The Martian by Andy Weir – Book Review

Goodreads 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 the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, 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, 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’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills — and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength – he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive – but Mars has plenty of surprises in store for him yet.

Grounded in real, present-day science from the first page to the last, yet propelled by a brilliantly ingenious plot that surprises the reader again and again, The Martian is a truly remarkable thriller: an impossible-to-put-down suspense novel that manages to read like a real-life survival tale.

My Review

Rating: 5*

If a book could be Christmas dinner this book would be it. All your favourite foods on one plate, from crispy goose fat roast potatoes to Yorkshire puddings filled with gravy. You have a few tasty extras, like cranberry sauce and stuffing balls, and a few less tasty extras, like Brussel sprouts and bread sauce, but Christmas dinner wouldn’t be the same without them. In other words, this book is a real feast, a treat for the literary glutton.

I’m not going to talk about the plot, I hate to give spoilers. So I’ll talk about everything but the plot. From the opening line I was hooked. From the opening line I was dreading the final page. I didn’t want it to end and yet I couldn’t put it down. I had to know what became of Mark Watney, Space Pirate.

The miracle of this book is that it reads like the telling of a true story. It is dense with science yet understandable to lay people like me. The fact that it contains so much science I believe is vital to the success of the story. I am by no means an expert but the science feels real and accurate, and it really lends itself to the authenticity of the story, the characterisation, and builds trust between the author and the reader.

Now I want to talk about the humour in the book. It’s not a comedy, it’s not a screwball and it’s not slapstick but, boy, is it funny! Not since I read Grant Naylor’s Red Dwarf twenty-five years ago have I burst out laughing because the funnies were so — well, funny. The humour feels so natural, so effortless, that it adds yet another layer to the already familiar and likeable character of  Mark Watney. It’s the delivery and the timing that creates the much needed humour. The balance that Weir finds between fact, science, fiction and comedy is perfect. He pitches it just right, adding the perfect amount of seasoning to my Christmas dinner.

I’m rather fascinated with space and astronomy, though I have no desire to experience it first hand, being partial to things such as air and gravity. But watching other people explore it and discover it’s hidden secrets is awe inspiring to me. Many a night has passed with my eye pressed up against my too heavy binoculars looking at the moon and thinking of when man walked on it’s very surface. I wasn’t born at the time of the moon landing and have often felt the disappointment of not having been a part of it, even merely as a viewer. Now, though, I feel as though I’ve had my very own voyeuristic space adventure courtesy of Andy Weir and, of course, the indomitable Mark Watney.

And, my, what an adventure it was.

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Book Review

 

Goodreads Blurb

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune — and remarkable power — to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved — that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt — among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life — and love — in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready? 

My Review

Rating: 5*

I love books like this. Why? Because the writing is outstanding? No. Because the characters are so three dimensional that they feel real? No. Because it’s educational? No. I’m not saying that any, or all, of those things aren’t true about “Ready Player One,” but that’s not why I love it so.

I love it so because Ernest Cline made me want to be in it, in the story. I wanted to be a “Gunter” with Parzival and Artemis. I wanted to hang out in the basement with Aech playing Pac-Man. It made me want to go back to my youth, a child of the ’80’s, and watch all of those movies and play all of those games through Wade’s eyes. I wanted to find the pot of gold at the end of Halliday’s rainbow.

In simple, I love books like this because they’re so much fun! I never wanted it to end. And the fact that, not only did I enjoy it, but so did my 17 year old son and my 67 year old dad, well, if that’s not recommendation enough for you to strap on your visor, pull on your haptic gloves and dive head first into the OASIS I don’t know what is.

Happy hunting!

Sometimes Life Just Get’s In The Way!

Hi Guys! Here’s hoping you’ve all had a good summer. I really don’t know where the time has gone. All my good intentions to write every day seem to have been way-laid and side-tracked by the vagaries of real life. My son passed his GCSE’s and has now started an Electrical Engineering course at college (how in the heck did I get to be old enough to have a son in college!), we went on holiday, my internet decided to misbehave (still not completely fixed), my cat got sick, and I had a new experience (tilt-table test. UGH!!!). So all in all, a fun time was had by all 😉

Rest assured, I’ve still been working on the book, though I’ve not written as much as I would have liked over the summer. I’m getting all my ducks in a row so that when I start writing regularly again I can focus without being distracted. Can’t wait! 

I hope all of your projects are coming along nicely, I’ve done my best to keep up with your blogs as much as my erratic internet has allowed, and I’m looking forward to catching up with you all and what you’ve been up to over the summer.

However, I did write a short poem that I’d like to share with you in the meantime. Please don’t judge me too harshly, I’m not much of a poetry writer, at least, not since I was a teenager. But it made me chuckle even as I was writing it, and I hope it does you too. 

Here goes!

