I enjoyed Drout's science fiction series and am really looking forward to listening to this. I know Drout's got a thing for Tolkien. Me too. Anything...moreI enjoyed Drout's science fiction series and am really looking forward to listening to this. I know Drout's got a thing for Tolkien. Me too. Anything else is gravy. It's over 7 hours long, so there's probably lots of gravy.(less)
I read all these in different editions, many when they first came out long ago. They prove just as entertaining now as they did then, and in many case...moreI read all these in different editions, many when they first came out long ago. They prove just as entertaining now as they did then, and in many cases I don't remember the stories well, which is a bonus. There is no one for sniffing out wickedness in basic human behavior like a spinster lady who has lived in a little village, as gentle Miss Marple continually must remind those around her.(less)
I am a fan of Father James Martin's books, especially A Jesuit on Broadway. When Scott chose this book for our next religious book discussion at A Goo...moreI am a fan of Father James Martin's books, especially A Jesuit on Broadway. When Scott chose this book for our next religious book discussion at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast, I was on board, having been interested since I first saw it mentioned at Amazon. This gave me the impetus to seriously hunt down review copies and mine arrived today. On Ash Wednesday. Ok, I can take a hint. I believe my Lenten reading has been selected through what some would call coincidence ("if chance you call it").
This is a much thicker and more substantive book than I expected. The bibliography alone makes one step back and realize there is more hard-core scholarship than in any of his previous books. Yet when I flip through I see Father Martin's trademark style, interspersing personal experience with the main book text.
COMMENTS AFTER READING 160 PAGES Yes, I read that much last night, so you can tell I find it accessible and interesting. It isn't dumbed down and isn't too scholarly. It's juuuuust right.
Father Martin's goal is to help us consider our answer to Christ's question to his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?"
This means we must consider what it means to be "fully human and fully divine." Father Martin does a very good job of presenting a lot of contextual information for understanding Jesus' life and ministry through this lens. As we travel through the gospels, so to speak, he intertwines the various stops (recruiting the disciples, healing demoniacs, etc.) with his own pilgrimage to Israel. He then stops to place everything in the context of our own lives and is extremely generous in sharing his own life changing experiences, whether flattering or not.
I have not yet read anything that knocks my socks off, possibly because I'm only on page 160, possibly because I've read tons of Biblical commentaries. But I do appreciate the way that Father Martin approaches questions from all angles. For example, when considering Christ's healings of "demoniacs," Martin isn't afraid to discuss the idea of psychological or physiological illness as a cause. This will be welcome to those who like to get down to examining facts. However, he always does this in a thoughtful, thorough, Christian way that leaves no doubt we are reading about the Messiah and that miracles can (and do) happen.
I'm beginning to feel that this might be a "must have" for Christians who want a more rounded, personal experience of Christ. Or for those who don't understand the "Christian thing" and would like some general context of their own.
I have a feeling that a lot of readers are going to come away wanting to visit the Holy Land. Not me, but I appreciate Father Martin's descriptions as it helps me "feel" the place a bit better. And, to be fair, I've never especially felt the need to go to Rome or anywhere else on pilgrimage, for that matter.
UPDATE 2 - 190 PAGES IN Flipping around on my Kindle this morning through Mass readings to get to today's. Happened to stop on a Gospel reading, Jesus speaking.
And I felt this deeper familiarity, connection, friendship dare I say, with Jesus at that moment.
Of course, as soon as I noticed it, it fled shyly. But it made me think of Father Martin's story about his spiritual director showing him a green tree and reminding him it would be red in the Fall, without anyone ever seeing the gradual change.
That was me at that moment. A step closer. All to the credit of this book, which is doing it without "wows" or "aha" moments. Truly that is a credit to this work.
FINAL COMMENTS I'll have my final review after the podcast airs. Don't wait until then, however. Get this book. Read it. Highly recommended.(less)
After listening to Wil Wheaton read Agent to the Stars I looked around to see what else he'd narrated. Lo and behold, there was Ready Player One which...moreAfter listening to Wil Wheaton read Agent to the Stars I looked around to see what else he'd narrated. Lo and behold, there was Ready Player One which is a book I have been meaning to get to since everyone I know who read it gave it 4 or 5 stars. Thank you Dallas Library! My copy is in and I'll be entering the virtual world of audiobooks very soon.
