Saturday, April 21, 2018

Book Review - Artemis

With the wild success of Andy Weir's first book, The Martian, it was no surprise that he would write another book and it was even less of a surprise that people clamored for their copies of his follow up novel Artemis. I was intrigued to read his next offering but I lagged the rabid fans and am 'finally' reading Artemis about 6 months after release.

For readers comparing Artemis to The Martian, they will find some similarities and some differences. Weir maintained the snarky, sarcastic style and wit of his main character along with plenty of scientific explanation and information throughout the story. He also works to maintain a balance of action and suspense. The main differences come in terms of the story structure and plot flow. As I was reading the novel, part of me kept wanting to compare it with the plot of The Martian and by doing this I found myself discounting Artemis. Once I separated the plot of the two novels and only compared them in terms of style and tone, I gave Artemis a fairer shake.

Rather than spending a "man versus nature" story of Astronaut Watney stranded on Mars trying to survive, we have a "man (woman) vs. man" novel. Our main character, Jazz Bashara, lives in the populated moon city of Artemis. And Artemis should certainly be classified a city rather than a "space station" or "moon base." The later terms would evoke thoughts of space shuttle or space station missions of recent years where human populations are in the single- or low double-digit values. Artemis is a city of 2000 people with a bustling economy and many human dymanics. Jazz works as a porter, delivering goods to various portions of the city but also using her legitimate job as the perfect cover for her more lucrative job as a smuggler of contraband goods. Thus, the human interactions become critical to the plot in a way that seldom happened in The Martian.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Books Read in 2018

For the past few years (2017, 20162015, 2014, 20132012, 2011, 2010, 2009) I've had a goal to read and review a bunch of books over the course of each year.

My goal had been to average a book per week and end up with 50 books read and reviewed at the end of the year. I usually don't include smaller books (early middle grade, picture books, etc) unless I feel really strongly about them. For the past couple of years I've dropped well below my 50 and only ended up reviewing 14 books last year (though I did read more than that). I don't know if I'll get back to the ~50 range, but we'll see what I can do. Wish me luck.

  1. Cloud Atlas
  2. Artemis

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Game Review - Ice Cool

Ice Cool is a fun lightweight game with great table presence. It’s accessible for younger players while still fun and challenging for adults. It quickly gained appeal and won many awards including the Kinderspiel award for 2016 (children’s game of the year in Germany).

Thematically the game is about a bunch of penguins in their icy school. The game is played over several rounds. Each round, one player takes the role of “hall monitor” trying to catch the other players who are rushing around the halls (skipping class *grin*) trying to grab some fish to snack on. The round continues either until the hall monitor has successfully caught each other player or until one student has successfully grabbed all their fish.

This is a dexterity game where each player “flicks” their penguin to move around the school. The penguins are plastic pieces with a rounded, weighted bottom. They reminded me a little of the Weebles toys from the 70s (“weebles wobble but they won’t fall down”). The school is built from numerous boxes that interlock to form several rooms with doorways. A player then flicks their penguin to try and get it to move through doorways around the school. If the student penguin moves through a doorway with one of their fish tokens over the door, they collect a fish card. If the hall monitor penguin touches a student penguin (or if a student runs into the hall monitor) then the student hands the hall monitor their “student id” card. At the end of the round, the hall monitor receives fish cards based on the number of student ids they collected. After each player has had a turn to be the hall monitor, everyone counts the number of fish they’ve collected to determine the winner.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Book Review - Cloud Atlas

I saw the trailers for the movie Cloud Atlas a few years back but never saw the film. In 2016 I read The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell and found it to be intriguing and engaging. It wasn't my favorite book of the year and I had some problems with it but I generally enjoyed it enough to be willing to give Mitchell's work some additional attention in the future. Cloud Atlas was written about a decade before Bone Clocks and someone mentioned to me that even though they can't be necessarily thought of as a "series" in terms of plot or the one being a sequel to another, they are related in terms of some of the structure (and even allusions to theme and character). So, I decided to give Cloud Atlas a whirl.

One of the first things a reader should know going into Cloud Atlas is that it is an ambitious read and one that will potentially frustrate and confuse while working through the entire novel. It's not that it's a difficult novel but rather it's that Mitchell has built the novel as a structure of 6 different novellas and most of those novellas are broken into two parts. Often the break point for the novellas happen in undesirable (for the reader) locations. In fact, the first novella ends mid-sentence. Of course, this is intentional on the part of the author and works to put the reader off balance. It certainly works but unfortunately (at least for me), the effect of being thrown off balance wasn't entirely beneficial to my approval of the book as a whole.

Taken on their own merit, the individual novellas/narratives aren't anything amazing. To a certain degree the stories felt like somewhat expected tropes for their given setting/genre. Don't get me wrong, I did find some creative elements and slight twists that kept the stories interesting but overall, I didn't find them particularly remarkable. The main accolade I can mention with regards to the individual stories is that it showcases Mitchell's ability to write stories in different voices and in different tones/genres/eras. Admittedly I am not scholarly enough to analyze his accuracy of historic vocabulary, spelling, mannerisms or racial/social diction, etc. nor did I do an analysis of his consistency of usage in the spelling and grammatical differences he employs. I can say that I found his use of vocabulary and diction to be generally believable as coming from the characters he created in the world he presented. I can say that I had an easier time with the archaic words and phrases from the historic sections than with the modified language in the futuristic sections. However, I did find some of the language to be distracting and annoying at times.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Theatre Review -- Bright Star (Musical) -- 2018 tour

I first learned of Bright Star when I read through the Tony nominees back in 2016. All the hype was surrounding Hamilton at the time but when I listened to the music from both shows I found that I enjoyed them both but I was drawn more to Bright Star. The soundtrack was infectious and fun and the story appealed to me. As 2016 closed out, Hamilton became the sensation and Bright Star faded from view. I thought very little about it until the summer of 2016 when I was surprised to learn that a local Utah Theatre would be welcoming Bright Star as part of its National Tour. I was naturally excited and swooped up a pair of tickets as soon as they were available.

(NOTE: If you're in Utah when I post this, you've got a little less than a week to see the show at Pioneer Theatre. The tour will continue through the Spring and Summer ending (appropriately?) in North Carolina in June. For tour dates, click here.)

Bright Star is a musical about love, loss, family, traditions, pain, hope and the nature of humanity. It's set in North Carolina with two storylines, one set in the 1920s and the other in the 1940s. The music is in a fun bluegrass style featuring a small "orchestra" sawing away on violin, banjo, mandolin, guitar, bass, accordion, cello, piano and drums. The instruments (except for the drums) are featured onstage in a wooden cabin constructed with partial walls and on a moveable bass so the band can move around throughout the scenes and bring extra energy and emotion to moments in the play.

The show focuses on the primary female lead Alice and shows moments of her life in the 20s and 40s. We meet her parents and the male love interest Jimmy Ray (along with his father). In the 1940s we follow the other male lead Billy as he works to figure out his life now that he's back from the war.