Posts Tagged ‘readalong’

Mars Trilogy Readalong: Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Ugh, guys, I’m sorry this took me so long to get through. I don’t really have any good excuses, except I should have started more than a week before we were supposed to be talking about it, especially since it’s almost 600 pages.

To sum up, as I told my dog last night: this is not a hopeful book. This is a book about how humanity is stupid and self-destructive.

I mean, I hope we eventually get into a hopeful phase, but who knows!

Red Mars came out in 1992 and won the Nebula in 1993. It covers somewhere between 35 and 40 years of time, starting with the colonist selection process on Earth and following them through the trip to Mars and approximately 30 years on Mars itself. It’s told in eight sections, with a different viewpoint character for each section (though Nadia and Frank each get two), and each viewpoint character is a member of the First Hundred, as the first colonists are called over time.

Most sections cover a decent amount of time, sometimes years, and there is also usually a time jump between sections (though section 8 follows directly from section 7). The book sets up characters on various sides of different issues, such as terraforming (the greens “let’s do this as fast as possible” vs. the reds “leave Mars alone–what right have we to meddle?”), colonization, emigration, corporations, government, etc. Genetic engineering is also present, but aside from its relation to terraforming (they create specialized algae that can survive on Mars’ surface), at least in this book, it’s treated as a uniformly good thing (i.e., no characters are presented as against it). I will be interested to see if that changes as the books go on.

There may be SPOILERS moving forward, so be aware.

The plot of the book is fairly chronological rather than action based. While we do open somewhere in the middle, subsequent chapters and sections start from the beginning and run straight through. The First Hundred are selected, leave for Mars on the Ares, an immense spaceship with some artificial gravity, gardens, farms, etc. (even birds) to try and help with mental states on the long voyage. On the voyage, we see the first signs that people have different plans for the planet and different ideologies, and that some people lied throughout the selection process.

They arrive at Mars and get started building up the infrastructure necessary to produce air and water, build habitats, and start exploring. Things are good. But eventually those ideological differences pop back up, especially in relation to terraforming and whether or not they need to get Earth’s permission before they do things. And a large section of the First Hundred disappear, becoming the Lost Colony, without any warning.

As time goes on, more people arrive from Earth, different factions with different goals, and without cohesive goals or leadership, tensions start to rise. Big corporations start sending a ton of workers and “security,” sabotages start happening, people disappear–and Earth is no help, because Earth is also falling apart, due to global warming and increasing numbers of wars.

Eventually the “revolution” happens–a number of rebel factions, not coordinating with each other, attack, destroying towns (reliant on thin domes for their atmospheres) and killing people. The “security” forces retaliate, shooting down from orbit. There is mass chaos, with all these factions working for themselves and the Earth forces (mostly these corporate security forces as well as some UN-approved ones) trying to lock everything down. The space elevator is destroyed, crashing down to the planet. Phobos is destroyed. The First Hundred become targets–Earth is trying to peg them as scapegoats and ring leaders–and they manage to escape to the Lost Colony at the end.

SPOILERS over.

This was actually a fairly quick read, all things considered–depending on whose point of view the section is in. I found Nadia the easiest to read and Frank the hardest; I’m sure other people would feel differently. Even when the characters spend forever building habitats or exploring the vastness of Mars, the book never feels slow (though I admit I occasionally skimmed sections with a lot of place names, which just didn’t mean anything to me). It does a great job of showing what life might be like on Mars, and a great job presenting a number of characters who are obviously different from each other. I would recommend it if you like hard science fiction, especially near future stuff, or space exploration.

Also, apparently the first person walks on Mars by 2020, and colonizing by 2026, so we’d better get on it.

Did you read this with me, squiders? What did you think?

Green Mars is next. Let’s do the end of January for it, so we can get through the holidays without going crazy.

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Announcing the Red Mars Readalong

All right, squiders. We’re going to do the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson for our next readalong.

I’m excited to do this one, because I have been carting this trilogy around for probably close to 20 years without reading it, and if you’re at all familiar with it, you know these are fat books. My copy of Red Mars (which is the only one handy–Green Mars and Blue Mars are currently relegated to the basement bookcase) is about 600 pages of tiny font. So not Wheel of Time fat, but pretty dang fat.

