Book Reviews

“The Martian” and other out-of-this-world fiction

My childhood ambition was to be an astronaut and travel to Mars.  Plans changed and I became a teacher instead, but it’s been fun to see Mars so much in the news recently and also in some very creative fiction. I want to share about three favorites, in chronological order.

First, “The Martian.” What fun! The story occurs sometime in the not too distant future. NASA has sent previous missions to Mars and this team is supposed to spend lengthy time on the red planet. However, a violent storm threatens to tip over their spaceship and they have to get out in a hurry, leaving behind a crewmate, Mark Watney, who they believe to be dead. After they leave, Mark wakes up alone on Mars with no way to phone home. The rest of the movie is reminiscent of “Apollo 13” as Mark tries to survive and NASA discovers his existence and works out what to do next. Naturally, things go wrong, and it is very exciting.

The MartianBefore watching the movie I read the book by Andy Weir, which was very technical in regards to the science. Weir was meticulous in his research and everything is quite believable. The book is pretty geeky. The writers of the screenplay were forced to leave out a lot of the technical stuff and as a result there appear to be some holes and shaky premises, but in the book the premises are solid. The movie also left out entire crisis’s that are detailed in the book. I think the movie is better – they left out the right stuff and they left in the right stuff, including the humor. The book reads like the highly detailed geeky research that went into making the movie, not that I didn’t enjoy it immensely.

“The Martian” is rated PG-13, which I think is appropriate, but in case someone is sensitive to that I wanted to explain. There is a scene at the beginning where Mark Watney has to perform surgery on himself and it is very bloody. I don’t like blood, so I didn’t watch for a couple minutes. Problem solved. There is a fair amount of swearing, although not nearly so much as there is in the book. I don’t like it, but honestly, if there was any time where swearing was appropriate it might be when you discover you’ve been left behind in outer space! It does occur throughout the movie. If swearing bothers you skip the book, but take a chance on the movie – it’s worth it. The final item for the PG-13 rating is brief nudity. It’s mild and it lasts about a second. I think they put it in just to get the rating.

Saving MarsNow move forward in time. Cidney Swanson has written the 6-book series Saving Mars which is an exciting fast-paced sci-fi adventure for the YA market. Mars has now been colonized, but there was a war with earth and no contact is now allowed between the planets. At regular intervals the Marsians, as they prefer to be called, send raiders to earth to get supplies. It’s a very dangerous trip, not least because earth of the future is ruled by a tyrant who mandates a convoluted system of body-swapping. The heroine, Jessamyn, pilots the ship for the raiding party which includes her brilliant brother Ethan who appears to be somewhere on the autism spectrum. The story has danger and intrigue and plot twists with action so fast it can make your head spin. There is even some light romance. Highly recommended. I loved it and my very bright 10-year-old loved it.

Medieval Mars paperback coverNow go even farther into the future. A thousand years after Mars is colonized comes Travis Perry’s story world of Medieval Mars. Technology finally gets the better of the human race and civilization has collapsed. The inhabitants of Mars have been thrown back into a life that is remeniscient of the medieval days of knights and lords and where technology is so misunderstood that it is considered to be magic. There are even dragons, curtesy of early settlers who bioengineered wings on komodos. Apparently they couldn’t figure out how to make their dragons breathe fire, so they created them to spit acid instead.

Travis Perry invented this world and then invited other authors to write stories for it. The result was Medieval Mars: The Anthology which contains stories about Medieval Mars by nine authors. Stories include Perry’s “The War Between the Mons,” “The Search for Eden” by Mark Venturini and my “Sam and the Dragon.”  Medieval Mars: The Anthology is published by Bear Publications.

Final Cover 1Sam and the Dragon is the story of a boy and his cousin who travel through the wilderness of Mars in search of a dragon who has been eating the family’s goats. The anthology is suitable for YA and up, but Sam and the Dragon is also published separately as a middle-grade (4th-6th grade) chapter book. The stand-alone version includes illustrations by concept artist Phil Wade.

So there’s my favorite Martian fiction. What’s yours?

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Book Review: Footprints on the Ceiling

ds.fotc.cover (2)Footprints on the Ceiling, the latest book from author Dorcas Smucker, is a delight to read, especially on a rainy day, curled up underneath a cozy blanket with something hot to drink. Or a chapter at a time, while waiting for a late school bus. Or when you have an unexpected break in a busy schedule. I read it all these ways, and finished the last bit while sitting in a barn during my son’s horseback riding lesson. It was the perfect read.

In the days of ever abundant “bonnet fiction” (you know, those books with with young and pretty windswept pioneer girls on the covers), this is the real deal. Dorcas Smucker grew up Amish and married into a Mennonite family. She writes about faith and life with her husband and six children in rural Harrisburg, Oregon, but more than anything else, Dorcas is a storyteller. She finds herself in all sorts of humorous situations (orange dots on the ceiling? a Canadian goose escorting a forklift crossing a bridge backwards? cookie dough that just keeps oozing?) and knows just what to do with them. The stories are all true – you can’t make this stuff up!

Interwoven with the humor are tales of life lessons learned, sometimes reluctantly. Dorcas is refreshingly frank and honest about her own struggles as she raises her children to become self-sufficient adults and she draws the reader in with her candor.

Footprints on the Ceiling is the latest in a series of books Dorcas has written about family life, and in this volume, the kids are almost all grown. If you’ve never read any of her other books, you can jump in and start with this one. The book is suitable for anyone, but will especially appeal to moms, aunts, grandmas, sisters or cousins. I’d let my fourth grader read it, but I’m worried that the incident that led to orange dots on the ceiling might give him too many ideas…

As a participant in the blog tour for Footprints, I am giving away one free copy. Add your name to the comments if you’d like to be included. I’ll announce the winner this Friday, so please check back or leave your email address so I can contact you if you win.

Footprints on the Ceiling is available on Amazon or directly from Dorcas for $15 per book, postage included.  You can mail a check to Dorcas Smucker, 31148 Substation Drive, Harrisburg, OR 97446.  US addresses only.  To send a copy to Canada or overseas, email Dorcas at dorcassmucker@gmail.com.  You can also visit her website: http://dorcassmucker.blogspot.com/

And who put the footprints on the ceiling? You’ll just have to read the book to find out!

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