Book Review: Starship Troopers

Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets

sstroopers

Title: Starship Troopers

Author: Robert Heinlein

Published: 1959

Pages: 263

Genre: Science Fiction

Kid Friendly Rating: 13+ The inner workings of outer space warfare might be a little advanced for younger readers, but Heinlein goes easy on the gory details.

Synopsis:

In a flimsily-justified effort to “be his own man,” Juan “Johnnie” Rico turns his back on his father’s successful business and joins the Federation military for a contractual two-year term of service. However, as tensions mount between the Federation and the “Bug” species, Rico finds himself drawn further into military life than he ever intended.

Final Thoughts:

Most people today are probably more familiar with the 1997 movie of the same name… Oh, god. I’ve just had a thought. That was almost 20 years ago. Are you younger Millennials out there even aware of this movie? That is depressing.

Anyway, it was a movie directed by Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall, Robocop, Basic Instinct), starring Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer, and Dougie Howser Barney Stinson Neil Patrick Harris. I saw it in theaters at an outrageously inappropriate 11 years old, and it was completely full of swearing, blood, violence, and nudity. It was incredible.

Fast-forward 19 years, and I still remember it fondly, although I do respect that it is not the masterpiece of modern cinema that I once believed. It’s got sort of a small cult status now. I see memes and gifs pop up periodically, ironically or not.

 

 

In the interest of rounding out this review, I watched the movie again this week, and I did not feel let down. Possibly the single most remarkable thing about this movie, nearly twenty years on, is that the special effects actually hold up pretty well. Many sci-fi movies from the 90’s are burdened by an over-reliance on under-developed CGI effects, but this movie, either through the use of scale models and animatronics, clever lighting, or just well-thought-out usage of CGI, has largely managed to avoid that.

This is not to say you’ll think you’re watching a movie that was released yesterday. Scene transitions and some effects, particularly those used for outer space scenes, do show a bit of their age. I’d put the effects about on par with a well-produced HBO show, like Game of Thrones.

This should also go without saying, but please don’t go into this movie expecting an Oscar winner. This is a fun sci-fi action movie. Full stop. It does have a little tongue-in-cheek social and political commentary to class up the place, but the thrust of the movie is Man vs. Bug. If you can get behind that, you’re in.

If I were to register a single complaint, it would be, man, Casper Van Dien was the best they could come up with for Johnnie Rico? His acting is a little, ah, wooden. To be completely fair to Van Dien, I think the script somewhat calls for it. Johnnie Rico is a painfully earnest and rah-rah character, very much in the vein of Chris Evans’ Captain America. And boy, Van Dien sure is purdy to look at.

Now, as for the book. I did not know this book existed until a few years ago, and even after learning about it, I was not especially interested. I liked the movie. Why should I need to re-hash it in literary form? I could just watch the movie that I like again. Well, much like the lark that took Rico into military service, I finally gave it a shot, and found a surprising number of differences.

The movie was not a standard book-to-script adaptation. The love triangle between Rico, Carmen, and Dizzy which provides the narrative thrust of the movie is really nowhere to be found. Carmen exists, but only as a distant friend rather than a love interest, and Dizzy is merely a fellow male boot camp cadet who plays a minuscule role.

The movie is largely an action movie split between the perspectives of Rico and Carmen, but the book is entirely Rico’s first person narrative, and combat scenes, while present, account for a very small percentage of the book. Much of the novel focuses on Rico’s various experiences in boot camp and beyond that serve to shape him into the person and soldier he will become. The novel really doesn’t read like an action story, or even a largely sci-fi story, despite the exotic settings. With the detailed descriptions of boot camp proceedings and how infantry rankings are assigned either by recommendation, officer training, and necessity in the field, it reads almost like a real historical war account.

