The Martian

WeirThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

One day you start the normal morning routine on a Mars expedition, but the end of the day you’re bleeding and alone on the Red Planet with everyone believing your dead. The Martian by Andy Weir follows the life and death struggle of astronaut Mark Watney on the surface of Mars as he attempts to stay alive and find a way to contact NASA to get him home.

On the sixth day of the third manned mission to Mars, an intense dust storm scrubs the mission but during the evacuation the mission’s botanist and engineer Mark Watney is seemingly impaled by a broken antenna and left behind. However luck would have it Watney has only a minor injury, but alone on the surface. Taking stock of everything left at base camp, Watney begins planning how to survive until the next mission to Mars and figuring out how to contact NASA, both of which he eventually does through not without significant challenges. Meanwhile NASA has had to do an about face on Watney’s status and begin to figure out how to save him, which means doing things as quickly as possible but results in setbacks and later teaming up with the Chinese to resupply Watney’s crew who “mutiny” by demand to get back to Mars to save their friend.

Weir created a science-based scenario with all the physical and elemental challenges that a stranded astronaut would face on Mars, as well as how it would happen. Watney’s easy-going persona, well as easy-going as one could get while stranded on Mars and hoping to find a way off, makes for numerous laughs that along with Weir’s very easy to read prose makes for a book that is hard to put down. Yet I can’t avoid some of the downsides to the book, namely the end of the book that is almost predictable from the outset and the somewhat manufactured drama especially concerning the internal workings of NASA to results in the crew “mutiny”.

The Martian is a very readable hard science fiction novel, the debut work of Andy Weir. The main character and Weir’s easy prose made this book hard to put down and made me linger reading “just one more page” at night, thus making this a book that I can’t help but recommend to both science fiction fans and general readers alike.

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Second Foundation (Foundation #3)

Second FoundationSecond Foundation by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The completion of the original Foundation trilogy sees the masterplan of Hari Sheldon righted by his secret safety valve. Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov sees first the Mule and then the First Foundation itself looking for Sheldon’s second institution because they felt it was a threat, while the Second Foundation attempts to keep the plan going forward.

The book is divided between two novellas, the first and shortest concerns the Mule’s search for the Second Foundation so he can destroy it and rule the Galaxy. He sends two men, one “Converted” and one “Unconverted”, to find his enemies and then follows them to the knowledge of both. Yet the Second Foundation had planned a trap for the Mule, who had deduced that his “unconverted” man was a spy which was planned. The Second Foundation psychologically changes the Mule’s mind from conquest into plan rule so he can die naturally. The second story takes up two-thirds of the book and set 55 years after the first with the First Foundation in knowledge of the Second, which endangers Sheldon’s plan. A group of anti-Second Foundation group meets on Terminus with a young lady eavesdropping to figure out how do destroy their rivals, through the actions of this young lady their conspiracy advances and a war between the Foundation and Kalgan is ignited by happenstance. The young lady is helped to Trantor and later sends a message to her father, who is able to apparently destroy the Second Foundation on Terminus and Kalgan. Only for the leader of the Second Foundation to explain to an apprentice the plan for them to disappear from knowledge so they can keep Sheldon’s plan safe.

Unlike the previous book in the trilogy, this book was written comparably well including both plot and characters. With a telepathic element in both stories, this helped the overall narrative and its myriad of “plots within and upon plots” in both. The point-of-view characters while not the roundest of characters were still better than most in Foundation and Empire, though the second novella “Search by the Foundation” is as long as “The Mule” in the aforementioned previous installment Asimov’s writing was noticeably better in handling the length. Though there was a little tediousness to the second novella, it was mild compared to the previous book and frankly the story moved quickly.

Reading Second Foundation reminded me of reading Foundation and why this trilogy is considered a classic of science fiction. Though Isaac Asimov isn’t a perfect writer, his ideas are engaging and this series shows that perfectly especially in this final book of the trilogy.

