Tag Archives: Mars adventure

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NEGALLEY arc #Obscura by #Joe Hart #Brainfluffbookreview #book review

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I am a sucker for near future crime and recently there’s been so many excellent examples – so when I read the premise for this offering, I immediately requested it. I’m so glad I did…

In the near future, an aggressive and terrifying new form of dementia is affecting victims of all ages. The cause is unknown, and the symptoms are disturbing. Dr. Gillian Ryan is on the cutting edge of research and desperately determined to find a cure. She’s already lost her husband to the disease, and now her young daughter is slowly succumbing as well. After losing her funding, she is given the unique opportunity to expand her research. She will travel with a NASA team to a space station where the crew has been stricken with symptoms of a similar inexplicable psychosis—memory loss, trances, and violent, uncontrollable impulses.

That’s as much of the chatty blurb as I’m prepared to reveal, but the brilliant thing about nefarious scheming on a space ship or station on a planet like Mars – everyone is trapped. Gillian is a brilliant, likeable woman with some profound emotional scars after the tragedy that overwhelmed her family – and unlike most of the others on the ship, she isn’t keen to be in space for a moment longer than is necessary. She takes the decision to stay awake and continue working through the voyage to Mars as she is running out of time to find a solution – when she realises that something isn’t right…

She teeters on the edge of meltdown, as the loneliness, her longing to be back with her sick daughter – and her addiction to the medicine she was taking during her recovery from a serious car crash – all take their toll. So when she begins to feel that someone else is also on the ship, she has to accept the fact that she is losing her mind.

Often, when the intense atmosphere is built up in these types of psychological thrillers, once we learn the reason why our protagonist is in such a lather, the whole episode falls rather flat. It’s why this sub-genre isn’t one my favourites – I’ve been disappointed too often. However, that’s not the case in this tightly constructed, beautifully plotted gem. I loved the whole story arc – including the climactic, action-filled denouement. Plus that final amazing twist… I haven’t read any of Hart’s work before – but I’ll be reading more of it in the future if this is an indication of his writing talent. Highly recommended for fans of futuristic murder mystery thrillers. While I obtained an arc of Obscura from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

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Friday Faceoff – I collect hats. That’s what you do when you’re bald. (James Taylor)

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is hats, so I’ve taken the idea of hats into space by choosing The Martian by Andy Weir – see my review. After all, he is wearing his helmet on his head – it must count as a type of hat…

 

This is my personal favourite. I love the drama of the swirling red dust as poor old Mark is being swept away and think this is the cover that most effectively depicts the initial drama the starts the book. It was produced in February 2014 by Crown.

 

This edition, produced in February 2014 by Edbury Digital is produced as a movie tie-in cover. So it is Matt Damon suffering on the cover, with flashes of the faceplate hinting at the helmet as he considers his plight after being stranded on Mars. Again, the colour of the cover and his agonised expression captures the drama of the situation.

 

Published in February 2014 by Broadway Books, this is the ‘arrested’ version – we all have them. The photo of us that looks like it’s been taken at a police station after we’ve done something naughty… I’m quite comforted to see that even film stars endure such pics, as I thought it was only one’s children who specialised in taking these efforts. Suffice to say this isn’t a cover that would persuade me to rush out and buy this book.

 

This cover, produced by Autopublished in September 2012, is clearly a DIY effort. Having said that, I’ve seen worse – the biggest criticism of it being that it is very generic. However, that clearly didn’t stop people buying this book in droves, as it subsequently attracted a publishing deal based on its popularity.

 

This Russian cover is another strong contender. I like the drama and fact it depicts the full horror of Mark’s situation. Produced by ACT in September 2014, I like the fact we are seeing exactly what Mark sees – although I’m not sure there are quite so many clouds in a Martian sky. Which cover do you like best?

