Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Martian by Andy Weir Review (Unread 026)

I’ve known about Andy Weir’s book, The Martian, since its hardcover publication in early 2014. It had a bright reddish orange cover that made the book standout on the shelves. I bought a copy late last year when it was published in paperback and it took me until August to finally sit down and read it. In that time I didn’t absorb any of the book’s contents other than what was included on the back cover. As always, I’m only getting around to reading the book several months later but dammit, there are too many books and so little time. Thankfully the trailer for Ridley Scott’s film adaptation lit a fire under me and I snatched the book from off the shelf. Weir’s first outing as a published author caught me by surprise. He deserves the praise he’s received so far, but I also think he deserves a better editor and an opportunity to tell a refine his craft and tell a different kind of story, something that will allow him to spread his wings and improve as an author.

Anybody taking the time to read this is probably familiar with the story. Astronaut Mark Watney gets stranded on Mars after the crew he’s on is forced to terminate their expedition. Left behind on an unforgiving planet, he has to find a way to survive several hundred days and travel several thousand miles over very rough terrain in order to be rescued. The problems are many, he doesn’t have nearly enough food to survive so long and all of his equipment wasn’t designed to last beyond a few weeks or operate in the way he’ll have to use them in order to stay alive. The odds are certainly not in his favour but Watney has one advantage. As a botanist and a mechanical engineer, he has science on his side. Add to this that he has far more time than he knows what to do with (boredom is one of his many struggles) he nonetheless develops a plan for his survival and works on it daily. His ingenuity is his making survival in the most difficult conditions a possibility.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Short Story Sunday: Joe Haldeman and Kay Kenyon

It’s time for a new project here at Shared Universe Reviews. Spurred on by the success I’ve had with The Blog Fantastic project, I wanted to do something that was related to science fiction, another genre I love but I feel I haven’t explored deeply enough. Heck, I’m well aware that I’ve only scratched the surface. As much as I’d like to give science fiction its due by discover some of the classic and contemporary works by authors new and familiar to me, I just don’t have the time. While my output has slowly gone down since I first started SUR, I’ve stabilized it to a regular schedule of one post a week. The problem is that I’m not fully satisfied with that. It doesn’t feel like enough but it might already be too much since some weeks I struggle to hit my self-imposed deadline.

All of this led to an idea. Writing smaller posts on short stories and uploading them once a week. This way I can combined my goal of posting more frequently while exploring more science fiction authors. That the goal is also for writing smaller posts, I figured short stories are perfect for this. Additionally, short story is a form of writing very closely linked to science fiction publications in the last hundred years, it makes sense to combine these ideas together. Short Story Sunday might not always be exclusively made up of science fiction reviews, but I’m pretty happy letting that be the main focus. With each post I’ll include where I found and read the story (online publication, best of anthology, magazine, etc.) and give the story one of the following rankings: 

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Brooklyn (2015) Movie Review

Last year I attended Cinéfest Sudbury International Film Festival and I watched a riveting dramatic movie titled TheDisappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them. As annual film festivals are known to do, Cinéfest took place again this year and I went to go see another movie. It looks like I’ve got a new tradition on my hands and that’s fine by me because I’ve enjoyed myself both times. If nothing else, seeing a movie in this kind of environment, where dramatic stories tend to dominate and international films abound, I know to expect something different from your average Hollywood movie. If I’m lucky, I’ll even get to see a movie with an actual story and that’s very refreshing when you’re used to being bombarded by shit blowing up, showy yet poorly crafted special effects, and more guns and ammo than Rambo knows what to do with. I think I got lucky again this year when my wife and I went to go see Brooklyn.

Brooklyn, an Irish-American-Canadian production directed by John Crowley, tells the story of Eilis Lacey (a confident Saoirse Ronan in the leading role), an Irish immigrant during the early 1950s. The movie, based on the novel of the same name by Irish author Colm Tóibín, chronicles Ms. Lacey’s departure to America at the behest of her sister who wishes a better life for her. During her stay in Brooklyn as well as her return to her home country, Eilis establishes a new life for herself and finds romantic attachment. The movie’s climax sees her making a decision between two countries and two men.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Neil and Me: The Neil Young Story by Scott Young Review (Unread 025)

I remember the first time I heard a Neil Young song. I was 17 and I had recently moved out of my parent’s house to attend university in Ottawa. A friend and co-worker with whom I worked at Tim Hortons in my home town sent me a song through MSN Messenger. That song was a live version of “Sugar Mountain” (I think it was from Live Rust). I liked the song and for years kept it on my computer, listening to it from time to time. There was something mystifying about it. I really responded to the melancholic tone of the song.

