Saturday, October 31, 2015

Children of the Comet by Donald Moffitt--New Release by Author of the Genesis Quest Series and The Mechanical Sky Series!

Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     I hung on every word he spoke. Suddenly, so suddenly I hardly realized it, maybe like being unable to sleep and suddenly you find it is morning and you open your surprised eyes to greet the day. Maybe like working on your computer for a little while drafting a few e-mails, or letters, or...whatever, look up and suddenly discover three hours have past, and you never knew it.

     I almost felt like I was sitting by a campfire listening to someone telling a story about some legend or myth in the local area. But "his" words, they bore into me, until it seemed to me like I was awake; really awake.

     Yet the the stories he spoke were little stories from various parts of the world, from every culture and era. As the words fell onto my ears, they bored into me, worming their way into my heart, and warming my very being. The "Truth Speaker" was Joseph Campbell speaking about his book, the The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers on public television--about myth and the hero's journey. [2] As Joseph Campbell puts it in the televised show, I was caught by them (these stories and words). [3]

     It was after reading Donald Moffitt's book, Children of the Comet, that Joseph Campbell came to mind, again. I thought about rites of initiation, The Tree of Life, and the hero beginning their hero's journey by being thrust out of their little place of security into an unknown world. Let me share with you why Donald Moffitt's book resonates with me just as Joseph Campbell's stories did. Before we discuss more, here is a short synopsis of Moffitt's book:
Here is a gigantic tree in space; although, this tree
doesn't look exactly like the one described in
Moffitt's story, it is a tree in space. In the story the
tree attaches itself to an ice comet and because
of little gravity and the orbitational pull of the
comet, the tree grows to an astronomical height.
The tree is life for the people of Torris's tribe: their
food, wood for implements, and even spiritual
awakening for their young men in their initiation
into manhood. It is their tree of life. [5]

     As a large comet flies its ordained orbit; on it, a gigantic tree of immense proportions, adapting to life on the comet, grasps the ice, sending its roots down into the frozen orb. A small tribe of people live on this remarkable "world." Life, a daily rugged and hard-fought existence, is made bearable through the tribe's ingenuity and difficult labor.

     Torris, one of the tribe's young men, will soon be ready for initiation into manhood--to become a man, he must climb the monumental tree and have a "vision dream" given to him by the tree, then make the long climb back down to the comet's surface. Torris will then present his dream to the priest.

     Daily life for Torris and his family means a life of very little gravity, frozen air that must be harvested, thawed and captured in a pouch, for later use. All must wear a kind of homemade space suit, stitched and glued together to hold the breathable air. Hunting, also must be done; though in Torris's world it is hunting in the branches of the tree. All hunters must take care, or the prey they hunt could turn the tables on them and quickly the hunter could become the meal.

Just like this artful rendition of Jack-in-the
Beanstalk, Torris and Ning climb towards
the top, all the while facing many dangers.
Perhaps those dangers end up being larger
than expected, but they keep climbing,
     The rites of initiation decree no hunter should help or hinder another, but when Torris begins his climb up the trunk and branches of the tree, he finds more than flutterbeasts and meatbeasts with which he must contend. A mysterious climber keeps to the shadows and trails Torris. While Torris watches for glimpses of the mysterious hunter who follows him, Torris acquiesses to a period of sleep. In the dead of night, the mysterious hunter, sneaks in and steals Torris's supplies.  What the thief doesn't need, he destroys; for this any hunter would be branded for the sacrilegious waste and cast out into space.

     When Torris wakes he is devastated to see his supplies gone, but he immediately starts anew, collecting the things he will need from the tree and crafting new tools. Torris has a second encounter with a hunter, but this time, with a much different result. Torris finds himself suddenly caught and upside down in a snare similar to that of Luke Skywalker in the ice cave on planet Hoth (Star Wars). Oh, yes...the hunter who catches him is a woman! Discovering that the female hunter is not the one who stole from him, they band together to reach the tree's topmost branches--Torris for his dream quest and the female hunter, called Ning, to get food for her family.

     The two hunters will encounter great flutterbeasts, meatbeasts, and fight for their lives as they set their hearts for the top of the tree. Will their quests end abruptly, interrupted, yet again, by the mysterious sacrilegious tracker? Throw into the mix an alien starship, a murder most foul, aliens capturing Torris, bride raids that threaten not only a nearby tree comet but Torris's, as well. With the Earth now dead, will its children survive as Children of the Comet? Or, will the remnants of the human race and other arriving starships end in destruction and a free-for-all grab for survival and dominance?

     As I mentioned, above,Joseph Campbell's work instantly came to mind when I read about the comet and the gigantic world tree growing on it and, of course, Torris's journey to become a man through tribal tribal initiation. I found a short video for you (four minutes), to see what I mean--in Joseph Campbell's own words. [3]


     As Campbell said in the video, "Life is always on the edge of death, always!" And that is where Torris and Ning find themselves. Just as in the synopsis, the two are threatened on every side by flutterbeasts (to avoid being eaten by them), meatbeasts (to catch for food), mysterious trackers who follow the two hunters, a murder that takes place, their, Torris's and Ning's, tribes (bride raids and impending war), and eventually strange aliens in a huge space ship. And remember, even the elements threaten the young people--lack of air (for their homemade space suits), gravity (or the lack of it) in falling from the great tree's branches and even the freezing cold. Indeed, for Torris and Ning, their "Li[ves are] always on the edge of death!"

