Muse du Jour

My name is Marianne Plumridge. I am an artist of mythic fantasy works and fine art images. I also satisfy my creative muse with sewing, cooking, writing and reading. These are my thoughts and adventures with whichever muse drives me each day. You can find more of my art at www.marianneplumridge.com

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Location: New England, United States

Thursday, December 04, 2014

THE MARTIAN....A Book Review


“I think there was a sense after dad’s (Scott Carpenter, Aurora 7, 1962) flight that we had the wrong type of astronaut going up into space, so it was a coup. They (Chris Kraft and Deke Slayton) built it (the flight program) in accordance with their (own) vision, which had more to do with machines than exploration, and in time, of course, they lost the hearts and minds of the American people.”
     
Kris Stoever (nee Carpenter), Moon Dust, by Andrew Smith, Bloomsbury, UK 2005

THE MARTIAN

by  Andy Weir

CROWN, Random House;
Hardcover; $24.00 US;
ISBN 978-0-8041-3902-1;  
369 pages; 2014; 

Originally self-published, 
in different form, 
as an ebook in 2011.


Reviewed by 
Marianne Plumridge,
December 2014

There’s been a lot said since the end of the Apollo space program that NASA made going to the Moon about as exciting as taking a bus ride to Cleveland, or some such. That so much of the scary side of going into space, the mishaps, the politics, the almost-catastrophic incidents, near misses, personal conflicts and larger-than-life personalities, sometimes flawed, of the astronauts, etcetera were covered up and hidden behind a unified glossy NASA facade of carefully staged strength and heroic demeanour, and aspiring to a perfect flight record. And in spite of that drive for dedication, concentration, and the need for a strictly structured environment, the loss of the outwardly ‘human’ side of the astronauts left the space program appearing somewhat inflexible and humourless, and not something that the public could readily identify with or cosy up to. Or at least for several decades, it did. However, the latest breed of astronauts flying to and from the International Space Station (ISS), seem marginally more relaxed and have a wary sense of fun. One such example is Colonel Chris Hadfield, who played and sung David Bowie’s “Major Tom” on his guitar during his shift on the ISS to a rapt audience back on Earth. He was instantly personable and visual...someone the public could connect with, relate to. It was this persona and attitude that stuck in the back of my mind when I read Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN. Numerous films have dealt with the stranding of a human on Mars (or other worlds) over the past 60-70 years, beginning perhaps with the obvious ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS, bypassing the 1980s campy TOTAL RECALL, including the ambitious millennial duplicity of MISSION TO MARS and RED PLANET, and more recently, portions of the excellent INTERSTELLAR, but none of them quite capture the personal nature or the deepest level of survival that THE MARTIAN does in its bold directness and deceptive simplicity. The vivacity of this book and its protagonist rivals even the best of the comparative Mars stories written in the last century.

THE MARTIAN begins with a freak dust storm that tests the strengths of the Ares 3 mission on Mars six days into its thirty day planet-bound operation and nearly wrecks the launch vehicle. Calling an abort, the Commander herds her six person crew toward their only means of escaping the red planet, the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) and via it to the orbiting mother-ship, Hermes. In the wildly gusting wind and dust, one crew member is skewered by a flying communications antenna and blown away with it. His biomedical readout abruptly flatlines. Commander Lewis searches and searches for his body but ultimately must surrender the bitter loss in favour of saving the rest of her crew. The MAV, barely standing by this stage, launches successfully and reaches Hermes in good time. Unable to go back, NASA orders the ship and crew home.

Back on Mars, amid the silence of the clearing dust and winds, astronaut Mark Watney doesn’t wake up dead. But that’s when his troubles really begin. The self-confessed least important member of the crew, Watney is an engineer with a passion for botany. The first guarantees he can fix almost anything technical that goes wrong, but the second is considered a bit useless on a world that doesn’t have much heat, no air, and less water. The combination of the two, plus a gritty determination not to sit on his backside and just die, and an offbeat sense of humour supply him with an enviable drive to survive. The computers left behind on the HAB, a finite number of supplies, and a bunch of other mechanical marvels, not to mention two hardy rovers and twelve humble potatoes make that happening so much easier. Right? Right? In the ensuing eighteen months alone on a barren planet there are times when Watney feels like a proverbial Sisyphus continuously rolling a huge rock up a mountain called Mars, and then getting pounded by it. His sense of humour is his one saving grace, well aside from his technical knowledge and experience, and his curiosity. He is described by the flight psychologist for the Ares missions as “good natured, usually cheerful, with a great sense of humour”. The more stress he’s put under, the more jokes he cracks to get everyone laughing. Even through the moments of sheer terror he experiences on Mars, Watney’s attitude while dictating his mission logs is a duel between self-deprecating commentator and smart-ass, and funny as all get out. It is a sympathetic realism that the reader can readily identify with. This story is less about ‘Robinson Crusoe on Mars’, and more planetary marooned ‘McGyver’ on Mars.

