How do you follow up one of the greatest sci fi debuts in recent years?

Andy Weir’s debut The Martian was originally self published, before going on to be picked up by a major publisher and later turned into a movie starring Matt Damon.

His follow up, Artemis, was released late in 2017.

So how did he approach what could have been a difficult second novel in the shadow of such previous success?

Weir has produced Artemis, which more than stands up as a good novel in its own right and is not overshadowed by its predecessor.

Artemis is set on the moon, in and around the city of that name, the only city on the moon.

The main character, Jazz, is a young woman. But she shares enough personality traits with Mark Watney, the hero of The Martian, to keep things interesting.

Watney was alone on Mars for several hundred pages so he needed a bucket load of personality.

Jazz is not alone, but has enough of Watney’s brand of humour to keep the plot running along while interacting with a host of other characters.

Sample line: “on a scale of one to ‘invade Russia in winter’ how stupid is this plan?.”

The only area I felt The Martian could have been improved was through more descriptive sections around the plot.

Artemis has more descriptive parts than The Martian and this works well.

While The Martian didn’t lend itself to an obvious sequel, Artemis could easily be the first in a series.

Whether this is what Weir has in mind, or not, I have no idea.

Whether he chooses to visit Jazz again or do something else with his next novel, I will certainly be happy to read it.

This is a solid novel, with enough twists and turns to keep you interested. There is enough world building going on for the novel to work in its own logic, without the back story being overbearing.

I had hoped for a knowing reference to The Martian somewhere in the narrative, but didn’t spot one (please use the comments to tell me if there is one I haven’t picked up on).

Expect to see a big Hollywood movie version in the near future.

Advertisements

As usual I have read quite a few books this year.

Here are some highlights of books I read this year:

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham – love this author (The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos are two of my all time favourite sci fi books) and this book, while taking a while to get going, ended up un-put down able. A great exploration of unfounded intolerance, and relevant today as when it was written.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher – which I wrote about before, is a tour de force in modern teen fiction. Better than SE Hinton – and my teenage self is properly upset I have written that statement. Highly recommended.

Archangel by Robert Harris – any novel which can make me interested in post WW2 Russian history must be doing something right. This is a real page turner from the opening right up to its fabulous, if ambiguous, conclusion. Some of Harris other works I have found slow, or the world building more attention grabbing than the plot (Fatherland), but this has it all going on.

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds – in a future where faster than light travel is impossible a house of long living clones travel the galaxy in cycles, spending vast aeons of time in suspended animation, holding reunions every few millennia. The scope of this novel is breathtaking and while it feels like it wanders off from the plot towards the end, maybe the real point of the novel is how even hideous events lose their horror after 17,000 years or so. Up for debate, which only adds to the positive feelings I have towards the book – still deciphering meaning long after reading is always a good sign about a book.

Please feel free to share your views on these books in the comments and also any novels you read this year, either ones published this year or otherwise.

Happy reading in 2018.

JUST about everyone seems to be talking about the HBO smash hit series Game of Thrones and the unfinished novels on which it is based (five published, two more promised by author George R R Martin).

For a couple of years I have found strangers in bars and in offices talking about the latest happenings in Westeros.

Indeed, I have encouraged friends, co –workers, acquaintances and people I have just met to buy the box sets or pick up the books.

Theories abound on who the rightful monarch of Westeros is: Daenerys, Stannis, Joffrey, Renly, Jon Snow, take your pick.

But the more I watch, read and re-read the more I am bugged by something seemingly trivial in the grand scheme of all these theories.

The seasons.

Not as in television seasons, I mean winter and summer which can each last for years at a time. There is no set length of a season and no pattern to the span of seasons.

This is referred to often in the narrative, but it is all a matter of fact. No character questions why, it is just accepted.

What I know about seasons is to do with the tilt of the earth as it spins around the sun. Predictable.

How can a planet as we understand it have unpredictable seasons, wouldn’t an unpredictable spin have made it difficult for life to evolve? I don’t know tonnes on this subject, but from what I remember, it just doesn’t add up.

