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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Book review: “Xom-B” by Jeremy Robinson (2014)


XOM-BXOM-B by Jeremy Robinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Xom-B” is one of Jeremy Robinson’s best novels to date. It takes a simplified approach to science fiction by being relatively plain spoken but incredibly deep by diving into the ramification and potential of humanity. It isn’t simplified in the derogatory sense, but much the opposite. It uses a specific style to accentuate the plot and subsequently, hard-hitting questions. It poses a myriad of inquiries that invoke his audiences into pondering their own existence and what it means to truly be a human.

Is it our characteristics? Our equal propensity for love and hate? Can we be something greater than we are now? All of these questions are touched upon inside the pages of “Xom-B”— Some more thoroughly than others but always touched upon. The depth at which Robinson explores these lofty topics seems to depend upon the narrative structure, or probably more intimately so…his own thoughts upon the questions themselves.

“Xom-B” begins by focusing on the near feature. Humans have advanced far enough where we have created life-like servants that provide us our every need, however, this leads to a grave injustice. Essentially, humans have created a new sect of society to subjugate and exploit. Decent people treat the artificial servants as one of their own, but there are just as many who do not. Some are sexually exploited, verbally and physically abused, while others are required to serve without question no matter the task. A tangible, ethical debate and rallying cry arises in the form of organized, peaceful protests from the aforementioned servants; the humans balk, and war ensues.

The plot then flashes forward to follow the most recent life of the new world order, Freeman; Freeman is fresh-faced, young, inquisitive, and intelligent. He questions authority and he seeks answers— The very mentality that could topple a fledgling empire and spark a new one…a better one. Audiences follow Freeman as he meets and allies himself with a wide cast of characters with their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

Robinson does a masterful job developing his characters. Each main character presented is given a proper backstory and motivation for their actions. The characters that strive to change (or at the least have the propensity to change) end up doing so with all pains present and included. The growth is logical and straightforward. This aids in the narrative and then culminates into near-perfect synergy…something much more than itself. The plot could be considered hard sci-fi, but because of how it is written it focuses so much more on character growth than the overall setting, atmosphere, and futuristic aspects of the framework. This results in a reminiscence of Arthur C. Clarke’s “Against the Fall of Night,” especially in its careful crafting to draw the reader’s focus to the overarching theme rather than the minutia. It may be classified science fiction in the strictest sense, but it poses big questions by following the journey of an individual trying to simultaneously escape, embrace, and find humanity.

An author’s style is an important facet to their career and writings, and some authors are fairly rigid in their methodology. Some stay well within their wheelhouse and constantly improve that particular style as they write throughout the years, others (like Jeremy Robinson) vary their style. They challenge themselves by matching a diverse cast of styles to the content, and in the case of “Xom-B” it pays off wonderfully. That being said, some longtime readers of Robinson may be put off because they prefer a singular style, while Robinson is delivering a different flavor. It would be hard to argue the validity of that point because in all honesty every reader reads differently.

“Xom-B” is a fantastic work of fiction. “Xom-B” is character driven, it provides insight and asks important questions in terms of what is means to be human, and it does so brilliantly in a straightforward plot that includes a great twist and conclusion. I highly recommend any reader who enjoys a quick-paced novel, science fiction, and/or the writings of Jeremy Robinson. He out does himself with “Xom-B” and I personally look forward to reading more of his work in the future.

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Gary Oldman’s reaction to Conan O’Brien’s scene in “Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda”


Following up on my post of the SyFy channel’s “Sharktopus” sequel, “Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda,” Idiosyncratic Wit has obtained an ‘exclusive’ clip featuring Gary Oldman watching Conan O’Brien’s scene in the ‘soon to-be classic,’ “Sharktopus vs Pteracuda.”

Merely, click the link or image below to catch the video on the official Team Coco website, sit back, and enjoy the awesomeness!

 

Gary Oldman Reacts To Conan In “Sharktopus Vs. Pteracuda”

Conan O'Brien Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda

A SyFy Original, “Sharktopus vs Pteracuda.”


I am sucker for really, really bad movies, especially the ones that premier on the SyFy channel.  I desperately remember trying to find the sit down room to watch “Frankenfish,” “Bats: Human Harvest,” and “Carny.”  However, that being said, I somehow missed 2013’s “Sharknado”… 😦

But, have no fear!  The much anticipated follow-up to 2010’s “Sharktopus,” “Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda,” will be arriving on the SyFy channel this August and will surely raise the bar for awesome-ness.

