Book Review : The Martian – amazing sci-fi

The Martian by Andy Weir

5 star read

Why I read:   I’ve heard so much about this sci-fi that I wanted to read it before seeing the film.

Book blurb: “Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him? “

 “Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshipped.” ― Andy WeirThe Martian

My review

Mark Watson  is stranded on Mars and needs to use all his knowledge, skills and courage to survive. Presumed dead by his crew he was stranded in a habitat designed to last 31 days.   He needs to let the people back on earth know he is alive, he needs to figure out a way to exist on an alien planet and he needs to figure out how to get back to earth.  The book starts brilliantly with: “I’m pretty much Fucked. That’s my considered opinion. Fucked”… yup a good summary of the situation.   It’s a true survival story, packed full of science and sci-fi.   From the first lines I was hooked into this book, its brilliantly written, and totally captivated me whilst reading.   It takes you on a real space adventure, complete with thrills, set-backs and wonderful ingenious ideas to overcome the impossible.

 “Problem is (follow me closely here, the science is pretty complicated), if I cut a hole in the Hab, the air won’t stay inside anymore.”  ― Andy WeirThe Martian

I loved the way Mark’s  humour gave him strength and carried him through.   Smart and funny I engaged with him, admired him and totally wanted him to succeed and survive.  I felt like I was with him there on Mars, listening to his scientific explanations and laughing at his jokes.  He quickly became one of my favourite space pirates.

“Here’s the cool part: I will eventually go to Schiaparelli and commandeer the Ares 4 lander. Nobody explicitly gave me permission to do this, and they can’t until I’m aboard Ares 4 and operating the comm system. After I board Ares 4, before talking to NASA, I will take control of a craft in international waters without permission.   That makes me a pirate!  A space pirate!” 
― Andy WeirThe Martian

The parts set on Earth I found less engaging.  These sections were still interesting and included a good range of characters and added more background to the story.  But they reminded me of big budget American Movies with  how everyone in the world pulls together to save one person.   It did show a wonderful side of humanity though and added a feel good element to the book.

I loved that there was so much science, I didn’t understand all of it but it made the book so much more believable.  Talk to a science geek about their favourite subject and you will be bombarded with scientific detail and that’s just what happened in the book.  Its a true “hard-science” science-fiction about space exploration and equally a fast, exhilarating, thrilling read.

I gave it a solid 5 stars because I enjoyed  reading it so much. I’m recommending it to everyone I know:  “It’s brilliant, you have to read it.  It’s got space pirates.” Its a book I will put away and read again in the future.

There’s a free short story which is a prequel to the Martian and gives a tiny taste of what to expect: Prequel to the Martian.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes:  sci-fi, adventure, physics, survival, thrillers, space exploration and pirates, especially space pirates.

“You know what? “Kilowatt-hour per sol” is a pain in the ass to say. I’m gonna invent a new scientific unit name. One kilowatt-hour per sol is… it can be anything… um… I suck at this… I’ll call it a “pirate-ninja”.” ― Andy WeirThe Martian

*****  5 star read

369 pages

Published  September 27th 2012

 ISBN 0804139024
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Book Review : Blind Side: gripping thriller crossed with love story

Blind Side by Jennie Ensor

Why I read:  intriguing thriller set in London.

Book blurb: “Can you ever truly know someone? And what if you suspect the unthinkable?

London, five months before 7/7. Georgie, a young woman wary of relationships after previous heartbreak, gives in and agrees to sleep with close friend Julian. She’s shocked when Julian reveals he’s loved her for a long time.

But Georgie can’t resist her attraction to Nikolai, a Russian former soldier she meets in a pub. While Julian struggles to deal with her rejection, Georgie realises how deeply war-time incidents in Chechnya have affected Nikolai. She begins to suspect that the Russian is hiding something terrible from her.

Then London is attacked…

Blind Side explores love and friendship, guilt and betrayal, secrets and obsession. An explosive, debate-provoking thriller that confronts urgent issues of our times and contemplates some of our deepest fears.

 

My review

An exciting read Blind Side combines a thriller and a love story.  One night Georgie makes a mistake and sleeps with her friend Julian who reveals he is in love with her.  Shortly after in a London bar she meets Nikolai, a Russian ex-soldier, and as she starts dating him she begins to suspect he has dark secrets.  What follows is a unique, gripping psychological thriller of  friendship, guilt, betrayal, obsession and love.

