Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Dark Forest and Death's End (Remembrance of Earth's Past #2 and #3) by Liu Cixin

I read these two books back to back. I already have some trouble remembering what happened in which book, as they continue almost directly from the same story. Aliens are going to attack Earth. Luckily it is going to take a few centuries, so Earth will have time to prepare. Unfortunately, aliens have been able to prevent all high energy particle physics, so it is likely that humans will run against a technological barrier at some point. But as centuries pass, humans have built a huge space navy and are practically sure they will easily beat the invaders. But the science gap turns out to be vastly greater than almost anyone on Earth anticipated.
A lot happens in these novels – and I mean a LOT. The structure of one book is such that it leaps even centuries at a time, while the main characters spend their time in suspended animation. And then it is carefully explained what has happened; this book mostly tells things, doesn’t actually show them, except the most crucial moments. It is hard to give a very detailed plot description without spoilers, and because of the really vast scope the book covers.
There were some strange details, like smoking in a future restaurant (which had android waiters who looked completely human, but with such bad programming and pattern recognition that they are not able to recognize a removed table). And the behavior of some characters is incredibly stupid: after several failed murder attempts, one character casually orders drugs for very mundane reason, and almost takes them without a second thought.
Also, the strategies used by humans are completely insane. An unknown enemy probe with unknown capabilities arrives. Oh, let's arrange the whole human fleet in close proximity at STRAIGHT LINES very close to each others.
There were many problems with science; for example, interstellar dust is so dense that it slows spaceships which move at relativistic speeds by “drag” significantly? Electromagnetic pulse caused by a nuclear detonation causes such a heavy vibration of the space ship hull that it kills everyone inside?
The motives of many the characters are often very strange and hard to understand, and some actions even the nations took were very strange. There was no mention at all about opposition, which is active in all western countries; all political decisions were apparently unanimous with no one opposing sometimes very strange decisions, like classifying all attempts to build ships to escape the solar system and the coming invasion as “escapism” and extremely criminal – I didn’t get that at all (there was an explanation in book for that, but it was a ridiculously stupid one).
There is a lot of lecturing, explaining pretty basic scientific things, and if something isn't explained, there is a translator's note which explains it.
As a whole, the plot was interesting, but the writing style and behavior of many of the protagonists was pretty infuriating. However so much happened - sometimes pretty surprising (but depressing) things - that the books were an easy reads in spite of hefty page counts.

512 + 604 pp.

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 (, 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 (, 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 (, 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.