I'm not going to review this on my blog, because it's just not worth the time and effort it'll take. The Monster's Wife bored me from beginning to endI'm not going to review this on my blog, because it's just not worth the time and effort it'll take. The Monster's Wife bored me from beginning to end, to the extent that I'm not even interested in ranting out a negative review. I expected that the plot would be very slow, but I assumed the book would be driven by twisted psychological portrayals, tense relationships, and uncomfortable intimacies. But mostly it's just Oona the outcast running around the island without achieving anything, and devoting herself to Dr Frankenstein for very thin, vague reasons. You know exactly what Frankenstein is up to and that it will end badly, so there's no mystery (although Horsley does end up rewriting the end of the story to make it more interesting). If the many atmospheric descriptions of the island or the many tragic descriptions of Oona's loneliness and physical discomfort can sustain you, then you might enjoy this. I just found it incredibly disappointing....more
Uninspiring characters and a twist so obvious that it's ludicrous that none of those Nobel-prize-winning scientists could figure it out themselves. ThUninspiring characters and a twist so obvious that it's ludicrous that none of those Nobel-prize-winning scientists could figure it out themselves. There are a few interesting bits of alien culture and I like the way it converges with Noah's story arc, but more than anything this book feels like a heavy-handed critique of human nature and society, particularly American society. While I'm inclined to agree with that critique, it fails to breathe life into this rather clunky story....more
This sounds like it could be extremely boring – one lone man going about the very practical business of surviving on Mars without even the drama of alThis sounds like it could be extremely boring – one lone man going about the very practical business of surviving on Mars without even the drama of aliens or something? Sounds too much like a documentary. But it works. Not just works, actually - it’s also interesting, tense, exciting, funny, and emotional. It doesn’t need aliens because surviving alone on Mars is insane enough. It does drag at times, but it still manages to be a more entertaining read than many books that have a lot more to work with.
So, what makes it good? Mark’s character plays a huge role in that. One of the reasons he has a chance of surviving on Mars is that he’s an amazing problem solver, and a large portion of the book is devoted to the mission logs where he describes how he survives. This sounds like one of the most potentially boring parts, but even as someone who hates the rigour of hard sf, I found it very interesting and impressive. He specifically states that he’ll explain how Mars missions work just in case a layman reads his logs, and he sticks to that style throughout.
Mark is a botanist and engineer, so it’s not long before he’s figured out how make water FROM SCRATCH and turn his habitat into a potato farm. He sorts out his air supply and modifies his rover for long-distance travel. On the downside, he also turns his habitat into a bomb and causes an explosion by breathing, but that’s all just part of the thrills of life on Mars. In many ways, this book provides a basic education on how complicated and dangerous space travel is.
I couldn’t tell you how accurate it all is, but it certainly gives the impression of being completely accurate, which, for sf fans like myself, is really all that matters. Admittedly I didn’t always understand exactly what Mark was doing, but the how and why are easy to understand and that’s good enough. Yes, there’s a ton of science and maths, but Mark keeps it manageable.
The other thing that helps Mark survive and make the book readable is his sense of humour. He’s always making little jokes or framing his life-threatening endeavours in amusing ways. It keeps the tone light, keeps Mark motivated, and is often laugh-out-loud funny. I love how he complains that he’s stuck with disco music and crappy 70s sitcoms for entertainment, and how he explains that, according to international law, he is in fact a space pirate. This kind of stuff is is essential. His story could be very depressing and the realism of it suggests that Mark could die before being rescued. The humour saves it from that fate.
It could also be bogged down by Mark’s emotional and physical suffering but, thankfully, there’s very little of that. Most of Mark’s narrative is made up of mission logs, which means he chooses how to describe his experience. He focuses on his methods of survival, throws in a lot of perfectly justified bitching, and makes jokes, but he very rarely feels sorry for himself or wallows in the wretchedness of his situation. If anything, he survives because he’s the kind of person who doesn’t fall into that trap. It’s quite possible that he gets depressed and maudlin, but he doesn’t make the reader suffer through that too.
