Science, Fiction, Life

Category: Science Fiction (Page 2 of 3)

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens and How Film Making Workshops can Help Shape the Stars for Future Filmmakers

WARNING: This review will contain spoilers! Proceed with caution!

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I finally saw the new Star Wars movie the day after Christmas. Prior to that, I had to almost entirely cut down on reading the internet to avoid spoilers, and I’m happy to report that I was successful. All I really knew about The Force Awakens going in was that it was supposed to be much better than the prequels.

So, did it live up to the hype?

Maybe? I have some complicated feelings about The Force Awakens. On the one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I really like the new main characters, and being back in the Star Wars universe was pure joy. On the other hand, the movie was basically two hours of nothing but fan service, mashing up iconic characters, moments, and plot devices from the original trilogy into something precision engineered to hit older readers right in the nostalgia.

Here are some things that are awfully familiar:

  • A hero who lives in poverty on a desert planet who happens to be a great pilot.
  • The hero encounters a scrappy droid who speaks in a series of cute noises, and that droid is carrying information vital to the rebellion, who are battling against the forces of evil.
  • The hero meets an ally and escapes from the desert planet in the Millennium Falcon, after taking down some TIE fighters using the Falcon’s Anti-Aircraft-style blasters.
  • Han Solo and Chewbacca have to talk/fight their way out of a confrontation with some shady characters.
  • The good guys go to a cantina filled with an assortment of exotic aliens with a catchy tune playing in the background.
  • A cute, diminutive, thousand-year-old alien dispenses wisdom to our protagonist.
  • The enemy has a super-weapon capable of destroying entire planets. However it has a single weak point that can be taken out by sending a strike force down to the surface to disable the shields, allowing a squadron of fighters to fly in and destroy it.
  • The bad guy wears an expressionless black mask that modulates his voice.
  • He is related to a main character and the two have a confrontation where he is called to turn away from the dark side.
  • He is controlled by a shadowy figure of pure evil who often appears in the form of a holographic projection.
  • He has a red light saber.
  • Han Solo and our young male hero go on a mission inside the enemy base to rescue the female hero who is being interrogated.
  • Storm troopers are highly susceptible to Jedi mind tricks.

And there are many other tiny nods to the original series.

And really, there basically had to be. What we all really wanted was to feel the same way we did when we watched the first trilogy, so I can’t complain too much about the new movie delivering that in spades. I worry, though, that it was so very very similar. Sure, some nods and fan service here and there are fun, but major sections of the plot were basically copy-pasted from the original movies. I guess it’s fitting because Star Wars itself was a mashup that borrowed scenes practically verbatim from previous movies, but it does make me worry about where the series will go from here.

But I’m also very optimistic about where it will go from here, and what that will mean. As I said, I think the new main characters are excellent. Fin’s origin as a stormtrooper deserter is fascinating, and Rey is just about everything you could ask for in a strong female protagonist. Poe Dameron, the hot shot fighter pilot, is also a fun character: imagine that, a great pilot who is not strong with the force!

Also, The Force Awakens, despite (or perhaps because of?) basically being a mash-up of the original trilogy, indicates to me that the folks in charge of the Star Wars franchise now know what it is that fans like about Star Wars and what we don’t. I was really relieved that they brought back comic relief in the form of witty banter rather relying entirely on sight gags and slapstick. Of all the things in the prequels that I didn’t like, I think it was the awful attempts at humor that bothered me the most.

Some of my favorite parts of the movie were the early establishing shots of Rey scavenging in the wreckage of a massive battle (and the later dogfight among the wreckage). What battle led to a field of Star Destroyer and AT-AT walker wreckage in the desert of Jakku? It is not explained and it never should be. J.J. Abrams and his team know that the greatest part of Star Wars is not the tip of the iceberg shown on screen, but the hints of a bigger universe full of stories waiting to be told.

All in all, I enjoyed the Force Awakens and I think it achieved what it set out to do: it brought back the feel of the original trilogy (although I wish it hadn’t copied quite so blatantly), and it laid the groundwork for new stories. I just hope going forward that the next movies can move ahead into new territory instead of endlessly rehashing the old movies. A lot of aspiring filmmakers nowadays seek knowledge from https://www.youngfilmacademy.co.uk/ to create amazing films. I’m cautiously optimistic on that front. If that happens, then I think we have a lot of great adventures to look forward to.

Some final assorted observations:

  • I’m glad Han Solo got killed off (and totally saw it coming). From the small number of interviews I’ve seen with Harrison Ford, he seemed completely bored and borderline annoyed with how excited everyone was about Star Wars being rebooted (I got much the same vibe as I get from Peter Dinklage’s interviews about Game of Thrones, like the actor is annoyed that this of all things is what they’re going to be remembered for). Also, killing Solo was a nice mirror image of Vader’s redemption in Return of the Jedi.
  • Boy those bad guys sure are Nazi-like. Star Wars is not known for its subtlety.
  • What exactly is the rebellion rebelling against now? The Republic is the main government now, right? And they’re the good guys, right? So shouldn’t the “rebellion” actually just be called the Republic’s military?
  • Star Wars bad guys need to hire better engineers who have heard of redundancy to avoid single points of failure.
  • I thought it was a nice touch that when Starkiller Base was destroyed, it just turned back into a star (though the size was all wrong)
  • The x-wings flying low over the water gave me all sorts of nostalgic feels about playing Star Wars video games.
  • I was amused that Kylo Ren’s light saber was all raggedy, as if his evilness just couln’t be contained.
  • I also enjoyed how many of the familiar ships from the original Star Wars were slightly tweaked, as if technology had changed, but only slightly, since the events of the earlier series.
  • I really hope that Rey is not a long lost relative of the characters we know and love, and that she’s just an awesome, capable woman who is strong with the Force. There were thousands of Jedi back in the day, and they’re not all related, so Rey doesn’t need to be a secret Skywalker or Kenobi, or whatever.

