Early Review: The Martian (Andy Weir)

Early Review: The Martian (Andy Weir)The Martian by Andy Weir
on 13-02-2014
Pages: 369
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley

Apollo 13 meets Castaway in this grippingly detailed, brilliantly ingenious man-vs-nature survival thriller-set on the surface of Mars.

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?

Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★

When I requested The Martian on NetGalley it was mostly just because my inner geek loves sci-fi.  I was both fascinated and haunted by the blurb and from that alone I was already dying to know what would happen to Mark.  While I got the gripping survival adventure I expected, I also got something unexpected: a truly funny, immensely likeable main character.

Mark is stranded on Mars after a series of disasters forces his crew to abort, convinced he is dead.  With very little equipment, limited food supplies, no contact with Earth and an injury, things don’t look good for Mark Watney.  Mark has to try and contend with freezing temperatures, a lack of water, oxygen and food, cramped conditions, and of course the fact that no one knows he’s alive, so even if he can survive, his chances of ever making it off Mars are pretty slim.

The story is predominantly all about Mark.  We flick between Mark’s logs and Earth, so there are some secondary characters, but Mark is definitely the key here.  He faces loneliness that is impossible to comprehend, and odds that would probably make (many many) individuals give it all up.  But Mark is a scientist and a fighter, and he desperately tries to work through problem after problem, in the hopes of perhaps somehow surviving four years until the next Mars expedition and catch a ride home.

I feel like often scientists are the cliche anxious geek with no social skills (and yes, as a science student I may be a tiny bit biased against that opinion!) and I absolutely loved that Mark didn’t fit those stereotypes.  Yes, he’s a scientist, and a bit of a geek, and he’s insanely good with maths and problem solving…but he’s also got a good relationship with the rest of his crew, he’s tough, he’s likeable and he’s genuinely funny.  He’s a very believable character, and I loved following his thought processes.  At times, he can come across as a little silly or overly pleased about small things, but I think that’s believable and real: Mark is living, as much as possible, minute by minute, trying not to allow himself to consider the horror of his situation, but focusing on every positive, no matter how small.  He is resilient, and sometimes a little too well-adjusted, but stranded on a foreign planet completely alone with no one to talk to but himself, Mark can either laugh or cry – and crying won’t help his resolve at all.  My only real complaint for the characters is that I would have liked to see a little more about Mark, and to a lesser extent, the rest of his crew outside of the mission; their relationships and so on.

There is a lot of science in The Martian, which may put some people off.  There are calculations and lots of mulling over different solutions to problems, and so it can feel quite science heavy.  I’ve talked before about how I like a bit of science in my sci-fi (shockingly) and so I personally quite liked that.  I didn’t feel it made the story dry or slow, but at the same time, Weir isn’t happy to give you vague statements like ‘Mars is cold’; he assumes you can keep up!  It not only highlights just how clever Mark is, but more crucially, it shows just how bad his situation is.

Despite the humour, and the science, The Martian is absolutely full of tension, from Mark’s dire situation to NASA’s stress and the fact that his crew think he died.  Despite the fact there aren’t really too many ways the story can end (either he’ll make it home, or he’ll die, he can’t survive on Mars indefinitely), Weir manages to keep you guessing the whole way through.

 Buy it? This is one that I would be happy to buy.
In a nutshell: A gripping, unexpectedly funny survival story with a hero you can’t help but root for.

Other Reviews of The Martian: Literary ExplorationThat’s What She Read | A Musing Reviews

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[Sci Fi Month] Series Reflection: Matched (Ally Condie)

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate… until she sees Ky Markham’s face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it’s a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she’s destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can’t stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society’s infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

Series stats

Author: Ally Condie
Number of books: 3
Total number of pages: 1281

Opening line:

Now that I’ve found the way to fly, which direction should I go into the night?

Status on my shelves:

I don’t actually own any of these – I borrowed all three from the library!

Why I picked this series up:

I spotted this in the library and picked it up just because it sounded interesting.  I hadn’t read any reviews for it or anything, literally just saw it in the library and decided to give it a go.

Why I liked it:

In Cassia’s world, science and the Society regulate everything, so that individuals’ lives are seemingly perfect.  Life in the Society is easy, and all very civilized.  Individuals have their whole lives regulated, from their career to their diets to their deaths; everything is moderated to the perfect balance for each individual.

On the night of her Match ceremony, Cassia sees her best friend Xander on-screen, exactly as she’d hoped.  What she didn’t expect was to also see a flash of another face: Ky Markham, a boy she knows but doesn’t exactly spend her time thinking about.  Told that the appearance of Ky’s face was a glitch (but not a mistake because the Society doesn’t make mistakes), Cassia is strongly encouraged to stay away from Ky.  She knows she should – why should she put her match with Xander at risk? Xander is fun-loving, witty and her best friend.  The Society has matched them because they’re a perfect match for each other, genetically and emotionally.  There is no logical reason to put that at jeopardy, and yet Cassia is curious about Ky.  She can’t resist getting to know him better, slowly developing stronger feelings that put all three of them in an awkward situation.  Legally she has to stick to her match, and to break that match for Ky would put both of them at risk and break Xander’s heart.
Matched, Crossed and Reached all read slightly differently for me.  In Matched, I really enjoyed the world building, and I loved reading about Cassia’s family.  I also grew to love Ky and Xander, but became concerned I may end up hating Cassia.  She sometimes came across as very shallow and inconsistent in her affections, and there were times I got fed up of her.

Crossed was a much slower book than Matched, and I’d say this was the book that showed off Ally Condie’s poetic writing to the greatest extent.  Crossed felt much more character driven than Matched, and I started to feel more like Cassia had genuine feelings for Xander and Ky.

Reached is probably the most dramatic book of the series, with chapters from multiple points of view and various dramatic plot twists I can’t mention!  I enjoyed all three books despite their differences, though  Crossed was my least favourite and felt like a good example of middle book syndrome.


The love triangle in Matched is remarkably well done.  Both Ky and Xander felt well-developed, with both good personality traits and some bad ones.  Each had some great moments, and there were times when I felt like one was a great choice and times when I felt like the other was better.  Although Cassia’s dilemma felt very shallow to begin with, as the series went on it became more plausible and believable.  My only criticism really is that the final ending to the triangle felt a bit too manufactured.

One more thing:
Crossed is a very easy dystopian series.  I found it easy to read through quickly, despite Condie’s sometimes flowery writing style.  Crossed felt like it was aimed at a slightly younger audience than some other dystopian series, although I can’t for the life of me pinpoint why! Although the science behind the series isn’t particularly taxing, the storyline isn’t juvenile, and there are still some dark twists (it’s still a dystopian after all)I found that the slightly simpler storyline and more poetic writing were unexpected, but also quite a refreshing change of pace once I got into the flow of it.

[Sci Fi Month] Series Reflection: Divergent (Veronica Roth)

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Series stats

Author: Veronica Roth
Number of books: 3 (5 novellas also available)
Total number of pages (novellas not included): 1538

Opening lines:

There is one mirror in my house.  It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs.  Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair.

Status on my shelves:

I own books two and three of this series but don’t yet own a copy of Divergent since I borrowed a library copy.  Ironically I think Divergent is my favourite of the trilogy!

Why I picked this series up:

I confess – this is a series I picked up because of the hype! The series kept getting recommended to me by Goodreads and Amazon, and I’d heard lots of good things about it.  I reserved myself a library copy and that was that!

How I felt about it:

Sixteen-year olds in this dystopian world have to attend a Choosing Ceremony, where they choose the faction they will belong to for the rest of their lives.  There are five factions in this world, each dedicated to one trait.  Tris has grown up as part of the Abnegation, the selfless.  The other four factions are the Erudite, who value knowledge, the Candor, who value honesty, the Amity, who strive for peace and the Dauntless, who value bravery.  On her Choosing Day, she must decide whether to stay with her family, in the faction she’s always known, or whether she belongs somewhere else.

Divergent is packed with action and suspense, and Veronica Roth kept the story fast-paced throughout.  The writing and the drama kept my glued to the story, and I flew through the first book in a day!  The initiation into the factions, the training and the fight-scenes were all thrilling and dramatic, and kept me hooked.

