Review of The Martian by Andy Weir

February 2, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Martian by Andy WeirThe Martian
By Andy Weir; Narrated by R. C. Bray
Publisher: Podium Publishing (on Audible)
Publication Date: March 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 28 minutes

Themes: / Mars / NASA / survival /

Publisher summary:

I’m pretty much f**ked.

That’s my considered opinion.

F**ked.

Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare. I don’t even know who’ll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe 100 years from now. For the record… I didn’t die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can’t blame them. Maybe there’ll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say “Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars.” And it’ll be right, probably. Cause I’ll surely die here. Just not on Sol 6 when everyone thinks I did. Let’s see…where do I begin?

This book should be subtitled: Keep It Together. Work the Problem.

Astronaut Mark Watney is marooned on Mars after a freak dust storm literally blows him away from his crewmates. Thinking he’s dead, the mission is scrubbed and the rest of the crew head back to Earth. Mark hopes to survive until the next NASA mission to Mars in four years.

Most of The Martian consists of Mark’s log entries which read like a MacGyver episode. He keeps as lighthearted a mood as possible while recording the details of how he is attempting to grow food, find water, and so forth. It is this lighthearted element which helps keep this from being merely a manual of “how to survive on Mars.” For example, Mark’s selection of entertainment from among the things left behind by his crewmates yields the complete series for Three’s Company. His occasional comments on the series afterwards made me laugh out loud.

Fairly early in the book, NASA’s side of the story begins being interwoven with Mark’s struggle for survival. Since Apollo 13 is one of my favorite movies, the comparison is inevitable and irresistible. NASA must juggle PR, competing agencies, rescue plans and more … while we see Mark doggedly surmount one obstacle after another. It is a welcome element because an entire book of Mark’s survival log was going to need some sort of additional depth to make it interesting.

Although I always felt fairly sure that Mark would survive, as the end of the book loomed near I got increasingly tense. What if these were his “found posthumously” logs? The author kept the tension up to the very end.

And at the end? I’m not ashamed to admit it. I cried.

Tears of joy? Tears of sorrow? Read the book and find out.

Or listen to it as I did. Narrator R.C. Bray did a good job of conveying Mark’s sense of humor and absorption in problem solving and survival. He also was good at the various accents of the international cast comprising the rest of the crew and NASA. He had a tendency to read straight storytelling as if it were a computer manual or something else that just needed a brisk run down.

The main thing a bit at fault was Bray’s German accent, which I kept mistaking for a Mexican or Indian accent. Those don’t seem as if they should be that interchangeable do they? My point exactly. However, I always knew who was speaking, I felt emotions as they came across, and it was a good enough narrating job. Not enough to make me look for other books in order to hear his narrations, but good enough.

This novel is not a short story and I felt it would have benefitted from more characterization. Yes, we get to know Mark Watney and, to a lesser degree, his crewmates and the NASA crew. However, to hear Mark’s story for so many days (sols) and get to know so little about him during that time … well, after a while it got a little boring, aside from the new problems to be solved or emergencies from which to recover.

We also got occasional forays into NASA and the spaceship crew, but more about Mark would have enriched the story. It didn’t have to be soul-baring and I realize he was writing a log, but after several hundred days some personalization would have crept in, one would think.

Anyway, that is not a huge factor because I enjoyed the story. But I was not surprised to see that the author is a computer programmer and it did cost the book a star.

Posted by Julie D.

The Star by H.G. Wells

November 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

The Star by H.G. Wells

The Star by H.G. Wells - illustration by L. Marold from The Graphic, December 1897

Here’s a portion of the Wikipedia entry for The Star:

“[The Star] can be credited with having created a Science Fiction sub-genre depicting a planet or star colliding, or near-colliding with Earth – such as the 1933 novel When Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer, (made into a film in 1951), Fritz Leiber’s The Wanderer (1965), and Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (1977).”

Here is the editorial introduction (presumably by Hugo Gernsback himself) to the story as found in the Amazing Stories, June 1926 printing:

“Here is an impressive story based on the inter-action of planetary bodies and of the sun ipon them. A great star is seen approaching the earth. At first it is only an object of interest to the general public, but there is an astronomer on the earth who is watching each phase and making mathematical calculations, for he knows the intimate relation of gravitation between bodies and the effect on rotating bodies of the same force from an outside source. He fears all sorts of wreckage on our earth. He arns the people, but they as usual, discount all he says and label him mad. But he was not mad. H.G. Wells, in his own way, gives us a picturesque description of the approach of the new body through long days adn nights – he tells how the earth and natural phenomena of the earth will re-act. Though this star never touches our sphere, the devastation and destruction wrought bu it are complete and horrible. The story is correct in its astronomical aspects.”