Thoughts After Re-Watching Star Wars: A New Hope

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It had been a while, so after our traditional Friday pasta night yesterday, we watched Star Wars: A New Hope (the original theatrical release, of course.) Here are some assorted thoughts:

  • Watching through it this time, I reflected more on how mind-blowing this movie must have been when it first came out. It is amazingly creative in so many ways that are hard to appreciate nowadays because Star Wars has become such an integral part of our culture. So many things in Star Wars are iconic now. I found myself thinking things like: Wow, imagine if that was the first time I had ever seen Darth Vader/a Star Destroyer/an X-Wing/a light saber. I felt very nostalgic for the first time I watched Star Wars back in middle school. I somehow had managed to get to middle school having no idea what Star Wars was, and it blew my mind. But even then, without knowing it, I had grown up in a world where Star Wars had influenced the culture (for example, I think I remember watching the cartoon Muppet Babies, which parodied Star Wars in at least one of its episodes, and not realizing what it was imitating until later). I can only imagine what it must have been like back in 1977.
  • It’s funny. Not a comedy of course, but the use of witty banter is great. I was struck by how effectively the movie makes R2D2 a character, with a personality and an attitude, all without any dialogue. Just a few cute sounds, and translations from C3PO. And of course, Han Solo and Leia both have plenty of good lines. I particularly like the scene where Han is trying to bluff over the intercom to keep troopers from coming up to interrupt their rescue of Leia and he says “Everything is fine here… How are you?” The humor sprinkled through the movie made me sad for the prequels, where instead of well-placed witty lines, over-long slapstick sequences are used for comic relief. And it was refreshing to see an action movie without the “gritty” “realism” that most genre fiction these days seems to think it needs.
  • It is so great because it leaves so much unexplained. It manages to strike a perfect balance: it is never confusing, but at the same time it leaves the viewer wondering about all sorts of things, big and small. What were the Clone Wars? What’s the deal with the Galactic Senate? And the emperor? Luke says he can “bullseye Womp Rats in his T16 back home”. What’s a Womp rat? What’s a T16? Similarly, there are tons of visual things that are not explained, but which add to the experience. It all comes together to give the vivid impression of a setting much bigger than what is seen in the movie. And that much bigger setting gets filled in by your imagination. Part of the trouble with newer movies in the franchise is that they replace parts what your imagination has created with an “official” version, and thereby remove some of the mystery and wonder. It will be interesting to see how the new movies handle this.

Book Recommendations

There are few things I enjoy more than recommending books to people, so you can imagine how happy I was to find that there are two subreddits that are dedicated to book recommendations. It’s awesome to have a place on the internet where people are constantly asking for advice on what to read!

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been recommending up a storm, and I thought it would be interesting to collect a list of my most-recommended books and post them here. This is different from my list of favorite books, I should note. There are a few very common requests that appear over and over on the book recommendation subreddits, so those tend to guide my recommendations. Here are some of the most common requests, along with my general recommendations.

“I am new to reading for fun” or “I used to love reading but I haven’t read anything recently. What should I read?”

Of course when responding to this one, it depends what the person is interested in. But I generally try to aim for easy-reading page-turners that are the beginning of a series:

  • Old Man’s War by John Scalzi – Good, modern take on military sci-fi with a sense of humor but also some poignant scenes. This book starts a series.
  • Wolf of the Plains by Conn Iggulden – Historical fiction about the early life of Temujin (aka Genghis Khan). Does a great job of conveying the rugged life on the steppes. Starts a series.
  • The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell – Very readable historical fiction book about a Northumbrian boy who is captured by Danes (vikings) and raised as one of them, but who eventually joins forces with Alfred the Great. Interesting look at the early middle ages, when a castle was a hall on top of a hill surrounded by a palisade, rather than a towering stone fortress. Starts a series.

“I just read The Martian. What should I read next?”

  • Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson – This is an epic realistic sci-fi novel about the first 100 colonists on Mars as they try to found a new civilization and terraform Mars to become more like Earth. It was written in the 90s, but holds up pretty well. Where The Martian was a very small-scale story, this one is huge in scope, spanning many years with tons of characters.
  • Contact by Carl Sagan – Writen by an actual astronomer, about deciphering a signal received from an advanced extraterrestrial civilization. Full of good science but also lots of philosophical discussions.

“I just finished Ready Player One. What should I read next?”

  • I often recommend Old Man’s War for this as well. Even though the books are not that similar, the tone of the writing is.
  • Other books that I haven’t read, but which I have heard would go well with Ready Player One are Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

“I’m looking for a new fantasy series to get hooked on (often after finishing A Song of Ice and Fire or Name of the Wind).”

  • The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – Classics, but it’s surprising how many people haven’t read them. These are must-reads for any fan of fantasy, if only because so much of fantasy is either imitating or subverting the tropes introduced by Tolkien.
  • A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin – Another classic, and the start of a series. I especially recommend this to people who say they enjoyed Harry Potter because LeGuin basically invented the idea of a wizard school in this book.
  • Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb – This is the first in several trilogies set in the same world. Fitz, the protagonist, is in my opinion one of the best characters in all of Fantasy. Occasionally infuriating too, but still a great character, and it’s interesting to see him mature through the books. Also, some of the books about Fitz get pretty dark and gritty, even though they were written before “grimdark” became its own subgenre.
  • The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie – The standard by which all other grimdark is judged. Great characters who are also terrible people, in an interesting fantasy world that has fun subverting some fantasy tropes. I recommend this book and its sequels especially for people who liked Game of Thrones and who want something dark and gritty.
  • Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – For fantasy readers who want well-polished prose that takes familiar well-worn tropes and makes them excellent just by the quality of the writing. This book and its sequel are good for fans of Harry Potter who want something similar but a bit more mature.
  • Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin – Everyone has heard of this book and its sequels by now, but many have still not read them. If the person seems to have read other huge series but not this one, I highly recommend it. At this point Martin’s influence on the fantasy genre rivals Tolkien’s.
  • Shogun by James Clavell – This is historical fiction rather than fantasy, but it has a lot of what makes Game of Thrones great (tons of characters, tons of politics and intrigue, epic scope, etc.), so I often recommend it to Game of Thrones fans. It’s about an Englishman who is shipwrecked in Japan in 1600 and gets involved in court politics and falls in love with a Japanese woman. Surprisingly, it is based pretty closely on actual events.
  • I also often recommend Cornwell and Iggulden’s historical fiction to fantasy fans.

For fantasy fans who are looking for something a bit different:

  • Perdido Street Station or The Scar by China Mieville – Extremely creative and bizarre stories about a steampunk-ish fantasy-ish world. Strong horror influences. I haven’t read anything else like these. I personally enjoyed The Scar more than Perdido Street. Mieville also loves to use lots of fancy vocabulary in his writing: this annoys some people, but I like it. And if you’re studying for the SAT, I bet these books would be better than a bunch of boring flash cards.

