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#TuesdayBookBlog PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy Weir (@andyweirauthor) Hopeful, fun, full of scientific titbits, and the best sidekick ever #RandomHouseUK #sci-fi

Hi all:

I bring you a book by a writer who has become very well known, thanks to his sci-fi novels and to the film adaptations.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir 

A lone astronaut must save the earth from disaster in this “propulsive” (Entertainment Weekly) new science-based thriller from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Martian.

“An epic story of redemption, discovery and cool speculative sci-fi.”—USA Today

“If you loved The Martian, you’ll go crazy for Weir’s latest.”—The Washington Post

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery—and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone.

Or does he?

An irresistible interstellar adventure as only Andy Weir could deliver, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian—while taking us to places it never dreamed of going. 

https://www.amazon.com/Project-Hail-Mary-Andy-Weir-ebook/dp/B08FHBV4ZX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Project-Hail-Mary-bestselling-Martian-ebook/dp/B08FFJS3YW/

https://www.amazon.es/Project-Hail-Mary-Novel-English-ebook/dp/B08FHBV4ZX/

Author Andy Weir

About the author:

 ANDY WEIR built a two-decade career as a software engineer until the success of his first published novel, The Martian, allowed him to live out his dream of writing full-time.

He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of such subjects as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. He also mixes a mean cocktail.

He lives in California.

https://www.amazon.com/Andy-Weir/e/B00G0WYW92/

My review:

I am grateful to NetGalley and to Penguin-Random House UK (Cornerstone Digital) for providing me an ARC copy of this novel which I freely chose to review.

I have read and enjoyed the two novels Andy Weir has published before, and I am a fan of his first, The Martian, which I’ve recommended to many people I thought would enjoy it (especially those with a scientific and curious mind, and who don’t mind a first-person narrative from somebody with a goofy sense of humour and full of references to pop culture).

And I loved this book as well. It shares many of the characteristics of The Martian: a geeky protagonist (this time a biologist who after some disappointments with the reception of his research left academia to become a science teacher), who ends up isolated and trying to survive in a strange environment, although this time what is at stake goes beyond his own life, as he discovers that he is on a mission vital for the survival of planet Earth. There is a lot of emphasis on science, and we get to share in Grace’s experiments, theories, and discoveries, and as this is also a first-person narration, we get to experience his hopes and disappointments first-hand. The protagonist also has quite a sharp sense of humour and does not spend a lot of time moping around, despite (or perhaps because of) his peculiar circumstances. He does have the odd moment when he becomes overwhelmed by his feelings or his nostalgia, but he is pretty stoic the majority of the time, and most of his deep thinking is dedicated to solving problems, rather than to thinking about himself or his personal life, which we don’t know a lot about.

There are also things that are quite different. He has been in a coma for over four years, and he is suffering from amnesia when the novel starts, and that means he is a prime example of the unreliable narrator. He cannot even remember his name, and his theories and assumptions are not limited to his experiments, but cover also his previous life and the circumstances that brought him to the mission. The contemporary narration is interrupted at times by flashes of memory, and we get to know him and discover things about him at the same rate as he does, so he becomes progressively less unreliable, but that means there are surprises that are kept from all of us until the very end (or close enough). As I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, I won’t go into a lot of detail about the plot, but I think most people will get a clear idea about it from the description. I can say, though, that Grace develops and grows throughout the novel and as tends to be the case with first-person narratives, he has been changed by the experience.

Grace is the main protagonist, but as the novel progresses and his memory returns, we get to meet a few other people, mostly those involved in the Project Hail Mary (Hail Mary is the name of the spaceship), evidently from Grace’s point of view. Due to the scale of the threat to humanity, the whole world has come together, and therefore the experts and the crew involved in the project are a truly international bunch, from Chinese astronauts to Russian experts with a sense of humour, and even an Australian businessman/conman. I quite liked Stratt, the woman in charge of the whole enterprise, a Dutch polyglot, who is a force to be reckoned with and who proves to be a superb judge of character, and although we don’t get to share so much time with the others, they are all interesting and help add more context and texture to the novel. My favourite, though, must be Rocky and the relationship that develops between the two, but I can’t tell you more about that. (I love Rocky! He rocks!) The themes of cooperation and teamwork, selfishness and selflessness, morality and the greater good (how far would you go to save the planet and would individual sacrifice be justified?), cultural prejudices and assumptions, communication and acceptance of alternative and different lifestyles, the nature of life in the universe… are among those that inform much of what happens in the novel, but this is not a heavy-handed and didactic text trying to hammer any “deep messages” into the readers’ minds. It is a novel full of adventures (even if many of those are scientific in nature), as optimistic in its outlook as its protagonist, and one that is bound to make most readers smile.

The rhythm of the book flows and ebbs, as things move slowly at times and at others very quickly (we hear a lot about relativity, and this applies to the way time passes for the characters as well). I have mentioned the science speak, and I suspect it might put some people off, but although I’m not a big expert on the topics touched upon in the novel, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the experiments and the scientific basis for them, and even when I couldn’t follow every single detail, that did not hamper my understanding of the story or my enjoyment of the adventures, because the overall plot was always clear enough. The language itself, apart from the science concepts, is pretty casual and the wit and sense of humour of the character make it quite a fun read. (It is also fairly mild, so I can’t imagine a lot of people would find it offensive in the least, but I know this is a subjective thing.) As usual, I advise people thinking about buying the book to check a sample of the writing to see if they think they would enjoy it.

