Category Archives: Reviews

Vorkosigan-saagaa vihdoinkin suomeksi

Uusi kustantamo Myrskykustannus näyttää suomentaneen Lois McMaster Bujoldin erinomaisen Vorkosigan-sarjan ensimmäisen osan Shards of Honor nimellä Kunnian sirpaleita. En ole suomennosta lukenut, mutta alkuperäinen kirja on ehdottomasti lukemisen arvionen. Suosittelen.

Cordelia Naismith on demokraattisen Beta-siirtokunnan tutkimusaluksen päällikkö. Aral Vorkosigan on Barrayar-keisarikunnan korkeita aatelisia ja sota-aluksen päällikkö. Heidän laivojensa kohtaamisen, ja Vorkosiganin laivan kapinan, takia molemmat jäävät lähes tutkimattomalle planeetalle ja joutuvat tekemään yhteistyötä päästäkseen takaisin ihmisten ilmoille. Mutta tarina ei suinkaan pääty Barrayaralaiseen tukikohtaan asti selviämiseen… Shards of Honor on samanaikaisesti suurieleinen avaruusseikkailu ja koskettava rakkaustarina.

Star Trek

It is curious to see that the eleventh movie in a series is the first to bear the series name with no adornment. It is apt, however: Star Trek is a clear attempt at rebooting the universe and basically forgetting most of the decades-heavy baggage. It seems to me that the reboot was fairly well done, too.

The movie opens with the birth of James Tiberius Kirk, and follows his development into the Captain of the Enterprise. Along the way, we also see the growth of Spock from adolescence into Kirk’s trusted sidekick and also into … well. Despite the fact that the action plot macguffins are time travel and planet-killer weaponry, it is mainly a story of personal vengeance, personal tragedy, and personal growth. Curiously enough, although Kirk gets a lot of screen time, it is really the personal story of Spock.

Besides Kirk and Spock, we also get to meet reimagined versions of Uhura (I like!), McCoy, Sulu, Chekov and Scott. And Christopher Pike, the first Captain of the Enterprise. The appearance of Leonard Nimoy as the pre-reboot Spock merits a special mention and a special thanks.

I overheard someone say in the theatre, after the movie ended, that the movie was a ripoff and had nothing to do with anything that had gone before. I respectfully disagree. The old Star Trek continuum had been weighed down by all the history into being a 600-pound elderly man who is unable to leave the couch on his own. This movie provided a clearn reboot, ripping out most of the baggage, retaining the essence of classic Star Trek and giving a healthy, new platform for good new stories. One just hopes Paramount is wise enough not to foul it up again.

It was worth it, I thought.

John Ringo: The Last Centurion

I finished reading the electronic advance reader’s copy last night. Overall, I’m glad I read it, though it was quite infuriating.

The book is set about a decade in the future. In the book’s world, anthropogenic climate change and global warming turned out to be a hoax; instead, a global cooling (caused by solar variation) was beginning. At the same time, the bird flu (H5N1) became a major pandemic. The United States was governed by the democrats and “the bitch” (a thinly disguised demonisation of a certain democrat presidential candidate), who handled everything wrong.

The book is a fictional autobiography (or a series of blog posts) by a US army officer who became famous during those turbulent times, first commanding a company finding its own way back home after being abandoned in the Middle East (the later stuff I won’t describe to avoid spoiling the book). The Last Centurions is a television propaganda show featuring his unit in action, intended to counterspin anti-military news reports.

Several chapters early in the book are pure political ranting by the narrator: how anthropogenic climate change is false, how socialized medicine is bad (and causes lots of unnecessary deaths during a pandemic), how republicans are good and democrats are evil et cetera et cetera et cetera. (Then again, it’s a Ringo book, political ranting is a given.) Given my political persuasion, it was not easy to read: I kept yelling, “where are your footnotes!” I actually tried to verify some of the claims the narrator makes, and found nothing persuasive. Still… in the end, it all turned out to be justified. It explains the character, and it explains the world. Perhaps it should be a bit trimmed during editing (remember, I read the author’s submission draft which has not been through the usual editing and copyediting cycles), but a lot of it is necessary for the story.