I really enjoyed following Georgie as she discovers more about Nikolai, unravels new truths and secrets and their relationship develops. It had me hooked from the start.  Most of the story is told through Georgie’s eyes but we are also given insights into the mind of Georgie’s stalker as his obsession escalates.  All 3 of the main characters Georgie, Nikolai and Julian  were really well written and realistic.  Their actions and motives were believable.  The story is full of twists and turmoil making it a great psychological thriller.    What impressed me most was the way numerous issues surrounding their relationship and the 7/7 attacks in London were explored and added a real depth to the story.  Issues such as racism, terrorism, fear, different classes and immigration are woven throughout the story making it a thought-provoking read.

Overall I’d give it a solid 4 stars for an exciting psychological thriller with real depth.  A brilliant debut I look forward to seeing what the author writes next.

I’d recommend to fans of: psychological thrillers, complicated love stories, suspense, mystery.

****

I received a free copy via Netgallery in return for an honest review.  

Paperback, 336 pages
Published February 28th 2017 by Unbound
ISBN 1911586009

Book Review : Sleep Over – an oral history of the Apocalypse

Sleep Over: An Oral History of the Apocalypse by H.G. Bells

Why I read:

5 Star Read

Book blurb: “For fans of the oral history genre phenomenon World War Z, a worldwide plague of insomnia creates a devastating new apocalypse.

Remember what it’s like to last an entire night without sleep? That dull but constant headache. The feeling of your brain on edge. How easily irritated you were. How difficult it was to concentrate, even on seemingly menial tasks. It was just a single restless night, but everything felt just a little bit harder to do, and the only real comfort was knowing your head would finally hit the pillow at the end of the day, and when you awoke the next morning everything would return to normal.

But what if sleep didn’t come the next night? Or the night after? What might happen if you, your friends and family, your coworkers, the strangers you pass on the street, all slowly began to realize that rest might not ever come again?

How slowly might the world fall apart? How long would it take for a society without sleep to descend into chaos?

Sleep Over is collection of waking nightmares, a scrapbook of the haunting and poignant stories from those trapped in a world where the pillars of society are crumbling, and madness is slowly descending on a planet without rest.

Online vigilantism turns social media into a deadly gamble.

A freelance journalist grapples with the ethics of turning in footage of mass suicide.

A kidnapped hypnotist is held hostage by those at wit’s end for a cure.

In Sleep Over, these stories are just the beginning. Before the Longest Day, the world record was eleven days without sleep. It turns out most of us can go much longer.”

 

My review

A wonderfully chilling apocalyptic book that questions what would become of the world if no-one was able to sleep?  We follow the story as the world breaks apart, bit by bit.  The horror created by the insomnia of the entire human race is easily comparable to that of zombies or killer viruses.  Its a highly original and thrilling read.

The book consists of a number of personal testimonials from different characters.  There are tales from an amazingly diverse range of  people with different backgrounds, all scattered around the world.  You get to see the effect of insomnia through the eyes of scientists, policy makers, a taxi driver, gamers, nurses, to name but a few.  The stories are grouped into time frames and each one reveals more about what is happening to the world.   Some of the people’s stories show humanity descending into its worse traits, others show survival and there are some touching tales demonstrating real caring and the best of humanity.  The writing is beautifully haunting, vividly capturing the horror each person experiences but with brief moments of hope and joy scattered throughout.   There are loads of brilliant thoughts and ideas packed into the 300 pages as we see the apocalypse through many different viewpoints.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers so will just add this is a book I really enjoyed and will read again in the future.

Overall this is a brilliant and original apocalyptic thriller.  It’s a thought provoking book that I’d suggest all sci-fi fans read.

I’d highly recommend to fans of: horror, apocalyptic thrillers, dystopia and  sci-fi

*****

I received a free copy via Netgallery in return for an honest review.  

Paperback, 300 pages
Expected publication: January 16th 2018 by Talos
ISBN  194045669X

Book Review : The Good Samaritan – Prime November Pick

The Good Samaritan by John Marrs

Why I read:  Thriller.  Amazon Prime pick for November

Book blurb: “She’s a friendly voice on the phone. But can you trust her?

The people who call End of the Line need hope. They need reassurance that life is worth living. But some are unlucky enough to get through to Laura. Laura doesn’t want them to hope. She wants them to die.

Laura hasn’t had it easy: she’s survived sickness and a difficult marriage only to find herself heading for forty, unsettled and angry. She doesn’t love talking to people worse off than she is. She craves it.

But now someone’s on to her—Ryan, whose world falls apart when his pregnant wife ends her life, hand in hand with a stranger. Who was this man, and why did they choose to die together?

The sinister truth is within Ryan’s grasp, but he has no idea of the desperate lengths Laura will go to…

Because the best thing about being a Good Samaritan is that you can get away with murder.”

