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review 2017-10-23 02:48
Star Wars Aftermath: Empire's End
Empire's End: Aftermath (Star Wars) (Sta... Empire's End: Aftermath (Star Wars) (Star Wars: The Aftermath Trilogy) - Chuck Wendig

This is going to be short because I cannot bring myself to care anymore. The stakes were high. I didn’t care. People died. I didn’t care. People lived. I didn’t care. One of the reasons I freaking hate Wendig’s third person present tense writing style is that it makes me feel distanced from the characters and the action, like I’m reading stage direction for a play I've never seen. I still think he’s a decent storyteller, but he’s just not my cuppa. And I’m glad my favorite characters made it out. But even more than that, I’m glad it’s over with.

 

Please, Powers That Be, don’t let this man write more Star Wars novels. My lifelong Star Wars obsession will compel me to buy them and read them, and that will most definitely propel me further down the path of the Dark Side.

 

Nobody really wants that.

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review 2017-10-21 18:31
Artemis
Artemis - Andy Weir

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

I loved “The Martian”, so of course I was bound to request this one. To be fair, I didn’t enjoy it as much, but it was still a good, fun read in several ways.

I found the characters in general likeable enough, in definite ‘shades of grey. The ‘heroes’ of this story are seldom all white, and go about their business with good intentions and shady ways. The businessman who moved to the moon to help his ailing daughter, but is a crook on the side. The economist who almost single-handedly set a whole country as the only entry point to the Moon, and won’t shy away from closing eyes on criminal deals as long as they help keeping Artemis afloat. The city’s policeman (Artemis has something like 2,000 inhabitants, minus the tourists, so Rudy does the job) who’s keeping order by breaking a few arms at times if he deems it’ll be a better punishment than prison. And, of course, Jazz Bashara herself, porter by day, smuggler by night, of sorts, running her little operation with no one the wiser.

(Granted, not everyone is a complete a-hole here, Jazz’s father for instance is a law-abiding citizen who doesn’t want anything to do with his daughter’s shady side; on the other hand, Jazz clearly has him to thank for her own ethical side, the one that makes her never renege on a deal, and puts her in the (trustworthy criminal’ category, so to speak.)

The story itself starts in a fairly typical way for heist stories: Jazz needs money, her criminal activities aren’t bringing in as much as she needs, nor quickly enough, so when a dangerous but particularly juicy deal comes her way, she shoves her qualms in her pocket and accepts it. Only it turns out she’s bitten more than she could chew, and finds herself embroiled in an almost conspiracy, forcing her to gather all her wits, resources and allies in order to find a way out. All in all, the kind of story I like to read: maybe not the most original, but with high potential for action, fun, quirky characters, and, well, capers.

There isn’t as much technical detailing in this novel as there was in “The Martian”, so it’s definitely not hard to follow. The whole caper(s) resting on scientific knowledge and using the moon’s gravity and peculiar sides to work within the plan, that was really interesting for me. Maybe the welding-related descriptions were a little too long at times, though; at least, I didn’t care as much about those as I did about other scientific explanations.

I liked the overall diversity in Artemis. This small city has, from A to Z, a multicultural side that I think worked well, and didn’t rest on the usual ‘Western world colonises space’ (Kenya and its space company holds the entry door to the moon, Artemis’s administrator is a Kenyan woman, the policeman is Canadian, Jazz and her father are from Saudi Arabia, many of Jazz’s contacts are Vietnamese or Slavic, etc.).

I wasn’t totally on board with the way Jazz told the story, though. The wit didn’t work as well here as it did in “The Martian”, mostly, I’d say, because there’s too much of a dichotomy between Jazz’s ‘voice’ and her age: sometime in the middle of the story, we learn she’s 26, but from her tone, attitude, expressions and way of being, I would’ve thought her late teens/20, and not older. There -is- an immature side to her character, so in itself it’s not like her voice doesn’t fit at all, yet it didn’t feel ‘right’ either.

