Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark MatterDark Matter is not my usual type of read.  It’s Sci-Fi, which I don’t normally go for.  BUT, last year I read so many good reviews that, when I saw it at the library, I decided it was worth a try.

It starts in the present, the here and now, with Jason Dessen helping his wife, Daniela, and son, Charlie, make dinner.  It’s their Thursday night tradition and he is happy.  Life is good, not what he might have thought it would have been when he was younger, but right where he wants to be.

Then, breaking with tradition, Daniela persuades him to go and meet a friend for a drink.  That’s when it all starts going a bit – more than a bit – wrong as he is followed home in the dark and forced to drive to a remote location, where he is given a pill that will change his life.  

Tuesday intro: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Once again I’m linking up again with Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter / paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon.

tuesdayI’m also joining in with Teaser Tuesday, hosted by The Purple Booker, where you share teasers from your current read. I read a lot of these posts over the course of an average Tuesday so thought it would be fun to join in here too.

This week, I am reading Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, which I have heard some great things about.  There is a bit of a sci-fi element here so I hope it’s one I can get away with.  Here’s what it’s about.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Title: Station Eleven

Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction

Source: Library

Rating: Loved it (5 out of 5)

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I don’t quite remember when or where I first started reading about Station Eleven, although it was sometime late last year. What I do remember is how good everyone said it was. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve read one bad review yet. And this one isn’t going to buck the trend because I loved it.

It opens with a famous actor, Arthur Leader, collapsing on stage whilst playing King Lear and the attempts of trainee Paramedic Jeevan to save him. Walking home through a snowy Toronto later that night, Javeen realises that, after more than one failed attempt, he has finally chosen the right career.  It is the same night that a flu pandemic arrives in Canada, and begins to sweep across continents, leaving few survivors.

Fifteen years later, Arthur is nothing more than a memory for the (no longer) child actress, Kirsten, who performed with him in King Lear that night. But those memories are some of the few she has of the world before. Unlike King Lear. Shakespeare  is still very much part of her present as she is a member of a troop of travelling actors and musicians who peform for some of the last remaining outposts dotted around the Great Lakes.

They have been travelling a long time and, for the most part, things have gone well.  After 15 years the world has settled into a rhythm and, whilst maybe not completely safe, isn’t as dangerous as it was after the flu first hit. That is until they arrive in a town under the control of a Prophet. His future wife (who happens to be 12) stows away with them to avoid getting married and they all end up in danger.

That said, this isn’t a violent story, and this was one of the things I liked about it. So many post-apocalyptic novels are full of violence. Everyone is out for themselves and their worlds are grey and dark. Station Eleven isn’t like that. No, it’s not the world it was but, in some ways, that doesn’t seem so bad.  There is the part where life is simpler and people have found what is important to them. For Kirsten, it’s acting. For Javeen, it’s medicine. People may not have a lot, but for the most part they are satisfied.

Satisfaction is something Arthur Leader never felt and, although he doesn’t make it through the first chapter, he is very much a presence in the book, with his story being told at the same time as Kirsten’s – because the fact that they appeared on the same stage isn’t the only link between them or between the past and the present.  How those links play out is really interesting and kept me reading and guessing.

Beyond Arthur, Kirstin, and Jeevan, there are also stories for Arthur’s ex-wives, his son, his best friend, and the members of the Travelling Symphony. That’s a lot of people to keep track of but I had no problem keeping up with the multiple story and time lines thanks to the writing style, which meant there was a nice flow between the then and now.

As each character’s story unfolded I found myself caring about each of them, even Arthur, and felt sad when their lives didn’t quite turn out as they’d hoped, happy when despite everything they found a sense of peace. This goes back to this being a different type of post-apocalyptic world than I’ve normally read about and one of the main reasons I liked the book. In the end, it might not have been a happy ending in the traditional sense of the word but it was a positive one and I was left feeling a sense of hope for everyone left behind.  Now I am keeping my fingers crossed for a sequel!

