The Martian by Andy Weir

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4/5 stars.
ebook, 300 pages.
Read from March 10 to 21, 2015.

I’m not normally a big science fiction fan but this book kept bombarding my Goodreads newsfeed so I figured I’d give it a try. This book absolutely exploded the year it was released and it is now being made into a big Hollywood movie which is expected to be released November 2015. Relatively unknown before the publication of this book, the author Andy Weir, is the son of a particle physicist and was caught up in the world of science fiction at a young age. He studied computer science, though he apparently didn’t graduate, not that it stopped him from him from working as a programmer and at some pretty big name companies like AOL and Blizzard. He actually worked on Warcraft 2 which I think is pretty awesome! I love that game. I’m tell you all this because it’s relevant to the content of this book as only someone with this kind of background could write a novel like this. This book is so hugely appealing because of the effort that Weir takes to make it realistic. This not only displays Weir’s intelligence but also his talent, as he manages to add some pretty technical aspects to this novel but it never loses its readability. It’s apparent that Weir enjoys puzzles and problems and his enjoyment comes through his words in this book.

Mark Watney is one of the first astronauts to land on Mars and with the way things are going he may the be the first to die there. Mark is a very funny, witty, intelligent and remarkably resourceful person. Apparently NASA selected him for the this mission for his optimism and sense of humor as, psychologically, it’s a good mix to have while being in space for years. Mark heads out to Mars with his team of other remarkably brilliant people to Mars to do a routine mission. However when a bad wind storm picks up Mark is thrown away from his team and his suit is pierced and the equipment in it malfunctions. His poor team, thinking, and for good reason, that he is dead pack up their stuff and head back on the almost year long trip back to Earth.   The book opens with Mark’s first realization that he his trapped on Mars with no way of communicating back to Earth that he is alive. NASA does eventually figure out that Mark is alive but the trouble is the publicity that this scenario has created back on Earth and the real dilemma of trying to rescue him before he runs out of food.

Where the book gets technical is with Mark’s brainstorming and problem solving. I’m no genius so I haven no idea how plausible the scenarios in the book are but they sure seem like they could be, so that’s a mission accomplished in my books. The situations and feats that Mark accomplishes to save his own skin on Mars is truly remarkable. As a reader, you’re anxiously awaiting to see how Mark solves his next trial in order to keep himself alive. What makes this book even better is that the chapters are written as a space log. Mark is recording his events on Mars to have some sort of documentation of what happens to him while he is on Mars, and not only are they remarkable but some of them are down right hilarious. He is so frank and honest in the logs because he doesn’t think that anyone will ever get a chance to listen to them. From cursing and despair, to commentary on the terrible entertainment his crew members left behind, Mark is a character I would love to meet and would definitely love to read more of. I’m anxious to see the movie now.

You don’t need to be a science fiction lover to enjoy this novel, but it never hurts to bring out your inner nerd.

And The Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier

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4/5 stars.
ebook, 176 pages.
Read from March 21 to 23, 2015.

I’ve now read three out of the five books for Canada Reads 2015. While I couldn’t get all of the books read for the debates that happened this last week, I will finish all five! I will discuss the choice of the winner and my collective thoughts on all five books in a post once I’ve finished them all.

Now, this book, is astonishingly beautiful. Death and aging are aspects of life that no one ever likes to discuss, admit or confront. It’s one of the few things that we have no control over in our lives, but for Tom and Charlie, two older gentleman, they choose to live the rest of their lives on their own terms and make the conversation of death a welcome topic of conversation. Tom and Charlie live out in some remote woods with no connection to the modern world, with their only companions being that of their dogs and two pot growers. Tom enjoys his drink, most of the time a bit too much. but he is charming and loves to reminisce, whereas Charlie is more reserved and keeps to himself a bit more.  However, things are about to change for the two men.

A curious female photographer, looking for their very recently deceased friend, Ted, surprises the men with her ability to get to their remote homes without alarming their dogs. She has come to document and photograph the remaining individuals who lived through the great and devastating fires that spread through Northern Ontario at the beginning of the century, an event which Ted had lived through and was quite reclusive about. Rumors, stories and her own detective work had finally brought the photographer to the right place but just not in time. However, the brief hospitality that she received was enough for her to return as Tom and Charlie were intriguing on their own. What ends up making the photographer a consistent returning visitor is the appearance of Gertrude, who is one of the pot grower’s aunts. Gertrude has broken her out of a psychiatric ward where she had lived her whole life. Gertrude’s story is extremely tragic, but she finally has the opportunity to live her own life. The men don’t know what to do with a woman, especially one that knows nothing about living in the woods, but they know they can’t let her go back to where she came from so they happily accommodate her. For Charlie, the appearance of Gertrude will change him forever and give him a new life and new perspective on death.

While originally written in French, the beauty of this book is not lost in translation. It’s easy to relate to the characters, no matter what age you are and their story is a reminder to us that it’s never too late for a second chance at life. However, in terms of Canada Reads, it doesn’t quite fit the bill for the theme this year, which is breaking barriers. The choices that Tom and Charlie make, to meet death on their own terms, really shows more determination than anything else. I suppose they do break some barriers in that they are choosing to live such a remote lifestyle, but I don’t think it’s enough.  So while this book has been my favourite so far, I am not surprised that it didn’t win and was taken out of the debate early on.

If you’ve ever contemplated your own mortality or position in life, then I would highly recommend reading this refreshing book.

Casino Royale by Ian Flemming

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3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 208 pages.
Read from March 03 to 08, 2015.

Well, my Ian Flemming virginity has now been taken as I have now officially read my first James Bond novel and it was everything I hoped it would be. The movie actually follows this plot line pretty well and the areas in which they didn’t I say it’s because they improved upon it and made it relevant for modern viewers.

James Bond is selfish, intelligent, sophisticated, calculating and suave. He is given the task of gambling and winning against an odd Russian operative named Le Chiffre at Casino Royale. The premise being, if Le Chiffre loses all of this money then his Soviet contacts will have no need of him and will kill him. In the book the two of them are playing baccarat, which I don’t think they replicated in the movie.  Bond has assessed the situation and is ready for the job, that is until Vesper is sent to work with him. Bond isn’t pleased by this at first. He prefers to work alone and doesn’t want any ‘distractions’. As the two work together, Bond finds her company tolerable. After some intense games of baccarat, Bond succeeds in his mission. Bond thinks that the threat from Le Chiffre is gone, but things go array when Vesper gets kidnapped and in pursuing her Bond is also caught and subjected to nightmare-causing scene of intense torture. This is the book in which you get to see, a bit, and I do mean a bit, of Bond’s more vulnerable side. After everything that Bond goes through the twist at the end of the book is quite sad.

Bond describes Vesper like she is something he can eat and his views on women are misogynist, as he believes that  they should not be doing the work of men and that they belong in the kitchen. Literally. He actually said that in the book. Now I was expecting misogyny in this book, I mean it’s Bond and it was written in the 1950s. However, Bond is way more of a dick than I was expecting. I couldn’t believe the names he called Vespa! For example, he calls her a silly bitch more than once and definitely undermines and diminishes her frequently. This is not the sexy James Bond I have pictured in my head or even the ones portrayed on the big screen. The James Bond in this book is cold, only cares about himself, has superficial charm and has NO respect for women. The Bond that I know loves women and may sleep with a lot of them but he doesn’t belittle them. To counter that though, Vespa is really smart and working in man’s world. She assesses Bond perfectly and knows what kind of man he is and knows how to handle herself around him. She is still too submissive and apologetic for my liking, but hey, it is the 1950s.

Even with the misogyny, I did enjoy the book. I was just a little taken back at Bond’s abrupt character. I’m really glad that the James Bond that’s in the movies is a more likable. I would hazard a guess now that the one actor that probably played James Bond the truest to the books is Timothy Dalton, as his movies have not been favourites among the fans due to how harsh, cold and borderline cruel he portrayed Bond.

As for the writing itself, it’s good and quite concise in that nothing is fluffy or needless is said, which is just like Bond, really.  The torture scene is so well done, I was cringing while reading it and I’m not even a man!  Now that I’ve got the first one down, I hope to work my way, in order through the rest of the novels. I’m curious to know if Bond’s character is dynamic and will grow throughout the next few books. Until then, I think I’ll go and drink a martini.