The Martian by Andy Weir

Published: 28 October 2014Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Random House
Pages: 387
Format: Paperback
Genre: Science Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

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 forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’s surface, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive. 

Chances are, though, Mark 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.

Armed with nothing but his ingenuity, his engineering skills–and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–Mark embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

I love this book. I knew before I started I would love this book. It’s funny and clever, and I love it. You don’t need to know anything about space or Mars or NASA because Weir writes in such a way that it is all official and practical, but it isn’t bogged down the technical language. You know what is happening at all times and it makes you amazed. This is helped along by Watney’s logs, he is a character who is fun and light-hearted so he makes jokes, and enjoys himself, even when he is in dire situations.

The events in the novel take place over a couple of years, switching between Mars and Earth. The book starts right in the middle of crisis mode on Mars. Watney is presumed dead and the team have left him behind. From there we see his struggle to survive and eventually we get to see their journey home with the knowledge he’s died and can’t be brought home. Watney is the main narrator, he gets first-person control. But there’s ample third-person narration that comes in a few chapters in where we see the NASA side of things and how various characters contribute and are dealing with the Mars Situation. I liked the characters Weir compiled to create his not so distant future NASA (the year is never actually stated but it can be worked out and the answer is online). They’re clever and tough and take no backchat. But they’re also good at their jobs and excited about what they do which makes it fun for the reader to experience alongside them.

One criticism: Didn’t like Annie. I know we don’t have to like all the characters but she actually didn’t come across as A Character We’re Not Meant To Like. She was fine until she started making fun of the ‘nerds’. Really Weir? Are you telling me, NASA’s Director of Media Relations would be making fun of the NASA scientists for liking LOTR? The brilliant NASA scientists who are working on saving a man left on Mars? Is Annie just some random reporter who likes making fun of “nerds” despite them being in NASA herself and who deals with important things like sending people to space. Is that a nerdy thing? I don’t know. I have steered this off the review but it annoys me so much that we still feel the need to make these jokes in movies and books. Can we never let go of the stereotype of making fun of people for liking things other people deem uncool? Anyway, rant over. Back to the awesome book which is awesome despite Annie. (Also it’s very hard to emphasise the importance of NASA when it is already in capitals).

What I also loved about this was nothing was rushed. You see Watney’s full time on Mars albeit a few months here and there. You see his slow progress working things out and taking the time to travel outside the HAB. None of it drags out, because Weir needs to explain Watney’s process makes it seem plausible, and because it’s Watney it’s fun and interesting and hilarious. No kidding, there is so much humour in this book it’s amazing. I predominantly chose to read this book because of one hilarious snippet I saw posted online and that got me in (the biggest outrage was this scene was not in the movie!). Watney tells his story through journal entries which vary in length so you will get an entry of a few pages or you may get one a few paragraphs or one line. It really mixed u the flow of the story and breaks up the story nicely into these snippets of events and times when things happen.

You would think that having to describe the day to day goings-on would be tedious and repetitive, but it isn’t. Weir balances it out perfectly. We root for Watney and his struggles. We see him succeed and we see him fail. Weir makes us enjoy checking in on potato crops and solar panels because of the environment it is happening in. We’re enjoying seeing Watney succeed/struggle, but we are also fascinated that it’s happening at all. I could not fault this book. From beginning to end it was wonderful. I adored the ending and Weir never takes his foot off the pedal when working out logistics of everything while still making it enjoyable and understandable.

I genuinely could have started this book again the moment I finished. Instead, I watched the movie and marvelled how actually very true it was to the book. They included all the important points and any minor changes made no real difference whatsoever. It’s one of the better film adaptations in my opinion. This does account for the 2.5 hour runtime though.

If you do see the film instead of reading the book I suggest you read it as well. You miss out on some of the hilarity and Watney ruling Mars by himself is a delight to behold on the page.

You can purchase The Martian via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia

Wordery | Book Depository

Fishpond | Amazon

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Enthrall by M. R. Reed


Enthrall by MR Reed
Blog Tour
February 1-12th, 2016

Published: 12th October, 2014Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Self Published
Pages: 312
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult/Science Fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

After years of being a helpless witness to his alcoholic father’s abuse towards his family, seventeen-year-old Miles Boswell has just about reached his breaking point. He dreams of the day where he can leave everything behind and begin a new life on his own — that is, until he discovers that he has the ability to control people’s minds. Suddenly, the odds are overwhelmingly in his favor.