Conclusion: 3.5 stars. Disregard the author’s previous best-seller, take this story as it comes, and enjoy the heist parts, the assembling of Jazz’s motley crew, the description of Artemis, and the outings on the Moon in an EVA suit that can spring a leak just any time due to the characters attempting bold moves and daring rescues.

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review 2017-10-20 16:51
Love and Physics
A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle

I reread this for the Classics for Beginners group read via the Audible audiobook narrated by Hope Davis. The audio format was a good idea. I was able to do other things and still experience the story again as an adult. While it definitely feels of the time period it was written, it didn't feel that dated to me. I will divide my comments into sections because that seems like a good approach for this book.

Characters

The characterization is in my opinion the focus of this novel. The main characters include Meg Murry, her younger brother Charles Wallace, Calvin O'Keefe, a slightly older boy that goes to Meg's school, and the mysterious Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. Secondary characters include Meg's mother and father and brothers, and the various beings that they encounter on their journey.

Meg's characterization is complicated. At times she is unlikable because she tends to be moody and somewhat whiny. This is understandable, so a great degree, considering how her father disappeared and she misses him, and also her awkwardness as a person. Meg is brilliant when it comes to mathematics, but her social abilities are lacking.

Calvin is a character that balances Meg in very good ways. Calvin is a young man of words and communication. His ability to get along with everyone is crucial on their journey. He is able to understand people and talk to them on their level. And he's a very humane person. He takes the time to understand that brilliant people often don't bother with.

Charles Wallace is a special young boy. His intelligence is off the charts, frankly eerie. This never explained. However, his unique persona is at the crux of this novel. The great evil that they encounter happily tries to explain his specialness for its own purpose.

Mrs. Whatsit, Who and Which are strange ladies that Charles Wallace and Meg become acquainted with, and help them on their journey to find their father. They seem like eccentric women but they are so much more. The relationship that Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin develops with them is one of loving support.

Meg's mother Katherine was not in this book very much. I wish we had seen her viewpoint more, but that wasn't the goal of the author. Meg's father Alexander plays a bigger role, but he is more ancillary compared to the three kids. He is their motivation and he's the catalyst for the story. The two twins Sandy and Dennys are used more as a contrast to Meg and Charles Wallace, because they are the relentlessly normal offspring in the family.

The evil beings in this novel are nebulous, not really explained, but definitely threatening. I think there are some very philosophical aspects that go alone with the concept of evil in this story that will attempt to delve into shortly.

There's another character that I can't get into without spoiling this review, so I will just say that Meg encounters a being who becomes a bit of an analogue for her mother and father. She connects to this being and gets a necessary sense of acceptance and caring that she hasn't experienced for some time due to the situation of her father being gone, her mother also being a scientist and having three other brothers with which she has to share attention.

Plot/Storyline:

This is a science fiction novel with a healthy dose of philosophy and a debatable aspect of religion/spirituality. That last part would depend on a person's viewpoint on the subject. Meg and Charles Wallace are essentially on a journey to find their father, and Calvin comes along for the ride. They travel to other worlds using the concept of tessering. This is something that Meg's mother and father stumbled across, but the Mrs. W know a lot more about doing right. Because this book is written for a younger audience (late tweens to teens), the danger that the kids encounter is there but it's not illustrated in detail. Nevertheless, you get the idea how dire the situation is for the kids.

Themes/Philosophy:

"A Wrinkle in Time" is a novel about family, sacrifice, relationships, and the concepts of good versus evil. I will attempt to explain what I got out of the novel, probably imperfectly.

Being intelligent is a valued commodity. I think that L'Engle seems to want to say that being smart in and of itself brings along with it some challenges and doesn't protect a person from its consequences of solve all the problems that they might have to deal with in their lives. I believe this is well-illustrated through the struggles of Meg, Charles Wallace, and her mom and dad. Dad might be brilliant, but his brilliance alone cannot save Charles Wallace. Meg might be a math genius, but it doesn't make her excel in school or get along better with others. On the other hand, Calvin is a well-balanced person who is intelligent in his way, but also has emotional intelligence and is gifted with needed communication skills.

