Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Documents in the Case

Title: The Documents in the Case
Author: Dorothy L. Sayers and Robert Eustace
Genre: Mystery
Published: 1930
Rating: 7/10

Review: I received The Documents in the Case as a birthday gift. I've never read anything by Sayers before, though I've heard of her Lord Peter Wimsey series. This book is not part of that series, but rather a standalone mystery taking place in the late 1920s.

The most interesting part of the novel is the format in which it's written. The case is put together through the letters that various characters write to each other. At the heart of the novel are Mr. and Mrs. Harrison who lend rooms to two young men: Harwood Lathom and John Munting. The first part of the story is told through the letters of Harrison's housekeeper, Agatha Milsom, to her sister. Later, it turns out to be a case of unreliable narration.

I found the first part of the novel quite enjoyable. But then the letters switched to those of Mrs. Harrison and I found her style just painful to read. While it does a good job exposing her character, I just found myself slogging through that part of the story. Eventually, the narration switches again and my pace picked up once more.

What's interesting is that there isn't so much a whodunnit type of twist in the story. It's pretty obvious from the start who did it. It's much more of how was it done and how do we prove that, story line. That's interesting, but didn't feel quite as dramatic as some of the modern mystery fiction. On the other hand, it didn't feel as cliched either. Altogether, it was a fresh reading experience, with a solid plot, and some interesting story telling devices.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Martian

Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2011
Rating: 8/10

Review: I've heard a lot of buzz around The Martian after it got released by the mainstream press in 2014, but didn't actually pick up and read the book until I saw this xkcd comic.

The premise of the story is pretty simple. Mark Watney is a part of 6-person astronaut team sent to collect research data on Mars. Due to circumstances, he gets left behind on the planet with no way to leave or communicate, but with enough life support and food to survive for some time. The book heavily focuses on the how-to of the survival mechanics.

Maybe it's the engineer in me, but I thought the book was great. It's hard to say there's that much happening in the book besides the description of how Mark manages to rig and debug various systems to make things happen, but those things kept my complete attention the entire time I was reading.  The descriptions felt quite realistic (except maybe for a couple of small things) and Mark has a great voice and a sense of humor that allows the reader to be drawn into the book that doesn't really have any dialogue.

We also get a glimpse of what's happening meanwhile on Earth and it was kind of interesting that despite being set in near future (e.g. to make travel to Mars by men possible), there is absolutely nothing futuristic about the Earth portion of the story. In fact, I would say the Earth parts of the story were the weakest by far. It was somewhat difficult for me to swallow that Earth would spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to save one man off of Mars.

All in all it's a thoroughly entertaining book and one I would definitely recommend to anyone who enjoys tinkering with things or space travel. There's also a movie version coming out later this year, so that might be fun too.