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 : 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

Book Review : Broadcast – unsettling sci-fi social-media thriller

Broadcast by Liam Brown

4 star read

Why I read:  Science fiction, dystopia, big brother, blogger.  A book relevant to our future with social media.

Book blurb: “The idea behind MindCast is simple. We insert a small chip into your skull and then every thought, every feeling, every memory is streamed live, twenty-four hours a day. Trust me – within a few months you’ll be the most talked about person on the planet.

When David Callow is offered the lead role in a revolutionary new online show, he snatches at the opportunity.

Rapidly becoming a viral sensation, David is propelled to stratospheric levels of celebrity. However, he soon realises the downside of sharing every secret with the world.

A prisoner to both his fame and his own thoughts, David seeks to have the chip removed, only to discover the chilling secret lurking at the heart of MindCast, and the terrifying ambition the show’s creator has for him.”

My review

A fast paced and thought provoking book, Broadcast explores what would happen if our every thought was transmitted to millions of viewers.   David  Callow is an egotistical vlogger who takes the chance to expand his fame by appearing in a new online show MindCast. We follow as he has a microchip inserted into his brain which transmits his thoughts, feelings and memories online 24/7 to MindCast’s viewers in a big brother style documentary.  As the show goes on David’s wishes to become a major celebrity are fulfilled but he also discovers the dangers and darkside of Mindcast and the shows producers terrifying vision.

Broadcast delves into what it means to be a celebrity. The instant fame of our generation.  It holds a mirror to lives in the public eye through facebook, twitter and online media where what we see is an edited online persona of an ideal life not a true reflection of reality.  It conveys a “Black Mirror” style social satire on the potential for abuse and evil within social medias future.  Freedom of speech, subliminal advertising, online privacy, social responsibility  and other moral dilemmas are thrown into the mix, as the plot speeds along adding interesting narration on today’s society.  At under 300 pages its a relatively short book which delivers a dark, unsettling vision of the future.   Despite having a base in technology there is very little tech talk which adds to the easy read though it might disappoint people who prefer more hard sci-fi.  The ending leaves many loose ends hanging which fit well with the style of the novel, echoing real life. Paranoia seeps out of the pages as you realise how plausible the story is with our increasingly digitalised world.  Although I did not completely agree with all the commentary the author paints a horrifying vision of an online future.

I found the main character David to be an air-headed celebrity obsessed with getting more followers.  It was hard to like him at all with his self-involved and obnoxious character that only seemed to care about fame.  However this didn’t distract from the book.  It was interesting to see how he reacted to each situation he got into and he does get less selfish towards the end.    Even though I did not sympathise with him, the fast pace of the book kept me hooked.  There are many plot twists as the book hurtles along through this near future setting.   I wanted to see what would happen next as the author explored the pros and cons of Mindcast and fame through David’s eyes.

Overall a thrilling, fast paced, sinister sci-fi  which was an quick enjoyable read.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: Science fiction, fast paced reads, blogging, big-brother dystopia, near-future society.

****

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

Paperback, 288 pages
Published September 15th 2017 by Legends Press
ISBN 1787199932 (ISBN13: 9781787199934)
Edition Language English

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.

 

 

WWW Wednesday! 11 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: 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.

Recently Finished:

The World of Lore, Volume 1: Monstrous Creatures by Aaron Mahnke

“A fascinating, beautifully illustrated guide to the monsters that are part of our collective psyche, from the host of the hit podcast Lore.”

A nicely written guide to the areas of folklore that surround each type of monster.   Chapters are filled with  legends and history on each creature type.  Vampires, werewolves,  sea monsters and  ghosts are just a few of the monsters encountered within.  Cute illustrated prints that enhance the text are scattered throughout.  Its a great introduction to monster legends with a biography at the back for if you want to explore even more folklore.

My full review is here: The World of Lore

Doorways in the Sand  by Roger Zelazny

A wacky, playful,  sci-fi book that doesn’t take itself too seriously.   Fred has been a perpetual student supported by funds from his cryogenic-frozen uncle.    An alien artefact “the starstone gem” goes missing and everyone thinks Fred has it, including the aliens.  What ensues is an adventure through multiple realities as we follow Fred’s quest to find the starstone and stay alive.

A good mix of sci-fi, sillyness and detective  novel.  Its a nicely quick and entertaining read with plenty of action and packed full of weird ideas and references.

My full review is here: Doorways in the Sand

Reading Next:  White is for Whitching by Helen Oyeyemi

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.

“High on the cliffs near Dover, the Silver family is reeling from the loss of Lily, mother of twins Eliot and Miranda, and beloved wife of Luc. Miranda misses her with particular intensity. Their mazy, capricious house belonged to her mother’s ancestors, and to Miranda, newly attuned to spirits, newly hungry for chalk, it seems they have never left. Forcing apples to grow in winter, revealing and concealing secret floors, the house is fiercely possessive of young Miranda. Joining voices with her brother and her best friend Ore, it tells her story: haunting in every sense, White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi is a spine-tingling tribute to the power of magic, myth and memory. Miri I conjure you . . “

The Unremembered Girl by Eliza Maxwell

“In the deep woods of East Texas, Henry supports his family by selling bootleg liquor. It’s all he can do to keep his compassionate but ailing mother and his stepfather—a fanatical grassroots minister with a bruising rhetoric—from ruin. But they have no idea they’ve become the obsession of the girl in the woods.