Check out this killer promo for “Sharktopus vs Pteracuda” and the accompanying trailer below:

Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda

Film review: Snowpiercer (2013)


“Snowpiercer” with Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, and Jamie Bell

Directed by Joon-ho Bong, Written by Joon-ho Bong (screenplay), Kelly Masterson (screenplay), Jacques Lob (based on Le Transperceneige by), Benjamin Legrand (based on Le Transperceneige by), Jean-Marc Rochette (based on Le Transperceneige by)

Snowpiercer PosterScience-fiction films and television have made quite the re-emergence into pop culture over the past several years.  After decades of relative mediocrity (with only a sprinkling of gems to break the lull), blockbuster franchises like Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and the superhero movie have once again revitalized the genre whilst paving the way for smaller, independent science fiction films that normally would not have made the cut, otherwise.

“Snowpiercer” is one such film— Heralded as the best sci-fi film since “Children of Men,” this international contender had a lot to live up to.  Besides touching upon similar themes of the human condition, global warming and classism, it manages to create a wonderful balancing act between the three that keeps all of the aforementioned heavy topics spinning in perfect harmony.

“Snowpiercer” takes place in the near future where global warming has run rampant and begun heating the Earth’s service to disastrous results.  Humans (in their infinite wisdom) decide to create a chemical compound to counteract this phenomenon.  Inevitably, the humans create a chemical workaround and release it into the atmosphere, which counteracts the induced global warming.  The solution is short-lived, instead of leveling off at ‘a normal’ global temperate the Earth continues to cool…plummeting it into a new ice age.

Before the great freeze, a select few are herded onto a perpetual, everlasting train that serves as the last bastion of humanity— Shielding them from the cold and providing food and comforts for the coming years, all seems well upon the Snowpiercer.  However, the people who live at the front of the train closest to the engine live a life of wealth and luxury, while the individuals who live in the tail live in near starvation and blatant poverty.

This leads to conflict.

01

The film takes place 18-years after the initial boarding of the train and follows a group of the ‘tail section-ers,’ led by Curtis (Chris Evans) and Gilliam (John Hurt), as they try to change society’s rules in order preserve their people.

“Snowpiercer” is a whirlwind of action and intrigue, the plot is less about the cause of the train’s inception but rather the plight of its passengers.  It focuses upon the struggle of the impoverished as well as the decadence of the affluent.  The film is rich with symbolism—  Specifically concerning synergy.  All parts affect the greater whole, especially in reference to the human body.  The head cannot exist without the feet and humans cannot exist solely, without humanity.  Numerous facets of the human condition and the aforementioned extended analogy permeate “Snowpiercer,” resulting in a complex film that keeps audiences thinking long after the credits roll.  Coupled with excellent acting “Snowpiercer” stacks up to be one of the best sci-fi films of the decade.

00Chris Evans leads this star studded cast as the young leader (Curtis), hellbent on leading his people to a better future, John Hurt plays the aged leader (Gilliam) who is effectively passing the baton to Curtis, Jamie Bell plays Curtis’ lieutenant, Edgar, and the villains are rounded out by Tilda Swinton and Ed Harris.  Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ho round-out the cast as unlikely allies to the film’s protagonist.  All of the acting is in finest form, however, Kang-ho Song’s acting stands out in particular because of his overall screen presence and difficult scenes.  Many of his lines are delivered in Korean, however this does not diminish any of the emotion or conveyance to the audience.

As an aside, “Snowpiercer” is a South Korean directed, written, and funded film and was expected to see a wide release United States via The Weinstein Company.  However, company head, Harvey Weinstein refused to distribute the film unless 20-minutes of the film were cut and introductory and closing monologues were added.  Director Bong Joon-ho politely declined, and the film only saw a limited release in art house theaters on June 27, 2014.  Due to the high amount of critical acclaim and buzz that “Snowpiercer” has received since its limited run, it was announced on July 2 that it would be run as a wide release in the near future.

02

This controversy is unfortunate, not because of the fact that it is a South Korean film, but rather the hoops that international films have to jump through to be seen—  US film companies have such a monopoly and controlling stake in the market that quality films (such as “Snowpiercer”) get shoved to the bottom shelf, solely being shown in art house cinemas or digital streaming service.  In the case, it seems as-if the quality of the film out trumped the big film companies, so tip of the hat to critics who urged film-goers to give “Snowpiercer” a watch.