But what begins as the answer to all of his problems soon causes him to question his every thought when he captures the attention of August Sylvan, who seems to be the girl of his dreams. As someone who has limited experience with girls, Miles can’t help but wonder — where do his powers end, and where does reality begin? 

At the same time, he finds himself at constant odds with his morals and his potentially warped sense of justice…and soon discovers that nothing is as simple as it seems.

This book contains strong language, violent scenes, and some sexual content.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book for review.

I could possibly bump my two stars up to a 2.5 on the basis that while the story wasn’t unenjoyable, I came away feeling unsatisfied. I finished it feeling like things were unresolved, left unanswered, and even taking into account the surreal moments and strange quality the story had, it felt as though something was lacking.

Enthrall tells the story of Miles and August, a pair of teenagers who fall in love and both have families they would rather avoid for varying reasons. The pair seems perfect for one another, but when Miles discovers he has developed a strange ability, it is the start of a dangerous downward spiral for both of them.

I started this book with a nice warm feeling. It was so sweet to see the two characters attracted to each other but thinking the other one was out of their league. Seeing August become nervous around him and Miles awestruck, it was cute. Both were semi social outcasts and had an attitude that made people avoid them. But when they become a couple they join forces to become a team of pretentious and moralistic teens who feel superior to the world which turns you off them a bit.

I liked the story, the characters had depth, they were teenagers and did teenage things. I loved their complicated home lives and the school drama, it was an enjoyable story. The concept Reed’s explored is interesting, and it certainly was an interesting experience watching Miles’ struggle. There were just a few things that didn’t sit right. One of the biggest disappointments was the lack of explanation. Even if there wasn’t a detailed explanation, something would have been better. Reed offers hope towards the end, but even then you end up more confused than anything, trying to see if you’ve missed something. The mystery would have been ok to deal with if it didn’t hint throughout that you were going to get a reason.

Reed writes with the voice of a teen and each character tells their story as if speaking to the reader, which is fine, but it takes a few chapters to get into the swing of it. The dual narration works really well and seeing both sides of the story and both experiences adds meaning and offers a different perspective on similar events. It’s also a great chance to see the gradual downfall and changes of each character, Miles in particular.

As a character Miles is someone who is hard to figure out. He seems sweet, but arrogant; he is incredibly selfish and as you watch him descend further into the mess he’s made for himself there is not pity whatsoever because you’ve seen how he’s brought it on himself. I found myself at times comparing him to punk version of Holden Caulfield, he doesn’t think everyone is a phony per se, but he is quite judgemental of others and pushes his moralistic agenda over everything and judges those who do things he doesn’t approve of. August does this as well, but to a slightly lesser extent.

As fun as unlikable characters are though, I was sad I didn’t connect with him because Miles actually does some good things when he isn’t being selfish. But because I didn’t care about him I couldn’t feel that proud of him for what he was doing, and it didn’t really suit his character when he did.

Reed shows Miles’ decent gradually, and you can see his mindset change as time goes by. Some things he did I felt were quite a big leap, and a few characters reactions were not that realistic, but it didn’t take too much away from the story. Overall it was a good read, you take enjoyment from the characters and their lives, and while there isn’t a satisfactory conclusion, the story being told is quite enjoyable.

You can purchase Enthrall via the following

Amazon

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Our formative years are the ones that stick with us the most–you know, those tirelessly frustrating yet unforgettably magical moments that shape us into the people that we will become. The music that I liked as a teenager, the books that I read, the relationships that I created (and destroyed)…those are the things that I think truly formed the adult that I am today. I still love those things. I still think about those things. I still harbor a lot of anger in relation to the events that I experienced as a teenager, and it does nothing but fuel my creative spirit.

And that’s what I like to write about: Teenagers, and all of their idiosyncrasies, and concerns, and that whole unintentionally egocentric view that they have about their worlds. I find it fascinating. I’m thankful every day that I’m no longer a teenager, but I have to admit that it’s a interesting time to look back on.

Miles and August encompass a lot of me, and my experiences, and my observations. The music, books, and beliefs that I held at that time inspired me to write about the events that take place in Enthrall. My intense hope is that somebody reads it and is able to relate, or get through a difficult time, and just know that somebody understands what he/she is going through (at least a little bit.) That’s what music and books did for me. I hope to pay it forward.

 

Pilgrim by Terrence Atwood

Published: 5th March 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher: 
Self Published
Pages: 146
Format: ebook
Genre: Science Fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

An exploratory probe is launched into space on a mission to investigate the possibility of extraterrestrial life. However, a cabal of military forces have covertly converted the probe into a weapon of mass destruction – arming it with a nuclear payload. 

When the launch of the craft goes awry, the probe crashes back on Earth and begins carrying out its mission – eradicating all life. It’s up to Catherine Tennison, an intrepid NASA scientist, and Army Colonel Walt Macken to capture and disarm the probe before it brings about Armageddon. 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

This is quite a short novel, and one that captures a single event and moment in time, focusing on the action and outcome rather than offer too much background detail and depth of characters and environment. It is also written in present tense which took a while to adjust to. Whether the approach was to make it feel more in the moment I’m not sure, but while I got used to it, it never felt right.

The narrative is told and presented in snippets and in paragraphs rather than a flowing narration. It jumps from scene to scene quickly, a bit like a movie cutting from one place to another, without connection sentence or any clear indication where it will go. This wasn’t a real problem overall but it did feel a bit like we were jumping all over the place with random moments put together rather than a steady story.

From a promising beginning that seemed as if it would develop and grow, it falters soon after. It remains flat even when there is danger and peril to characters, never quite creating the excitement of tension needed. The story itself is a bit hard to believe as well, even for science fiction, but if you suspend your belief and take the story as is the events aren’t the main concern.

The main issues I found were the lack of depth in the characters and surprisingly the lack of concern I had for them when this probe was hunting them all down. I couldn’t connect with them, and honestly did not care what happened to them. This was my feeling for most of the novel. I was not interested in the outcome and I found myself picking apart things than getting into the story.

Even aside from these character issues, the story needs further editing. There are jarring dialogue and bad grammar throughout, and punctuation needs improving. The sentences don’t quite flow and the language and description is a bit lacking.

But there were some good bits. I did like how Atwood has worked in the probe movements and actions, fitting them pertinently in between other scenes. Stepping back you can see what Atwood has tried to achieve, a quick action/Armageddon story of a wayward machine wiping out humanity, but it just hasn’t worked. The words are there, and scenes in the right places, but the feeling or the anticipation isn’t, and when you don’t care about the characters you can’t worry for them when they’re killed.

Overall the concept was ok but the execution was not that great or enjoyable to read. With some editing it may improve but as it is now, I’m glad it was as short as it was because it couldn’t have kept me interested for much longer.

You can purchase Pilgrim via the following

Amazon

The Simulations by John Forelli

Published: 20th April 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Self published
Pages: 194
Format: Ebook
Genre: Science fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

When Ray Ality arrives for a job interview at Simulations Inc. he’s immediately drawn to Delilah, the cute receptionist. Only one problem: she’s engaged.

Ray soon concocts a plan to win Delilah over, as he and his new, eccentric coworker Bob use the company’s software in an attempt to simulate the process of courting her. Ray soon discovers that the simulations aren’t exactly what he expected, and as he sinks deeper into virtual reality it becomes harder to distinguish real life from the imaginary.

This novel is Office Space meets The Matrix–an existential discourse told among keyboards and cubicles. 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

From the moment he began working at Simulations Inc, Ray’s focus has been on getting the attention of building receptionist, Delilah. He goes to a lot of trouble just to work out how to chat to a woman who is just downstairs, and one he knows has a fiancé, so if anything he isn’t the most moralistic of people. But while there are some issues with what he is doing, Forelli creates a curious story about the lengths a man goes to trying to date a woman and his escape into the virtual world rather than the real one.

There is not much to this story aside from following Ray’s quest to get Delilah, and most of his colleagues offer little extra to the story but they play their roles and aide with novel progression. The characters are eccentric, making for a very strange work environment where it seems nothing ever gets done, and Ray spends a lot of his time critiquing and finding fault with those around him; not in any malicious way, but he does judge them rather frequently.

Snippets of information are revealed about the characters that make them quirky but they still have little to no depth. Their roles are one dimensional and they are single-faceted at times which makes you have little concern about them. Bob is the one that gets the most attention of all Ray’s colleagues and he is quite crass in his behaviour and conversation. Admittedly he made me cringe with his behaviour but you take him in your stride and just bear with it.

