Thursday, April 23, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact June 2009

Pretty good issue, not a bad story. (This was written in a hurry, I tried to finish my review before my week long trip to Seattle)

But It Does Move • novelette by Harry Turtledove
The story revolves around Galileo’s inquest in Rome. An inquisitor has some pretty modern manners of investigation. The start was very good, but story didn’t really go anywhere, the ending didn’t really deliver. ***½
Chain • novelette by Stephen L. Burns
Robots are second class almost citizens who must endure abuse, and who must obey humans in almost everything. Might contain some fairly heavy-handed allegories, but is pretty good, interesting story nevertheless. Might have been a bit longer, I would liked to learn more about the ranking system among the robot population. Second part might be interesting? ****
Solace • shortstory by James Van Pelt
Two stories connected by something I had to google, if the connection between the stories was really what I was thinking. Another happens on a slower than light space ship which is slowly traveling to another star system, while the passengers spend most of their time in cold sleep, another happens in a mining station during very cold weather. Both parts are very good, well written and moving stories. The mining station part suffers a bit as it apparently is written by someone who has no real experience of really cold climates. You DON’T run out of firewood during the coldest winter - if you do, you are stupid, lazy and most probably very dead. And you _really_ don’t collect the firewood around you habitat on nice weather - fresh wood isn’t really worth much. And there isn’t usually very cold and heavy snowfall at the same time, either or, but not both. ****-
Attack of the Grub-Eaters • shortstory by Richard A. Lovett
Story told by discussion on internet forum. Alien mole men invade! :-) Fun and entertaining story, told by someone who apparently has taken part to a few net forum discussions. ****
The Cold Star Sky • shortstory by Craig DeLancey
The main character must help giant balloon-like creates with attitude problem to recover stranded exploratory vessel too deep in a gas giants atmosphere. A bit old-fashionably styled problem-solving story. Nothing bad, nothing really special, writing ok. ***
Monuments of Unageing Intellect • novelette by Howard V. Hendrix
Might continue an earlier story - I might have read it, as there are some details which feel familiar. Humanity has become immortal, but forever adolescent. But there are a few inviduals who aren’t immortal. A lot of info-dumping in the beginning, gets better towards the end. ***½
The Affair of the Phlegmish Master • novelette by Donald Moffitt
Journeying to past to get a Vermeer’s painting. Naturally there are complications…
Nice, amusing, entertaining story. ****

Monday, April 13, 2009

Jared Diamond: Tykit, taudit ja teräs / Guns, Germs, and Steel

I read this book in Finnish, so the review will be mainly in Finnish.
Condensed version: Pretty good book, but overlong, could have excellent longish article. Now the book resembles TV-documentary made in US: everything is explained very carefully, and everything is repeated time and time again. The translation sucks, I regret that I read this in Finnish.

Jared Diamondin kuuluisa kirja yhteiskuntien kehityksestä ja siitä miksi toiset yhteiskunnat ovat menestyneempiä kuin toiset. Kirjan mukaan tähän on syynä viljelyn ja karjankasvatuksen erilaiset lähtökohdat, jotka taas ovat riippuvaisia kyseisellä alueella luonnostaan esiintyvistä lajeista, kuinka hyvin ne pystyvät levittäytymään uusille alueilla, ja kuinka helposti ne ovat kesytettävissä. Tässä suhteessa Euraasialla on ollut huomattava etu muihin mantereisiin verrattuna.

Kirja on varsin mielenkiintoinen, joskin siitä kyllä loppua kohden alkoi tulla mieleen Amerikkalaiset TV-dokumentit. Kaikki selitetään hyyyvin perusteellisesti, ja aina uudelleen ja uudelleen samoja asioita kerraten ja samoihin johtopäätöksiin päätyen. Varsinaista kunnollista sisältöä kirjassa tuntui olevan osapuilleen yhden laajahkon tieteellisen artikkelin verran, mutta kun asiasisältö on pitänyt laventaa lähes 500 sivuiseksi kirjaksi, niin liialliselta samojen asioiden jauhamiselta ei ole voitu välttyä.

