Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

martianIn the near future, probably sooner than we think, Mars has finally been conquered. The Ares 3 mission however has run into trouble, leaving astronaut Mark Watney behind, presumed dead.

Except he’s not. Far from it.

Such is the relatively simple premise of Andy Weir’s The Martian. Something we’ve seen throughout literature and film from Robinson Crusoe to Castaway, the survival story has always been a fascinating one.

The Martian however is a very different take on this idea and is brilliantly executed from start to finish.

With his fellow team members already on the way back to Earth and limited resources available to aid his survival, Watney is faced with the daunting task of not only staying alive, but finding a way to contact home in the slim hope of being rescued.

Watney however, is nothing if not resourceful. His ingenuity and tenacity, coupled with a searing sense of humour make him one of the most interesting and entertaining characters I have seen in many years. The sheer scale of the problems he’s faced with is mind-boggling yet he confidently soldiers on taking each day, and each obstacle as it comes.

Most of the narrative takes place through Watney’s diary, giving it a personal feel and helping the reader to instantly warm to his character,  switching occasionally to the third person, mainly dealing with the N.A.S.A. team back on Earth, who while Watney is busy surviving, have to devise a plan to rescue him before it’s too late.

The brilliance of The Martian is that with Watney’s diary dispensing with much of the prose normally associated with this type of story, we see everything mainly through his eyes, described in perfect technical detail, each task he undertakes carefully and scientifically planned and meticulously executed. Of course things don’t always work out, which is when Watney seems to become even more endearing. Unless you have the hardest, most cynical of hearts, I guarantee you will root for this man, you will wish him to succeed with every fibre of your being. You will laugh at his often-silly jokes, cheer for his achievements, sigh at his failures and above all, wish him home. He not only relates to us as readers, but with the entire world as they also discover his plight and watch with us as this seemingly impossible scenario unfolds.

The Martian is an amazing achievement, taking a well-used premise, deconstructing it and rebuilding it with expert precision. Although it takes place over quite a long period of time, it’s perfectly paced and the plot rarely falters. Books like this are rare these days. The Martian has an unputdownability factor that at one stage left me worried my e-reader would fuse with my hand if I didn’t let it go. Don’t worry I’m fine, but I have been entertained to within an inch of my life and as a reviewer, anything I have to read after this will have some serious work to do.

The bar hasn’t just been raised, it’s been put in a rocket and blasted into space.

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Book Review: From The Indie Side – Sci-Fi Anthology

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Cover Art by Jason Gurley

There was a time when short stories had a lot of credibility in sci-fi. Arguably some of the greatest work from classic sci-fi, fantasy and horror authors are short stories and there was a time when anthologies were plentiful. Some of my fondest reading memories as a kid are of reading the Harlan Ellison-edited Dangerous Visions, Clive Barker’s Books Of Blood or Stephen King’s Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight.

The good news is, short stories are making a comeback, fuelled largely by ebooks and self-publishing. A short story anthology is ideal for readers who adore the convenience. It’s something you can dip into occasionally and come back to anytime. Read, re-read, skip forward, skip back. Don’t like a story? That’s fine. Don’t like an author? That’s fine too – next! Sometimes it’s a great palate cleanser in between novels, especially for reviewers such as myself. They are however starting to take on a life of their own, with many authors expanding their original short story into successful novels, Hugh Howey’s Wool and Michael Bunker’s Wick both being prime examples.

For authors there are no restrictions. Write your story, publish it yourself and see what happens. Readers may like it, they may not, people may buy it, they may not. What is evident from what I’ve seen in the world of self-publishing so far is that the cream tends to rise to the top. It may take a while, but if you’re an indie author with talent the only limit to your success is yourself.

From The Indie Side is the culmination of a lot of these success stories, some now well-established, others rising stars on the indie scene, but all extremely talented and deserving of their place on this book.

The sign of a good anthology is when you’ve finished one story and feel compelled to move straight on to the next. From The Indie Side is one of those.  There are twelve stories featured, from Jason Gurley’s beautiful opening story The Winter Lands to (my personal favourite) Peter Cawdron’s thrilling finale The Man Who Remembered Today, spanning an excellent range of sub-genres. While you may be familiar with some of the more popular authors featured, what impressed me most were the writers I hadn’t yet read. There are some genuine gems in there, most notably from Brian Spangler, Sarah Foster and Susan May. I have to admit, some of the more fantasy-based stories weren’t for me, but that’s purely a matter of personal taste on my part, I can’t fault the writing.

From The Indie Side is a fitting snapshot of both the health and wealth of independent science fiction right now and whether you’re a hardened fan or about to dip a toe in the indie fiction pool, there is no better place to begin than here.

Eamon Ambrose

Buy now on Amazon and Amazon UK/Ireland