Five SFF Books That Made Me Laugh – Part 2

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As promised back here, I’ve now trawled through my lists and added another science fiction or fantasy five books that at least made me grin or laugh aloud. Here they are in no particular order…

Insatiable – Book 1 of the Insatiable series by Meg Cabot

insatiableSick of hearing about vampires? So is Meena Harper. But her bosses are making her write about them anyway, even though Meena doesn’t believe in them. Not that Meena isn’t familiar with the supernatural. See, Meena Harper knows how you’re going to die. (Not that you’re going to believe her; no one ever does.) But not even Meena’s precognition can prepare her for what happens when she meets—then makes the mistake of falling in love with—Lucien Antonescu, a modern-day prince with a bit of a dark side. It’s a dark side a lot of people, like an ancient society of vampire-hunters, would prefer to see him dead for.

Another vampire adventure filled with incident and a large dollop of humour to help it all along. I loved both this offering – see my review here – and its sequel, Overbite.

 

How To Train Your Dragon – Book 1 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

And no… I am not talking about the rather vanilla version portrayed in the films, which is very how to train your dragonentertaining, but nothing like as vivid, anarchic and funny as the books. Hiccup is far less charismatic and far more worried; while Toothless is far less rare, a whole lot naughtier and less obedient than the film – see my review here.

Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III is a truly extraordinary Viking hero known throughout Vikingdom as “the Dragon Whisperer”…but it wasn’t always so. Travel back to the days when the mighty warrior was just a boy, the quiet and thoughtful son of the Chief of the Hairy Hooligans. Can Hiccup capture a dragon and train it without being torn limb from limb? Join the adventure as the small boy finds a better way to train his dragon and become a hero!

Again, this is has been a joy to share with the grandchildren – and I have been known to dip in and out of these books if I need cheering up.

 

The Radleys by Matt Haig

theradleysThe Radleys are an everyday family who juggle dysfunctional lives. Except, as Peter and Helen Radley know, but their children have yet to find out, the Radleys happen to be a family of abstaining vampires. When one night Clara finds herself driven to commit a bloodthirsty act, her parents decide to explain a few things.

This is another vampire book, but unlike any other you’ll have read see my review here. This is the story of a middle-class couple desperately trying to blend into suburban England with their children – to the extent that they haven’t even got around to explaining to their hapless offspring the cause of their garlic allergy and extreme photosensitivity. It is hilarious and shocking by turns – and I’ll guarantee if you read it, you won’t forget this one.

 

Stray Souls – Book 1 of the Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin

straysoulsThis book sort of follows on from the previous offering – what do you do in our modern world if you are cursed with a special power? How do you blend in? What if you can’t blend in?

London’s soul has gone missing. Lost? Kidnapped? Murdered? Nobody knows – but when Sharon Li unexpectedly discovers she’s a shaman, she is immediately called upon to use her newfound powers of oneness with the City to rescue it from a slow but inevitable demise.

Sharon Li tries to provide an answer with her Magicals Anonymous support group. In addition to getting together and discussing their issues together, they also find themselves caught up in Matthew Swift’s latest problem. Unlike the Midnight Mayor series, this one is laugh-aloud funny, in amongst the chaos and drama – see my review here.

 

The Martian by Andy Weir

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.themartian
Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, Mark won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills—and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

I – finally – got to see the film of this 21st century version of the Robinson Crusoe adventure over the Easter break. And was sort of glad that I didn’t spend a lot of money going to watch it at the cinema. Oh, the film was okay – in fact, better than okay. But it only hinted at the humour that runs right through this story, humanising Mark and preventing him from coming across as either a lantern-jawed NASA clone, or a whiny victim. The book was not only a thoroughly enjoyable science fiction adventure, it was also very funny – see my review here.

So what funny or amusing science fiction and fantasy books have I missed off my list? Have you read any of these and also found they made you smile?