Note: I am glad that I read Jenny's review which advised listening to the book in 2x speed. Usually everything sounds weird that way, even for very slow readers, but somehow it does work for Wheaton. And his reading is a bit leisurely ...
UPDATE So I'm an hour into the 11-hour audiobook and trying really, really hard (already) not to be judgmental about the book. Is it just me or does the author spend two or three times telling me endless details that everyone reading this book already knows (and yeah, I'm talking about non sci-fi readers too. We all understand avatars and fake names already. Hello ... Facebook is a thing.)
And although I'm used to dystopian books giving a quick sketch of how things went wrong I was rather taken aback at the lengthy explanation of how everyone was lied to about religion instead of teaching science. I get it. Kid feels betrayed. But it seemed as if less time was spend on explaining the energy crisis than on a heavy-handed battering of belief. You have to explain that?
These two elements together made me wonder if this book was not nearly as current as I thought. Maybe from the 1990s when these would have been new ideas or somewhat revolutionary attitudes? No. 2012. Huh. Go figure.
Here's hoping the main story will be more interesting than the less than scintillating beginning.
UPDATE 2 I'm going to request the print book. I have a feeling that I'll enjoy the continual 80's references much more when I can skim over the continual arguments and posing over superior knowledge revolving around them. I was there. In the 80s. It was an ok time period but I don't need to listen to people arguing about Ewoks vs. Lady Hawke when I can make it go by more quickly and get to the meat of the story. And that's where print is definitely superior ... much quicker.
Plus, I cannot tell a lie. I have my own favorite trivia-laden story to listen to, Good Omens, which we'll be discussing at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. I already know I love that book and am itching to get to it.(less)
I already know that Jo Walton's style is warm and personal, and as opinionated as you'd expect from a passionate book lover. Waiting for the library t...moreI already know that Jo Walton's style is warm and personal, and as opinionated as you'd expect from a passionate book lover. Waiting for the library to get this book to me, I would occasionally look at the table of contents on the Kindle sample and read the original blog post on Tor.com. It just made me want this book all the more.
This is a book to read with pen and paper at hand as your "to read" list grows and grows.
What is most interesting about this book so far is just how often I agree with Walton and how often she drives me crazy because she's so wrong, and how, sometimes, she surprises me. All of it makes me think a bit more about the subjects of her essays.
For example she drop kicks Dickens to the curb in one devastating sentence and then goes on to wish that George Eliot had written science fiction because she'd have enjoyed seeing Middlemarch opened up to the broader possibilities that genre offers. Walton seems to be ignoring the fact that George Eliot's own life was just as improbably extravagant as one that Dickens would have written and that Eliot's examination of marriage within the narrow confines of Middlemarch was deliberately chosen because of that life and the consequences thereof. Eliot might very well have written precisely the same book anyway if SF had already been invented. I'd never have considered any of that if I hadn't been so outraged by Walton's summary dismissal of Dickens. As a fellow Dickens-appreciator said, "What books was she reading?"
All of which is to say that I am just as opinionated a reader as Walton and, even if one disagrees with her opinions, her essays provide a lot of food for thought.
This is someone I'd love to have a beer with and argue with about Dickens while discussing what order to read series books in.
NOTE - TO THE EDITORS: 15 essays about Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series? Really? 18 essays about Steven Brust's whatever-it-is series? Yawn. If you can't make me care in two or three essays, then have pity on the rest of us whose eyes are glazing over.
And I'm a bit outraged over the wasted pages for anyone who's not already a rabid fan of these two series. What about the rest of us? Luckily these are often not more than two or three pages each. But two or three times 15 is a lot of pages that could've been about something else. Georgette Heyer, for example. Yeah, she's not SFF. But it also wouldn't be about Miles and Cordelia, so it would've had that going for it.(less)
Since this is research book the "read" designation just means that I've been dipping in and getting what I need. However, it is surprisingly readable...moreSince this is research book the "read" designation just means that I've been dipping in and getting what I need. However, it is surprisingly readable and I've found myself reading bits aloud to my husband and also getting pulled into the book just from sheer interest.(less)
This was my selection for Book Bingo "a best selling book" after I combed the NY Times Bestseller List three times. Just my luck that recent branching...moreThis was my selection for Book Bingo "a best selling book" after I combed the NY Times Bestseller List three times. Just my luck that recent branching out had caused me to knock off three book from that famous list without even knowing I was doing it until this Bingo challenge led me to bother to glance over it.