Foundation and Empire (Foundation #2)

Foundation 2Foundation And Empire by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The Foundation created by Hari Seldon has come through three crises and several social changes, but now it must face off against forces of Empire. Foundation and Empire, the second book of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, follows how the Foundation and its citizen responded to threats from Empire—one it’s decaying predecessor and one from a budding conqueror.

Unlike like Foundation with its several short stories, Asimov’s second book featured two novellas entitled “The General” and “The Mule”. The first followed the Imperial war against the Foundation led by the titular general Bel Riose who looked to restore the rule of the Empire, but was stopped short by the Emperor who believed him to be using the war to build up himself as a usurper. The fallout of the war leads the Foundation citizenry to believe during its war with the warlord “The Mule” that eventually something will happen for the Foundation to win. But the Foundation falls to the Mule’s forces as its leadership learns that its next crisis was to be civil war. A small ship filled with Foundation survivors makes its way towards the old Imperial capital to find a way to stop the Mule and find that the Second Foundation might be the key.

Although some might believe the two novellas a better format than the several short stories of the first book, I am of a different opinion. The longer length of the stories unfortunately exposed Asimov’s characters as very flat and his writing somewhat formulaic, especially when it came to the identity of “The Mule”. Yet I have to admit that of the two stories, “The General” was the best because it only took up a third of the book thus protecting the characters from being over exposed. “The Mule” became tedious as the reveal of titular character took its sweet time, even as Asimov attempted to show the decay of the Galactic civilization.

While Foundation and Empire was not as good as the first book of the trilogy, there are still some nice passages and ideas that Asimov has written. Though I was intrigued to find out more about the Second Foundation after finishing the book, it was a long slog to get to that point.

Foundation (Foundation #1)

FoundationFoundation by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An Empire has begun to decline and one man had produced a plan to shorten the resulting Dark Age and found a Second Empire. Isaac Asimov based his “Hugo Best All-Time Series” on this premise, one man setting up a Foundation for the future of mankind but not telling his successors about how to bring the plan to fruition.

Foundation is not one story, but several connected together because of the grand plan by Hari Seldon who mathematically deduced the decline of the Galactic Empire and its future fall then came up with a plan to reduce the resulting Dark Age to only a 1000 years. Three of the five stories featured the two standout characters of the volume: Salvor Hardin, the point-of-view character in “The Encyclopedists” and “The Mayors”, and Hober Mallow, the point-of-view character of “The Merchant Princes”. It is through these two characters the reader gets an understanding of the political and social situations going on as the Empire declines and the Seldon’s Foundation politically evolve to meet the conditions known as Seldon Crisis.

Although Foundation is an interconnected collection of short stories, combined they create a history of a far off future of a declining Empire and an outpost meant to build up a future Second Empire for the betterment of all men. While some might think space science fiction is all lasers and space battles, Isaac Asimov showed that it could be political, religious, and economic forces on a large scale used by individuals to pave the way for a better future. It is because of this that many consider this a classic and frankly I can’t disagree.

The Force Doth Awaken (William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Part The Seventh)

WSSW 7William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken: Star Wars Part the Seventh by Ian Doescher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The galaxy is on the brink of war as old and new heroes race to find the last Jedi against vile agents of the imperial First Order in William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken by Ian Doescher. The first film of the sequel trilogy returns us the Star Wars galaxy 30 years after the fall of the Empire as its successor strikes reclaim the galaxy while attempting to destroy those that could stop it but instead of screen or adaptation is translated wonderfully into fantastic Elizabethan prose by Doescher just like Shakespeare might have done.

Though the search for the lost Luke Skywalker is the focus and driving motivation of the entire book, the struggle for one’s own identity is the central theme. Doescher’s fantastic soliloquies by Finn, Rey, and Kylo Ren give depth to these new leading characters as they join long established characters of Han and Leia. One of the best surprises of the book is Chewbacca as Doescher “corrects” one of his oversights by “translating” the Wookie’s screams in the footnotes, which given the events during the battle of Starkiller Base is very poignant. The duel between Finn/Rey and Kylo Ren is very well-written with good balance of Chorus lines and character soliloquies that brings about a very complete and compelling scene. And additional nice touches were the humorous lines of the Rathtars and great use of using the small amount of dialog for Snoke to great use.