Meg shows how we must conquer our fears and do what needs doing in spite of them. Sometimes we go into situations knowing we are out of our depth, but this is inevitable. We have to just be present and do what needs doing, and if we're blessed that's enough. Meg also illustrates how we can strike out in our pain at others because of our suffering. With maturity comes the understanding that we all have struggles, and hurting others because we're in pain never achieves what we desire. She learns to temper her fears and frustrations and to focus on the goals and objective. I think that's a very good lesson for people of all ages.

Charles Wallace shows the cost of arrogance. He thought that because he was crazy intelligent and very unique, that would be all he needed to conquer the enemy, but it only got him into a worse situation. Arrogance can definitely write checks that we can't cash.

The concepts of spirituality are present in this novel. Many times, characters quote Bible verses. The true nature of some of the character makes me think of celestial and demonic beings. The theme of self-sacrifice, agape love, and sacrificial love is at the heart of Christian ethos. I don't think anyone could deny that these definitely point to the Christian faith of the author L'Engle. However, she doesn't force a telescopic view of the world through Christian theology on the reader. She cites and includes some philosophic concepts that more orthodox-thinking Christians would have a hard time with. She doesn't put Christians on a higher level in society than non-Christians who have also made important contributions. Also, science is a big part of this novel. On a personal level, I didn't find a believe in scientific concepts incongruous with spiritual belief, but this is not the case with fundamentalist Christian believers. For that reason, they would not like this book. Also, narrow thinking Christians won't like the idea that the Mrs. seem like kindly old witches.

Some Shortcomings of This Novel:

I would still give this five stars because I still love this book and it's also from nostalgia of when I read it many years ago. Meg's temper tantrums could be problematic. Also, there is a scene where Charles Wallace is very violent towards his sister that might be upsetting to some readers. The conclusion is a bit too abrupt for my tastes, quite honestly. I've found that to be the case with many books I've read lately. I said earlier in this book that it doesn't feel that dated. I'm sort of wrong in the sense that the concepts of family are very traditional. Meg feels like she can't go on without having her father's presence (as though he is a lodestar for his family). That in itself is not a bad thing, but modern readers who didn't grow up with this sort of family probably wouldn't connect to this. Also, when they go to Camazotz, it feels like "Leave it to Beaver" on steroids. Very traditional, 1950s sort of view of life. There is no allusion whatsoever to multiculturalism or the concept that all families don't look the same. I did like how L'Engle makes a point that this sort of societal design is sterile and kills any kind of ingenuity or joy of living.

Is This Science Fiction?:

That's a question that will inevitably come up for a reader. I think it definitely is science fiction. Google defines science fiction as: "fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets." Under this definition, it would be difficult to argue against this being a science fiction novel. A huge aspect of this novel is the concept of physics and using it to navigate through 'wrinkles' in time. Also, the book involves traveling to other planets and exploring what life on those planets would be like. Also how advanced science technologies would change life as we know it. The thing that might trip up some readers is the equally strong aspect of philosophy to this story. I don't think these two things are mutually exclusive. In fact, they can go hand in hand. Good versus evil is at the root of most good fiction. And this is played out endlessly in everyday life. Sometimes, it's subtle. Many of us can argue that we don't meet truly evil people, but when you do encounter evil, you always know it deep in your gut. If you haven't read this book, you should decide for yourself and let me know what you think of it as a science fiction book.

I would recommend this book to readers who haven't had a chance to explore this book. I liked the audiobook version. Hope Davis is a good narrator, and she acquits herself well in styling each character. Many years after my first reading, it's still one of my favorites.