It took me several years to dig up more songs by Young and begin my exploration of his discography. I remember discovering that he was the writer of “Heart of Gold”, a song I first heard on a Boney M CD my mom had. It took me a few years to listen to about half of Young’s prodigious output. It’s time consuming because he has so many albums and some of them are so damn good they kept me busy for weeks on end. Naturally, I listened to other music while working my way through his back catalogue and because of this it took me years to get relatively knowledgeable about the man and his music. Throughout those years my respect and admiration for Young has steadily increase. So much so that when I found a battered copy of Neil and Me: The Neil Young Story by Scott Young, I picked it up without hesitation.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Blog Fantastic 042: Yendi Review (Unread 024)

The main reason I started The Blog Fantastic project was to integrate my desire to read more fantasy books with my (then) new habit of blogging. Ever since reading Dragonlance by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman I’ve been a fan of the genre. As it happens, I’m also a very distracted reader, with bookshelves filled with various works, in many genres, and penned by many different authors. Some are familiar, often revisited, and some are still new to me. Because of this I tend to jump around, rather randomly, from series to series and from one genre to the other. I have no clear pattern. The Blog Fantastic was a way to give me a reason to focus my attention on fantasy titles, at least more than I had since my university days. As a whole, the project has been a success. Still, I’ve had a few disappointments, such as discovering the Redwall series by Brian Jacques no longer has any appeal to me and that while I can understand the appeal of other series, such as the successful Forgotten Realms novels of R. A. Salvatore, they just don’t impress me or entertain as well as I want them to (or as well as they used to).

It’s sometimes a bit of a bummer to realize you don’t like something anymore, but they’re good realization to make. Why continue reading a series of books you know you probably won’t enjoy?  Both of the above examples are series I first tried out a decade or more ago and knowing that they’re not my kind of thing anymore is helpful when I’m searching for other series and writers to discover. Besides, I like variety enough that I’m in no danger of reading through my entire pile of unread books.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Blog Fantastic 041: Tehanu Review (Unread 023)

When I look at my bookshelves, certain books stand out. Some of them do so simply because their covers or spines are visually alluring. They catch the eye without much effort and they immediately distance themselves from other books next to them. Some books practically leap off the shelf because the sight of them causes a flow of memories to rush into my mind. Feelings, passages of the book, memories of my time reading them, all appear in my head. Other books with a strong presence, perhaps the strongest, are the works I consider to be classic. The books I consider to be masterpieces and written by some of my favourite authors. I’ve reread them before and I’ll read them again because they’ve stirred something up inside of me.

Not all book lovers make lists about the best books they’ve ever read or who their favourite authors are, but I do. I’m one of those people. While I’ve admired Ursula K. LeGuin’s writing since I’ve read The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, Volume 1. While slowly reading my way through her Earthsea series she steadily made a place for herself amongst favourite authors. Reading her online blog made me like her as a person (and I’ve come to learn quite a bit about her cat in the process). After reading Tehanu, the fourth book in the series, I’ve had to shuffle around some of my best of lists. Earthsea is an unconventional, sometimes emotionally devastating, and always masterfully written fantasy series. Tehanu is one of the best fantasy book I’ve read in my life. I was so thoroughly impressed by LeGuin and this novel that I’ve been living in a state of deep thought ever since. Why don’t more people talk about LeGuin? Why doesn’t anybody mention Tehanu as one of her great works?

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

My Beloved Brontosaurus by Brian Switek Review (Unread 022)

I read very few non-fiction books. I’m not sure why. There are plenty of subjects I find interesting. Of those subjects, many books have been written by writers who I’m sure did plenty of research and presented those already interesting subjects in a way that gave them new life. I’m not talking based on my experience reading non-fiction books, it’s just the probability of numbers. Like many young adults who grew up with the internet boom of the nineties, I’ve been bombarded every which way by information and because of it I have interests in many different fields of knowledge. Fiction has always been a dominating interest, maybe because of its inherent entertainment value. Growing up, I’ve always enjoyed learning but since I’ve finished high school, the amount of free time I have has been reduced and I’d rather spend my time being entertained than learning, no matter how curious I might be about a particular subject.

It’s not to say I’ve forgone any opportunity to learn, more that I’ve narrowed the time in which I give myself the chance to research and explore. The number of non-fiction books I read in comparison to fiction novels is very, very small. It’s a ratio of about one book in fifty. After creating a Goodreads account and tracking my annual reading progress, I’ve come to realize just how few non-fiction books I read. I’ve attempted to rectify that by buying a few non-fiction books in the recent past but I’ve yet to really read many of them. This year, I’ve managed to read one. I know, that’s not very impressive nor does it present a change in reading behaviour, but it’s a start.