The supporting characters, including Tris’ brother Caleb, her instructor Four, and the other initiates were fantastic.  Three-dimensional, believable and likeable, I genuinely cared what happened to each of them.  The characters introduced later on in the series were also really interesting, trying to figure out what made them tick and where their paths would lead next.

Tris is a very complex character.  She’s not perfect and she can at times make decisions for selfish reasons.  I didn’t mind that at all, because it made her seem real and believable – every one of us is guilty of doing the same occasionally.  She grew gradually throughout the series, as did many of the other characters.  Veronica Roth didn’t have any characters undergo sudden changes, and almost all had hidden depths to them.  My only disappointment was that Tris’ selfishness, the trait which made her so believable to begin with, seemed to become less of a part of her as the series went on.  I assume her increasing selflessness was designed to show character growth, but to me it began to feel forced and sometimes unbelievable (particularly that she’d already undergone plenty of character growth!).

I really enjoyed Divergent; learning about the Abnegation, the Choosing Day ceremony, the other factions and the initiation ceremonies.  I gave it a 4/5 overall.  I also really liked Insurgent, which I flew threw because it was thoroughly gripping.  The ending felt a bit predictable but I enjoyed it, and I gave that 4/5 too.  Whilst I really liked those two books, Allegiant for me, was a disappointment.  The ending has been widely shared all over the internet, but I won’t be going into it here!  All I’ll say about it is that I didn’t especially love the ending, but I can see why it ended the way it did.  The ending is not all that disappointed me about the final book in the trilogy. Written from two perspectives, it didn’t feel like these two voices were distinct enough, which was frustrating at times.  The plot and the world-building actually seemed to fall apart a bit in the final book as well.  For me, it felt like too many loose ends had tried to be tied up last minute, as a result of keeping the suspense up throughout the first two books.  This was not only sometimes confusing, but also left me with more questions than answers.

One more thing:

There’s not a love triangle in Divergent, which is wonderful!  There is a romance, but it grows in a believable, organic seeming way.  The relationship goes through ups, downs, is on and then off, and has some serious problems to get through.  But, none of those problems is an unwanted third wheel!

[Sci Fi Month] Top Ten Sci-fi books I’d recommend to my sister

Today as part of sci-fi month I’m posting ten sci-fi books I’d recommend to my little sister.  She’s a young teenager who has already read The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Uglies, The Hunger Games and Matched, so you won’t be seeing those on the list!

The fifth wave (Rick Yancey) [Aliens]

“After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see.”

What’s left of me (Kat Zhang) [Dystopian]

“Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . . .”

Leviathan (Scott Westerfeld) [Steampunk]

“Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

Ender’s game (Orson Scott Card) [Aliens]

“In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.”

Wither (Lauren DeStefano) [Dystopian]

“By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children. “

The Selection (Kiera Cass) [Dystopian]

“For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.”

Inside Out (Maria V. Snyder) [Dystopian]

Keep Your Head Down.  Don’t Get Noticed.  Or Else.

I’m Trella. I’m a scrub. A nobody. One of thousands who work the lower levels, keeping Inside clean for the Uppers. I’ve got one friend, do my job and try to avoid the Pop Cops. So what if I occasionally use the pipes to sneak around the Upper levels? The only neck at risk is my own…until I accidentally start a rebellion and become the go-to girl to lead a revolution.”

Mila 2.0 (Debra Driza) [Review] [Dystopian]

“Mila was never meant to learn the truth about her identity. She was a girl living with her mother in a small Minnesota town. She was supposed to forget her past—that she was built in a secret computer science lab and programmed to do things real people would never do.”

(Mike Lancaster) [Dystopian]

“Kyle Straker volunteered to be hypnotized at the annual community talent show, expecting the same old lame amateur acts. But when he wakes up, his world will never be the same. Televisions and computers no longer work, but a strange language streams across their screens. Everyone’s behaving oddly. It’s as if Kyle doesn’t exit.
Is this nightmare a result of the hypnosis? Will Kyle wake up with a snap of fingers to roars of laughter? Or is this something much more sinister?”

