Book review: “The Martian” by Andy Weir (2012/2014)


The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am a vivacious reader, but very rarely am I truly surprised by a book. I spend most of my time reading books to edit for others, ARCs and galleys to review, or graphic novels and comic books for pleasure and review. Like all writers and readers, I have my tastes. Science fiction, fantasy, and action-adventure are some of my favorite genres, but because I critically analyze these genres, and I read an immense of content, I don’t often stumble upon a novel that captivates my attention by providing a high-quality read with the excitement of a new creativity. “The Martian” by Andy Weird delivers. It is riveting and fresh. It is reminiscent of highbrow science fiction films, but layered with nuance that only a novel can achieve.

I received “The Martian” as a galley via Crown Publishing Group—which is an imprint of Random House—and I chose “The Martian” based solely on its synopsis:

“Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

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 while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue 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 kill 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. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?”

It plucked at my sensibilities in an abstract and I immediately requested it. It arrived a scant week later. I was graced with an ornate hardcover, a beautiful smell, and a gorgeous slipcover with an astronaut caught in Martian sandstorm. The colors are vibrant— Orange and red with a hint of a white spacesuit caught in the throws of survival.

In a word: Exquisite

“The Martian” follows NASA astronaut Mark Watney, a botanist and a mechanical engineer, on the third manned mission to Mars, Ares 3. The novel begins with a bang. Readers are not privy to the mission setup, crew members, landing, and the circumstances to Watney’s predicament. Without ruining the suspense and discovery, Watney is presumed dead and left on Mars (when in fact he is not) and is forced to survive on Mars without any means of communication till interplanetary comms can be reestablished or the next Ares mission arrives…four-years in the future.

The rest of the novel focuses primarily on Watney and his survival. Through the use of his mechanical and botany background, Watney comes up with some pretty ingenious ways to prolong his rations, Oxygen, water, and transportation. The narrative is primarily composed of Watney leaving logs for himself (or as a testament to his journey and untimely death), so the technical side to his endeavors are filtered through his warm and charming personality, which lightens what could be an overly scientific text— Changing a potential negative into a strong positive. Weir deftly avoids a common issue among science fiction writers with clever character development and use of perception.

The rest of the novel proceeds like Alfonso Curacao’s Gravity. It is deeply individualistic, but symbolic. The writing isn’t stretched by only focusing on a single character, because as the novel goes on it begins to layer in Watney’s support team on Earth. It provides a wonderful message of hope due to the global cooperation that is required to bring home an astronaut stranded on another world. “The Martian” doesn’t pull any punches or use its arsenal before the tale is done, either. It continuously builds upon the tension set by Watney’s survival till its climax. Its ending is extremely satisfying— One of the best that I’ve read in years.

After reading Andy Weir’s “The Martian” I was awed by the level of detail, character development, and sheer quality of the narrative. It is one of the best science fiction written and should be considered along the likes of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. If you get a chance try and read “The Martian” before the Ridley Scott-Matt Damon film adaptation, which is set to release in November of 2015— It is sure to be hit.

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Episode recap: The Flash S.1, Ep. 1 — The Pilot


The Flash - PilotI have never been so excited to watch the pilot of a television series.  And, to be fair I don’t usually get caught up easily in the hype of television.  Network marketing campaigns try to pander to universality, but even with this in mind I never have been so anticipatory for a ‘fresh-out-the-gate,’ new series.

I am a comic book nerd, and like all hobbies…I have my favorites.  As much as I love the CW’s Arrow, I was a neophyte to the topic.  Till recently, I had not read many Green Arrow graphic novels.  He just wasn’t a character that I was interested in at first.

However, the Flash (specifically Barry Allen) has always been one of my favorite comic book characters.  I love the lore and I have read nearly every Flash comic since 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, so when the CW announced a television series based on the Scarlett Speedster I was ecstatic beyond belief.  Once the mid-season finale of Arrow/Barry Allen crossover aired to audiences last December, the idea of a quality Flash series was proven and solidified…and I was hooked.

