Bookish Giveaway & Review: War of the Worlds: Retaliation by Mark Gardner & John J. Rust

Scroll to the bottom for the giveaway!

Narrator: Samuel E. Hoke III

Publisher: Article94 (2017)

Length: 7 hours 38 minutes

Gardner’s Page ~ Rust’s Page

Starting in 1898 with the final throws of the Martian invasion, humanity is at a breaking point. However, the human bacteria prove deadly to the Martians and on mass, they die, leaving their advanced technology for the humans to scavenge. Skipping ahead to 1924, the world leaders have decided it’s time to take the fight to Mars and a massive invasion is launched.

I’m a fan of HG Wells’s works, including the original War of the Worlds. So of course I was thrilled to dive into a novel that told a story of what humans did afterwards. How does a failed Martian invasion change the course of humanity’s history? Gardner and Rust give a decent answer to that question.

I think this book would have extra interest to those who have studied WWI. There’s plenty of European and North American names to recognize in this novel such as Charles de Gaulle, Rommel, George Patton, and so on. You don’t have to be particularly knowledgeable about any of these historical figures to enjoy their characters in this tale. I was a bit surprised that the Asian countries weren’t represented at all. Also, since it was a world wide Martian invasion in 1898, I was initially hopeful to see how that great leap in tech affected many of the countries in Africa and South America. Alas, those continents are barely mentioned.

There’s plenty of great tech in this tale. First, I really enjoyed that some tested and true war machines of WWI were in this book, like the Fokker airplanes. There’s also some brand new vehicles made especially for the Martian invasion. However, I did notice that the physics of Mars was skimmed over when it came to actual battles.

Now, let me get out my little polished soap box. There is exactly 1 female character (Nurse Hill) in this entire book and she doesn’t appear until the last hour of the story and she isn’t plot relevant at all. There’s a few other ladies mentioned as wives or mothers. This pains me. Here we are in this fascinating science fiction novel that’s essentially about the survival of the species, and the women aren’t present. Sigh…

OK, so moving on. I loved that we got a look into Martian society through the Martian characters. Their society is suffering from stagnation and the inability for their leaders to admit that there’s a real threat coming from Earth. I really enjoyed watching the various Martians struggle with this.

The pacing of the story is good with strategy, reflection, and action all well intermingled. I never suffered from battle fatigue nor did I feel that the story bogged down here or there. As an aside, I liked that Hitler was receiving psychiatric help and was an exceptionally minor character in this book.

I received a free copy of this book via The Audiobook Worm.

The Narration: Samuel Hoke was a very good fit for this story. He performed several different accents as needed and was consistent with them throughout the story. Each character was distinct. 

What I Liked: We’re invading Mars!; fun technology; we get the Martian viewpoints; several historical figures make appearances; a worthy ending.

What I Disliked: Almost no women; Africa, Asia, and South America are barely mentioned; physics of Mars is skimmed over.

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About Author Mark Gardner:

Mark Gardner is a US NAVY veteran. He lives in northern Arizona with his wife, three children and a pair of spoiled dogs. Mark holds a degree in Computer Systems and Applications, and is the Chief Operator for an Arizona radio group.

Website ~ GoodReads ~ Twitter

About Author John J. Rust:

John J. Rust was born in New Jersey. He studied broadcasting and journalism at Mercer County Community College in New Jersey and the College of Mount St. Vincent in New York. He moved to Arizona in 1996, where he works as the Sports Director for an Arizona radio group.

Facebook ~ GoodReads ~ Twitter

Synopsis of War of the Worlds: Retaliation:

1898: Martian tripods lay waste to Earth’s cities. The world’s armies are unable to stem the tide of destruction. When all hope appears lost, common bacteria kills the alien invaders. From the ashes, the human race uses the technology left behind by the Martians to build new, advanced weapons.

1924: Armed with their own spaceships, tripods, and jet fighters, the nations of the world are ready to take the fight to Mars. George Patton, Erwin Rommel, Charles de Gaulle, and Georgy Zhukov lead their troops in battle across the red planet to end the alien menace once and for all. But the Martians have one last, desperate plan to try, and if successful, it could mean the end for all humanity.