Here I leave you a few examples from very early in the novel, when the character is still trying to work out who he is:

“Holy moly”? Is that my go-to expression of surprise? I mean, it’s okay, I guess. I would have expected something a little less 1950s. What kind of weirdo am I?

******

 What the fudge is going on?!

Fudge? Seriously? Maybe I have young kids. Or I’m deeply religious.

******

I like kids. Huh. Just a feeling. But I like them. They’re cool. They’re fun to hang out with.

So I’m a single man in my thirties, who lives alone in a small apartment, I don’t have any kids, but I like kids a lot. I don’t like where this is going…

A teacher! I’m a schoolteacher! I remember it now!

Oh, thank God. I’m a teacher.

I have talked about the overall optimism of the novel, and although I don’t want to reveal the specifics, I can say that I loved the ending. Some readers might have expected something different, but I think most people will appreciate it as much as I did.

So, unless you are extremely put off by science, can’t stand spaceships and/or survival stories, and want to avoid anything that speculates of future disasters, I’d recommend you this novel. It is fun, it is hopeful, it has a sense of humour, it has some delightful and touching moments and some sad and hair-raising ones as well, it is full of scientific titbits, and it is a feel-good novel. Oh, and there is Rocky. You must all meet Rocky.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and always keep smiling! Stay safe!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview ALL THINGS GEORGIAN: TALES FROM THE LONG EIGHTEENTH CENTURY by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden (@penswordbooks) A beautiful gift for anybody who enjoys Georgian history and art #non-fiction

Hi all:

I bring you a book for those of you who love beautifully illustrated books and the Georgian period.

All Things Georgian: Tales From The Long Eighteenth Century by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden
All Things Georgian: Tales From The Long Eighteenth Century by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

All Things Georgian: Tales From The Long Eighteenth Century by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

Take a romp through the long eighteenth-century in this collection of 25 short tales.

Marvel at the Queen’s Ass, gaze at the celestial heavens through the eyes of the past and be amazed by the equestrian feats of the Norwich Nymph. Journey to the debauched French court at Versailles, travel to Covent Garden and take your seat in a box at the theatre and, afterwards, join the mile-high club in a new-fangled hot air balloon.

Meet actresses, whores and high-born ladies, politicians, inventors, royalty and criminals as we travel through the Georgian era in all its glorious and gruesome glory.

In roughly chronological order, covering the reign of the four Georges, 1714-1730 and set within the framework of the main events of the era, these tales are accompanied by over 100 stunning color illustrations.

https://www.amazon.com/All-Things-Georgian-Eighteenth-Century/dp/1526744619/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/All-Things-Georgian-Eighteenth-Century/dp/1526744619/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/All-Things-Georgian-Hardback/p/15786

Joanne Major and Sarah Murden
Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

About the authors:

About Joanne Major

Joanne is Lincolnshire born and bred. Originally from the north of the county, she now lives in a village to the south of Lincoln where she happily spends most days half in the present and half in the Georgian era, with an occasional foray into the world of the Victorians. A genealogist of 25-years standing, Joanne, together with Sarah, became distracted from the people she was researching and stumbled accidentally into the path of an eighteenth-century courtesan. Life hasn’t been the same since.

https://www.amazon.com/Joanne-Major/e/B01AY78JWO/

About Sarah Murden

Sarah was living in Hampshire when she first met Joanne via an online genealogy forum. Sarah is slightly more of a ‘nomad’, originally from Nottinghamshire, then moving to the Peak District where she lived for over 20 years, followed by Hampshire for 12 years, she now enjoys the quiet life in a small village in rural Lincolnshire. Having studied Humanities but focusing mainly on history, Sarah has a passion for the eighteenth- and nineteenth centuries and could quite happily have lived in the eighteenth-century (only if very wealthy of course!). Together with Joanne she is the joint author of these compelling biographies, the two brought together through their shared passion for history and genealogy.

Joanne and Sarah share a blog, All Things Georgian, where they publish twice weekly with a wide remit of writing about ‘anything and everything’ connected to the Georgian era. Expect everything from extra and exclusive information relating to their biography to articles about false bums and tums (fashion victims are nothing new!) and local murder mysteries. If it grabs their attention, then they hope it will interest their readers too. Nothing is off limits!

https://www.amazon.com/Sarah-Murden/e/B01AY6NUZ6/

And here you can find their blog, All Things Georgian:

https://georgianera.wordpress.com/

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword, for providing me a hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

This book would make a perfect present for anybody who loves history and historical anecdote, especially from the Georgian era. There are elements that make it useful for reference (it includes family trees for the Hanover House and for the Stuarts, who were also pretenders to the crown; there is a timeline of the main events, covering the whole era [from 1714, when George I’s reign began, to 1830, when George IV died], a map of the UK highlighting all the towns and locations later mentioned in the book, and a detailed bibliography at the back of the book, listing the sources the authors have used to compile each one of the 25 chapters). This is a beautiful book, full of colour illustrations, that would delight art lovers (there are landscapes highlighting the settings of many of the stories and also, portraits of public figures, aristocrats, and other people who are the protagonists of the stories, some by famous artists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds), as well as drawings and cartoons of the period, which help set the stories in their context.

