Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

“If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do.”

-Andy Weir, The Martian

It’s Sol 5 on Mars and the Ares 3 Mission Crew are preparing to head to the MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle) in hopes to leave Mars before they are hit with an extremely dangerous dust storm. Unfortunately on the way to the MAV, Astronaut Mark Watney, was hit by a flying wreckage sending him away. With very little option Commander Lewis had to abort her search for Watney as the crew shoots off to space. Fortunately for Watney he’s alive, unfortunately he’s stuck on Mars.

First off, WOW!, this was an amazing book, filled with likable characters an incredible story and not to mention hilarious dialogues. The writing on Mark Watney is believable, he’s someone people can easily relate with. Even with his impressive scientific knowledge, he comes off as a total geek but charismatic and because of that I found myself rooting for him all they way.

Another great thing about the book is the science, whether it’s pseudo-science or factual. The book sells it well, from the chemistry, biology to the physics and math. It’s amazingly detailed and believable. Though I’m certain there are inaccuracies but it’s written so well it’s not worth the effort to check. As for the other characters they all have important roles to fill, it almost felt like there are no side characters and calling them side characters doesn’t do them justice as they are also well-written and you can see that they care for Mark Watney and seeing the compassion from them will definitely draw some emotions out of you.

A surprising part of the book is the humor, my goodness this book is funny. For a book filled with scientific explanations and mathematical calculations, the humor is laugh out loud it complements the book really well and it makes the book a whole lot easier to read.

Overall this is an extremely well-written book, it’s funny and educational there’s suspense, drama and every time something horrific happens to Mark Watney, and a lot of bad shit happens, you care, you root for him from the start and from start to finish there’s never a dull moment. The Martian is without a doubt one of the best, sci-fi book out there and I highly recommend it to everyone.

Rating: 5/5

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Book Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

“There are certain kinds of deaths that one should not be expected to relieve, certain kinds of connections so deep that when they are broken you feel the snap of the link inside you”

-Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation

It’s the twelfth expedition into Area X and this time only four people were sent in, a biologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor and a psychologist. The expedition seems to be going well when the team discovered a tunnel of some sort or a tower as the biologist would call it. However this tunnel raised some questions as it was not marked on their maps as well as it is embedded into the earth. As the team try to unravel the mystery behind the tunnel they too discover secrets among themselves.

This book is a bit of a hit and miss, sometimes it’s great and really absorbing, sometimes you just can’t help but roll your eyes. That said, it’s still an interesting read. The book starts off with the biologist narrating the story. It is written in first person and I’ve always liked first person narratives so I thought it would be an engaging book. The team is composed of four women, and as mentioned before they have their own respective roles. Unfortunately the writing on them is mediocre as they are one dimensional, except for the biologist as we read through her narrative. But their personalities are bounded by their roles and we never see any character development among them.

The story is sometimes difficult to follow as a lot of it is made up of the biologist’s metaphors and internal monologues, where once it goes back to the story you might have forgotten where you left of. Another complaint is the use of words on the book, a lot of the words are hard to comprehend. For example

“why others had followed suit until it had become as inexorable as a long-ingrained ritual. By what impulse, what shared fatalism?

Unfortunately there are a lot of these phrases within the book and it does take you out of it.

The story though is intriguing there are a lot of mysteries in this book and a lot of them are unanswered, hoping the sequels will answer them, but they are exciting and it makes you want to read on. Area X is fascinating and you do want to figure out what is up with this place. A lot of the book deals with a person’s psyche as well as the horrors of hypnotism and they are played out well within the book. There are times where you are completely absorbed into a monologue or into an event only to be taken out by an unnecessary flashback.

Overall Annihilation is OK for a first book on a trilogy. It sets events up for the sequels and it leaves enough to keep you wondering what else is there. For 200 pages the book is fairly short, however with irregular pacing and confusing words the book proved to be a challenging read. Recommended for people who are into psychological thrillers.

Rating: 2.5/5

Book Review: My Real Children by Jo Walton

“She felt her strong young body that she had never appreciated when she had it, constantly worrying that she didn’t meet standards of beauty and not understanding how standards of health were so much more important.”

