Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Martian

by Andy Weir
320 pgs

Usually, if a book has been made into a movie, I prefer to read the book before seeing the movie. I'd rather run the risk of having the book spoil the movie for me, than vice versa. With Andy Weir's The Martian, I made an exception and ended up seeing the movie before I read the book. Fortunately, I enjoyed both, immensely.

Mark Watney, and the rest of the Ares 3 crew, had been on Mars for six Sols (a Martian day) when a severe dust storm hurls a piece of equipment violently into Mark, nearly killing him. The rest of the crew, unable to find him, and believing him to be dead, are forced by the storm to quickly launch and begin the long voyage back to earth. When Mark regains consciousness hours later, he quickly discovers that he's been left behind, with very limited supplies, and years to go before any help could ever arrive.

It's up to Mark, the botanist on the crew, to find a way to survive on Mars long enough for NASA to plan for and prepare a mission to rescue him. His food supplies will be gone months, if not years, before more supplies can get to Mars, the equipment he has was designed and built to last for the duration of the mission only, and if he's able to overcome those challenges, the planet itself seems determined to kill him.

I enjoyed everything about this book. Mark Watney is a fantastic character. He's determined, resourceful, and his undying sense of humor provided many of the best parts of the book. I was also incredibly impressed with the actual science Weir packed into the story. I labeled the book as "hard science fiction" because of the emphasis Weir gives the science, so much in fact, that I really didn't feel like I was reading a science fiction story. Admittedly, we're still decades away from being able to send manned missions to Mars, but Weir provides so much real science into this story, that it makes it feel like something we're capable of today.

It's been a long time since I enjoyed reading a book as much as I did The Martian. Regardless of whether you saw the movie, you should definitely read the book.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Friday, January 22, 2016

Golden Son

by Pierce Brown
442 pgs  (Red Rising trilogy #2)

Darrow, a teenage Red, began his life as a slave, working every day in the mines below the surface of Mars. He, and all other Reds, had been taught for generations that their role in the solar system was to work to bring about a better future for all mankind. Meanwhile, the Golds, the ruling caste in society, lived off of their efforts and kept the Reds ignorant of the life all others lived on the surface of Mars, and throughout the solar system.

In Red Rising, he is taken by a group of rebels and transformed into a Gold--a transformation that involved an extensive education, training in battle and war strategies, and surgeries that changed him physically into a perfect human specimen. All these changes were made so that he could be inserted into the world of the Golds, and find a way to destroy their system from within.

Golden Son begins a couple of years after Red Rising ended. Darrow now serves one of the ruling families of the Golds--the head of which was responsible for the death of Darrow's wife. Darrow now has to fight against every instinct he has for revenge and wait until he's able to accomplish his ultimate goal.

Golden Son doesn't suffer from the "sophomore slump," nor does it suffer from any of the issues that tend to plague the middle books of trilogies. You never feel like Brown is holding all of the best parts of his story until the last book. The action and pace of the book are fantastic, and if the increase from book one to this one is any indication, book three is going to be impressive. Fortunately Morning Star comes out next month.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, January 15, 2016

World Gone By

by Dennis Lehane
303 pgs  (Joe Coughlin series #3)

I loved Dennis Lehane's The Given Day when it came out several years ago. It's a much larger book than Lehane typically writes, and it introduced Danny Coughlin, an Irish policeman patrolling the streets of Boston immediately following World War I. The story included the events that that led up to the 1919 police strike that took place there.

Lehane followed up that book with Live by Night, a loose sequel that focused on the life of Joe Coughlin, Danny's youngest son, who turned his back on his father's legacy and became a prominent member of the organized crime scene.

In World Gone By Lehane concludes this trilogy and finishes his story of Joe Coughlin. It's now the 1940s and Coughlin has removed himself from the day-to-day operations of his criminal activities and is now living off of its profits as trusted managers oversee things.

Joe would like nothing better than to quietly live out the rest of his life quietly with Tomas, his half-Cuban son whose mother passed away violently at the end of the last book. But that is not to be. Someone has put a contract out on Joe's life and Joe needs to figure out who before everything he's worked so hard to build up is taken away from him forever.

Lehane is probably one of the best authors writing today when it comes to writing interesting and compelling characters. Joe Coughlin is one of his best. He's a ruthless criminal, who doesn't think twice about taking another man's life if it will further his interests. But he's also a very likable character, one that you pull for and want everything to work out for in the end.

These three books don't follow the typical formula for trilogies. The Given Day really stands alone, while Live by Night and World Gone By are one story split into two books. But when you consider all three books together as one story, the scope of what Lehane accomplished in writing them becomes evident.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, January 8, 2016

City of Thieves

by David Benioff
254 pgs

Lev Beniov is a Jewish teenager who lives alone near Leningrad during the Nazi siege of the city in World War II. His father recently disappeared--taken away by Stalin's secret police--and both his mother and sister fled the city to escape the constant bombing.

One night Lev and a couple others from his apartment building come across the body of a German pilot who appears to have frozen to death after ejecting from his plane during the night. As they search for valuables on the body, they're discovered by officers of the same police force that took Lev's father away. Lev is the only one who isn't able to get away, and is arrested and thrown into a pitch-black prison cell. There he meets Kolya Vlasov, a young Russian soldier who was arrested for desertion.

The next morning, both Lev and Koyla are given a chance to regain their freedom and avoid execution. They are brought before Colonel Grechko, who informs them that his daughter's wedding is five days away, and he needs a dozen eggs for the wedding cake. Normally, the task of locating a dozen eggs wouldn't be a problem, but the Nazi's blockade has brought those living in Leningrad to a state of near starvation. There's not a single egg, or for that matter, live chicken, left in the city. Lev and Koyla have a near-impossible task to perform, and only five days in which to do it.

It's obvious that a lot of research went into writing this book. David Benioff does a fantastic job of providing a sense of what the citizens of Leningrad went through, and how they survived during that period of the war in which the Nazis tried unsuccessfully to occupy it. Benioff uses the opening chapter to position the book as a grandfather's story being recounted to his grandson, a young writer named David; leading the reader to believe that the story is true and it's the author's own grandfather who lived it. Whether that's the case or not is immaterial, but it successfully adds a level of believability to the story and makes the characters that much more endearing.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and especially appreciated the black humor Benioff interspersed throughout it. It nicely balanced out the severe circumstances and extreme hardships Lev, Koyla, and those whose paths they cross are subjected to.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

by Stephen King
495 pgs

It's been about seven years since Stephen King last published a collection of his short stories--and it's about time. I'm not the type of person who reads his short stories as they come out individually in their various forms (i.e., magazines, e-stories, etc.) so it's always nice when he's written enough of them to warrant putting them together in one book for publishing. Once again, King doesn't disappoint.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams consists of 18 stories and two poems. They include Mile 81, a classic King-type story of an abandoned car at a highway rest stop that captures and devours anyone who comes in contact with it. Morality, a Faustian story of a young couple and a wealthy man who makes them an unusual offer that has unexpected and dire consequences. Ur, a Dark Tower story (nothing more needs to be said). Obits, a story of an online obituary writer who discovers his obituaries possess a power too tempting not to use. And a post-apocalyptic story of two men and a dog, living out their last days while the world itself is on its last breath.

There are several other stories in the book, and they're all strong stories, but these were the ones that really stuck out and were hard to forget. Fans of King will enjoy the collection.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