Review of Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall

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As I’ve just completed reading this entertaining romp to Frankie, my ten-year-old granddaughter, I thought I would revisit the review I originally wrote. While I had a hunch that it would be very readable, nothing beats actually sitting down and reading it aloud to a young audience to get a feel for the writing. It was a great success – and I was rewarded with hearing Frankie’s snorts of amusement and on a couple of occasions, outright belly laughs…

mars evacueesI acquired my uncorrected proof copy of this book at the World Fantasy Con 2013 and when considering what to read that night, with the wind moaning through the hotel window in an impressive imitation of Wuthering Heights, my hand slid towards the jolly red cover. Which just goes to show what a clever hand it is – the book is aimed at the eight to twelve-year-old market, but this considerably older reader found it great fun.

When I found out I was being evacuated to Mars, I took it pretty well. And, despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. Because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived.

And congratulations to the blurb writer. It perfectly captures the flavour of the adventure and the entertaining voice of the first person protagonist, without producing any major spoilers – which these days is an increasing rarity on book covers.

Alice Dare is being evacuated to Mars because of her mother’s fame, so she doesn’t immediately fit in with the cool kids. Neither does her friend, Josephine, who is being evacuated because she is extremely clever. For all the chirpy voice, this book doesn’t shirk some gnarly issues – how Alice and her friends deal with some unpleasant bullying and the effects of war on families – being two of the more hardcore problems they are confronted with.

The humorous voice allows Alice to pick her way through this minefield convincingly and yet without creating too much emotional havoc. Although there were no other book credits on the cover, I was fairly sure that McDougall wasn’t a new author. The writing was just too assured to be someone feeling their way into the craft – and sure enough when I returned home to my dear know-it-all friend, the internet confirmed my suspicions. Sophia McDougall has written the highly regarded alternate history trilogy for adults, Romanitas. Which accounts for the deft characterisation, perfect pacing and entertaining story arc that ensured I zoned out the howling windows until the satisfying ending.

This is a book that will certainly be on my granddaughter’s reading list just as soon as she’s ready for it. I can’t wait to share it with her – in the meantime, why not track it down when it comes available at the end of March next year? It’s simply too good to leave just for the children.
9/10

Review of EBOOK Kindle edition The Martian by Andy Weir

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I’d seen several posters for this book and when I read the rave reviews on Amazon and the first few pages – after several really disappointing science fiction novels, I was more than ready to be swept away. Did The Martian tick the box?

themartianI’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Earth. I’m in a Habitat designed to last 31 days. If the Oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the Water Reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m screwed.

That is the blurb in Mark Watney’s viewpoint – typically laconic. Several of the reviews called this a 21st century version of the Robinson Crusoe story, and it neatly sums up the first section of the book. Like Defoe, Weir is very keen on demonstrating all the fixes and lash-ups that Watney resorts to. But being an astronaut on a NASA space program, the ingenious ways he manages to avoid death involve a great deal more technology and scientific knowhow than Robinson Crusoe had to grapple with. Weir had to dive into a truly brain-bulging amount of research in order to get this level of detail and apparent plausibility. Although I’m no scientist, nothing jarred – not his reaction or the relationship with NASA.

However, if Weir had kept the story going at that level, I would not have stayed engrossed right to the end. The narrative pacing is pitch perfect – despite the plethora of detail, Weir never loses touch with the fact that he is telling a story. All the setbacks and dramas had a complete ring of sincerity while they all duly turned up at the right part of the book in order to keep me reading, I only realised it afterwards when I flipped back and checked.

As the repercussions of Watney’s misfortunes reverberate throughout NASA and into the wider world, the sense of everyone being caught by his plight, helplessly watching his gritted struggle for survival adds yet another angle to the unfolding drama. As does the question of whether they can mount a rescue effort that will reach him before his food runs out… I am not in the business of giving spoilers so won’t say too much more about it – with a book so gripping, it would be a major sin to ruin such a rich, enjoyable reading experience. This is one of the best science fiction books I’ve read this year, and even if you’re not in the habit of reading sci fi – give this one a go. And if you do, you’ll know why they are currently filming the story…
10/10