This showed up from the library yesterday and, as with most books that are photos with a smattering of text, I polished it off in a couple of hours. They were very enjoyable hours, during which I often pestered my husband to look. As a result he had me put it in his "to read" stack when I was done.
Brandon Stanton, in his attempt to become a photographer, discovered a love of photographing people where he came across them in his rambles around New York City. He wanted to create a photographic census but wound up with an engaging blog which has since been turned into this book.
I'd never heard of the blog before and was grateful to my Book Bingo challenge for introducing me to Brandon Stanton's work. While I was waiting for the book to arrive, I began reading the blog.
I'd say that the book's greatest failing is that the quotes and anecdotes he gathers from each subject are not always included in the book. Also the all caps typesetting can be difficult to read for long anecdotes. The tendency, when thinking of those who live in New York is to focus on the quirky, of which this book shows a multitude. Therefore, I found myself enjoying most the photos of less flamboyant subjects which were found more among the young, the old, those at Lincoln Center, and dogwalkers. Obviously these are broad categories, but those were the images I liked best.
My favorite: the spread of the man walking the three French Bulldogs who has met up with the Asian man whose little boy is on a leash. The tender smile on the dogwalker's face as he looks at the little boy made me come back again and again.
This is a highly enjoyable book and I hope it allows Brandon Stanton enough income to continue his blog and photography. I like to see dreams come true.(less)
Ken Albala does a great job when he sticks to the food part of the lectures. I was interested to learn the connection between ancient Roman concepts o...moreKen Albala does a great job when he sticks to the food part of the lectures. I was interested to learn the connection between ancient Roman concepts of "hot" and "cold" personalities which they then tried balancing with "cold" and "hot" foods with our own descriptions of food (spicy peppers as "hot" for example).
However, Albala can't keep his own opinion from influencing his lectures. When talking about how a lot of huge empires fell to smaller, aggressive kingdoms at about the same time, he says that we don't know why. Possibly climate change. And then moves on.
(What? Why? Back up please because otherwise that is just applying the current, hip, all-purpose excuse to ancient times. What kind of history is that? And what does that have to do with food's influence on culture and history, which is what I bought the class to hear?)
I am used to superficial explanations of the Old Testament Hebraic view of God, especially in connection with dietary rules. It was a disappointment to hear it from this professor. However, I was interested to see that he is consistent. Any religious influence is continually given superficial treatment with the most fact-based modern explanation tossed at listeners. I know very little about the life of Buddha but I've never heard it given such short shrift.
As for Hinduism, the description of why Brahmins changed to a vegetarian diet was one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard. Clearly the professor's sources, and the professor himself, have no idea of how faith or religion work. Certainly not as he describes. Therefore, I wish he would have stuck to the issue at hand. Perhaps worst of all, these continual explanations take time away from the subject that Albala does seem to have a good grasp of, which is food.
I stopped before Albala could trivialize Confucious and other Chinese customs in a similar fashion.
Albala would do well to read Paul Johnson's "Art: A New History." In that work, when areas fall outside the matter at hand, Johnson gracefully refuses to give his own explanations, simply saying that the subject is outside the scope of the book.(less)
A kind friend gave me the Blackstone Audio read by Simon Prebble, a narrator whose shoes other readers are not fit to touch.
I've never really been int...moreA kind friend gave me the Blackstone Audio read by Simon Prebble, a narrator whose shoes other readers are not fit to touch.
I've never really been interested in reading Great Expectations. However, it's been too long since I've had any Dickens in my life. At least a month or two. And that's too long.
Oh Dickens, Dickens. I'm still in the very early pages but already his little observations are making me laugh.
