Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir is definitely one for science and math geeks.  Mark Watney is on a spaceflight to Mars and wants to be the first astronaut to walk on the surface.  He didn't know he might be the first one to die there. The first few sentences of the book expresses this succinctly. While exploring the planet, a fierce dust storm arises forcing the crew back to the ship and then back to Earth.  One of their crew is killed during the evacuation and left on Mars.  But dead he is not!  Now he is stranded on a planet with no communications, limited food but enough water and oxygen as long as his equipment keeps working.  His habitat and equipment were designed to last only thirty days.  Poor planning on NASA's part!
Mark Watney has one of those can-do personalities.  He'd rather think of solutions then wait for death.  He wants to survive and he must communicate to Earth that he is still alive.  Will his knowledge of engineering and botany keep him alive until rescue comes?
Mark keeps a journal of log entries, so others will know what he went through.  He projects an upbeat personality but the time spent alone takes a toll on him.
Except for the technology, this is an old fashioned science fiction novel. It is the theme of  Everyman against the unknown.  The Martian was first self-published in 2011.  Turned down by publishing houses, he put the book on his own website, one chapter at a time for free.  At the request of fans, he made an Amazon Kindle version available.  It sold 35,000 copies in three months and was picked up by Crown Publishing.  Now it has been made into a feature film starring Matt Damon as Mark Watney.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Case For Grace

Lee Strobel is a great story teller. In The Case For Grace he tells us real life stories that makes GRACE come alive for us. We all need a deeper understanding of God's grace.
Strobel, who has written  many other "Case for ... " books (The Case For Christ, The Case for a Creator, The Case For Faith), was once a devout atheist but through researching for a book, became a Christian.
In The Case For Grace you will meet all kinds of people who have been touched by grace. You will discover how some have been "rescued by grace" and how others become "addicted to grace."  You will learn about going "beyond mercy to grace," and the "effects of cheap grace."  And there is more! Much more about grace! Take a new look at "grace" and be warmed by human stories that end more than well!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

In the first line of Seveneves, the moon explodes without warning. At first, scientists and lay people alike are astounded and amazed by the seven large chunks of moon hanging in the sky. Dr. Dubois Harris, a popular scientist frequently found explaining science to the masses on television news, even gave them cutesy nicknames based on their size and shape. It soon becomes apparent, though, that the moon is just the beginning; soon the Earth will be destroyed by the “Hard Rain,” a meteorite bombardment that will last for millennia and wipe out all life on the planet. World leaders and scientists devise to send as many people into orbit in arklets that will congregate around the International Space Station, keeping the human race alive for the next 5,000 years.

Stephenson divides his epic tale of speculative fiction into 3 parts: before the hard rain, the first few years of life in space, and 5,000 years later when the Earth is once again habitable. Even full of technical space jargon, the 861 page tome never feels bogged down due to the depth and breadth of the story and a cast of memorable and fascinating characters, from the original residents of the International Space Station to a power-hungry American president to the human race as imagined in 5000+ years.

Neal Stephenson is a fascinating author whose books span a wide variety of topics such as cryptography (Cryptonomicon) and massive multi-player online role playing games (Reamde), and the amount of research and detail he is able to weave into compelling storylines is truly amazing.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel, The Sympathizer, is in a category of its own making.  Written by a Vietnamese-American, the novel provides an insight seldom found in western accounts of the Vietnam War.  As a social critique, the novel shrewdly dissects western notions of the “Orient” without coming across as heavy-handed or preachy, while still allowing itself to be both a moving and entertaining story.  The tale, which reads as a first-person, typed confession, revolves around a Vietnamese double-agent, introduced to the reader as simply the Captain, an operative of the North Vietnamese posing as an aide to a South Vietnamese general.  As the fall of Saigon becomes imminent, he must choose to continue his assignment, maintaining his posting with the general as he is evacuated and settled in California, or stay behind to witness the long-anticipated communist victory.  Torn between his revolutionary fervor, and his secret love of American Literature and academics, the choice is ultimately made for him by his blood-brother and superior operative.  The Captain arrives in California saddled with guilt, homesickness, and not a small amount of relief.  Having earned his degree studying abroad at a small Californian university, and as a lover of American literature, our Captain finds some of the capitalist trappings a tad less repugnant than he should.  In addition to participating in a forced mass assimilation of Vietnamese refugees (the Vietnamese were deliberated settled in disparate communities across the United States to discourage the formation of independent cultural enclaves similar to those developed by the Chinese), he must come to grips with some of his own questionable acts and memories. He also must continue to act at the behest of the general in his plot to reinvigorate an expatriate South Vietnamese army, itself populated by generals and other war heroes, who in their new roles as clerks, manual laborers, and janitors are all too eager to recapture the esteem and status of the their glory days.  In the end, the Captain must decide once again to stay or to go, and his decision and its repercussions are both exhilarating and dreadful.

Monday, July 06, 2015

A Man Called Ove

Ove is a curmudgeon of the highest order. He is the grumpy sort of neighbor who growls at children and single-handedly tries to enforce neighborhood regulations that no one else cares about. But of course he has a story. And his story involves love and loss and all the complicated emotions that go along with those. After a young family with two noisy daughters (and another on the way) moves in next door, accidentally flattening his mailbox in the process, we begin to see inside Ove's solitary life and discover the loving, caring man he really is. It takes Parveneh and her chatty family, and a scruffy wandering cat that won't go away, to draw out the real Ove, the man who makes us laugh and want to hug him. This book is hilarious, touching, and a true pleasure to read. If you liked The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry or Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, check this book out. I think you'd like Ove.