The Flash pilot begins with a brief introductory scene showing Barry Allen as a boy and the traumatic event that goes onto to shape the rest of his life (think Bruce Wayne expect more-hopeful in the end).  From there, the narrative springboards to the present— Starting before the conclusion of last season’s Arrow crossover.

Barry Allen has just returned to Central City and he is getting back into the groove of being back.  In stereotypical Allen form, he is late to an investigation as the acting crime scene investigator but one of the cops at the scene (and adoptive father played by the talented Jesse L. Martin) covers for him.  With only a set of tire treads and manure, Allen inevitably discovers the whereabouts of the criminals via his laboratory—  The very place in which he gets struck by lightning and doused in chemicals.

Essentially, the beginning serves as an introduction to Barry Allen, the supporting cast, and the overall aesthetic of Central City, just as any good pilot should.  The casting and writing are excellent.  Grant Gustin play a believable, young Barry Allen.  He portrays all of the little nuances of the character—  He’s clumsy, he’s perpetually late, but he has a good heart.  He tries to do good, even when he doesn’t always have the means.

The cast is rounded out by Law and Order alum, Jesse L. Martin, as Barry’s adoptive father and Central City Detective.  Tom Cavanagh plays Harrison Wells, the brilliant (but mysterious) scientist, mentor, and ultimate creator of metahumans within Central City.  The rest of the cast are primarily unknowns, but unlike FOX’s Gotham all parts are played with a sense of realization and believability.  This is especially impressive considering the nature of the show.

The writing is just as well-constructed as the casting.  It is surprising how much is packed into the pilot; the writing team took great lengths to respect the history of the character.

The pilot segues to the Flash’s origin and roughly depicts the same events that were shown at the end of the Arrow episode, Three Ghosts.  It then passes nine-months (throughout the term of his coma).  This is where the show gets interesting.  It is the first series to show metahumans— People with powers.  This is momentous for television, because in times past when they have tried to depict superheroes with powers it has come off incredibly cheesy and quite often bombed with audiences.  With the exception of Smallville, which carefully skirted Superman’s power set for years, television series’ have not dived headlong into CGI and in essence true superhero shows till CW’s The Flash.

The Flash has no qualms showing Barry running at high speeds, and the show pulls no punches by showcasing one of his primary villains right out of the gate—  An individual who also has fantastical powers.  The show does a wonderful job of introducing audiences to one of DC Comic’s greatest characters.  It holds true to the lore with only a little bit of a shake-up in terms of arrangement for television purposes, but nothing so far off the mark that it contradicts its origins.  The CGI and representation of the metahumans is superb.  Considering what the budget must-be and the risk it is to shoot a television series with a heavy reliance of individuals with superpowers the risk-reward nature is successful.

There are a ton of little Flash easter eggs and references to the Flash comics, so check out last Tuesday’s pilot episode and see if you can spot them.  Countless upon countless articles and posts could be written about all of the little facets and feats that The Flash pulled off last night, and as time permits, I will most-definitely be covering them throughout The Flash’s first season.

And, if you glean anything from this review…watch The Flash Tuesdays at 8/7c.

Episode recap: Gotham S.1, Ep. 2 — Selina Kyle


Selina KyleThe second episode of Gotham already feels a little too at home in its time slot and station.  Holistically broken down, Gotham isn’t honestly that good.  This is difficult for me to write.  I’ve spent quite a bit of time breaking it down into its parts over-and-over again in my head, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I was misled by my own hobby.  I am a huge comic book fan, but I’m not a huge Batman fan.  However, most of the seminal Batman works I appreciate and I keep tucked away in my repertoire for when I write about comics and when I am asked about them.

This is where Gotham gets me.  It plays into my fandom.  Although, to survive on television it essentially has to be a cop show, because it cannot exist as continuing series merely focusing on all of the many characters of Gotham—  Even that would run its course quite quickly.  It has to be one to last, because the origin story of Batman, or a retelling of Miller’s Batman: Year One, is not enough to create a sixteen episode series that will last multiple seasons.