“I’m looking for some good post-apocalyptic books.”

  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – One of the best books I’ve read this year, and the best post-apocalyptic book I’ve read in a long time (ever?). It doesn’t do anything particularly new with the familiar tropes of the genre, but the writing is great, with well-drawn characters. Manages to be more literary than most books in the genre without coming off as pretentious.
  • Wool by Hugh Howey – This one is a page-turner. I especially recommend this to fans of the Fallout series of video games, because it deals with underground refuges from the toxic post-apocalyptic wasteland on the surface that are awfully similar to the Vaults in Fallout.
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy – Bleak and depressing, but great, spare writing. And after all, shouldn’t the apocalypse be a bit of a downer?
  • The Stand by Stephen King – A classic of the genre. I loved the first ~2/3 of The Stand and thought the ending was just ok, but still. It’s a must-read.
  • The Postman by David Brin – Obviously an inspiration for The Stand and for the early Wasteland and Fallout video games. Much like The Stand, the first 2/3rds are better than the ending, but still a classic of the genre.
  • Earth Abides – Another classic. This one explores how civilization would change, what knowledge would be kept and what would fade with time, after a disease-style apocalypse. One of the first books of its kind, but quite good, if dated.
  • I Am Legend by Richard Matheson – Another classic. This one was among the first to consider an apocalypse populated by monsters rather than just radiation or disease. Here the monsters are like vampires, but this led to the zombie apocalypse sub-genre. And for its age, it is still quite readable.
  • On the Beach by Nevil Schute – This one is different than most in the genre, but is well worth reading. Possibly the saddest of them all. It’s about several families in Australia after a nuclear war has been waged in the northern hemisphere as they wait for the deadly cloud of fallout to get to them.
  • The World Without Us by Alan Wiseman – This one is non-fiction! But I put it in the post-apocalypse list because it’s about what would happen if humans just up and disappeared one day. It’s a really fascinating book, especially for fans of the post-apocalyptic genre.

“I’ve read lots of YA series (Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, Eragon, etc.). What should I read next?” or “What are some good books for a middle school kid?”

A lot of this depends on age. Some adults have only read YA but want something more mature, so for them I refer to the fantasy list. For actual kids in high school or middle school, I recommend:

  • The Golden Compass (Northern Lights) by Philip Pullman – Great YA series with a sort of steampunk-ish world and interesting magic. There are armored bears and witches but also some pretty interesting exploration of physics, philosophy, and theology.
  • Redwall and sequels by Brian Jacques – These books are lots of fun. Woodland creatures in the middle ages with swords and bows and stuff! Also some of the most gratuitous descriptions of feasts I’ve ever read. Probably best for a middle-school aged audience though I read them well into high school.
  • So You Want to be a Wizard? by Diane Duane – Lame title, but I loved this book in early middle school. It’s about two kids who learn how to become wizards and travel to a parallel version of New York, complete with predatory cars and other cool stuff.
  • The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley – I loved these books in early high school, though now I can’t really remember much about them except that they are awesome. Both have great female protagonists.

“I’m looking for non-fiction that will change the way I see the world.” or “What are some must-read non-fiction books?”

  • Books by Carl Sagan including Cosmos, Pale Blue Dot, and Demon Haunted World – Sagan was a brilliant science writer, and all modern popular science writers are basically rehashing things he wrote better. These books will teach you about the history of science, the future of space exploration, and how to think critically about the world around you.
  • 1491 and 1493 by Charles C. Mann – These books deal with what the Americas were like before Columbus, and how the world changed due to globalization after Columbus. These changed my view of history: real history is way more interesting than what you learn in school!

“Halloween is coming up. What are some good creepy/horror stories?”

  • Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury – Not the sort of story that is likely to give you nightmares or keep you up at night but some of the most beautiful writing I’ve read. Bradbury’s writing style is practically like poetry, and this book is all about autumn and death and a creepy carnival, so it fits with the season. All of Bradbury’s books are great, and this is not actually my favorite (That would be Martian Chronicles, of course) but this is the one I’m recommending most lately.

Book Review: Outlander

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I had heard a lot about Outlander, the famous romance novel involving a nurse from the 1940s who travels back in time and falls in love with a handsome Scotsman. Many of my female friends love the book and its sequels, and I heard the TV show being lauded as Game of Thrones, but for women. So I thought it would be educational for me to read the novel and see what all the fuss was about. I’ve never really read much in the romance genre, which always seemed like a shame because surely there’s some good stuff there that I am missing out on. Outlander is often given as an example of a great romance novel, so I figured I should try it.

Before I go on, I want to acknowledge up front that I’m decidedly not the target audience for Outlander. I get that. That was actually part of the appeal: so much fiction is written with “white straight male” as the target audience that I wanted to see what it would be like to read something that wasn’t “for me”.

Sadly, I have to report that I really didn’t like it very much, and I am shocked that women do.

The first half of the book was fine. I read it in one huge gulp while traveling overseas, and while the writing wasn’t amazing, it was a pretty good story. But then two things happened. First, I wasn’t traveling anymore so my chunks of reading time were much more fragmented, meaning I could only read smaller passages at a time. This always leads to me being more picky about the quality of writing, no matter what I’m reading. When you aren’t fully sucked in, it’s easier to spot the odd word choices or sentences that fall flat, or minor inconsistencies. But more importantly, at around the halfway mark in the book, Jamie the sexy Scotsman beats the main character with a belt. And then, within a matter of days, she has basically forgiven him. And then he rapes her (but it’s ok because after she says “No, Stop, please, you’re hurting me!” and he keeps going and says he “means to make you mine” and that the marriage vows included the provision that she must “obey”, she eventually says “yes”, so it’s definitely just kinky sex that leaves her battered and bruised definitely not rape). And that was when the book lost me.