Without a significant viewpoint character H.G. Wells’ The Star relates, with elegiac cosmicism, of the destruction of Earth and its inhabitants. There is in this story a dispassionate reverence for both the blind omnipotence of nature and mortal humanity’s perception of its place within it.

365 Days Of AstronomyThe Star
By H.G. Wells; Read by Pamela Quevillon
1 |MP3| – Approx. 35 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: 365 Days Of Astronomy
Podcast: October 20, 2013
Astronomers discover a bright new star in the heavens rushing headlong towards the Earth on a collision course. First published in The Graphic, December 1897.

LibriVoxThe Star
By H.G. Wells; Read by Heather Phillips
1 |MP3| – Approx. 30 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: 2010
Astronomers discover a bright new star in the heavens rushing headlong towards the Earth on a collision course. First published in The Graphic, December 1897.

LibriVoxThe Star
By H.G. Wells; Read by Linda Dodge
1 |MP3| – Approx. 32 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: 2009
Astronomers discover a bright new star in the heavens rushing headlong towards the Earth on a collision course. First published in The Graphic, December 1897.

PeopletalkThe Star
By H.G. Wells; Read by Jenny Rowe
1 |MP3| or |MP3| – Approx. 30 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Peopletalk
Podcast: September 18, 2006
Astronomers discover a bright new star in the heavens rushing headlong towards the Earth on a collision course. First published in The Graphic, December 1897.

Here is a |PDF| made from the publication in Amazing Stories, June 1926.

Here’s an easy reading version, suitable for printing |PDF|.

And, here’s a Spanish language translation |PDF| that’s beautifully illustrated.

The Star by H.G. Wells - illustration from Amazing Stories, June 1926

The Star by H.G. Wells - illustrated by Oscar Palacios

The Star by H.G. Wells - illustrated by Oscar Palacios

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Aftermath by Charles Sheffield

October 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

AftermathAftermath (The Supernova Alpha Series #1)
By Charles Sheffield; Read by Gary Dikeos
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Publication Date: 1 February 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 19.8 hours

Themes: / supernova / catastrophe / EMP / cults / cancer patients / Mars /

Publisher summary:

It’s 2026, and catastrophe has struck from an unexpected source. The Alpha Centauri supernova has risen like a second sun, rushing Earth toward its last summer. Floods, fires, starvation, and disease paralyze the planet. In a blue aurora flash of gamma rays, all microchips worldwide are destroyed, leaving an already devastated Earth without communications, transportation, weaponry, or medicine.

The disaster sets three groups of survivors on separate quests. A militant cult seizes the opportunity to free their leader, known as the Eye of God, from the long-term coma to which a court sentenced her. Three cancer patients also search for a man in judicial sleep: the brilliant scientist—and monstrous criminal—who alone can continue the experimental treatment that keeps them alive. From a far greater distance come the survivors of the first manned Mars expedition, struggling homeward to a world that has changed far beyond their darkest fears. And standing at the crossroads is one man, US President Saul Steinmetz, who faces a crucial decision that will affect the fate of his own people—and the world.

Aftermath, the first in a rather ambitious post-disaster series by Charles Sheffield, follows multiple interwoven plot lines which follow characters from several walks of life after a supernova has wreaked havoc on Earth. Ever wanted to know what might happen to the President in a worldwide disaster situation? How about astronauts scheduled for re-entry or cancer patients undergoing experimental treatment or violent criminals awoken from a deep sleep? Well, you might be surprised by how boring the answers are.

This book is spectacularly average in every way. There are a plethora of characters, all equally shallow and generic in their own way, and none of who provide any sort of emotional grounding for the reader. President Steinmetz seems to be the least capable leader possible in the event of a national crisis since his primary concern is whether he should hook up with his ex-girlfriend or a sexy low-level white house worker. Cancer patients Art and Dana are just some average, down home, relatable folks who decide that releasing a psychopathic serial killer is completely acceptable as long as he can keep them alive for a few more years. Even the journal entries of the serial killer felt somewhat pedantic and boring. Sheffield makes an admirable attempt at providing ethnic, age and class variety in his characters but in the end, it’s pretty obvious they were all written by the same man.

