If Andy Weir isn't up for the Hugo next year for The Martian, then scifi fandom doesn't deserve good fiction anymore, becauseThe Martianis pure awesom...moreIf Andy Weir isn't up for the Hugo next year for The Martian, then scifi fandom doesn't deserve good fiction anymore, because The Martian is pure awesome sauce.
Left behind on Mars after a freak dust storm puts a hole in his suit and buries him, Mark Watney--astronaut, biologist, engineer--knows that the odds are against him returning back to Earth again. But he'll be damned if he's not going to do his best to make it happen. He doesn't have anyway to communicate with Earth, his food is running short--far too short to last until NASA sends a rescue, and, to boot, NASA thinks he's dead, anyway.
Though it's been described as Apollo 13 meets Castaway (and probably you could use Robinson Crusoe meets Apollo 13, too, since that's what Castaway is based on), I found it far more exciting. No,you won't find any lasers guns, alien encounters, or Martian princesses (you'll need to go look up Edgar Rice Burroughs for that), but the story is gripping from page one and it doesn't let up until the very last paragraph.
Not only is it exciting (and how he manages to make being stranded on a frigid desert planet millions of miles from Earth is impressive in itself), but Weir spares no effort to build Watney's character along the way, making him not only sympathetic, but interesting and entertaining, even when Watney is explaining the technical details of how he is saving himself from yet another crisis during his Martian sojourn. And there are a lot of crises.
Which leads me to another thing that Weir does so well: the science. First off, I'm not a scientist, and second, I'm pretty sure we haven't yet developed a lot of the technology that Weir brings to bear as part of his imaginary Martian expedition. But it sure felt like it. I would not be surprised if most of the technology Weir uses in his book is out there, maybe even part of NASA's arsenal, just not perfected, yet, or ready for application on a Mars mission.
The level of detail Weir provides, though, is enough to provide the how, but not so much as to provide a nap. There's no "handwaivium" or application of Clarke's law, here. Rather, it's technology just a few years ahead of our own, making an expedition (or two or three) to Mars credible (if we could all just forget the cost for a few minutes, as well as the public's aversion to all things extraterrestrial and not produced by Hollywood). What Weir adds is a fantastic job of explaining the tech without coming off like an engineer.
Have you had an engineer explain something? Trust me. It's not exciting.
Weir fools us all, though, with great lines, dripping with sarcasm as Watney McGuyver's his way across the surface of Mars and to survival. Some of my favorites?
“Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be “in command” if I were the only remaining person.”
What do you know? I’m in command.”
“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”
“As with most of life's problems, this one can be solved by a box of pure radiation.”
“The screen went black before I was out of the airlock. Turns out the “L” in “LCD” stands for “Liquid.” I guess it either froze or boiled off. Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.”
“I started the day with some nothin’ tea. Nothin’ tea is easy to make. First, get some hot water, then add nothin’.”
“It’s true, you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl.”
“I guess you could call it a "failure", but I prefer the term "learning experience".”
With great character development, page flipping writing, and an edge-of-your-seat plot, Weir's The Martian might be the best book I've read so far this year, and I hope it'll be on the short list for the Hugo in 2015. Scifi needs more like it and giving Weir scifi's top award would be a great step in that direction.
Parental Warning: there be cussing here. In fact, you'll find it on the first page. In the first sentence.(less)
The thing about I like about short stories is that you don't have to commit much to get a certain amount of satisfaction.
Any novel worth reading will...moreThe thing about I like about short stories is that you don't have to commit much to get a certain amount of satisfaction.
Any novel worth reading will spend a certain portion of time introducing conflict, stringing together a plot, creating characters and relationships, and, if were in science fiction or fantasy, building a world. After all, in these genres, the world is as much a character as the characters all. It's what makes science fiction different from science fact.
With a short story, you've got anywhere from 3,500 words to up to maybe 30,000 to build that world, create conflict and tension, introduce empathetic characters, spin a plot, and tie it all up. Done well, it can be as satisfying as a full novel, albeit with less depth and, of course, far less commitment.
With Writers of the Future Volume 30, edited by Dave Wolverton, you can count on a full slate of fulfilling stories, each crafted with a deft touch to provide a full and satisfying meal of a story. Comparing it with even last year's crop (which I also reviewed), it's a truly excellent group of writers that the contest has discovered.
A caveat, though: don't open the collection of twenty short stories and essays with your expectations set. Book marketing departments may craft covers to help reader predictions, but nothing can prepare you for each story. And, in a sense, that's refreshing. Too many of us go to the writers and genres that we like, whether it's selections from military scifi like David Weber's Honorverse, epic fantasy like Patrick Rothfuss's or Brandon Sanderson's thousand page tomes, or the urban fantasy of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. As readers, we tend to find what we like, devour it, and then cast about for more by the same author or in the same world or universe. Even better if it's the same characters. We get to escape a little longer with the characters we know.
Short stories, especially in a collection such as L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future offers no such comfort or safe harbor. You will be constantly facing new situations, new worlds, new characters, and--here's the clincher--new writers.
And you should embrace them all. They're the future of science fiction and fantasy.
In "Animal" by Terry Madden, you'll find a dystopian future where humanity has pushed all wildlife into human controlled preserves underground, where a child is so valuable that a would be mother will risk everything to have one.
Megan O'Keefe's "Another Range of Mountains" and Paul Eckheart's "Shifter" both introduce systems of magic as clever as anything out of Sanderson's Cosmere, and including twists just as fulfilling and heart wrenching.
"Rainbows for Other Days" by C. Stuart Hardwick asks what it means to be human, examining how losing our natural world, and becoming transhuman, might wreck damages on our humanity that we would rather die than give up.
One author from whom I expect a lot more from, because of how well the story seemed to shadow so much more to come, is Leena Likitalo. The Finnish author's "Giants at the End of the World" allegedly has a whole novel beyond the short story, somewhere, and I would love to see it in print. If anyone from Tor, Baen, or Orbit is reading this, please pick it up.
"Long Jump" is a dark trip down the rabbit hole of virtual reality, space travel, and the end of the world, and Oleg Kazantsev absolutely nails it, giving me chills that made me want to go outside, roll on the grass, and soak up the smells of the real world.
One of my favorites was "The Shaadi Exile" for author Amanda Forrest's protagonist, Daliya, the emissary of a wife to her future husband in a universe where marriages between people light years apart are arranged decades before either spouse meets.
There are more, including a clever tale by the legendary Orson Scott Card, called "Carousel," another, "Beyond All Weapons," by L.Ron Hubbard. Each is worth the experience, a trip to another universe and a glimpse at some writers who may just be the future of science fiction and fantasy. (less)
"It's about guy stuff in the scriptures," he told me, and he could not have given a more apt description.
Because that's exactly what it is. At at time when people of faith often find their faith ridiculed, mocked, and dismissed, it was a refreshing look at the men (and women, actually) that inspired generations of boys and girls long before Batman, Superman, Iron Man or Captain America arrived on the scene.
(Aside: if the last three of those sound a little out of your experience from the Bible, it's because they're the product of the LDS faith's modern revelation. The Book of Mormon is, according to the introduction, a "volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with ancient inhabitants of the Americas[.]" It was translated by Joseph Smith, and Mormons read and study it alongside the scriptures of the Bible. The Pearl of Great Price is similar, containing a "selection of choice materials touching many significant aspects of the faith and doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Last, the Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of modern revelations to the prophets of LDS faith.)
While the Guy Stuff in the Scriptures is short (just 188) pages, full of illustrations, pictures, captions, and diagrams, Winder has stuffed it full of information, stories, and lists. Writing in a voice that speaks more to boys and girls and less to adults, Winder does a great job of retelling some of the great stories of the scriptures without all the "thees" and "thous" that make the King James translation language of the Bible often seem so archaic.
Chapters have titles like "Killer Weapons" (which includes David's sling and Goliath's sword), "Legendary Battles" (which breaks down the sheer destruction of the last stand of the Jaredites, as well as the angelic defeat of the Assyrians during Hezekiah's reign over Israel), "Epic Journeys" (such as Mary and Joseph's trip to Nazareth and Paul's Journey to Rome), and "Beauties of the Bible" (because what guy is complete without a beautiful woman to fight for--though as Winder points out, Delilah may have been a beauty, but she was not a nice one).
Along with all that, Winder pulls out some of the more humorously written versus of the scripture, versus that read through modern eyes take a different meaning than originally intended. There are lists in here, of the tallest, oldest, wisest, youngest, strongest, most likely to be teased (a clue: it's a tie between Dodo and Nimrod), shortest name, longest name, and so on. There are "Vile Villains" and "Scriptural Superheroes," too.
Guy Stuff in the Scriptures is a fun look at some of the highlights of the Christian faith, with an emphasis on the LDS canon of scriptures. It's a fun and easy introduction to what can sometimes seem an imposing and intimidating task of scripture study. If you've got a young boy, or girl, in your house, I recommend this as a fun way to learn more about the people, places, and stories of the scriptures. (less)
It's over so fast, I almost flipped back a few pages to see if I had missed a chapter.
But no, I hadn't missed anything. All You Need Is Kill sits you...moreIt's over so fast, I almost flipped back a few pages to see if I had missed a chapter.
But no, I hadn't missed anything. All You Need Is Kill sits you down, straps you in, and ignites a rocket strapped to your chair, and before you know it, you've finished, breathless and heart-stopping, palms sweaty and clammy.
All You Need Is Kill is the novel on which the forthcoming movie Edge of Tomorrow is based. With a cover that looks more like it belongs on the front of an anime-style graphic novel (in which I would have zero interest), I doubt I would have found it, let alone picked it up, but for hearing about it because of the film adaptation, starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. I saw Cruise's Oblivian last summer and was pleasantly surprised to find a sleeper film that wasn't a rehash/remake/sequel/prequel/spinoff to some other franchise.
But if it was based on a book, I reasoned, I've gotta read the book first.
Written in tight, gritty, and succinct scenes, Hiroshi Sakurasaka's novel is about one man's existential battle against an alien foe. Keiji Kiriya begins as one more green recruit destined to become cannon fodder against the seemingly numberless minions swarming Earth's beaches. Within moments into his first battle, Keiji is dead...and waking up, back in his bunk, the day before the battle.
Repeat. And repeat again.
It's like Groundhog Day, but with scaly, multilimbed, javelin shooting aliens and heavily armed soldiers in armored exoskeletons. Sakurasaka wastes little time, and you're half way through the novel before you realize that you've haven't taken a breath since who knows when.
And then Sakurasaka shifts the action, gives background, and lets you catch your breath before driving on for the second act.
If Tom Cruise's Edge of Tomorrow fills in half of what Sakurasaka squeezes into the 230 pages of All You Need Is Kill, it'll be a killer film. It's why Sakurasaka is my new favorite Japanese writer, and I look forward to finding out if he repeats the feat that is All You Need Is Kill.
A couple caveats. Because the writing is so tight and the story just long enough to hit the novel mark, there are some gaps in the character development. There's only limited depth to either of the POVs presented, and then that POV is driven heavily by the plot. Also, Sakurasaka can also be occasionally crass and foul, and not necessarily in a manner that contributes to the story. Watch out for rough language. (less)