Audible ~ Amazon

About Narrator Samuel Hoke III:

Samuel E. Hoke III is a 6’0″ Scorpio who summers in Virginia with his wife two amazingly wonderful black cats named Inca and Maya. In the winter they all head to central  Florida. Samuel is a veteran of the corporate world including IBM and Bank of America he now pursues his lifelong passion of acting.

Samuel has a Bachelors degree in Liberal Studies from Norwich University and an MBA in Global Technology Management from American University. He also conducted a Pre-Doctoral studies in Strategic Leadership at Cornell University. Samuel enjoys Rock and Roll music, photography, fast cars, and international travel.

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Morning Star by Pierce Brown

BrownMorningStarNarrator: Tim Gerard Reynolds

Publisher: Recorded Books (2016)

Length: 21 hours 50 minutes

Series: Book 3 Red Rising

Author’s Page

Note: You really need to read the previous books in this series to understand this book.

Book 2, Golden Son, left us on a hell of a cliffhanger. Luckily, Book 3 picks up where things were left, which was right in the middle of a mess. Our hero-to-be Darrow, the Reaper, is in desperate straights. Things went horribly wrong with an unexpected betrayal. Friends and allies have been killed or imprisoned. Others, such as Mustang, are off on their own, their intentions unknown.

The author doesn’t disappoint with this book. The mix of tension, action, betrayals, loyalties, saving people, executing people, adventure, dismemberments, and body enhancements continues to be excellent. Darrow continues to yank the feels out of me by a fishook! He’s at the center of this rising, doing his best to maintain his own humanity and yet sometimes he has to sacrifice it in order to bring it out in others. In Book 1, Red Rising, the story started off with Darrow and his Red family. Book 2 hints that Darrow’s family is at his core, the thing that makes him strong. In Book 3, it’s very satisfying to see that come full circle with Darrow’s family, both biological and the family of friends he’s built, standing strong behind him.

This book should get an award for creative cursing. Oh, dear Severo! He made me laugh so hard, and sometimes inappropriately, with his flagrant curses. He’s such a harsh man and he seems to revel in being crude or disgusting. While Darrow was temporarily out of the picture, he had to rise above and become more than he thought he could be. However, the eventual, and perhaps inevitable, butting of heads between these two friends had me gnashing my teeth! After the unexpected betrayal at the Book 2, I was constantly on the look out for the next breaking of friendship or betrayal or splitting of paths. I need a back massage just from being so tense throughout this book!

Without giving much away, I really enjoyed the visit to Ragnar’s homeland. It was so different from what we had seen so far. And his isn’t the only alien landscape our heroes visit. There’s the moons of Jupiter as well. The author did a great job of maintaining realistic travel times between all the points of interest in the solar system.

Towards the end, when I was down to the last 6 hours or so, I wasn’t sure how the author was going to wrap up everything that still had to be done. I was a bit worried that things would get rushed towards the end, unrealistic compromises, etc. tossed in just to wrap things up. However, our author wasn’t that clumsy. Things did unfold in a realistic way and everything got wrapped up nicely. I was quite satisfied by how things came to be in the end. Yes, there were plenty of deaths and sacrifices. Yes, not every person who committed some despicable act was killed. Yet I felt that Darrow and his close friends have laid solid ground work for a new regime. In the end, I so enjoyed this book I wanted to go back and listen to the series all over again.

The Narration: Tim Gerard Reynolds once again does this series justice. I really enjoyed his accent and voices for the new characters we meet on Ragnar’s home world. His creative cursing as Severo is very entertaining! His range in accents and character voices make this an excellent listen!

What I Liked: This series gets better with each book; Darrow’s center of friends; Severo’s cursing; new people to meet, new places to dominate; the unexpected changing of loyalties; the ending was very satisfying; excellent narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing – truly an excellent read!

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Golden Son by Pierce Brown

BrownGoldenSonWhere I Got It: Own it

Narrator: Tim Gerard Reynolds

Publisher: Recorded Books (2015)

Length: 19 hours 2 minutes

Series: Book 2 Red Rising

Author’s Page

Note: You really need to read Book 1, Red Rising, to understand this book.

This book picks up several months (a year?) after the end of Red Rising. It’s a space battle! Well, it’s a training space battle for the Academy. Darrow and his crew finish out the contest well enough, but then Darrow is publicly humiliated. Darrow is on the brink of losing it all and he must make some daring moves to maintain what he has worked so hard to achieve. Yet with his boldness comes new challenges and new enemies.