If you get a chance, I urge any science-fiction fan to watch “Snowpiercer.”  If you enjoyed “Children of Men,” you’ll love “Snowpiercer.”  The acting is superb, the plot is captivating and poignant, and to top it all off director Bong Joon-ho throws in enough bits of color, flair, and quirkiness to give the film a unique flavor without taking it to obscurity.

 

Weird Tales Magazine & Gallery


Weird Tales Magazine is a fantastic, aged publication that harkens back to the glory days of Science Fiction and Dark Fantasy.  They’re longstanding and incredibly poignant today, just as much as they were yesterday.

I follow them on Facebook (which you can find here), and one of the standout qualities of their page is the weirdly captivating covers that they post from old books and comics to artwork and illustrations by talented artists from all decades.

Here is a snippet of the last twenty-or-so images that they’ve posted (to get an idea of the kind of content that Weird Tales Magazine publishes), and if-so inclined, I highly recommend that you follow them on Facebook and other social networking sites as well as getting ahold of the publication itself.

And, now for your viewing pleasure:

Film review: Riddick (2013)


“Riddick” with Vin Diesel, Jordi Mollà, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Batista, Bokeem Woodbine, Raoul Trujillo, and Karl Urban

Directed by David Twohy, Written by David Twohy

Riddick 3 PosterRiddick (at least in its current iteration) is the lovechild of actor Vin Diesel and writer/director David Twohy. Vin Diesel has played the title character in all the film and video game adaptations. However, not only has Diesel always portrayed the gravely rogue, Diesel also vied and won the rights to Riddick due to his cameo in “Fast & Furious” as well as levied his own home to procure the necessary investment required to make the third installment, “Riddick.”

As mentioned, “Riddick” is the third feature film starring the eponymous character; David Twohy and Diesel seemed to have amalgamated the better parts of the prior two films to create something entirely new and better with a relatively small budget. It seems as-if the personal investment of the film has been quite successful for the two, so here is to hoping that more Riddick is down the pipeline.

The film starts off by recapping the events of “The Chronicles of Riddick” and tying them into Riddick’s current predicament. After being Lord Marshall of the Necromonger fleet for five-years, Riddick has grown restless and inevitably takes the bait when Commander Vaako (Karl Urban of “The Chronicles of Riddick”) dangles a carrot that Riddick can’t resist. Vaako offers Riddick the supposed location of Riddick’s home planet Furya, which has been lost to all record. Riddick obliges, and ends up being double-crossed by Vaako’s right-hand man and left for dead on an unnamed, hostile planet buried beneath the rubble of a cliffside.

The real heart of the film “Riddick” begins here with Riddick’s survival and subsequent plan of attack concerning his escape from the planet. The first third of the film was the most enjoyable. Riddick is beaten and tattered with a myriad of broken bones (specifically a rather bad compound fracture in his leg), and is required to shed his near-kingly garb and mentality to become more primitive in order to survive. The film introduces a host of wild and creative creatures that constantly test Riddick’s endurance.

During these sequences, director David Twohy uses wide sweeping shots that show the horror and beauty of the alien world that Riddick currently resides.

Riddick 3

After quite a bit exploring and mending, Riddick finally stumbles across a co-op mercenary bunker belonging to any mercenaries planetside. In order for Riddick to acquire passage off of the planet he has to essentially call the men and women who want to kill him for his bounty. The remainder of the movie focuses on this aspect of the storyline. Two bands of mercenaries answer Riddick’s call, both with very different agendas, and proceed to hunt and be hunted by Riddick while the planet’s creatures rally in kind.

The only remnants of “The Chronicles of Riddick” are visage are the special effects and backstory. Some of the shots of the planet and creatures are incredibly intricate and eye-catching, while on the whole, the plot and relative structure more closely follow Riddick’s freshman effort, “Pitch Black.”

Ultimately, the film manages to blend the best of the both earlier entries by creating something that honestly has a lot of heart and soul. It’s an action movie through-and-through, but because Vin Diesel owns the role so completely and the series continuously pushes forward even with such great setbacks, any filmgoer can tell that it is a labor of love rather than a quick paycheck.

Personally, I would rather see a solid action flick made by people who just want to make a movie than a solid drama that aims only for accolades.