From the way the book is written, it’s clear that this incident is supposed to be forgiven and Claire (and therefore the reader, because Claire is very nearly a blank-slate of a character upon which the reader is supposed to project herself) falls madly in love with sexy Jamie the sexy Scotsman. But for me, the moment he beat her and then raped her, the logical behavior on her part would be to try to escape as quickly as possible and go back to her loving husband in the present. You know, the one she chose voluntarily and who does not abuse her? The book from that point on should have been about getting away from this barbaric man, and this barbaric time period and back to the man who she supposedly loves. But nope. She goes to the standing stones that sent her back in time and then decides that she’d rather not go back to 1945 and all of its relative safety and comfort. Her husband in the present, Frank, is a slim academic type who Claire finds ever so boring as he goes on and on about his historical studies. Nothing is so unappealing as an intelligent man who is passionate about his academic pursuits. Much better to stay in the past with Jamie, the big, buff, virile Highlander whose favorite pass-times are (1) finding any excuse at all to be beaten (seriously, like half of this book is about all the times Jamie was beaten in the past, or gets beaten in the present, or is recovering from being beaten, etc.), and (2) sex.

Also, let’s talk about the antagonist in this story “Black Jack” Randall. In what is surely the most subtle subliminal message ever, the bad guy looks just like Claire’s husband from the present! Hmmmm! “Golly, I wonder if she will go back to her pathetic, skinny, nerdy husband who also happens to look like the vile, raping, antagonist?” How do we know he is not just a rapist, but the bad kind that we hate? (because it’s already been established that beatings and rape are ok as long as the victim deserves it and eventually stops protesting) Why, because he’s a homosexual of course! By my count there are two gay men in this book. One is a minor character who, of course, molests little boys. The other is the antagonist, Jack Randall, a pathetic and evil man who gets off on torturing and raping Jamie toward the end of the book.

For most of the book, Claire is an extremely passive and boring character (the better to allow the reader to project onto her).  She goes from place to place, obeying what others say, listening in on important conversations without being part of them, making very few decisions for herself. At the end of the book I was excited that she was finally taking initiative in attempting to save Jamie, reversing the damsel in distress trope by having the woman save the man. But of course we can’t have that, so she ends up being held at knifepoint and Jamie saves her by giving himself up as a plaything for the bad guy. Then Claire gets tossed out in the snow, and in a ridiculous scene, wins in hand-to-hand combat with a starving wolf by breaking its neck against the corner of a building (I mean, I know WWII nurses were tough, but come on). And then she gets rescued by some men, who then actually rescue Jamie, somehow, through a plot involving unleashing a herd of cattle in the dungeon? Oh and she kills a man by severing his brain stem with a knife. Because that’s easy to do for someone with very little training or strength.

And then at the end of the book, they flee to Normandy, and Claire (a) very nearly converts to Catholicism for some reason (mostly so that there can be a scene where a priest hears her confession and absolves her of any guilt about leaving her loving husband Frank behind in the future), and (b) cures Jamie of his severe bacterial infection AND his PTSD by sending him into an opium-induced hallucination where he thinks that she is the bad guy, and he fights her, and then they end up naked on the floor? Yeah, I don’t know what that was all about.

And finally, the book ends with some sexy sex in an underground hot spring and the revelation that Claire is not infertile, as she once thought! The powerful sperm of the sexy Scotsman, clearly superior to the sperm from her boring, skinny nerd husband, managed to impregnate her. Hooray!

Phew. Ok, so clearly I didn’t much like this book. The only reason I kept with it is because I wanted to see what all my friends saw in it. Maybe my problem is just that I’m the opposite of the target audience, but I really can’t comprehend why so many of my feminist female friends like this book. And just to be clear, I don’t mind the loving detail used in describing how sexy Jamie is: I expected that and it didn’t really bother me. Certainly plenty of books that I read are guilty of the opposite: describing female characters in great detail (making sure to mention something about breasts), and then oh yeah also there was a dude standing next to her and he was tall or something. And it’s not even that the writing is mediocre: I read plenty of fantasy and historical fiction books with just so-so writing. It really all comes back to the fact that I don’t get how a relatively modern woman is supposed to just forgive a man who beats her with a belt for “disobedience”. I don’t care how handsome or charming or honest or self-deprecating he is, or how much he tells you about all the times he was beaten as a kid (har har, isn’t it cute how he got beaten so much because he’s stubborn and disobedient? After all, “boys will be boys” and the only thing to do about it is beat them. PS: Claire, Jamie wants to make it clear that if you have kids he’s totally beating them too.) If this book is supposed to be a woman’s fantasy (and for the vast majority of the book it clearly is), then why make the love interest beat her and rape her? I just don’t get it. I’m very uncomfortable with the potential conclusions that could be drawn from that. But then, I don’t understand why so many women apparently enjoy reading 50 Shades of Gray either.

In any case, let’s just leave it at this: I’m glad to be done with this book and very much looking forward to reading something new.

A martian’s review of The Martian (movie)

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I just got back from watching The Martian movie and then eating ice cream and discussing the minutiae with a bunch of my wife’s high school physics students. So I had a pretty fun afternoon.

I went into the movie with high hopes: I was predicting to people beforehand that it would likely make a better movie than book, because a movie can get away with less-developed characters, and acting talent can make up for a lot of shortcomings in the material itself. Also, sweeping landscape shots are just the thing you need for a story like The Martian. They can communicate very efficiently what it would take pages to convey in the book. So was I right? Was the movie better?

Yes! At least, I think so. It was a rare space exploration movie that got almost everything right. Of course there were some nitpicky issues but overall it does a fantastic job of showing a bizarro future where NASA has a lot of funding and is sending humans to Mars. It conveys the excitement and drama of human space exploration, and the heroes are heroic as much for their brains as for their courage. This movie is going to inspire a lot of people to be scientists and engineers, or to at least take more of an interest in these sorts of topics.

As for comparing with the book, they streamlined some of the plot, which was fine by me. They did sadly skip over some technical details that I think could have made things easier to understand (like why he cut a hole in the top of the rover), but a movie has to keep moving. More importantly, having Matt Damon bring life to the relatively two-dimensional character of Mark Watney helped a lot. As did having a supporting cast that was also very well-acted so that, for example, when he is finally able to exchange messages with his crewmates, their banter is much more emotional than I recall in the book.

Yes, but what about the science? Much like the book, it’s mostly pretty good. As before, the biggest issue is the sandstorm at the beginning which is unrealistically forceful. But hey, as I noted in my review of the book, the author acknowledged this and made it as a deliberate artistic choice, and I’m generally ok with bending the rules if there’s a good plot reason to do so. What I like less is when fiction is unrealistic for no apparent reason and there’s very little of that in the movie (though there’s always some).

