Review — The Martian (Book & Movie)

I just finished The Martian, by Andy Weir. I had seen the movie a couple months back (and again just recently), and I have to say both are very well put together. The book for bringing so much humor and flavor into the genre of hard science-fiction, and the movie for creating such a perfect rendition of the book. They’re both impressive in their own right. So, since they’re both relatively recent, I won’t actually spoil any major plot here.

I’ve heard from multiple sources that all the science in The Martian is sound. Given all the technology the people could theoretically be equipped with at that time, everything happens the way it should, except the premise, interestingly enough. Mark Whatney gets stranded on Mars in the beginning because the dust storm his team got caught on forced an evacuation that went poorly, but in reality, Mars’ atmosphere isn’t nearly thick enough to house a storm as strong as was depicted in the book and movie. (In all honesty, though, I knew little of the science described in the story, so I wouldn’t know if it was real or not on my own. It’s not hard to grasp, though: both mediums do a good job explaining how things work without boring you.)

Mark Whatney’s character is pretty much the only reason the book is even good. He casts a lot of humor and sarcasm into his situation, and if he was less interesting, well, there would be no book, let alone a movie. In fact, all the characters in the book are compelling, and that’s a feat in my eyes. Even the people on the Ares III crew that got virtually no screen time in the movie became developed people with background and depth in the book.

As far as the movie goes, I was pleasantly surprised with how much justice it did to the book. Many scenes whose details were irrelevant to the plot were done word for word in the movie, and if I recall correctly, everything in the movie was also in the book, and with the exception of one scene in particular, everything happened in exactly the same ways, too. There were scenes that were scrapped for the movie, of course. Situations and obstacles were left out, but because they weren’t addressed in the movie, it wasn’t missing them, either. When I came across them in the book, I had new stuff to experience, because there were new problems Whatney had to face.

If I had to find any problems with the movie/book—and I’m really nitpicking here—it would be that the story is too static. There’s the threat of starvation that’s always ticking, and the longer Whatney stays on Mars, the more likely he is to die, but really, his position never changes. To address my writing acronym of TEAM (Teaching audience, Establishing rules, Answering questions, and Moving characters), there isn’t much movement in the book, as far as Whatney’s relationship with the conflict. He’s in a constant state of reaction, and when he succeeds, all it does is maintain the statis quo of him remaining alive. Now, this point is extremely arguable, but rather than remain on this subject too long, I’ll just move on. That’s pretty much the only flaw I could find in the story, period.

So, obviously I would recommend both the movie and the book. They’re both quite enjoyable, and while it’s very science-y, it’s not overwhelmingly complicated. It’s certainly no kids book, (there’s also lots of cursing, understandably,) but it’s accessible to the normal people as much as it is to science geeks. In my personal opinion, you should watch the movie first. Matt Damon fits the role of Mark Whatney pretty dang well, and since the movie is so good, it will not only help you visualize the events in the book, but it also makes those extra stuff that happens in the book bonus material, rather than being disappointed when the movie cut those scenes.

Review — John Cleaver Series

It’s been a while since I’ve actually read through the entirety of a book series, especially one longer than a trilogy. (The only other time I’ve done that in recent years was Sanderson’s Alcatraz series.) I’m no longer used to capital-‘C’ Conclusions, because everything I finish these days is a part of a series, be it podcast, YouTube series, or book. So, as usual, no specific spoilers, though I will give away the basic premise of the series as a whole.

The weird part is, listening to this series on audiobook as they were released, I had no idea this was the last book until I was already almost done with it, and even then it was only based on the context of what was being said. I think it also has to do with the fact that, as a fantasy reader and gamer, most of the things I experience progress in scale and stakes as you get more invested into it. The last book really isn’t as climactic as one of the books before it.

But I’m going on a tangent, here. Is the book series good? Well, it’s definitely different. It’s a little strange when the protagonist is arguably less human than the demons he is trying to stop. Dan Wells did a great job making a character that toes the line between hero and villain. The series has a macabre atmosphere the whole time, but it’s interesting because it’s also a mystery novel where the protagonist has to be clever in order to deduce the situation and figure out a way to handle it. I especially liked it because it doesn’t follow the typical rules of “who is the killer”. Instead, a huge focus of the books is “How is the killer?”

It makes more sense when you read it yourself.

It really does it’s job as a mystery series, though it does kind of cheat because of the supernatural element that the reader can’t predict ahead of time (because the clues can sometimes translate to strange conclusions).

My biggest critique for the book series as a whole is that there are remarkably few neat characters in it. In the entirety of the six books, I could count on one hand the number of characters that had enough depth and intrigue to interest me beyond their place in the plot. For example (not really a spoiler), his mom is a very typical mom, and doesn’t really have any qualities that make her stand out. And there aren’t many characters in the series that do. In fact, one of the ones I really liked died really suddenly, which made me upset because I wanted to know more about them! (Also not a spoiler because of course people die in this series!) It’s sort of funny how I like the series because of how unique the main character is, and yet I think its biggest flaw is how unique all the other characters aren’t. I suppose he just spent all his character building energy on the protagonist, which makes perfect sense to me.