Lisäongelmana on käännös. Mielestäni kieliasu on aika kankeaa, käännös olisi tarvinnut melkoisesti stilisoimista, ja eräiden termien käännösratkaisut olivat kyllä vähintäänkin “omaperäisiä”. Pitäisi varmaan lähettää kustantajalle lasku hammaslääkärihoidosta, sillä varmasti jokunen paikka hampaista irtosi sen kirskuttelun ansiosta jota syntyi joka kerta kun käännöksessä käytettiin sanaa “ratas” pyörän korvikkeena. Mikähän tuonkin ratkaisun taustalla oikein oli?

Annan kolme tähteä, yksi pudotusta käännöksestä.

Galaxy September 1954

Pretty good issue, all stories were entertaining at least, none irritatingly childish or old-fashionable.

The Man Who Was Six • novelette by F. L. Wallace
A man wakes up in a hospital without any clear memories, later he somehow finds himself to a house, where there is a woman who feels like his wife. But then he gets memories of an another wife, and other memories which seem to belong to several different people. It turns out that he has been on a severe accident where several people were killed, and he is partly a composite of them.
The premise is ok, but the story is a bit overlong. The end is worse than the first part. Also, some qualities he is supposed to have acquired are a bit implausible and even irritatingly stupid. ***
A Start in Life • novelette by Arthur Sellings
A small group of children is taught by robots. There seems to be no adults around. Naturally the children ask a lot of questions, and the robots are not necessarily answering all of them, at least not with complete honesty. Ending is pretty obvious, nothing really surprising or special. ***-
Dusty Zebra • novelette by Clifford D. Simak
Have you ever lost something you just put down? Have you ever found something strange- something you don’t have any clue how to use, or even what the item is? A man finds a way to swap small items with a another dimension or planet - he doesn’t know which - he just puts a small item on his table, and it is swapped to something. Nice, simple story. The worst part is ending- there really isn’t one. ****-
Milk Run • shortstory by Robert Sheckley
Small space transport company gets a job transporting animals from one colony to an another. There are some slight difficulties, however…
Small, humorous story. Not on par with Sheckley’s best. ***½
Shell Game • shortstory by Philip K. Dick
A group of survivors of space ship crash is living on planet. The secret unseen forces seem to haunt them with poisons and other unseen attacks. No wonder that the victims are starting to be a bit paranoid. Pretty typical Dick story, ending is a bit unsatisfying. ***½
Satan's Shrine • novelette by Daniel F. Galouye
An apparently immortal despot who rules the world lives in impregnable fortress and punishes any kind of attacks against him by missile attacks against guilty nations. A group of guerillas are making an attempt against his life - nor for the first time - in fact this is 93rd such attack. But will this one be finally a success? Pretty good story - not surprising - but interestingly told. ****

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Wake by Robert J. Sawyer

This review is based on the serialized version of the book, not on book publication.
I read the last part of the story about three months later, than the first three parts, as I got that issue of Analog very much delayed and only after reporting missing issue to the customer service of the magazine.
The main protagonist, Caitlin, is a blind teenage girl who has been blind for all her life. She gets a visual implant which is connected to computer which should make her able to see. At the same time a some kind of consciousness is awaking on the connections of Internet. When computer, which handles Caitlin’s vision is connected to internet she starts to suspect that there is something lurking on the net...
I have read a few books by Sawyer, and I must say that this is the one I have enjoyed most. Ideas are fresh and exiting, writing is more than adequate. There were a few problems which might have been corrected in the final book version. (Spoilers follow- a bit of spoiler space follows:)

One important character on the beginning of the story was a Chinese dissident, who later was completely forgotten. Also, the parts concerning the monkey seemed pretty unconnected to the whole of the story. There is another "wake" happening there for sure, but the connection to overall story was pretty flimsy after all. Also, the threat the monkey ultimately faces is very unlikely - for a zoo to make demand it was making (against YouTube’s favorite chimp) would have the worst public relations disaster EVER for ANY zoo in the history of mankind. There is no chance in hell that demand would have had any chance of success. Another minor irritation is the picture Caitlin uses in the end, which the netmind doesn't recognize - after reading the whole Wikipedia it should not have had any troubles at all realizing what the picture depicts. As a whole - pretty good book, much better than e.g. Hominids.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

Second part of ”Old Man’s War” series.