The book manages to be remarkably prescient for a book authored in 1959, although it is also a book of its times. One of the most strikingly dated things about the book is the treatment of female characters, along with Rico’s general viewpoints on women. Heinlein manages to be both forward-looking and endearingly chivalrous. On one hand, he has placed the majority of the female characters in his book in leadership roles within the military. By Rico’s words, women have faster reflexes and reaction times, and their superior scores in math make them prime candidates for space naval pilot and officer positions. On the other hand, Heinlein did not write a single female character placed in the Mobile Infantry, the implication being that it is the job of strong men to stand on the front lines and sacrifice themselves to protect the women. It’s sort of a dichotomy, right? Of course, one could also argue that Rico made it clear that the M.I. was his absolute last choice for military assignments, so if there were no women there, perhaps it was because they simply scored out of it.

The film treated men and women soldiers as equals without fanfare or commentary, both in the navy and within the mobile infantry, although it should be said that the majority of M.I. troopers remained men. One thing even more interesting to me about the book’s gender setup is another sharp departure from the movie. In the book, the M.I. enters combat zones within fully equipped power armor, which more or less renders the wearer’s physical strength moot (although it is reinforced several times that a soldier who is compromised physically through sickness or weariness is of no use to his fellow soldiers, power armor or not). It is interesting that even though this power armor should have theoretically leveled the playing field for all body types, the film’s depiction of lightly armored traditional ground troopers had far more diversity.

The book also seems a bit dated in its conception of soldier motivation, as Rico at one point opines that there is no greater motivation for a group of M.I.s than knowing that on every combat drop, a ship full of women is waiting behind, both depending on them and watching their backs. The idea of a female M.I., or even an M.I. who is not particularly interested in the affections of a woman, is really not even contemplated.

But, when I read a book from another time period, I believe that it is healthier to both a) accept that the book exists as a manifestation of the time period in which it was written, and b) the author’s view points are not my own, and that is OK. I understand that this particular book was controversial even when it was released for some social ideas suggested throughout the narrative, including military sovereignty in government and the nobility self-sacrifice for the betterment of society. I take these ideas as the suggestions of the characters in the book, nothing more.

In other small negatives, some readers may turned off by relatively dry passages explaining the complexities of Federation military organization and the operation of the M.I. power armor. I personally found the military rankings a bit dense hard to follow, and I consider myself somewhat interested in the subject (although I am also fairly unschooled in general real-world military rankings and procedures).

In sum, I think this was a really interesting read. I give it 4/5 stars!

Have you read this book? Let me know what you think!

 

Book Review: Metro 2033

Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets

metro-2033

Title: Metro 2033

Author: Dmitry Glukhovsky (translated by Natasha Randall)

Published: 2005 (Russia); March 28, 2010 (U.S.)

Pages: 460

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Metro 2033

Kid Friendly Rating: 13+ Features some swearing, but mostly a read for young adults due to themes. The book is not nearly as violent as the video game series, but the situations are equally tense and twisted. Also contains some dense passages that may be difficult to navigate for younger readers.

 

Synopsis:

Artyom is a member of the last vestige of the human race. Following World War III, residents of Moscow have taken refuge from the radioactive and chemically defiled landscape in the labyrinthine caverns of the Moscow subway system. While horrific beasts patrol the lands, humanity lives on in utter darkness below ground, scraping together a meager life from mushrooms, rat meat, and a handful of farm animals taken underground. Artyom was just a small boy when the world ended. Now 20, his life and countless others have been spent almost entirely underground in the various stations of the Metro.

After a mysterious man named Hunter blackmails Artyom and hands him a mission allegedly vital for the survival of the human race, Artyom embarks upon an odyssey that thrusts him through several unforeseen and extremely dangerous adventures.

This book was the inspiration for the well-received Metro 2033 (PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS4) andMetro: Last Light (PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4) video games.

metro-last-light-21-1 metro-last-light-1

 

Final Thoughts:

I confess I am guilty of over-confidence in books that have been translated into different forms of media. As my thinking goes, there must be something great in the story if someone thought it worthy of the time and effort to put it in a new form. Generally, I’ve found this to be a good formula for finding fun reading material. Most often, the stories turn out to be engaging and fast-paced, if not particularly deep.