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review 2017-10-18 11:41
Nimm das, Mars!
The Martian - Andy Weir

Andy Weirs Karriere ist ein Märchen der Schriftstellerei. Sein Debütroman „The Martian“ wurde ursprünglich von allen Verlagen abgelehnt, weshalb Weir das Buch 2011 als Selfpublisher veröffentlichte. Er bot es kostenlos auf seiner Website an. Als Fans ihn baten, eine Kindle-Version zu erstellen, verlangte er auf Amazon 99 Cent, der niedrigste mögliche Preis. Die Verkaufszahlen schossen durch die Decke. Der Rest ist, wie man so schön sagt, Geschichte. 2013 verkaufte er die Buchrechte für einen sechsstelligen Betrag. Ich finde, in dieser Anekdote steckt eine inspirierende Botschaft an allen jungen Autor_innen: gib nicht auf und glaub an dein Werk. Andy Weir beweist, dass der Erfolg manchmal bloß etwas länger braucht, um sich einzustellen. Nachdem das Buch zwei Jahre auf meinem SuB versauerte, wollte ich 2017 endlich wissen, ob es wirklich so gut ist, wie alle behaupteten.

 

Werde Astronaut, haben sie gesagt. Geh zur NASA, haben sie gesagt. Flieg zum Mars, haben sie gesagt. Schönen Dank auch. Was sie Mark Watney nicht gesagt haben, ist, wie er auf dem Mars überleben soll, falls ihn ein schrecklicher Unfall von seinem Team trennt und sie gezwungen sind, ihn allein zurückzulassen. Nun ist er der einzige Bewohner eines Planeten, der sich redlich bemüht, Mark umzubringen. Alle Kommunikationswege sind zerstört. Seine Vorräte sind begrenzt. Er ist auf hochsensible Technik angewiesen, die stetig ausfallen könnte. Er könnte ersticken, verhungern, verdursten, erfrieren oder in der hauchdünnen Atmosphäre explodieren. Die nächste Mission wird in 1425 Tagen eintreffen. Bis dahin muss sich Mark auf seinen Einfallsreichtum, seine Fähigkeiten und seine sture Weigerung zu sterben verlassen, um dem angriffslustigen Planeten ein Schnippchen zu schlagen. Es ist Zeit, ein für alle Mal herauszufinden, ob menschliches Überleben auf dem Mars tatsächlich unmöglich ist.

 

Unter extremen Bedingungen sind Menschen zu erstaunlichen Leistungen fähig. Wir alle kennen die Geschichte der Mutter, die einen Kleinwagen mit bloßen Händen stemmt, weil ihr Baby darunter eingeklemmt ist. Mark Watneys Überlebenskampf auf dem Mars ist ein hervorragendes Beispiel für diese wundersame Leistungsfähigkeit. Ja, werdet ihr sagen, der ist ja auch nur fiktiv. Ich antworte: das spielt überhaupt keine Rolle, weil er nicht fiktiv wirkt. Er wirkt so real wie ihr und ich. Ich habe während der Lektüre von „The Martian“ vergessen, dass Mark Watney eine Romanfigur ist, die der Fantasie des Autors Andy Weir entspringt. Von der ersten Seite an entwickelte ich enorme Sympathie für den Biologen, Ingenieur und Astronauten, denn er ist ein extrem zugänglicher Charakter, der mit selbstironischem Witz überzeugt. Ich hätte ihn gern auf ein Bier eingeladen. Er neigt überhaupt nicht zum Selbstmitleid, obwohl seine Lage beängstigend aussichtslos erscheint und eine gewisse Verzweiflung absolut verzeihlich gewesen wäre. Es zeugt von einer beeindruckenden Geisteshaltung, allein auf dem Mars nicht alle Hoffnung fahren zu lassen. Stattdessen treibt ihn sein außergewöhnlich starker Lebenswille zu Höchstleistungen an, die sein analytischer Verstand in praktikable und für die Leser_innen gut nachvollziehbare Überlebensstrategien verwandelt. In Logbuch-Einträgen beweist er sein bemerkenswertes Talent zum Problemlösen und ließ mich an all seinen Gedankengängen teilhaben. Dadurch fungiert das Logbuch zusätzlich als Marks Absicherung gegen den Wahnsinn; indem er den Leser_innen erklärt, welche Herausforderungen er wie meistern muss, bewahrt er sich selbst vorm Durchdrehen. Demzufolge enthält „The Martian“ viele äußerst spezifische Beschreibungen aus der Physik, Chemie, Biologie und allgemein den Naturwissenschaften, die zwar anspruchsvoll sind, mich aber niemals überforderten, was an sich bereits ein schriftstellerisches Kunststück darstellt. Ich habe unfassbar viel über den Mars gelernt und konnte gravierende Wissenslücken schließen. Ich musste jedoch ziemlich aufmerksam lesen, was sich in meinem Fall auf das Lesetempo auswirkte. Ich kam langsamer voran als in einem Durchschnittsbuch, störte mich allerdings kaum daran, weil „The Martian“ trotz dessen unglaublich spannend ist. Angesichts dessen, dass auf dem Mars nichts ist und Mark die Handlung fast ausschließlich durch seine Persönlichkeit vorantreiben muss, da Weir seine strikte Ich-Perspektive lediglich in recht großen Abständen aufbricht und die Leser_innen seine Unternehmungen niemals direkt erleben, ist diese konsequente Spannungskurve verblüffend. Ich fieberte auf jeder Seite mit und feuerte Mark in Gedanken lautstark an, nicht aufzugeben und dem blöden Planeten zu zeigen, wer der Boss ist. Ich hätte nicht gedacht, dass er tatsächlich eine Überlebenschance hat und war überrascht, wie viel Hoffnung er mir vermittelte, wie sehr ich daran glauben wollte, dass er es schafft, obwohl die Lage alles andere als rosig aussieht. Nimm das, Mars, Mark Watney is in da hooooouuuuse!