A new nitpick that appeared in the movie is the landscape. The book spends little time describing the landscape, instead describing potato farming and water production and other technical aspects in loving detail. The movie can’t get away with that: it has to show the landscape, and boy is the landscape of Mars in this movie dramatic! And hey, if people think of Mars as a planet of spectacular cliffs and dunes and canyons, that’s good! Because it is! We just wouldn’t land people near them. Watney is supposed to be in Acidalia Planitia, which is a wide open plain. Those spectacular geologic formations in the movie would be fascinating scientifically, but likely too dangerous to land nearby. (EDIT: My smart friends point out that we could totally land people near large cliffs like that. The benefit of having a human pilot is that your landing uncertainty shrinks down to only a few hundred meters. I had been thinking that all the pre-supply stuff had to land autonomously, but if you can have a human pilot land it, then a site like the one depicted might be ok. But it’s still not what Acidalia Planitia would look like.)

And as for the Pathfinder landing site. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see any towering cliffs or sand dunes in this picture. I mostly just see a lot of rocks that would be a pain to drive over:

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But whatever, I can’t really complain too much that the movie made Mars look extra awesome.

Bottom line: this is a great space exploration movie. You should go see it. Take someone young and impressionable. I hope this movie wins all the awards and makes all the money, so that Hollywood will continue the recent trend of making relatively realistic science fiction blockbusters about the drama of space exploration, instead of yet another superhero reboot. Maybe, just maybe, that will lead to enough increased public interest that what we’re seeing in movies like The Martian will no longer have to be just science fiction.

 

PS: If you have more questions about the technical details of the movie or book, post a comment and I’ll try to answer!

PPS: I still can’t read the movie poster slogan “Bring Him Home” without thinking of the song from Les Miserables. How has there not been a The Martian/Les Mis mashup yet?  Edit: FOUND ONE!

A martian’s review of The Martian (book)

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As someone whose day job can be summarized as “zapping rocks on Mars with a laser” and who is interested in writing speculative fiction, I know you will be shocked to learn that I have some opinions about the novel The Martian by Andy Weir. I will now share these opinions with you!

The premise behind this book is as simple as it is compelling: Astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars after his crewmates believe that he has died in a violent sandstorm and are forced to abort the mission. Watney has to survive on the surface of Mars with limited supplies and equipment, until a rescue mission can come get him. It’s basically like Castaway, but on a planet that is extremely hostile to life instead of a tropical island.

The Castaway analogy works, but the best description of The Martian I have heard (and I forget where I heard it, sorry! Edit: someone pointed out that it was this xkcd. Because of course it was xkcd). is that it’s like that scene from Apollo 13 where they have to get the square CO2 filters to work in a round hole, but it goes on for an entire book. If you loved that scene, you will love The Martian. If you don’t remember that scene, then you may not be as excited to read page after page of how Watney figures out how to grow potatoes in Mars soil, or how he manages to create hydrogen by catalytically breaking down rocket fuel.

I know you are now bracing yourself for a few thousand words of pedantic nit-picking from the Mars scientist who wants to correct every little scientific detail in the book, but surprise! I’m not going to do that for two reasons: One, it’s boring. Two, the book was actually pretty good in terms of science. I have two main technical things that I’ll complain about but then I’ll move on to some other non-sciencey things to nit-pick about instead!

The main technical problem in the book is that it vastly overestimates the violence of a martian dust storm. In fact, it repeatedly calls them sand storms. The problem is, Mars has a very thin atmosphere, so while you can get very fast winds, they don’t have much “oomph” behind them. They certainly are not going to dismember a communications antenna and send it hurtling like a javelin into a hapless astronaut. And you’re not going to end up with the drifts of sand that are described when Watney wakes up from his almost-fatal impaling. Sand does move on Mars, but not in huge amounts like that.

I actually heard an interview with Any Weir yesterday, and he brings this up. He says that he actually knew that this was inaccurate, but that since the book is basically a Man vs Nature story, he wanted Nature to land the first blow. And he also pointed out that scientists like me are now coming out of the woodwork explaining to people that the winds on Mars aren’t actually that strong, and so the net result is probably that the public knows much more about the strength of wind on Mars that they would have if he had gotten the science right. So ok, I can live with that.

My other main problem is that Watney has to drive an absurdly long distance across the surface of Mars. It’s just not realistic to have someone drive halfway around the planet. I get that he’s in a giant rover, and so can traverse across obstacles much larger than the robotic rovers could. But he certainly wouldn’t be doing that at 25 kph. And just as importantly, for most of the time he is unable to communicate with NASA or the orbiting satellites, so he doesn’t have high-resolution images to help him plan his route. I can tell you that even with 25 cm per pixel resolution to help us plan where the current robotic rovers drive, we are still surprised by obstacles sometimes.

But really, other than the inciting event and one of the major plot points, I thought the science was pretty good. That sounds snarky, but it’s true: those are both places where the Story takes precedence over being realistic, and that’s ok. For the rest of the book, all the technical details were about right. There were countless places where I put the book down and yelled at Watney “No! Don’t do it that way! This way would be much better!” or other comments along those lines. And then in the next line, he would realize exactly what I was thinking. These were not cases where the technical details were wrong, they were places where Watney was being deliberately slow so that typical readers can follow along with him as he figures things out.

In reality, upon being stranded, an astronaut would probably sit down and figure out in a few hours and a few pages of calculations what it takes Watney weeks, and lots of trial and error, to sort out. But that would be awfully boring to read, and amazingly, Watney’s struggles are not! To me that is the great accomplishment of this book: it manages to make long, detailed descriptions of technical problem solving not only palatable, but actually engrossing. This book is a page turner!

The book is so readable because of Mark Watney’s voice. His personality is finely-honed to be extremely charismatic, likeable, funny, and relatable. The Martian is a spectacular example of the power of voice to make a piece of fiction readable and exciting. If Watney didn’t have a compelling voice, nobody would be able to tolerate the long passages of technical details. At times, I found the degree to which Weir tries to make Watney a relatable everyman a bit annoying. In particular, whenever Watney is making cracks about how nerdy those guys at NASA are. DUDE. You are a mechanical engineer slash botanist astronaut on Mars. I’m pret-ty sure that qualifies you as one of those nerds at NASA!