As an unapologetic PlayStation loyalist, I’ve not had the opportunity to play Metro 2033, which apparently follows the plot of this novel very closely (with considerably more shooting), but after playing Metro: Last Light on PS3, I felt strongly that I was looking at only a small part of a complex larger picture, and I wanted to know more about this world, in which the entire human race lives underground.

In this respect, I was not wrong. Glukhovsky has essentially created an entire miniaturized society to fill the Moscow metro system, filled with haves and have-nots, Neo-Nazis, socialists, religious zealots, soldiers, civilians, farmers, prostitutes, monsters, ghosts, and many things in between. The book is a remarkable piece of world-building, and for many readers, this may be enough to satisfy.

Unfortunately for myself, I am typically not this kind of reader, and though I patiently worked my way through the book, I largely felt that the narrative was missing something to pull it all together and drive the story forward.

I’m not sure how to go about further discussion without getting into spoilers, so for anyone who would like to tune out now, here is my rating: 2.5/5 stars. In world building, I give it a 5. In the context of a compelling narrative, I’ll give it a 2. Obviously, I’m weighting one of those much more strongly than the other.

** SPOILERS AHEAD  **

Artyom’s journey begins in a poor station unfortunately situated near to a hive of so-called “dark ones,” a race of human-like monsters who are feared for their ability to drive humans mad and to their death. After a man Artyom doesn’t really know convinces Artyom to confess a deep secret, he uses the secret to blackmail Artyom into undertaking a dangerous mission. Artyom must journey through the metro system to Polis in order to deliver a message that may save the human race.

Each subsequent chapter begins essentially a new “episode,” as Artyom finds his way through one unlikely predicament after another. One episode includes a broken pipe through which voices are heard that hypnotize the listener. In another Artyom is captured by the “Fourth Reich” and sentenced to death. In another Artyom is sold into a year of servitude cleaning shit pots in the wealthy area of the metro. In another Artyom is forced to go above-ground and meet the horrors there in order to rescue an artifact for religious zealots. In another, Artyom encounters a group of cannibals who worship “the great worm” who truly carved out the metro tunnels.

The tale begins to follow a predictable pattern of predicament-solution-escape, and at times Artyom makes it out alive through no ingenuity of his own. At times, the circumstances of Artyom’s survival feel just a little too convenient, or the manner of his rescue arrives from such a sharp left turn that it feels cheap. Not much connects the episodes apart from the fact that Artyom exists in them. New characters fade in and out, but few have any importance except to provide Artyom, through discussion, new theories on the purpose of his adventure, and of life in general.

The pacing of the story is a problem throughout, but on this point I hesitate to criticize too heavily, noting that the original work was written in Russian. In any translation, you have to wonder if some of the heart, humor, and wordplay that may have helped to make the story readable has been lost in the retelling. The book seems to have been a remarkable success in its native language, so it is possible some aspect of it was unfortunately left behind, despite a faithful translation.

Artyom ultimately succeeds in delivering his secret message to the proper recipient. It turns out there is an intact missile facility dating back to before the apocalypse, and if they can find a man who knows how to fire the missiles, they may be able to destroy the hive of the “dark ones” and cease their incursions. If such a solution seems overly simplistic at first blush, it probably is. There are a variety of threats both above-ground and below in this world, and while the “dark ones” may be the scariest to the inhabitants of the Metro, they do not especially feel that way to the reader. The “dark ones” seem to have the ability to create insanity and fear of impending doom in their human counterparts, but they still feel like only an abstract threat, in that they make few incursions to the Metro. There are far more terrifying creatures that Artyom encounters throughout his adventures, including demonic librarians, wolf-like creatures in the city, an amorphous blob deep underground that convinces people to sacrifice themselves to it, and humans themselves.

