Showing posts with label science fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label science fiction. Show all posts

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel


Title: Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten's arm is a line from Star Trek: "Because survival is insufficient." But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it. 


My Review:

A novel in which everyone (well, almost everyone) dies of the flu!  As a low-grade germaphobe, this book review is brought to you by my favorite little friend, Waterless Hand Sanitizer.  Which I have been using a lot more of since I read this book.
Don't leave home without it!
Anyway...another well-hyped, new-ish novel!  I just can't stay away from the New Releases shelf at my library the last few months.  Plus, this one won The Morning News's Tournament of Books (think Final Four for books) this year, so that's saying a lot.

I suppose that Station Eleven could be summarized as an apocalypse novel.  Catastrophic flu, 99% of the population dead, bye bye Internet, etc.  If you're into that sort of reading, you'll certainly find it here.  However, that simple description also does the book a bit of a disservice, as it has a lot of the literary merits that might be lacking in a more action-based novel.  It's not entirely an Oryx and Crake, or The Road, but it's also not The Hunger Games or Feed.  Somewhere in the in-between.

I loved this book.  Mandel wrapped me into the post-apocalyptic world that she created right from page one, and I never wanted to put the book down once she did.  Though truthfully, I'd be lying if I said that it left me feeling happy at the end.  Bereft would be a more likely descriptor.  There's just so much sadness to process here.  Of course, you have the devastation of the pandemic, but then there's all of the interpersonal relationships between the characters--lots of divorce, death, abandonment, violence.  Don't get me wrong, the book is amazingly well-written, it's just not a feel-good story by any means.  I was deeply affected by these characters by the end of the book, flu pandemic or not, which says a lot about the quality of the writing.

I can't pinpoint the one thing that made this book great for me.  It's just all of it...the alternating storylines (which cover both pre- and post-pandemic), the world building, the story-within-a-story (as the title comes from a comic book that is introduced in the novel)...this book is a puzzle that Mandel put together perfectly.  I can't think of an adult fiction reader who this would not appeal to in some way.  (Unless a germaphobic-reader-who-only-loves-happy-books is out there...then by all means, avoid.)

Station Eleven.  Read it.  Love it.

Be honest, people--based on your survival/sanitation skillz, what are your chances of surviving the flu-based apocalypse??

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir


Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Publisher: Crown
Publication Date: February 11, 2014
Source: ARC received from the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he's stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive--and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to get him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills--and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit--he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?


My Review:

Did you ever read a book and think, "This would make a great movie"?  Well, move over Apollo 13, because The Martian could totally be the next space-based blockbuster.  Is Kevin Bacon still available?

I have to admit it: at first, I was NOT understanding all the hype around this book.  I'd seen so many excellent reviews, but the first 13% or so nearly had me asleep at the wheel.  Our friendly astronaut Mark realizes on page 1 that he's been stranded on Mars.  Thought dead by the rest of his crew, they took off for Earth without him.  Not cool, right?  So Mark jumps into action, coming up with a plan for survival.  Mark is a botanist-slash-mechanical engineer, so he's got lots of knowledge that can help him fix his equipment and grow food.  That's great for him, but as a reader, it wasn't always great for me.  He descriptions of his survival plans are SO technical that unless chemistry is your forte, it's hard to follow along and keep interest.

However, after that initial section made me feel like I was going to drown in soil bacteria and atmospheric pressurization, the story suddenly switched perspectives, which jazzed things up quite a bit.  From then on, the book jumps between Mark's POV and that of a few other characters.  This fleshes out the plot a bit more, and when the technical knowledge starts making an appearance again, it blends into the narrative much more seamlessly.  Obviously, this is a book about NASA and space travel, so science-based knowledge is key--I'm not saying the author should have done without it.  But the book kept my interest a lot better when the science-y stuff was woven into the rest of the plot action a bit more, rather than taking center stage (as it does so much in the beginning).  By the end, I was left feeling extremely impressed by the immense amount of research that Andy Weir must have done to make this into a believable, science-based fiction novel.

There are two key features of The Martian that make it great: its ability to keep you guessing, and Mark Watney himself.  Because of the way the author switches POV throughout the novel, you're never sure if Mark is going to survive (and if he is, how he will manage to do it).  The closer I got to the ending, the less I wanted to put it down.  And Mark is pretty hilarious.  At first I thought his sense of humor was a little cheesy, but as you get to know him more, you see that his joking manner is completely fitting.