This spilled over into some of the scenes on Earth as well. In order to make the scenes on Earth understandable to a normal audience, everything had to be explained in great detail. So you end up with lots of scenes where one character has to come across as clueless so that the other character can explain things to them (and to the reader). This is not how normal conversations between people at mission control would go. Realistic conversations would be nearly incomprehensible to someone who is not an expert, thanks to all the shorthand. People wouldn’t be explaining things in great detail, instead other people would be cutting them off mid-thought, already seeing where they are going and jumping to the next logical conclusion. Believe me, when I first got to participate in rover planning meetings as a baby graduate student, everything was just a confusing jumble of acronyms and jargon. Heck, sometimes it still is!

So, I totally understand why all the Earth scenes had to be the way they are so that readers can follow them, but I still found it a bit annoying. (In fiction there’s a term for conversations between two characters where one of them explains something to the other, when both of them already know it. It’s called the “As you know…” trope.)

Anyway, on to my biggest complaint about this book. You will notice that up above I said that Watney’s voice was extremely compelling. I was careful to say “voice” and not “character” because in my opinion Watney is an extremely poorly-developed character. I know, I know, this is going to be an unpopular opinion. But hear me out. Over the course of an entire novel, what do we learn about Watney? He’s from Chicago, he likes to crack jokes, he hates disco. We get a few mentions of his parents. We learn what his areas of expertise are (the better to buy into his ability to come up with MacGyver style hacks). But even though it is abundantly obvious that Watney has TONS of free time as he sits around on Mars, we never see any depth to his character. We’re supposed to believe that he just sits around and watches bad 70s TV in all his copious free time and doesn’t do things like, say, reminisce about all the people and things he misses on Earth. He apparently has no friends, no significant others, no pets. He barely even thinks about his parents. Where are the emotional scenes where he is missing the ability to step outside and feel the breeze on his skin, the warm sun on his face? Where are the dark moments where he almost gives up hope? Why doesn’t he seem to be fazed by more than a year of absolute isolation? Nope, hardly any of that. He just watches TV and makes bad jokes during all his free time.

I’ll tell you my theory: the author was afraid that getting too negative would bum people out and make them stop reading. So instead we get a protagonist who is so freakishly optimistic and cheery that it removes the emotional core of the story. There are lots of cliche sayings about not being able to appreciate the good without the bad and the like, but I think they really do apply here. As it is right now, The Martian is a pretty good book. If Weir had been willing to dig a little deeper and allow his character to explore some of the actual emotions that a person would go through during years of solitary confinement on a hostile alien planet, it would be a great book.

But all my nitpicks and complaints aside, I should make it clear that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I highly recommend it. Is it great literature? No. But it is awesome science fiction, with a heaping dose of accurate scientific fact. It’s an exciting page-turner, and it is likely going to do more to inspire people to be interested in space exploration and teach people about Mars than NASA could ever dream to do with all of its public outreach and press releases. I have no doubt that there are kids in high school right now who will be inspired by this book (and/or the movie) to go on to become engineers and scientists. And for that, I’m willing to overlook some minor flaws and get swept up in a good story with everyone else.

 

 

Book Review: Ready Player One

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Were you alive during the ’80s? Have you ever played the original PacMan? How about Atari? Have you ever been eaten by a Grue? Have you ever played a role-playing game of any kind? Do you know the names of all the cast members in Real Genius? If so, then this book is for you. If not… well, you’ll still probably enjoy it.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a a fun near-future sci-fi novel that doubles as a love-letter to everything geeky and everything 80s, and especially geeky things from the 80s. Here’s the premise:

In the mid 21st century, the world is a mess thanks to the effects of climate change. The economy is in shambles, fossil fuels are incredibly expensive, and most people live in poverty in densely packed “stacks” – skyscrapers made of stacked mobile home units. At the same time, the internet has undergone some drastic changes of its own. It has now been superseded by the Oasis, a virtual world that is sort of like if World of Warcraft, Facebook, and Reddit had a baby. People spend much of their lives immersed in this free virtual online world, using virtual reality visors and haptic suits to experience the Oasis as if it is reality. Kids go to school in the Oasis, business people do their business there, the Oasis currency has superseded the dollar as the coin of the realm. The Oasis is everything, for everyone. The real world has become sort of an afterthought.

Of course, when the guy who created the Oasis, James Halliday, passes away, there is the question of who gets his fantastic wealth and control over his company (and therefore, the Oasis). Rather than bequeath the money to a relative, or found a charitable foundation, or other traditional routes, Halliday instead creates the greatest video game “easter egg” in history. Anyone who can acquire the three keys and pass through the three gates will find the egg and gain control over Halliday’s fortune and the Oasis itself. Halliday was obsessed with geek culture from the 1980s, so of course the hunt for the keys and the egg is based on deep knowledge of everything 80s.

The main character of the story, Wade Watts, is a teenaged “gunter” (short for “egg-hunter”) who has made it his life’s work to find the egg. He has mastered every arcade game out there, and can recite the dialog from every 80s movie and TV show. He knows the original Dungeons and Dragons monster manual by heart and instinctively spouts the name and year of every 80s song he hears. He’s the ideal candidate to crack Halliday’s riddles and find the Egg.

The only problem, he’s not the only one looking for it. There are thousands of other gunters looking for the egg, but there is also an evil corporation Innovative Online Industries, determined to cheat, lie, and steal its way to control of the Oasis. They want to turn the open-source paradise of the Oasis into an advertisement-filled gated community for the rich (something that might sound awfully familiar if you have been following the current net neutrality debate). When Wade finds the first key and clears the first gate, he ends up on their hit list and has to run for his life (in the real world and the Oasis) while tries to beat the bad guys to the final egg.

In the process, Wade also has to navigate his relationships with his friends Art3mis and Aech (pronounced “H”), who he has never met in person. He falls in love with Art3mis, and Aech is his best friend, but they are also competing to find the egg, so the farther they get in the quest, the harder it is to maintain their close ties.