 

Body Clock

 

My ever expanding waistline

Is a marking of the passing of time.

A result of all the pick, pick, pick.

The clock is moving, tick, tick, tick.

 

When I was a youngling my clock read nought,

But time kept passing as I nibbled and I bought.

But I liked the nibble and I liked the buy.

Still the clock kept ticking; how the clock would fly.

 

Now the clock is barely ticking,

And the clock wants not to fly.

So I think I’ll change the batteries

While I nibble my last pie.

 

That’s all for now, folks. I have a couple more weeks of familial mayhem and madness, otherwise known as life, to deal with and then I hope to back with you all again on a much more regular basis.

Happy writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coincidence or Serendipity?

Hi guys! Sorry for my recent absence. I’ve had a bit of a bumpy time with my EDS, including several day trips courtesy of the NHS, culminating most recently in a partially dislocated wrist, so writing has been pretty much impossible for me of late. I’ve missed you all but I’m well on the mend,  very ready for my holiday to Tenerife, and then back to my writing.

While indisposed, I spent some time learning new stuff. Something I’ve been meaning to do for the longest time is to familiarise myself more with the classics. At the top of  my list was the Iliad by Homer. I’ve always had a secret soft spot for Greek mythology. No, I haven’t read it all, but I finally made a start. And I made an interesting (to me) discovery that I will try to share with you.

As I was reading the beginnings of the Iliad I was also googling information on the main players in an attempt to get it straight in my mind. Well, you all know how the research thing goes, one thing led to another, and before I knew it I was totally absorbed in the story of Cupid and Psyche. It makes up part of the Metamorphoses/The Golden Ass by Apuleius. Lucius, the protagonist, gets turned into a donkey by magic gone wrong and in order to get turned back into a human he has to undergo various trials and adventures. It is a story of curiosity and magic.

What’s interesting to me, other than the story of Cupid and Psyche itself, is the fact that Psyche’s story mirrors the main story of Lucius. More curiosity and magic, trials and adventures.  I won’t attempt to recount the story because I won’t do it justice, but it’s well worth reading.

Now to the bit that fascinates me and gives me goose bumps.

In reading about Cupid and Psyche I stumbled across the term mise en abyme. It means, and I quote:  

“Mise-en-abîme occurs within a text when there is a reduplication of images or concepts referring to the textual whole.”   — Wikipedia

In simple terms, in a literary context it means a story within a story, which very much describes how the story of Cupid and Psyche fits into the Metamorphoses as a whole. Well, guess what? Unbeknownst to me until I stumbled across this story, the book I’m writing now is a mise en abyme! And just to add the cherry on top, Psyche was the Greek goddess of the soul, and my book is heavily focused on the soul!

So I ask again: coincidence or serendipity?

Happy writing, peeps.

Posting Negative Book Reviews

Why do I always feel so guilty when I write a negative book review? Do all of us writers feel that inner conflict when faced with reviewing a book in a less than favourable light?

Perhaps. Perhaps it’s because we understand the labour of love that is creating and writing a story. Our characters become our friends, family. We feel protective over them. I know I certainly do. But here’s the thing: once we tell a story, put it out there, it’s not just ours any more. It belongs, in a sense, to everyone that’s invested the time to read it. I mean, that’s why we write, after all; to inform, to excite, to move, to provoke. 

So I ask myself: why be afraid of expressing a negative emotion or feeling? They can be as emotive and passionate as their positive counterparts; they’re valid, as long as they are delivered in a respectful fashion.

I have always maintained that I will not be disparaging towards other writers. It’s not necessary. But I’ve given myself a talking too today and told myself to be brave with my true feelings when it comes to writing and posting book reviews, otherwise my glowing reviews of the books I love somehow lose their merit, become less credible. 

So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to write reviews about the books that provoke me, excite me, affect me in such a way that I feel compelled to express it out loud. Really, that’s a good thing. It means that, negative or positive, the book I’m reviewing has succeeded. It’s made me feel something that I want to share.

 

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Writing & Me

In 2012, after several years of ill health, I was diagnosed with EDS Type 3 (hypermobile type). In simple terms, EDS is a connective tissue disorder that affects the way the body produces collagen (that’s the protein that gives strength to our joints, muscles and skin). My body doesn’t produce collagen the way it should, so I’m too stretchy. In turn, that means that more stress is put on my muscles to try to provide some stability and rigidity to my body.

 It can be a tough thing to deal with. I’ve heard many EDSers describe it as feeling like they are running a marathon every day. That’s a pretty accurate analogy. Other than the pain, fatigue and “brain fog” are our biggest enemies.

You may wonder why I’m sharing  all this with you. After all, this is a blog about books and writing, not health conditions.  I’m telling you because finding out I had EDS was a large factor in why I started writing. 