 

 

““For the more vulnerable out there, once the darkness falls, so do their barriers. Night-time is their enemy, because with fewer visible distractions there’s more opportunity to dwell on how hopeless their lives have become.”
― John MarrsThe Good Samaritan

My review

A fast paced thriller  The Good Samaritan is a tale about Laura,  a help-line volunteer who encourages her callers to commit suicide.  Most of the book is duel narrative between Laura and Ryan the husband of a woman who commits suicide who suspects Laura’s involvement in her death.    Its a true roller coaster as they take each other on, pushing the limits to unravel each other.  The main characters are complex, multi-layered and well written.  Laura is a deeply unlikable character and unreliable narrator.  Sections narrated as her is a glimpse into a truly disturbed mind.  But it was also hard reading Ryan’s grief and the stages he goes through after loosing someone he cared about to suicide.   Although some of his actions I just could not agree with I sympathised with why he was driven to them.   I don’t want to give away any of the plot as its filled with many twists and turns. Its original, clever and griping,  a really exciting read.

I felt the author captured the feelings of despair, the vulnerability of a depressed mind and the isolation of depression really authentically.  I’ve battled with depression and suicidal thoughts for many years and although each persons battle is individual this book portrayed the downward spiral of this illness really well.    I could easily relate to the people who called Laura at the End of the Line and that she got such pleasure from their pain was sickening.  Being inside her head was a horrifying place to be.  As many of the topics in this book are potentially triggering I’d recommend reading it only when in the right head space.

The dark nature of this book, with a killer targeting victims of depression pushed me to my limits whilst reading.  But I enjoy unsettling reads and this book brought it by the bucketfuls. Its horrific and disquieting but I couldn’t stop reading.  I wanted to know how it all ended.    However the author didn’t tie it all up at the end but like life left speculation and possibility of what else could happen.

Overall I found the book a fast read, brutally dark and full of exciting and clever twists.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: fast paced reads,  psychological thrillers, serial killers and dark unsettling topics.

***1/2

Kindle Edition, 390 pages
Expected publication: December 1st 2017 by Thomas & Mercer
ASIN B0728K48N8

Book Review : The Amoeba-Ox Continuum

The Amoeba-Ox Continuum  by Trent Portigal

Why I read:  Science fiction and detective novel combined

Book blurb: ” Natalie Chaulieu has a new assignment. A series of deaths in an old workers’ utopia has caught the attention of the central government and she has been chosen as the liaison between the government and the investigation team. On arriving, she is struck by a world more brilliant and poetic than she has ever known, but as the case progresses it becomes clear that the deaths are intimately connected to the utopia, which is itself suffering a slow decline. As the investigation continues Natalie is forced to question whether the brilliance and poetry are worth saving, and, if so, at what cost…

 

 

My review

An intriguing sci-fi  which centres around Natalie Chaulieu as she  investigates a series of deaths in a workers utopia.   The story is told through Natalie’s eyes as she poetically describes and reflects upon what she finds within this strange world and what caused the deaths.     Her reflections and contemplation are often interestingly bizarre, for instance Natalie categorises the people she meets as insipid amoebas with the occasional ox thrown in.   There’s plenty within to apply to current society as well as: Puppeteers who depict mindless violence,  officials who avoid charges through their status, traditions around Death, poverty, workers conditions etc.  and plenty of witty commentary on them.   Although I loved the weirdness of the book I occasionally got a bit lost and had to re-read sections of Natalie’s thoughts on what was happening.   Overall its a strange and unique story with plenty to keep you entertained.

***

I received a free advanced reader copy via Netgallery in return for an honest review.

Paperback, 184 pages
Expected publication: December 1st 2017 by Roundfire Books
ISBN 1785356917

Book Review : The Windup Girl – bleak dystopia sci-fi

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

3 1/2 star read

Why I read:  Science fiction dystopia that I kept on hearing about – just had to read it.

Book blurb: “Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko…

Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

What Happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism’s genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? Award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers one of the most highly acclaimed science fiction novels of the twenty-first century.”

 

 

My review

A vast bio-punk dystopia set in a future Thailand.  The calorie companies whose mistakes brought new diseases including Blister rust and Cibiscosis are the ones who dole out calories and so control lives. Emiko is the windup girl, one of the New People, genetically engineered to serve.   She survives in a world brought to the edge of extinction by genetic manipulation.

“We are nature. Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving. We are what we are, and the world is ours. We are its gods. Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it.” 
― Paolo BacigalupiThe Windup Girl

The world building is brilliantly descriptive, you are drawn into this brutal, dark, bleak future.  Set in a future Thailand within a world whose natural resources are dwindling, food is scarce, disease and disasters are everywhere.  Seed banks are owned by Calorie companies, limits on calories put a premium on muscle power.   Political manoeuvrings create twists and turns along the plot. There’s an abundance of new words which leave you searching for a meaning within the surrounding text.  Its a scary, distorted and exaggerated reflection of life with bio-technology, a disturbing vision of what our future could hold.