This book gets lots of attention for it’s frankly amazing smorgasbord of 80’s nostalgia. It is stuffed with pop culture references and nods to various areas of geekdom, and it’s lots of fun to recognize them (though for me, some of the references are from before my time). But despite all of the nostalgia, Ready Player One is quite a good near-future sci-fi story as well. The Oasis as depicted in the book doesn’t seem quite so far-fetched, given our present reality. The virtual world Second Life is similar in many ways, and Facebook recently purchased Oculus, a company developing the first commercially viable virtual reality gaming headsets. (Seriously, reading that link after reading Ready Player One is actually kinda creepy in how similar it sounds to the Oasis.) In the tradition of many sci-fi classics, Ready Player One takes a look at our present, and extrapolates plausibly to the near future, exploring a lot of the nuances in the process. A big part of the novel is how society has changed in response to the Oasis, and for me this was the most interesting part of the book.

Of course, another nice thing about having a book set in a virtual reality world, is that you can genre-hop all over the place. The Oasis has thousands of planets on it, and each planet has its own set of rules. Some planets are fantasy worlds with spells and dragons. Others are full of laser blasters and space ships. Steampunk, cyberpunk, anime, wild west, etc. It’s all there, and one of the other great things about the book is smashing those genres and fictional universes together. Remember as a geeky teenager, having heated debates over whether a Star Destroyer could win in a fight with the Enterprise? Or who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman? This book taps deep into that vein of geekiness and it’s tons of fun to read.

The only downside of this book was that, toward the end, there are a few scenes that come across as a bit… twee. I mean, the messages are nice, but the book kinda hits you over the head with them.  That said, otherwise the ending is satisfying and ridiculous in all the right ways. Ridiculous as only a mash-up of the 80s can be.

Bottom line, this book was lots of fun. It’s quick and light and full of nostalgia. If you have geeky tendencies, then by all means check it out. If you don’t, it’s still a very good speculative look at the future of the internet and gaming that you might find interesting.

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow

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When I went to see this movie, it was playing on one screen at our local theater for a grand total of… maybe 4 showtimes that day. Meanwhile, it was opening weekend for Transformers 4: Electric Boogaloo, which was playing on most of the other screens and probably also being projected onto the walls outside like a makeshift drive-in. What I’m saying is, Edge of Tomorrow is not getting the screen time or attention it deserves, while other less-deserving action flicks this summer are cleaning up. According to Rotten Tomatoes, Transformers has raked in hundreds of millions of dollars with a 17% critic approval rating. Meanwhile, Edge of Tomorrow is not doing so well despite its 90% approval rating. Maybe, just maybe, I can convince you to give the better movie a chance while it’s still playing.

The premise, as many other reviews have said, is basically Groundhog’s Day meets Starship Troopers. The Earth has been invaded by nasty aliens, and humanity is about to launch a last-ditch assault to reclaim Europe and crush the alien menace. The main character, William Cage (Tom Cruise), is a slick talking recruitment officer who has convinced millions of young soldiers to join the good fight while neatly keeping himself out of harms way by looking good on camera and saying the right things. But when he is sent over to Europe and informed that the brass want him on the beach of Normandy filming the invasion first-hand (did I mention that the battle is a rather obvious D-Day allegory?) he freaks out and tries to run. He’s arrested as a deserter, knocked out, and wakes up to find that he has been busted down to private and will not just be filming the battle, but he will be fighting on the front line. With no training.

He goes into battle, bumbles around for a while and then, predictably, gets killed. And that’s where the story really gets interesting. He wakes up, back at Heathrow, back in cuffs. He re-lives the battle again, gets killed again, and wakes up back at Heathrow. Somehow he is stuck in a loop, re-living the same day over and over, but retaining his memories each time.

This premise could be botched in many ways. It could come across as goofy. It could be hopelessly confusing. It could be boring and repetitive. But amazingly it manages to thread the needle and be none of these. The director and writers do a great job of establishing the ground rules of this time-travel story, proving key reference points so that as the movie progresses, they can convey the repetition without having to show every moment of every day over and over. Right when you start to get sick of seeing the same events, Cage does something different to change the course of the day, or manages to survive farther and encounter events you haven’t seen yet.

Eventually he teams up with badass Rita Vrtaski (Emily Blunt), who is the hero from the only previous victory against the aliens. How did she win that battle? Well it turns out the same thing that is happening to Cage happened to her, and she was able to re-play the battle over and over until the humans won.

The movies has been described as video-game-like, and it really is. But don’t misinterpret this as a negative. Just like a game, Cage and Vrtaski try and try again until they master every move of the battle, progressing farther and farther each time. They try things that go horribly wrong and have to re-start. It’s a really fun movie experience, made much more fun by the dark humor that pervades the story. The many many ways that Cage gets killed range from horrible to, frankly, hilarious.

Late in the movie, it gets really interesting because as the viewer you’re not sure if this is the first time Cage has gotten as far as he has, or if this is the 100th, and neither is Rita (remember, she doesn’t get to remember the thousands of tries. Every time, she is meeting Cage for the first time). This also sets up a strange love interest subplot, where Cage is trying to woo the girl, but even though he feels like he has been spending months with her, she barely knows him. The movie does a surprisingly good job of this, with Cage taking advantage of his time traveling powers to do small thoughtful things for her like knowing where the coffee is in an abandoned house that they shelter in.

The ending is satisfying, with just enough of a time-travely twist to make you scratch your head and leave the theater talking through it with your friends. One of the things that I enjoyed about this movie is that it assumes its audience is smart enough to keep up. It’s a big, loud action movie but the dialogue and pace are brisk and intelligent.

So, if you’re looking for an action movie this summer, I highly recommend choosing Edge of Tomorrow over Transformers. I haven’t enjoyed an action movie as much as this one in quite a while. It’s got all the battles and explosions you could want, it’s not a sequel, and as a bonus, it’s smart and funny and actually seems to respect its viewers so you don’t have to do the walk of shame back to your car. Go see it! Bring your friends!

8-Question Book Meme!

