**spoiler alert** OVERALL: Four and a half out of five stars; The Martianis thesurprisingly upbeat tale of a person who survives for years after being**spoiler alert** OVERALL: Four and a half out of five stars; The Martian is the surprisingly upbeat tale of a person who survives for years after being accidentally stranded on Mars. The book is engaging, positive, and makes you remember to take stock of what you have (literally), especially when things are at their darkest.
The Martian is yet another book that I came to only after having already seen the big-screen adaptation. The movie was good, clean fun, and as a result I wanted to read the source material for the script. I was not disappointed.
Andy Weir accomplished multiple near-impossible tasks with his book: he created a work of fiction that feels like it could one day soon be fact, he wrote a tale that emphasizes math and science without getting boring, and he presents a story that should be loaded with depression and despair in a way that is hopeful and uplifting. And he did all of this while maintaining and heightening an air of suspense in the novel that never dissipated, even though I had seen the movie first and knew how everything ended. Reading the book, I knew that Mark Watney had to be saved, but despite this plot armor I groaned at every mishap and practically cheered out loud with every success. The tension lasts throughout the book, and it's really only when Mark is finally back onboard his ship with his crew mates that I was finally able to breathe again.
As full disclosure, I'm not a huge science fiction reader, but that was the final thing that I found impressive about The Martian. I didn't have to be a huge sci-fi fan to enjoy it, and quite honestly, it was the humanity of the story that I personally felt made the book a compelling read. Mark was stranded and alone, facing near-certain starvation unless he got killed by some other mishap first, and yet he still remained calm. He simply took stock of what he had available, got creative with how to repurpose the things he had at his disposal, and kept his mind actively engaged and positive. That's a pretty good mantra for life, whether you're stuck on Mars or just trying to make it through to the next paycheck back here on Earth!
A final note: The Kindle version of the book had a Q+A with the Andy Weir after the story was complete, and I loved how he described his writing process. He started with his passion for both science and writing and from there, as Weir describes it, the story came together as he daydreamed horrible scenarios for a really unlucky astronaut. Beyond the actual story creation, he describes how he posted the novel in serial format to his website, built an audience, and eventually published on Amazon before he ever got an agent, a book deal, and of course, movie rights. His story is a dream scenario in and of itself for a writer, and was some cool "bonus footage" to read through after the novel was complete. The Martian was a great read from beginning to end, and is highly recommended for anyone who loves space, sci-fi, or just a really fun story.
**spoiler alert** OVERALL: Five stars out of five; Operation Mincemeat serves as a testament that truth is stranger than fiction. MacIntyre delivers**spoiler alert** OVERALL: Five stars out of five; Operation Mincemeat serves as a testament that truth is stranger than fiction. MacIntyre delivers the story with a deft touch, and makes the book read like a WWII spy novel without sacrificing accuracy.
What do you get when you combine Hitler, a dead body, a race car driver, and the guy who wrote the James Bond books? Amazingly, you get the ridiculous and yet somehow very real story of how the a covert operation in World War II that helped the Allies safely land an invasion force in Sicily which paved the way for the ultimate defeat of the Axis powers. The author of Operation Mincemeat, Ben Macintyre, managed to craft a nonfiction story so compelling and with such forceful characters that it's hard to believe the book is real. It's also hard to believe that the story is so little known; I mean, World War II has obviously been the setting of thousands of novels, movies, and stories, but this one truly stands out.
The story follows the trail of two particular British intelligence agents, Ewen Montagu of naval intelligence and Charles Cholmondeley of MI5 as they attempted to develop a military deception aimed at influencing the highest decision makers in Nazi Germany, all the way to Hitler himself, to make the wrong choice about where to strengthen their borders against a planned Allied invasion. To do this, the Brits decided that top-secret "information" had to find its way into enemy hands, but this information had to clear several hurdles. It had to contain information that was false but plausible, it had to look authentic, and it had to get into German hands in a way that would not have it seem like an obvious plant. Montagu and Cholmondeley considered the task, and ultimately came up with an obvious solution: fake a plane crash, float a dead body out to sea with the forged documents, have it catch the currents so as to end up in German waters, and finally, have the captured documents pass German inspection. Nothing too hard, right?
The story is riveting from beginning to end, and explains in detail how all of the things mentioned above came to pass. You're introduced to spies in Portugal and Spain, you're introduced to German intelligence officers who could have auditioned for roles as Keystone Cops, and you learn about the culture of both sides in ways most people just don't know or could imagine. I mean seriously, the necessities of war pressed even the dead into service (shoutout to Glyndwr Michael, the unfortunate and unwitting person whose untimely demise made him the Bernie/hero of this story). If all of that weren't enough, there's cross-dressing intelligence officers, intelligence offices filled with pretty girls (this based on the theory that "the prettiest girls...would be less likely to boast to their boyfriends about the secret work they were doing"), and even a cameo from Winston Churchill. As far as World War II spy novels go, it has everything... and it's all true!
Even with everything I mentioned above, I found the most interesting part of the book to be the details and personal flourishes that Montagu and Cholmondeley placed into making the operation a success. Everything had to be thought out, to include clothing for the body, wreckage debris, personal effects in the briefcase besides the forged documents such as photos of "family," the rate of decay of a human body; the list goes on and on. To dream up a plot such as Operation Mincemeat would be fun for amateur historians; to have actually placed the operation in motion and to have lived the story as reality would be a tale to last a lifetime.
Ultimately, the book's moral struck me as being that a job well done, especially when the outcome of the job had a tangible impact on the fortunes of war and the history of the world. This is arguably worth well more than fame and fortune and this is good, because for the most part the names of Montagu and Cholmondeley are unlikely to last in the history books. But their exploits, outrageous as they were, will live on forever.