As far as the ending goes, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s the sort of ending that is both impossible to predict and blatantly obvious in hindsight. It’s that sweetspot authors have a hard time finding, but I think Dan Wells really nailed it. To be honest, I didn’t like the ending at first, because it seemed too easy. But after giving it more thought, I couldn’t think of any ways to close the series that would be more satisfying, so I’ve concluded that this is the correct one. Plus, giving it that much thought made me appreciate it all the more, because it wraps up and “answers” the theme of the series as a whole very well. Bravo.

Dan Wells has certainly earned his place on my shelf. None of his novels have disappointed me, and it’s a little peculiar that he isn’t even a fantasy author, which is usually my niche. I hope one day he fills that gap, but only if he can deliver on the standards I’m going to hold him up to, given everything else he’s published!

Review –Lockwood & Co. Series

As much as I hate doing a review on an incomplete series, I feel now is the best time to talk about the books as I’ve just finished the most recent one, The Creeping Shadow, and the fifth book doesn’t even have a title yet. By the time I read that one I won’t remember anything about the first four. All that being said, I’ll follow my usual rule and avoid spoilers altogether, as this is still an ongoing series.

Lockwood & Co. is a fun young adult series by Jonathan Stroud, author of the Bartimaeus Trilogy, which is an odd series of books in its own right. They’re both supernatural fiction series (I had to look up what it was called because “urban fantasy” doesn’t really describe either series). They’re also both set in a not-so-modern England, and the premise of Lockwood & Co. centers around ghosts.

The ghosts are pretty much what pop culture models them to be, though obviously in this series they are a reality. They all have a source, or something that ties them to the ‘real’ world’, and for whatever reason only kids can see, hear, or feel them. As people age into adulthood, they lose their ability to sense anything ghost-related, so this world ends up solving the problem by setting up several agencies where kids are the ghost hunters and the adults are the supervisors that handle the paperwork.

The smallest agency, however, has no adults. Its founder is the illustrious Anthony Lockwood, and rather than governing dozens or even hundreds of agents, it is merely him and his two friends, George and Lucy, handling the business. The story is told in Lucy’s perspective, and the books themselves take on a sort of suspenseful murder mystery more often than not. These ghosts can kill them, after all, and they have to figure out what happened in order to set these ghosts to rest.

Now, as with Jonathan Stroud’s other series, the best aspect of these books isn’t the plot or the characters, but rather the charm. The narrator, Lucy Carlyle in this series or Bartimaeus in the other, often carry a sarcasm or wit about them that makes a lot of the situations they find themselves in rather humorous. Often when I explain this sort of thing I’d include an example, but alas, the best ones I can think of all have spoilers in them! Rest assured, Stroud does a phenomenal job giving his characters maximum use out of the irony they happen to come across, and the books are, as I said, a lot of fun. Also, as a very small side note, but something that should be taken as quite an accomplishment, this is probably the first series in which I’ve wanted to see two characters get together. Often I hate that, and I can’t really explain why this time its different, it just is.

Touching on what I would call the largest shortcoming of the series (I like to say at least one positive and one negative thing in these reviews), is the lack of scope. In the Dresden Files, you get a small-time wizard trying to solve some crimes and help some people, only to find himself caught in the midst of a supernatural war that spans time and even reality a dozen books later. I love to see the scale of a book series grow larger as I read, but with Lockwood & Co. that doesn’t really happen, at least not on a comparable level. Three books later they’re still kids, managing the same sorts of happenings from their modest accommodations. Rather than the scope enlarging, the books merely deal with very large and important events that occur within these characters’ lives. Yes, they can affect the state of the country in some ways, but there’s no “level up” in the sense of what baddies they’re facing or anything like that.

When I’m reading Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Scott Lynch, you name it, I typically concern myself with the world. Worldbuilding is my passion, after all, so its only natural for me to find myself enthralled with all of the nations and cultures Sanderson touches on in The Stormlight Archive and fill in the gaps myself. But with Stroud books, there isn’t very much worldbuilding. Since it’s just a twist on our own world, there really isn’t much to learn, so I read those books for the character. These characters, rather than the lovable, insanely powerful idiot wizard Harry Dresden (written by Jim Butcher) or the emotionally detached, off-putting creepiness of John Cleaver (by Dan Wells), you get the innovative, clever, daring, yet clearly juvenile personalities of Lockwood and his friends. They each have fun characters, and even some of the annoying, more useless and minor characters fill a very important role in the series, so even their presence isn’t frustrating.