The Force Doth Awaken is a return by Doescher and all Star Wars fans to what made the franchise fun, but unlike some Doescher embraced the very homage to the first film and used the similarities to great effect in this book. As Doescher like every other Star Wars fan must await the next film, those that love his work will be eagerly awaiting each William Shakespeare adaptation from him.

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Gojira (Godzilla #1)

GojiraGojira
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The 1954 horror-science fiction classic Gojira, aka Godzilla, is the original film that launched a film franchise longer than any other in the history of cinema as well as spawning numerous spinoffs around the globe, particularly the United States.  The film directed by legendary filmmaker Ishiro Honda, written by Honda, Takeo Murata, and Shigeru Kayama was released during the “golden age” of Japanese cinema after the Post-WWII Occupation which along with the atomic bomb plays a background theme of the theme.

Japanese cargo ships and fishing boats begin disappearing around Odo Island, for the locals it is the return of an ancient sea creature “Godzilla”.  Because of the mystery around the waters of Odo, reporters arrive and begin interviewing people as well as learn about the local beliefs about what’s happening.  Then that night, a huge storm arrives as well as something else that demolishes and consumes parts of the village.  The resulting coverage and demand to relief results in the government sending an investigative team lead by paleontologist Dr. Yamane, who is on the island when the creature is seen for the first time in daylight proving it to be a living dinosaur affected by the testing of atomic and nuclear bombs.  Though the Japanese government attempts to keep their findings secret even as they attempt to kill the monster and more ships go missing, when Godzilla appears in Tokyo Bay and does some damage on both land and sea.  With the secret out the Japanese Defense Forces attempt to kill Godzilla, but only make the creature angrier which results in Tokyo getting devastated.  During all of this Yamane begs that Godzilla be studied not only because of his uniqueness but his resistance to radiation even while his daughter is in the midst of a love triangle that will result in finding out the method in killing Godzilla by her former fiancé, Serizama.  Using his Oxygen Destroyer, Serizama kills not only Godzilla and himself to prevent his discovery from becoming a weapon though Yamane is fearful that more nuclear testing will result in another Godzilla.

This brief synopsis of the nearly 100-minute film, gives a faint hint at all the nuance that is within the picture.  The slow build up at the beginning of the film of Godzilla’s actions, though the monster is unseen, and the grief-stricken and stressed reactions of the survivors of sailors lost at sea by unknown means hearkened back to World War II and the loss of soldiers and sailors during the war.  Godzilla’s rampaging through Tokyo several times causing massive damage is a painful reminder of the American bombing campaign during the war.  Then there is Godzilla himself, brought to the surface because of underwater nuclear bomb tests in the film but obviously a stand-in to the long-lasting effects of radiation from the atomic bombs that were just then being understood.

Yet not everyone wants to go really in-depth the meaning of some films, so what of the face value of the film itself?  Gojira isn’t perfect especially when it comes to the human-centered story and the characters themselves.  Of the all the named characters with significant time, only Dr. Yamane and Serizama are the best fleshed out and only the latter shows any character development from when we first meet him in the film to his decision to die so his superweapon won’t be replicated.  The reason this film has become a classic is the special effects.  Using techniques the Japanese cinema had honed for decades under state control wanting war films, the industry learned to recreate real-life locations in miniature and editing techniques to make things look as realistic as a film in the 1950s could.

While subsequent ToHo films featuring Godzilla are not as high quality as the first, they do not take away anything from Gojira.  This horror-science fiction classic’s use of symbolism to express the underlying currents of Japanese society and culture a decade after the end of the World War II still speaks to those viewers today that look for it.  And for those who do not, the first and original film to feature Godzilla is a recommended must see given the worldwide culture impact the character has had.

