Sunday, December 10, 2017

Book Review: "Artemis" by Andy Weir

"Artemis" by Andy Weir sadly turns out to be "just meh". If your first book was "The Martian" - by far one of the most entertaining, funny and popular Science Fiction books in the last few years - then any book that follows it was always going to be subjected to harsh scrutiny and unfair comparisons. The two books can not and should not be compared - the Martian was a survival story and Artemis is sort-of, kind-of a heist story. But with that being said, "Artemis" doesn't hold up on its own. It is not necessarily "bad" - but it is remarkably average. The Martian made me a fanboy of Andy Weir and I so very much wanted Artemis to turn out great but alas! Well, it is what it is.

The story takes place in near future at a time when a full fledged city (called Artemis) is established on the Moon. In typical Andy Weir fashion, the city is
described wonderfully, the author paints a perfect picture of the environment, the geo-political situation, the "economics" of a truly international Moon currency and the hardcore science that goes into making a functioning city sustain on the Moon (it is fascinating how he describes the way in which Oxygen is generated and provided for all the city residents for example). Weirdly, things start to go south once all of this setup is done and the actual story starts and the characters are introduced.

The protagonist is "Jasmine Bashara" (or Jazz as she is called by other characters) who - in the most unimaginative way - has the same exact personality as Mark Watney from the Martian - but with a vocabulary of a horny teenage boy. She is smart and creative yes - but only when faced with certain death, in all other cases she just comes across as a lazy person hellbent on finding easy ways to make money. I know these are sort of the unwritten must-have traits for the protagonist of your heist story, but here, it just makes Jazz cringeworthy to be honest. There are a handful of other characters - no one stands out particularly.

Andy Weir seems to go out of his way to ensure his characters are of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds - which is good. Jazz is a Saudi National for example. Story has a gay person playing a very important role, characters are from different nationalities and religions. But the thing is, all characters speak and interact with each other as though they are all American (and we have been told explicitly that they are not). Maybe I am being too much critical, but all of this just comes across as the author showcasing diversity for diversity's sake.

Anyhoo, with all of this said and done, Artemis is not a bad book - just not a good one. Its ok. You will be entertained in parts, kind of frustrated in parts - but overall it is "fine". 3/5 from me.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Book Review: "All These Worlds, Bobiverse #3" by Dennis Taylor

Bobiverse #3 - "All These Worlds" - ends the Bobiverse trilogy with a whimpering bang. Granted it ties up all the loose ends and gives closure to the most important plot-lines, but it all feels a bit cursory and a bit rushed. The book isn't really what it could have been I felt.

The first two books had introduced a multitude of jaw-dropping science fiction ideas, had set up about half a dozen different plot-lines involving numerous characters and had also put forth quite a few philosophical, moral and ethical conundrums involving AI, humans and extra terrestrial species. A well-defined, crisp, all-powerful antagonist was also setup nicely. One would expect a great showdown when all of these things finally converged. But alas, the "crescendo" isn't exactly greatly executed.

However, the book does work in a few cases - a couple of plot-lines are ended with a nice heart warming touch, the final space battle is skillfully outlined. But overall it doesn't do justice for being the final book in one of the most amazingly crafted science fiction trilogy.

3/5 for this book from me, but a big thumbs up for the Bobiverse Trilogy as a whole !

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Book Review: "For We Are Many, Bobiverse #2" by Dennis Taylor

Bobiverse #2 - "For We Are Many" is a fine-fitting sequel to the first book. Its fun, its fast and more action packed than its predecessor. But its strengths are also its weaknesses. This book feels very similar to the first one. Since the novelty has worn off by now, it seems kind of repetitive as well. There are hardly any new science fiction ideas introduced.

That being said, the AI characters, the nerdy-dry-sarcastic humor and the overall intrigue and strength of the story is enough to pull it off and not make this a dull read.

Just like the previous one, this book also has no logical end and no cliffhanger - it simply ends - just like that! It makes me think, if instead of the trilogy, there should have been a single book. Well, it is what it is.

All in all, Bobiverse #2 is good - not as good as the first but a decent & fun sequel nonetheless. 4/5 for sure.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Book Review: "We are Legion, Bobiverse #1" by Dennis Taylor

Bobiverse #1 is a fun, fast and enjoyable read. Smart and snarky character voiceovers, some cool science fiction concepts and some entertaining nerd-humor & easter-eggs! Pretty good deal if you ask me. Thanks for the recommendation @Prajwalit !

The author weaves in some of the most believable and at the same time some of the most amazingly farfetched science fiction concepts in this story. The result isn't as bad as it sounds - quite the contrary in fact. The sarcastic and dry humor reminds you of The Martian, the space-operatic scale of the story reminds you of Star Wars and the crisp, fast-paced narrative keeps you on the edge. The protagonist is a full-blown AI (which you can't help but root for) and all the humans are war-mongering idiots bent on destroying the planet and the environment (so not that different than our present situation).

My only gripe with the story - the way the book ends. Rather it does not end at all. It just stops. I understand this is a trilogy and the author would want to keep the readers wanting more. But there is no cliffhanger, no logical break, the book just ends. Its actually kind of annoying and left a bad taste. You have been warned.

All in all, good, fun read - 4/5.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Book Review: "Jaya" by Devdutt Pattanaik

I have seen roughly two types of Mahabharata books - the ones aimed at telling the story and the ones which don't focus on just the storytelling aspect of it but also on analyzing, theorizing and interpreting the Mahabharata text. Obviously the books which fall into the second category are way more interesting than the first ones.

Having said that, I felt that "Jaya" by Devdutt Pattanaik was neither here nor there. This isn't necessarily a bad thing mind you. Its just that, one gets the feeling that the author "holds back" or rather "dials down" on the interpretive aspects and chooses to go down the "tell it as it is" path. Still a damn fine book though, but can't help but wonder if it could have been a great one...

More specifically though, "Jaya" is definitely crisp, to-the-point, fast-paced and yet sufficiently detailed. Some of the footnotes and illustrations are astutely done. My favorite parts of the book are the regional variations & folk retellings of the well-known stories - many of them I had never heard of before. Very interesting.

To sum it up, "Jaya" gets a well deserved 4/5 in my view. 
Reading any book about Mahabharata never gets boring. Reading a good book about Mahabharata, a reader can't ask for much more.