Review: The Martian

The Martian
The Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was lovingly written by an obvious space nerd. Weir explains large amounts of science and engineering in a very accessible format. As only a true space nerd would do, there are lots of jokes and puns. Not everyone will like them, but they enhanced the story for me.

The story works as a framework to describe the technical challenges to life on Mars. The Apollo missions were visits of a few short days and Whatney, our hero, was planned to have a few short weeks on Mars. Only it goes all wrong.

What I enjoyed most was
the isolation. So many authors try but fall flat.

Given the fiction part of science-fiction, the problems arrive one after another to give Whatney something to solve without too much of a break to recover. A normal mortal would have broken under the stress. But, then, NASA would not send a normal mortal to Mars. 🙂

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Review: TĂĄin BĂł CĂșalnge. English

TĂĄin BĂł CĂșalnge. English
TĂĄin BĂł CĂșalnge. English by L. Winifred Faraday
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I put out a call on Facebook for suggestions on Gaelic mythology to read. This was the top suggestion.

This strongly reminded me of Norse and Saxon epics. All account for the names of places by describing the battles undertaken there. Each is more fantastic than the next.

This one follows CĂșchulainn, the Hound of Ulster. He battles against the armies of queen Medb. He can stun dozens of swans with a single throw of a stone. Or use thrown spears as stepping stones. You know… The kind of stuff one would see in an ancient China martial arts movie such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Which reminds me, there MUST be a movie about this epic, right?

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Review: The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

PKD writes about my favorite topic which is how we perceive reality. What is real? Can we actually tell? I may need to read more of his books.

Sensation and Perception was my favorite class doing my Psychology major. Well, some days I say it was Tests and Measurements. (Probably the ones where I do something involving tests.) Let’s call it a tie. S&P covers the mechanics and functionality of the senses, how the brain works with them, and best of all: how to exploit the failings of them.

The concept of an alternate reality where perhaps the Axis Powers won World War II found me intrigued. While what if realities are done quite a bit in science fiction, I enjoyed PKD’s take. I especially liked the hinting at our reality in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy and slow unveiling of what it says.

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Review: Joss Whedon: The Biography

Joss Whedon: The Biography
Joss Whedon: The Biography by Amy Pascale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This biography is essentially a greatly expanded Joss Whedon filmography. Pascale carefully tells the behind the scenes stories about his career.

I arrived late to the Whedonverse. Yes, the fandom has a name. Essentially, I saw Serenity in the movie theater, borrowed Firefly from my roommate, and was hooked from there. Well, maybe not enough to see Cabin In The Woods. I am not that rabid.

Pascale puts into words why I enjoy Joss’ work. Strong female characters. Depth. Ensemble casts. Early movies I had no idea he was involved now make sense why I liked them.

I may have to start checking out the current work of writers who used to work with him to see if I enjoy that as well.

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Salman Rushdie took a bunch of flak for giving beloved books at poor rating.

Well, I don’t like the work of Kingsley Amis, there it is. I don’t have to explain or justify. It’s allowed.

He was operating on Goodreads, but Rushdie has not claim his author’s page yet. And, he says he was unaware the ratings were public.

Is the reasoning behind people getting upset that if they like Midnight’s Children and To Kill a Mockingbird, then Rushdie must also like TKaM? I’d assume the odds are terrible that any of my favorite authors, like the same books as me. Or even close friends.

Mainly because if my rating for a book differs from yours? GREAT. That’s how it should be.

Odds are that I probably disagree with you about something. What I want from you as a friend or acquaintance is an understanding of who you are. And that means determining where your likes or dislikes diverge from mine.

There is one friend who talks about all the movies he watches Saturday night. Those he loves, I cross off my list because I probably will hate it. Those he dislikes, I add to my to-watch list because I probably will like it. I’ve even bought movies just on his complete despise of them. Having opposite tastes and still being friends seems utterly normal to me. But then, I’ve talked books all my life with friends and never found anyone whose tastes exactly mirror my own. Sure there is usually some commonality, enough for us to enjoy some of the same things, but usually there are some gaps.

The more the merrier.


For the nerds:

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Review: Allegiant

Allegiant by Veronica Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Seems odd, but I found this the best in the series. Things start to click into place. The (terrible, no good not even) scientific explanations made sense of things that had bothered me about the story.

At first, the switching back and forth between Tris and Four seemed odd, but I eventually started to suspect why.

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Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yeah, I am finally getting around to reading it and years of resisting pressure. I rarely read something while everyone else does. The Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, and Percy Jackson phenomenons where all for Generation Y while I am GenX. I cannot think of an equivalent for my generation. I guess we were too infatuated with MTV. What is it with dystopian settings for Young Adult fiction? Are they worried about the end of the world?

The writing was pretty direct and simple. It really felt like something Jennifer Lawrence could have written. I’ve decided I ought to watch the movies because it feels like the casting choice there was brilliant.

Predictably, the first part of the book is where we meet Katniss and the shape of the world and the setup for the Hunger Games. Following her perspective, especially the Fog of War, improved the story during the games as wondering what will happen and surprises helped. I was somewhat disappointed the ending did not leave more of a cliffhanger for prompting to immediately need to read Catching Fire.

Kind of felt Katniss possessed too much Emotional Quotient at times compared to the near constant describing her as impulsive. In the end, I think Katniss is much more level headed than she thinks she is. Perhaps as she grows confidence over achieving success, she will grow into it.

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Review: The Gatekeeper

The Gatekeeper
The Gatekeeper by Scott Ferrell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Scott is a friend from high school. We played D&D and terrorized our hometown. I wanted to read this because I figured it would incorporate elements from that experience. Maybe I would even recognize someone I know?

Stories like this about the hero stuck in another world are among my favorites. The D&D cartoon from the 80s, The Sleeping Dragon, and others unveil the challenge of learning to deal with a realm possessing unfamiliar physics, more sentient beings than just humans, and everyone looking at Terrans like they are idiots. Dealing with our world is hard enough. Getting thrown into something very different should break anyone. Relating to the protagonist, Gaige, was easy because I was the outsider kid struggling with parents and other kids not understanding.

The Gatekeeper started strong and kept up the pace. Gaige, Aoife, and Seanna were enjoyable. Foreshadowing of the twist was there but not too obvious where it would go. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

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Review: The Age of American Unreason

The Age of American Unreason
The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Back in 2007, I went to Thanksgiving with Mom to the home of a Philosophy professor. The professor’s father discoursed on why United States presidents should only be intellectuals. His arguments made sense. Someone able to understand the options, determine risk, and plan for contingencies will likely do a better job than someone who cannot. (Most PotUS surround themselves with those capable of doing this, but at the time, the PotUS had political sycophants rather than intellectuals.)

The most spectacular portion of the book was the discourse on Junk Thought, which is what Jacoby calls pseudoscience, since she uses Junk Thought to bash it.

Really, I agree with 90% of the conclusions made in this book. My issues with the book rests with how the arguments link together in odd leaps that seem to rely more on faith than evidence. Plus, it is easy to tell who the author dislikes with the ad hominems used to discuss them.

The United States does need a well educated, well read, and actively engaged electorate to ensure our elected representatives possess the highest caliber. Books like this hurt that conversion instead of aiding us to somehow navigate the issues to achieve it.

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Review: Gate of Ivrel

Gate of Ivrel
Gate of Ivrel by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A friend recommended this to me as the basis of Stargate. The concept of using a system of gates to reach other worlds certainly resembles Stargate.

I like C.J.’s The Dreaming Tree, so this was obvious for me to try.

I kept hoping to discover Arthur and Merlin as Morgaine sounded like she would be tied to tales of them. With three more in the series there is still hope.

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