 

„The Martian“ ist die glaubhafte Chronik eines außerordentlichen Überlebenskampfes. Es ist eine irrwitzige Mischung aus „Apollo 11“, „Cast away – Verschollen“ und „Schiffbruch mit Tiger“ von Yann Martel. Ich freue mich über den gerechtfertigten Erfolg dieser Geschichte und gratuliere Andy Weir dazu, dass sich all seine Arbeit auszahlte, vom reinen Schreiben bis hin zu seinen erschöpfenden Recherchen. Er verdient es.
Meiner Meinung nach ist „The Martian“ ein Science-Fiction-Roman, der selbst Genreskeptikern wie mir gefallen kann, weil er sich sehr dicht an der Realität bewegt und mit einem Protagonisten aufwartet, der kaum menschlicher sein könnte. Mark Watney ist der nette Typ von Nebenan, mit dem man sich ein Footballspiel ansieht. Er ist der Typ, mit dem man einen trinken geht. Und zufällig ist er auch der Typ, der unverhofft den Mars kolonisiert, in MacGyver-Manier mit Kleber, Spucke und vielen kreativen Ideen – eben ein echter Weltraumpirat.

Source: wortmagieblog.wordpress.com/2017/10/18/andy-weir-the-martian
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review 2017-10-16 17:27
Use of Weapons / Iain M. Banks
Use of Weapons - Iain M. Banks

Cheradenine is an ex-special circumstance agent who had been raised to eminence by a woman named Diziet. Skaffen-Amtiskaw, the drone, had saved her life and it believes Cheradenine to be a burnt-out case. But not even its machine intelligence can see the horrors in his past.

 

Somehow, I had come to think of Iain M. Banks’ Culture as a pretty ideal society. This book shattered that somewhat for me, as it contains a lot of war & violence, plus a really cruel twist as the end of the novel. What can you do if you live in the Culture, but you’re not an easily entertained, peace-loving guy? Well, you can sign up for Special Circumstances and become a sort of super-soldier, getting horrifically injured, revived, regenerated, and going off to fight another battle. Even some of the Machine Minds in this one seem to be destructive and cruel.

But Banks accomplished what I think he wanted to—making his readers rethink what the Culture is all about (and maybe rethinking some the assumptions about their own culture). I look forward to tackling State of the Art next.

Book 265 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

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