Another thing that makes this a good book narratively, is that it’s very well paced. We alternate nicely between dilemmas and triumphs, between great worry and huge relief. When Mark’s narrative starts to get a bit tiring, we suddenly go back to Earth where an observant engineer realises that Mark is still alive. That adds another dimension to the story, and from then on we move back and forth between NASA and Mars. It becomes quite a page-turner.
It did drag for a bit in the middle though. When I hit the halfway point I was so ready for Mark to be rescued, and I was a bit depressed by how much book I still had to get through. After a while though, the story climbs out of the rut and gets interesting again, as we move closer to what will either be Mark’s rescue or his death.
There is one thing I wondered about that the novel only mentions in passing – the public’s reaction to the cost of saving Mark. It costs tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars to save one man (albeit a highly intelligent and skilled man whose experience constitutes unprecedented research). On the one hand, it’s an incredible story and people all over the world are following closely and hoping for a happy ending. I was hoping desperately for a happy ending too. On the other hand, it seems easier to get money and resources for this than, say, public health care, housing for the poor, environmental protection, etc. It’s mentioned that people start asking how much is too much, but that’s really all the book has to say about it.
Admittedly though, that issue might have hindered rather than helped what is already a (mostly) excellent story. I’ve heard that the movie rights have been sold and I think this would be fantastic on the big screen – all the tension and humour of the book, with a stunning visual component. That’d also complete the indie-dream that is this book – it started out as a free story on the author’s website, then he sold a Kindle version on Amazon for 99c, it got picked up by a major publisher, and film rights were sold. How awesome is that? But deservedly so. Well done Andy Weir :)
Five boy scouts and their scoutmaster go to a small deserted island for a weekend of camping. On the first night, a stranger comes to their cabin lookFive boy scouts and their scoutmaster go to a small deserted island for a weekend of camping. On the first night, a stranger comes to their cabin looking for shelter. He is horrifically thin, and monstrously hungry. Scoutmaster Tim tries to help him, but his good intentions only bring disaster.
The stranger is carrying a vicious bioengineered parasite that soon begins infecting the scouts, giving them the same insanely torturous hunger that can only lead to a miserable death. The boys are young enough to hope that the adults will fix everything, but Tim quickly becomes more dangerous than helpful, and there is no hope that anyone from the main island will rescue them because they’ve been quarantined following the stranger’s escape from the lab where the parasite was tested. The scouts are stranded without additional supplies, and a storm is coming.
To make things worse, they’re a mismatched bunch who aren’t really friends, can’t trust each other, and soon begin to turn on each other. Kent is a bully who would endanger everyone in his determination to be the alpha male. Ephraim and Max are best friends, but Ephraim has anger management issues and is as much a danger to himself as everyone else. Newton is the stereotypical victim – a sweet, fat, nerdy boy who is constantly tormented by everyone else. And Shelley is a psychopath, a sadistic child who relishes this chance to play the kinds of twisted games that normal society would otherwise prevent.
Children trapped on a deserted island without adults, lots of violence, violent deaths, the breakdown of social controls, and the torment of a smart fat boy – naturally this novel has been compared to Lord of the Flies by William Golding, which was one of the few high school setworks I actually enjoyed reading. In the acknowledgements the author also says he was strongly influenced by Stephen King’s Carrie (another favourite), specifically in the use of new reports, transcripts, and other documents to build on the narrative.
However, The Troop reminds me much more of Dreamcatcher, also by Stephen King, but one of my least favourite books by him. Dreamcatcher also featured a small group of characters isolated in a cabin in the woods. They encounter a stranger who is infected with a fatal parasite. The host’s body is drastically affected by the growth of the parasite and dies horribly when the parasite escapes. Like King, Cutter also includes lots of flashbacks and anecdotes to fill in the characters’ backgrounds. Most of the kids are a bit troubled – absent, neglectful or domineering parents, psychological problems, social problems, etc. The one major difference is that King’s characters are close, loyal friends, while the boys in The Troop are not. Finally – and most memorably – both Dreamcatcher and The Troop are really, really gross.
This, for me, is the crux of the novel. It’s one of the most revolting books I’ve ever read and if Cutter was actually inspired by Dreamcatcher, then I’d say it was the stomach-turning aspects of the book that captivated him. There are many other things going on in Dreamcatcher, but physical horror seems to be the focus of The Troop, and I’m not only talking about gore. The parasite in the novel is a bioengineered tapeworm, and tapeworms are gross enough when they’re normal. Cutter pushes them to disgusting extremes.