THE MARTIAN has a snappy, fast paced narrative that hits the ground running from the opening paragraph and barely slows during the race to the climax. There’s a lot of ongoing science and scientific problem-solving, but the engaging personality of the story and protagonist never get bogged down. Some of it is even fun. Watney mostly knows what he is doing and works ideas to answer his needs, but there are the odd moments when even he feels like he’s a three year old unknowingly wielding a lit stick of dynamite...and not realising it until it goes boom. He occasionally gripes that Mars keeps trying to kill him, but Watney just keeps fighting back. There IS a way home, and he’s determined to be in the right place at the right time for that to happen, even if it requires him to cobble together an ad-hoc airtight Winnebago out of two rovers and extra HAB canvas and glue, and drive halfway across Mars to do it. By the time Watney works his first rustic contact with NASA, he’s a bit embarrassed to find that the whole of Earth has finally realised that he is alive after all and has been avidly watching him via satellite ever since. He wonders if there’s a way to go back and edit his daily logs and remove all of the mistakes and embarrassing bits. Meanwhile, he tries to pull his attitude up a bit and become once again the epitome of a NASA-trained ‘astronaut’: upstanding, strong, resilient, and goddamned heroic. Then again, he starts to wonder if contact with NASA is all it’s cracked up to be: there are whole committees suddenly telling him what to do and how to do it in excruciating detail and minutiae. The brief back and forth they have is rather amusing. The narrative segues almost seamlessly between Watney’s monolog and adventures on Mars and the building frenzy back home on Earth as NASA tries to find a way to save him. And even that path is a struggle against time, personalities, rebellious points of view and their owners, leaps of faith, and calamity and contretemps.

Catastrophe strikes silently and Watney is on his own again figuring out his survival in a race against time and a dwindling supply of potatoes. Yet now, he has a plan. It’s just a case of working the details, testing them, retesting them, suck down a deep breath and take that first step off into the unknown. All of his jerry-rigging, food scrounging, rover-prepping, and death-defying changes to materials are done and he is ready get his rescue sorted. But, after it all, on the eve of taking that step, he has to overcome a sudden fear of the next unknown. He asks: what would an Apollo astronaut do? The answer is classic Watney.  

“He’d drink three whiskey sours, drive his corvette to the launchpad, then fly to the moon in a command module smaller than my Rover. Man those guys were cool.”

As hard science science-fiction goes, this has to be one of the most engaging and exciting books about Mars that I have read in a long time. It’s currently being made into a movie with Matt Damon cast as the marooned Mark Watney. I’m really rather looking forward to seeing how it turns out. And if you happen to notice the soundtrack to the movie contains a lot of 70s disco music and snarky references to 70s tv shows, read the book and you’ll know why.



Seriously, this book is a 'keeper'. And I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did.
Cheers,

Marianne

Friday, November 14, 2014

STATION ELEVEN...A Book Review


STATION ELEVEN:
A NOVEL

By Emily St. John Mandel

2014; Alfred A. Knopf; 
Hardcover  
ISBN: 978-0-385-35330-4
333 Pages; USD $24.95

A Book Review by 
Marianne Plumridge - November 2014 



On a snowy winter night in Toronto, a well-loved and celebrated actor dies onstage during his quintessential performance of Shakespeare’s King Lear. A child actress who was close to the actor, witnesses his death while a member of the audience leaps onto the stage to try and save him. As a little-noticed backdrop to this drama, a much greater tragedy begins to unfurl its tendrils all around the world. This single death becomes a catalyst for a number of people, radiating outward in a tangled cause and effect of connectivity. Still touching them decades on into the future, past the ravening clutches of the Georgia Flu which came out of the nether reaches of Russia to kill each of its victims within a few short hours of contact, and into the remnant pockets of civilization that are left.

Jeevan Chaudhary was the man, an EMT, who leapt onto the stage to save a life in vain. During that time, Arthur Leander, actor, died, and Jeevan’s girlfriend callously abandoned him and went home. Jeevan subsequently wanders the snowy, freezing night trying to collect himself in the aftermath…and receives the first of a series of devastating phone calls from a friend who is an emergency room doctor. The friend, who is known to be unflappable in the face dire odds, is panicking over this new bug called the Georgia Flu. The infected are insurmountable and the deaths are piling up. In the last phone call, Jeevan hears his friend coughing and an eerie sense of defeat. An impulsive shopping spree at a late night market lands Jeevan, along with seven trolley loads of food, water and essentials at his invalid brother’s apartment ready to settle in for the duration. He was one of the lucky ones.

Kirsten, the little girl actress from the play, never sees her parents again and she is handed over to the care her older brother while the city begins to panic. Amidst a nightmare of the dying, they eventually walk out of a dead city.

A plane carrying several family and friends to Arthur Leander’s funeral in Toronto is diverted to the Severn Airport and never leaves it again.

The dividing line between ‘before’ and ‘after’ in this story is drawn by a vignette called ‘An Incomplete List’.  It is a litany of perceptions rather than a complete and literal notation of every little thing the human race currently takes for granted…all that is lost to them in their post apocalyptic future. It is enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.

Present time begins again twenty years in the future with the travels of the nomadic Traveling Symphony. The rustic group brings performances of music – “classical, jazz, and orchestral renditions of pre-collapse pop songs”, and Shakespeare’s plays to the isolated towns and encampments in a circuitous annual pilgrimage like the troubadours of centuries past. It is here that the beauty of the author’s world-building really begins. Little Kirsten is now a lead actress in the plays the Symphony performs, and it is through her eyes the reader witnesses the state of survival and the remnant population at large, including loves, losses, discoveries, danger and death along the way. The Symphony returns to an ad hoc town called St Deborah by the Water after a two year absence to pick up two of their company that they were forced to leave behind. The town is mysteriously not the same and the two lost players and their newborn child have disappeared. A religious Prophet of enormous charisma and dangerous deception has taken over the town and sees it as his property, along with any woman or girl that catches his eye. The Symphony flees the town, but not without dire repercussions. Apparently, the Prophet digs graves for those who desert him, escaping the town and his absolute authority. Any who dare to return, do not survive their readymade graves for long.

The narrative is told in rather an abstract way, with flashbacks and the perspectives of other survivors stories interspersed with the dangers facing Kirsten, her friends, and the Symphony as a whole. Every one of them, each tidbit of story is tantalizing and compelling, being woven into a unique tapestry that culminates in several ‘a-ha’ moments for the reader. Some of them I saw coming, some I didn’t. The text is beautifully written and totally evocative, and is a ‘page turner’ of the first order in spite of the abstract nature of its construction.  The ‘Station Eleven’ of the novel’s title is the title of a series of strictly limited comic books created by Arthur Leander’s first wife, Miranda. Kirsten has two issues of the gorgeously rendered painted books and has carried them with her since that long ago fateful night and Arthur’s death. Doctor Eleven is the physicist hero of the books and takes his name from the station where he resides. He lives on a highly advanced space station that looks like a small planetoid. It has deep blue seas and rocky islands linked by bridges, and orange and crimson skies with two moons balancing on the horizon. However, Station Eleven is damaged. A hostile alien force has taken over the Earth and enslaved the population. Doctor Eleven, along with his colleagues and a number of refugees stole the space station and steered it through a black hole a thousand years in the future. In the battle to do so, the satellite’s artificial sky and a number of vital systems controlling the ocean levels were damaged. The moon-sized space station’s surface is so flooded that there are only a few remnant islands and an almost perpetual twilight. By fifteen years of hiding, a portion of the disaffected who have to live hand to mouth beneath the oceans want to go home…returning to Earth: to a hostile occupation force, yes, but also to a real sun and sunlight, real air, ocean and dirt, to a dream of restoration of all that they left behind. Somehow it echoes the longing of some of the real world survivors for what was lost.

Strangely enough, it is these two comic books that form a linkage from what was to what is, as much as Arthur Leander’s death does in the story. STATION ELEVEN has to be about the most beautifully written post-apocalyptic story I’ve ever read. The narration flows marvelously and you hang on tenterhooks to find out what happened to various characters along the way.  A kind of wistfulness about our 21st century culture prevails as a subtext, essaying an uneasy, but gentle undertone that it will not, cannot last.

As a well written, slightly ‘out of the box’ novel of enormous charm, STATION ELEVEN is a refreshingly different take on an ‘end of the world’ scenario. Less about the mass of depraved horrors that the human race can descend to, once the thin veneer of civilization has been stripped away, and more about surviving, and emerging on the other side and finding community again, one way or another. Less about the violence and gun battles that seem to imbue so many other ‘apocalypses’ where humanity has to physically fight to survive, and more about the survivors fight to regain their humanity and find others like them in a nearly totally depopulated world. Think a much nicer version of Stephen King’s THE STAND, with the ‘evil’ lacking supernatural overtones. Two decades out from Georgia Flu, survival means letting the past slide into yet another mythos, and rebuilding again to suit the current circumstances and needs. Fate, chance choice, circumstance, luck, coincidence, fear, courage, despair, drive, need, love, community, and necessity are the building blocks of this story…and it is a VERY worthwhile read. And by the end of the book, you’ll believe, along with Kirsten and the Traveling Symphony players that humanity can be saved….”Because survival is insufficient”. 