So when you start to breakdown the cop elements of the show, you begin to notice the poor construction of the show.  Basically the good cop (Detective Gordon), bad cop (Detective Bullock) follow a loose lead on the good cop’s intuition and goodwill—  From there they have a tussle with the bad guys (but they get away), the investigation hits a wall, and in a last minute saving grace the good cop figures out where the bad guys will be and the two go and bring ‘em down.

Ep. 2Both episodes have played out exactly like this, which unfortunately makes for uninteresting television.  It is bad, formulaic writing for a show that should be well-within its ‘Wow, it’s Mr. Freeze’ stage of its life.  But, that is where it hooks comic book and Batman fans, because now audience members are looking for the next Clayface and Penguin references, or when is the Joker going to crop up?  It is more about the minutiae and detail of the lore, rather than the quality of the television series.

Episode two runs the same gambit—  Street kids are being kidnapped off the streets, Gordon pushes to investigate, eventually they find out where some of the operations are taking place, there is a tussle, the villains get away, and the show wraps up with the good cop, bad cop duo tracking down the kidnappers and bringing them to justice.  There are two small subplots intertwined throughout the second episode:  One following Kyle as she gets entangled in the street orphan, kidnap plot.  The other as the Penguin begins his brutal climb to (hopefully and eventually) criminal kingpin.

The episode’s title, Selina Kyle, suggests that the episode is primarily about her, but she is relinquished to the background and only crops up as a means to further the fairly straightforward plot.  The writing is merely ok (this is self-evident in the title), but the acting is often muddled and overplayed.  It already has the marks of an aged show.

However, it’ll most-likely retain its numbers, because well…it’s Gotham.  It is Batman and it strikes a chord with comic book nerds (like myself) and the millions strong that hold Batman dear to their little nerdy hearts.  As TV show, Gotham is below average—  Not the worst, but with offerings like Sleepy Hollow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. there is far better television to watch than Gotham this 2014-2015 season.

Episode recap: Gotham S.1., Ep. 1 — The pilot flutters, but doesn’t sputter


Gotham CastRight off the bat (no pun intended), I will fully admit that I am not the biggest Batman fan.  He isn’t my favorite for a variety of reasons.  However, I don’t detest him and I have read quite a bit of the lore due the sterling influence of my wife (although Cap is slowly digging his shield in further…yay!).  I think that Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is superb filmmaking and perhaps the best rendition of the Caped Crusader to date, and if the UK’s Rocksteady has any say in my video game habits I will (once again) be purchasing the CE of next June’s Batman Arkham Knight and blitzing through a spectacular campaign and all-around awesome game.

Nevertheless…I digress, my hate/love relationship with Batman is rather moot, considering that Fox’s Gotham is the Bat media in relative question.  I was trepidatious about the whole affair.  I felt that the media gurus at DC and Fox were pushing for something that couldn’t be successful.  It was announced early on that none of the DC properties would relate, so there was no hope for an Arrow crossover or any bleed through to the films, and the castings are mostly unknowns…and comparatively young— Taking a page from the casting news of Fox’s Fantastic Four reboot, releasing 2015.

Gotham - Poison IvyIf I was going to watch Gotham I wanted Batman, not boy Wayne and the teen villain brigade.  However, what I did not expect…happened.  Instead of focusing on Bruce Wayne and the Batman, Gotham focuses on a young (not yet, Commissioner) Gordon and the exploits of the Gotham Police Department.  Throughout the GCDP’s ongoings and happenings audiences are privy to a plethora of Gotham City easter eggs.  This was a pleasant surprise because it takes a well-worn and critically acclaimed page from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One (1987).

We get to see Poison Ivy as a girl, Catwoman as a thieving teenager, the Penguin as a conniving subordinate, a young comedian yet touched by chemicals, and a host of other side characters in the Gotham universe.  It is quite interesting, and I found myself giddy guessing who was whom and how their futures would eventually intertwine within Gotham.