The Troop includes graphic descriptions of the worms, the worms oozing out of human and animal bodies, the shocking deterioration of the hosts’ bodies (they lose most of their body weight in a matter of hours), self-mutilation, horrific animal experiments during the development of the worm, animal torture (by one of the boys), and other animal cruelty. I almost abandoned the book after a particularly bad experiment on a chimpanzee. After that I skipped over extended passages describing animal cruelty; I can be very determined when trying to finish a book I don’t like, but there are some things I won’t put up with. Add to this other nauseating details, like the things the hosts will eat to appease their ravening hunger – algae, rotten fish, a dead tapeworm, and their own bodies. Not that eating makes any difference, because it’s physically impossible for the hosts to ever satisfy their hunger.
It’s a sickening story. I don’t think any book has made me squirm as much as this did or made me want to abandon it simply because it was so fucking disgusting. And admittedly, that makes The Troop very effective as horror. It’s brutal, and once it gets going, it’s relentless. Not in a frightening way (at least not to me) but certainly harrowing.
The downside is that it’s extremely unpleasant to read. This kind of excessive, visceral savagery, used purely for its own sake, is my least favourite kind of horror. I didn’t hate it the way I hate a badly written or stupid book; it’s neither of those things. But I hated that it was so nauseating to read. I don’t have a problem with gore per se, but I prefer it to be one part of a more complex and unnerving story, not its defining features.
A few other things about the novel stood out for me. The virulent, fatal infection is a standard horror trope, and I think Cutter uses it well, even though it’s not to my tastes. The reasons for creating the parasites are mentioned in recordings and court testimonies. The boys are at the age where they’re starting to question the authority and dependability of adults, so this becomes a major issue, given their situation. Sometimes it add an interesting dimension to the story, like the way it affects their interactions with Scoutmaster Tim, for example. But at other times it just makes the boys a bit whiny.
The characters are ok but a bit one-dimensional, typically reduced to their definitive qualities. Nor is there anything particularly interesting about their relationships. As I mentioned earlier, the boys aren’t friends, except for Ephraim and Max. The five have obviously spent plenty of time together as scouts, but apparently this has done nothing to bring them closer. They often come across as assholes, especially Kent the bully and Shelley the psychopath. They all abuse poor Newt pretty much constantly – it’s like they can’t talk to him without insulting him, can’t include him without making him their victim. This is portrayed as being the natural way of things among 14-year-old boys.
I liked some of the flashbacks and the insights they gave into the characters’ behaviour, but besides feeling sorry for Newt, I didn’t care about any of them that much. Except perhaps for Ephraim, who has a more interesting mix of good and bad qualities, and whose story arc was more complex than the others.
Shelley the psychopath does at least add an intriguing dynamic to the situation. When I say psychopath I really do mean pathological in terrifying, clinical terms. Shelley doesn’t have emotions like normal people do, except for the excitement he gets from causing pain and fear. He’s delighted by the prospect of fucking with a group of terrified people, so he adds a touch of psychological horror to the gore. But he also tortures small animals, thus adding to the list of things I don’t want to read.
Ultimately, I’m not sure if I can say The Troop is a bad book. Everything that I think makes it horrible is also what makes it a good horror novel. At least for hardcore horror fans. If you want to be grossed out, if the word “repulsive” would make you look closer, then you’d probably love this. But I would tell most readers to steer clear, especially animal lovers and the squeamish. Personally, I’d be happy to forget I ever read it.
Plot-wise, this book sounds ok, but what it actually is, is pretty crap. It’s been ages since I read this sort of thing. It’s the kind of book that IPlot-wise, this book sounds ok, but what it actually is, is pretty crap. It’s been ages since I read this sort of thing. It’s the kind of book that I used to find lying around the house after my mother bought it at a sale and then forgot about it. A book no one’s heard of with a dull cover but, based on the blurb, it could be an entertaining mystery/thriller/adventure. I’d ignore it until I was bored with nothing else to read in the middle of the school holidays, and probably find it enjoyable in that context. In my limited experience I might not have noticed how The Cure is like a made-for-TV movie with an unknown cast of bad actors. Now, however, it’s the kind of book that I swear and yell at.
