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The Martian
The Martian
by Andy Weir
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.00

2.0 out of 5 stars MacGyver in Space, 30 April 2016
This review is from: The Martian (Paperback)
I suppose it's no surprise that this book was adapted and made into a big budget move. It neatly fits into the "high concept" model of movie-making with a premise that can be summarised as "man trapped on Mars has to survive until he is rescued and taken home". While simple concepts like this can serve as a good starting point for a couple of hours of visual entertainment, they rarely work as novels.
As others have said, the book has numerous problems; the protagonist's smart-alec tone starts off being irreverent and charming, but eventually becomes grating. Characterisation is almost non-existent. Everyone in the story seems to speak with the same voice - snarky repartee and forced humour. Although the book is mostly narrated by main character, the pages and pages of diary entries reveal next to nothing about who he is as a three-dimensional person. Likewise the other characters. When the action switches to secondary characters, whether on the ground at mission control or in space, the dialogue gives virtually no insight. Are the other astronauts wracked with guilt for leaving their friend behind? Well, they say things to each other like (and I'm paraphrasing) "y'know, I feel real bad about leaving Mark behind", "hey, don't feel bad, it's not your fault" etc. Real daytime soap opera stuff. Clumsily expositional.
A lot has been made of the "hard" sci-fi nature of the book - that the MacGyver-esque solutions Watney comes up with are based in real-world science. Factual accuracy and solid research may be fine things, but they're not enough to carry a story. The dedication to factual accuracy is, ironically, one of the main failings of the book. Time and again, the author breaks one of the cardinal rules of good fiction writing: show, don't tell.
The key to telling a good story lies in skilful suggestion that invites the reader to work out for themselves what's going on, not in constantly spelling things out.
The biggest problem, however, is this: there is no real "story" to speak of. The protagonist we find at the end is unchanged from the man we met on the first page. The lack of any sort of character or story arc made me wonder what the point of the whole thing was. It is established early on that Mark Watney is a very clever and resourceful individual (he constantly points this out), so no matter what calamity befalls him, we never have any doubt that he'll figure out a solution. Hence, no dramatic tension, no character development, no story. I'm pretty certain that everybody who has read this will, from the start, have guessed that (SPOILER ALERT!!) he will get off Mars and return home. Do we, as Americans say, "root" for him? Not really. We just think, "don't worry he's going to be just fine".
Never mind, I've heard that the film is quite good...

In Utero [VINYL]
In Utero [VINYL]
Price: £63.50

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kurt Cobain's Disconsolate Masterpiece, 26 Sept. 2013
This review is from: In Utero [VINYL] (Vinyl)
20 years already? Christ, I feel old.
Like many of my generation, Nirvana were more than just a rock n' roll band. Nevermind, and the band that made it, were the gateway into a whole world of underground music and art that people like me still are still burrowing into two decades later. At the time, In Utero was met with a degree of bafflement, and to some extent derision from the press and the legions of fans the band had accumulated in the preceding two years. The band, and particularly Kurt, had made it clear that they were deeply uncomfortable with the level of fame thrust upon them and this was their attempt to wrest back control from the big machine. Ironically, Kurt's pop instincts were never sharper than on this record; look beyond the raw production, the feral performances and the layers of feedback and you'll find a record with better songs and vastly more emotional weight than it's more famous predecessor. If Kurt had lived, they probably would never have made another record - I mean, where can you go from here?
This record is the best representation of Nirvana's "classic" line up. Dave Grohl, who on Nevermind was actually playing the parts written by former drummer Chad Channing, here shows us what he's made of - driving the songs forward with his Led-Zep-goes-hardcore beats that seem to spur the band on to another level of hugeness. Plenty had happened in Cobain's life in the preceding two years, and he had no shortage of things to write about - marriage, his family, drugs, childbirth, selling out, sociopathic perfumers... It's a testament to how good Nirvana were as a band that despite the dark subject matter and hair-raising performances that what resulted was a record that stands up against any other album from any other decade.
As regards the record itself, I don't have the remastered version, however, I'm going by the assumption that the fabled Albini mix contained here is the same as the one accidentally issued on vinyl a few years back. For those unfamiliar with the back story, In Utero was recorded, mixed and mastered by Steve Albini. At the last minute, the band or the record company (depending on who you believe) chose to have three songs (Heart-Shaped Box, Pennyroyal Tea and All Aplologies) remixed by R.E.M. producer Scott Litt to make them more radio-friendly. Additionally, the whole record was remastered and slightly compressed to make it sound less raw.
Around the mid-2000s, Universal reissued the album on vinyl. For some reason, the mastering engineer cut the record from the Albini tapes instead of the cleaned-up Litt tapes. The differences are subtle, but noticble. For a start, vocals are mixed much lower, and not double-tracked. The bass is thicker and heavier, the drums have more presence and the stereo image is wider. The overall sound of the record is frankly monumental.
Nevermind might be the record on a million "best ever" magazine lists and a million T-shirts, but In Utero stands as the record that cemented Nirvana's place among the greats.

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