The writing is good and the language is knowledgable and detailed and Forelli uses descriptions of characters and the environment well to bring the story to form. There are numerous pop culture references throughout and while the humour is a little offensive and childish, it is attributed more to character traits rather than the novel overall.

I did think Forelli was going to take a different approach with this story than he did, more complicated and detailed rather than the sole focus it took. I didn’t get the sense something was going to happen exactly, but after awhile the repetition takes its toll and you realise the narrative is not going to get much more complicated. There are discussions about what is real and what is not, and whether virtual reality and what’s inside your mind is any less real than the actual world, but these insights did nothing but offer justification to Ray’s quest.

From an essentially repetitive story, the ending comes along quite quickly, as if the story suddenly speeds up to finish. This was unexpected but it was good in a way because it thrust the story into action and brought to light Ray’s obsession which had been developing quietly in the background. From here the end is kind of confusing and inconclusive and while you can make assumptions on its meaning, they seem farfetched without any basis or solid indication in the story to cling to. If there is a deeper meaning or revelation to be had then it hasn’t been made clear and if there isn’t then the ending just seems out of place. Overall this was an enjoyable story with a curious concept that makes you wonder about the capacity of the virtual world.

You can purchase The Simulations via the following

Amazon

Desperate Reflections (#3) by Shay West

Published: 28th August 2014
Goodreads badgePublisher: Booktrope Editions
Pages: 248
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult/Historical/Science Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

In this final book of the Adventures of Alexis Davenport Series, we find Alex dealing with more drama than ever: her first break-up, her mom’s new boyfriend, and attempting to learn the secrets of her “gift” on her own. Desperate to stop Drifter, Alex uses her ability to locate the evil Traveler, only to discover that he lives in her time… And he knows who she is. In a final race against time, Alex must discover Drifter’s ultimate plan, stop him, and save her family…all before prom.

Note: I was provided a copy of this book for review

From the revelation at the end of the second book I was eager to start reading the final one and find out what was going to happen. In the three years since discovering her ability Alex is slowly understanding what she is capable of. She is confident if not wary when it comes to travelling and it’s clear the various women she’s taken over have helped her discover more about herself. With the danger of the Traveller coming closer to home than ever before I’m glad West chose to put more light on the travelling than the school life and she did a good job in concluding the series and wrapping things up nicely.

The story is interesting and engaging as per usual and West adds a lot more intrigue and drama into the story which only adds to the enjoyment. With the Traveller closing in on Alex and she still trying to understand her abilities, there is the ongoing game of cat and mouse that they play both through time and not and the creativity West has in these situations is excellent.

West’s strength is certainly in the time travel aspects, but there is also an improvement in her writing about Alex’s home and school life compared to previous books and I think this comes down to good representation through the characters. Alex seems to be more settled at school and at home and the pettiness of the past has been put aside meaning she can enjoy herself more. There are still hints of the immature and petulant girl but West’s ability to portray these emotions is much more successful and suits the story much better as there is a greater believability and understanding behind them.

Alex’s pent up anger issues and outburst are given a detailed explanation and cause this time which was wonderful, and West works it into the story well. If West was using this as the cause of previous outburst, it isn’t until now that it has come across successfully. The events in this book may be the final straw for Alex where she snaps and the floodgate of emotions break through in their entirety, and even though previous books hasn’t explained this well enough, it makes sense this time.

The weak point is sometimes in the narrative voice, and while the story is interesting the narration sometimes lets it down. Somehow West is able to write in a way that is engaging and thrilling, while other times the writing and story falters and becomes quite oddly expressed but the interest remains and keeps you reading through these parts.

What stands out in this novel is that Alex certainly seems more confident in herself which reflects how much she has learnt about herself and how she has grown, and she is more open to addressing her feelings about issues in her life. It’s a small part of the story but it is great character improvement, especially for Alex.

There are answers given in this book, endings and explanations as well but West keeps some secrets to herself. The ending was really well done and I loved that West used details from earlier books to help Alex along. The story is engaging and at times can be fast paced and filled with tension and suspense, and as usual West makes you nervous about just how far the Traveller will go to stop Alex. I think the time travelling and certainly the conclusion makes up for the faults in the story and you finish feeling like a series has been concluded well and with a bit of mystery remaining. To be picky is to ask for a history on why Alex can travel through time and more detail about it but as a snapshot into her life and not into the grand scheme of things, West’s series is one that is intriguing and enjoyable.

 

Purchase Desperate Reflections via the following

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

iTunes

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