Ben McKenzie plays a fantastic young, Detective Gordon.  His voice is just gravely enough, and he plays the part of the outsider trying to do good in a corrupt city.  The show primarily follows Gordon and his partner, Harvey Bullock (played by the talented Donal Logue).  The pilot starts out strong and in manner that I did not expect—  It was almost surprising.  Throughout the pilot’s plot (a murder investigation), Gotham sets the tone, mannerisms, and host of characters to be fleshed out in future episodes and seasons.

Gotham - SceneThe only downfall to Gotham is that it seems geared to fans who know a little bit more about the comic book lore and healthy does of knowledge concerning all of the nuanced characters of Gotham and how they relate.  This is great for an old school comic book fan like myself, but in inquiry I found that quite a few people found the show corny at moments and not as cohesive as Arrow, or its older, quality counterpart, Smallville.  More often than not, these individuals are willing to give the show a couple more episodes to see if they’ll warm up to it, but the general consensus is that was good but not great like comic book fans are making it out to be.

Nevertheless, I am willing to give it more time to come into its own.  It hooked this anti-Batman fan, and I am curious to see if Gotham can be groundbreaking or not— Time will tell.  Check back here next week for a recap of the second episode of Gotham airing on Fox on Mondays at 8/7c.

Salt Lake City Comicon 2014: The World Premiere of SyFy’s “Z Nation”


Z Nation LogoLast week, during Salt Lake City’s 2nd annual comicon, one of the last panels of the show premiered SyFy’s newest television show, “Z Nation.”  One of the presenter’s had been featured in numerous SyFy feature length films and as she put it, “I’ve been killed, and often.”  The second presenter, Michael Welch, is actually apart of the ensemble cast and hosted the ‘Q&A’ format after the credits had rolled on the pilot episode of “Z Nation.”

For those of you that don’t know “Z Nation” is set in upstate New York (at least on the onset of the pilot), but was primarily shot right here in good ol’ Spokane, WA.  Even though, they never call attention to the fact that it isn’t Spokane, native Spokanites can spot the thicket of pines, sleepy city locales, and myriad of lakes that make this region famous and unique to the rest of the country.

“Z Nation” is an interesting beast though.  It harkens back to old school zombies flicks like any of Romera’s cannon and it does so with gusto.  It doesn’t pull the punches in that quirky, dark sense of humor kind of a way.  It shouts “campy” at you, but for an old school zombie lover like myself…I loved it.  It was catchy and effectively paid homage to the genre.  Not every moment has to be gritty and realistic, sometimes you can let go and have fun with it like filmmakers used to, back in the day.

MILD SPOILER

In particular, there is a great scene involving the group cast, the discovery of an alive, intact baby, and the decision making and consequences that ensue.  To be warned, it is not for the faint of heart.

END OF SPOILER

Z NationHowever, like a well-worn and bloodied coin, “Z Nation” does a hold a flame to AMC’s famed “The Walking Dead”—  And, it does so quite cleverly.  It takes the situations that the characters are dealt and the consequences of a zombie invasion and pits them in a real world context, much like “The Walking Dead.”  How the characters’ behave, proceed, and deal with one another is fairly realistic considering the circumstances.

The pilot does an excellent job introducing the main cast, the time frame, setting, and overall goal.  As an audience member, you could see the logical line of progression and how several seasons worth of episodes could be produced without breaking away from the plot line (e.g. think Star Trek’s “The Voyager”).

Ultimately, I think “Z Nation” has good odds of striking a dent in “The Walking Dead” market share.  “Z Nation” does a little bit of both—  It’s campy like the old shuffle and blood zombie flicks and it tackles supernatural problems with real world engagement.

I recommend at least checking out the pilot for the deciding vote.  At the very least, I see a strong cult following for this television show, and as for me I’ll be buckled in for the native Spokane scenery and strong allure of the zombie.