I read a few reviews that showed frustration at the fact that Mark never seems to grow/progress in the novel--his sense of humor is always the same, no matter how many obstacles he faces or how much time he spends on desolate Mars.  But honestly, this book NEEDS some humor.  Mark's situation is so inherently depressing that without his ability to take things lightly, this book would have been way too heavy.  Plus, you've got to be at least a little impressed by his tenacity.  Because I mean, hello?  If I was stranded on Mars, I'm pretty sure I'd be less inclined to start going all Survivorman, and more inclined to curl up in a ball of weepy, sobbing dismay.  So rock on with your bad self, Mark.

Overall: despite the slow start, The Martian picked up the pace and ended as an excellent, thrilling read.  Don't let the technical stuff scare you off, because it all comes together to make a fast-paced story and a heart-pounding conclusion.

So what do you think, readers?  Would you ever visit Mars if given the chance?  Or will you be leaving that to more adventurous types?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Book Review: Parasite by Mira Grant


Title: Parasite
Author: Mira Grant
Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: October 29, 2013
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads:

A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.

We owe our good health to a humble parasite - a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the tapeworm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system - even secretes designer drugs. It's been successful beyond the scientists' wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.

But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives...and will do anything to get them.


My Review:

If the name Mira Grant rings a bell, it may be because I reviewed the three books in her Newsflesh trilogy for you last year.  Grant did a great job with zombies, so why wouldn't she do the same with tapeworms, amiright?  YAY, ZOMBIES AND TAPEWORMS.  I guess you shouldn't proceed in this review if you dislike icky things?

Alrighty, well, the first thing I liked about this book is the scientific detail.

And then, the first thing I kinda disliked about this book is the scientific detail.

(Let's back up.)

If you've read the Newsflesh trilogy, you know that Grant is really, really good at giving her sci-fi villains (in that case, zombies, in this case, tapeworms) a solid scientific foundation.  This isn't like The Walking Dead where we just kind of have this virus that's turning people into zombies, and you don't get a lot of detail about it, but you just accept the fact that people are now eating other people and YAY NORMAN REEDUS.  Nope, Mira Grant makes sure you know exactly how, biologically, that was possible, and I thought that was a super cool spin on the usual zombie novels that I see.

At first, I was intrigued by her explanation of the whole tapeworm situation in Parasite.  Basically, in the not-distant future, a health care company developed these tapeworms as implants to live in everyone's intestines, because the overuse of sterilization and hygienic cleansing caused us to all be getting sick all the time (a true scientific theory even now), and the tapeworms could be used to deliver medicines and other treatments in order to prevent these infections from occurring.  Okay, got it, I am on board, I like where this is going.

However, in the last third of the novel, as the action picked up, the science got to be a little TOO much at times.  Kind of hard to follow, and more than a little confusing in some parts.  Don't get me wrong, I like some guesswork with my plot twists and such, but this started to feel less intriguing and more frustrating after a while.  By the end, I think I had a pretty good handle on what was happening, but at some points I do wish the science was dialed down justalittle so that I could sit back and enjoy the action a bit more.  I do respect the fact that her scientific detail seemed to be extremely well-researched though.  Can't knock that, because it's impressive to see in a fiction novel these days.

Beyond the whole issue of the science--if you liked the Newsflesh trilogy, I think you will enjoy Parasite too.  The action moves along at a pretty similar pace, there are lots of unpredictable twists, and the characters all have a bit of that spunky nature that I came to expect from Georgia and Shaun in Newsflesh.  I found the protagonist (Sal) to be a little hard to believe at times (she's supposed to be fairly naive because of an accident that she was in 6 years ago, but still manages to be rather cunning when it counts...), but overall it's just a fun cast of characters to dive into.

Final verdict: despite the occasional feelings of confusion that I battled during this book, I'm definitely interested enough in where this is going to be eager for the next installment in the trilogy.  I don't feel as completely invested as I did after I read Feed (the first installment of Newsflesh) but you've hooked me, Mira Grant--I'm in for at least one more ride.

Readers: I think the most important question here is, would you seriously be willing to harbor a tapeworm in your intestines if it cured all of your ills?  Assuming it would never take over your body and try to kill you, of course...
Also, special shout-out if you liked my Norman Reedus mention.

 
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