This was an entirely enjoyable read and something I will keep on my bookshelf to read again soon.
Cheers,
Marianne

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

IF DINOSAURS LIVED IN MY TOWN....Our New Book

I have been remiss in posting about this, but last year my first ever children's picture book was published. I wrote it, my husband, Bob Eggleton painted all of the dinosaurs, and Cortney Skinner digitally inserted those images into meticulously researched photographic backgrounds. All of this was done in 2007 via Hollan Publishing and we were thoroughly happy with all that we had accomplished with this project. Unfortunately, the original publisher that the book was destined to be published by changed editorial management and a whole lot of books were dropped from their schedule, including ours. For a long time our book was kept on offer in case another publisher wanted to pick it up and publish it and we all kept our fingers crossed. Well, that finally happened last year and the final product was truly worth the wait....


"...Imagine a town where dinosaurs never went extinct. What would you do? Would you frantically run away and hide under your bed? Or, would you have a hamburger-eating contest with a Tyrannosaurus rex; go fishing with a Rhamphorhynchus; or travel through space with a Coelophysis? The possibilities are endless!
Can you guess which dinosaur would be a crossing guard, a babysitter, or a circus star? Presenting enjoyable, quirky scenarios led by lovable but gigantic creatures, readers of all ages will surely be whisked away to a world where a Stegosaurus, Velociraptor, and Leaellynasaura are merely your friendly neighbors. Marianne Plumridge includes insightful facts about your favorite dinos, which complement Bob Eggleton's vivid and imaginative illustrations to create a thrilling experience for kids and parents to enjoy. Prepare to enter a world ruled by dinosaurs and humans alike!"

  • Grade Level: Preschool - 3
  • Hardcover: 56 pages
  • Publisher: Sky Pony Press; 1 edition (November 6, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1626361762
  • ISBN-13: 978-1626361768
  • Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 10 x 0.5 inches 

Our first review was from Publisher's Weekly....

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-62636-176-8

We got a nice mention on this list of dinosaur books for young readers, and sharing space with the ever talented Jane Yolen...
http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865597899/Young-readers-really-dig-dinosaur-books.html?pg=all


Another lovely review....
http://www.ctparent.com/bookshelf/14-01-bookshelf.htm


This is a really cute video review of our book, passed along by our publisher.... This is Liam and he is a self-professed dinosaur expert.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/brilliant_one/11875525686/
 


One of the places where people can buy the book online.... AND read the nice reviews a few people have left us...
http://www.amazon.com/If-Dinosaurs-Lived-My-Town/dp/1626361762/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1396207796&sr=1-1&keywords=if+dinosaurs+lived+in+my+town
 



And if you want to keep up with what's happening with our book, news, reviews and soon-to-be-added downloadable worksheets and coloring-in pages for parents, teachers and librarians, please visit the IF DINOSAURS LIVED IN MY TOWN Facebook page...
https://www.facebook.com/IfDinosaursLivedinMyTown

I hope you enjoy our book as much as we enjoyed creating it. Please feel free to leave anecdotes or comments about our book here or on our Facebook page, or just talk to us about it.
Thanks again for stopping by,
Cheers,
Marianne



Monday, July 18, 2011

If You Lived Here: The Top 30 All Time Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Worlds....nominate now!!




The project, authored and edited by Jeff VanderMeer, is called If You Lived Here: The Top 30 All Time Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Worlds. It's a compendium, of sorts, but also a travel guide to places like Dune, Ring World, Middle Earth, Lankhmar . . . and beyond . . . We've all lived in these places--in imagination if not in fact--and we're all united by our common experiences of them. We wanted to collect the worlds together in one place as both a walk down memory lane and a place to start new dreams. 

Underland Press is reaching out to readers, writers, and booksellers to ask for nominations of worlds to include. They've set up a web form at www.ifyoulivedherebook.com, which takes the nominations and asks respondents to describe what they love about the world. (If things go according to plan, they'll include some of the responses in the book itself.) They're looking for as much community involvement as possible in this project. I've already nominated the three old favourites that I've been reading for decades and still make me feel warm and fuzzy. Many of you will like more recent offerings I haven't even caught up with yet. It will all be welcome. I'm looking forward to reading the book that comes of this survey, to revisit familiar settings and see if I get inspired by newer ones described therein.

To visit the Underland Press website: www.underlandpress.com/

Jeff VanderMeer:  www.jeffvandermeer.com/




Cheers,
Marianne