     This technique that Donald Moffitt uses is nothing short of wonderful. He builds tension as we (the readers) follow Torris as he faces challenges that could change everything, not only for himself, but for his comet tribe and others. We also know that an ultimate challenge awaits Torris in his journey. Moffit makes the whole story exciting and anticipatory right up until the climax, at which point he gently moves to close the book.

     Moffitt's book, Children of the Comet, had me thinking of what I had learned years ago from a college class. We see "the world tree," "rights of initiation" "masks (in the form of space head gear)," "the hero's journey," itself, just to name a few. Also, know that Torris's father is important in the tribe, all on his own as "Facemaker" for the initiates who succeed and come back to the tribe, he markes their faces as a sign of adulthood.

     Lastly, looking at the book cover can tell you a lot about a book if you look closely enough...and think about it. Moffitt's book has a modernistic space helmet and a bow and arrow superimposed, one upon the other. The background looks black, until you look at the edges and see stars and realize that it is outerspace. A rather odd pairing of images, don't you think? One of the approaching spaceships is called, "Celestial Arrow."

     Do you wonder how arrows fit into the story? Also, did you wonder about those images when you first saw the cover of the book. What did you think about the disparate images? If you decide to read this book think about the images as you proceed through the pages.

     I was a bit worried about the book, but only at first, because the book seemed a little slow to develop. I think the opening sections could have been condensed and still provide the atmosphere and setting for the story. I did find Moffitt's style of writing to be eminently readable. It felt comfortable and smooth, with no verbose or overly long sentences or paragraphs. His use of language and word choice is very subtle, but understandable and easy to move through.

     And then, as I read on, I began thinking that Donald Moffitt's story had become for me one of the most innovative and creative stories I've ever read. What a creative mind he had to craft such striking images, and excitement in a story. Without giving more of the plot away, I have to tell you that I found this book to be so rare in its originality, that I've never read another like it.

     Also, in this wonderful book you will find many things to consider besides what we have discussed, today. I especially enjoyed the superb way Moffitt contrasted the roles of women in the different societies and tribes. Really, food for thought! Another consideration is "time." The beginning and end of worlds, and the time given them. One spaceship is named "Time's Beginning." Very apropos as time is a major consideration  throughout the book. (Sorry, no more juicy hints than that.) "Gravity" plays throughout the book as well as the other themes and motifs, as well as being cast out, shunning and rebirth.

     As well as Joseph Campbell, I fell in love with the words of Black Elk of the Oglala Sioux. Joseph Campbell, in his work, spoke of Black Elk and other Indian tribes, their stories and myths. The quote I leave you, here, is very much appropriate as a tie in to today's book. By the way, if you haven't read about Black Elk, or read any of his words, I urge you to do so. Here's the quote:
I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy...but anywhere is the center of the world. [10]
     Very much akin to Torris and his dream quest to the top of the gigantic tree. These holy dreams are messages to be taken to the priest or holy man and deciphered as a guide for life. Here, though, Black Elk is the holy man and he speaks to the people and tells them about the "center of the world." If you are excited enough to read this book, you will understand--no more juicy tidbits about the book--sorry.

     We have covered a lot of material in Donald Moffitt's book, today. I wish we had more time to talk, but we always have next time to cover more exciting reading material. By the way, next time we will be leaving science fiction and taking a trip into history; we will be looking at Richard Brooks' title, The Knight Who Saved England: William Marshal and the French Invasion, 1217." What an amazing true story.

     As I have indicated, above, I really enjoyed Donald Moffitt's new title, Children of the Comet. This book from NetGalley deserves a great rating; so, based on everything I have indicated, above, I rate this book 5 stars. Even with the minor problems with the opening, I believe this wonderful book deserves a great rating.

     Thank you for joining me, today. I sincerely appreciate you reading and considering the material I have provided for you in this post. As always, if you have any comments or questions, please contact me here, or on twitter. Please join me next time as we delve into history with William Marshal and learn how Marshal saved England from the France's invasion.

I hope everyone's Halloween was safe and fun for all.
Until next time...
This flower is a white, with red center Rose of Sharon.[14]

...many happy pages of reading!

My love to you all, my reading friends!


[1] "Children of the Comet." Retrieved 10-18-15.
[2] "The Power of Myth." [Joseph Campbell] Retrieved 10-22-15.
[3] "Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey Abridged." Retrieved 10-20-15.
[4] "Are You Monomythic? Joseph Campbell and the Hero's Journey." [image only from: 06-25-14; the conversation; by craig Batty] Retrieved 10-31-15.

[5] "Mythology: The Stranger the Better." [selphyrthefae] Retreived 10-18-15.
[6] "Jack and the Beanstalk." [by yusef-abonamah] Retrieved 10-29-15.
[7] "NetGally." Retrieved 10-31-15.
[8] "Arrow." Retrieved 10-31-15.
[9] "Creative Thinking." Retrieved 10-31-15.
[10] "The Sunset." Retrieved 10-30-15.
[11] "Black Elk Speaks." [image only] [John G. Neihardt] Retrieved 10-31-15.
[12] "The Knight Who Saved England: William Marshal and the French Invasion, 1217." 
Retrieved 10-31-15.
[13] "Five Shooting Stars." Retrieved 10-31-15.
[14] "White Rose of Sharon Gifts." Retrieved 10-17-15.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Down Town by Jim Butcher and Mark Powers--They Release a Totally New and Original Story!

Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     As a long-time fan of Jim Butcher's "Dresden Files," and Dynamite Publishers, once I learned a brand new original story was available as an advance reading copy (ARC) from NetGalley, my adrenaline surged and I hit the "accept" button as quickly as I could. I downloaded my e-copy to my computer and began reading. I did not stop reading until I finished the book.

     Sometimes books come out and functionally act to extend the main storyline in between series books. In the case of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, "Down Town," falls between White Knight (series book, #9) and Small Favor (series book, #10). [2] Anyone who is a Jim Butcher "Dresden Files," fan will be ecstatic to be able to read a new original story that helps fill out the background of familiar characters, explains mysterious secrets, or just gives the reader explanations about various characters' idiosyncrasies, fears, or foibles. 

     In Down Town, we are reacquainted with old familiar characters, we also get to see a great deal more of Harry Dresden's world. But before I say more about the book, let's take a quick look at the book's synopsis.


     Harry Dresden lives as a wizard--one that advertises in the local newspaper as a wizard-for-hire. Harry and recently acquired apprentice, Molly Carpenter, suddenly find themselves trying to find and stop an unknown monster that has been killing Chicago citizens. Soon, they find themselves dealing not only with Chicago's Karen Murphy of Special Investigations, but also, Gentleman Johnny Marcone and his thugs, as well as a new "baddie" from Chicago's notorious supernatural badlands, "Undertown." They will find themselves at risk as they dare to pass through the portal into Undertown. Will apprentice, Molly, be out of her depth and cause Dresden trouble? But most worrisome is whether or not Harry and Molly will make it out alive. Or, will Gentleman Johnny Marcone cause his own brand of trouble in Undertown? [4]

     Having reviewed a number of graphic novels over the two years that I have been writing posts for this blog, I worked hard to follow what other experts had said were the hallmarks of the graphic novel. Well, that changed, in part, after having read On the Graphic Novel, by Santiago Garcia (to read that post click here.).

     Garcia said that as far as definitions go, it is mostly critics who have created "...a set of formal parameters that unambiguously trace the shape and size of the graphic novel versus other, different kinds of comics." [5] Moreover, Garcia explained that what were mainstream comics in the 1950s changed, in part, due to subsequent audience loss, into a niche market. The result was that scholars and critics suddenly began discrediting the comics that came before by considering "...the graphic instrument for legitimizing comics.[5]

     Here is list of formal parameters (not from Garcia) that many (not all) critics use to define "graphic novel":
  1.  Story Arc: A story with a beginning, middle and end;

 2. Character Development: Does the protagonist grow and change?

 3.  Number of Stories in the Book: Ask, "Is the story episodic in nature?" (With different Issue and Volume numbers--like comics.) Or, "Is the story a complete (one) story with a complete story arc (and the same protagonist and important characters)?"

My copy of Ghoul Goblin by
Jim Butcher/Mark Powers. On
the right is the hard cover with
iridescent green print. On the left
is the book's dust cover construct-
ed of  glossy, full color paper.[8]
4.  Publication Covers: Comic books tend to have inexpensive paper while graphic novels usually have a type of cardstock, or even a hard cover. This "requirement" does not always apply since we have seen collections of older comics with hardbound covers. The other issue is with e-books. Since e-books have no covers or paper pages, none of the physical parameters apply;

5.  Paper Quality:Episodic publications (comic books) tend to be published on pulp paper. Graphic novels are usually published on higher quality paper--sometimes, heavy, textured, or glossy. Again, paper quality is not dispositive because some episodic publications have been collected and published on good paper;

This is a photo of my copy of Ghoul
 by Jim Butcher and Mark
Powers. A well-constructed book by
Dynamite Publishers. To see the com-
plete book review of War Cry, from
which this photo is taken,click here.[8]
6. How is the Publication Bound? 
  Episodic publications tend to be stapled, or in the case of collections they can have glued bindings or stitched and glued bindings. Graphic novels are usually bound the way books are bound (but not all). 

Here's a photo of the book with the pages all falling out of it.
I love my books and handle them gently--I never break a
spine or fold pages to mark my place! This book literally
fell apart as I read it. To see the full review of this
book, please click here. [9]

        I have had some bindings on a few of my graphic novels in my personal collection that are coming unglued. One publisher, however, reached an all-time low--they used such poor glue to bind their graphic novel, that all the pages literally fell out even before I finished reading the book for the first time. 

[To find out which graphic novel this is, click here.]; 

7. What is the size of the book? In the U.S., comic books are generally 6 5/8 x 10 1/4 (Trade paperbacks: 5.32" x 8.51", and Digests: from 5 3/8" to 5 1/2" x 7 1/2" to 8 3/8").

8. How many pages are in the book? Early comic books of the 1940s had about 64-96 pages where modernly, comics total about 32 pages (22 for the comics and 10 for advertising). Graphic novels, on the other hand, are about three times the size of a comic book with a minimum of 100 pages. Many graphic novels I've seen, have been closer to 150-165 pages.


9. Advertising: Does the publication contain any advertising? If a comic book, then, obviously, the answer is yes. Usually a minimum of ten pages of ads. If a graphic novel, the answer is no. 

10. Price: Early comic books would cost about $.10 and modernly might run you $4.00, more or less. Graphic novels, on the other hand, can start at about $9.99 and run to $25.00 (or more if they are large or deluxe gift editions, or personally signed by the author). [10]


     This is the million dollar question that can trump most of the above parameters for distinguishing a comic from a graphic novel. If the publication is openly advertised as a graphic novel this can go a long way in helping to determining whether or not it is a graphic novel. If, however, the author/publishers advertise the publication as comics, the question is generally easy to determine.So, intent of the author/publishers and how it is promoted or advertised may be dispositive.

     Since we've just been talking about whether or not a publication can be determined to be a comic or a graphic novel given a set of formal parameters with which to judge such a publication, let's just jump right in and talk about Jim Butcher's new book. Let's start with, "Is it a comic or graphic novel?"

     Answers to the questions posed just above: (1) Yes, there seems to be a beginning, middle, and end to the story; (2) Harry always seems to learn something and grow more into his wizardry powers. Here, Harry learned to trust his apprentice, Molly, that she would be competent to act. He also learned that sometimes enemies can help out in a mutually dangerous situation; sometimes, Harry gets distracted, so he learned that he needs to try harder to stay on the path.

This is one of the six issues pub-
lished episodically as a comic
book. This issue is #3 of Down
. [13]
     (3) The six parts or chapters were originally published serially with issues numbered 1, 2 3, etc.; no volume numbers were attached as in comics. Serial publication usually indicates the publication is a comic. Even so, when put together, the chapters made one entire story, flowing seamlessly from one chapter to the next. In fact, if I hadn't learned that the chapters in the book were previously published individually, I would never have known it because of how smooth the transitions were. So, the answer to this issue is "I'm not sure."

     (4) I am reviewing this book as an e-book edition through NetGalley; because it is not a physical book, with a cover, the issue is moot for this book review. However, I did purchase the "Down Town" hardcover book for myself. The book has a beautiful glossy dust cover. (5) Again, an e-book has no physical pages, so this issue is also moot for this book review. Just to let you know, however, the physical book's inner pages appear to be semi-glossy and are just beautiful to hold and turn. (6) Since e-books have no (physical) cover, you can not have a binding; this issue is also moot. My hardcover edition is bound perfectly; I cannot tell if it is stitched and glued or just glued, but however they did it, it is sturdy and no pages are in danger of falling out.

     (7) An e-book has no physical dimensions--in terms of actual book size. The hardcover edition, however, as given by the publishers, are: 6.8 x 0.5 x 10.2 inches. (8) The publishers have given the number of pages as 144. This is certainly within the page range for this graphic novel. 

     (9) Since I am reviewing an e-book, advertising doesn't come in to play. My edition of my purchased "Down Town," likewise, has no advertising, whatsoever. (10) Price. Before the six episodic editions were put together, they cost $1.99 each from Amazon. Again, though I am not reviewing the individual episodes, I am reviewing the whole book, Down Town. I received my copy for free through NetGalley for providing an honest review, and not obligated to give a positive review. People purchasing the e-book, from Amazon, for example, will pay (as of today's date) $14.74; the hardcover will run $18.62 (again, as of today's date).       
     We have finally come to the big question for this book. It was on October 9, 2014 that Dynamite Entertainment announced that Jim Butcher was to release a "contemporary fantasy miniseries featuring an original Jim Butcher story exclusively developed for the comic book medium." The miniseries was set within the continuity of the Dresden File Series. The announcement included that the serialized line would come in "six comic book issues ...before collection as a hardcover graphic novel later in 2015." [15] Logically, we come to the conclusion that the book is a series of six comic books in one.

This photo was part of the press release for Jim Butcher's,
Down Town mini series for the spring of 2015 and HC
graphic novel for the fall of 2015. Jim Butcher is co-
writing with Mark Powers and art is done by Carlos
Gomez. Jim Butcher says he likes comics. [2]

     We not only have the intention of the publishers and author that they were "exclusively developed for the comic book medium," they actually have different issue numbers. So, now we ask if collecting the six issues into one volume negates the intention of the author/publisher to create a comic, and transform it into a graphic novel. According to The Beat, in Todd Allen's article about the Down Town mini-series, not only was the story to be "serialized in six comic book issues," the intent was to turn the mini-series into a "collection as a hardcover graphic novel later in 2015."[2]

     So, how does this intention to change the the comics into a graphic novel result in such a metamorphosis? Santiago Garcia, in On the Graphic Novel, said:
The prestige captured by the graphic novel, on the other hand, has in some way rubbed off on traditional comics, and traditional publishers have wasted no time trying to co-opt it by repackaging their old tired products as brand new graphic novels for mature audiences, in the hope of bringing in unwary readers, as if you could go from Persepolis  to X-Men just by switching formats. [xi]
One thing to keep in mind, is that modernly, the graphic
novel consists of adult themes. These "adult" themes are
not only sexual, but includes violence of all sorts, rape,
murder, genocide, torture, supernatural, cultural and
hate crimes, etc. [17]
     Even if one could say Jim Butcher's six serialized comic books are "new," and neither "old" nor are they "tired," can one still claim that authors/ publishers can metamorph comics into a graphic novel by merely "intending" to do so? It would seem the answer would be "No." if we relied only on Garcia's, above, statement. But, we must also consider that the story was written for adult audiences, not preteens buying from the comic book rack. 

     Also, consider that Butcher planned his story to have a complete arc, to be a complete story, that no advertising graces the pages of the "graphic novel," and that there's an adequate amount of pages (here, 144). Finally, we must also consider that it was the intention, all along, for the story to eventually be a graphic novel. I believe the answer is yes.Butcher wasn't just trying to merely "repackage" his comics in a different format, his comics metamorphosed into the graphic novel he intended, all along--not just a mere switching of formats.


     ART WORK: Original art was done by Carlos Gomez and color by Mohan, letters by Bill Tortolini and the cover by Stjepan Sejic. Let's start with the cover: issue #1 of the 6 issue comics was used for the graphic novel. I've enjoyed other work by Stjepan Sejic before and this cover also does not disappoint. The drawings and use of color is beautiful, placement impeccable, as is the point of view! Inside the book, the drawings by Bill Tortolini are wonderful. Just enough detail to enjoy the art, but not so much that the reader gets lost in the drawing--ending up in confusion, boredom, or not paying attention to what is happening. Mohan's use of color really complements the beautiful drawings. Not only do the drawings, but the use of color help set scene and mood for each frame. None of the frames appear washed out and muddy. 

     BONUS MATERIAL: Original character sketches of the major players in the story are fun to examine and imagine how the images were drawn from the mind of the artist. Additionally, twenty-two pages of original rough line art (for issue one) are included and are almost as enjoyable as seeing them in color in the story.

     STORY: The story line begins as any story line does with exposition and some basic background, moves into rising action, followed by climax, falling action, and resolution. I know this sounds terribly dry, but I can't really give away any of the action more than I have in the short synopsis, above. I can say, though, that I really enjoyed another one of Jim Butcher's stories. Yes, it is shorter than any of his novels, but this story seems to fit the format. It's like Harry Dresden and Molly have a job to do and they go out, say, over the weekend, and do it. It isn't complicated with a lot of extraneous characters and subplots; just a nice clean and to the point story.

     Given all the reasons I have stated, above, I am very happy to award, Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Down Town, by Jim Butcher and Mark Powers a rating of 4.0 stars out of 5. I truly enjoyed the e-file download to my computer and know that if you should choose to get your story through an e-book, you will enjoy it. I love Dynamite Publishers and have many books that they have published. I have already received my copy of my hardcover edition of Down Town, and am enjoying the beautiful cover, the wonderful art work, great story, beautiful colors and characters we have all come to love. 

THANK YOU! Truly, thank you from the bottom of my heart for joining me today as we got to take a look at Jim Butcher's exciting new graphic novel, Down Town. I enjoyed speaking with you, my dear friends, and hope you were able to take away something useful for yourself this week. I always like being with you to share a little of the joy I feel at reading and writing about some of the wonderful books that have come my way. If you have something special you would like to share with me, please just leave me a comment or contact me on twitter.

     Please join me, again, next week, as we will be going back to the world of sci-fi with Children of the Comet by Donald Moffitt. Mr. Moffitt's book is another of one of my NetGalley books that I have looked forward to reading and reporting on, here on my blog. Anyway, until next time, thank you for joining me. Remember to be good to one another because you never really know what sorrows another person has in their heart or what burdens are weighing them down. A smile or a kind word can go a long way, sometimes, in cheering another person up. God bless you all.

Until next time...
This flower is a white with red center, Rose of Sharon. [22]

...many happy pages of reading.



[1] "Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Down Town." [jim butcher and mark powers] [Retrieved 10-12-15.]
[2] "Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Down Town Coming in Spring 2015." [Retrieved 10-13-15].
[3] "Harry Dresden--Chicago, IL." [11-22-14] [jaholst] Retrieved 10-13-15.
[4] "Jim Butcher's: Dresden Files "Down Town." [jim butcher and mark powers] Retrieved 10-13-15.
[5] "On the Graphic Novel." [santiago garcia; p.ix] Retrieved 10-13-15.
[6] "Some More Writing Advice--Beginning, Middle, End." Retrieved 10-14-14.
[7] "Homenaje, Wolverine 1 de Frank Miller y Chris Claremont (ensenando las garras)." Retrieved 10-14-15.
[8] "GRAPHIC NOVELS: An Exciting New Graphic Novel--A New Original Story! by Jim Butcher, THE DRESDEN FILES: WAR CRY." [Jim Butcher/Mark Powers; 10-15-14] Retrieved 10-14-15.
[9] "Hercules: The Thracian Wars by Steve Moore [Book-to-Movie Staring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson." [06-29-14] Retrieved 10-14-15.
[10] "How to Distinguish Between a Comic Book and a Graphic Novel." Retrieved 10-14-14.
[11] "NetGalley." Retrieved 10-14-15.
[12] "My Thoughts on Night of Champions." Retrieved 10-14-15.
[13] "Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Down Town #3 (of 6)." Retrieved 10-14-15.
[14] "3 Tips For eBook Marketing For Inbound Leads." Retrieved 10-14-15.
[15] "Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Down Town Coming in Spring 2015." Retrieved 10-14-15.
[16] "Prosper / Prosperous Living--January 16." [01-16-13; ivy prosper] Retrieved 10-14-15.
[17] "Adult Books, Adult Themes and Teens That Read Them." Retrieved 10-15-15.
[18] "Other Considerations." Retrieved 10-15-15.
[19] "Good Story." Retrieved 10-15-15.
[20] "Jetpack Joyride." Retrieved 10-15-15.
[21] "Thank You!" Retrieved 10-15-15.
[22] "Children of the Comet." [donald moffitt] Retrieved 10-15-15.
[23] "White Rose of Sharon Gifts." 10-07-15.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Martian by Andy Weir--And What About The Movie?

Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     A little over a year ago, as I perused the various book lists, I saw the book, The Martian by Andy Weir. I read the short premise of the book, and at that moment decided I wanted to read the book. Because of various promises to read and review certain books, as well as my obligations through NetGalley, The Martian, continued to sit in my virtual to be read (TBR) pile of books untouched.  

     I guess I should say, the book sat there until I realized that the movie would be out in just two days. I grabbed my e-reader device (a kindle) and began reading Andy Weir's book. Since I can't read during work hours, I read every spare minute I could get. While someone else drove, I read. While the family watched a movie, I sat with them and read. But, I couldn't stay up late to read--I had to get a reasonable amount of sleep so I wouldn't be asleep on my feet for work the next day.

     Nonetheless, I did manage to finish the book in two days, October 2, 2015, the day the movie came out. My family, and a dear friend who was joining us, decided they wanted to see the movie on Saturday. And, since today is Saturday, October 3rd, we will all be leaving the house in just a few minutes to see the movie in 3D at our local theater. I'll get back to you after the movie and let you know just how much I liked or hated it...Gotta go now.

    Well, I'm back from the theater, and I suppose I should give you a short synopsis of the book before diving in to discuss it (and a bit about the movie).

In this scene from, The Martian, Mark Watney wakes to a blaring alarm
indicating that his oxygen is at a dangerously low level. Watney quickly
discovers his oxygen is leaving the suit because a sharp piece of debris
punctured his suit...and him. [2]
     Not long after a manned mission to Mars lands and estab- lishes a base from which to conduct scientific exploration, a fast incoming storm threatens to destroy the outpost. Comman- der Lewis notifies the crew that the mission is "scrubbed," and fol- lows protocol in evac- uating the crew. Dur- ing the evacuation Mark Watney is hit by flying debris and thought dead; the team leaves Mars and Mark Watney behind as they head back to planet Earth.

     Mark Watney wakes up to finds himself nearly covered with red Martian sand and pierced by debris, his suit alarm blaring and his oxygen level near depletion. So begins Mark's extraordinary struggle to survive with the limited resources at his disposal. Mark solves one problem after another...until his own "human error" causes an explosion that wipes out much of his work. Mark's engineering and ingenuity enables him to contact Earth. Although Mark is able to overcome many seemingly impossible obstacles, will fortune intervene to save him? Will a rescue ship reach him before he runs out of food, oxygen, water, or hope?

     Although Andy Weir did not title his book, "Robinson Crusoe on Mars," (that one has already been done [3]) he does seem to have taken inspiration from that and/or similar subject matter. Back when I was a kid, my mom and dad bought the first "color" TV on our block. A wave of nostalgia arises because this movie, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, was the very first color show we watched on our new set. Having only watched black and white shows before this made my experience oh, so memorable.

     How is this story similar to The Martian? Well, the most obvious aspects include (1) "a lone" earth man is (2) stranded on Mars  (3) with limited resources, (4) forcing him to rely on his scientific training, (5) and ingenuity, and (5) where he must deal with loneliness, (6) until he is miraculously rescued. I rewatched this old movie on Amazon for the rental price of $2.99 last night--what a blast. Paul Mantee even meets another humanoid whom he dubbs, "Friday," from the original Robinson Crusoe story. This old movie stars Adam West (2 years before he became Batman) who dies early in the story, Paul Mantee and Victor Lundin with Byron Haskins Directing.

A FREE E-BOOK of Daniel Defoe's,
Robinson Crusoe, may be downloaded
from Amazon by clicking
on the link, here[4]
     Of course, even this classic film story got its inspiration from somewhere, and that would most likely be Daniel Defoe's, "Robinson Crusoe." Defoe's story focuses on a man who is shipwrecked and castaway on a remote island. He, too must use his wits to survive and to adapt to a more primitive life style...and, of course, find and save a native cannibal, whom he called, "My man, Friday."

     And, where did Daniel Defoe get his inspiration to write the hugely popular and enduring story? Apparently, many have made suggestions as to the source of Defoe's inspiration for the book.

     One of the more popular accounts focuses on a man by the name of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor, who was rescued by the "Woodes Rogers' Expedition," in 1709. Others say this explanation is incorrect. The counter belief was that Selkirk's rescuer, Rogers, wrote his own account of the voyage entitled, "Cruising Voyage," published in 1712, relaying Selkirk's experiences with many notable differences from Defoe's book. [5]
One adaptation of Robinson Crusoe,
is this opera by Offenbach. [6]

     Still others claim Defoe was influenced by either a Latin or English translation of Ibn Tufail's novel, "Hayy ibn Yaqdhan."  This is an earlier, but similar-type novel with the setting being a desert island. [4] Yet, another account is told by Robert Knox who related his story of abduction by the King of Ceylon in 1659, entitled, "An Historical Account of the Island Ceylon." [4]

     And then, there is the claim by Daniel Defoe, himself. He has said that he truly was only the editor of the story. Defoe claimed that the true author of the book was a man by the name of Robinson Crusoe who was still alive in the years 1719-20. [5]

     And, there are many, many more claims about the true inspiration for, "Robinson Crusoe." Surely as numerous as the multitude of books, plays, operas, and movies that have been inspired by the story.

     Before I leave the discussion about inspiration for the book (and movie), The Martian, I have to mention that one book and film classic will inevitably arise. I speak, of course of Swiss Family Robinson. To the left, here, is the display for the movie, but let's not forget the book. Swiss Family Robinson (the book) may be downloaded for FREE from Amazon by clicking the link, here. [7] If you would like to see the movie, you can either purchase it from Amazon or rent it to watch (click, here). [8]

     Finally, the two notable stories often mentioned in the same breath with The Martian are Apollo 13, and Cast Away, with The Martian being described as a cross between the other two. Really! Really, two great stories. Ironically, Tom Hanks stars in both wonderful films. Great acting. Resourcefulness shown in both films, limited resources, hope kept alive through trying times, near-death experiences....You get it. I love both of these films and am inspired to go back and watch them, yet, again.

     In preparation for this blog post about Andy Weir's, The Martian, I not only read Weir's book, I watched, Robinson Crusoe on Mars [3], Swiss Family Robinson [8], The Extraordinary Tale of William Buckley (a docudrama) [11], Mr. Robinson Crusoe [12], and, tonight I'm watching Cast Away [10], and Apollo 13 [9], as well. [See also, James (Jim) Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger's book, Apollo 13 [13], and Cast Away: The Shooting Script, by William Broyles. [14] ]

     While I was motivated to get The Martian read before I went to see the movie (I prefer to read books before they get to the big screen) this quick read was not an onerous job for me. I opened to page one and was instantly hooked.

     Immediately, I thought of the opening lines of another famous book, A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." To be chosen as an astronaut to be part of a manned mission to Mars would be the best of times. To be left behind on the foreign planet when your crew mates left, the worst. [16]

     Andy Weir utilizes Mark Watney's daily recorded log for NASA as a way to communicate to the reader those things Mark Watney wants an unidentified "someone" to hear after the records are eventually found, perhaps "a hundred years" into the future. The first Log Entry: Sol 6, has Watney saying, "I'm pretty much fucked." Now, if you are someone who cannot abide cuss words used in a novel, this novel may not be for you. Watney will pepper this cuss word through out the story. 'Why does author, Andy Weir, have Watney speak like this, you might ask?

     Watney is an intelligent man, he is an engineer and a botanist; so, if Watney is an intelligent man, educated, and an astronaut, why utilize this "character defect"? Ask yourself, "Would Watney be interesting if he were just a nerd who thinks of nothing other than science?" I mean, really, would it be that interesting to hear him constantly spouting equations and scientific theories? You know the answer to that is "No." What if Watney were a deeply spiritual man who constantly crossed himself, said prayers aloud, and never used a foul word? That, too, would get old, pretty fast.

     With the very first sentence of the book, Andy Weir begins showing us Mark Watney's personality. It may initially be used for shock value, but Mark Watney continues to swear--what about that? If you think about it, intelligent people who are effective at communicating with others...well, they use precisely the words they need to get their point across. If Watney had some very strong emotions at realizing he was left alone on the planet and was highly likely to die, mightn't he cuss? Don't you think it would just help him to relieve some of his stress?

     I think Andy Weir is a cagey little devil--he sets up Watney as a bit of a firebrand, right off the bat. Watney even tells us that he will explain the basics and how the missions work, "for any layman who might be reading this." Watney calls things "pretty cool," and wonders why he wasn't "more dead" (this one reminds me of The Princess Bride--remember?--"mostly dead."?). So, most of the time Watney speaks like an ordinary "layperson," himself, with cussing, off-handed humor, and schtick of all sorts, and curiosity about "how the Cubs are doing."[12]

     And while we are speaking of "more dead/mostly dead," I love the humor all through the book. How about this pithy one: "In the event a crewman dies on Mars, he stays on Mars" [7]. Ho, ho, ho! What happens on Mars, stays on Mars? Really? Pithy and sneaky to be sure. So, is the dialogue Andy Weir uses in the book sufficient to develop Mark Watney's character? Well, obviously, no. It does, however go a long way in showing us Mark's wacky personality.

     Another reason that Andy Weir has Mark Watney use the "log" to relate the story of what is going on in his life and what he is doing to keep himself alive is that, psychologically, if Mark is busy doing, he will not fall into morbid depression. Mark is the only one who can keep himself from literally falling apart. While Mark may have to deal with his environment as it falls apart--in a wide variety of ways--Mark must keep the one resource together that he really needs to survive...himself.

     Related tangentially to the "Mark has to keep himself together" feat is the question, "Is Mark's ingenuity and indefatigability realistic?" I believe it is. First, given Mark's personality that he is confident in his abilities and that NASA signed him on as an Engineer/Botanist are two big pluses that he is competent to keep the mission's scientific equipment going. Mark needs both of these attributes to succeed.

     When you combine all of Mark's positive attributes (intelligence, education and training, self-confidence, adventurous nature, risk taking and the ability to "live on the edge,"), with Mark's wacky sense of humor and irreverent speech patterns, I think Andy Weir has put together a realistic astronaut. I don't know about you, but I think astronauts need the ability to master their fears. I was taught that "action cures fear!" So...Mark Watney is also an action guy.

     Astronaut's need to be different than the average person. An astronaut needs to be adventurous to risk going so far into space. Moreover, an astronaut needs to be able to make adjustments (in work and self-care) as needed in order to survive. And remember, Mark Watney is highly intelligent and ingenious. If you put those personality traits together with a need to survive, you have a Mark Watney personality.

     While I like how Andy Weir developed Mark Watney's personality, the secondary part of the cast were more like two dimensional characters. They were there on Earth . They did their part. While we saw the beginnings of development, they were just not fleshed out. Now, one might say that was a fatal flaw to the book. Me...I'm not so sure.

     In photography (any art, really) you focus your lens to make the subject matter clear and crisp to stand out from the background--you may choose to let the background go slightly out of focus. This technique is used to draw attention to the subject matter.

     See the photo from the movie on the left, here? The background is blurred while the plant and Mark's finger as he gently touches the plant are in sharp focus. Your eyes do not look at the background, they focus on the plant. It can be argued that that is what Andy Weir has done in the book with the secondary characters. After all, Weir seems to know what he is doing and has otherwise written his story well, turning it into an absolutely entertaining yarn.

     Finally, just a word about Andy Weir's research and scientific basis for the movie. Since so many others have reviewed that aspect of Andy Weir's book (and critique of the movie), I will just add that (it's been mentioned by Andy Weir and others) much work has been done as research for the book. Well done, Andy Weir.

     Because I'm fairly sure most of you are really interested in the movie, I have for you, today, a short movie trailer from YouTube. [23] Please enjoy:


     Well, I promised you I'd tell you how much I loved or hated the movie, The Martian. In three short words: "I loved it!"

     Movies are not always adapted well from books. One of the most notorious book successes and movie failures--of which I have done a book review--is Endless Love by Scott Spencer. While I found the book to be well-written, the movie and its remake are among the worst ever done in cinema history. In my post of February 1, 2014, I wrote:
In fact, Leonard Maltin of Google Books: Leonard Maltin's 2010 Movie Guide, panned the film (along with other numerous critics); Leonard Maltin called it "a textbook example of how to do everything wrong in a literary adaptation." Maltin decries the film as "one of the worst films of its time." (To see this book review click, here.)
      The Martian, starring Matt Dam- on, not only has great cinematogra- phy and obviously great direction by Ridley Scott, a wonderful screen- play by Drew God- dard, and a wonder- ful supporting cast, it has Andy Weir's wonderful book on which to base this movie. The adaptation was really, really good! [25]

     A word about Matt Damon before we close for today. Matt Damon really sells this movie. While I LOVED the book by Andy Weir, Matt Damon brought Mark Watney to life. Matt's facial expressions were so enjoyable to see, his body language was sublime, and Matt delivered all the vocal nuances needed to really bring out Watney's personality. He made Mark Watney believable. In other words, Matt did a great acting job. I enjoyed the whole move--I would love to see it again, and am planning on buying the movie when it is released to the public.

     I realize we have really only scratched the surface as far as topics on which we can write and analyze. Nonetheless, I sincerely hope I've provided enough information for understanding the book and the movie. I would encourage anyone who likes to read, to pick up this book, hardcover, paperback or ebook, and read it. Given all that I have said above about Andy Weir's book, The Martian, I am proud go give this excellent book a rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 (If I were giving a full review of the movie, I would, likewise give 4.5 stars out of 5 stars award.). I highly recommend both the book and the movie.

     Thank you for joining me this week...we looked at a dramatically different book than we did last week (last week: On the Graphic Novel by Santiago Garcia). Next time I have something for you I think you will like. I will be bringing you a review of a graphic novel. This is a new original story from the world of Harry Dresden. The book is, Down Town: Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. So, I hope I have stimulated your curiosity, a bit--to see how this book review will differ from those I have done in the past. Join me next time for some fun and an exciting original story.

Sharon's words for the week: Often we may be at a loss for what to do for another person who seems to need a little encouragement or kindness. In those times give a warm smile. This is my true story: At college I was walking between classes feeling down and discouraged, frowning. I looked up and made eye contact with a young man, his face made beautiful by the warmest smile I've ever seen. I could tell this young man saw my sadness and wanted to cheer me up. I never saw him again, but this wonderful, kind person now lives in my memory. When I think of that smile, I feel lighter and happier to know that there are kind people in the world.

"A warm smile is the universal language of kindness."
                                       --William Arthur Ward

     Until next time . . .
This flower is a white with red center "Rose of Sharon." [29]

. . . many happy pages of reading.

My friends, I send you my love and good wishes for a wonderful week.


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[2] "The Martian is Coming." Retrieved 10-04-15.
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[4] "Robinson Crusoe." Retrieved 10-05-15. crusoe book
[5] "Robinson Crusoe." Retrieved 10-05-15.
[6] "Robinson Crusoe - Opera Comique." Image Retrieved 10-05-15.
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[8] "Swiss Family Robinson." Image Retrieved 10-05-15.
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[18] "The Princess Bride Dear God." Retrieved 10-06-15.
[19] "He's Only Mostly Dead." Retrieved 10-06-15.
[20] "I'm falling apart." [nonsense8] Retrieved 10-06-15.
[21] "Clip Art Image: A Smiling Astronaut Standing on the Surface of Mars." Retrieved 10-07-15.
[22] "Matt Damon's New Mars Movie: Can Plants Really Grow There?" Retrieved 10-07-15.
[23] "The Martian - Official Trailer [HD] - 20th Century Fox." Retrieved 10-07-15.
[24] "How 'The Martian' Would Have Been Different With Water on Mars." [09-29-15; peter scriretta] Retrieved 10-07-15.
[25] "The Martian (2015)" Retrieved 10-07-15.
[26] "The Martian is Hands Down the Best Thriller of the Year." Retrieved 10-07-15.
[27] "4.5 out of 5 stars." [graphic only] Retrieved 10-07-15.
[28] "Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Down Town Gets Hardcover Treatment." Retrieved 10-07-15.
[29] "White Rose of Sharon Gifts." Retrieved 10-07-15.