UPDATE I had a great breakthrough when I went and read G.K.Chesterton's introduction to this novel. It made me realize Dickens' boldness in writing a novel with an antihero. I realize he is far from the first to do so, but I really hadn't expected it since his other books that I've read have all had at least one likable heroic protagonist. This accounts for my difficulty in connecting with the book, which I'm a third of the way through. And it helps me to reorient mentally on the story.
Secondly, something Chesterton said made me go look at GE's chronology. I hadn't realized it was the next to the last finished novel Dickens wrote, thus making it more a more mature work. I realized that I needed to trust this author to show me something new, to sit back and let the story sink in, rather than to rush to judgment because I would like to give Pip a good smack.
This is a wonderful overview of science fiction which has reminded me of many wonderful novels which I want to reread. I'm also really enjoying Drout'...moreThis is a wonderful overview of science fiction which has reminded me of many wonderful novels which I want to reread. I'm also really enjoying Drout's examination of what makes a story part of the science fiction genre. I've read Frankenstein twice now and Drout's overview gave new depth to my consideration of both the story and the genre. His comparison of John W. Campbell and H. P. Lovecraft illuminates not only the authors but the different forks in the road that their influence took the genre down. As he progresses through authors I've heard of but not tried (William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, etc.) Drout explains enough to help me to see their appeal as well as their contributions to the development of the genre.
The one drawback is that Drout tends to tell the conclusion to every book he discusses so spoilers abound. In fact, I've had to skip ahead several times when the books seemed like something I wanted to try.
Overall, however, very enjoyable and well done.(less)
From that moment we are immersed in a world which has been ripped out of time, suffering a...more
I was raised to marry a monster.
How's that for a first line?
From that moment we are immersed in a world which has been ripped out of time, suffering a curse which Nyx has been pledged from birth to try to break by marriage to the demon lord Ignifex. When she finds Ignifex is not simply what he seems on the surface, she is torn between her vow to her people and her love for a complex person. And in this world the Greek gods punish vow-breaking with a vengeance, so this is a serious problem.
I read this book faster and faster so that by the end I knew I was heedlessly missing details. But the plot was the thing that kept me reading until midnight two nights in a row. This is a romance and it's a good one. After all it is based on Beauty and the Beast, albeit very loosely. However, the author tells it with a freshness and immediacy that makes me think of Robin Mckinley's The Blue Sword, which is some of my highest praise.
I am amazed this is a first book. Hodge took the Beauty and the Beast story and mixed it up with Greek mythology and a few other classics that I won't mention here for fear of spoilers. The result is a completely new soup* that doesn't seem derivative in any way. It is complex, compelling, and Tolkien-esque in the way big themes and truths are woven seamlessly into the story. It is C.S. Lewis-ian (is that a term?) in the way that source materials are woven seamlessly into a completely new story a la Til We Had Faces (yet so much more understandable to a schmoe like me.).
It is not without flaws, but they are few and forgivable as quirks. They are fairly minor and annoy no more than a few gnats so I'll not go into detail about them.
Above all I was struck by the underlying themes of the masks we hide behind, the real meaning of love, the many forms selfishness can take, the value of intention in sacrifice, the price of trying to control fate, and the fact everyone has more layers than you can see at first glance.
Cruel Beauty is being marketed as a YA novel and it fulfills those requirements in that I'd let my 9th grader read it if I still had one around the house. However, I miss the days when there was no YA designation and one could pick it up, as I did The Blue Sword long ago, without the preconceptions of a label. This is a story that adults can definitely enjoy. Be not afraid.
This book is a masterpiece and should become a classic. Certainly it is one I will be rereading more than once. I want to shove it into everyone's hands and force them to read it so we can talk about it.
Do yourself a favor and pick it up.
NOTES 1. This is a review copy and I'm friends with the author's brother and sister-in-law. Believe me, that all made me rather leery than inclined to shove this book into everyone's hands. This "shove-this-book-into-everyone's-hands" review is my honest opinion.
2. I've been asked if guys would like this book. I asked the author's brother who is not prone to read "girly books" and you may read his answer in the comments for his review at Goodreads.