But then I saw the series and it all made sense, to me at least.

I have read many times the author has told the series producers names the secrets of the books. It is assumed this covers the fate of the characters and who will sit on the Iron Throne at the end of the series.

Perhaps, he has also revealed what the deal is with those odd seasons.

Certainly I watched the credits for the show roll a few times, each time thinking there was something I was missing in them.

Then it struck me.

The maps show curvature, as you would expect from what we know of planets, but it is the wrong way.

Let me say this again: the world containing Westeros and Sothoryos curves the wrong way.

With the attention to detail in the show and the books, something like this cannot be by mistake. And it seems like just the sort of trickery which would appeal to Martin – hiding such a thing in plain sight.

This celestial body is not a planet, but a Dyson sphere – this is where the habitable surface is inside the sphere not outside.

See Babylon Five, which was itself a Dyson cylinder, on a small-scale. Or Relics the episode of Star Trek the Next Generation where a full-scale Dyson sphere featured.

Another telling clue about the seasons is also in the credits, the sun is shown, not that far above the ground and tiny in comparison to how large a sun should be relative to a planet.

Ian M Banks has a variation on the idea of how “planets” function in one of his Culture novels, where there are tiny suns called roll stars which follow irregular paths across the “sky” creating uneven seasons – although in these books the seasons are predictable, due to the superior knowledge of how they work.

The star in the GoT credits reminds me of those little stars in that Banks book and if one understood the route it was following, the seasons would be wholly predictable.

More about those robots

November 16, 2010

The world is changing and what we have seen in sci-fi movies will become reality soon enough.

How many times have we seen on-screen cars which drive themselves?

Well our friends at Google have been experimenting with one on the roads of California.

I have mentioned robots before and how they are set to change our lives for the better – in ways beyond which cars / phones / PCs and the internet have already.

When my solar-powered car will drive me about and I can read or sleep en route I will be a happy man.

Right Google, what about a teleport?

The Rest of the Robots

October 6, 2010

OMG! Please check out this blog and listen to the podcast. I blogged about robots and supermarkets previously and this follows on from that.

What happens when you have an Asimo in your house that can remember EVERYTHING it sees, hears, smells in its internal hard drive and, if you have a cloud version, on a remote server (and several mirror servers)?

What happens if a Government organisation wants access to what this robot has recorded? Will this data be admissible in a court of law – can the robot’s memory be used against you? What you store on your home PC can be, so why would robots be any different?

And how can we be sure our robots aren’t being hacked by criminals to use against us – are we all sure our home PC has never been hacked?

Ryan Calo works at a top US law school and is a robots expert.

One of the key things he says in this podcast is that robots will be the transformative technology of this century.

He refers to how PCs changed lives in the 80s, the internet in the 90s. I would look back to the 19th century and remember the changes cars heralded and also the telephone and light bulb. The rise of the robots is THAT important.

Seriously, the sci fi fear industry shows us what happens when robots go wrong (James Cameron and The Terminator are the most famous and chilling example). As often happens military applications are where technology is developed and robots are the same. Alan Turing is a perfect example here, involved as he was with the development of modern computing and later defined the Turing Test.

I have been speaking about the use of robots for a long time with someone I know well who remains sceptical (I keep telling this person robots would be perfect to do a certain role in their organisation) and this person mentioned it to their boss who agreed with them and said it will never happen.

The blog goes on to discuss the insurance industry which will naturally rise up around robots in every day use. I mentioned this to an actuary I know over a year ago who was going off to see what his company were doing about this. He has not come back to me, which either means his company think I am nuts, or they are well aware and just don’t want to acknowledge it.

There will also be international industry safety standards for robots as there is for all sorts of items you can buy.

Maybe I am wrong about these robots, but I remember when I got my first mobile phone back in 1997 people couldn’t understand what I was doing carrying around this brick everywhere I went.

Just about no one else I knew had one.

One lady (the mother of one of my friends) pointed out I had a post uni McJob rather than a high-flying career, so what was I thinking?

No one got it – yet today every one of those people has a mobile phone they take everywhere they go.

%d bloggers like this: