Sunday, October 25, 2015

Out of this World: The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir
Crown, 2014

Imagine going to Mars. Now imagine being stranded on Mars. Welcome to what has just become reality for Ares III Astronaut Mark Watney. Six sols (Martian days) into what is supposed to be a month-long stay on the red planet, a freak storm requires the team to abort their mission and head back to Earth early. Only while they're evacuating, Mark gets hit with debris that knocks out the bio sensors in his suit. His crew mates think he's dead, so they're forced to leave him behind. Now he needs to figure out to tell NASA he's very much alive and how to survive long enough to get rescued, something that would take years.

And that, readers, is just the beginning.

What started out as a story posted by chapter by chapter on Weir's blog turned into a self-publishing and then traditional publishing phenomenon that has now taken even Hollywood by storm, These kinds of stats make me naturally skeptical, but in this case, there was absolutely no reason to be. This tale is Apollo 13 meets Cast Away, except Mark isn't exactly Tom Hanks. He is sarcastic. He swears. He thinks outside of the box and is flippant as much as he is brilliant. His is a journey that you are glad to be along for the ride. This book does a great job of balancing the science part of science fiction with the fact that most of its readers are not rocket scientists - things are explained, but you're not required to understand every little aspect of the mechanics to be engaged by this story.

This review is purposely vague because this is a book that to spoil any part of it feels criminal. I'll just say that I think this novel is properly deserving of the hype, and I've been suggesting it like crazy to teen and adult readers alike.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Keep On Keeping On: I Crawl Through It

I Crawl Through It by A.S. King
Little, Brown, 2015

*eARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley- thank you! This in no way impacted my opinions of this book.*

A.S. King is a writer who has never shied away from stories and structures that are a little more, shall we say, "out there." But if you've thought she pushed the envelope as far as it could go before, just wait until you read King's first surrealist novel.

In a town and a school under the thumb of bomb threats, never ending tests, ridiculous societal expectations, and the usual insurmountable mountain of the pressures that come with being an adolescent human merely trying to survive into adulthood, I Crawl Through It focuses on four teens in particular who cope with their various situations in a variety of ways. One girl wears a lab coat wherever she goes and dissects frogs (and other animals) as often as the science teacher will let her. One boy is building an invisible helicopter to escape. One girl has swallowed herself and is now inside out. Another girl can't stop lying (or doesn't want to) and her hair won't stop growing.

Sound a bit strange? I'm not going to lie - it is. Yet I consistently come back to King's novels. They push me outside my comfort zone. They challenge traditional ways of storytelling and thinking about people, places, and things and how they mold each other, a never ending cycle that can be kind when it's not busy being cruel. It took me a while to fully wrap my head around this book and these characters. No one really seems to question a girl who says she is inside out or a boy with an invisible aircraft, but then again they don't question the bomb drills or the myriad of tests, either. And really, is one set really that much stranger than the other? About halfway through, something must have clicked in my mind and I was able to suspend my reality for the one within the pages. I'm still not sure I was able to fully accept the reality of this book literal truth - it's not - but I was able to accept that it's hardly stranger than the world I live in where being a school teacher isn't just about teaching anymore, but also about being willing to sacrifice my life.

This book is not for everyone. It's weird, but I say that as a compliment, as high praise. A.S. King's books make me a better reader, and transitively, a better thinker and a better human. These lives we lead are beyond anything our ancestors could have ever imagined for us, and this world will only become more surreal for our descendants. Yet, day after day, I crawl through it.

Comments welcome, and as always, happy reading.