Imagine if Arthur C. Clarke and John Scalzi wrote a book together. You'd come up with something like The Martian.
Man vs. Nature with Science in one haImagine if Arthur C. Clarke and John Scalzi wrote a book together. You'd come up with something like The Martian.
Man vs. Nature with Science in one hand and Snark in the other. The premise is simple but fraught with danger - not just for the hero but also for the audience. After all, one-man castaway stories run the risk of becoming dreadfully dull. Andy Weir sticks the landing, and manages to keep ramping up the difficulties for his stranded astronaut while allowing the protagonist enough victories to keep him (and the reader) from sliding into despair. I blew through this book in no time flat, but it never felt like mindless popcorn. Far from it: there was almost as much scientific meat in this book as in Mary Roach's Packing for Mars, only told from the point of view of a lonely astronaut with nothing but a crop of potatoes and hours of 70s television for company. The ending left me wanting an epilogue or two just as an excuse to stick around in the story for longer.
In fact, I loved this book enough to rant about it for a while:
This is a book that will restore your faith in science fiction. What's more, this book will renew your faith in Hard science fiction, the kind that's mostly been relegated to the pages of magazines like Analog while disappearing from bookstore shelves. Even better, because of the wit and humanity with which Weir writes while maintaining his strict commitment to gritty realism, I've at last got a hard-SF book that I'd feel comfortable, nay enthusiastic, about recommending to non-SF readers in general. I hope hope hope that with a movie in the works, Weir may have done for crunchy, real-science SF what Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven did for westerns - namely, letting mainstream culture take a genre seriously again.
Two centuries in the future, mankind has moved out into the solar system, Africa is the world's economic and technological powerhouse, a nation of posTwo centuries in the future, mankind has moved out into the solar system, Africa is the world's economic and technological powerhouse, a nation of post-humans lives in the deep oceans, a benevolent surveillance state is everywhere, and Eunice Akinya, the reclusive Howard Hughes of this era, has died - leaving her grandchildren a mysterious legacy.
The other milieu that Blue Remembered Earth immediately calls to mind is that of Kim Stanley Robinson's future solar system, particularly as depicted in 2312. Like that novel, this one uses a handful of interesting characters and the barest outline of a plot as an excuse to explore a possible mid-near future in depth, one that is neither utopian nor dystopian, but hopeful for humanity's long-term survival. Blue Remembered Earth is more plot-driven than 2312, but because the stakes are so low the book feels slighter than was intended.
Basically, the story is a McGuffin hunt with a weak McGuffin. A series of clues left posthumously by Eunice Akinya lead her grandchildren Geoffrey and Sunday toward various sights and locales in the solar system, exploring as they go, but with no real understanding of what they're looking for or why it's important. That, plus the in-family bickering, makes the novel feel somewhat like The Amazing Race... in Space! Not that that isn't a show I'd mind watching.
What I'm not sold on is whether the ending is strong enough to hook me into the sequels. Not saying I won't read them, just that I'm not really in a hurry....more
After Mary Roach's fascinating but icky Packing for Mars, here's a book to get you fired up about space exploration again. Rod Pyle gives a thorough,After Mary Roach's fascinating but icky Packing for Mars, here's a book to get you fired up about space exploration again. Rod Pyle gives a thorough, exciting overview of the great science that's been done on Mars for the last fifty years. He also includes bios and interviews of many of the scientists involved, doing a lot to humanize the subject. Even though we're sending robots, it's the people behind them who make everything work.
The problem with Mars exploration is that it suffers from Neil Armstrong syndrome. Everyone remembers Mariner and Viking, but most people probably aren't even aware of all the following programs (which have returned a lot more data than the earlier efforts). The book wraps up with a breakdown of all the experiments being sent on the Mars Science Laboratory, due to land this August - and I'm only now just hearing about it? NASA needs to hire better PR people, or maybe just get Rod Pyle and Neil DeGrasse Tyson their own talk show....more
Well, that was fun. Thuvia marks the point in Burrough's Mars series where you stop coming back for the further adventures of John Carter and start reWell, that was fun. Thuvia marks the point in Burrough's Mars series where you stop coming back for the further adventures of John Carter and start reading just for the love of spending time on Barsoom. Carter himself barely rates a cameo in this novel, ceding the limelight for his less-superhuman son Carthoris and the titular love of his life, the Martian "face who launched a thousand ships." Seriously, Barsoom almost falls into an apocalyptic world war because of the kidnapping of Thuvia at the start of the novel.