The premise that anthropogenic global warming is a false theory made it very hard for me to suspend disbelief. However, given that premise (and the premise of a totally incompetent government in the USA), the story is compelling and interesting. There’s a quite a bit of military action as we have become to expect from Ringo. The beginning grabbed me, – apart from the couple of chapters of exposition – held my attention tightly to the end, and left me shell-shocked.

I especially liked the wife’s edits. I’m sorry that we didn’t get to see their courtship.

I don’t know if I’ll ever want to re-read the book, but I’m still rating it at 5/5. The book is now available as an e-ARC, and will be released as a regular book in August. There is a companion site at www.thelastcenturion.com.

Starship Troopers

Robert A. Heinlein: Starship Troopers (Putnam, 1959)
Paul Verhoeven (director): Starship Troopers (TriStar, 1997)

The trouble with movies is that they fit only a short story. You can make a terrific movie out of a short story, but I have never seen a movie made of a novel that was at the same time good and faithful – most movies made of books fail in both.

The novel Starship Troopers chronicles the evolution of a high-school kid into a mobile infantry officer in a world which had seen modern democracies fail and be replaced by a veterans’ rule (veterans of also noncombat and civilian service, not just military) – Juan Rico gets in just to impress a girl, and maybe to get to vote some day, goes through boot camp, makes combat drops from orbit as a private and then as a NCO, gets opted for officer training and by the end of the book is a competent officer, helping his old drill sergeant who had found the prize. Along the way we get political sermons (now I know where John Ringo got his tendency to have characters lecture on politics!), some interesting characters and just a hint of romance.

The movie paints in broad strokes and primary colors. The first half of it is in fact a fairly decent redesign of the book as a movie, though I did not like at all how much in the face the romance (and two interconnected love triangles!) was played. Johnnie Rico gets in to impress a girl, goes through boot camp, makes some combat drops – And then it transforms into a horror movie (and loses any resemblance with the book). They make a combat drop, Lieutenant Rico drops his mission and goes rescue his girlfriend (the two triangles having been – eliminated by now) and totally misses his old drill sergeant finding the prize. Allegedly, the director never finished reading the book. Well, it shows. In the book, Rico would have been hanged by the neck until dead, dead, dead well before the end of the movie just for striking a superior officer; in the movie, everybody just shrugs it off.

The book is an enjoyable military story, the founding father of a subgenre consisting of lots of newer books; the movie is just silly.

If you have seen the movie, read the book. Don’t bother the other way around.

What fiction I read in 2007

In rough chronological order, with capsule reviews. I don’t think I’ve missed any, but it is possible that I have.

If you look through the list (behind the cut), you’ll see I read mostly Baen books nowadays. There’s a simple explanation: Baen is (almost) the only publisher that does real e-books, and I tend to avoid the inconvenience of paper books where I can. Still, there’s about a hundred titles on the list.

Continue reading

Jos ois joku Venekosken kesäteatterissa

Lapsena ja teininä juhannusaaton must-juttu oli Venekosken kesäteatterin ensi-ilta. Oli nimittäin niin, että isäni ohjasi näytelmiä siellä 14 vuoden ajan. Tänä vuonna hän teki paluun ohjaten Aino Suholan uutuusnäytelmän Jos ois joku. Luonnollisesti minun piti mennä sitä katsomaan.

En ole mikään teatterikriitikko, mutta kehua uskallan näytelmän henkilöhahmoja ja railakasta (tosin K-12-tasoista) kielenkäyttöä, ja moitin sitä, että tarinassa henkilöt tuntuivat tekevän ratkaisuja ei siksi että se heistä tuntuu oikealta vaan siksi että draaman kaari käskee siihen. En osaa päättää, olivatko näytelmän monet talking heads -kohtaukset huono vai hyvä asia: toiminta pysähtyy, mutta teksti on poikkeuksellisen hienoa. Kokonaisuutena näytelmä oli nautittava kokemus, joka piti ylitäyden ensi-iltakatsomon pauloissaan ja joka nauratti yleisöä monesti.