As the authors explain in the introduction, the period has long fascinated people, and not only historians, because it was a quickly evolving era and many events that would change the world took place around this time: the French and the American Revolutions, Napoleon’s rise and fall, technological advances and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, and many scientific discoveries as well. The book does not cover the whole era in detail, as it would be impossible, and instead choses to pick up some specific events and historical figures that help highlight different aspects of the time, and manage to create a good picture of the era as a whole.

Although the content of the book mostly centres on events in the UK, there are also a couple of chapters dedicated to French characters (notably one to the attempted escape by Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, to Varennes), and the protagonists do range far and wide, including people from all walks of life. To my delight, there are many episodes dedicated to women (we have male impersonators [probably!], smugglers (high-ranking, as it seems that attempts at keeping the purchases of fine clothing limited to British manufacture made ladies turn very resourceful), actresses, jockeys, astronomers (Caroline Herschel’s story is fascinating), ladies taking to the air in balloons (I have a book on the subject, and I can’t wait to read it), a female bonesetter, a con woman…  There are plenty of men as well, of course, and curious episodes, like that of the Brighton’s travelling windmill, or Queen Anne’s zebra, and some darker happenings, like the assassination attempts on the king’s life, or the trade in dead bodies the resurrection men were involved in.

The authors, who are clearly experts in the subject (and, as mentioned above, have a blog called All Things Georgian, as well), write in a conversational style, and as we read the chapters, it feels as if they were talking about people they knew personally (the same way others would talk about their relatives, or current celebrities), adding titbits of information and connections to other relevant characters as they spin their tale.

I recommend this book to anybody interested in the Georgian era, even if the interest is only in passing. The illustrations are an added bonus, and the stories are so varied that most readers will find topics to their liking that will merit further research. This is not a book that will solve the doubts of people wanting to learn everything there is about the Georgian period, but it is a great appetizer, and will provide hours of entertainment and plenty of material for conversation. Don’t forget to check the authors’ other books if you are interested in the subject.

Thanks so much to Rosie and to the authors, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview HUMAN ERRORS: A Panorama of Our Glitches, From Pointless Bones to Broken Genes by Nathan Lents (@nathanlents) Facts, anecdotes, some opinions, and a very engaging way of learning about the human body

Hi all:

I really enjoyed this book and found it very informative, but, believe it or not, I later realised that it was quite controversial. So, here it goes…

Book review Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, From Pointless Bones to Broken Genes by Nathan Lents
Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, From Pointless Bones to Broken Genes by Nathan Lents

Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, From Pointless Bones to Broken Genes by Nathan Lents

We like to think of ourselves as highly evolved creatures. But if we are evolution’s greatest creation, why are we so badly designed? We have retinas that face backward, the stump of a tail, and way too many bones in our wrists. We must find vitamins and nutrients in our diets that other animals simply make for themselves. Millions of us can’t reproduce successfully without help from modern science. We have nerves that take bizarre paths, muscles that attach to nothing, and lymph nodes that do more harm than good. And that’s just the beginning of the story.

As biologist Nathan H. Lents explains, our evolutionary history is a litany of mistakes, each more entertaining and enlightening than the last. As we will discover, by exploring human shortcomings, we can peer into our past, because each of our flaws tells a story about our species’ evolutionary history.

A rollicking, deeply informative tour of our four-billion-year-long evolutionary saga, Human Errors both celebrates our imperfections – for our mutations are, in their own way, a testament to our species’ greatness – and offers an unconventional accounting of the cost of our success.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Human-Errors-Panorama-Glitches-Pointless-ebook/dp/B0776X5GQF/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Human-Errors-Panorama-Glitches-Pointless-ebook/dp/B0776X5GQF/

Editorial Reviews

Review

Anyone who has aged without perfect grace can attest to the laundry list of imperfections so thoroughly and engagingly considered in Human Errors. This is the best book I’ve read on how poorly designed our bodies are. I learned something new on every page — MICHAEL SHERMER, author of Why People Believe Weird Things and The Believing Brain An insightful and entertaining romp through the myriad ways in which the human body falls short of an engineering ideal – and the often surprising reasons why — IAN TATTERSALL, author of Masters of the Planet In Human Errors, Nathan Lents explores our biological imperfections with style, wit, and life-affirming insight. You’ll finish it with a new appreciation for those human failings that, in so many surprising ways, helped shape our remarkable species — DEBORAH BLUM, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook

Author Nathan H. Lents
Author Nathan H. Lents

About the Author

Nathan H. Lents is a professor of biology at John Jay College at The City University of New York. He is the author of Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals. www.nathanlents.com @nathanlents

https://thehumanevolutionblog.com/

@nathanlents

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to the publishers (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

When I saw this book on offer, I could not resist. I studied Medicine and have been fascinated by Biology and the Natural Sciences for ages. I have also thought and often commented on our (mostly mine, but yes, most of the issues are general, not exclusive to me) flawed design, no matter how superior we feel to the rest of the species that share the planet with us. In a later chapter of the book, the author sums it up observing that if we participated in an Olympic Games-style contest that included all of the Earth’s species, we would not win at anything, apart from perhaps decathlon (or chess if it was included), as we are generalists. We might not be able to compete with the physical prowess shown by many other species (we are not the fastest, the strongest, the best hunters, the ones who jump higher or who can run for longer), but we can do many things to a reasonable level. And yes, we are pretty intelligent (however we choose to use our minds).