Nevertheless, the plot keeps trucking along at a slow but steady pace. It’s overly long with lots of scientific jargon thrown in for good measure. However, it feels a lot like a watered down version of bigger and better apocalyptic literature (although if it leaves most of the government’s infrastructure in place, it’s not much of an apocalypse). Most of the plot lines lack a climax and the ending seems like it arrives at an arbitrary point but in all honesty, by that time I was just grateful this nearly 20 hour audiobook had an ending. Even an emergency astronaut landing and a crazed cult fail to make things more exciting.

Gary Dikeos matches the book in being a spectacularly average narrator. It’s certainly not inspired but, in spite of a particularly annoying voice for the president, it’s a serviceable reading. This is a book I would only recommend to hardcore post-apocalypse aficionados, since there are far better examples of the genre to keep everyone else occupied.

Posted by Rose D.

The SFFaudio Podcast #228 – READALONG: Last And First Men by Olaf Stapledon

September 2, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #228 – Jesse and Jenny talk about the Last And First Men by Olaf Stapledon.

Talked about on today’s show:
the near and far future, not a novel, an imagined planetary history, the scope, Penguin Books, philosophy, the introduction, The Iron Heel by Jack London, a future history, human civilizations, two thousand million years (two billion years), universes => galaxy, man is a small part of the universe, Starmaker by Olaf Stapledon, Doctor Who, 2001: A Space Odyssey, what the plot would look like if there was one, the eighteen periods of man, evolution and construction, it’s set in 1930, is there ever an end to humanity?, Last Men In London by Olaf Stapledon, Last And First Men was popular in its day, Stapledon served in the ambulance service in WWI, plotlessness, period themes, the flying theme, the depletion of fossil fuels, The Mote In God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, Venus, Mars, Neptune, the Martians, the Venusians, the genocide on Venus, Luke Burrage (the Science Fiction Book Review Podcast), racism, a Science Fiction mythology, the poetic musical ending, deep time, to the end of the Earth and beyond, Stapledon as an historian, civilizations always fall, there’s no one thing that ends civilizations, humanity as a symphony, the returns to savagery, establishing the pattern, Arthur C. Clarke, The House On The Borderlands by William Hope Hodgson, The Night Lands, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, H.P. Lovecraft and cosmicism, the Wikipedia entry for Last And First Men, Fritz Leiber, Forrest Ackerman, scientificion, matchless poignancy, S. Fowler Wright, Lovecraft’s love of the stars (astronomy), one of the species of man is a monkey, another a rabbit, no jokes but perhaps humour, a cosmic joke, monkeys have made human their slaves, Planet Of The Apes, an ability to hear at the subatomic level, intelligence, a fourteen foot brain supported by ferroconcrete, obsession with gold, obsession with diamonds, pulping people, it’s written like a history textbook or essays, the Patagonia explosion, the upstart volcanoes, Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, The Scarlet Plague by Jack London, chiseling knowledge into granite, Olaf loved coming up with different sexual relationships, the 20 year pregnancy, suicide, euthanasia, an unparalleled imagination, groupthink, telepathy, oversimplification, we must press on, the baboon-like submen, the seal-like Submen, the divergence of man into other ecological niches, the number of ants in New York, ecosystems, nuclear weapons, robots are missing, where is the robot man?, the over-emphasis on fossil fuels as the only source of energy, if you could see us now, post-humans, ultimately a love letter to humanity, not aww but awwww!, Starmaker as a masterpiece, Sirius, uplifting a dog, a fantasy of love and discord, dog existentialism, who am I and where is my bone?, Olaf Stapledon in the PUBLIC DOMAIN, influential vs. famous, a very different read.

Last And First Men by Olaf Stapledon

Olaf Stapledon illustration by Neil Austin

Posted by Jesse Willis

A Martian Odyssey by Stanley G. Weinbaum

May 20, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

A Martian Odyssey by Stanley G. Weinbaum

A Martian Odyssey is a classic of alien human interaction. Isaac Asimov said of it and of Weinbaum:

“With this single story [A Martian Odyssey], Weinbaum was instantly recognized as the world’s best living science fiction writer, and at once almost every writer in the field tried to imitate him.”

