Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge

A book that follows the main plot of the Snow Queen fairy tale. This version happens on a planet where both summer and winter lasts over hundred years. The planet is a part of the galactic trade routes only during the winter; during the summer the black hole which is used for FTL and is situated nearby the planet is in a position which makes it impossible to use and there is no contact with the rest of the galaxy at all.
The planet is always ruled by a queen. Now the rule of the winter queen is nearing its end. To extend her power, she has planted several clones among the summer people. Only one of them has survived, a girl named Moon. She and her cousin, her lover, were separated while she became a Sibyl, a mythical seer who is revered by the summer people, but is despised and feared by the more technologically inclined winter people. By accident Moon ends up in the outside world, while the winter queen takes interest on Moon’s cousin Sparks. Sparks ends up as a lover of the winter queen, and he seems to have forgotten his earlier life as a nature loving summer. It takes years before Moon is able to return. She still loves Sparks and hopes to win him back. In spite of appearances, this book is pure science fiction. Everything which might seem mystical has a science fictional explanation.
A very well written book with nice characterization and rich language. The only character that really didn’t come alive was Sparks, who felt very cardboardish when compared with the well-described female characters of the book. It seemed that he was mainly used as a more or less simpleminded boy-toy by the two main characters. I wonder if that was intentional “comment” which was purposefully made by the author, considering how females are often used in science fiction. Anyway, a book which well deserves the Hugo award it won 1981.

560 pp.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Galaxy March 1952

Somewhat above average issue, the stories are ok, but perhaps a little past their time.

The Year of the Jackpot • novelette by Robert A. Heinlein
Strange things start to happen – people are behaving in surprising manner and the tensions are rising everywhere. One scientist, a statistician who analyzes trends believes that all trends are going in the worse direction at the same time and will bottom down in a few months. He runs to mountains with a girl (who he met earlier when she took away all her clothes in the middle of a street and who later for some hard to understand reason fell in love with him). After they have settled to live on the mountains (there are some small problems, like a nuclear war on the outside world) the sun goes nova. The writing is pretty good, but I really didn’t get the real point of the story if there was any. Things just happen and everything ends badly.
Manners of the Age • shortstory by H. B. Fyfe
People have no social interaction at all, have a lot of robots to take care of their needs and have contact with each other via a TV system. A man finds out that a woman lives in a nearby mansion. He decides to visit her in person. As they haven't interacted with other people in years, they have no social graces at all and irritate each other’s immensely, but they manage to have (off screen) sex nevertheless. The man then returns to his mansion after filing a marriage.
The 7th Order • shortstory by Jerry Sohl
A robot who is the seventh order of being comes to earth to evaluate if it is a good and safe place to produce more robots of the seventh order. Humans as lesser beings would be workers in that project. If the robot cannot be stopped, he will call the invading force. If he is stopped, earth will be written off as a dangerous place and will not be bothered again. The robot is able to read all minds inside a circle of dozens of miles, so stopping it won’t be so easy. The story reminds me of a Spider Robinson story which is based on more or less on the basic premise. A somewhat old fashionable story, but all right.
Catch That Martian • shortstory by Damon Knight
A "Martian" is on loose. Or at least noisy and irritating people start to find themselves partly dislocated from this universe, and are partly transparent and totally silent. An investigator is trying to find who is doing that, but ends up as one of the victims. Nothing really surprising, writing is fairly mediocre. Some tightening would really have served the story.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Galaxy Science Fiction, February 1952

An average issue for Galaxy at that time.

Double Standard • shortstory by Alfred Coppel
A man is using a fake ID and masks to get on a space ship to which he could not be accepted because of his genetics. He is caught soon after liftoff by women who is the gender more suited to space travel. Have seen better writing - and very often. **
Conditionally Human • novelette by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
As very strict population control (based on genetics) is being enforced pets which are modified either to have a higher intelligence or to resemble human children are popular. A man who is responsible for the district pound has to find run away pets and often put down "surplus" ones. As can be imagined this can be a stressful job. Especially his wife (who of course is at home even though they haven't and can't have children) has many qualms about the work ( it apparently comes as a surprise to her...). A mutant strain of pets has been released by accident. The restrictions on the growth and intelligence aren't working as they should. What to do when "a pet" looks like a two year old girl, and is on the intelligence level of about a five year old and "it" should be put down? ***½
Dr. Kometevsky's Day • shortstory by Fritz Leiber
Moons of Mars and Jupiter have disappeared. And there are a lot of people who are claiming to be "gods". Feels like a very old-fashionable story and finishes far too easily ( all the planets of the solar system are camouflaged space ships hiding from the enemy who is now approaching, and the ships must fight or escape - destroying earth and all the other planets while doing so. It happens that the bad guys have stopped being bads, and everything is nice and good...**
Fresh Air Fiend • shortstory by Kris Neville
A man is suffering from debilitating disease on a foreign planet. A woman is tending him, but unfortunately she is very stupid, it is hard to give her instructions. About as appalling it sounds. Writing as such is ok, but otherwise pretty bad at all levels. It doesn't even seem to be written as an ironic piece.**-

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks

This book continues the series of interesting neurological case studies. This time the emphasis is on visual perception and sight.
The book describes some interesting cases, among others a musician who lost her ability to read sheet music, but was ably play from memory, and a man after a stroke lost his ability to read written text, but was still able to write (without being able to read his own writing!). The last part of the book describes Sacks’ own experiences when he lost his sight from his better eye.
The first half wasn’t as good as his earlier books. The writing felt somewhat more complex but at the same too “loose” and it was not as entertaining as the earlier books. The latter half was better and very personal. There was one pretty bad irritant in this book: there were a great number of footnotes, on some pages there was more text on footnotes than in the body text. And many of the footnotes were very redundant and little would have been lost if they were omitted.

