George reviews The Martian

Is there life on Mars?


Another book or film review here.

The Martian, by Andy Weir, is a story about an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars.

Mark Watney is a botanist abord a an expedition to Mars that gets cancelled mid-mission due to environmental problems. A massive storm threatens the whole crew and one their way to the capsule to leave the planets, Watney get hit by debris and is though, by the rest of the crew, to have been killed.

It is only after the capsule has left that Watney regains consciousness to find he is the lone resident of the planet.

The story follows Watney’s efforts to survive, to adapt and, ultimately, get home and follows him through the trials and tribulations of doing this.

It is, often, a funny story. Not belly laughs but still funny and covers Watney’s exploits on Mars, NASA’s actions back home and those of the remaining mission crew.

I am not going to say this is one of those ‘i could do that’ stories that you are going to feel empowered by, energised to go out and beat the odds. Watney has the brains, skills, luck and support to get through this, all of which i lack at the level he has them (i am aware he is a fictional character BTW) but still you find yourself rooting for him. Willing him to fight, to survive.

I have seen the film of the book which is also entertaining and, obviously, written slightly  differently to keep the excitement levels up.

This doesn’t mean the book is dull or slow, far from it, but the movie is a different media.

Even though it is ‘science fiction’ it could easy have been set on a deserted island and been a similar tale so don’t be put off by the location of the story.

Nonetheless, watch the film, read the book, you will be entertained by each.

George reviews Slaughterhouse Five


So it goes……..

I watched a band called Slaughterhouse Five in the very early 90s. I don’t think the cane to much.

The next time I heard of this was coming across it in a book store in Wolverhampton a year or so later. I flicked through the book but chose not to buy.

It was only coming across this as an ‘on offer’ audiobook that I picked it up.

First published in 1969, the book revolves around the flitting mind of Billy Pilgrim and his thoughts and observations.

Having served in WW2, Pilgrim was a prisoner of war who was housed in Slaughterhouse Five in Dresden at the time it was bombed.

The story moves from war time to present and back again with frequent stops at a 4th dimension planet called Trolfamador after being abducted by aliens 👽. Yeah.

As I said. It moves all over and although the book makes some good observations about a generation sick of conflict, I didn’t feel it was going anywhere.

Maybe I just didn’t ‘get it’ but it seems to ramble along coming to a conclusion but I just wasn’t engaged.

A hard one to recommend. It’s fairly short which is a good thing I suppose.

It’s the only book by Vonnegut I’ve read and it doesn’t have me off looking for more.

George reviews Fight Club

It’s all in your head…..

Ah. Fight Club.

Loved this movie.

It initially felt like a masculine blood rush, similar to watching a Rocky film but then turned into something far cleverer.

The book is a slightly different kettle of fish.

Chuck Palahniuk writes a story of mental illness manifesting is an individual bringing down society.

The film replicates much of this, indeed matching a lot of the narration (which makes more sense in the book) of the film and expanding on it.

The main character, whose name you never know, starts of by taking us through the drudgery of his life, the rut of existence he has fallen into and how depressing it all is.

You will likely see a lot of parallels in this character to your own life and this may well have you take a second look at what you deem important from now on.

Struggling with insomnia, the main character ‘Cornelius’ ( a name badge the main character wears at a support group in the movie) meets a male, Tyler Durden, who shows him a different life. A life free of all things he finds of value at this time. Tyler shows Cornelius a new life that makes him better, stronger, freer and one where he knows himself.

Things spiral out of control fairly quickly and the introduction of Marla Fisher, another support group follower, makes things tougher.

Tyler has Cornelius involved is many subversive actions staged to fight back against all that is wrong in the world and, at first, Cornelius is a willing participant being show a world away from his dull life. But soon, Cornelius finds Tyler taking over his life and when he realises the scale to which this has taken place, it is almost too late.

Trying to wrestle back control whilst trying to avert disaster elsewhere, the story sets up a grandstand finish.

This ending is told slightly differently in the movie to the book but, ultimately, brings up the same points.

I would say i preferred the movie to the book. Not that the book is poor, far from it, but the movie, the visual spectacle of everything taking place, is just better.

This may having something to do with the actors in the film giving a great show but, reading the book afterwards, i put the same actor in the same role and it just doesn’t play out as well for me.

A good story, a great film.

George reviews Human Universe

Space, man.

Have you seen the TV show?

Professor Brian Cox knows his stuff and has a good manner about him.

