Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Martian: A Novel

by Andy Weir
In his novel, The Martian, Andy Weir, reimagines Robinson Crusoe stranded on Mars, instead of some much more hospitable island in Earth's seas (and atmosphere). His protagonist's survival is unlikely, but Nick Watney is determined and resourceful. His struggles just to last the first few days after the storm that left him in this circumstance exemplify his courage and single-minded struggle to live, even though in the back of his mind he may think his long-term chances are hopeless.

The Martian is the first published novel by Weir. It was originally self-published in 2011 after which Crown Publishing purchased the rights and re-released it in 2014.

According to Wikipedia, having been rebuffed by literary agents when trying to get prior books published, Weir decided to put the book online in serial format one chapter at a time for free at his website. At the request of fans he made an Amazon Kindle version available through at 99 cents (the minimum he could set the price). The Kindle edition rose to the top of Amazon's list of best-selling science-fiction titles, where it sold 35,000 copies in three months, more than had previously downloaded it for free. This garnered the attention of publishers: Podium Publishing, an audiobook publisher, signed for the audiobook rights in January 2013. Weir sold the print rights to Crown in March 2013 for six figures.

The Ridley Scott directed film is scheduled to be released on November 25, 2015 in 3D, and stars Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain, with Michael Peña, Kristen Wiig and Jeff Daniels in supporting roles.

In other words, the dream scenario for all you self-published authors out there.

My opinion is that the story will make a better film than a novel, unless, like Andy Weir, you're "a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects like relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight." This is not say I didn't enjoy the novel -- I did. But it is replete with technical detail on how to survive in Mar's harsh environment, and, at times, all this 'geeky stuff" became tedious. A picture is worth a thousand words, and that's what we'll see in the film.
Wadi Rum, Jordan, location for the filming of The Martian

Monday, April 27, 2015


by James Stll
Edited by Silas House
From a review by Tom Eblen

Chinaberry is about the epic journey of an unnamed boy of 13, who often seems much younger. He leaves Alabama with family friends for a summer of picking cotton in Texas. During the next three months, his life is transformed.

"I think it's a love story on so many levels," House said. "It's a love story between the author and childhood, between a person and a place. I think there's a palpable love for Texas in the book, and for a way of life that's gone forever."

At the heart of the story is the relationship that develops between the boy and the Chinaberry ranch's owner, Anson Winters, and his second wife, Lurie. Anson virtually adopts the boy, treating him as a replacement for the young, handicapped son whose death he still grieves.

"What's so brilliant about the book is that (Still) doesn't make any judgments; it's a psychological thriller in a way," said House, who found some scenes almost creepy.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Plum and Jaggers

by Susan Richards Shreve


Four young children are orphaned in 1974, when a terrorist bomb explodes on the Milan-Rome express train, in this touching novel about how families cope with violence and loss. The explosion occurs just after the elder McWilliamses leave their kids briefly to get lunch in the cafe car, which is the part of the train that's blown to bits. Dazed and frightened, Charlotte, Oliver and infant Julia cling to Sam, who, at age seven, is the oldest of the siblings. An Italian family cares for them until they're picked up by their kind but conservative grandfather, who--with their agoraphobic grandmother--raises them in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Though they love their new charges, the grandparents are distraught by the children's compulsive, secretive behavior, especially that of Sam, who, obsessed by his perceived responsibility to protect his family, becomes a loner with a bad reputation. After Sam is mistakenly blamed for the beating of a younger, handicapped boy, the family moves to Washington, D.C., where Sam shoplifts items to build a bomb shelter and is placed in a juvenile detention center. There, he conceives the idea for Plum & Jaggers, a comedy troupe eventually composed of his brother and sisters, whose bizarre scenarios transform with dark humor the tragedies of random violence and the ironies of modern life.

An accomplished author of adult (The Visiting Physician) and children's (The Formerly Great Alexander Family) fiction, Shreve reveals the orphans' creativity and self-destructiveness with balanced honesty, evoking her familiar themes of distrust and haunting memories. Best at sketches detailing individual quirks of the McWilliamses as they grow up, Shreve focuses more intensely throughout on the most disturbed, unstable and unusual character of Sam and leaves the other three siblings a bit sketchier. But through Sam's dark ebullience, Shreve traces the complexity of the family, including the spirits of the dead parents, offering a compassionate portrait of a courageous, troubled and resilient foursome.

Fram, by Steve Himmer

Oscar is a minor bureaucrat in the Bureau of Ice Prognostication, a secret government agency created during the heyday of the Cold War and still operating in the present without the public’s knowledge. Tasked with inventing discoveries and settlements in the Arctic, then creating the paperwork and digital records to “prove” their existence-preventing the inconvenience and expense of actual exploration-the job is the closest Oscar has come to his boyhood dream of being a polar explorer.

Fantasy becomes all too real when Oscar and his partner Alexi are sent on a secret mission to the actual Arctic, which brings them into a mysterious tangle of rival espionage that grows more dangerous the farther north they travel.

The trip also allows Oscar to reconnect with his wife, Julia, from whom he’s grown alienated by years of lying about what he does for a living (a distance compounded by Julia’s own secret government job), leading both of them to discover what can be lost if we let one part of ourselves—or one part of a story—distract us from everything else the world offers.