmidt
A country doctor notices that there are more and more cases of meat allergy, a known syndrome that is usually spread by ticks, but there are no such ticks where he lives. Then his doctor friend who practices at nearby town notices the same thing. Apparently, someone is spreading the disease intentionally. Everything is pretty obvious and the reader knows what is going on earlier than the characters in the story. The end is a bit simplistic: the impact of widespread veganism has been discussed time and time again. But it is nice to read a story with a clear beginning and end. There have been far too many stories lately in this magazine which lack those. ***½
The Speed of Faith in Vacuum • short story by Igor Teper
The powerful "immortals" visit a struggling colony every few hundred years. They offer continuity and sometimes solve problems. The colony has encountered a new, very serious disease. The immortal, who is visiting seems to very frightened of the disease. Are they so powerful after all? A pretty nice story, could be just the beginning? ***½
Facebook Screamed and Screamed, Then I Ate It • short story by Sam Schreiber
An AI emerges on the Internet and invades Facebook. The writing was ok, but once more, too short and scene-like story to have real impact. ***
Vulture's Nest • short story by Marissa Lingen
A family of "scavengers" finds derelict space ships that are tainted by some kind of plaque and breaks them up into parts. One time, the family who used to own the ship objects. Short, but pretty nice simple story.***
In the Mists • short story by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzeberg
A man has been living alone on a planet for seventeen years. He is writing a journal, and wonders if he is sane. Another short, but pretty nice story. ***+
The Return • short story by Bud Sparhawk
A very short story about an old astronaut who goes back to space on an anniversary of space travel. Okay, but too short. ***
Lips Together • short story by Ken Brady
A woman spreads a genetically engineered Streptococcus mutant by kissing select men. So? ***-
The Banffs • short story by Lavie Tidhar
A writer befriends a member of a powerful group who apparently are aliens (or journeyer from another timeline). He works as a housekeeper and lives at vast mansions in the most interesting parts of world. But then the aliens go home, and then the story pretty much ends. Okay, but somewhat unsatisfying. There really wasn’t much of a point anywhere, the writing itself was pretty good. ***+
Where the Flock Wanders • short story by Andrew Barton
A derelict hull of a war ship which possibly had a pivotal role in a conflict between Earth and colonies in space is found. The safe in it has sealed orders, unopened. Those are most likely very important historical documents. Or are they? A pretty nice story, which is actually a fairly self-contained story, not a scene, like so many others in this issue.***+
Proteus • short story by Joe Pitkin
A spy goes to a floating city on Venus to find out if illegal gene manipulation is done there. Everyone seems to be beautiful and the life seems nearly utopian. Is it too good to be true? A nice story, which could have been longer with a bit more detail, as the motivation of the main character wasn't entirely shown. ***+
Kepler's Law • novelette by Jay Werkeiser
A colony ship arrives at a planet in another solar system. They land several exploratory shuttles (manned by idiots; one manages to crash, as the pilot pushes it in order to be the first one landing). The most passengers of the crashed ship die horribly, soon after landing (as they truly are idiots they almost all go together outside without any real protective suits). As all the members are idiots there is some nationalistic quarreling and they even seem to hate foods that aren’t native to their own countries. The planet also has some plants that are in suspicious straight lines (which were not detected in a “thorough” survey they made before landing). A fairly good story, but with irritatingly stupid characters. It might continue an earlier story, it rings some bells, but I didn't find the first part. The setup is pretty generic though; there are probably dozens of stories where ships leave Earth after some catastrophe. ***+

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders


The story of two unusual youths. One is a boy with unparalleled technical skills, and another is a girl, who is a witch. The boy had already built a time machine when he was still in elementary school (the machine had a small drawback - it enabled only three-second jumps to the future) and a bit later he designed a computer with artificial intelligence, as an after school pastime. The girl has been able to talk with animals - at least sometimes - and had a deep discussion with a powerful tree while she was lost in the woods as a little child. They are both outcasts, and they are drawn together. Their parents are negligent in different ways, and they don’t get any support from them. An assassin is apparently trying to kill them, as he has foreseen that they might contribute to the destruction of the world. Later they are separated by events and time, but they meet again as adults, and they are drawn together, again. Soon they find themselves on opposing sides when the world is falling down, but will they find a way to work together?

The book was a fairly uneven mixture of science fiction and fantasy. The first quarter of the book reads just like a young adult book, or rather almost like a parody of a typical YA book, where the protagonists are 'special', and everyone is against them, everyone popular at school just hates them, and the adults don't understand them at all. Their parents were so dysfunctional that they seemed to verge on parody. Later the themes matured very much. The pacing of the book was a bit off, after a fairly fast beginning, everything pretty much stopped for a long time, until the events really took off, and then a lot seemed to happen in the last few dozen pages. The ending was very sudden and more than a little 'Deus ex machina' like and somewhat open. The world is ending, but at least the lovers found each other, and who cares what happens then?

320 pp.