3. Catholics will be happy to note that I used Tolkien-esque deliberately. Everything Hodge has here is solidly Catholic in basic worldview, despite the fact that the only gods mentioned are pagan. Which is as it should be. The story is the thing. The solid values that are the bones of this soup* give it depth and savor, but do not intrude upon a fine tale.
*THE SOUP From Tolkien's essay On Fairy-Stories.
In Dasent's words I would say: “We must be satisfied with the soup that is set before us, and not desire to see the bones of the ox out of which it has been boiled.” Though, oddly enough, Dasent by “the soup” meant a mishmash of bogus pre-history founded on the early surmises of Comparative Philology; and by “desire to see the bones” he meant a demand to see the workings and the proofs that led to these theories. By “the soup” I mean the story as it is served up by its author or teller, and by “the bones” its sources or material—even when (by rare luck) those can be with certainty discovered. But I do not, of course, forbid criticism of the soup as soup.
Emphasis mine. Everyone leaves that bit off and I always feel I can see Tolkien smiling as he wrote it.(less)
Elizabeth Cadell's books are out of fashion now and, although our library has a lot of them, you never see them at bookstores or online.
I myself enco...moreElizabeth Cadell's books are out of fashion now and, although our library has a lot of them, you never see them at bookstores or online.
I myself encountered them when shelf browsing many, many years ago and wound up reading all I could get my hands on. When I was reminded of them the other day for some reason, it took me another few days to even recall the author's name. And yet, I could recall many of the books individually They are gentle, sweet stories of love, rather like the romantic movies made in the 1950s and 60s.
There is something though that lifts these above that insipid sounding description I just gave. I like their settings, generally in England or Portugal. I like the independent mindset always provided for at least one protagonist, although usually against what is generally considered to be "independent" in modern times. In this book, for example, everyone keeps lamenting that the beautiful young widow is perfectly content to stay at home tending to her three children. She keeps asking these lamenters why being absorbed in her children is a bad thing, which none of them can answer except to say she should be getting "more" out of life. This quote is from the widow's grandfather, who she lives with, but sums up the underlying mentality of the novel pretty well.
I can't help feeling that people ask too much [of life]. They don't keep up with the Joneses any more--they outstrip them. What people call happiness, today, isn't happiness. It's enjoyment. It's pleasure. And between happiness and pleasure there's a very large gap.
The question, I suppose, is what makes us genuinely happy. That is at the bottom of all Cadell's novels.
In this book, when the inflexible lawyer winds up at the widow's home because it has been mistakenly been left on the bed-and-breakfast list of a small town, we know they will wind up getting together. The fun is in the gentle meandering of the plot through the case that brings the lawyer to town, the character of the widow who feels domestic chores can wait until a better time, her jealous suitors, and many other people who pop in and out of the story.
I'd probably give these books 3-1/2 stars if I could. As it is, in most cases I'll probably plump for 3 stars. Sometimes a 3-star book is good enough, especially if it is is the sort of book that is enjoyable for the moment you happen to be in. And this one definitely is.(less)
Just as with Out of the Silent Planet, I found the beginning of the book fairly uninviting. However, also just as in that book, having the audio helpe...moreJust as with Out of the Silent Planet, I found the beginning of the book fairly uninviting. However, also just as in that book, having the audio helped me past that to the point where I was amazed at C.S. Lewis's imagination in the world of Perelandra. Simply astounding. I am also caught up in the story for its own sake and also, I must admit, because I keep thinking of how much J.R.R. Tolkien liked these books. It is almost a companion piece for The Lord of the Rings. Same deep world view, different venue.
UPDATE This book is so different from Out of the Silent Planet and yet we see C.S. Lewis's vivid and inspiring imagination just as clearly. I am simply blown away by his vision of creation on Venus. For me at one point, close to the end, I kept thinking that these are almost glimpses of the sort of creativity and inspiration that we will see in Heaven. Amazing insights as to battling evil, the dance of God's creation and plan, and our part in it.
This is short of five stars only because I find Lewis's style rather heavy-handed. What I'd change I'm not sure. I think it is simply that these books would go on the theology shelf in my library while something like The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings would go in more general reading. It is not Lewis's fault, and in fact I now want print copies of these books for rereading, but I prefer the purer fiction style to this one.(less)
You know it's an unusual book when your mother forces you to read it by threatening you with guilt at her deathbed if you don't try it. (Ahem. Not tha...moreYou know it's an unusual book when your mother forces you to read it by threatening you with guilt at her deathbed if you don't try it. (Ahem. Not that I've left any of my mother's book suggestions lingering too long on my "to read" list. No. Of course, I'd never do that.)
Guilt and mothers being what they are, plus the "after the 'goodbye'" reminder from her as I was hanging up the phone ... I looked around.
Heck, do people love this book or what? 21 copies at the library. All checked out. With 60 holds waiting for it to come in. Ok, Kindle make me love you. And I do love you, Kindle, I do! $1.99 and one click to download.
Where I literally laughed out loud by the beginning of the second chapter.
I guess Mom really does know best.
And it's a good thing because the description, while accurate, would never make me particularly want to pick it up. Hey, that's Don's problem. So accurate and we can't see what's really inside. Here's the blurb.
Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner.
Don tells us the story himself and that is a great part of the charm.
It is funny, it gives us insight into a completely different way of thinking, and it charms us while it does so.
I guess the test of a book one really enjoyed is that you don't want to start another book. You want to let the one you just read rattle around in your head and heart for a while. This, surprisingly, is such a book for me, thus forcing me to turn to nonfiction exclusively for a little while. Most unexpected.
NOTE: For quick explanation of what this book is, use my daughter Hannah's fast summing up to a pal: "It's an Abed situation." (Something for Community fans out there.)(less)
I can't rate this book yet because I just got it home from the library and took a good look at it.
That "good look" took me 15 delighted minutes.
Why so...moreI can't rate this book yet because I just got it home from the library and took a good look at it.
That "good look" took me 15 delighted minutes.
Why so long? Because this "1949" book, perfectly designed in the style of the time, has a correspondence going on in the sides of the pages, between two biblophiles who discuss the author and learn about each other by leaving notes in the library book.
Flipping carefully through to see a few of the postcards, newspaper articles, and photographs left in the pages of the book (as part of the reading experience, of course) made me even more excited.
Based on reviews, people either love the story or find it disappointing. All give full credit for the amazing book design. Obviously, I am so hoping I'm one of the people who loves the story because the layout and design are enough to make me give it 5 stars without reading more than the title page and two pages of the introduction.
It is so authentic looking that when I showed it to one of my favorite librarians (yes, I have favorite librarians. It happens when you visit your library at least once a week for years), she opened it, saw the library stamp and the "Book for Loan" stamp and said, "When was this written?" She looked it up on her database before believing it was new.
Now, if there is one thing I know about J.J. Abrams it is that he can be more style than substance. (Yes, Lost, I gave you three seasons of my life before quitting.)
If there is a second thing I know, it is that he can tell a helluva good story sometimes (Alias, Person of Interest, Almost Human, the Star Trek reboot). All while maintaining that nice, shiny style that is so alluring.
This book is going to take a while to read, as most reviewers have remarked. But I am already intrigued enough to make this a "slow read" commitment and work my way through it.
One thing is definite. This is a love letter to books, turning pages, writing notes, and tucking reminders between the leaves. You couldn't do this with a Kindle, folks. All the postcards would fall out every time you turned it on!
UPDATE I've read 3 chapters of the book itself and am halfway through the first set of notes for the third chapter. This is kind of like listening to friends talk with a movie on TV. Interesting.(less)
Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare. I don’t even know who’ll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe 100 years from now. For the record… I didn’t die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can’t blame them. Maybe there’ll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say “Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars.” And it’ll be right, probably. Cause I’ll surely die here. Just not on Sol 6 when everyone thinks I did. Let’s see…where do I begin?
This book should be subtitled: Keep It Together. Work the Problem.
Astronaut Mark Watney is marooned on Mars after a freak dust storm literally blows him away from his crewmates. Thinking he's dead, the mission is scrubbed and the rest of the crew head back to Earth. Mark hopes to survive until the next NASA mission to Mars in four years.