There is enough material to fill several books under the general title of this book, and Lents chooses pretty interesting ones (although I guess some will appeal to some readers more than others). He talks about pointless bones and anatomical errors, our diet (here he talks about our tendency to obesity and our need to eat a varied diet due to the fact that our bodies have lost the ability to synthesise a number of vitamins, amino acids… while other species do),junk in the genome (issues to do with our DNA), homo sterilis (we are not very good at reproducing as a species), why God invented doctors (about our immune system and autoimmune diseases, cancer…), a species of suckers (about cognitive biases. The title of the chapter refers to P.T. Barnum’s edict ‘a sucker born every minute’ although as the author notes, this is an underestimate), and he discusses the possible future of humanity in the epilogue. There is a fair amount of information contained in this book, and that includes some useful illustrations, and notes at the end (I read an ARC copy, but it is possible that the final version contains even more documentation and resources). It is an educational read that I thoroughly enjoyed. I listened to the book thanks to the text-to-speech facility, and it suits it well, as it has a very conversational tone and manages to impart lots of information without being overbearing or obscure.  I read some reviews suggesting that it was so packed with facts that it was better to read it in small bites. Personally, I read it in a few days and never got bored of it, but it might depend on the reader’s interest in the subject.

I was familiar with some of the content but I appreciated the author’s take and the way he organised the materials. Although I enjoyed the whole book, I was particularly interested in the chapters on genetics (the DNA analysis and the identification of specific genes have moved on remarkably since I completed my degree) and on cognitive biases. As a doctor, I also agreed with his comments about autoimmune diseases, the difficulties in their diagnosis, and how these illnesses can sometimes be confused with psychiatric illnesses (being a psychiatrist, I know only too well this can happen). Of course, as is to be expected from the topic, the book reflects on the development of the species and discusses natural selection and evolution, and I was fascinated by the reviews of people who took his arguments as personal attacks on their beliefs. I agree that some of his interpretations and his hypothesis of the reasons for some of these flaws can be debatable, but that does not apply to the facts, and I did not feel the book is intended as a provocation but as a source of information, and entertainment. As the writer notes, we remember better (and believe in) anecdotes and stories than we do dry data. (I am not an expert on the subject but was fascinated by the comments on his blog.)

I found the book fascinating, and as a writer, I thought it was full of information useful to people thinking of writing in a variety of genres, from science-fiction (thoughts about how other species might evolve crossed my mind as I read it), historical fiction (if we go back many years), and any books with a focus on human beings and science.  I would recommend checking a sample of the book to see if the writer’s style suits the reader. I highlighted many lines (and was surprised when I learned that female Bluefin tunas don’t reach sexual maturity until they are twenty years old and was pleased to learn about the important roll old female orcas play in their society) but I particularly like this one:

Scurvy is a dystopian novel written by the human body.

A great read for those who prefer non-fiction and fact-packed books, perfect for people with little time, as it can be picked up and savoured in bite-size instalments, and a book that might pique our interest in and lead to further research on some of the topics. Experts are unlikely to find new information here, but other readers will come out enlightened and with plenty to think about. I strongly recommend it.

Thanks to NetGalley and to the publishers, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, REVIEW, and smile!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview ARTEMIS by Andy Weir (@andyweirauthor) A great caper story, with fun characters, not too deep, but with plenty of technical and scientific information to keep your brain going

[amazon_link asins=’1250119243,B00SN93AHU,0553418025,B017S3OP34,1451678193,178274164X,1426214685,1452134359,1681774461′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’f895054e-a5c7-11e7-b739-912cdef9bbe8′]

Hi all:

I’ve brought you the review of a book I read a few weeks back but didn’t want to share until it was closer to the release date. Artemis will be published tomorrow, so I thought this would give you a chance to get it if you fancied it, but you wouldn’t have to wait too long to read it. As I was preparing this post, I realised that I had not shared the review of Andy Weir’s first book, The Martian, here, so I’m now wondering if there are more books whose reviews I’ve shared elsewhere but not here… Oh well…

Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis by Andy Weir
Ever had a bad day? Try having one on the moon…

WELCOME TO ARTEMIS. The first city on the moon.
Population 2,000. Mostly tourists.
Some criminals.

Jazz Bashara is a criminal. She lives in a poor area of Artemis and subsidises her work as a porter with smuggling contraband onto the moon. But it’s not enough.

So when she’s offered the chance to make a lot of money she jumps at it. But though
planning a crime in 1/6th gravity may be more fun, it’s a lot more dangerous…

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Artemis-Andy-Weir-ebook/dp/B06ZZMYC4G/
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Artemis-Andy-Weir-ebook/dp/B06ZZMYC4G/

Author Andy Weir
Author Andy Weir

About the author:
ANDY WEIR was first hired as a programmer for a national laboratory at age fifteen and has been working as a software engineer ever since. He is also a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects like relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. The Martian is his first novel.
https://www.amazon.com/Andy-Weir/e/B00G0WYW92/


My review:
Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin Random House UK, Ebury Publishing for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
I read Weir’s The Martian shortly after its publication (I discovered it through NetGalley. Many thanks again), before it became a movie, and loved it. Although I regularly recommend books to people I know, this must be one of the recent books I’ve recommended to more people. (In case you want to check my review, I published it on Lit World Interviews and you can check it here). Because of that, when I saw the ARC of the author’s new book was available on NetGalley, I requested it. A few days later I also received an e-mail from the publishers (well, their PR company) offering me a copy as I’d reviewed The Martian. Good minds think alike and all that. I read the book a while before its publication but I don’t expect there would be major changes with the final version.
So, how is the book? Well, I loved it. There aren’t that many books that make me laugh out loud, but this one did. Is it as good as The Martian? That’s a difficult question to answer. It is not as unique. It is very different, although in many ways it’s quite similar too. I suspect if you didn’t like The Martian you will probably not like this one either. The story is a first-person narration from the point of view of a young woman, Jazz Bashara. She lives in Artemis, the first city in the Moon, and has lived there since she was six years old (children are not allowed in the Moon until they are a certain age, although that had increased by the time of the story, so she’s probably one of the few people who has been there almost from birth, as most are immigrants from Earth). Nationality is a bit of an interesting concept in this novel (people are from wherever place on Earth they come from, but once in Artemis, they are in a Kenyan colony… I won’t explain the details, but the story of how that came to pass ends up being quite important to the plot), as are laws, work, money, economy, food… Based on that, Jazz is from Saudi Arabia, although she impersonates women from other nationalities through the book (even in the Moon, otherness unifies people, it seems). Like its predecessor, the story is full of technical details of how things work (or not) and how different they are from Earth. Jazz is a quirky character, foul-mouthed at times, strangely conversant with American pop culture, including TV series, music, etc., extremely intelligent, and like Mark in the first novel, somebody who does not express her emotions easily (she even admits that at some point in the novel). She also has a fantastic sense of humour, is witty, self-deprecating at times, one of the boys, and does not tolerate fools gladly. She is a petty criminal and will do anything to get money (and she’s very specific about the amount she requires), although we learn what she needs the money for later on (and yes, it does humanize her character). Her schemes for getting rich quick end up getting her into real trouble (she acknowledges she made some very bad decisions as a teenager, and things haven’t changed that much, whatever she might think) and eventually she realises that there are things we cannot do alone. Although she does commit crimes, she has a code of conduct, does not condone or commit violence (unless she has to defend herself), and she can be generous to a fault at times. On the other hand, she is stubborn, petulant, anti-authority, confrontational, and impulsive.
There is a cast of secondary characters that are interesting in their own right, although we don’t get to know them in depth and most are types we can connect easily with as they are very recognisable. (Psychology and complexity of characters is not the main attribute of the book). Most of Jazz’s friends are male (so are some of her enemies), and we have a geeky-inventor type who is clumsy with women (although based on the information we are given, Jazz is not great with men either), a gay friend who stole her boyfriend, a bartender always after creating cheap versions of spirits, a rich tycoon determined to get into business on the Moon, no matter what methods he has to use, and Jazz’s father, a devoted Muslim who is both proud of his daughter and appalled by her in equal measure.
The plot is a caper/heist story, that has nothing to envy Ocean’s Eleven although it has the added complication of having to adapt to conditions on the Moon. Although there is a fair amount of technical explanation, I didn’t find it boring or complicated (and yes, sometimes you can guess what’s going to go wrong before it happens), although when I checked the reviews, some people felt that it slowed the story down. For me, the story flows well and it is quick-paced, although there are slower moments and others when we are running against the clock. As I’m not an expert on the subject of life on the Moon, I can’t comment on how accurate some of the situations are. Yes, there has to be a certain suspension of disbelief, more than in The Martian because here we have many characters and many more things that can go wrong (the character does not only fight against nature and her own mistakes here. She also has human adversaries to contend with), but we should not forget that it is a work of fiction. Some of the reviews say there are better and more realistic novels about the Moon. As I’m not a big reader on the subject, I can’t comment, although I can easily believe that.
The other main criticism of the novel is Jazz’s character. Quite a few reviewers comment that she is not a credible woman, and her language, her behaviour, and her mannerisms are not those of a real woman. I mentioned before that she is ‘one of the boys’ or ‘one of the lads’. She seems to have mostly male friends, although she does deal with men and women in the book, not making much of a distinction between them. For me, Jazz’s character is consistent in with that of a woman who has grown up among men (she was brought up by her father and her mother is not around), who feels more comfortable with them, and who goes out of her way to fit in and not call attention to her gender by her behaviour and/ or speech. She is also somebody who has not been encouraged to be openly demonstrative or to share her feelings, and although she is our narrator, she does not talk a lot about herself (something that was also a characteristic of the Martian, where we did not learn much about Mark himself). In Artemis, apart from the first person narration, there are fragments that share e-mails between Jazz and a pen (e-mail) friend from Earth. Those interim chapters help us learn a bit more (however fragmented) about Jazz’s background; they also give us a sense of how things are on Earth, and, although it is not evident at the beginning, fill us into some of the information the narration has not provided us. Although she is not the most typical female character I’ve ever read, she is a fun woman and it’s very easy to root for her (even if sometimes you want to slap her). She does act very young at times, and hers is a strange mixture of street-wise and at times naïve that some readers will find endearing although it might irritate others. The book’s other female characters are as hard and business-like as the men, and often the most powerful and intelligent characters in the book are female (the ruler of Aramis and the owner of the Aluminium Company are both females, one from Kenia and one a Latino woman). Both seem to be formidable, although nobody is pure as snow in this novel and everybody has some skeletons in their closets. Although gender politics per se are not discussed (Jazz notes physical differences between her and other characters as is relevant to the plot, and makes the odd comment about her own appearance) one gets the sense that in Artemis people are accepted as they are and they are more concerned about what they can bring to the community than about their gender or ethnicity.
I agree with some of the comments about the dominance of references to American culture and even the language used is sometimes full of American colloquialisms. There is no clear explanation given for that, other than to assume that media and the Internet are still mostly full of content produced in the US, but even mentions of news and feeds about other countries are not elaborated upon.
I highlighted a lot of the book, but I don’t want to test your patience, and as it was an ARC copy, it is possible that there might be some minor changes, so I’d advise you to check a sample of the book to see if you like the tone of the narration. Here are a few examples:
If my neighborhood were wine, connoisseurs would describe it as “shitty, with overtones of failure and poor life decisions.”
My cart is a pain in the ass to control, but it’s good at carrying heavy things. So I decided it was male.
(Only Americans wear Hawaiian shirts on the moon.)
I left without further comment. I didn’t want to spend any more time inside the mind of an economist. It was dark and disturbing.
In summary, a great caper story, with fun characters, not too deep, but with plenty of technical and scientific information to keep your brain going. I’d recommend reading a sample of the novel, because, once again, you’ll either click with the style of the narration and the characters, or you won’t. I did and laughed all the way to the end of the book. And, if you’ve not read The Martian… well, what are you waiting for?

Thanks to NetGalley, to Penguin Random House/Ebury for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and REVIEW!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview The Words In My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd (@guingb). Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2016. A footnote to Descartes’s biography finds her voice

Hi all:

Today we have a pretty special book. I’d recommend it in particular to lovers of historical fiction but I hope everybody would give it a chance because…

The Words in My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd
The Words in My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd

The Words In My Hand: Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2016. A footnote to Descartes’s biography finds her voiceby Guinevere Glasfurd

  • ‘EXCELLENT… AN ENTIRELY UNSENTIMENTAL LOVE STORY WITH A MEMORABLE AND ENGAGING HEROINE. CLEVER AND TOUCHING.’The Times (Book of the Month)
    ‘AN ACCOMPLISHED FIRST NOVEL… GLASFURD BRILLIANTLY DISSECTS THE COMPLEX FRUSTRATIONS OF A WOMAN IN LOVE WITH A MAN CONSUMED BY INTELLECTUAL OBSESSIONS. THERE IS MUCH TO MOVE US HERE’ Guardian
  • The Words in My Handis the reimagined true story of Helena Jans, a Dutch maid in 17th-century Amsterdam, who works for Mr Sergeant the English bookseller. When a mysterious and reclusive lodger arrives – the Monsieur – Mr Sergeant insists everything must be just so. It transpires that the Monsieur is René Descartes.
    But this is Helena’s story: the woman in front of Descartes, a young woman who yearns for knowledge, who wants to write so badly she makes ink from beetroot and writes in secret on her skin – only to be held back by her position in society.
    Weaving together the story of Descartes’ quest for reason with Helena’s struggle for literacy, their worlds overlap as their feelings deepen; yet remain sharply divided. For all Descartes’ learning, it is Helena he seeks out as she reveals the surprise in the everyday world that surrounds him.
    When reputation is everything and with so much to lose, some truths must remain hidden. Helena and Descartes face a terrible tragedy and ultimately have to decide if their love is possible at all.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Words-My-Hand-Shortlisted-Costa-ebook/dp/B016IOF6OG/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Words-My-Hand-Shortlisted-Costa-ebook/dp/B016IOF6OG/

Author Guinevere Glasfurd
Author Guinevere Glasfurd

About the author:

My short fiction has appeared in Mslexia, The Scotsman and in a collection from The National Galleries of Scotland. I live on the edge of the Fens, near Cambridge. My first novel, The Words in my Hand, was written with the support of a grant from Arts Council England. It has recently been shortlisted for the Costa First Novel award, 2016.

I work with artists in the UK and South Africa and my work has been funded under the Artists’ International Development Fund, (Arts Council England and the British Council).

Details of that project, which saw me work with fine artist Richard Penn at Nirox, Johannesburg, can be found here: http://mailout.co/cambridge-based-artists-secure-arts-council-funding-to-develop-international-projects/

I’ve since been commissioned to produce work in support of  Penn’s most recent exhibition, Surface Detail, at the Origins’ Centre.

https://guinevereglasfurd.com/

 

My review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to John Murray Press Two Roads for offering me a free ARC of this novel that I voluntarily review.

This novel, that could be classed as historical fiction, tells the (at least in part imagined) story of Helena Jans, a Dutch maid who was serving at a house where René Descartes stayed in Amsterdam, and who bore him a daughter. In the author’s note, at the end of the book, Glasfurd explains in detail the true facts known about Helena (she existed and indeed bore Descartes a girl, Francine, and she got married later and had a boy), shares her sources and her intention when writing the book.

The story, narrated in the first person from Helena’s point of view, is beautifully written. We get a clear sense of the historical period, of Holland at the time, especially what it would be like for a young girl of a poor family, who is sent to the capital as she needs to make a living for herself. She is presented as a curious girl, who’s taken an interest in reading and writing, practically teaching herself to do it, and how she ends up as a maid at a bookseller’s home. She’s fascinated by paper (a very expensive and luxurious commodity at the time), ink, by books and maps. She’s only ever traced the outline of the letters on her own hand (therefore the title: The Words in My Hand) but eventually, after experimenting on making her own ink using beetroot, she does learn to write using a quill and proper ink. She also teaches another servant girl how to write, broadening her horizons and giving her a better chance in life.

Coming into contact with Descartes, the Monsieur (as she calls him all through the book, because there is always a certain distance between them), revolutionises her world, not only because of the relationship with him (she’s very young at the time, and he’s many years her senior, so one wonders what that would be considered nowadays) but because of the way he examines and sees the world. The author uses their conversations and Helena’s curiosity, as ways to expose some of Descartes ideas, exemplifying them in lyrical and at the same time understandable ways. Swallows, eels’ hearts, the refraction of light, a flame, snowflakes, anything and everything catches Descartes attention and he feels the need to study it and explain it.

Helena is a complex character. She’s presented as a young woman living through difficult circumstances who tries to live her own life and make her way, rather than just depend on the generosity of a man she doesn’t fully understand (and who perhaps didn’t understand himself that well, either). But she’s not a modern heroine, doing things that would have been impossible during that historical period. Whilst she is shown as curious, skilled, and determined, she is hindered by gender and class (publishing books, even something as simple as an illustrated alphabet for children is not possible for a woman), and also by her personal feelings. She suffers for her mistakes and she lives a limited existence at times, being subject to insult and abuse (as she would have likely been given her circumstances). Despite all that, Glasfurd presents Helen as an artist, a woman who can describe, draw and appreciate things around her, who wants to ensure her daughter gets an education, and who loves Descartes (however difficult that might be at times).

I’ve read a few books recently that try to recover female figures that might have been the great women behind great men but have been ignored or obscured by official history. In some cases, the authors seem to be at pains to paint a negative picture of the man in question. This is not the case here. We only see Descartes through Helena’s eyes (also through some overheard comments and conversations he has with others and through some of his letters) and at times his actions are difficult to understand, but within his constraints he is portrayed as a man of contradictions but with a good heart, who cared for those around him but was, perhaps, more interested in his studies and science than in everyday matters and the life of those closest to him. He is weary of the consequences and risks of publicly exposing his relationship with Helena and his daughter but does not abandon them either. He is a man who struggles and cannot easily fit in the society of his time.

A beautifully observed and written book, about the love of science, writing, nature, and the human side of a historical figure that remains fascinating to this day. This fictionalisation provides a good introduction to some of Descartes ideas and is a great way of remembering another woman whose place in history has only been a footnote until now. A great read especially recommended to those who love historical fiction and who are intrigued by Descartes and XVII century Holland.

(Just as a side note, Francis Spufford won the Costa First Novel Award with Golden Hill that’s on my list. Perhaps I should push it up…)

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK and REVIEW!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview PALE HIGHWAY by Nicholas Conley (@NicholasConley1) A wonderful look at Alzheimer’s, with sci-fi, inspiration, genetics and metaphysics thrown in

Hi all:

I hope this week treats you well. I’m trying to catch up with as many of my pending reviews as I can because next week (well, from Thursday this week) I’ll be helping at a book festival in Madrid and I might not have much chance to come and check, but considering it is a book festival I couldn’t allow that to keep me from recommending some more books.

Today’s is a very special book. It does not fit neatly into any genre, as I explain but I’d advise you to check a few pages and see how you feel. It’s extraordinary and, if you have a big of imagination and don’t mind bizarre events, I’d recommend it especially to those who have an interest (personal, professional… ) in dementia.

I shared the review on Lit World Interviews, recently, so sorry if you’ve read it there but I couldn’t risk any of you missing it.

Pale Highway by Nicholas Conley
Pale Highway by Nicholas Conley

Pale Highway by Nicholas Conley

Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novel – Predators & Editors Readers Poll 2015

“Steeped in suspense, Conley’s novel delves into the darker recesses of the medical establishment. Gabriel is a sympathetic character, and the reader is pulled into his private struggles.” – Publishers Weekly

“Pale Highway brings his struggles for survival along with his fierce desire to hold off his symptoms long enough to save everyone around him to brilliant, beautiful life.” – Examiner.com

Gabriel Schist is spending his remaining years at Bright New Day, a nursing home. He once won the Nobel Prize for inventing a vaccine for AIDS. But now, he has Alzheimer’s, and his mind is slowly slipping away.

When one of the residents comes down with a horrific virus, Gabriel realizes that he is the only one who can find a cure. Encouraged by Victor, an odd stranger, he convinces the administrator to allow him to study the virus. Soon, reality begins to shift, and Gabriel’s hallucinations interfere with his work.

As the death count mounts, Gabriel is in a race against the clock and his own mind. Can he find a cure before his brain deteriorates past the point of no return?

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Pale-Highway-Nicholas-Conley-ebook/dp/B016ALW8PW/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pale-Highway-Nicholas-Conley-ebook/dp/B016ALW8PW/

Author Nicholas Conley
Author Nicholas Conley

About the author:

Nicholas Conley is a novelist, world traveler, playwright, and coffee vigilante. His passion for storytelling began at an early age, prompted by a love of science fiction novels, comic books, and horror movies.

His novel Pale Highway, the winner of the 2015 Preditors & Editors Award for Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novel, was influenced by his real life experience working with Alzheimer’s patients in a nursing home. He has written for Vox, Truthout, The Huffington Post, SFFWorld, and Alzheimers.net, and his original radio play Something in the Nothing was performed live on the radio station WSCA 106.1 FM in 2016. He is a member of PEN America, the writers organization dedicated to human rights and freedom of expression. To learn more about him, take a stroll over to www.NicholasConley.com.

https://www.amazon.com/Nicholas-Conley/e/B004M7ITYG/

My review:

Thanks to the author who offered me an ARC copy of his novel that I freely chose to review.

When the author approached me about this novel, I didn’t know what to say. I don’t read a lot of science-fiction (although I’ve really enjoyed some of the sci-fi I’ve read. I think my main problem, and the same goes for fantasy, is that I don’t have much patience for world-building and descriptions) but he explained that although it was classed as science-fiction, and indeed it purports a world that is very similar to ours but with some differences (mostly, the protagonist of the novel, Gabriel Schist, years back discovered the HIV-vaccine but , rather than simply creating a vaccine against that illness, his vaccine reprograms the immune system of the person that receives it and protects them against many other illnesses), it was a bit different to most science-fiction. He told me, as mentioned in his biography, that he had worked in nursing homes and the novel was also about Alzheimer’s disease. I read the description of the novel and was intrigued. And yes, I agree with him, his novel is not a standard science-fiction novel, although it’s true that some of the best sci-fi looks at what makes us human and explores metaphysical issues.

The protagonist of the novel, Gabriel, a famous scientist who won the Nobel Prize for his discovery,  is in his early seventies and suffers from Alzheimer’s, fairly early stages, but noticeable enough. He is trying to hold on to his identity, testing his memory and using tricks to orientate himself and hold onto reality, but it is not without difficulties. The book wonderfully describes the residents of the nursing home, some of their peculiar behaviours, but also the persons behind the behaviours. The novel goes back and forth in time, as does the memory of the character, from 2018 to the 1950s, when Gabriel was a weird young boy (he seems to have presented some traits suggestive of autistic spectrum disorder, likely Asperger’s) already determined to solve the problem of future infectious diseases, and also covering the years when he met his wife, the dissolution of his marriage, his great discovery and how he eventually connected and got to know his daughter. All this is interspersed with what is happening now (well, in the very near future) at the nursing home, as Gabriel never goes out. Suddenly, some of the residents start getting ill, and the virus (if that’s what it is) puzzles everybody as it acts as no known illness. Gabriel starts to have strange experiences that he’s not sure if they are hallucinations or real (the readers are free to make up their own minds about this, although if one chooses to go with a rational explanation, there are enough clues within the story to suggest how his mind might have come up with such weird events) and becomes convinced that he’s the only one who can fight this terrible illness. His is a desperate race, not only against the illness itself but also against Alzheimer’s and the progressive degeneration of his mind.

The novel is written in the third person, although always from Gabriel’s point of view, giving the readers a great insight into the processes and difficulties of a mind coming undone, of the strength of memories of the past, sometimes more vivid than the present, and the style is fluid, with some beautifully descriptive passages, and some very vivid moments, particularly Gabriel’s memories, filled with emotion. Gabriel is a scientist and a keen observer, even in his current state, and that serves the novel well.

The characters are realistically drawn and it’s impossible not to care for them. Gabriel is confused and unclear at times, he hesitates and his self-confidence is marred by his illness and by previous experiences. He feels guilty for letting people down in the past, for his use of alcohol (initially to try and fit in with social expectations, as he was too different and too intelligent for most people, but later he got to like it and used it as a coping strategy but also as something he enjoyed), for allowing his wife to leave, for not being there for his daughter … He also feels guilty because he’s always said that human beings are predictable and not interesting enough and he hasn’t loved or cared for many of them. But his experiences through the novel put him to the test more than once and he discovers that it’s never too late to learn more about yourself. The author, who evidently has first-hand knowledge, depicts well the changes in humour, the confusion, the fear, the loneliness, the disorientation, and also the tenacity and the spirit of the elderly residents, including those moments when their personalities shine through the illness. The character of Melanie, Gabriel’s daughter, and her difficulty coming to terms with the illness of her father (all the harder because of his once brilliant mind), reflects well the difficulties of the families, with their guilty feelings for not visiting more often or for not being able to do more and their difficulty accepting the new circumstances (although not everybody is the same, of course).

The running of the facility, Bright New Day, also rings true. Understaffed, with routines to suit staff rather than residents, and with a mix of staff, some very caring and professional and others not so much. The novel is not an indictment of nursing homes, and other than one of the staff members, everybody works hard and is caring, but it does reflect the difficulties of running such facilities within a limited budget and trying to care for residents as individuals.

The plot is intriguing and the issue of if and how Gabriel might manage to defeat the virus is a page turner, although there are some very quirky aspects of the story that some readers might find challenging (not the scientific part as such. Although I’m a doctor I don’t think readers without medical knowledge will have difficulty with the general concepts behind Gabriel’s discovery. It is a fascinating idea). The story requires some suspension of disbelief although it is also possible to read some of the clues offered through the fragments of Gabriel’s memories as proof that a less fanciful interpretation of events is also possible. That is up to each reader.

I have to confess to feeling very moved by the story and being teary-eyed a couple of times but don’t worry, there are fun moments too and it is not a sad story but a life-affirming one. The ending, whatever interpretation we choose to go with is joyful and positive and might be meaningful to many readers.

This is not an easy novel to categorise in any genre. I think most people who are interested in Alzheimer’s will enjoy it, and people who like books on medical subjects, as long as they have a well-developed imagination. I recommend it also to people interested in memory, identity and in the big questions, and to those looking for a positive and inspiring read.

Thanks to the author for his book, thanks to all of you for reading, and don’t forget to like, share, comment and CLICK! 

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