I thoughts the story couldn’t get any better when I finished Book 1, but I was wrong. Golden Son has impressed me more than Red Rising did. I became attached to several of the characters in Book 1 and that held true for Book 2. Darrow remains a complex character, discovering new parts to himself as he continues his ruse as a Gold. The layers of lies start to weigh on him and some of his closest friends notice his moodiness. There were so many times where I wasn’t sure whether Darrow should open up to a friend or not – can any of them be trusted with his deepest secret? Argh! It was nail biting!

There were moments where I was cheering the book on, doing a little fist pump when no one could see me doing so. Then there were times that my eyes misted up a bit. There are several intense moments in this book. Tactus. Mustang. Quinn. Darrow’s mom. Even though this book wrung emotions from me I wasn’t sure I had before, when I finished it, I wanted to go reread the first 2 books again.

While Book 1 took place all on Mars, Book 2 spreads out a bit and we get to see more of this terraformed solar system. Book 1 taught us the basics of this hierarchical society, but Golden Son shows us people from these other castes and what they are capable of. Darrow certainly has his hands full with the Sons of Ares and trying to upturn this caste system.

And why don’t we chat about the Sons of Ares. I, like Darrow, was expecting them to be all on the same page. Unfortunately for Darrow, that was not so. This added another dimension to the plot and made one more dangerous pitfall for Darrow to avoid. Though I did guess who Ares was early on, it was still a great reveal scene.

Next to Darrow, Sevro is my favorite character. He acts crude and rude all the time, but he has these shinning moments where he sets the bar high for what true friendship is. To my surprise, I became a bit attached to Victra. Perhaps it was her unashamedly flirtatious manner. Ragnar was an excellent new addition to Darrow’s circle of friends. The characters all around are just very well done. I love that the author doesn’t hold back from placing female characters in every job a male character traditionally holds in so much of SFF literature. The swordswoman Ajah is terrifying. The Sovereign is wickedly smart but also too proud of that fact.

The ending is super intense and I am so glad I have Book 3 lined up and ready to go. Golden Son does end on a cliffhanger and if I had read this book a year ago before Book 3 was out, this might have bothered me. Books 1 & 2 have set the bar high for Book 3 – I have every expectation it will live up to it!

The Narration: Tim Gerard Reynolds continues to do this series justice. I love that he shows a little of Darrow’s Red heritage in his accent when he thinks of home, yet maintains his cultured Gold accent throughout the novel. His voice for Ragnar is very well done, considering limitations on human vocal cords. Surprisingly, Reynolds does a very good sexy vixen for Victra. 

What I Liked: The series continues to impress!; we get to see more of the the settled solar system; the witty scene between Darrow and the Sovereign; this book brings out the emotions but also packs a lot of action as well; very intense ending!

What I Disliked: Nothing – truly an excellent read!

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Red Rising by Pierce Brown

BrownRedRisingWhere I Got It: Own it

Narrator: Tim Gerard Reynolds

Publisher: Recorded Books (2014)

Length: 16 hours 12 minutes

Series: Book 1 Red Rising

Author’s Page

Set in a far distant future on Mars, Darrow works hard mining below the surface. Mars’s caste system has kept the population, and especially the Reds like Darrow, working hard for a better, brighter future for their children for generations. However, Darrow loses much even as he gains knowledge of the great betrayal perpetrated by the ruling classes. Now he’s determined to up end things, even if it takes becoming what he most despises.

This was an excellent book, one of my favorites of the year so far. It has depth, a brilliant plot, a unique and gripping setting, and characters with teeth. The story is told through Darrow’s eyes. His story arc for this book takes him from hard working family man to accomplished upper-crust warrior. Generations past, those terraforming Mars set up a caste system, complete with color coding. The Reds, which is Darrow’s caste, is the lowest of the castes. The Golds are the rulers of the planet and live in comfort and excess. Initially, Darrow is quite happy to spend his life working hard to provide a better future for the next generation. He has a loving wife Eo who he dotes on. She is the first in the story to hint that there is something more to be had and she encourages Darrow to dream bigger. Then tragedy opens his eyes to the reality and he undergoes a bit of terraforming on his own body and mind in order to infiltrate the Golds and set in motion a long-term plan to up end the caste system. Darrow was a hard man to start with. He had to be in order to be the brilliant, talented Hell Diver he was on the mining crew. What he undergoes by the end of this book chisels him, mind, soul, and body, into an even harder person.

The secondary characters are just as brilliant. Darrow expected all the Golds to be the same but his time at the Institute, a kind of war games training ground for the up and coming Golds, shows him that not all Golds are the same. Alliances must be made in order to dominate the game, but they are playing for keeps and this means there will be serious injuries and even deaths. It’s a brutal sifting to remove the chaff from the grain.

I loved all the references to Roman deities and the use of Roman titles in the military hierarchy. The setting for the war games is little more than Medieval – no indoor plumbing, being hunted by wolves, castles to lay siege to, etc. There are a few bits of cool tech that come into play and there’s references to human colonies on other moons/planets in the solar system. The author does a great job of keeping us focused on Darrow’s circumstances while also hinting at the larger picture.

This book brought out some strong emotions for me, which I always love in a book. Darrow lives through some harrowing things, but he also has to do some heinous things. There are plenty of tough choices for him in this book. Several of the other characters also held my attention, such as Sevro and Pax. Sevro’s family history makes him interesting but then Sevro himself beat the odds against at the Institute, surprising everyone. Cassius is another curious character, capable of great loyalty and true brotherly affection. Yet if he is betrayed, his vengeance can be a game changer. Quinn is a scary, scary woman. I definitely wouldn’t want to cross her. There is also Mustang, who kept her loyalties close to her chest throughout the story.

All  together, it’s a brilliant science fiction setting coupled with the brutality of a tale of the Roman Empire. I very much look forward to reading the next installment.

The Narration: Tim Gerard Reynolds did an excellent job with this book. His voice for miner Darrow had a bit of an Irish accent, and accent that the character must dampen as he morphs into a Gold. Reynolds did a great job of portraying this with his voice talents. His character voices for the other characters were each distinct and his female voices were believable. He also did a great job of imbuing Darrow’s voice with emotion. 

What I Liked: Great setting; impressive story arc coupled with Darrow’s character arc; so many  betrayals; unexpected friendships; the war games – brutal!; clever book cover art; excellent narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing – truly an excellent read!

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Eye of the Apocalypse by Dylan James Quarles

QuarlesEyeOfTheApocalypseWhere I Got It: Kindle Unlimited

Publisher: Dylan James Quarles (2014)

Length: 427 pages

Series: Book 3 The Ruins of Mars

Author’s Page

Book 3 picks up right where Book 2, Waking Titan, left off. The AI brothers Remus and Romulus are still in the Martian construct (kind of like being trapped in the Matrix). Earth is recovering from the Pulse that killed so many.  Harrison Assad and crew are still trying to puzzle out the Martian ruins.

This was quite the ending to the trilogy! This book is nearly twice as long as the previous book, and I’m glad as there was plenty of ground to cover. The crew find a device and those that touch the device have meaningful yet strange reactions to it. Harrison, as the crew’s archaeologist, has a deep fascination with the ruins and the device, focusing on them even though there are more pressing concerns. His friend Ralph Marshall does his best to bring his friend out of his funk (a fellow crew member died in Book 2), but with the Pulse having caused so much damage back on Earth, it’s hard to be cheery about anything.

Captain Tatyana Vodevski probably has the hardest job in this book. Circumstances will arise that require her to consider mutiny against her supervisors back on Earth. She will lose more of her crew and one will go mad. She will have to undertake dangerous missions herself, but also allow her crew to undertake some as well. I definitely wouldn’t want to be Tatyana in this book, even tho she is a bad ass.

Dr. Elizabeth Kubba’s character arc for the entire series is one of the most fascinating. She’s not a total good guy but neither is she a total bad guy. She’s complex and that makes her very interesting. In Book 2 she made some choices that I totally disagreed with, so I was all set to have her be a big villain in Book 3. She surprised me!

Back on Earth, the politics continue to play out despite the world wide event created by the Pulse. One of the lead guys who put together the Mars mission finds out about a secret plot to send a manned spacecraft to take over the Mars station and the ruins. He finds a secret way to left Captain Vodevski know about it and then she has to make some hard decisions about how to handle it. Killbots! Freaking killbots folks! Like the team on Mars doesn’t have enough to deal with! We lose a few more crew members, some unexpectedly, and the group continues to splinter even more.

Then we have the AIs Remus, Romulus, and Braun trapped in the Martian construct, which is replaying out millions of years of history for them. Through these chapters, we learn how Martian society arose and about the alien Travelers that appeared. A religious cult arose to worship the Travelers and eventually became the governing body of Martian society. The AI brothers also learn how Martian society fell.

While I found those chapters interesting, I was worried that the story would take too much of turn towards magic or something spiritual that couldn’t be explained. I’ve really enjoyed the science base for much of this trilogy and a little of the unknown goes a long way. For the most part, now that I know the ending, I feel the author kept things grounded and that while there are some things beyond human knowledge at play here, most of the unexplained could be broken down by science eventually.

The end comes to a crescendo as three main points have to be resolved to not only save the Mars mission but also Earth. The last quarter of the book was difficult to put down (someone has to eat at some point!) and I felt the ending was quite satisfying. Remus, Romulus, and Braun are all trapped in the Construct and the big ship that brought the crew to Mars can’t make it home without an AI. There’s also a lone killbot on the surface of Mars that the ground crew have to deal with. Finally, all of humanity is concerned that there will be yet another Pulse that will wipe out what remains of Earth’s human society. It was quite the thing to see how the author brought it all together. Definitely a worthy trilogy!

What I Liked: Martian ruins; the AIs get to experience Martian history; Cpt. Vodevski has a tough job all around; Marshal and Harrison continue the bromance; Dr. Kubba’s character arc for the trilogy was a surprise;  killbots!; a very satisfying ending.

What I Disliked: Nothing – thoroughly enjoyable!

Waking Titan by Dylan James Quarles

QuarlesWakingTitanWhere I Got It: Kindle Unlimited

Publisher: Dylan James Quarles (2013)

Length: 260 pages

Series: Book 2 The Ruins of Mars

Author’s Page

 

This book picks up right where Book 1 (The Ruins of Mars) left off. The crew has many questions about the statues they discovered. Braun is mesmerized by the chamber and other readings he is picking up. Meanwhile, a crew member has an unexpected secret that could damage the dynamic of the crew and their mission. Remus and Romulus continue to explore the Construct, learning more about the ancient Martians.

I really enjoyed Book 1 and Book 2 does not disappoint. In fact, I enjoyed it even more. First, the ladies have many more responsibilities and page time in this book than in Book 1. It’s good to see the author taking advantage of these characters he took the time to create. Second, we finally have some death going on in this installment. That definitely added weight to the story. Now it’s that much more important to me as the reader that at least some of my heroes make it out of this adventure in tact.

The mystery definitely gets bigger. First, the statues found in the underground chamber clearly depict two kinds of beings. Since Remus and Romulus are still in the Construct (a kind of full sensory recording of Martian history that only they currently have access to), we readers know who the native Martians are and who the technologically advanced visitors are. But archaeologist Harrison Assad and the rest don’t know and can only speculate. In Book 1, they did some ground-penetrating radar and other scans, so they know there must be a way past this statue chamber into the larger underground complex. That becomes their main focus.

Meanwhile, Braun, the space ship’s AI, has become fascinated with the statue chamber. There are readings there that he can’t explain because he doesn’t have anything to compare them to. The senior officers of the expedition have the ability to override Braun’s internal orders, and one of those officers does just that. Unfortunately, this causes Braun some woe and some damage and that might explain, in part, some of his actions later on. These conflicting readings and orders have profound effects on Braun that no one anticipated.

The crew is starting to splinter apart as personal agendas and outside forces exert their influences. One of the crew members definitely has personal gain and prestige on her mind and that adds to negativity floating about in the crew quarters. Meanwhile, things are afoot back home on Earth. The politicians back home want to stay in charge of the mission, which is becoming more and more difficult as the crew make decisions that fit the circumstances and not necessarily their orders. And then this solar-system wide event happens that disrupts everything. Watching how both Earth and the Mars crew bounce back from that was quite entertaining.

This was an excellent read. There’s plenty going on and the characters are well developed. It was great to see that the ladies weren’t shelved and ignored as with Book 1. Definitely ready to jump into Book 3!

What I Liked: Mars!; plenty of mysteries for our crew to solve; Remus and Romulus are still in the Construct; there’s a bit of death and that adds weight to the story; politics are playing havoc; the solar-system wide event;  ready for Book 3!

What I Disliked: Nothing – thoroughly enjoyable!

 

The Policeman by Drew Avera

AveraThePolicemanWhere I Got It: Kindle Unlimited

Publisher: Drew Alexander Avera (2014)

Length: 27 pages

Series: A Short Story Of The Dead Planet Series

Author’s Page

Set on a future Mars, Serus Blackwell is a Policeman working for the Agency in the city of Archea. The Policemen are often assigned by the Syndicate, a ruling class of business owners, to assassinate people who break the rules or pose obstacles to the Syndicate’s goals.

Thom, a ruddy-cheeked redhead, is still in training. Serus has taken him under his wing and plans to give him a good chance at becoming a Policeman. Their current assignment is a businesswoman, Mira Taggert, who has been embezzling funds in order to secure her won wealth. The Syndicate doesn’t take kindly to this.

This short story has some cool tech but not as much as I expected. The Policemen have their fancy gauntlets that are wired into their nerves and fire a devastating laser. That was pretty cool. However, the city itself comes off as a bit rundown and shabby. Perhaps this was intended.

Serus himself is an interesting character. He has some inner conflicts going on. His deep need to still be human on some level conflicts with the Policeman training and brainwashing. That constant internal fight has left him a little gaunt, a little ragged. He comes off as a tortured fellow that you just want to make a cup of tea and ask him to have sit down.

In this little tale, we learn that the Policemen can indeed be hurt. I found this bit of human frailty both exciting and amusing. After all, the Policemen are kind of sanctioned bullies. So it’s good to see that sometimes the targets can get in some good hits. If you’re thinking about checking out the series, this is a good intro. The ebook version contains a lengthy excerpt from Book 1, Exodus.

What I Liked: The gauntlet; Serus’s inner torment; Thom’s still got a conscious; the targets can sometimes deal out damage to the Policemen; the setting of a future Mars.

What I Disliked: I wanted a bit more tech.

The Ruins of Mars by Dylan James Quarles

QuarlesTheRuinsOfMarsWhere I Got It: Own it

Publisher: Dylan James Quarles (2013)

Length: 232 pages

Series: Book 1 The Ruins of Mars

Author’s Page

Set in a not too distant future, mankind is running out of resources. Mars is starting to look like a better and better bet for terraforming and the future of mankind. Two AIs, Romulus and Remus, are sent out to scan and map Mars from orbit. However, they make an unexpected discovery, one that fires the need to send a manned mission to Mars sooner rather than later.

This was a really enjoyable scifi adventure. Even though it has a few issues, I just thoroughly reveled in it. The pacing is really great, keeping the plot moving forward at all times. There’s a ton of interesting characters, and from so many walks of life (different ethnicities, sexual orientation, etc.). The major plot points were riveting – exploration on Mars, humanity’s dwindling resources at home, the huge, big mystery found on Mars. Then there is all the awesome tech. Yeah, you heard me. The author does a most excellent job of integrating futuristic tech into the story seamlessly.

So let’s get my few criticisms out of the way to make run for me to gush over how much I enjoyed this novel. First, the ladies. None are major characters and none are plot central for more than a glancing moment at a time. The men get to make all the decisions and have all the adventures. In fact, for the first third of the book, the only female characters are an AI named Alexandria and someone’s mum on vidphone conversation. Finally, about halfway through, there’s several more ladies tossed in and they are all highly qualified folks, so I had high hopes that some of them would have plot-central roles in the second half of the book. Alas, they all quickly fall into the background and are there to provide comfort and care as needed. So, obviously, that was my biggest disappointment with the book especially since they each held potential – each has their own personality and background. Honestly, the author knows how to write female characters, so I’m not sure why he underutilized them so extremely in this first book.

The rest of my criticisms are all minor and can be lumped together. There appeared to be little to no cross training among the personnel heading off to Mars, which struck me as odd. Apparently the Mars astronaut suits don’t have built in safety systems and become completely useless if the suit loses contact with the governing AI – again this seemed odd. Redundancy equals safety in outer space, after all. There’s a few other minor things like that, but you get the point.

Now, even with those flaws, this was a hell of a ride. The constant sense of anticipation and mystery were excellent. I was never bored with this book, never rushing ahead because I found this character or that scene boring. The timeline starts in 2044 and then jumps ahead to 2048 and then back and forth a little, showing how the manned mission got pulled together. I thought this was well done and I didn’t find it confusing at all. The chapters and subchapters are nicely time stamped to keep you all straight.

The tech is awesome. I love all the 3D imaging and various surfaces that can be used as touch sensitive computer screens. Then there’s the AIs. Oh yeah. Nicely done indeed! I really liked that there were various types of AIs created for different purposes and having different limitations and skill sets. This of course gave them individual personalities. First, there are the brothers Remus and Romulus who are each embodied in their own unmanned space satellite. They were created to go out and scan Mars, looking for and analyzing water and mineral sources. Alexandria is a kind of chatty world-wide info AI that can be accessed by most humans. Copernicus works with the Mars Project and the related agencies, like NASA. Donovan is the AI for the CIA (and he is just a tad spooky). The author also added in genetically modified food crops to be grown on Mars and also gene manipulation for the Mars astronauts to give them greater tolerances to extreme conditions. I felt that all the tech was plausible and well used in the story.

The caste is large but not unwieldy. It was great to see that the mission to Mars was a world effort. Tatyana Vodevski, Harrison Raheem Assad, Xao-Xong Liu, YiJay, Aguilar, Ralph Marshall, Vivianna Calise, Elizabeth Kubba, James Floyd, Julian Thomas, etc. As you can see, lots of personalities to mix it up with. If this ever goes to audiobook, the narrator will have to be skilled in numerous accents.

Then there is the big mystery on Mars discovered by Romulus and Remus. From the title of the book, you might have already guessed that something was found on Mars that no one was expecting. Folks back on Earth have a variety of responses to this. It’s not all flowers and swaying in a large circle. It was great to see such a realistic response from the mass of humanity to this discovery. So after this big discovery is made, the Mars manned mission gets additional funding and is rushed into being. Further discoveries are made and one was beyond what I expected but was excellently executed. Now, I can’t wait to jump into Book 2 to see what else our Mars astronauts stumble across!

 

What I Liked: Plenty of cool, plausible tech; the AIs in all their varieties; never a dull moment; folks from lots of different backgrounds; the big mystery on Mars; yet more mysteries to unravel.

What I Disliked: The ladies are highly underutilized, especially since they were set up so well; a few techy kind of things like why no cross training among the Mars astronauts and the lack of redundant safety systems.

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The Martian by Andy Weir

Claudie snoring
Claudie snoring

Where I Got It: Audiobook Swap Club

Narrator: R. C. Bray

Publisher: Podium Publishing (2013)

Length: 10 hours 53 minutes

Author’s Page

 

Set in a hopefully not too distant future, humans are sending manned missions to Mars. This is the story of one man, Mark Watney, who got to spend more time than he expected on the desolate, deadly planet. Alone.

Watney was part of a team that landed on Mars and erected a habitat. Unfortunately, Mars kicked up a sandstorm that threatened their ability to leave in the future, so the captain ordered an emergency abort to the mission. As they made their way from the habitat through the sandstorm to the escape vessel, equipment came lose, slamming into Watney and sweeping him off into the sandstorm. His vital readings went dead and his crew was forced to abandon his body. Later, safely aboard their orbiting ship, they wept. Watney woke up and took stock of things. And the odds were definitely not in his favor. But through determination, an inability to give up hope, and, dare I say it, boredom, Watney comes up with a plan that may or may not get him off Mars…..eventually.

This has been one of the best hard science fiction novels I have had the pleasure to read in some years. Watney is both a mechanical engineer and a botanist. He’s the guy who fixes stuff when it breaks and also does the plant experiments. He also swears a lot. Right off, I wanted to be his best friend. Watney was easy to connect with and immediately I was sucked into his story and I wanted him to beat all the odds and safely make it home to Earth.

Mars itself was like a character. We got to know her whims and moods, her terrain and climate. She had a myriad of ways she attempted to snuff the puny human known as Mark Watney off the face of the planet. Indeed, there were times Watney outright cursed Mars. I really love it when the setting becomes so integral to the story, shaping the plot. That’s exactly how it went with this tale.