― Jo Walton, My Real Children

Patricia Cowan is 89 years old and she’s very confused. Living at a rest home, she seems to remember two very different lives. From the people she met, the children she bore, the places she’s been she remembers each detail but she’s very confused as to which life did she really lead.

Nominated for this year’s(2015) World Fantasy Awards, I was excited to read My Real Children. I have to admit I have expectations but they were minimal and I did read this book with an open mind. The book starts off with Patricia Cowan staying in what it seems like a nursing home for old people. She is 89 years old and for some odd reason she’s remembering having led two different lives. Then the book goes into her early years starting when she’s 7 years old. We follow her story year after year, it then came to a point where she’s presented with 2 options. Both of which would have tremendous impact to her life.

The book is split from then onward telling the events of what happened to both choices. To give the author credit, creating a two different stories into one book, both stories were written extremely well. The attention to detail on both stories were impressive and both felt complete. Both stories have their own share of ups and downs and you do feel these ups and downs. As a chapter might end on a good note, the next might not. It felt like riding two different emotional roller-coasters.

Unfortunately the book is not engaging as it sounds as there is no big conflict. The story is limited to what Patty or Trisha is doing on a day to day basis. It’s almost like she’s just being followed around by a camera crew and we watch or in this case read what she’s doing for the day. This results to boring chapters where it is hard to read on forward. Not to mention the split comes out of nowhere and left me confused as to what was happening. I did get used to it after I read on, though I wish there had been more clarity behind it.

My huge complaint however is the large amount characters, since the book is split into two Patricia meets different people on each story and she met a lot. Not to mention she’s got kids on both stories and they all have different names at a point where it’s difficult to establish who is who making it difficult to care for them. Now each character has his/her own set of problems and go through different trials and you do feel bad whenever a tragedy occurs however being unclear of who is who and what is what the emotional effect has very little impact.

Overall, I thought the book was good, each story goes through realistic presentations of life, from wars, religion, sexuality, loss, hardships etc, it is admirable for what it’s trying to achieve. Unfortunately it didn’t connect with me emotionally but with a good concept and a satisfying ending it does deserve the nomination it got.

Rating: 3/5

Book Review: Replay by Ken Grimwood

“All life includes loss. It’s taken me many, many years to learn to deal with that, and I don’t expect I’ll ever be fully resigned to it. But that doesn’t mean we have to turn away from the world, or stop striving for the best that we can do and be. We owe that much to ourselves, at least, and we deserve whatever measure of good may come of it.”

-Replay, Ken Grimwood

Jeff Winston was 43 years old when he felt something his heart, he’s stunned and just like that he died of heart attack, in the year of 1988. Suddenly he awoke in his college dorm room at Emory, the year was 1963 and once again Jeff Winston was 18 years old.

Replay started off strong, right off the bat, our protagonist died and woke up 25 years earlier in his 18 year old body. Straight away there’s intrigue, I wanted to know how and why as well as follow Jeff’s bizarre story. There was a feeling of anticipation within me, it felt like I’m about to embark on an amazing sci-fi/fantasy journey with Replay. Unfortunately the sci-fi/fantasy aspect of Replay is underwhelming. It was during the beginning of the third act where I realized that Replay is more of a Romantic novel. That said, the romance was written very well, overwhelming on certain parts but if I’m going to give the book a credit it would be hitting the romance aspect right out the park.

With this being underwhelming on the fantasy/sci-fi part, the book also suffers on some aspects. There was a part of the first act where, there was absolutely nothing going on despite the strong early chapters. The pacing could have been a lot better and with the lack of sci-fi elements the book needed a quicker pace. Another complaint is our protagonist, Jeff Winston himself, he lacked the charisma to make me root for him. Compared to his counter parts or other characters he was the least person I cared about. His character was so bland where, there were parts where women went with him mainly because he’s got money.