At various times during his journey, Artyom gethers the vague sense that he is on the precipice of greater understanding, of the world, of his fate, etc., but Glukhovsky chooses not to develop this idea in any appreciable way. At the end of the story (literally the last few pages of the book) Artyom finally has an epiphany that the “dark ones” were only trying to communicate with the humans, and the greater understanding that he’d felt on the edge of during his journey was that he was their “chosen” one to deliver the message to the rest of the Metro and enable a new age of understanding between humans and “dark ones.” It feels rushed, and though the theme had potential, the ending is ultimately unsatisfying.

Bottom line, if you want to know more about the Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light video games you loved, or if you’re curious to see this underground world in action, it is a perfectly acceptable adventure, but you may feel that there was a missed opportunity for a greater story.

Book Review: Master of Formalities

(Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets)

MasterFormalities

Title: Master of Formalities

Author: Scott Meyer

Published: July 7, 2015

Pages: 448

Genre: Science Fiction/Comedy

Kid Friendly Rating: 10+ The book includes some details about an ongoing war, but descriptions of the violence are not especially gruesome or realistic.

Synopsis: Wollard is Master of Formalities for House Jakabitus, one of two major families in the galaxy (along with House Hahn) whose planets have been deadlocked in conflict for centuries, although the reasons for the war have become vague.

As Master of Formalities, Wollard wears many hats. He serves as official advisor to the House matriarch on issues of good form and interplanetary relations, he serves as a sort a household head butler, and he also reports to the Arbiters, and impartial interplanetary governing authority who appoint Masters of Authority to each ruling House.

When the Hahn ruler’s only son is taken as a prisoner of war, Wollard suggests a course of action that he believes could bring an end to the war, once and for all. Under Wollard’s advisement, the Hahn prince is held as a ward of House Jakabitus.

Wollard has engendered a great deal of respect in his role as Master of Formalities, but his goodwill and position are quickly put under a great deal of strain when plans don’t go exactly as expected.

Wollard is a sympathetic figure, as he clearly values his position, and is loved by his colleagues, but his respect for his job can sometimes lead him to make decisions that are not necessarily in his own best interests. It is very interesting to watch him balance his position with his will to give proper advice as pressure mounts.

Scott Meyer, currently better known for his popular “Magic 2.0” series (Sarindre previously reviewed book 1 of this fun series here), took a break from time-traveling wizards to write this one. I’ve greatly enjoyed that series, and would have happily read another, so I decided to give this book a try. I’m really happy I did.

Meyer turns down the magic and turns his dry and witty sense of humor to 11.

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This book doesn’t have a lot of one-liners or memorable jokes, but Meyer is such a clever writer, with really great grasp of the humor inherent in bizarre or awkward situations, that I found myself laughing aloud several times. I was especially reminded of Douglas Adams’ fantastic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, both in the science fiction setting, and the off-kilter sense of humor. Like Adams’ series, however, this story is really weird. If you prefer non-fiction or realistic fiction, this may not be the book for you.

Final Thoughts: I have to say, I’m looking forward to the next story in this series even more than the next installment in Magic 2.0. I give it 4/5 stars. If you love Hitchhiker or Spaceballs, give it a shot.

Chapter 1: Underground

Amy was counting her 74th day underground. On the 75th, she would go out, for whatever waited outside.

She counted herself lucky. Amy knew that she was probably among the world’s 1% most-prepared private individuals to hold out in the event of a total world disaster. She also knew that the very fact of her continued existence meant that there was some hope for what was left. Her shelter was basically entombed beneath the basement of her ranch home in West View, PA, but it was far from impregnable. If the world had ended completely, she would have known about it.

Still, Amy was terrified of what waited beyond. Truth be told, she was terrified before she ever built the thing and stocked it. She was terrified back when she bought the house, terrified when she set off on her own, terrified when she graduated high school. Amy derided therapy as a “crock of shit,” but if she’d ever subjected herself to a professional opinion, she may have largely traced it back to a day early in her Senior year of high school. Approximately 9 in the morning on September 11, 2001, to be exact.