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I came across this meme over on SF Signal, and it reminded me of the olden days of Live Journal, when it seemed like all anyone did was post answers to sets of themed questions. For nostalgia’s sake, and because I’ve been too busy to do much reading, writing, or blogging lately, here are my answers:

  • The first science fiction, fantasy or horror book I ever read was:
  • The last science fiction, fantasy or horror book I read that I’d put in my “Top 20″ list is:
    • I guess I would say Wool by Hugh Howey is the last book that has really wowed me enough to earn five stars on Goodreads, and I’m pretty stingy with my 5-star ratings. You can read my full review here.
  • The last science fiction, fantasy or horror book I couldn’t finish was:
    • I don’t often give up on books partway through. I guess the last time I did was for Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson. I’ve heard great things about the Malazan series, but I put this one down after just a few chapters because it wasn’t working for me. Of course, my impatience with this book might be because I tried it during the primary operations period for the Curiosity Mars rover, when I was living in an apartment in Pasadena, working bizarre hours on the rover team, and my leisure hours were very precious. Maybe I’ll give this another try someday when I am more rested and less stressed out…
  • A science fiction, fantasy or horror author whose work I cannot get enough of is:
    • I’m not so fervently loyal to any one author that I don’t get tired of them eventually. Sure, I am waiting eagerly for the next book in certain series, but no author is perfect and variety is good. For example, I love George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, but before A Dance with Dragons came out, I re-read the whole series and I was definitely ready for something else afterward. The same thing happened when reading a massive collection of Ray Bradbury’s stories. I love his writing style, but after such a large dose of it I was ready for something different. So basically, I don’t have a good answer for this question.
  • A science fiction, fantasy or horror author I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read yet is:
    • Peter S. Beagle is the first that comes to mind. In particular, several authors who I respect greatly have recommended The Last Unicorn, but I have not gotten around to reading it yet. Also, I am ashamed to say that I have never read anything by Kurt Vonnegut!
  • A science fiction, fantasy or horror book I would recommend to someone who hasn’t read sf/f/h is:
    • I suspect most people have actually read something that is sf/f/h, or at least watched movies in these genres. But for someone who really has no idea what to read, I would have to say The Fellowship of the Ring for fantasy, just because it is so fundamental to the genre. Some people say that books like Game of Thrones are a better “gateway” because they are not so prominently fantastical, but I would argue that in many ways Game of Thrones is a response to Lord of the Rings, so it is much better if you are already familiar with the genre. Also, I guess I favor going “all in”: If someone wants to try fantasy, I prefer to recommend something that is clearly fantasy (while still being excellent).
    • For science fiction, I would recommend Fahrenheit 451. It’s a wonderful book with beautiful writing, and clearly has a speculative element to it, but also shows how sci-fi can be used to say something about current issues and society.
    • I don’t read much horror, but I really enjoyed George R.R. Martin’s Fevre Dream, so I guess I would recommend that. Stephen King’s The Stand was also great, but I think I consider post-apocalyptic a genre of its own that overlaps with horror and science fiction.
  • A science fiction, fantasy or horror book that’s terribly underrated is:
    • I had to think about this for a while, but I will go with City by Clifford Simak. For some reason, while Asimov and Bradbury and Clark are still well-known names from golden age sci-fi, Simak is not. I really enjoyed City, and the stories have a quiet poignancy that stands out from some of the more gee-whiz technology-oriented older sci-fi.
  • A science fiction, fantasy or horror book that’s terribly overrated is:

Book Review: Feed by Mira Grant

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The post-apocalyptic genre usually seems to take an all-or-nothing stance on civilization. Most post-apocalyptic stories either start with the world as it is and progress toward complete breakdown of society, or they skip the first step and begin after the apocalypse is in full swing.

Feed, by Mira Grant (the open pen-name of Seanan McGuire) takes a different approach. It is set in 2040, decades after an unfortunate reaction between virus-based cures for the common cold and cancer created the Kellis-Amberlee virus, which re-animates any mammal greater than 40 lbs as a zombie upon death. But unlike so many other post-apocalyptic stories, society has not completely broken down in Feed. Yes, it has changed drastically, but there are still countries, still governments, and electricity, and technology. There just also happen to be zombies.

I suspect one reason this middle-ground approach is not often taken is that it’s much harder to explore the many ways, large and small, our existing society would change, than it is to burn everything to the ground and start over. Luckily, Feed handles this challenge extremely well. Everything is thought out in great detail, and from a writing perspective, the book is a marvel of making info-dumps palatable. It’s just so interesting to learn how things have changed after the zombie outbreak that I found I didn’t mind the main character taking frequent breaks from the narrative to explain everything from why people don’t eat much meat anymore (large mammals carry the active virus, which will turn you into a zombie), to the landmark court cases related to the outbreak (using zombies or the virus as a weapon is legally considered terrorism), to a thousand other details large and small.

Feed is as much a near-future science fiction story about journalism as it is a post-apocalyptic zombie story. The main characters, Georgia and Shaun Mason, and their friend Buffy, are professional bloggers who are chosen to follow a presidential campaign as part of the press corps. Their reporting is made possible not only by traditional interviews and fact-checking, but a complex web of hidden cameras and microphones and wireless transmitters and encryption. It’s a fascinating speculative look at the future of the internet and reporting. Despite being set in a world that could come across as just a campy horror story, Feed has some important things to say about journalistic integrity, the culture of fear that is such a part of modern cable news, the role of technology and the internet in the near future, and the evolving ideas of privacy and sharing information. The latter is particularly relevant right now given how much the NSA has been in the news lately.

Another thing that I enjoyed was that, unlike many zombie apocalypses, the world of Feed is a world where there were bad zombie movies long before the real zombies arrived on the scene. In fact, the star of bad zombie movies in the Feed universe is revered as a national hero for educating people about how to deal with zombies. Also, Buffy takes her name from “some pre-rising TV show character”.

I listened to Feed as an audiobook, and the main narrator does an excellent job, capturing Georgia’s attitude and voice very well, and doing surprisingly good and distinct voices for the other main characters as well. The narrative voice in the book is full of wit and sarcasm, and it was nice to see it captured so well by the reader. The secondary reader was pretty good too, though not as consistent with his accents and voices.

I don’t have much to criticize about Feed. I guess I would say that it can be a bit verbose at times, and despite the skill with which the info-dumping was done it did sometimes get to be a bit much. And although I understand the narrative purpose behind it, the tedious repetition of security systems and blood-testing that the characters go through got a bit tiresome.  My only other criticism was that the bad guy was a caricature and too obviously bad from the start. All in all though, pretty minor stuff, and I really enjoyed the book.

Bottom line: Feed is a great zombie story and a great near-future sci-fi story. It is, unusually, set in a post apocalyptic world where there is still some semblance of the  world we all know, and the deviations caused by advances in tech and the zombie outbreak are very well-thought out. It’s an exciting read with an emotional and satisfying ending, and the audiobook was very good thanks to a great reader.

 

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