Of course, it’s not just Mars gunning for Watney. Nope. There are a fair share of attempts by that pesky thing called Human Error. It was bound to happen, both on Mars by Watney and back home on Earth by NASA as they attempt to rescue Watney. Honestly, there were so many reasons why Watney would not survive this book, I truly did not know until the very end whether he would or not.

So not only do we have Watney’s tale, but we also have his crew on their ship (which is returning to Earth) and the folks back home at NASA. While this story is primarily Watney’s tale, he’s not alone and we get to see how all these people pull together to attempt to save him, a lone man on a foreign planet. Watching how this giant team of folks struggled to assist Watney was great. There’s a little bit of politicking, but mostly just people starting off with ‘It’s not possible!’ and going to ‘We’ll damn well find a way!’.

While Watney’s struggle is a persistent background throughout, there is also humor. Watney has it and definitely needs it in order to survive the ordeal. Much of the story is told through his daily log entries and often it is just us readers who get to hear Watney’s jokes. The humor lightened the mood but also made the death traps much more serious.

I’ve read that other people found the technical bits a little daunting. This is hard science fiction and the story is told by scientists all around. So, yes, there are plenty of measurements and technical babble here and there as Watney tries to figure out how to survive on Mars. As a biologist, this aspect of the story really gave it weight, letting me know that the author took his own work seriously. I truly liked it as this showed how important science was to the story.

When I finished this book, I literally hugged it.

Narration:  R. C. Bray is a very talented man. He had this perfect voice for Watney, no matter his mood or circumstance. There were a few foreign accents as well (German, Chinese, Indian) and he did all of these smoothly. His female character voices were quite believable. Watney, and others, go through several different emotions throughout this story and Bray did a great job of getting those emotions across to the listener.

What I Liked:  Hard science fiction; Watney in all his moods; a survival story; Mars is integral to the plot and basically a character in and of itself; all the folks doing their best to save Watney; excellent narration; I wanted Watney to make it against all odds but truly didn’t know how the story would end.

What I Disliked:  Nothing – this is a most excellent novel!

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Pirates of Mars by Chris Gerrib

GerribPiratesOfMarsWhere I Got It: Review copy via the author (thanks!).

Publisher: Hadley Rille Books (2014)

Narrator: Gary McKenzie

Length: 7 hours 50 minutes

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This not-so-far-future scifi story has humans settled on Mars and up to nefarious deeds. The pirates of Mars are quite a mixed crew (which was entertaining) who end up kidnapping a volunteer space rescue man (Peter). But his agency doesn’t have the funds to ransom him. Luckily, he has friends who improvise a rescue. Over all, the book had a Wild West feel to it, kind of a nod to the TV series Firefly.

Once the characters were set, there wasn’t much growth. But that was OK as this was a fast-paced action flick. I really liked that none of the women were wall flowers or simply there for pretty scenery. There was a lesbian sex scene which could be a bonus or a distraction depending on your view on sex in books. For me, the sex scene was OK, bringing a slight heat to my cheeks but nothing beyond that.

There’s plenty of fun tech in ships and weapons and protective gear. I don’t need it all to be true to life functional for me to enjoy the story. I was a bit skeptical of the human race being capable of having Mars settled and infested with pirates by 2074. But that was easy to set aside and simply pretend it was 2274 instead.

The storyline was predictable but for a quick action flick, I wasn’t looking for any deep mystery or great twists and turns. Over all, I would give this book a solid 3 out of 5 stars. My biggest issue was with the narration.

Narration: I hate being negative in my reviews, but I have to be honest and say that this was a pretty rough narration. McKenzie had a limited range in voice, so many of the characters blended together. His feminine voice was almost non-existent (which was an issue as about half the cast were ladies). Also, I could occasionally hear the pages being turned as he narrated. There were some words that were pronounced oddly and I had to stop and puzzle out what he meant. Also, his words were not always clear. For example, one of the characters is named Jack. So several times there is this phrased, ‘Jack asked….’. Well, the ‘asked’ part was not enunciated so it often sounded like ‘jackass’ and I thought the characters were joking with each other or insulting each other, when in fact Jack was being inquisitive. I felt that the story was being announced, like in some sports announcer voice, for much of the book. With such a narration, I have to rate the audiobook lower than 3 stars.

What I Liked:  Fun story line; Wild West feel; plenty of ladies who are active members of the story. 

What I Disliked: The narration; storyline was predictable.

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