Amy was whispering with her friends Josh and Trav, lamenting the choice to take Calculus instead of an extra study hall or a blow-off, when the teacher broke the lesson to take a phone call. Then an announcement of news that made no sense. A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Amy almost laughed, the idea was so absurd. This wasn’t a game of Flight Simulator. How could they not miss?

When the TV came on, the news set in. Just like that, Amy’s foundation was shaken, without even fully realizing it. As more news came out over the days, months, and years to follow, Amy changed from an overconfident teen into an adult obsessed with insurgent terror threats, foreign nuclear threats, chemical warfare, and all manner of worldwide tension.

When she found a small home with an unusually large sub-basement fruit cellar, she knew she’d found the perfect place to turn her fear over the state of the world into a plan of action. Over five years, she spent almost all of her not-inconsiderable expendable income on preparing a safe room in the event of total world disaster. She had buckets and buckets of potable water, innumerable canned goods, dry foods, heat, lighting, ventilation, clothes, and even an installed generator system with plenty of fuel and backup batteries. She also had a hand-cranked radio and a collection of books and trivia booklets to tide her over.

When news reports surfaced in late 2018 that North Korea was preparing another round of nuclear testing, not many world leaders batted an eye. It had happened seemingly dozens of times before, sometimes to comical effect. Just one more event of posturing in a long line of them, right? But then a small nuclear bomb killed 20,000 people in Seoul, nearly instantly. Followed by some type of chemical attack on Pyongyang–reports were conflicting and unclear. What is clear is that China blamed the US, South Korea, and Germany for the counter-attack. And these countries blamed 5 others and a handful of groups without national affiliations. On December 5, 2018, 10 more cities of various sizes had taken major hits, and the list was growing. On December 7, after several sleepless days spent watching a TV with two feet in her wig-out hole, Amy’s legs turned to Jello. The moment she had feared for most of her adult life. Breaking report of a projectile estimated to be headed toward Pittsburgh. That was plenty close enough. Way too close, in fact. Amy headed underground.

That was 74 days ago. The first ten days had been okay, if you discount the constant feelings of shitting yourself with fear, or puking, or both. Interspersed through this time, Amy read several novels that were so exciting she thought she could shit herself, and solved so many puzzles she thought she would puke with pride. Her emotions were, understandably, a little muddled at this time. She had electricity when she needed it, and plenty of food and water.

Amy tried to work her hand-cranked radio for news reports, but the reception was either too poor, or there was no radio station operating close enough to pick up. She thought she heard snips of words here and there, but everything fuzzed out almost immediately, and the words that came through were not promising. Massacred. Rioters. Chaos. Bombs. Loss.

Amy felt deep rumbles through the walls of her fortress, and occasional reports, as if from gun fire, but the sounds came distantly, muffled through the layers of steel and concrete surrounding the entrance to her room.

The following 15 days were a little less constantly panicky. Amy had whole moments when she thought she might be bored. These thoughts were quickly replaced with feelings of guilt and shame. She never really knew her mother, and her father died of a heart attack three years earlier, but her brother was out there, somewhere. Amy hoped. Jake lived with his wife, Carrie, and two kids in a cabin in the hills of southern WestbygodVirginia. Amy prayed that his cabin was remote enough to survive whatever was happening out there. She’d never been there.

On day 27, Amy was no longer able to pick up any radio snippets at all. She told herself it was the cheap manufactured-in-Taiwan radio.

On day 46, Amy decided she needed to stretch out her food. She started reading her favorite novels for the third time. She was hoping that his time Pip would not be such an insufferable twat to Joe. It wasn’t looking good.

Amy ran out of power, apart from her flashlights and backup battery stockpile, on day 57. Despite her room’s location under the ground, it became very damp and bone-chilling without the benefit of any added heat. Amy bundled up in her blankets the best she could. She had to balance her needs to conserve energy, food, and water with her desire to keep the shivers away by moving around.

