Reviews by eknapp
Simultaneously overhyped and excellent.
A ferocious storm causes an astronaut crew to accidentally strand a member of their crew when departing Mars for Earth. He must use badass engineering and botany skills--and a large measure of smartassery and self-deprecating humor--to survive the two years until the arrival of the next Martian expedition.

The exorbitant hype surrounding The Martian did its damndest to ruin the experience for me. Everyone read it, everyone raved about it, a freaking MOVIE came out before I could even get my hands on a library copy...there was just no way the book could live up to that. And it didn't. It was a little disappointing by comparison, as it had to be.

And yet it was excellent. There's lots of hard science and technical jargon but it manages to avoid feeling like a textbook. There's a superbly fleshed-out, believable protagonist that you can't help but root hard for. The political and bureaucratic environments of Weir's NASA ring perfectly true, as do the dynamics of the horrified astronaut crew that left their companion behind.

The writing is a solid, effective blend of first-person journal entries, third-person POV, and even inanimate object-biography. Not bad for such a tech-oriented writer.

There's not actually much tension, as the tone and the aforementioned hype make it clear that this is a rousing kumbayah feel-good story with only one possible outcome. But it never stops being engaging and entertaining. I may resent the hype, but I understand it.
Brilliant series finish, but it's a slog.
The final installment of Turtledove's epic Tosev octology.

I so loved this series. It kicks off with aliens invading Earth at the height of WW2. Expecting an easy conquest, they were stunned to find the locals spun up for war and unwilling to concede our obvious inferiority. The first seven books track through years of war, an awkward truce, and decades of tense diplomacy.

In Homeward Bound the USA is finally able to send its own warship to the aliens' home planet, with the goal of achieving a long-term peace as military equals, or else hurting the aliens in the not-unlikely event that they commence a "preventive war".

The series poses so many interesting questions. What might Japan and Germany look like today had they not been defeated? How would Stalin, Hitler, and Truman react to real live invading aliens from outer space? How would a creative, flexible humanity engage a technologically superior but extremely rigid force? What effects on 1940s world geopolitics would we see given the sudden emergence of a common enemy?

While the ideas and plotting are solid gold for me, the writing has always been serviceable at best. And in HB it's at its worst. It is endlessly repetitive. I love how Turtledove's alien psychology and sociology (eg communal; patient but rigid) actually derive from their physiology (eg egg-laying), which in turn derives from the alien environment (uniformly hot and sandy). And humanity's strengths derive from its differences (live birth, altricial offspring, recklessly creative, skilled at deceit). But he hits this idea over, and over, and over without adding anything. Every character ruminates on it at us more than once, and there are a LOT of characters. I get it already. HB is 650 pages and could have been 400 easy.

I enjoyed this book for revisiting a world that I love, but it's hard to get through.
A non-traditional zombie apocalypse story.
Melanie is a genius ten-year-old whose world consists of a tiny cell, physical restraints, unfriendly men with guns, daily calculus and history classes...and a weekly bowl of grubs to eat. When the military base that (it turns out) she lives at is overrun by "hungries", she and three other survivors set off through hostile, zombie and raider-infested England toward Beacon, the last known human settlement.

The beginning of the book is marvelous. Melanie's innocence, her treatment by the soldiers and scientists, and her ominous condition pack an emotional wallop. Carey writes her extremely well, using phrases and terms that she'd overheard or read in textbooks in ways that only a criminally deprived ten-year-old would. It's powerfully tragic.

Once the survivors hit the road it becomes a more generic survival horror story. It's not bad but it loses the magic that it displayed early. Very solid, but it could have been amazing.
Cool art, terrible story.
I always get burned by impulse purchase books, but every year or two I see a shiny pretty cover, I'm stricken by sudden-onset selective amnesia, and I get burned once again. This was my 2015 when-will-I-learn moment.

The storyline is a confused mashup of standard fantasy quest plot points, told in the clumsiest way imaginable. Something about a ruined world populated by children who fight zombies and demon-bugs There's a magic amulet with useless heroes inside it who mostly just die a lot. There's a wizard in a coma who's sort of responsible and he must be rescued. Or killed. Whatever. There's a fat nerd from Earth who wears a superhero costume; he's important, though it's not clear why.

Worst dialogue I've ever read. I suspect Farel Dalrymple is an ambitious ten year old; maybe he'll do good things one day. This is not that day.

I do like the simple art and the muted color scheme. But that didn't stop me from praying for the book to end so that I could already.
This book fails.
The plan was solid. Take a Cyclopedia Brown boy detective (Billy Argo), let him grow up (he goes to criminology school), smack him with a personal tragedy (his assistant/little sister commits suicide), expose him to messy adult problems (ten years in a mental health hospital, OCD, depression...), and see what happens.

The beginning is good, a solid parody of the Cyclopedia Brown series, with simple well-organized mysteries, clues galore, and case after case solved by the intrepid boy hero, his sister, and his best friend.

It falls apart as soon as they all grow up, simply because Joe Meno writes badly, I think. The whole story is a series of non-sequiturs (or at least the first 170 pages, which is where I threw in the towel). Billy gets shot, then just goes to work. He gets caught in a terrorist explosion then goes home to bed. A little girl's pet rabbit is decapitated, and she reacts by wondering where its head is. About half of Billy's lines are "whispered" and in most cases it makes no sense in context.

The writing is exceedingly prim and proper at all times, which could potentially create a jarring contrast when relating Billy's sister's suicide or describing the headless bunny. But given the rest of the fail it just makes me think Meno doesn't know what he wants to do.