Not that Thuvia is a helpless damsel by any stretch. She effects her own escapes from danger as often as Carthoris rescues her, what with her uncanny control of banths (Martian lions) and her Princess Leia-like skill flying an aircraft and wielding firearms. Some of the satire that made Gods of Mars so enjoyable returns in the middle part of Thuvia, and the shift away from Carter puts a little bit of suspense back into some of the action (such as when Carthoris is fighting two banths in the dark) but the real character to love here is Barsoom itself, still one of the best vacation spots in all of science fiction....more
With Warlord of Mars the original John Carter trilogy concludes. In this volume, Burroughs discards the complexity,2012 John Carter re-read, part 3 -
With Warlord of Mars the original John Carter trilogy concludes. In this volume, Burroughs discards the complexity, intrigue, and world-building that made Gods of Mars stand out in favor of a straightforward, rip-roaring action novel. From the beginning, John Carter is cut off from all of his friends and allies as he and his faithful Mars-dog Woola set out in pursuit of Dejah Thoris, now in the clutches of the few remaining villains left over from the previous book. It's a standard damsel-in-distress plot: a) Carter chases them to new exotic location, b) makes new enemies and/or allies, c) almost catches up to his quarry but they get away again, d) repeat as necessary.
Along the way you get aerial dogfights, jungle battles, a lost kingdom on Mars's north pole, and a couple of dungeon crawls. Burroughs also demonstrates that more than any other pulp writer of his age, he knew how to write a satisfying action climax. As a conclusion to a mad, three-book odyssey, Warlord of Mars sticks the landing and John Carter finally gets the happy ending Burroughs denied him in the previous books. (Spoiler? Not really.) However, by the end of the story John Carter has become such an invincible character that there's not much more ERB can do with him, leading to the (very wise) choice to shift the focus of the next few books in the series to other, less superhuman protagonists....more
Unlike A Princess of Mars, I'd pretty much forgotten the entire plot of the sequel, which is odd since it actually h2012 John Carter re-read, part II:
Unlike A Princess of Mars, I'd pretty much forgotten the entire plot of the sequel, which is odd since it actually has a plot, whereas Princess didn't. It's a daring one too, with some pretty nasty things to say about the nature of religion. Carter gets zapped back to Mars after a 10-year absence, only to find himself trapped in Barsoom's version of paradise - a blissful garden of Eden from which no Martian ever returns, because they're torn to shreds by carnivorous plant-men or made slaves by the white-skinned Therns who have been exploiting and encouraging the superstitions of the red and green races for their own benefit. Burroughs piles the ironies thick by adding even more layers of false belief, for the Therns themselves are as much the victims of their own superstitions as the reds and greens are of theirs.
All this, plus grueling fight scenes, titanic sky (and sea) battles, and another whopper of a cliffhanger to pull you into book three.
The one big flaw that Gods of Mars suffers is that while Burroughs's skill as a storyteller increases, his horrible ear for dialog begins to show. Princess was full of dry exposition, but it was mostly in the form of Carter talking to the reader. In Gods, the exposition comes from other characters giving long-winded speeches to Carter in a faux-Shakespearean dialect that's painful to read. Somehow I didn't notice when I read this book as a kid, so the 5-star rating stands....more
I've heard it said that "Those who read him at the right age owe a great debt of gratitude to Edgar Rice Burroughs." (Roger Lancelyn Green, accordingI've heard it said that "Those who read him at the right age owe a great debt of gratitude to Edgar Rice Burroughs." (Roger Lancelyn Green, according to a quick Google search.) If I'd come to this book as an adult, I would have enjoyed it for what it was, then nit-picked it to shreds. It's a first novel and it shows, but for 1910's pulp fiction it's a fantastic first novel. The narrative is simple: John Carter, a chiseled, indomitable manly-man and Civil War vet, gets zapped to Mars after a mini-escapade with some bloodthirsty Indians. There, he falls in with a band of 15' green savages, falls in love with a beautiful, red-skinned bombshell, explores Mars, kills a bunch of guys, starts a war, and gets the girl. What's most interesting is that Burroughs denies his hero a happy-ever-after, but chooses to end on a bittersweet cliffhanger.
If I'd first read this today, I would have probably noticed all the contrivances Burroughs uses to keep the plot moving, and I might have been put off by what a homicidal maniac John Carter turns out to be. However, I first read this in Junior High, after finding out about this series on Carl Sagan's Cosmos, and I found the editions with the gorgeous Michael Whelan covers full of nekkid people.
In other words, it made my 13-year-old head explode. So: 5 stars....more