The Martian (by Ridley Scott)

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Last week, I posted my thoughts on Andy Weir’s The Martian. It’s easily one of the best science fiction books of the century. Fortunately, Ridley Scott’s film adaptation is very faithful to the novel. I won’t summarize the plot again (just read it here), but if you like the book, you’ll like the film. That said, there are a few notable differences that make the film a unique experience.

The film starts off before the accident that leaves astronaut Mark Watney stranded on Mars. We as viewers see the Hermes crew collecting samples before everything goes to hell. We see Watney struggle through those first painful hours when he’s still recovering from the accident. By contrast, the novel starts off after the accident, when Watney has already come up with a plan for survival. Continue reading “The Martian (by Ridley Scott)”

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“The Martian” by Andy Weir

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I’m (finally) going to see Ridley Scott’s adaptation of The Martian tonight. In honor of that occasion, I am posting my review of the original novel. I’ll post a review of the movie early next week.

The story of The Martian is simple. Mark Watney, a botanist on a mission to Mars, is accidentally abandoned by his crewmates when the mission goes south. Watney then has to figure out how to survive with the materials the crew left behind. However, the story is also deceptively original. This isn’t a book about the first manned mission to Mars (we have plenty of those). This isn’t about colonizing Mars or finding signs of life. If I were to compare it to any recent sci-fi story, I’d say it reminds me of the recent film Gravity, another survival story. Continue reading ““The Martian” by Andy Weir”

Star Wars & religion

As part of my series of articles for Legendarium Media, I recently wrote two pieces about some of the religious themes in Star Wars. The first, “The Star Wars Prequels as a Journey from Religious Dogma to Mysticism” (here), is an attempt to reinterpret the Prequel and Original Trilogies by looking at how Jedi religious practices evolved over the course of the saga. In “Hokey Religions and Midi-Chlorians” (here), I look at how the concept of midi-chlorians lines up against Eastern and Western religious traditions. At the least, writing these articles has helped me to better appreciate what George Lucas was trying to accomplish in the Prequels, to the point where I have no trouble viewing all six films as part of a continuous whole.

For those interested in a deeper discussion of religious themes in the Star Wars saga, I highly recommend Paul McDonald’s book The Star Wars Heresies.

Henry Clay: America’s Greatest Statesman

UnknownIn my high school history class, my teacher described Henry Clay as the most important American politician who never became president. In Henry Clay: America’s Greatest Statesman, Harlow Giles Unger’s new biography of Clay reminds us why. Clay was a central political figure in both the House of Representatives and the Senate during the first half of the 19th Even a cursory overview of U.S. history will mention his great compromises.

Unger does a decent job providing a short and accessible overview of Clay’s life. I particularly enjoyed the sections about Clay’s personal life. You don’t typically hear about the drinking and womanizing in high school textbooks. I was also saddened to learn Clay lost so many of his children so young.

Unfortunately, although I know what Henry Clay did, I still feel like I don’t really know what motivated the man. Yes, Clay wanted to save the Union, but why? What made that such a driving goal for Clay (and not for many of his contemporaries)? How did Clay develop his legendary skill for finding compromises? There’s always a risk of historians engaging in pseudo-psychology when trying to understand their subjects, but Unger went too far in the other direction. Perhaps the historical records simply wouldn’t allow such an examination, but at the least I would have appreciated some more analysis.

I can’t say I’ve read many biographies of Henry Clay, but David and Jeanne Heidler’s 2011 biography seems to me a more thorough examination of the man and his political legacy. Unger’s book might be better suited to readers who want more than a Wikipedia article but less than a 600 page tome.

[I received a free advance review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.]