You should go find a copy of The Martian, by Andy Weir, and you should buy it, and you should read it. Right now.
And I gotta say it: I’m so glad to be able to say that. I was scared of this book, guys: when you’ve got a novel you’re about to unleash on the world and your novel is set on Mars and someone publishes a book called The Martian with a picture of a dude in a spacesuit on the cover before your book comes out, it tends to inspire… panic. Mild panic. Oh shit he wrote my book.
(Note that this has happened to me once already. I had a novel entirely planned out down to small details and was ready to start writing it when a Star Wars book came out that had the exact same goddamn plot except theirs had Han Solo and Chewbacca in it. It was uncanny. I shelved the entire story. I was worried this was going to happen again.)
But it didn’t! The Martian is the story of an astronaut who is stranded on Mars when his mission is scrubbed abruptly and in the scramble to get off the planet his team is given very good reason to believe he’s been killed. At this point it becomes, as a back cover blurb describes it, “Robinson Crusoe on Mars,” which is the greatest four-word high-concept pitch in human history. The whole thing is tense and engaging and funny and awesome. It’s 370-some pages and I devoured it in two big gulps over two nights; I was up until midnight last night because there was simply no chance that I was going to put it down. It is, in a lot of ways, the perfect novel for me.
Sadly, I feel the need to issue a warning: Weir is heavy on the science– and occasionally heavy on the chemistry and the math. Yes, there’s math in this book, although Weir isn’t actually asking you to do any of it. But there’s a lot of math drama of the “How do I get enough calories to live X days” type. And when the main character accidentally turns the hab he’s living in into a bomb, he explains the chemistry behind his stupid mistake.
It is possible that this might turn some people off a bit. Those people are bad people, don’t get me wrong! But they might not like this book as much as I did. Despite their badness. For me, this is already on the shortlist for best books of the year. Awesome work; read it now.
I wrote a very brief post when I got home stating that I’d had a long day and I was going to go play some video games. You may recall me buying a PS3 around Thanksgiving and a rapturous review of The Last of Us; the PS3 has kinda sat and gathered dust since then. Earlier this week I got a bug up my butt and bought a couple of games that were PS3 exclusives that I’d never had a chance to play. One of them was Heavy Rain, which took me much longer than it should have to buy because the guy behind the counter wouldn’t shut up about how great the game was for long enough to actually sell it to me. (Generation gap warning: He didn’t own a PS3. He’d stayed up “all night” watching someone else play the game. On YouTube. I know “Let’s Play” videos exist, but… really? That’s a thing The Kids do now?)
I’ve sat and watched Heavy Rain install for twenty-five minutes and played it for maybe twenty, so let’s not even pretend this is a fair review. I’ve also heard in several places (and I knew this before I even bought the game) that the game starts really slow to get you used to the rather unique control system. I’m fine with that. I’m also pretty sure that by the time I finish the game I’ll not be griping about it. But there is some serious nonsense in the first prologue chapter and I wanna gripe about it.
Yeah. That control system. The game starts with your character in bed asleep. In his tighty-blackies. The game instructs you to push up to get him out of bed, and wants to really impress you by showing you that the slower you push up the longer he takes to get out of bed. For the most part so far I’m less playing a game than I am following on-screen prompts; I assume this will either get better or will become less annoying soon. (Again: I really do believe the people who are raving about this game. I’m just not there yet.) Here are the things I did. There are other things you can do; I didn’t do some of them, and part of the deal behind the game is that the story’s structured so that you can miss stuff.
- I took a shower. This sequence involved copious amounts of manbutt (and I’m pretty sure I’d be complaining about pointless nudity even if my character were female, so don’t think this is homophobia talking) and a ridiculous sequence where I had to shake my controller in certain ways so that my dude could dry himself off.
- I found a note from my wife saying that she’d taken the boys out for groceries. Note that this implies that everyone in the house is awake and dressed and out doing shit before this lazy bitch even gets out of bed.
- I got dressed. At around this point the game pointed out that I could hold a trigger to see what my character was thinking; this is a thinly-veiled way for the game to push you to move the story along.
- My character thought about doing some work, but the game didn’t provide any feedback on what that meant, so I went downstairs. I said hello to the family bird along the way.
- I ate two grapes. The layout of their house is really weird.
- I drank juice. I screwed up the prompt on how to drink the juice so I accidentally gagged on it a little bit. Yes, that happened.
- I made coffee. Espresso, technically, I think. Drank that too. Healthy!
- At some point in here I discovered that it was nearly lunchtime. My character is seriously a loser.
- Upon it being suggested that he wanted some “garden time” or something like that, I figured out how to go into the back yard, thinking that maybe there was some work for him to do back there. I sprawled out on the grass and got back up and went inside. No work for me!
- Then my wife got home with the boys. She handed me some bags, which I promptly dropped because the game made me hold down two different buttons to take them from her and I flubbed one of the buttons. I put the groceries on the counter. There is a birthday party for one of the boys soon; she said she was really busy and didn’t know how she was going to get everything done, and the game prompted me to help out.
- She told me to set the table, but warned me that the dishes were fragile (because we use the good china for basic birthday party lunches.) The game used this as an opportunity to demo the “move things carefully” mechanic, where you follow onscreen prompts with the thumbsticks really slowly. I accidentally moved too fast and put a plate slightly off-center from where it was supposed to be. I tried to fix it but the game wouldn’t let me; I spent the rest of the prologue wondering when that dish would get broken, but it never happened.
- After doing a shitty job setting the table, I played with the kids’ electric car (I really thought that was going to hit a table leg and jar the plate loose, but it didn’t happen) and then went outside to roughhouse with my kids for a bit, including mercilessly beating one of them up with a plastic sword. So much for helping my overworked wife, apparently.
- She called us in for lunch, which was not on the table I’d set. The boys ran in ahead of me. I followed them and discovered that one of them had disappeared; how this happened, I don’t know. I told my wife I’d find him and went upstairs. He was crouching in front of the birdcage. The bird was on the floor, dead. He was sobbing that it was his fault. My character (and this was a cutscene, so I had no control over it at all) assured him that it was not, with no trace of that damn bird was alive ten minutes ago, what the hell happened?
At this point the first chapter ended and I saved and quit out to go to the Internet. There appears to be no way to save the bird; it’s not like I forgot to feed it when I got up at noon or anything. Although given how much of a loser this guy seems to be maybe he’s actually never fed the bird. I dunno.
I think I miss Q-Bert right now.
6 thoughts on “A really positive review and a really unfair one”
I laughed. I cried. I’m hungry now…
LOL at your Heavy Rain narrative. Yeah, you basically just played the tutorial. This really has little to do with the rest of the story…it gets much better from here, as everyone has already told you. And when you’re done, you may just want to watch those “Let’s Play” videos so you can see the other endings, from the paths you didn’t choose 🙂
You are a brilliant writer!
Heavy rain will feel really dated after having played the last of us !
I didn’t mind heavy rain, but it didn’t rank too high with me. It seemed , as you mention , more like a movie with interactive prompts.
[…] other thing? The science. My favorite book of last year was Andy Weir’s The Martian, which I recommended enthusiastically to everyone, with the caveat that the book would involve math […]
[…] Go here and read this, and then pretend that I was talking about a movie instead of a book. Because basically I already wrote this review, and other than maybe thinking that the movie a little bit expects the viewer to fill in some details from remembering the book, I have no gripes at all. Good stuff. Go see it. […]
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