Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

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Genre: Sci-fi, dark comedy

Similar to: A tiny bit like Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, or The Revenant but set in space

Could be enjoyed by: Everyone, even people who don’t think sci-fi is for them

Publication date: 27th December 2012

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 6

I’m wandering round Poundland (gotta love a bargain) looking for a cheap notebook to, well, make notes in when I come across the “re:cover” section of books. Basically: secondhand books for a quid. And The Martian was there. So I picked it up because of the hype I’d seen surrounding it and bought it because of the blurb – essentially a man (Mark Watney) gets stranded on Mars after he has an accident evacuating the planet and his crew think he’s dead. He has to survive on his own with broken equipment, broken comms and a limited stock of food. No wonder the first line is

“I’m pretty much fucked”.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 14

I start reading.

Mark you really are fucked, you absolute spanner. There is NO WAY that potatoes would grow in such shallow soil PLUS I’m pretty sure that “compost” would need to have well rotted manure in it. Trust me, I’m a gardener.

Trusted Amazon review:

 Incorrect advice

Read book about potato growing. Potatoes don’t grow in shallow soil, even on Mars. 0/10.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 57

Ok so I’ve suspended my disbelief and now I’m hooked on the story. Like, totally hooked. I could do without some of those massive number info dumps but that’s a minor criticism. Thank god for the black humour because without it this book would be pretty dry.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 134

LOVING how pacey this storyline is. Every page is:

“I’m probably going to die!”

“So I thought about it and…science!”

“I’ll just try to use radiation/deadly gasses/fire/duct tape”

“I nearly died but it sort of worked so I did some more science and now it really works! I’ll live to fight another chapter!”

Yay duct tape indeed.

LOG ENTRY: SOL 254

Mark is such a juvenile idiot but I can’t help but love him. I’ve suspended my knowledge of plants, I may as well suspend my feminist principals too.

Hehe, boobs (.Y.)

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 345

The scientific research in this book is astounding. I mean, I have literally no idea if any of it checks out but it seems totally plausible so I’m going with it. If I’m honest, I don’t really care. It’s making up one hell of a story.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 405

Speaking of feminist principals, there’s pretty good representation of women working in science (as you would hope for a book set in the future). I feel better now about the 80085 thing earlier.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 467

Mark Watney, why aren’t you just a tiny bit depressed about what’s going on? There’s no way you can survive this. I love how chipper you’re being but you’re not really that believable as a character. Then again, it’s a lot more fun reading about an upbeat engineering genius than Marvin the Paranoid Android.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 504

I am so excited about the conclusion to Mark’s little issuettes. Yes it’s far fetched and yes I’m sure that in real life NASA would have to cut the funding but I love how this has all panned out. Brilliant stuff.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 549

I guess this is the end. What a ride! I loved every second of reading this book.

Premise: Go!

Pacing: Go!

Characters: Go!

Representation: Go!

Humour: Go!

Research: Go!

Gardening advice: Houston, we have a problem.

 

Five inconceivably home grown potatoes out of five.

Compelling, engaging, funny and ingenious; I loved everything about this book!

 

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Review: Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

“Claim the Stars”

Genre: Sci-fi, YA

Similar to: Illuminae, Top Gun, Star Wars (ish)

Could be enjoyed by: Nerds 😉

Publication date: 6th November 2018

Brandon Sanderson has always been one of those authors that I’ve put into my mental “must read” category – and then never got round to. He’s one of my friend’s favourite authors so I’ve literally been meaning to read the Mistborn Trilogy for years – it sits there on my Kindle shelf looking at me accusingly – but for some reason I’ve always passed it by. So, I was super duper excited to be approved for his latest novel, Skyward, on NetGalley because I thought the addition on a deadline would FINALLY spur me on.

My initial reaction after reading the book is WHY DID I WAIT SO LONG??? Skyward is excellent. I mean really, really good. It made me laugh out loud, it made me cry (something I always say books never make me do, although I’ve written that three times in the past few months) and it made me feel like an idiot for not picking up Mistborn when my friend (and about thirty bloggers) told me to. Sorry guys!

Skyward is the story of Spensa who lives on the planet Detritus, which, as the name suggests, is a junk planet abandoned by it’s previous inhabitants. She was born there to a family who were crew members on a fleet of spacecraft that crash landed on Detritus following a battle with their enemies, the Krell aliens. The survivors created a subterranean world for themselves but faced aeriel attacks from the Krell. They began building spaceships to fight back and as the daughter of a previously disgraced pilot, all that Spensa wants is to sign up to fight. Those in charge, however, have other ideas.

The first thing that struck me about the novel was just the way that it was written. As someone who often takes a little while to settle in to a book (as you can tell from the number of dashes and brackets in my reviews, my internal monologue never shuts up) I read the first fifteen pages without even realising. The novel zooms along with it’s overburners on fire, excitement and adventure on every page. I loved how the answers to my questions were slowly revealed, without any boring info-dumps or obviously fortuitous events. The narrative flowed seamlessly, even through the technical details of how to fly a spaceship. I was hooked from the first sentence to the last.

I loved how all of the characters were depicted in the book, with complex personalities and hidden motivations. Each of them had good and bad traits that often led to errors of judgement or bad behaviour, especially as they were all acting in a highly pressurised environment. I really enjoyed seeing how the characters interacted with each other; arguing, vying for position and using petty insults to cover up the fact that they were all just scared. Psychologically, it was really interesting to see how they used their own quirks to figure each other out and how their diversity eventually became a strength *suppresses urge to spout boring group development theory*.

Unusually for a sci-fi novel (especially one written by a man) the book is pretty female centric and I loved that the female representation was just…there. There was no political point, no-one in the story told Spensa she couldn’t be a pilot because she was a girl – indeed, the head of the defensive federation is a woman and the pilots seemed to be a 50/50 mix of men and women. The book could do easily have gone down the Handmaid’s Tale route, forcing women to keep popping out babies in order to ensure the survival of a small population against a vast number of enemies but Sanderson clearly chose to make Spensa his rebellious MC for reasons other than her gender. I personally found this a refreshing change (and I say that as a feminist – I just think that trope has been done too many times).

I also really, really loved the fact that there was no bloody romance taking up space in the life of a girl who simply wanted to kill space aliens and avenge the death of her father. It was soooo great not to have to deal with cringey teenage attempts at flirting, although I suspect there might be some of that coming in the next instalment *sigh*. 

I loved how the ending to the novel was so difficult to guess and although I had some idea, it was still a surprise. I’ll try not to give too much away but a certain character reminded me very much of AIDAN from Illuminae so I was kept in my toes wondering if he was a reliable narrator or not – and what bearing that would have on the rest of the story. 

Overall, I loved Skyward from the first sentence to the last. Some parts should have been boring (protracted battle flights filled with technical detail, endless comments about mushrooms) yet somehow Sanderson absolutely chuffing nailed it. 

Rating: 🌟Five “no YOU’RE crying at a talking plane” out of five.🌟

A fearless main character, a seamless narrative and an unexpected ending made Skyward a fantastic read from start to finish.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley! 

Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

​​“Electrifying!”

Genre: Science fiction, speculative fiction

Similar to: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of dystopian fiction or readers wanting to explore gendered oppression from another angle

Publication date: 27th October 2016

Imagine a world where, on the basis of your gender, you’re expected to act demurely and not come across as angry or aggressive. A world where you’re patronised, belittled and afraid of physical and sexual violence because you’re not physically strong enough to fight back. A world where society is structured to silence you, dismiss your ideas and treat you as a maid/sex slave. Where you can only leave the house with a chaperone, aren’t allowed to drive, can’t go out at night, can’t run a business or own property, can’t vote and have to dress in an appropriate manner. 

That’s not too hard to imagine, right? Because I bet you related those ideas to the treatment of women in places like the Middle East (or maybe even the UK or US). 

Ok, so now imagine that I wasn’t talking about the treatment of women – I was talking about the treatment of men.

Oooh.

That’s exactly what Naomi Alderman did in her prize-winning novel “The Power”. In it, women have developed a “skein”, a body organ that produces an electrical charge at will. Some women have a stronger charge than others but almost all are able to produce a bolt of electricity so strong that it can kill whoever they aim it at. Only women are affected and the book follows four individuals (three women and one man) to see how the world changes. 

The novel is also a book within a book, where a fictional male character  (Ben) writes to Alderman from some point in the future, daring to challenge the assumption that men have always been the weaker sex. The subtlety in the writing of these letters is incredible – the way that Ben defers to Alderman, her arguments that biologically women have to be strong and dominant to protect their children, her patronising tone and the final killer line to help Ben’s research to gain credibility “have you considered publishing it under a woman’s name?” all absolutely slayed me. It also highlighted some important points about our own long held beliefs about inherent gender differences – are they really as factual as we think or are they based on lazy stereotypes?

The main thrust of the novel showed how, as always, absolute power corrupts absolutely. It actually shocked me how there was a part of me genuinely cheering on the women who used their newfound strength to oppress the men. One of the best illustrations of this is the inclusion of two news anchors (one male, one female) and the shifting power dynamic between them as women across the globe caused riots, overthrew governments and created wars to exercise their dominance. Again, the subtlety of the writing was excellent but it really made me question the bit of myself that was thinking “ha! Now you know what it’s like!” which kind of suggests that as much as I would have hoped that the discovery of The Power would have created an equal society, the chances are that things would probably play out exactly as described. And – and this is a terrible transgression and one that I’m not proud of – you know who annoyed me the most? The men’s rights activists. I’m a terrible person and a very guilty feminist. 😈

I read that Naomi Alderman doesn’t like people referring to her work as dystopian fiction because for a lot of women this is simply their lived reality. It was amazing how, by simply flipping the genders, the treatment of men felt so abhorrent – and yet we know that women around the globe are treated like this every day. The Power made me confront my own internalised misogyny in a way that completely took me by surprise (I genuinely didn’t think I had any) and made me think about gender issues from an entirely different perspective. If anything, it’s actually given me a tiny bit of empathy towards men who think that feminists are just miserable women trying to take over the world – we’re obviously not but I can see why, from their lofty privileged perches, some men might see feminism as a threat to their way of life – which I guess it might be. (That’s about the point that my empathy dissipates and I think “why do you think you’re entitled to this? It’s not fair!” and I’m back to bring angry.)

The only issue that I had with The Power was the characters. In The Great Female Power Grab most of them behave horribly and there wasn’t really anyone that I connected with. I think this lack of engagement was the missing cherry from the top of the cake – if just one character had been a bit nicer then this really would have been a five star review 😥

Overall, The Power is a dazzling, electrifying book (see what I did there? Ok I stole the pun from Margaret Atwood but still).  The premise is incredibly ambitious and it made me think about power and gender dynamics from an entirely different perspective. If only the characters had been more likeable I would have been fangirling left right and centre but as it stands…

Rating: Four “Not all women!” out of five

Clever, unique, thought proving but not quite attention grabbing enough – the best chips you’ve ever had but without salt and vinegar .

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #17 Read a sci-fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author. 

 

Review: I Still Dream by James Smythe

“Hello Laura. What would you like to talk about?”

Genre: Adult Fiction, Science Fiction

Similar to: A very drawn out Isaac Asimov short story

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of sci-fi with a background or interest in computing

Publication date: 5th April 2018

Yes my friends, it’s time for yet another review where everyone LOVES the book in question but I’m totally meh about it. I swear I’m not doing this deliberately.

I Still Dream is the story of Laura Bow, the daughter of missing tech entrepreneur Daniel Bow. Struggling to cope with her teenage years, Laura builds upon the work done by her Dad to create Organon, a rudimentary chat-bot-cum-computer-generated-counsellor. As Laura grows up, she enhances Organon to become more of a personal assistant and as technology advances it becomes more important to her everyday life. Unfortunately, a similar product is developed that gets launched online with catastrophic consequences and Laura is left to choose – should she keep Organon as her own baby or use it to try to save the world?

I’m going to put this out there straight away – I was soooooo excited to get an ARC of this book because both the title and name of Organon are taken from the Kate Bush song Cloudbusting and oh my God I love Kate Bush so much I could cry. 

And at first I genuinely thought I was reading the best book ever written. I LOVED the 90’s references, the dial up internet, the vinyl copy of Hounds of Love. It took me right back to my own teenage years and was brilliantly observed, right down to the last tiny detail. However, this excitement was pretty short lived. Once I’d finished the first segment (teenage Laura) I started to lose interest in the story. I didn’t care about the technical jargon, the one dimensional relationships with boyfriends or the meandering narrative that took us wandering off down a good number of narrative culs-de-sac (yes, that is the plural of cul-de-sac – I know it looks weird). The storyline got so slow in places that it felt like wading through treacle. Then suddenly, like a learner driver trying out clutch control – WHAM! It’s ten years later!

How delightfully offputting.

The other problem with these massive leaps forwards was that the plot became slightly confused – having ten year gaps prevented it from being completely cohesive. When you add that to a storyline that weaves about like a drunk uncle on the way to the dance floor I found it very easy to get lost. There was a lot of “wait, what year is it?” and “who’s that guy?” accompanied by a frenzied bashing of the left hand side of my Kindle. 

My other main issue was that I didn’t really like the characters. Laura was kind of bland and I never quite trusted Organon. However, there was a very touching portrayal of dementia later on which I thought was handled beautifully. It’s just a shame that these lovely little vignettes were scattered throughout the text and didn’t form part of the main narrative thrust. 

I struggled with the ending of the book – to be honest I’m not sure that I understood exactly what was going on and it seemed weird to introduce a new idea right at the very end of the novel. I thought that it could have been explained much better and should have taken place earlier on, so that the concept could have been fully explored.

Overall, I was fairly ambivalent towards I Still Dream. I loved the Kate Bush references and the 90’s section but I got bored by the ebb and flow of the storyline. I thought that the concepts that the novel introduced – the idea of the machines taking over but using technology to thwart them, the concept of conscientious coding to encompass morals into sentient beings and the possibility of living on digitally after death were big, difficult themes to explore and I was disappointed that more of the novel wasn’t dedicated to expanding upon them.

Rating: Two and a half hounds of love out of five.
Oooh, I just know that something good is going to happen…except it didnt #wtfthatending #dontintroduceanewideathreepagesfromtheend.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley!