PLOT: This is a contemporary novel that imagines the life of NASA astronauts, oncGENRE: Hard Science Fiction, Science
PUBLISHER: Crown Publishing Group
PLOT: This is a contemporary novel that imagines the life of NASA astronauts, once they reach Mars. Astronaut, botanist, and mechanical engineer Mark Watney is stranded on Mars, after a violent storm during which his colleagues believe him dead. Left with enough food for only a year, he has to find a way to survive four years, until the next Mars mission arrives here. All he has are scraps of machinery that were left behind by his colleagues, as they fled: not enough food, not enough water, not enough chemical components, not enough space to grow food, no way to communicate with Earth or his colleagues that he is still alive. It seems a hopeless situation, but not for this protagonist. As soon as he regains consciousness, Mark starts an amazing survival campaign, that ranges from making food for a year out of ten potatoes, to making water out of rocket fuel.
COMMENTS: This is a classical survival story, that works so well because of the attitude of the main character. Mark is never down, and when he is, the reader doesn’t see his torment. Because (most of) the book is written in the form of a trip log, his down moments are always only skimmed over. Creating a believable ongoing positive attitude seems impossible under these circumstances, but Andy Weir finds the perfect excuse for it: Mark has been selected for this mission because of his positive outlook, which helped balanced his colleagues personalities. In other words, he was meant to be the funny guy (with technical expertise) who “relaxes” the other astronauts.
Andy Weir does shy away from throwing to Mark every imaginable disaster: from human error, to natural adversities, to freak accidents, the main character has to overcome everything. And his resourcefulness has no limits. Which brings be to my next point. THE MARTIAN is extra heavy on actual scientific information. You could probably teach parts of it in the botany, physics, or chemistry class. It seems another black mark against is, but using humor and attitude Andy Weir manages to transform those dry scientific details into a shockingly easy and page-turning read. I think I read the first 150 pages in 4 hours. If someone had explained to me the content of this book before I read it, I’d have said, “It can’t be done.” And yet this is one of the most accessible science-fiction books I read in long time. Plus because the setting is familiar to most people, I think this novel can be enjoyed even by the non-SF fans.
I believe what makes readers identify with this story is its deep human nature. Towards the end, the story veers towards a humanity-on-a-mission-to-save-one-person tale. It becomes heartwarming.
TECHNIQUES: This is a multi-narrative with a lot of of points of views. There are 1500-word chapters written from the POV of one character who never appears afterwards. There are also some chapters written using an omniscient narrator, although the rest of the book uses a close narrator. It seems a bit weird, but in the end the story is so gripping that it doesn’t matter.
Before I start my review I want to point out that, till this book, I thought that Ms. Bujold can do no wrong, so to speak (just check my other reviewsBefore I start my review I want to point out that, till this book, I thought that Ms. Bujold can do no wrong, so to speak (just check my other reviews of her books). I don't just like her writing style: I'm in LOVE with her technique. So this being said, for the last three days I've struggled to read this novel (I'm only 66% through) and, at this point, I'm almost ready to put it away and move to the next one, in hope of something more.
So what went wrong and what went well? (And I'm sorry, but this is going to be longer than my usual reviews.)
1) There is a definite improvement in Ekaterin's character compared to Komarr, probably the only good thing I have to say about this novel other than the beautiful writing. Please don't take me wrong: I take my hat off to Ms. Bujold for attempting a rare deed in the SF and Fantasy genre: to show that mothers are true heroines whom most people take for granted. Unfortunately for that good intention, Ekaterin turned out dry, while the the "chemistry" (or the lack of) between her and Miles made me yawn. A Civil Campaign brings up a more interesting Ekaterin, though from what I read so far, I still cannot call this a romance: yes, we are told over and over how highly Miles thinks of Ekaterin, but there is no magnetism between them and, as a reader, I simply couldn't care less if they end up together or not.
2) If most of the previous books were occasionally funny, yet always built on a foundation of solid characters, solid plot, and heavy "messages" (without tuning the novels into a soapbox), this book is, for lack of a better word, juvenile (and I mean this with no disrespect to anyone who liked it). Granted, witless Ivan is still hilarious, but what happened the rest of the cast? We are supposed to deal with characters between 20 and 30+ years-old, yet with very little exceptions they demonstrate the maturity of a 12 years-old! I'm going to mention only one of Mark's lines - "Last word: I win."
3) Probably even more important than the previous note is the fact that there are serious inconsistencies between the assumptions of this story and the previous books. Do you remember in Komarr when Miles and Uncle Vorthys have no problem whatsoever in sharing every single detail of their governmental secret investigation with clearance-free Aunt Vorthys, with clearance-free Ekaterin, and not only clearance-free, but terrorist-friendly Tien? Or do you remember when Uncle Vorthys tells to clearance-free Ekaterin the story of the breakout from the Cetagandan prisoner of war camp, which if publicly revealed would have been considered an act of war toward Cetaganda? Because if you remember, you must understand why it bothered me to no end that all of the sudden in A Civil Campaign ImpSec can't release the details of the terrorist act from Komarr to the Council of Counts. Let me say this again: civilian Aunt Vorthys is in the need-to-know pool for that investigation (along with civilian Cordelia and civilian Ekaterin), but not the government of the country?! How did this problem even pass the beta readers?
4) I mentioned before the fact that, in my reading experience, Ms. Bujold does a spectacular job in not turning her books in a soapbox. Tolerance, responsibility, equality of the sexes, honor, and so on are always promoted, most often discretely if not downright surreptitiously. Regrettably A Civil Campaign deviates from that norm by delivering repeatedly explicit lectures on one topic only: promoting women's emancipation is always a great purpose, but here this is somehow distorted into equating it with the sexual exploration. Not that I have anything against sexual discovery; but shouldn't one's personal emancipation (and I talk about both men and women) be more about about education and discovering one's identity and limits than just sex?
5) Last Cordelia develops a serious case of parental favoritism (and questionable judgement), which in fact started in Mirror Dance: Mark can do no evil, while Miles always misbehaves (even when, in my opinion, he doesn't). Do you remember her little speech from Mirror Dance down these lines: my dear Mark, don't worry that because of you, your brother was killed - after all nobody asked him to take that suicide mission to save your sorry butt... (of course I would have killed him if he didn't save you). Well, in A Civil Campaign it gets worse! Cordelia tells Miles that it was wrong to offer the woman he loved her heart's desire (to design and create a native garden) because he did it to trap her. I would be the first one to say that it was wrong to do so if he found her her work mediocre or if he didn't care about it at all. But in Komarr he calls her work "lovely," a "serenity,""beautiful," and he declares that she has an "artist's eye" for designing gardens. So why, oh why would it be wrong to ask her to create for him something that he obviously thinks the world of? (And no, he doesn't know her well enough to ask her to work for free for him! That would be utterly disrespectful.)
You see, I consider myself a moderate feminist, although probably the scholastic term for my beliefs is equality feminism or liberal feminism (the kind that promotes equality between men and women in all domains). This being said, not only that I don't find anything insulting with Miles's "strategy," I actually think it's what I would have done if I were in his shoes. Yet, here comes mother Cordelia, who slaps him for stealing Ekaterin's victory from her. How can that be, when in the previous book he thought that she is entitled to that victory?
I know that this review is three paragraphs too long, but this novel fell so short of my (granted, very high) expectations. :(...more
6/16/11 I'm usually not particularly crazy about erotic books, not because I don't like sex in a book, but because most of the time, the adult novels a6/16/11 I'm usually not particularly crazy about erotic books, not because I don't like sex in a book, but because most of the time, the adult novels are so ridiculously absurd that I can't get my mind to enjoy the sex parts. In all of them, the main characters meet in page 1-3, and by page 10-15 they are already in bed, and I simply can't swallow that.
So how is Backstage Pass different? Well, for once the male character is in a rock band, which makes the hasty sex not only acceptable as a concept, but rather expected. I'm reading this novel (I'm only at page 60-something as I write this review) and there is (almost) nothing in it which I feel that it couldn't happen in reality.
So far the book has been believable, very funny, with really good sex scenes. So why did I say "(almost) nothing?" Because, as in any chick lit book, there have to bee some parts so over the top, that none of the intentional humor can compare with the entertainment I get from reading those sections. For instance (Spoiler Alert - skip the bullets if not interested):
*** hilarious section #1: Myrna (the girl) is interested only in some fast sex, while Brian, the guitar-player-rock-god, asks her after 12 hours since they met, whether Myrna wants a serious relationship, then asks her, (only) half joking, to go to Vegas to marry. (LOLROTF - too bad I can't post those laughing smileys in my reviews).
*** hilarious section #2: the girl asks him whether he wants to play at her back door, and he answers..... (drum rolls... or I should say guitar riffs)... "I’m not very good at—". Let me say: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! And I won't even comment on his answer.
6/17/11 *** hilarious section #3: Oh, the fun of fortuitous humor! Let me tell you, this section only would have been enough to make me read this book. It's so entirely ludicrous that I could hardly contain myself. Brian, who the authors wants us to believe is head-over-the-heels in love with Myrna, suggests a threesome with his best friend (the band’s rhythm guitarist, whatever that is). Myrna, who dearly loves him too, although she would never admit it (or so we are led to believe), accepts the offer more than eagerly. But hold your horses - that was only the beginning; the fun is yet to come. The three of them start doing their thing as any in-love couple would normally do, Myrna being sandwiched between the two best friends, when...... in the mist of the passion, Trey leans over Myrna's head and starts making out with Brian......... It turns out that the two men used to be a couple when they were younger. (And here I am, laughing on the floor). Did I mention that these guys are in a METAL band?????? End of spoiler
So this being said, this book doesn't have plot, as some other reviewer wrote; it simply has some other things (grocery shopping, a bunch of random talking, etc.) between the sessions of sex. Compared to other erotic books it is though better, in the sense, that there are in fact a few other things, as irrelevant as those are to a real plot. And hence, compared to these other ones, my rating of 3-stars. ...more
This novel was a nice surprise. You're not going to get great character development, and superb writing, yet the book was well written (I still foundThis novel was a nice surprise. You're not going to get great character development, and superb writing, yet the book was well written (I still found a couple of editing mistakes, but nothing serious).
Maybe I should say that I'm sick of the idea of vampire books, so I was rather circumspect to start this one.
A fast page-turning story, filled up with more action than I expected and quite a bit of sex scenes, this story is set apart from the rest of the abundant vamp-lit by the great sense of humor. Except for the last 50-60 pages, I found myself giggling at every other page.
I was a little disappointed with the ending, but it probably just leaves room for more story development in the sequels....more