On day 72, Amy was down to two cups of dry Oatmeal. Her stomach was a constant gnawing ache of hunger that eating seemed only to make worse. Amy was not accustomed to going short on food. Prior to going underground, Amy padded her generous bodily portions with constant helpings of carbs and cheap fast food. If nothing else, her time in the room had eroded her weight somewhat, although Amy judged that the pallor of her skin would make her no more appealing to the opposite sex.

Amy hadn’t ever had much time for the other sex anyway, at least since high school. The few men who actually made it to her house were slightly weirded out by her obsession with “prepping.” She did her best to expound upon her fears, but they largely fell on deaf ears. Amy was very familiar with the clouded, distant expressions that dawned on her friends’ faces as she explained her habits. Even Jake had reacted dubiously the first time he stepped into her home. He observed the threadbare carpets, the garage sale TV, the flimsy kitchen table, the handful of Goodwill furniture. There is nothing wrong with any of these things, of course. Jake and the others just didn’t understand how someone could have a great job like Amy, and pour it all into a basement freakout room.

Jake hadn’t called in about a year. She supposed that was her fault. The’d never been the friendliest brother and sister in the world, but their last meeting wasn’t exactly acrimonious. At dad’s funeral, Jake implied that Amy’s lifestyle was harder on him than it should have been. Or maybe he was really only saying Amy should take it easier on herself. Either way, Amy responded by telling Jake in no uncertain terms that he was not properly looking out for the future of his family. At that, Jake scoffed and walked away. They hadn’t passed more than perfunctory greetings and “how are you’s” since.

Why did I do that? She asked herself. Did I really expect him to say, Gee, sis, you’re right on the money, there. I do need an escape room, just like almost no one else in the country. It all makes sense now.

She guessed it was some mixture of the emotion of the situation, her pride, and her constantly fragile state that made her lash out. She really wanted Jake closer, not farther away.

Amy wondered how many of her so-called friends were okay. It seemed that no one had come to check on her, but she wasn’t really close enough with anyone to expect such treatment. Amy resolved that when this was over, she was going to track Jake down and make amends. She felt she owed it to him, and this extended time in solitude had brought it fully into focus.

It was about 20 days since the last of the eruptions of sound outside, but she was still scared. Not just of what might happen to her and who may be laying in wait, but because she wasn’t sure anymore what the world might look like. In a way, silence was far worse than noise, even bad noise. Amy decided she could wait, just a little bit longer. She pulled her blankets closer and stifled a shiver.

On day 74, Amy drank the last of her water. She was starving. She was thirsty. She was god-damned tired of being in this fucking room. She was terrified, yes, but she had to go out sometime. But day 75 sounded better. 75 is a nice, round number. Never mind that 75 days has no real meaning as to relative safety following a massive world war. She went to sleep that night, and slept fitfully and in starts, dreaming for the umpteenth time about bombs falling with nowhere to run.

Amy woke on day 75 feeling weak, but ready for whatever lay beyond. She packed up Great Expectations, a few items of clothing, pushed her small antique .32 revolver into her jacket pocket, and shouldered open the door.

Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets

Android Game Review: Fallout Shelter

Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets

Fallout_Shelter_Icon

Title: Fallout Shelter

Developer: Bethesda Game Studios

Platforms: iOS; Android

Release Dates: June 14, 2015 (iOS); August 13, 2015 (Android)

Genre: Simulation

Players: Single player

ESRB Rating: N/A

Kid Friendly Rating: 12+Violence in the form of raider and monster attacks. Fights involve swords and guns but blood and gore is minimal. Vault dwellers sometimes move out of view to get “friendly” with each other and return pregnant. In-game purchases.

Personal Rating: 3.5/5

Screenshot_2015-09-05-10-04-56Screenshot_2015-09-05-10-05-09Screenshot_2015-09-05-10-05-20Screenshot_2015-09-05-10-05-31Screenshot_2015-09-05-10-05-39

Synopsis:

You have been appointed Overseer of your own vault. Rescue dwellers from the wasteland and put them to work generating resources in return for their protection. Equip your dwellers with the skill and weapons necessary to fend off mole rat, raider, and Death Claw attacks.