Have you read it – what did you think?

emma

The Martian by Andy Weir

Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Genre: Fiction, Sci-Fi
Source: Review Copy
Rating: Liked it a Lot (4 out of 5)

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Engineer and Botanist Mark Watney is stranded on Mars. His crew have left him for dead – and he almost was. A piece of luck kept him alive but not before his space suit reported no vital signs. Alone, and with no chance of rescue, he needs to use his skills, knowledge and wits to stay alive. In four years, there will be another Mars mission that will be able to take him home. He just needs to last that long…

Whether he would or not kept me turning the pages. I was sucked into this book before I knew it, despite initial reservations based on mixed reviews which left it sitting on the kindle for quite a while. I’m so glad I eventually picked it up because I really enjoyed it. It had a good pace, was well written, and – although a little too technical at times – the story was really absorbing. It also felt slightly unrealistic but I didn’t mind that at all, I just wanted to know what happened next.

I liked Mark. With no one else to talk to for the majority of the book, he speaks through journal entries, talking about what he does to survive and how he feels. The emotions he went through seemed real to me. It helped he had a sense of humour, which lightened up what could have been quite a dry book. Having one character carry the majority of the book must be a challenge for an author and I think Andy Weir did it well.

What he didn’t do so well for me was flesh out the other characters. The rest of his crew didn’t feel real enough and the NASA team were a bit hit and miss. I’d have liked to have gotten to know them a little bit better. I don’t think would have taken too much more to do that and it didn’t stop me enjoying the book overall. A compelling story and recommended read.

Emma x

p.s. Although this was a review copy, all thoughts/opinions are my own.

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

Title: MaddAddam
Author: Margaret Atwood
Series: MaddAddam Trilogy (Book 3)
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I know they say you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover but the book jacket for Margaret Attwood’s MaddAddam is my favourite of the year. As soon as I saw it, I couldn’t wait to start reading. The fact that I am a big Margaret Attwood fan, might have had something to do with this and that I enjoyed the first two books in the trilogy (Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood).

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MaddAddam is the story of some of the last remaining humans and the Crakers, scientifically spliced creatures who look like people but with a twist (including eyes that are luminous). They do not eat meat, do not know hate, or fear. Named after their creator Crake, he made them to inherit the earth after he destroyed mankind through a virus and what became known as the Waterless Flood. Whether I can feel too sorry for most of mankind I’m not sure. In Attwood’s world most are greedy and corrupt or too broken to care; they are happy to feast on genetically modified food and bleed the world dry of its resources rather than try and change. Society is run by large corporations who use science not to the betterment of people but to their cost.

“The people in the chaos cannot learn. They cannot understand what they are doing to the sea and the sky and the plants and the animals. They cannot understand that they are killing them, and that they will end by killing themselves. And there are so many of them, and each one of them is doing part of the killing, whether they know it or not. And when”

Some did try to change things, the Gods Gardeners were one group, and their remaining members are some of the central characters in the novel – Toby, Zeb, Ren, and Amanda. Then there is Jimmy, former best friend of Crake and unlikely prophet to the Crakers (as long as he wears a baseball hat and sunglasses with one lens). All of them have survived through a combination of luck, skill and perseverance and we are told their stories in the first two novels (other than Zebs, which is told here). Now, they are living in a compound, along with the Crakers, at risk from paintballers and pigoons and trying to survive.

The future it presents is scary, one I don’t particularly want to see but then think might be possible when I read news stories about the government contracting out all its work and countries modifying their food in order to feed their populations. And that’s even before you add in global warming. One of the things I like about Margaret Attwood is I always end up thinking about what I’m reading and MaddAddam, along with the other books in the trilogy, made me realise how little I know about environmental issues and how potentially dangerous that is. I’m a bit like the general human race before the flood, blindly walking into a future where the planet can’t sustain us.

The other things I love are the complexity – her books don’t tell simple stories in a simple way – and the language, the way she presents people and ideas (“Perfection exacts a price, but it’s the imperfect who pay it”) at the same time as sometimes just stating the obvious and it makes me laugh (“The best way of being kind to bears is not to be very close to them.” ). I also like that she is a brave storyteller, she really seems to tell the story she wants, the way she wants to. There is an attitude in her novels that I love and there isn’t always a happy ending.

Given all that, and my comments at the beginning of the post, it’s probably obvious to say I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it, but possibly with the caveat that you read the other books first (there is a summary at the start but I still found myself stopping at times to try to figure out who someone was or when something had happened.)

Note: I actually wrote this review for my previous blog but decided to re-post it here after my current read, J. By Howard Jacobson, also set in a future I wouldn’t want to inhabit, brought it to mind