Tag Archives: Book Review

The Maze Runner

Obligatory Disclaimer: The Maze Runner is based on a novel written by my friend James Dashner. I have a policy about reviewing books, which basically says I only write a review if the book is one that I can recommend. Movies, though, I’ll review if I’ve seen it and have something to say.

TheMazeRunnerWith that out of the way…

The Maze Runner (movie) is a pretty good character drama with science-fiction thriller elements in it. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t clear my Threshold of Awesome. 

Why not? Well, because it’s not my kind of story. And here’s where my policy kind of trips me up — I think that The Maze Runner (movie) is a very faithful adaptation of Dashner’s best-selling novel, but the novel itself isn’t really my thing, mostly for stylistic reasons, and now I have to tell you about a book I don’t actually love.

I think that the conceit of the maze itself, in which a tiny community of young men and boys is trapped at the maze’s center, is super-cool and very engaging. The film brings the maze to life in ways that fans of the book will probably love, and though the events of the book are necessarily compressed, the film gets those right, too.

But I don’t love the style of storytelling in which volumes of new information are dropped on the reader or viewer right at the end. Sure, in real life there’s not much foreshadowing for things that are unexpected, but that doesn’t satisfy me in a book or a movie. I want “surprising yet inevitable,” not “whoa, where did THAT come from?” I like the final twists and reveals to be easily explained in one or two sentences in which everything comes together, rather than long explanations which raise as many questions an they answer.

I also love settings that fully explore the ramifications of their “what ifs,” and The Maze Runner doesn’t really do that. There’s a little bit of a Lord of the Flies feel to the glade in the center of the maze, but the glade is nothing like what I imagine an all-boy subsistence community to be like, especially not with the arrival of a girl.

But hey, I had the same problem with The Hunger Games, and those books and films have entertained a lot of people. Your mileage may vary, and now you have one of the key points of variability.

Shipstar by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven

BowlOfHeavenLast year I read Bowl of Heaven by Benford and Niven, and really enjoyed it. The book had lots going for it, and my biggest complaint was that it ended pretty much in the middle of the story. Sure, local threads got wrapped up, but the overarching crisis had not been resolved.

Shipstar resolves it nicely. Shipstar

This is science fiction like the kind I grew up loving, in which the scale of engineering evokes sense of wonder, and the setting is a critical player in the story being told. The second volume adds of detail the setting and depth to the characters, and of course it finishes the story much more satisfactorily.

Thanks to Writing Excuses I’m pretty interested in the process of creating the things that I like, and I was delighted to find afterwords by both authors. These essays by Benford and Niven were fascinating, not only for what they said (lots of cool things about designing BDOs, B-“Smart”-Os, and eon-spanning civilizations), but for what they didn’t say. In particular, they made no mention to specifics in designing characters. I’m sure that’s something that the authors did, but for some reason that’s not what they thought would interest us in the essays.

I wish they had, because the alien characters were interesting and distinct, and the human characters got a lot deeper with the second volume. I’d love to know what went into making that happen.

At the end of Bowl of Heaven I was pretty sure I knew what Shipstar‘s big reveal was going to be. I got the reveal right, but it wasn’t the big one. I’m quite happy to have been mostly wrong. Shipstar had a bunch of new things in it (something to shop for in a new book, obviously,) and I found the reveals very satisfactory, right down to the surprising-yet-inevitable bits.

Mugging Leprechauns Before Bed

I was in a terrible mood yesterday. Mostly it was a bad mental health day, which is sad because it was also our 21st wedding anniversary, but Sandra and I managed to have a nice day in spite of my metabolically induced crushing despair.

Right before bed I decided to do some reading, and I started back in on my brother Randy’s book, Mugging Leprechauns is Totally Legal.

I fell asleep with a smile on my face. That book is like magic.

The Martian, by Andy Weir

I picked up The Martian on the strength of Annalee Newitz‘s review of it on io9, and realized after reading the excerpt that the author, Andy Weir, was a webcartoonist at one point (Casey & Andy, back to haunt him!), and also happened to be an old friend of Sandra’s.

Look, I’m not in the habit of reading books just because they were written by an ex-webtooningfriend-of-a-friend , even if the “of-a-friend” friend is my best friend ever. I’m in the habit of reading books that I think I’ll like, and based on the excerpt I was pretty sure I’d like this one.

Holy crap.

The Martian is, bar none, the best hard science fiction I’ve ever read. I don’t know what Andy Weir’s background is, or who helped him with some of this research, but every bit of science in this book with which I had passing familiarity passed with flying colors. The pieces I wasn’t sure about? Well, Andy sold me on them. The potentially boring bits (exploring the chemistry of hydrazine, for instance, which isn’t at all boring if you have a sense of the energies involved, but I digress) were covered entertainingly, and on the few occasions where I decided to skim I only skimmed for a couple of paragraphs because I could tell a bad thing was going to happen and oh crap I’m so tense and…

Holy crap.

Folks, this is hard science fiction, and it’s a thriller, and it’s brilliant.

What’s it about? Man gets stranded on Mars, lost and left for dead in an emergency mission-abort event. Based on the mission specs, he can probably survive for six months. The next landing isn’t for years, and it’s 3,000 kilometers away besides.

I plowed through it yesterday, and while the book has some flaws and shortcomings (the first POV-shift from the 1st-person journal format was jarring, and could have been telegraphed better, but I DON’T CARE) none of them are show-stoppers.

It released this week. I’d love to see Andy’s career take off, and I have no doubt that this is the right launch vehicle for it (pun unavoidable.) Buying the book this week is the best way for you to support a new author, and if you like hard science fiction (note: Schlock Mercenary isn’t really hard science fiction, though I’m tickled that some of you call it that)The Martian by Andy Weir delivers the goods.