The Godzilla Page

Rogues

RoguesRogues by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Rogues, the short story anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, contains over twenty stories of above average quality and wonderful use of the titular quality that connects all the stories. The twenty-one stories from several genres features significant characters as rogues no matter gender, species, and orientation from authors both well-known to general audiences and some note so.

Of the twenty-one stories featured in Rogues the three best not only were high quality writing and features very roguish characters, but also were able to introduce a reader into the already established universe they take place in that only enhanced the story. The opening story “Tough Times All Over” takes place within the First Law world that Joe Abercrombie established himself writing about, “The Inn of the Seven Blessings” by Matthew Hughes takes place with in the world of Archonate, and “A Cargo of Ivories” by Garth Nix takes place within the world of Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz. While these were the best, the stories by Joe R. Lansdale, Michael Stanwick, and Patrick Rothfuss set within an establish world they had create were also very good.

The stories especially created for this anthology is a mixture of the very good, the bad, and those that were just missing something. Daniel Abraham’s “The Meaning of Love”, David W. Ball’s “Provenance”, and Scott Lynch’s “A Year and A Day in Old Theradane” were wonderfully written stories in two separate genres that were in the top seven stories of the whole collection. “Now Showing” by Connie Willis is unfortunately one of the worst stories of the collection which was a shame considering that she wrote about several interesting ideas, but the execution with the characters crushed the story. Yet some of the stories while good and having roguish characters just felt like they were missing something: “Heavy Metal” was missing a fuller backstory to the main character and a better understanding of the supernatural powers at work yet once done could become a fascinating future series for Cherie Priest, and “The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives” was fantastic homage to Sherlock Holmes and John Watson by Lisa Tuttle that just felt it could have been more.

Yet some of the biggest disappointments in this collection were from established authors and their established series. The worst story of the collection is “A Better Way to Die” by Paul Cornell that takes place in his alternate history timeline that features the spy Johnathan Hamilton but the reader has no idea about the world if you had never read an earlier story that featured Hamilton. And my personal disappointment was “The Rogue Prince” that George R.R. Martin wrote as an Archmaester of the Citadel as a biography of Daemon Targaryen but was more of a history of the events leading up to The Dance of the Dragons that he told in “The Princess and the Queen”.

The twenty-one stories that make up Rogues feature–more than not–very good short stories from across genres whether in established worlds or one-offs. Yet like all anthologies, it is a mixed bag in quality and expectations, but often than not the reader will be satisfied after finishing these stories with time well spent in several wonderful settings following some very unscrupulous individuals.

Individual Story Ratings
Tough Times All Over by Joe Abercrombie (4.5/5)
What Do You Do? by Gillian Flynn (3.5/5)
The Inn of the Seven Blessings by Matthew Hughes (5/5)
Bent Twig by Joe R. Lansdale (4/5)
Tawny Petticoats by Michael Stanwick (4/5)
Provenance by David W. Ball (4/5)
Roaring Twenties by Carrie Vaughn (3/5)
A Year and A Day in Old Theradane by Scott Lynch (4/5)
Bad Brass by Bradley Denton (2.5/5)
Heavy Metal by Cherie Priest (3/5)
The Meaning of Love by Daniel Abraham (4/5)
A Better Way to Die by Paul Cornell (1/5)
Ill Seen in Tyre by Steven Saylor (3/5)
A Cargo of Ivories by Garth Nix (4.5/5)
Diamonds from Tequila by Walter Jon Williams (3/5)
The Caravan to Nowhere by Phyllis Eisenstein (2.5/5)
The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives by Lisa Tuttle (3/5)
How the Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman (3.5/5)
Now Showing by Connie Willis (2/5)
The Lightning Tree by Patrick Rothfuss (4/5)
The Rogue Prince, or, A King’s Brother by George R.R. Martin (2.5/5)