Lisää kuvia (ei kuitenkaan itse näytelmästä)

Book selections

A friend recommended me Steve Miller and Sharon Lee’s Liaden books. The first question, reading order, was not very easy to find an answer to. I went with publication order within the Agent of Change sequence – Agent of Change, Conflict of Honors, Carpe Diem, Plan B, and I Dare. In retrospect it would have been better to start with Conflict of Honors followed by Agent of Change, as this corresponds to story chronology, and AoC and CD have the same protagonists while CoH doesn’t. The story speed between Plan B and I Dare was too fast to break the sequence, but it might have made the latter book fuller if I had read the first batch of prequels Local Custom and Scout’s Progress before it. The second prequel sequence Crystal Soldier and Crystal Dragon works well at any point in the series, as does the third (single-book) prequel sequence Balance of Trade. I’m still reading Fledgling and the first short story collection.

Confusing? I thought so, but it definitely is worth the investment. Instead of all the usual superlatives, I’ll say something unique to this series: These books changed my perspective in that I now cannot read (in any fiction) about a character bowing without asking in my head “in which mode, dammit!?”. (Update on 8th June: The friend referred to above, after reading this section, said (I paraphrase): “In the peculiar mode of humans, of course”.)

The Liaden books are romances in a (very good) science-fictional setting. With two exceptions, each book creates at least one new lifetime romantic pairing, and they’re in my opinion convincing romances. One of the exceptions deepens one of the earlier relationships, so there is no lack of romance there.

The only place I know where one can get all the novels reliably is Webscriptions, as e-books. Some of the paper books seem to be hard to find, and the recent closing down of the main publisher Meisha Merlin cannot help there.

* * *

The promotional material for The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle includes a quote by Robert Heinlein: Possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read. It is hard for me to disagree with that statement (including the qualifier, in all honesty), having recently read this book.

Mote is a complex first-contact story, set in Pournelle’s alternate history (originally future history) universe. It begins in the year 3017. The recently created Second Empire of Man gets a visit from the aliens, leading to a counter-visit by humans to the aliens’ star system. The aliens seem friendly, but are they? What could they possibly be hiding? In retrospect, the Moties remind me (in style, not in detail) of Orson Scott Card’s Piggies (Speaker for the Dead and sequels); I would be surprised if Card had not read this book before writing his.

The sequel, The Gripping Hand is not the masterpiece that Mote is, but I had no trouble enjoying it. The solution to the Motie problem has held for decades, but it won’t hold forever, and it might actually be breaking down now. The mission: save both humans and Moties from an eventual assured mutual destruction.

* * *

I actually started reading Pournelle’s alternate/future history from the cronological beginning. This is another series where reading order becomes a complicated matter, as many of the books tell parallel subthreads of the story; and it becomes even more complicated by the fact that there is an omnibus edition in which the story is told in chronological order, this having been accomplished by breaking the books down into chunks and then arranging the chunks in chronological order.

My reading order went as follows: West of Honor, The Mercenary, Prince of Mercenaries, Go Tell the Spartans and Prince of Sparta. This is a good reading order; my only problem with it is that the protagonist of West of Honor fails to appear in most of the other books.

The following is not in my opinion a real spoiler, even though it reveals certain key events of the series. The premise is that sometime between the 1970’s and the early decades of the 21st Century the United States and the Soviet Union form a union, called the CoDominium, which dominates the international politics of the Earth for most of the 21st Century. In early 21st Century, faster-than-light travel is discovered, and the CoDominium starts to colonise other star systems, first with voluntary colonists and then with convicts and involuntary colonists. The series takes place in the final decades of CoDominium, and focuses on the actions of one John Christian Falkenberg (though he is not the protagonist of all the books), first as an officer in the CoDominium (extraterrestrial) military, and then as the Colonel of a mercenary outfit, Falkenberg’s Legion. The Legion is at the center of events that eventually (after the events described in these books) leads to the creation of the first Empire of Man.

The books are entertaining military science fiction, solid, enjoyable journeyman pieces.

Christopher Anvil: Cantor’s War

I’ve been reading Baen’s collections of Christopher Anvil’s classic sf stories. In general, I’ve found them excellent; I thoroughly enjoyed the Free Library book Interstellar Patrol; and I’ve enjoyed all the stories of Interstellar Patrol II: The Federation of Humanity that I’ve read so far – with the exception of one.

I agree completely with Alex Kasman of MathFiction: In my opinion, this story is slanderous and the author should be ashamed. I have very little to add to his review, and I won’t repeat his points here. I recommend reading the whole of Kasman’s review.