Where to begin? Well, one of the first things that struck me was the shamelessly clunky info dumping. For example, while Erin is waiting for a prisoner to fill out a questionnaire, she just so happens to think back on her first conversation with her thesis supervisor. The flashback functions as a narrative device for explaining what her research is all about. That would be ok if it wasn’t such a deeply implausible flashback – about a chapter long and far too detailed for what is only a few minutes of reflection. In addition, Erin intentionally played dumb so that her supervisor explained all sorts of basic things about psychopaths. Erin’s excuse was that she tried to keep the professor talking in order to assess him, but it’s absurd for someone with her research interests and qualifications to pretend to be uninformed about the fundamental characteristics of the people she wants to study. It’s so obviously being done purely for the reader’s benefit.
Similar info dumping occurs frequently, not always in that as-you-know-bob manner, but typically lengthy and unrefined. Mind you, there are plenty of daft and awkward things you’ll just have to put up with to read this. Like the fact that Erin risks everything for a man she’s never met, who offers her a cure that’s virtually impossible to create. W find out how it was possible later, but Erin signed on without that information. Similarly, Raborn contacted her and asked for her help with his world-changing but very dangerous and illegal research based on an interview in a community newspaper (apparently he sensed her passion in the article). In her search for Raborn, Erin goes to a lab where they test products on animals. She gets in very easily, and a lab assistant actually gives her a tour, even explaining what they do to some of the animals (like turning them radioactive). What kind of moron just gives out highly controversial information like that? To someone who could be a journalist? This doesn’t even have any purpose for the story; I think maybe the author – a molecular biologist – is just telling us this stuff because he can.
Other problems include boring characters. Like Erin who is just so blandly perfect. She’s stunningly beautiful:
She had a flawless complexion, a figure a bikini model would envy, and a grace and agility that had arisen from years of training in martial arts and other forms of self- defense. Her hair was a deep chestnut-brown, and glowed with health and vigor, and her features were strong but delicate.
She’s kick-ass. She’s intelligent and highly educated. She worked harder at university than most students are capable of working. Her childhood trauma causes almost no problems for her, because she has learned to control it. When all sorts of dodgy people come after her, she has the skills to fight or escape them. And even though these people are professionals, Erin can outsmart them because – get this – she reads lots of thrillers.
When Kyle Hansen meets her, he just can’t stop saying how beautiful and brilliant and amazing she is (it’s nauseating). He’s some kind of computer expert who only reads sci fi, making him open-minded enough to accept the extraordinary things in this plot, but leaving him a bit short other skills. He keeps emphasising that he’s just a geek, which means he’s super-lucky to be going on the run with a super-hot smart chick like Erin. Cue extremely cheesy romance.
The Cure is so full of shit like this that it actually detracts from any possible plausibility. The plot is based on the idea that the 1% of psychopaths in the human population have a massive detrimental influence on the whole. They cause pain, from breaking their partner’s hearts to starting wars and oppressive regimes. In fact, they will eventually cause the downfall of the entire human race. Curing that 1% will supposedly save us and make the world a happier place. If this was a completely different book, then sure, I might buy that. But here, it just sounds… dumb. And gets dumber. The author even uses the concept to set up the western world (and America in particular) as an essentially good, compassionate entity that’s being manipulated by evil psychopaths from the Middle East. In fact, this story is taking place in America, and not anywhere else, because no other country could be trusted to take the right course of action. Yes, really.
Now admittedly, and in spite of my overall feelings about this book, there are a few things I liked. All the information about the nature of psychopaths was actually quite interesting and even useful (another recent read featured a major psychopathic character). It’s mostly delivered as if this were an undergrad psychology lecture rather than a novel, but it’s the kind of lecture I would enjoy. A couple of the ethical issues that Erin faces are sort of interesting. And although I thought the book was lame, I somehow found myself curious enough to want to follow the story to the end. Which annoyed me because this is a stupid book and the ending held no surprises anyway.