Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three sisters and as anyone who has read fairytales should know, the eldest of three will be “the one who will fail fir...moreSophie Hatter is the eldest of three sisters and as anyone who has read fairytales should know, the eldest of three will be “the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes”. Sophie is “not even the child of a poor woodcutter, which might have given her some chance of success”. With this in mind, poor Sophie resigns herself to a quiet, dull life making hats in the family shop while her sisters leave home with more exciting ambitions. However, Sophie clearly has some magical powers, even if she doesn’t realise it, and the hats she makes soon become famous.
While you're waiting, check out this interview with cover artist Joey Hi-Fi (cover designer for The Shining Girls, Zoo City, the Miriam Black series,...moreWhile you're waiting, check out this interview with cover artist Joey Hi-Fi (cover designer for The Shining Girls, Zoo City, the Miriam Black series, Apocalypse Now Now, and other stunning illustrated covers): http://violininavoid.wordpress.com/20...(less)
Meh. A heavy-handed, often simplistic novel, perhaps because it's written for children or teens. The conflict is very neatly divided into black and wh...moreMeh. A heavy-handed, often simplistic novel, perhaps because it's written for children or teens. The conflict is very neatly divided into black and white. The polytheistic city of Ansul was famed for its literary and scholarly culture, until the Alds of Asudar invaded, raping, murdering, and wrecking. The Alds are religious extremists who believe that the written world is evil. They destroy every book they can find, kill anyone in possession of written material, and make reading a crime. Seventeen years later, their priests and soldiers occupy the city.
Memer was conceived during the invasion, when her mother was raped by soldiers. She hates the Alds for all they have done - raping her mother, torturing the beloved Waylord of her home Galvamand, wrecking the estate, denying the gods she worships, etc. Galvamand was once a university, and now people bring any books they find to the house for safekeeping. They are kept in a secret room that only Memer and the Waylord can access with magic words. When a famous storyteller and his wife are invited to the city, it signals an opportunity for change.
In this context, all books take on a grand, magical quality, and Memer and the Waylord become grand, liberating figures simply because they love to read and do so in secret. How many times have we seen the glorified reader rebelling against the book-burners (or in this case, book-drowners)? Obviously I'm on the readers' side, but it's an old, boring conflict.
It doesn't make sense either. How is anyone supposed to run a business without writing things down? The Waylord actually suggests that business will suffer or collapse in future, but it's amazing that it hasn't already, or that the Alds have managed to thrive without writing of any kind. This is a quasi-medieval society, so there are no machines to do their record-keeping for them.
Le Guin is taking things a bit too far with the Alds, as well as taking a cheap shot at Islam, on which their religion is based - it's strictly monotheistic although there is a devil, and the Alds touch their heads to the ground four times when they pray. It resembles the more fanatical versions of Islam in its gross intolerance, violence, and the oppressive treatment of women (in Asudar they're not allowed out of the house). Of course Islam is quite different in that it has a holy book, and the first word of the Quran is "Read", but on the other hand the Prophet Muhammad was supposedly illiterate, as all the Alds obviously are.
In terms of narrative, it seemed a decent if bland coming-of-age story for a while. Memer's a strong character, and I still like the idea of a secret library, but as the conflict intensified it got thoroughly boring - too predictable, with too many easy, convenient resolutions. After being just as disappointed with A Wizard of Earthsea, I think I'll steer clear of Le Guin's YA and children's fiction from now on.(less)
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 al...moreThis 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 :)