For seven years I worked as a Library and Information Officer for my local council. As you can imagine, that was the perfect job for a life-long book lover. Sadly, because of my misbehaving health, I lost my job in 2010, and my mother very suddenly passed away at the same time. That was probably the most difficult time I’ve experienced in my life so far.

But this isn’t a sob story. 

One night a few months after I’d lost my job, I had a dream (I know, what a cliché!). It was awesome! It was so good that I woke myself up to write it down so I wouldn’t forget it. The next day I started fleshing out the characters that I’d met in my dream. Even in the dream they had personalities that were very much their own. All I had to do was listen very carefully to what they were whispering to me. Then I started writing out profiles for them, and family trees, and histories and quirks. Very quickly I was hooked. I’d always written, poems and songs mostly. Never stories. I always believed that I had no imagination. And yet here I was, suddenly with a book full of scribbled notes and my head filling with ideas faster than I could get them on paper. 

Even then, I didn’t know I was writing a book. I was simply trying to keep myself occupied while I was unwell, unemployed and grieving. Writing and researching became my lifelines. I would go to bed dreaming — about my characters, or apostrophe’s, or the difference between  em-dashes and en-dashes — and I would get up in the morning with my son and spend all day learning and researching and writing while he was at school. He’d always know if I’d spent the day immersed in my work because he’d come home from school to find me with a slightly glazed, faraway look in my eyes.

It wasn’t until I’d written 30,000 words that I finally admitted and acknowledged that, maybe, just maybe, I was writing a book. It was hard work; I had so much to learn, not just about the story, but about writing. And I loved it! Every bit of it. Two years and 80,000 words later I had a completed story. I’m not published as yet. I haven’t quite worked out what avenue to pursue to get my writing out there. I’m thinking maybe I’ll share it on here.

My writing story may have started out because of circumstances less than ideal, but through it, I have found something I can do, even with EDS, something that stimulates and challenges me. I found my passion. Yes, some days are a struggle, but what writing gives me is so much more that what it costs me. Through it, I’ve met (in the cyber sense) some wonderful people — readers and writers — that inspire and motivate me to keep reading and writing.

Perhaps if I’d never gotten ill and lost my job, I’d never have started writing, never have found my passion for creating. For that I’m eternally grateful. There will never be a time when I stop writing. It’s part of me now. 

So if a few days sometimes go by when I don’t post, please be patient with me. Know that, while I’m impersonating Mr Fantastic, I’m stroking my chin and planning, scheming and machinating. In the writing sense, of course. And, hopefully soon, I’ll have the first excerpt of the new book I’m writing for you to read.

Happy writing, peeps!

 

 

 

Writing Corner — Research

 

When I wrote my first book I honestly knew very little about writing. I spent as much time researching how to write as I spent actually writing. I once spent three days reading everything I could find on the correct use of the apostrophe. And don’t get me started on commas! Who knew there were so many different types of commas. “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” by Lynne Truss became a favourite read of mine at that time. Educational and hilarious.

Time that I had ear-marked for writing got swallowed up with my incessant quest for information, whether it be about technique or subject matter, and I’d disappear down the rabbit hole of research, sometimes for days.

My first book was a blend of paranormal romance and history with a strong Celtic — and more specifically, druid — link to it, so much of my time was spent researching how the Celts lived and the role of the druids. It wasn’t fact-heavy but I felt that in order for me to write those parts of the story authentically I really needed to have a complete overview of that time. However, research can become a black hole that just keeps pulling us in, seducing us with answers that fascinate and distract us from actually writing the story that we want to tell.

I still believe that it is essential for the writer to intimately know the world that their story is taking place in, even things that the characters and the readers don’t need to know. Only this time around I did my research first. I have been living in my make believe world for about a year already, though I only actually started writing the story a month or two ago. That’s not to say that I don’t need to research any more. I’m constantly finding things to investigate or double check, but much of the world-building research I did before I started writing. I mapped out the main plots of the story, the science behind it and how it all connected together as a whole.

As I’m now writing a YA Sci-fi story, there is an awful lot more that I needed to research for this one. I can’t argue with the laws of physics and, though I know that I can apply a certain amount of creative licence, I personally like to have my stories grounded on a foundation of fact. In some ways, that makes my job harder because I can’t simply make things up to fit my story; there has to be a certain amount of logic in my make-believe. So setting the parameters for my story world right at the outset has really helped focus my writing. It means the continuity will be there from beginning to end as I’m following the same rules throughout. And it means I can spend more time writing the story uninterrupted because I know where I’m going. Constantly stopping to research often throws me off my rhythm, or I lose the feel, the voice, of whichever character I may be writing about.

I have learnt that research is an intrinsic part of the process of writing. It’s one of my favourite parts of the process. Perhaps this insatiable need to know is characteristic of us writer types. But this time around I’m keeping my research firmly in its place.