Monday, August 24, 2015

Brief Book Review: Reading The Martian during The Hugos

From Damien Walter at The Guardian on The Hugos:
A snapshot of today’s sci-fi publishing industry – as opposed to the fandom that ultimately underwrites the industry’s business – does not show a diverse picture. Both bookshelves and cinema screens are currently dominated by the Matt Damon/Andy Weir vehicle The Martian and its archaically old-fashioned (and vastly overrated) SF.
I am less celebratory than Walter and many others about the victory of No Award and the sarcastic use of the asterisk. I feel that everyone's biases have been confirmed. The Puppies believed that they were being discriminated against and so forced the issue. The issue, forced, confirmed to them that they cannot win even when literally they are the only things on the ballot. I don't especially care how they feel, but I'm also not kidding myself that this is a victory.

On the other hand, I am pleased to see those folks committed to more diverse stories get organized, the E Pluribus Hugo proposal passing, and the decision to refuse to let a group of bigoted fans - and yes they are fans, despite being bigoted - hijack the awards. The No Award binge was the best of a bad situation. It's not, to me, a victory.

So I don't know that it's necessary to trash The Martian (and similar books). If you like it, you like it. But fandom depends on the assertion of taste against counter-assertions, so it's not a surprise or a big deal to see Walter slam it as archaic and overrated. Except that on Saturday, I started listening to The Martian as an audiobook on the way home from DC, got engrossed, got home, bought an e-book, and read the rest of it that night before going to bed (during the Hugo ceremony). Clearly, I liked it.

As others have said, The Martian is basically an entire book that works like this scene (which Weir even references in the text at one point). The good news, for me, is that this was one of my favorite scenes of the movie, so I was pretty happy with the book. Over the course of some large number of pages, square pegs get fit into round holes repeatedly. Despite being pretty sure the protagonist would survive, it being that kind of book, it still kept me in suspense and engrossed as I sped through it.

At the very end, it kind of fell apart for me. Without spoiling anything, the situation requires complex decision-making within a few minutes. The pace of the book - predicated on spending days thinking hard about problems - accelerates in ways I found non-credible. People assess situations and come up with split-second innovative decisions to try and save the day. Then there's some treacly waffling about how great humans are. Meh.

But over all, square pegs, round holes, people being clever, some diversity in terms of gender and ethnicity, and eminently readable.


On Facebook, Brilliant Reader Nicole says:
I enjoyed *The Martian* too! We don't have to choose between *The Martian* and *Ancillary Sword* and The Kingdoms Trilogy; I can read Andy Weir and Ann Leckie and N K Jemison all in the same year. The Puppies don't seem to get that; I'm surprised to see this writer falling into the same mistake from the other side, as it were.
I agree. I liked The Martian. I didn't like it as much as Three Body Problem, Seveneves, Aurora, or End of All Things, which was the last batch of novels I read before And I expect to like the Ancillary Justice series - my next pleasure read - more. But I also didn't consume those previous books all in one night, like a big bag of potato chips which you decide to eat all of, as a special crunchy treat. Crunch crunch. Mmm, The Martian.