Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Threefer: Book reviews

It's been a bit since I posted some book reviews, so let's have a few, shall we?

The Maze Runner, by the delightfully named James Dashner

The Maze Runner is pretty weak. And I feel bad since it's an LDS author and the language is clean as super soap and nothing immoral happens in the book and it's a nice harmless read for today's young adults, but boy this is dull.

First, it's a Hunger Games ripoff. Everyone's going to compare it to that, but that's only because it's TRANSPARENTLY A HUNGER GAMES RIPOFF. And I haven't read any of the HG books but I assume they have better writing and better characters than in this book.

Young adult Thomas wakes up in a strange maze world where about 50 other young adult boys live. They have all had their memory erased. They run in a big maze. A girl gets sent to the 'Glade' where they live, and immediately goes into a coma. There is a bit of maze running and some hints at some genuinely interesting mysteries.

All of these mysteries fail to pan out. And the people who erased Thomas' memory erased his personality as well, along with anything that would make him interesting or a compelling or a realistic character to base 3 entire books around. He isn't funny, he isn't cool, he isn't interesting, he isn't well written, he has no interesting thoughts, and he's not attractive. So obviously let's make him the main character. He is mostly a passive observer of events. He comes up with a few ideas, and has one heroic scene thing, but for the most part he runs to and fro looking concerned and wondering if the girl in the coma likes him.

Spoiler: no one knows or cares. The ending arrives and few questions are answered. And, apparently - and I'm completely serious here - one of the very main characters apparently died and I didn't even notice it. I'm on the 2nd book (don't ask) and said character isn't in the book at all, and no one has even mentioned that he isn't there anymore. So either he died off-screen with no mention at all or he died onscreen but it was so poorly written that it barely made the slightest impact.

I read this because there's a movie version coming out in September that is getting terrible advance reviews. I did these things because I enjoy tormenting myself, apparently.

On a side note, books like this make me mad that I never wrote a book. Other than not having any ability to write dialogue that doesn't sound like it comes out of a late 90s Riesen commercial (look it up - they're painful) and having no ideas whatsoever for any interesting plots, my big holdup was 'why write a book if you can't write the BEST book'? Now I wish I'd just rehashed a popular YA fiction series and cashed in while the cashing in was good. Even I could have done better than The Maze Runner.


Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

I read this because it's the sequel to The Shining - the only Stephen King book I've ever enjoyed. This book isn't a) scary b) good c) anything like The Shining, though, so it was pretty much a bust as far as sequels to The Shining go. It's also, like everything SK has ever produced, hopelessly over-written. Why use one paragraph to describe something unimportant when you can use 17??

Dan Torrence is all grown up and is an alcoholic. A young girl named Abra can communicate with him telepathically. They meet on page 1800 of like 2000. (This felt like an insanely long book since literally not a single interesting thing happens from pages 10-one million.) There is a group of vampire-like people who are searching for Abra because if you kill telepathic kids, they give off 'steam' that said vampire-like people ingest and it makes them young.

All of the vampire characters are annoying and terrible. Dan is OK but you think his alcoholism has a point but it doesn't. It doesn't come into play at all. He quits drinking on like page 200 and never drinks again. Some insane coincidences occur but never pay off. i.e. a guy in Dan's AA group is Abra's pediatrician. He knows both Dan and Abra are telepathic and gifted with paranormal stuff. But he never introduces them ever. They meet in a completely different way. So what was the point of this pediatrician?

There are one or two sort of clever things in here about how the telepathy works (I liked a scene where Abra was able to write messages on Dan's blackboard from many miles away) and the ending was pretty OK in a high level kind of way. Like, I like the plan Dan came up with to kill the vampires. But meh.


The Martian by first-time novelist Andy Weir

I saved the best for last; this is the best book I've read in years. It's hilarious. I couldn't put it down. The main character is brilliant. The supporting characters are a little weak but since the main character is 95% of the book it's fine. It's about an astronaut who gets accidentally left on Mars because his team thinks he died in an accident. Turns out he survived. The entire book is about him and NASA trying to get him off of Mars. Lots of language, unfortunately, but everything else about this book is perfect. It's very heavy on scientific talk but it all sounds pretty accurate; the author reportedly spent over 3 years researching this book, and it shows.

It's not a comedy officially but it is laugh out loud funny. The main character is a riot. The plot moves quickly - much is going on. You're rooting for this guy from the first few pages of the book. It immediately hooks you and you stay hooked because the dialogue is so great. Thematically I guess it would be considered sci fi but it feels very realistic and is set in the very near future, so don't shy away if you're averse to sci fi...

It's been optioned into a movie to be directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, who is 100% the wrong casting and will utterly ruin this movie, plus I hate Matt Damon. Plus, the entire gist of this is that it's a guy's journal log entries. Many things happen, but they're kind of not the point. His stream of consciousness is the star. So unless you want to film 2 hours of an astronaut typing up journal entries, 99% of the charm of this book will not translate well to film.


More to come! My constant absorption of odd books continues apace...