It is also argued that this is the first story to satisfy Astounding editor John W. Campbell’s famous challenge:

“Write me a creature who thinks as well as a man, or better than a man, but not like a man.”

When it was republished, just 4 years later, in Startling Stories, A Martian Odyssey was added to the “Scientifiction Hall Of Fame”:

Scientifiction Hall Of Fame - Editor's Note
And with that that same printing was this extolling editorial explanation:
Stanley G. Weinbaum - Pioneer Of Scientifiction

LibriVoxA Martian Odyssey
By Stanley G. Weinbaum; Read by Gregg Margarite
1 |MP3| – Approx. 58 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: January 13, 2009
Early in the twenty-first century, nearly twenty years after the invention of atomic power and ten years after the first lunar landing, the four-man crew of the Ares has landed on Mars in the Mare Cimmerium. A week after the landing, Dick Jarvis, the ship’s American chemist, sets out south in an auxiliary rocket to photograph the landscape. Eight hundred miles out, the engine on Jarvis’ rocket gives out, and he crash-lands into one of the Thyle regions. Rather than sit and wait for rescue, Jarvis decides to walk back north to the Ares. First published in Wonder Stories, July 1934.

Here’s an illustrated |PDF| made from the original publication in Wonder Stories.

A Martian Odyssey - illustration by Frank R. Paul

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #200 – READALONG: Mars Needs Books! by Gary Lovisi

February 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Aural Noir, Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #200 – Jesse, Mirko, and Gary Lovisi discuss the Science Fiction novel Mars Needs Books! by Gary Lovisi.

Talked about on today’s show:
the great description, Audible.com, it’s a prison novel, it’s a dystopian science fiction novel, it’s a book collector’s novel, Philip K. Dick, a reality dysfunction, The Man In The High Castle, 1984 by George Orwell, “retconning“, Stalin, airbrushing history, a new Science Fiction idea!, Amazon’s Kindle, Mark Twain, “The Department Of Control”, J. Edgar Hoover, Simon is the most evil character ever, oddball individualists, a straw man gulag, one way of keeping the population in control is to send troublemakers away, another is to give them someone to hate, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, the Attica Prison riot (1971), Arabella Rashid, entertainment media, when you can’t tell what the truth is anymore it’s very easy to control people, maybe it’s an allegory for our times, Paperback Parade, SF writers were wrong about what our times are like, Mars, crime novels, Science Fiction as a metaphor, people are scared of reading, “I like good writing”, Richard Stark’s Parker novels, getting the word out about Mars Needs Books!, Gargoyle Nights, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Jack Vance, horror, fantasy, nice and short, short books pack a punch (and don’t waste your time), Stephen King, Patrick O’Brian, ideas, paperback novels from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, customers want thick books, Winter In Maine by Gerard Donovan, were looking at a different readership today, James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, there’s nothing that doesn’t add to the story, “Lawrence Block is scary good”, Donald E. Westlake, Robert Bloch, Eight Million Ways To Die, A Pair Of Recycled Jeans by Lawrence Block, Evan Hunter (Ed McBain), Charles Ardai (was on SFFaudio Podcast #090), book-collectors, Murder Of A Bookman by Gary Lovisi (is also on Audible.com), collectable glassware, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, cool dialogue, Driving Hell’s Highway by Gary Lovisi (also on Audible.com), That Hell-bound Train by Robert Bloch, noir, Violence Is The Only Solution by Gary Lovisi (paperback), hard-boiled, revenge, betrayal, personality disorder, Sherlock Holmes, westerns, “if there’s one truth in the universe that I know it’s that Germans love westerns”, which frontier are you talking about?, The Wild Bunch, a western with tommyguns, Akira Kurosawa, Outland (is High Noon in space), Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan, hard-boiled, violence, the Martian national anthem, Prometheus Award, libertarian motifs, world-building, GryphonBooks.com, Hurricane Sandy, Wildside Press, POD Books, eBooks, fire and water, that paperback is still in readable condition in 150 years?, fanzines, Jack Vance, The Dying Earth, Robert Silverberg, Dell Mapbacks, paperbacks were disposable, used bookstores, sex books.

Audible - Mars Needs Books! by Gary Livosi

Posted by Jesse Willis

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