He’s easy going and delivers the information in such a way that you feel like you understand what he’s on about even if, maybe, I don’t.

The book itself is slightly autobiographical in parts and goes on to explain changes in our thoughts on life, the universe & everything. Almost.

It’s a long story am that covers some broad subject but I found the one about the probability of life on other planets the most intriguing.

It is explained, in detail, and reasoned out so that you kind of have to agree with him, even if you didn’t agree before.

The details covered, planets, life, satellites Big Bang theory (not the TV show) make this book hard to stop going through.

I was really interested in what was next.

A good, albeit geeky, story.

George reviews Royal Flash

Flashy mixing with the regal set.

Royal Flash is the second book in the Flashman Papers by writer George McDonald Fraser.

Set in the fictional Duchy of Strackenz in 1848, the story jumps across a number years and involves Falshmans interactions with Otto Von Bismarck and Lola Montez and the Schleswig-Holstein question.

Royal Flash has Harry Flashman penchant for cash and women being exploited to his misfortune when he ends up being used to replace the intended husband in a royal wedding and how he comes out the other end.

Well written and drawing on historical fact to support the story, it is different to many Flashman books in that the story is broken in to multiple parts rather than one long story.

This doesn’t damage the story but, once you’ve read more of the stories, you fill in the gaps in the intervening years. Not a massive problem other than this depth of knowledge of the character isn’t, at this point, reflected by the authors writing (he’s on book 2, I’ve read the lot).

The story is very familiar to anyone who is aware of the Prisoner of Zenda. There are a lot of similarities – apart from the character I guess. And the mask.

The film was made into a movie, likely off the success of the books (which was massive) but the film is very much of its time and feels like a bit of a cheap comedy. I wouldn’t recommend the film but I would recommend the book.

I love the Flashman Papers and, although this is one of my least favourite of the series, it’s still good.

George reviews The Complete works of Sherlock Holmes

Classic Detection.

It’s a lot of text. A lot of stories, novels around the character and his investigations.

One of the most famous literary creations ever, Sherlock is an interesting character. Clearly a genius, he is flawed in so many other ways that make him more human but still a little hard to like.

The stories are written as edited reviews of the detectives work that his long standing, long suffering, assistant, Dr Watson.

Watson, an ex-army Doctor has set up practice in London and get caught up with Holmes and decides, with Holmes grudging permission, to publish reviews of the cases. Holmes will feign disinterest in this but you get the feeling he actually enjoys the fame associated with it all.

Some of the stories are well know, The Hound of the Baskervilles, A Study in Scarlet and the like along with the shorter stories that I only recognised from the films or TV shows.

The stories stretch over a long period, decades and the development of the relationship between Holmes and Watson can, sometimes, be more interesting than the case but overall, you are always interested in how the matter will be solved.

This is where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle shines in the variety of how the work is finished up.

Some of the conclusions are more obvious than others but they are all well thought, well reasoned (so as to be believable) and well written.

You get a good feel for London in the late/post Victorian era and the characters are all well written so as not become dull.

As an audiobook, this is a long work, 75hrs or so, which would probably have taken me a year to read but represented good value for what you got.

Obviously, it’s an older work but this in no way detracts from some great story telling.

Loved it.

George reviews Flashman.

The beastly Flashman begins.

Ever read Flashman?

Ever heard of Flashman?

Maybe you haven’t but he is one I would wholeheartedly recommend you get to know.

Flashman is Harry Flashman, the bully from Tom Browns School Days who gets kicked out for being a drunk.

Out on his ear, Flashman is out of luck, out of morals and out of options and ends up becoming an officer in the British Army.

Now, Flashman has a lot of deplorable characteristics – so many things about you SHOULD dislike him for but, having his reasoning spelled out for you, it’s hard not to take his side.

The story takes you from London to The Khyber Pass via Paisley, Scotland with a sweeping social commentary as it’s goes.

If it so certainly wasn’t intended for boys, it would be a real ‘boy’s own’ adventure of cowardice, lust, greed and luck with a large helping of historical fact and humour.

The story aims towards and finishes around the end of the British Empire in Afghanistan 🇦🇫, the retreat from Kabul and the slaughter in the Khyber Pass.

As an introduction to a character, there probably aren’t much better. It’s like that great first album by a band – always hard to live up to.

This is the first of the ‘Flashman Papers’ and, although there is a lot in there to offend the sensitive it is an interesting story and a strong start to a great series.