Why Andy Weir’s The Martian?

This is a really popular book. Why?

This question isn’t intended as a slight to the book, I am just genuinely interested. Why this particular book? Whether it’s good press or bad press, I can’t stop hearing the name of both book and author being thrown around. People are crazy over it. I have been meaning to review this book for a while but it’s taking me longer than usual to read. I must have had it on the go for a good few months now but it’s taking me so long to finish. At the beginning I was hooked. Any of you had this problem? I enjoyed the darkly comedic part of the Mark Watney guy’s character, although I feel that Matt Damon – who is to play the character in the upcoming film (we’ll get to that briefly in a second) – is a bit too ‘nice guy’ for the role. We’ll see. I enjoyed Weir’s writing too, I couldn’t see a downside.

The film. Just a quick note on that. It’s due to be out this year, so get your ticket money ready, which nowadays you may need to take out a loan for as they’re so expensive. Ridley Scott is directing which is great, I’ve always been a fan of his (I need say no more than, simply, Alien). Of course, the book’s plot caters to popular culture’s love of science fiction, particularly the psychological element that is popular within science fiction blockbusters. I’m inevitably going to enjoy it. The main difference I find with reading a book versus watching a film is that if you’re not motivated to finish a book it won’t carry on sharing itself with you. A film will just carry on playing until you exasperatedly turn it off. I have watched some pretty dire films that way. But still, there is something about the book of The Martian that just isn’t holding my attention. As Red Dwarf’s Lister said, “…can’t you see that the story is not gripping me? I’m in a state of nongripness. I’m completely smegging ungripped.”

I think my main stumbling block is that I was expecting a little more mental strain on the character of Mark Watney, something that I anticipate Ridley Scott will embellish on. I wasn’t expecting any big action events in the book, as I realised early on that the story was more about the character’s development. But to me he just hasn’t developed. Perhaps the blasé dark comedy is masking something that will happen very late in the book. As I haven’t finished the book yet, I can’t comment on it as a whole but I’m not that far from the end now and I’m feeling the guy is still mentally the same person as he was when he landed there with his fellow humans at the beginning. Guaranteed, I’ll finish the book tonight and it will turn out that the Watney has had some kind of break down in the last few pages.

It’s a strange book with a lot of conflicting reviews. I think when I have finished the book I’ll put it back on my shelf with a slightly puzzled “hmm”.

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Diving for pearls with a reviewer

I hadn’t really had much chance to read expansively into science fiction over the past three years. I was up to my eyeballs in Toni Morrison, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, F. Scott Fitzgerald… The whole classic crew, who (somewhat miraculously) I still have a soft spot for, despite a lifetime of picking apart and over-analysis. A chance meeting, however, with a book by J. G. Ballard and a copy of I Am Legend being lent by a friend would begin my shift of interest over to the side of SF and apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic fiction. I am particularly partial to a bit of hard SF.

I wanted to write a short, quick post about the past year, roughly when I started reviewing and getting deeper into SF. If there are any pearls of wisdom you can take then that’s a happy bonus. Let’s dive:

1. Trying to keep up with review requests is impossible but that’s okay.

I put my details up on a site called http://www.tweetyourbooks.com (Twitter @TweetYourBooks) and it was an incredibly successful way of putting myself out there. I get a lot of traffic from it. When I first began receiving requests, I was rather panicked at the thought of having to reply to every single email. I didn’t want to offend anyone. As I went on, I realised the authors are understanding and there’s nothing to worry about. They get it. And I really appreciate everyone’s requests, it’s encouraging to know there is so much creative writing talent out there. To those authors I have not been able to get back to I’m very sorry, keep on writing and sharing your creativity. To those whose books I am still nursing for review, I apologise. I am getting there. The best tip I can give to help reviewers starting out is to make sure you categorise your email mailbox from the very beginning. This may seem obvious in hindsight but at the time of starting I had no idea how many emails I would get. Keep to a simple method that works for you, don’t over-complicate things. This can be even worse than an unorganised mailbox. Another lesson I learned the hard way.

2. I have enjoyed reviewing!

This may seem like an obvious observation but as I hadn’t done it before who knew what could have happened? I especially enjoyed talking to many authors about their work. I’ve made firm friends through the medium of SF. Twitter is a great platform to get chatting.

3. Have a game plan for fitting in creative moments.

Then again, it’s virtually impossible to ‘plan’ when you’re going to be creatively inspired. I often write at 5am before I go to work, as that’s when I happen to be most spurred on to be creative, just figure out what works for you. For everyone things always happen unexpectedly: meetings; cleaning; laundry; a flat on your car; just life in general. Then, when you have a few minutes you never have the right gear with you (yes, sometimes we all need some particular stationary or notebook we are attached to before we can really let the flow go). My key to mastering this unpredictability of life is an application called Evernote. If you haven’t heard of this, it’s brilliant. Easy to download to all your tech. If I have a spare half an hour on a train, I can write notes on my iPhone then get home, open up my laptop and the notes will be there too. No sending files or waiting ages for each piece of tech to catch up with the sync (which takes seconds, if that). Evernote is useful for everything, no more needing to worry if you brought this list or that list with you, it’ll be with you everywhere. I’m firmly a paper and pen kind of person but Evernote is an indispensable addition. Frankly, I’m not the most high tech of people, there may be better out there than Evernote but it works perfectly for me. Side note: if you’re on O2 you get a year’s free Premium of Evernote. Yes! So you lot on O2 like me, no excuses.

4. Green tea is awesome.

I can’t drink coffee without it sending me to sleep – go figure – so my introduction to green tea was a life saver.

5. Life sometimes gets in the way.

I suppose this depends on the person. A perfectly organised person who quickly settles into routines or had more life experience probably could have handled it better. Me, I was just starting out living alone in my first flat far from home and beginning my first full-time position post-university. I had a lot to prove to myself and I think I was trying to do too much all at once. I had always dreamed of living alone and living life dictated at my own pace. I just hit the ground running a bit faster than I could handle! Saying that, I’ve now found my rhythm and reviewing only adds to this sense of achievement.

An aim that I am putting out there (so you can pull me up on it if I don’t fulfill it!) is that I am going to up my game with the original purpose of this blog: The SF Masterworks collection. I keep looking at the wealth of SF Masterworks copies on my bookshelves and they are just crying out to be read. Those people who have reviewed SF Masterworks, I would love to hear what you thought, add your pearls to the mix. It will add fuel to the reading fire.

Here’s to diving for pearls.

Pearl divers