Abandoned and nearly feral, Eve has been watching them, seduced by the notion of family—something she’s known only in the most brutal sense. Soon she can’t resist the temptation to get close. Where Henry’s mother sees a poor girl in need, his father sees only wickedness. When Henry forges an unexpected bond with Eve, he believes he might be able to save her. He doesn’t know how wrong he is.

Eve is about to take charge of her own destiny—and that of Henry’s family. As both their worlds spin violently out of control, Henry must make an impossible choice: protect the broken young woman who’s claimed a piece of his soul, or put everyone he loves at risk in order to do the right thing.”

 

This is my kindle first book pick for October.  It looks dark and full of twists to keep me engaged.

WWW Wednesday! 27 September 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:  The Windup Girl  by Paolo Bacigalupi. 

Its a dark dystopian thriller which I’m enjoying.   I’ve wanted to read it for so long after seeing so many great reviews.  I have it in paperback so its taking me a while to read as I just read this one on an evening in bed.  Its about Emiko the Windup Girl, she’s not human but an engineered being. Programmed initial to satisfy the desires of a businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok.  I’ve been thrust right into the middle of a bustling future full of shady characters.  Still figuring out what is going on but the world-building is pretty amazing.

Recently Finished: Monsters Exist – Edited by Jesse Deadman & Theresa Braun

A fun book full of horror short stories. Really quick reads, loaded with monsters to haunt your nightmares. Mythological and cryptozoological critters.  Stories that bring urban legends to life. That play on your fears.  These are the monsters that lurk within your imagination, and the ones that live next door, or down the well in the woods. My full review of the book is here: Book Review: Monsters Exist

Reading Next:  Doorways in the Sand  by Roger Zelazny

This looks like a humorous sci-fi so I can’t wait to dive in. “Follow Fred on his adventures as he enters multiple realities, flipping in and out of alien perspectives, through doorways in the sand.”  Looks fun!

 

Book review – The Three Body Problem – Hard sci-fi

The Three Body Problem – Cixin Liu

4 star read

Why I read: Hugo award winning sci-fi.  I read a review on Helen’s Bookshelf which sold it to me as a must read book.

Book blurb: “The Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple award winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.”

Select  quote : “To effectively contain a civilization’s development and disarm it across such a long span of time, there is only one way: kill its science.”
― Liu CixinThe Three-Body Problem

 

My review

The book begins during China’s Cultural revolution where Ye Wenjie witnesses her fathers death at the hands of the Red Guards, this event shapes her view on humanity and we see later  how this has an impact on the rest of mankind.  Years later Nanotech Wang Mayo infiltrates a secret organisation and immerses into a virtual world  ruled by the interaction of its three suns.   This Three Body Problem is the key to scientists deaths, a conspiracy which spans light years and the extinction level threat facing humanity.

Its hard to talk about this book without giving anything away!  I absolutely loved how much this book had science at its core.  I didn’t  always understand all of the physics and some I was unsure if it was current physics knowledge or it was fictional science for the story but this did not impact on my enjoyment.   The virtual reality system was amazing and really spoke to my inner gamer geek.  I loved how game theory and physics intertwined as Wang tries to solve the Three Body Problem and work out the pattern of the Stable and Chaotic eras which occur within the VR.   It’s a real hard thinking book full of huge ideas.   There’s so much going on within the speculative fiction including concepts on astrology, aliens, religion and humanity.    Like most good sci-fi it shines a light upon humanity so you see both the good and bad and possible futures based on this.   I took my time reading it as felt I would miss out on so much if I read it quickly.  I still got a little lost in places as there is just so much going on.  There are many themes than run through but all get tied together nicely at the end.

The characters are all well thought out, quirky people but realistic.  I think its a fine example of gender equality writing.   There were women scientists in the book and these were presented as it being completely normal and they just happened to be women.  Not super-hero women who had exceptional talents so could do science but real normal women.  I’ve tagged it as a feminist book because of this.  Not because it deals with issues to do with women but because of the strong sense of equality present throughout.  Its a really positive way of writing which I hope to read more of in the future.

I prefer writing that is more descriptive and evocative. I don’t know if its the translation but it is written quite plain speaking.  This does however fit in with all the science that is packed into the book.   The translator did a  great job, throughout the book are a few footnotes that explain aspects of Chinese culture and history relevant to what is happening and these added to my understanding.  This book is highly original so is a must read for anyone who enjoys hard sci-fi.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: Hard science fiction, physics, Chinese sci-fi, strong female characters, thought-provoking books, big idea books.

“Science fiction is a literature that belongs to all humankind. It portrays events of interest to all of humanity, and thus science fiction should be the literary genre most accessible to readers of different nations. Science fiction often describes a day when humanity will form a harmonious whole, and I believe the arrival of such a day need not wait for the appearance of extraterrestrials.” 
― Liu CixinThe Three-Body Problem

****

Hardcover, 400 pages
Published November 11th 2014 by Tor Books (first published 2007)
ISBN 0765377063