When it comes to popular fiction, I tend to be the most conservative and hesitant. It’s probably due to me knowing if I like something, I’ll go too deep too fast. Just look at my Harry Potter obsession years. That said, I do try to expand my reading horizons.
This year I decided to read more Sci-Fi. Besides classic Jules Verne tales like ‘Around the World in Eighty Days‘ and ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’, and Ender’s Game, most of the stories I’ve encountered in the genre left me wondering: “Why do people like this so much, why is it a classic, I don’t understand!” I wanted to know if I was just bad at picking the good stuff.
So far, two books stand out. Both I’d classify as Sci-Fi, but not the same type. The Martian is the kind that strives for technical accuracy. Good Morning, Midnight uses space travel and apocalyptic circumstances as a backdrop to study characters.
The Martian (cue left) is quite the page turner. The situations Mark Watney, the story’s hero, face as an astronaut stranded on Mars are highly realistic. I chuckle-groaned with rueful knowing sympathy every time things went wrong at the worst possible moment, in the most unexpected ways. As a former engineer now IT professional, I know machines do that, all the freakin’ time.
Realism is The Martian‘s strength, but the technical details can and do get a bit wearying. Even for reasoned nonfiction readers like me. By the time I read Mark Watney’s crew’s decision to return to Mars to save their teammate, ignoring NASA directives, I just skimmed the inevitable disasters as they unfolded. Another note: there isn’t much character building and everyone has a similar flavor of smartass. The exception is the Mark Watney chapters, which is told in the first-person. This is not necessarily a detractor; The Martian is a thriller-suspense with a healthy dash of geeky humor. Character building is a second thought. Speaking of which…
Good Morning, Midnight (cue right) is definitely a more literary, character-driven story. I confess the main reason I picked up the book was the beauty of its cover. That said, the inner flap promised a compelling tale of an elderly astronomer, one of the two lone survivors on Earth, establishing contact with a crew of astronauts returning from a mission to study Jupiter’s moons.
There are no surprises when it comes to the plot. Quite unlike The Martian, which is nothing but surprises. It’s a quiet, slow and haunting tale of what goes through the characters’ heads as they face the end of the world as they know it, and how they re-evaluate what is truly important. Something I’d read on a quiet evening when I’m in a mood to read human stories and pretty language.
Confession: I’m not partial to Good Morning, Midnight type of sci-fi unless it’s short. The inaccuracies, real or perceived, bother me too much. I get a sense Lily Brooks-Dalton doesn’t know much about real space travel. (“How can astronauts bring flammable material into a deep space trip, that’s why we have ebook readers and computers. Gasp, even alcohol?! C’mon! Astronauts aren’t allowed to drink!”) But if you can set aside such things, it’s a moving tale.