“Planet of the Apes”– From Childhood to Pierre Boulle’s Classic


Planet of the Apes 1968I have been on a huge “Planet of the Apes” kick lately, which is odd considering that my interest in the series has been sporadic and never immersive.  I have never dived so headlong into the franchise until now.  I have been a cursory fan for the better part of two-decades– A mere acquaintance to the series and its inhabitants.  My mom introduced me to the Charlton Heston classics at a young age, which most-likely helped cultivate my current love of science fiction as well as fantasy in almost all mediums.

Very few things can compare to the first time you Heston coming upon the Statue of Liberty at the finale 1968’s “Planet of the Apes.”  It is a classic in its own right, but that scene is so revelatory and momentous that it is difficult to explain its significance.  In the span of only a couple secondsFranklin J. Schaffner ties American culture and pride (through the use of the Statue of Liberty) to the heart of science fiction.

Nevertheless, I’m starting to digress.  Long story short, the 1968 version of “Planet of the Apes” is phenomenal and is a must-watch for anyone with even (just as I had) a cursory interest in the genre and/or series.

Flash forward several years later– At the age of twelve, I am eagerly awaiting Tim Burton’s reboot of “Planet of the Apes.”  It is 2001.  The film has high expectations, a solid cast, and a high profile director.  William Broyle, Jr.’s script was the largest part to the failure of the film.  It was flat, strove for clever plot points (which resulted in confusion), and paid absolutely no homage to the five films before it.

Rise of the Planet of the ApesAnother ten-years pass and Fox decides to reboot the series once more with 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” starring James Franco.  Most people I come in contact with love James Franco.  I can’t stand him.  He is like Michael Cera in the fact that he can act as himself.  As my friend, Josh, would say, “He is a one trick pony.”  However, I like Cera’s trick, (opposed to Franco’s) and here is why:  I never feel like Franco brings anything new to the table, or improves as the films and years wane on.  His stoner movies are shallow, and represent a culture that I’m not too fond of (or find amusing), so on the whole I shy away from him.  His brother Dave, though…not a half bad actor– I can’t wait to see him future films.

Again…long story short, I resisted watching “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” because I dislike James Franco.  Ironically enough, I received a copy of the film from my mother last Christmas, and after all these months I finally sat down and watched it.

It was amazing.

I absolutely loved the film.  James Franco’s performance was spectacular, the plot was fantastic, the CGI was more than exceptional, and besides paying respect to Heston’s classic it forged its own path like a true, quality reboot should strive to accomplish.

Besides having thirteen-years, a MacBook, and a checking account on my twelve-year-old self– I also have Wikipedia and Amazon.  The “Planet of the Apes” universe was my oyster and I was going to crack it slowly, so that I could enjoy it.

Pierre Boulle's Planet of the ApesThe first bit of knowledge that I gleaned from my Wiki source was that the series was originally based on a French novel of the same name by Pierre Boulle.  I could have purchased a cheap copy for my Kindle, but I decided to go cheaper by purchasing an original 1963 English translation by Xan Fielding.  After $5.45 and several days, I had my worn paperback in my greedy little hands and I began reading.  It is a quick read at roughly 130 pages– It only took two sittings to finish the novella.

I was simply flabbergasted.  It is an amazing book.  It hits upon humanism, racism, science fiction, futurism, the dissipating Nuclear Family, and a myriad of other real world problems topics and problems that continue to be relevant today.  It more amazing than the Heston films and is a must-read by anyone with a working brain.  The most surprising part about the whole affair is that such a fantastic novel could have been written by a Frenchmen…who knew!?

Just as selfishly as I was when purchasing and reading into the “Planet of the Apes” lore, I am sharing my new found nerdery with you. I honestly don’t have any wisdom to impart, just good ol’ fashioned fandom at its finest.  My next course of action is to purchase the original five film “Planet of the Apes” Blu-Ray collection, and repeatedly cycle through them in high definition so that I can further my addiction.

Have you ever dived headlong into a new or old series and felt the same sort of elation?  The want to know and experience everything and anything about your particular love?  If so, drop me a line and tell me about it.  I’d love to find me a new nerd addiction.

“Barsoom” Covers by d’Achille


Barsoom!

I have finally gotten around to reading the “Barsoom Series” by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and just like watching the “Star Wars” films or reading Tolkien I have been transported into another realm…and have become mildly obsessed.  Thus far, I’ve finished the first novel, “Princess of Mars,” and I have just cracked into its sequel, “Gods of Mars.”  I will mostly likely have a review up in a short while, but until then check out these original covers for Burroughs highly regarded series by d’Achille–they’re absolutely spectacular:

Barsoom

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