This game is surprising in its depth for what is, essentially, a clever marketing tool for Bethesda’s upcoming Fallout 4. Each dweller has his/her own skill attributes across seven categories. These skills determine how effective the dweller will be in a particular room. For example, dwellers with high  S (strength) attributes perform well in power generating rooms. You can create rooms to generate resources, as well as to level up a dweller’s skill categories. Unrelated male and female dwellers assigned to living quarters will sometimes create babies, who grow up to become adult vault dwellers. You can also send your dwellers out into the wasteland to gather gear, weapons, and caps (cash), but make sure they are well-equipped, or they may not survive for long.

The game is addictive, especially early on, as you attempt to scrape your way toward a happy vault. As your vault becomes bigger, resources become easier to maintain, but occasionally more difficult foes come along to keep you on your toes.

It’s not the most heart-pounding game in the world, but for a casual gamer who enjoyed Fallout 3, and other simulation games like Sim City or Rollercoaster Tycoon, this is a good bet.

Book Review: The Martian

Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets

the-martian-by-andy-weir

Title: The Martian

Author: Andy Weir

Published: 2011 (e-book); March 2013 (audiobook); February 2014 (hardcover)

Pages: 369

Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller

Kid Friendly Rating: 13+ for some coarse language; however, there is enough realistic science in the book that I would hesitate to discourage any mature science-minded kids from reading it.

Synopsis: Astronaut Mark Watney was part of a NASA crew performing science experiments on the surface of Mars. Gravely injured in a freak sandstorm that forced an emergency evacuation of the crew, Watney was mistakenly left for dead. With his crew thousands of miles from the planet and unaware of his survival, Watney must use every ounce of his knowledge and resourcefulness to hold out for a rescue.

One of my favorite science-fiction authors is Arthur C. Clarke. In my mind, it’s not so much his exhilarating prose; it’s his thought-provoking ideas coupled with a solid grasp of current science and theoretical physics. Keeping one leg firmly rooted in the familiar, or at least moderately believable, adds extra layers to the story. Ah! How crazy would it be if I was seeing this on the news? What if it was me!? In a sense, Weir owes a debt of gratitude to Apollo 13. We don’t even have to wonder if something like this could happen. It already has happened, albeit on a much smaller scale. But where Weir could have done everything wrong, and instead hit the mark so well, is in the details.

First, Watney. Watney is an everyman. Instantly relatable as your wisecracking friend who is just a little bit off-kilter, but loveable for it. We follow Watney as he weaves his way through a cavalcade of obstacles, attacking each with MacGyver-like ingenuity.

MacGyver

MacGyver2

Almost every problem seems plausible, and his solutions feel realistic, from generating/maintaining food, to replenishing oxygen, to attempts to communicate with NASA, to efforts to secure his rescue.

Don’t let the science deter you, though! This is an edge-of-your-seat page-turner in every aspect. The stakes are high, the prognosis is grim. It starts out with a bang, almost literally, and from there it is a rollercoaster ride of near-death experiences from front to back, with a gripping climax. Weir balances the stakes with Watney’s irreverent sense of humor for a really fun read.

An added benefit to reading this book now: It’s coming to theaters soon! Really soon. Like, October 2015 soon. So get reading, and see your new favorite book come to life! With Maaatt Daamon. No, he’s okay, right? He’s pretty good. Just forget that he was recently in space in Interstellar. And Elysium. He’s done other things, you guys.

the-martian-movie poster

If previews can be relied on, it looks like Hollywood has caught on to some of the more positive aspects of the book, as Damon’s Watney intones, “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

Final Thoughts: I enjoyed this book thoroughly, and I’ve encouraged many of my friends and family to give it a read. I have yet to hear a poor review! It rivals Dune and The Martian Chronicles for my favorite Mars-based book. I give it 4/5 stars.