(Lauren Oliver) [Dystopian]

“Ninety-five days, and then I’ll be safe. I wonder whether the procedure will hurt. I want to get it over with. It’s hard to be patient. It’s hard not to be afraid while I’m still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn’t touched me yet. Still, I worry. They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness. The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don’t.”

[Sci-fi month] Review: The Humans (Matt Haig)

Review: The Humans (Matt Haig) Amazon| Goodreads

Summary (From Goodreads.com)
“I was not Professor Andrew Martin. That is the first thing I should say. He was just a role. A disguise. Someone I needed to be in order to complete a task.”

The narrator of this tale is no ordinary human—in fact, he’s not human at all. Before he was sent away from the distant planet he calls home, precision and perfection governed his life. He lived in a utopian society where mathematics transformed a people, creating limitless knowledge and immortality.

But all of this is suddenly threatened when an earthly being opens the doorway to the same technology that the alien planet possesses. Cambridge University professor Andrew Martin cracks the Reimann Hypothesis and unknowingly puts himself and his family in grave danger when the narrator is sent to Earth to erase all evidence of the solution and kill anyone who has seen the proof. The only catch: the alien has no idea what he’s up against.

Disgusted by the excess of disease, violence, and family strife he encounters, the narrator struggles to pass undetected long enough to gain access to Andrew’s research. But in picking up the pieces of the professor’s shattered personal life, the narrator sees hope and redemption in the humans’ imperfections and begins to question the very mission that brought him there.

Author: Matt Haig
Length: 304 pages
Source: Review copy from NetGalley
Series: No

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★
Overall: ★★★★★

My opinion:

Having discovered the secret of the Riemann hypothesis, of prime numbers, of the universe and life itself, Professor Andrew Martin is a threat to the Vonnadorians: a logical, mathmatical race of aliens advanced far beyond humans.  Horrified by humans’ backward and violent seeming nature, the Vonnadorians are determined to prevent Andrew Martin’s discovery becoming public and unleashing the secrets of their technology on a species obviously incapable of handling it.

To safeguard the secret, the Vonnadorians send an unnamed narrator to Earth to assassinate Andrew Martin, destroy all evidence of his discovery and infiltrate his life long enough to ensure the Professor didn’t share his knowledge with anyone else.

Unfortunately, apparently even super-advanced alien races sometimes make mistakes.  Our narrator wakes up in Andrew Martin’s body as predicted, but not in Andrew Martin’s office at Cambridge University as planned.  Instead, he wakes up on the M11, naked, disorientated and baffled by everything about human life.  From there, he undergoes a serious of hilarious social disasters, gradually learning more about humans as he attempts to imitate Professor Martin.

The Humans is really, truly funny.  Full of genuinely hilarious thoughts on everything about human life from clothes to television, Matt Haig’s writing is sure to brighten even the gloomiest day.  There are some poignant reflections on human nature and our destruction of the planet, but there are also lots of heart-warming reflections on what it truly means to be a human.

You could be forgiven for taking a quick glance of the blurb and deciding this is a book about aliens.  However, it’s not, at all.  It’s a book, exactly as the title says, about humans.  It’s about balancing relationships and not quite fitting in.  About learning to appreciate the little things in life and not losing sight of the big things.  It’s about love and pain and all the emotions that make us human.

The plot can at times be predictable, but the fantastic writing and the little detours Matt Haig takes along the way keep the book fresh and engaging.  It’ll have you dying to read on just a little bit more and pausing to read out particularly funny lines (or at least it will if you’re anything like me!). The final chapter, entitled advice for a human, had whole sections I’d like to print out and put on my wall as instructions to live by.  All in all, The Humans is inspiring, hilarious, heart-warming and insightful.

Buy it? This is definitely worth a re-read, and so for me, it’s worth buying.
In a nutshell: A brilliantly written, truly funny tale of an alien who discovers what it means to be human.

Other Reviews of The Humans: Curiosity Killed the Bookworm | Passion For Novels | Fluidity of Time