That said, he was smart with several of his decisions. Any smart person would do what he had done when he woke up back in 1963. He was placing bets on winning teams, investing and buying stocks on start up companies who’re eventually going to become successful. There were a lot “yes that’s exactly what I would do” moments. Though unlikable as a character at least he was smart. Also a great part of the book was Jeff’s female love interest. She was written incredibly well she was the complete opposite of Jeff in terms of likability and she’s oozing with charisma. With her around Jeff sometimes becomes an afterthought and that’s how strongly she was written.

Overall the book is a great romantic story, just don’t expect it to be heavy on the sci-fi/fantasy aspect because waking up in a younger version of yourself is as good as it gets in terms of fantasy. It wasn’t what I was expecting but in the end I was OK with it. If there’s one lesson to take about the book, it is to remember major sports win or derby wins because you will never know. Highly recommended to people who are into romance-fantasy novels but for hardcore sci-fi/fantasy fans, this won’t be for you.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Review: Mr Suicide by Nicole Cushing

“You threw yourself onto the bed and under the covers. Thrashed around in them. Let out little groans you hoped no one could hear. You wished, for a moment you were in the loony bin. There, at least you’d have rubber walls to bounce off of. Here, all you could do was fidget between sheets and regret the that you lacked the courage of your convictions”

                          – Mr Suicide, Nicole Cushing.

Mr Suicide is without a doubt the most horrifying book I’ve ever read. It depicts extreme violence and gruesome events one after another, it is madness incarnate. The book is structured in a simple way, the author telling a story about you. You don’ know your name but you do know that you’re a boy with glasses living in Louisville, Kentucky. You live with your mom, dad and an older brother who’s 10 years older than you.

That said, that’s enough to drive this novel and boy are you in for a ride. A vicious, unforgiving, heartless and unforgettable one. A ride leading to either hell or insanity, take your pick both are equally damaging. You start off at a young age, we read your thoughts and we know straight away you are a damaged person in need of help, you don’t want to admit it but you do. With no one to help you, you hear a voice, Mr Suicide, and it tells you horrible things always mocking and prompting you to pull the trigger, year after year.

As you figured by now, the horror in here is not supernatural, there are no frightening creatures, no ghosts, spirits or demons but the horror part comes from the boy’s mind. It’s like watching a psychopath grow, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s unsettling to the point where I wanted to stop reading the book. I didn’t want to know what happens next but then it absorbs you, you can’t get away, you just got to know what happens next and I give the book credit on that area. Despite nothing good happening here at all, it gives you despicable event one after another and it is a slippery slide where there’s no escape. The events are brutal, graphic and disgusting.

There are moments here where some events are inadvertently funny despite being terrible. Also at the end it gets really silly to the point where it felt like you’re reading a different book and that’s my only complaint. Otherwise this is a strong horror book there’s a good mix of fantasy and realism and both are equally horrifying. Highly recommended to people who are familiar with Jack Ketchum’s work and if you can stomach extreme violence then this is for you. If not, then don’t even think about touching this book specially if you’re highly sensitive or fainted heart.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: Song of Kali by Dan Simmons

“There were reprints of American editorials. Liberals saw it as a resurgence of social protest and decried the discrimination, poverty, and hunger that had provoked it. Conservative columnists acidly pointed out that hungry people don’t steal stereo systems first and called for a crackdown in law enforcement. All of the reasoned editorials sounded hollow in light of the perverse randomness of the event. It was as if only a thin wall of electric lighting protected the great cities of the world from total barbarism.”

– Dan Simmons, Song of Kali

Robert Luczack (Loo-Zack) has been asked to go to Calcutta, India to follow up on a sudden reappearance of a Legendary poet who disappeared and presumed dead 10 years prior. However for Robert things does not go as planned as he is slowly swallowed into the disturbing underworld of Calcutta, crossing paths with cults and other shady characters/organizations.

Firstly on today’s standards this would have faced a lot of problems as there is not one good thing the author has said about Calcutta nor it’s citizens. However the book’s been released 25 years ago and it even won an award so I’m going to assume any controversy about the writing of the city and it’s people have been dealt with.