There are several interlocking character stories that run throughout the book.  I found I was more interested in some characters than others and ended up skimming some parts.  My emotional investments in most characters was low as viewpoints kept switching between the wide range of characters.   The title of the book,  Emiko, the Windup Girl, is a genetically engineered, Japanese-designed “New Person”, built to serve “real” humans.  Created with many modifications such as small pores to make her more sexually desirable, a “sex bot”yet she feels human emotions and pain.  Abandoned by her former owner she is now a slave in a sex club.  Through her character we explore the origin and meaning of the soul and survival in a hostile changing environment.  But there were numerous points I had to stop reading as you graphically witness the sexual degradation of Emiko, created to obey, to respond willingly to any  advances, seen by those who use her as an object created for pleasure, little more than a toy.   The numerous descriptions of her sexual objectification and abuse were sickening and often felt over described.  But still they drew out a critique and exploration of the issues.   It was deeply unsettling as the book questions does she have a soul does it matter?

“And we all know windups have no souls.” Gibbons grins. “No rebirth for them. They will have to find their own gods to protect them. Their own gods to pray for their dead.” Paolo BacigalupiThe Windup Girl

There are many references to “gene ripping” and DNA experimentation with examples of how this can go so terribly wrong.   Many of the usual sci-fi questions are presented in the book.  How far should we  play god? When is scientific/technological advancement good for humanity and when should we stop?  Should engineered humans be given the full rights and status of naturally biological humans?  This abundance of ideas was fascinating and impressive,  but at times the story itself is tedious and drags along.

A Hugo, Nebula and Locus Award winner its an epic book packed full of ideas.   But it took me a long time to finish, needing to escape from the terrible depressive bleakness Bacigalupi presents.        Its a nightmare vision of the future which kept drawing me back to read a bit more.  Nothing is black and white, characters are flawed, make mistakes, and the world is hollow and harrowing.  Very few happy moments are scattered within the pages, instead we see a future filled with despair and paranoia.  Overall a dark and brutal book, filled with questions and ethics,  but not an easy or particularly enjoyable read.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: science fiction, dystopia, science ethics.

“Even the richest and the most powerful are only meat for cheshires in the end. We are all nothing but walking corpses and to forget it is folly. Meditate on the nature of corpses and you will see this. ” 
― Paolo BacigalupiThe Windup Girl

***

Hardcover, 359 pages
Published September 1st 2009 by Night Shade Books (first published 2009)
ISBN 1597801577

WWW Wednesday! 18 October 2017

I’m participating today in WWW Wednesday! 

“This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived at Taking on a World of Words.”

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next, and/or what are you eagerly awaiting?

Currently reading:

Cthulhu and other Monsters by Sam Stone

I adore Cthulhu  and monster stories so its a perfect pick for me.  I plan to try and read one story every night in bed.  But I’ll probably get so engrossed that I binge read them all.

“Sixteen tales of terror from the blood-soaked pen of Sam Stone. Enter if you dare and discover nine stories inspired by the nightmare visions of H P Lovecraft: Elder Gods returning to the Earth to wreak havoc, tales of death and destruction and betrayal and the last flickering embers of humanity … 

Alongside these are seven further stories featuring the monstrous creations of Stone’s own imagination: a hungry and jealous sea; wolf-creatures prowling the fashion industry; a terrifying creature held captive in a cellar … 

Open the cover and let Sam Stone’s nightmares guide your way into horror.” 

Recently Finished: The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin, translated by Andrew Bromfield

“A Hu-Li is beautiful, slender and curiously foxlike. She lives in Moscow and works as a classy prostitute in the city’s premier hotels. But when a client goes inexplicably and fatally berserk at the sight of her in his luxury suite, A Hu-Li has to leave in a hurry. She decides to explore new avenues and place an ad on the internet – and that’s when the trouble really starts.”

This is a weird book:  Set in a gritty Russia where everyone seems out to make money. A fox prostitute  uses her tail to induce sexual visions in her clients.  Whilst also searching out a meaning for her existence.  This was recommended to me by a friend. I’m enjoy reading although its a little different to my usual taste for books it certainly is weird enough to keep me entertained.

 

My full review is here:  Sacred Book of the Werewolf

 

The Unremembered Girl by Eliza Maxwell

 

This is my kindle first book pick for October.   It was a fast read. with lots of twists and turns.  Full Review I hope to write shortly….

Reading Next:

White is for Whitching by Helen Oyeyemi

I’ve still not started this one !  I will be reading this one as part of The Galactic Girlfiends Book Club.  Its the October pick for us all to read.  It looks suitably spooky and supernatural for Halloween month.