As a whole a pretty interesting book, but probably worst book by Sacks I have read.
260 pp.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Analog Science Fiction and Fact September 2011

A serial takes lot of space from this issue. Otherwise below average issue.

Therapeutic Mathematics and The Physics of Curve Balls • novelette by Gray Rinehart
A boy with a malformed skull living on a freak show (in the 1930s) is a mathematical whiz kid, and is able to read minds and influence thoughts. He is maltreated by the owner of the freak show (I wonder why he isn't able to influence him?). He runs away to see a baseball game. There are some good ideas in the story, but it is far too short to explore them properly. And there is the baseball, always a turnoff for me...**1/2
Hostile Environment • shortstory by Emily Mah
Two teenagers on a Mars colony manage to get in trouble more than once. They have an accident while driving surface vehicles and they suspected from a foul play. A pretty simple story where children seem to be behaving below their age. Writing was ok. ***
The Chaplain's Assistant • shortstory by By Brad R. Torgersen
There apparently has been a human invasion of a hostile alien planet. It has failed completely, but a few survivors of the invading fleet live in a sort of reservation where they are studied by insectoid aliens, most of whom seem to have lost interest. It might be only a short while before the aliens destroy the survivors. One day an alien visits a small church some of the humans have built. Apparently the alien have no concept of religion at all. Is that something which could be so interesting for the aliens they will think that there might be something to be learned from the humans. Average story with old and irritating trope: “no religion” = “cold and evil”. ***+
Asteroid Monte • shortstory by Craig DeLancey
Humanity has joined a sort of galactic community. The more barbaric species (like humans) are often used for police work. A human who has broken some rules is drafted to a very elite police force. His first mission is to examine the smuggling of a potentially dangerous machinelike life form. The background of the story feels very interesting, but the plot and resolution of this story (the first of a series?) wasn’t anything really special. ***-
Helix Of Friends • novelette by Carl Frederick
An experiment in some sort of mind melding using some sort apparatus as help leads to a discovery of alternative worlds, as an imaginary friend of a child turns out to be something more. A small nice twist in the middle of the story, but otherwise something which could have been published in Astounding during Campbell’s Dianetics phase. Writing is on about the same level, also. **-

Darwinia: A Novel of a Very Different Twentieth Century by Robert Charles Wilson

Europe is overnight replaced with a strange land with strange plants and strange, most often poisonous animals. The geography is the same, but no trace of any human habitation remains. After a short period of puzzlement there is a scramble for new territory and resources. The main character is a photographer who takes part on an ill fated expedition to mountains which used to be called the Alps. The expedition finds a strange artificial structure before they are attacked by unknown villains. The few survivors keep a very low profile after their return, especially after some very unusual visitors contact them..

The later half of the book is pretty different from the beginning. There turns out to be strange factions fighting age old battles and the people find themselves drafted to take part of the fight. And by the end of the book things turn out to be very metaphysical and the world itself might not be what it appears.
The idea of the book is pretty good, and the first half is excellent. Unfortunately the second half is much worse. It covers a very long time – decades - in fairly sketchy manner and and even the final battle is over in a few pages and is described in very detached manner.

320 pp.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Analog Science Fiction and Fact July-August 2011

I read this issue weeks ago, but haven't had time to write the review. Stupidly I hadn't made any notes about stories, either – and had some real trouble remembering the details of some of them. That naturally tells something about the quality of those stories, also. Two goods ones, others less so.

Coordinated Attacks • novella by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Practically all leaders of the moon are assassinated or at least tried to assassinate with a very strange poison. A police officer investigates the crime. Her examination of an earlier crime (which almost ended very badly for her and her partner) is followed on another time level. There is a connection between those events, but a fairly loose one. A well-written story, but somehow not so well structured as it could have been. The ending was also a bit too open. ****-

Jak and the Beanstalk • novelette by Richard A. Lovett
A young boy wants to climb to the orbital elevator when he grows up. It takes some planning and maneuvering, but when he is a young man, he gets his chance. It is only 35,786 km vertically...
Surprisingly good story, but there a little too much (perhaps unneeded) drama at the end. ****-

A Witness to All That Was • shortstory by Scott William Carter
A married couple with serious issues find a lone robot from a desolate planet. The robot has a story to tell. Writing was fairly good, but the plot felt very familiar with some echoes from Star Trek TNG:s “Inner Light”. ***

Death and Dancing in New Las Vegas • shortstory by Ernest Hogan
Some extremely confusing happenstances in Mars. Some sort of band is supposed to perform on Martian city. I didn't get the story at all, or at least couldn't recall any real details when writing the review.. Apparently, it was supposed to be funny. **

One Out of Many • novelette by Kyle Kirkland
A brain stimulator which is supposed to be safe might have some unforeseen consequences after all. But why a legendary character, a possible crime lord, is interested in it and kidnaps a member science regulations bureau? A lot happens in the story and not everything in it is very logical. The world is fairly strange – you must wait in a line to get access to information databases and you are not supposed to take notes. Some pruning of some details or expansion might have served the story. ***-