Most of The Martian consists of Mark's log entries which read like a MacGyver episode. He keeps as lighthearted a mood as possible while recording the details of how he is attempting to grow food, find water, and so forth. It is this lighthearted element which helps keep this from being merely a manual of "how to survive on Mars." For example, Mark's selection of entertainment from among the things left behind by his crewmates yields the complete series for Three's Company. His occasional comments on the series afterwards made me laugh out loud.
Fairly early in the book, NASA's side of the story begins being interwoven with Mark's struggle for survival. Since Apollo 13 is one of my favorite movies, the comparison is inevitable and irresistible. NASA must juggle PR, competing agencies, rescue plans and more ... while we see Mark doggedly surmount one obstacle after another. It is a welcome element because an entire book of Mark's survival log was going to need some sort of additional depth to make it interesting.
Although I always felt fairly sure that Mark would survive, as the end of the book loomed near I got increasingly tense. What if these were his "found posthumously" logs? The author kept the tension up to the very end.
And at the end? I'm not ashamed to admit it. I cried.
Tears of joy? Tears of sorrow? Read the book and find out.
Or listen to it as I did. Narrator R.C. Bray did a good job of conveying Mark's sense of humor and absorption in problem solving and survival. He also was good at the various accents of the international cast comprising the rest of the crew and NASA. He had a tendency to read straight storytelling as if it were a computer manual or something else that just needed a brisk run down.
The main thing a bit at fault was Bray's German accent, which I kept mistaking for a Mexican or Indian accent. Those don't seem as if they should be that interchangeable do they? My point exactly. However, I always knew who was speaking, I felt emotions as they came across, and it was a good enough narrating job. Not enough to make me look for other books in order to hear his narrations, but good enough.
WHY 4 STARS INSTEAD OF 5 Recently I read Orson Scott Card's comments about the movie Gravity in the course of which he gave a lot of background about John W. Campbell. I never thought of Gravity in those terms, but he was right .... and that is what made me able to identify what sort of story The Martian is: John W. Campbell style all the way.
This is 1950s Campbellian sci-fi storytelling. It will have no characterization because it's about one thing: A Competent (American) Person in jeopardy, who is forced to find resourceful technical solutions in order to survive and get home safely.
In the 1950s, these were called "competent man" stories - the culture had little room for women in space - and nobody bothered to mention that they all seemed American. Even when they were nominally of some other background, sci-fi was pretty much an American genre.
Campbellian sci-fi (named for editor John W. Campbell, who guided writers like Asimov and Heinlein in creating this kind of literature) was a huge step forward. Previously, sci-fi had been John Carter of Mars or Flash Gordon ... or Giant Ants. [...]
But Campbell insisted on scientific and technical rigor. What could realistically happen? Let's have science-and-technology problems that the hero solves using science and technology.
The result was an amazing florescence of wonderful idea stories. Smart stories. Stories that made you think, stories that taught you true things about science, stories that made you proud to be human (and American).
But in these stories, everybody was their job description. Astronauts were astronauts. Soldiers were soldiers. Aliens were aliens. It didn't matter who they were, what mattered was the problem they had to solve, and either they solved it or they didn't.
Do you see the point? Characterization - the literary process of individuating characters so that their particular motives and backgrounds shape the story - would only interfere with a Campbellian tale. There's no characterization in "Cold Equations" - or in "The Nine Billion Names of God" or "Nightfall" or "The Star" or any of the other idea-based stories in that great age of science fiction.
Characterization would be a waste of time.
This novel is not a short story and I felt it would have benefitted from more characterization. Yes, we get to know Mark Watney and, to a lesser degree, his crewmates and the NASA crew. However, to hear Mark's story for so many days (sols) and get to know so little about him during that time ... well, after a while it got a little boring, aside from the new problems to be solved or emergencies from which to recover.
We also got occasional forays into NASA and the spaceship crew, but more about Mark would have enriched the story. It didn't have to be soul-baring and I realize he was writing a log, but after several hundred days some personalization would have crept in, one would think.
Anyway, that is not a huge factor because I enjoyed the story. But I was not surprised to see that the author is a computer programmer and it did cost the book a star.(less)