A talented scientist involved in development of the greatest secret weapons of Colonial Union has defected. With his help three alien species are planning to destroy CU and perhaps the whole mankind.

When defecting the scientist left back a recording of his consciousness. That
recording is used for a clone body, but it doesn't seem to transfer properly, and the mind of the clone seems to be empty. The ”surplus” body is then used as ”gun-fodder” in usual manner. Inevitable happens eventually. But will a personality of a traitor turn into another traitor inevitably? Is that soldier trustworthy? And why would anyone want to scheme for apparent destruction of whole human species?
This is pretty good book, but perhaps not as good as the first part of the series. The main reason is probably that it is easier to identify to a human with a lifetime of experience, than to newly awakened cloned body with computer induced mind and self-awareness. And I really missed the main character of the first book, and kept waiting for him to show up eventually.

The Colonial Union is starting to go towards darker direction this time. In the beginning of the first book it was presented as a shiny defender of mankind, during that book there were already hints about it being something else. In this book the shades of grey are really starting to show, and in the next one it is starting to be increasing unclear just who are the ”good guys” of universe.

Anyway, this was very entertaining book - but next one ( which I read when reading Hugo nominated novels last summer) is better - probably not as good as the
first one. Writing is good and easily read, entertaining.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Analog Science Fiction and Fact March 2008

I got this issue only after complaining to Analog, so I read it only after reading two later issues. Pretty average issue. Haven’t read the last part of Wake yet.

Cavernauts • novelette by David Bartell
The main protagonist is going to a rescue mission to Jupiter’s moon Callisto, which has an extensive cave system beneath its’ surface. A pair of “cavernauts” is missing, and presumed dead. Story tells about an almost hopeless rescue attempt. All caverns seem to be named after body parts, and at places it is fairly irritating, as a lot of space is used for careful naming of seemingly every singly nibble of the caves - why would I care or be interested in what are the fictional names of the different fictional caves in Callisto. There are also at least two really major stupidities in the story. One is that normal “dead tree” books are supposedly most often read in space ships due to “amp rationing”. One would presume that any kind of power requirements of any kind of reading device for e-books would be ridiculously minor when compared to the cost of accelerating and de-accelerating the weight of a real book. Also, the actions of the “hero” in the last quarter of the story are unforgiving and unbelievingly stupid. I almost liked the first part of the story, but ending was really bad. **½
Lifespeed • shortstory by Carl Frederick
Fencers are very fast - but why they are so fast? Is there perhaps a genetic reason for it? Good story, the biochemistry is bit jiffy, but nevertheless nice and readable story. Might have been a bit longer. ****-
Madman's Bargain • shortstory by Richard Foss
A very creative AI is losing its’ coherence (as AIs always do sooner or later). But why that happens, and can it be prevented? A bit too talky story, the premise is nice and interesting. More plot, less discussion! ***½
After the First Death • shortstory by Jerry Craven
An anthropologist(?) encounters apparently hostile aliens - but are they hostile? At least they say that they just trying to save the members of the expedition (even those they apparently have already killed). The end part is fairly confusing, and seems to bear close resemblance to some ideas in Orson Scott Card’s book Speaker for the Dead (or was it Xenocide?) The ending was maybe a bit too concise, too fast and too easy. The first half was best part. ***½
When All Else Fails • shortstory by H. G. Stratmann and Henry Stratmann III
Pretty good and funny Probability Zero story.