Song of Kali started out strong, it hooked me right of the bat. The protagonist, Robert Luczack or Bobby, has been asked to go to Calcutta and everyone seemed against on it and it’s obvious he will go and without a doubt undergo a series of life changing events. Then the book goes and tell he will not be going alone but also with his wife and his 5 month old daughter. I knew right then the story’s gonna involve them and it won’t be good and from then I was hooked.

Cut to Calcutta and truly the author is set on preventing you to visit the place. From the smell, pollution, weather and people. The book might as well be called “101 Reasons to Never Visit Calcutta”. The things that Bobby witnessed are sickening, though the book says it’s just culture shock for a Westerner to witness such acts, the book proceeds and say in the form of Bobby’s wife, Amrita, that it’s not as much as culture shock but the culture itself is ridiculous, from the Caste System, to using human or animal excrement as a source of nutrition she even tells that when Ghandi was preaching, he said that hygiene was important among things. There is no redeeming factor for Calcutta, not in this book. That said all of it was interesting, the beauty of the book is that it’s not just a horror story but a horror story that one can learn from.

The book has a lot of great things to offer, though predictable at some points as there are a lot of foreshadowing. That said the book is almost a commentary on Indian literature. Mainly referencing Rabindranath Tagore’s works, and it is fascinating. It kept me turning the page and helped me read on. One thing I really liked is the book leaves me just as confused as the protagonist am I going to believe that something supernatural at work here or something scientific is behind it all, the book never tells and that could be both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because it kept me guessing what’s going to happen next and it’s bad because the book never establishes it and it’s all in the reader’s mind to decide.

Speaking of things I did not so much enjoy there are parts of the book where I felt the pacing could’ve been better. There is a 3 chapter flashback which surely could’ve been shorter and still keep the message behind it. As well as how Bobby refers to his wife, calling her “kiddo” most of the time, maybe we’re supposed to accept that, that’s just the dynamic between them but the wife is showed to be more intellectually superior than Robert at times and to be patronized quite often by the husband, it did not fit in well with me.

Overall the book isn’t great but it isn’t bad either, it will be a very quick read for it’s that much interesting, the Indian characters bring enough mystic with them that you never figure out if they’re the good guy or bad and they too were written very well. The book does not hold back either on it’s shocking moments as it will tell you that people are just evil and that’s that. With minor complaints this is a very good horror book and it’s recommended to anyone who enjoys the Dan Brown books or into cult related stories.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Review: And the Hills Opened Up by David Oppegaard

He wanted to shout them into the sky and have them taken by the wind. He wanted to be rid of their names and faces, the memory of their touch and he understood that his love for them was like a curse, a great eternal curse as strong and wicked as anything a demon could devise

-The Hills Opened Up, David Oppegaard

It’s the middle of the summer in Red Earth, Wyoming when miners blasted deeper into their copper mine. Little do they know, they unearthed a demon from within the mines and proceeded to kill everything in it’s path. At the same time the citizens of the town bands together as they try to stop the demon from killing everyone in town.

I picked up this book thinking it would be a fun campy horror book that would have some similar tone as the 1990 movie Tremors. Though the premise is almost the same where replace the monster with a humanoid demon referred to as The Charred Man. The novel is darker in tone, it is gory and it is non caring in a way that children, women and infants are killed in a violent and graphic way. So if you’re a fan of gore, guts and blood then this might be the book for you.

Unfortunately that’s the best the book has to offer. The characters are unlikable, there’s no one I wanted to root for, in the end I found myself rooting for the demon as everyone is selfish or are making nonsensical decisions. The women in the book are mostly whores or helpless housewives, the novel has no strong female character at all. Fortunately the book is only under 300 pages as it was quite difficult to keep up to it. Especially at the end where I felt like it dragged on for too long.

The pacing was also another problem as the book started out slow and it took a while to get to the second act. The second act did pick up, which is probably the best part of the book but only to be slowed down by the third act.

All in all, And the Hills Opened Up, had a lot of potential specially with it’s simple premise. It could’ve been fun and terrifying at the same time. However it’s dull characters and irregular pacing prevented me from liking at what could have been a great book.

Rating: 2.5/5