On my first reading I totally missed that Dr. Phipps had been identified as a mathematician; I couldn’t believe my eyes when I went back and checked. A mathematician of the future, who is that ignorant of elemental set theory? The stuff is hammered down the throat of every mathematics freshman everywhere. It might be possible to graduate with that sort of ignorance, and I might accept it from a scientist who is not a mathematician, but to get a maths doctorate? No way.

Fine, so we suspend disbelief on that point. The good Doctor is a professional imbecile. When he uses his faulty understanding of Cantor’s Theorem to suggest a plan of attack against the bad guys, I expected it to fail, naturally. I expected the bad guys to somehow diagonalize themselves additional warships, and so prove that their number is actually uncountable, when the good guys have just a countably infinite set of ships. But did we get this? No.

Go read Kasman’s review, and the Anvil reissues. But by heavens, if you are educated in higher maths, skip Cantor’s War.

The Belisarius hexalogy by Eric Flint and David Drake

Books in this series (all published by Baen):

  1. An Oblique Approach (1998)
  2. In the Heart of Darkness (1998)
  3. Destiny’s Shield (1999)
  4. Fortune’s Stroke (2000)
  5. The Tide of Victory (2001)
  6. The Dance of Time (2006)

The premise sounds a little silly: a cyborg and a crystalline artificial intelligence travel back through time from the far future into the Sixth Century. The cyborg’s mission: to create a totalitarian world government that will create the perfect future according to one branch of fanatics. The crystal’s mission: to aid the Byzantine general Belisarius to defeat the cyborg.

Never mind that premise. Here is another. Gunpowder and associated technologies are introduced in the 6th Century, first in India and second in the (Eastern) Roman Empire. What happens next?

Based on an outline for a trilogy by David Drake, Eric Flint has created a masterpiece in this six-volume story. It really is a united story, not a collection of six independent novels; the story starts in the first book and ends in the sixth. There will be no more books in this series (except, perhaps, as a “sequel” series, though the authors have not hinted about this).

It is a masterpiece, all right. In an action-adventure story, plot is paramount, and the Belisarius hexalogy has an unusually tight plot for the word count. The characters are well drawn; evidence of this claim is that I wept, much like Belisarius himself, when one of the significant secondary characters died – in battle, yes, but by a fortune’s stroke and not by any enemy’s design. The characterization of the societies and countries involved is suberb in my admittedly history-challenged opinion; India is described vividly, although, as Flint has mentioned, it’s extremely anachronistic (Flint himself considers this appropriate under the circumstances, and describes his portrait of 6th Century India as “impressionistic”).

After a slightly slow start – it takes several not so exciting chapters for the premise of the story to be revealed – the story starts climbing like an aeroplane after takeoff, and never stops. The mood in the beginning is downright depressing, with only a tiny bit of hope, but it steadily brightens, and the last book is pure payoff, immensely satisfying to this reader. It was so satisfying, that I haven’t suffered from story world withdrawal after finishing The Dance of Time. This is unusual.

I have no other option but to rate this story 5/5.

John Ringo: Princess of Wands

Somehow John Ringo‘s latest, Princess of Wands, reminds me of another book he’s written recently. Both have the overtones of some sort of literary self-congratulation. In Ghost‘s case, I counted that as a fault. In Princess of Wands‘ case, I count it as a strength. Both books are also episodic rather than regular novels, but the similarities end here.

One problem in reviewing this book is that one cannot really discuss much of the setup without writing major spoilers. The cover blurb takes one approach: describe what the reader learns within the first five pages, who cares that the picture that gives one of the book is completely wrong. Unfortunately, the cover blurb is so misleading that it can make people ignore this book even though they should have picked it up.

The genre is urban fantasy. The main character is a devout Christian soccer mom who finds herself in an adventure. The magic system and the ontology are quite interesting. There are battles with evil. There is a con. The publishing house itself, Pier… erm… Baen Books, as well as some of its authors, make an appearance onstage. (In fact, if you aren’t a barfly, you’re going to miss some of the fun – like I probably missed a lot of it, never having visited a con where Baen people gather.)

I found it a satisfying read, especially the middle episode. The final episode was so short that it didn’t feel well balanced, but it’s a minor issue. However, I would probably hesitate to recommend this book to a certain kind of Christans: if you think Harry Potter is evil, don’t come near this book.

Overall, I’ll rate this book 4/5.