I think I picked the series up around the time I read Dune and Ringworld and books of those ilk. I think I thought the series was older than it was, since it seemed to be on all the same lists. It is a Nebula award winner, so that’s cool.

(My copy was also apparently once owned by my local library. I hope I bought it at a book sale and didn’t steal it off the shelves. It doesn’t seem to have the general library book accouterments such as stickers with shelving location and whatnot, so I’m going to assume it’s all good.)

I have also never read anything by Kim Stanley Robinson (though I believe these were some of his first books), though my husband recently finished 2312, so assuming he’s consistent in his narrative form, I have a vague idea of what to expect.

Let’s give ourselves plenty of time to get through this one. November 1 sound good?

(I will also note that I will probably read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which was also on the poll, sometime in October, both because I want to, and because one of my writing groups is having a paranormal/horror reading challenge in October, and that’s the first one that comes to mind. So I may or may not talk about that one as well.)

Time for a New Readalong!

It’s been almost half a year since we read The Sparrow, so let’s pick out a new book and/or series to look at! I’ve tried to provide a wide variety of genres and standalone/series options.

Also, if you’d very much like to do a different book or series, please let me know in the comments.

Also let me know if you prefer if I just pick a book on my own. The polls are still a new thing.

The Sparrow Readalong

Woo, squiders! This is quite a book. Bit rough to read in places. And apparently there is a sequel, Children of God, which starts up almost immediately after the first book ends.

I’m always a bit amused with science fiction books that were written a while ago (this was published in 1996) and were set in a time that has caught up to us. The Sparrow follows two timelines: one, after the mission, and the other going over the events that lead up to it (and the mission itself, later on), which starts in 2016.

Anyway! The Sparrow tells that story of a Jesuit mission to the planet of Rakhat, in orbit around Alpha Centauri. It’s got a lot of deep themes–about God and religion (though I do want to make it clear that it is not a religious book–there’s no dogmas being forced on the reader, and the characters themselves are of varying faiths and levels of belief/agnostics), about interacting with new cultures, about human interactions and how one views one’s self, etc. I can definitely see why it won a bunch of awards.

And it’s a debut novel. Major props to Ms. Russell.

The novel pulls no punches. And it takes the interesting tack of putting the ending first. Father Emilio Sandoz is the sole survivor of the mission to Rakhat, and his name has been drug through the mud before he even makes it home, thanks to a transmission that was sent as he was leaving the planet to return home. He’s a broken man, both physically and mentally. So as the novel starts, you know this mission went bad. You know everyone died.

And then the novel goes about introducing everyone and stepping through the events leading up to the mission, and making you care about people, which is really very evil. I cried at one point when one of the characters died.

I feel like the approach to the species on Rakhat is an interesting choice as well. These are not alien aliens, that are incomprehensible to their human visitors, but more your Star Trek or Star Wars type of alien, where are the body parts are more or less in the same parts and they have conventions along the lines of humans. There can be a connection. There can be an exchange of language and ideas.

Anyway! I hope you read this one with me, squiders. I really enjoyed it. Dunno if I’ll pick up the sequel with any sort of timeliness, so I’m not going to include it as part of the readalong.

Thoughts on The Sparrow, squiders?

Announcing the Sparrow Readalong

Right, squiders, the results are in from last week’s poll! So for this month’s/quarter’s/however often we get to it’s readalong, we’re going to the doing The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

My spouse will be pleased, as he greatly enjoyed the book and has been after me to read it for years.

This is an older book, originally published in 1997 (so it’s still newer than 85% of the rest of the stuff we’ve read in the readalongs over the years). Goodreads tells me it’s set in 2019, so I look forward to being amused by predictions gone awry.

(I’m reading a late ’70s scifi book right now which has overshot it all on technology and undershot everything social, which is pretty par for the course.)

From what I understand, it’s the story of a Jesuit priest who is part of a scientific expedition to contact a alien race on a planet we’ve picked up radio waves or some such from.

It’s supposed to be really good–the book has a 4.2 out of 5 on Goodreads, and won a ton of awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke award, James Tiptree award, and the British Science Fiction Association award.

Apparently there’s a sequel? Well, we’re see how we’re feeling after we read this one.

Anyway! I hope you’ll read this one with me! (Especially after I dug it out of the bottom of a stack of books.) It’s ~430 pages, so let’s give ourselves a little over a month–let’s discuss on June 5th.

Which Book Shall We Read?

Well, squiders, I was looking at my bookshelves for books to read for the next readalong, and I realized something: I am terrible at picking out books. Sure, we did Harry Potter and A Wrinkle in Time and Howl’s Moving Castle and those were all lovely books, but they were also all YA, and in the adult realm we had the disastrous Finnbranch Trilogy and Dream Thieves, and it’s all been bad.

(Wait, we did the Foundation Trilogy in there. Those were okay.)

So! I thought maybe you guys would have better tastes than me, and we could perhaps arrive at something good. That being said, I have provided some options, both standalones and series, and would like you to choose one to do.

(You don’t necessarily need to read along unless you want to, so you can just pick whatever one you’d like me to babble about later.)

So, without further ado, our options:

(Also, if you really want to read something, you can always let me know in the comments!)

Readalong: Dream Thief by Stephen R. Lawhead

The title looked really barren for a second, and then I remembered that this was our first standalone readalong, so I normally have the series title as well.

Anyway! It’s the 18th! Let’s get to it.

First, the basics. Dream Thief is an early-’80s science fiction novel about Spencer Reston, a sleep researcher interested in the long-term effects of space travel on people. Stephen R. Lawhead is a name I have heard before–he’s probably most famous for his Pendragon cycle (late ’80s through late ’90s) and his trilogy of Robin Hood retelling (mid-2000s)–but I’ve never gotten around to reading anything of his before.

I suspect I picked this book up at a thrift store somewhere along the line, but I have had it for a long time, so if nothing else, I’m glad to have finally gotten through it.

Spencer Reston has recently arrived on Gotham, a space station in orbit around Earth. It’s quite an honor to have your experiment chosen by the station, but things have not been going well. Every night Spencer (nicknamed Spence, though it’s somewhat inconsistent throughout what other characters call him) goes to sleep in the lab to have his sleep recorded; every morning he wakes up knowing he’s had terrible nightmares that he cannot remember.

There’s multiple viewpoints through, and there’s some headhopping which is a bit annoying at times but not terrible. The antagonists also have viewpoints, starting maybe halfway, so there’s no great mystery in how the story is going (or at least what they’re trying to accomplish).

There are some good things about the novel–for being fairly massive (and a bit slow in places), it reads pretty fast. The dialogue is good. The sequence on Mars, though it does bog down at one particular point, is quite interesting and some good scifi. There are some interesting side characters that I enjoyed very much.

That said, some other characters are almost walking stereotypes. There is a single female character of any note who is handled fairly badly. The theme of the story is heavy-handed almost to the point of ridiculousness in some places. And then there’s Spence.

Are you familiar with what it means when a story is considered “wish fulfillment”? Essentially, it’s when an author writes about what they wish would happen to them. My husband has recently been reading a novel about a man who’s cryogenically frozen, and when he wakes up, there’s a shortage of men and all the lovely, young, nubile women can’t keep their hands off of him. (My husband gave it an honest go, but eventually the book got too ridiculous and he gave up on it.) This feels like that in some places. All the good guys like Spence immediately, he gains intimate friends through no effort on his part (people who are willing to die for him), important people take care of him, etc. Yes, of course, there is the dream issue which is a problem, but there’s no lack of people trying to help him out.

And, of course, the single female character falls madly in love with him.

And Spence is kind of a jerk, especially through the first part of the book (it doesn’t really start to change until after Mars), which makes it a bit more grating.

(Oh, yeah, and there’s no female scientists. We talked about that already.)

So, let’s see. It’s an okay book. It has its good and bad points, but I don’t think I’d recommend it to someone else. There’s better scifi out there, both in terms of story and scifi concepts, and between the character pitfalls and Spence in general, the good points get somewhat overruled.

Did you read this with me, Squiders? Thoughts? Favorite part? What did you think about reading a single book over reading a series? Which would you prefer to do moving forward?