The Martian (Andy Weir, 2011)

tumblr_nztod60m3I1thiezso1_500.jpg

The Martian: a novel, by Andy Weir (2011).

Score: Outstanding.

The Martian tells the story of Mark Watney, left for dead and stranded on Mars during a critically intense sandstorm on the sixth day of a manned mission. Watney has to figure out how to make water and food for himself, how to reestablish contact with Earth and how to get out of the planet before his life support fails.

Some people have described it as “just a thought experiment” like it was a bad thing, but I don’t see why it should. The bulk of the plot are the technical details of Watney’s ordeal. Since most of the chapters are told by Watney in the first person, we get a great glimpse of who he is, how he thinks, and how he takes life (hint: he’s much funnier than Movie!Watney). For the rest of characters, development is minimal and that’s how this story likes it.

Like good science, it’s the product of peer review. It started out as a blog where Weir would post the episodes as he wrote them, and corrected them according to the evidence provided by some of his three thousand devoted readers. I don’t know how much got corrected but the technical detail is astounding. It’s easily understandable by someone with a high-school level of science, you just need to read carefully and Google occasionally. It ends up being quite instructive. Even if you’ve watched the movie you’ve got some surprises coming up for you, and if you haven’t… Boy, you’re in for a bumpy ride of geeky man versus nature.

The first person narrative is very well achieved. You follow Watney’s train of thought as he is scared of the situation, then starts dividing it into smaller problems, then starts devising a solution for each. As time goes by you see how he starts being affected by stress and isolation as well. He speaks the way someone like him would, as do the rest of scientists that appear in the book. Boy, do I hate first-person narrators who speak like Romantic poets. It’s been post-modernism for a while, people!

Comparing it to the movie, there are some plot points the movie scrapped. Totally understandable, as it would have made the movie much longer and veering into tedious territory. So, having enjoyed both, both are good at what they do. You don’t really have to choose, you can like both.

To sum it up: if you’re not interested in science or engineering in the least, don’t read it, you’ll be very bored. If you like them, you’re gonna have a great time.

Chavs, the demonization of the working class (Owen Jones, 2011)

tumblr_nz42fvhivf1thiezso1_500

Chavs, the demonization of the working class, by Owen Jones (2011).

Score: Informative and well-written.

Jordi Évole is one of the most influential journalists and documentary makers in Spain right now, and a few weeks ago he devoted one of his weekly shows to exploring how the working class felt about its own class status. He interviewed Owen Jones in it, and after reading Jones’ book I find it pretty obvious that Évole was inspired by this book to write his own show where he asks himself if the same conclusions, or similar ones, can be applied to Spain and Spanish people.

Owen Jones explains he was inspired to write about the demonization of the working class when he witnessed the telling of a classist joke against chavs in an otherwise tolerant and progressive environment where racist or homophobic jokes would have been frowned upon. Jones dedicates the first chapter to providing examples of what have come to be known as chavs being ridiculed, scorned and ostracised unlike any other social group. His thesis is that they have become acceptable targets by a series of political reasons.

The second chapter describes in great length the dismantlement of the secondary sector during Thatcherism, when well-paid manual jobs were relocated to other countries and the void was filled with not enough jobs of not enough quality in the tertiary sector. The following chapters describe how both the Tories and the new Laborists insisted in the delusion that classes no longer exist and everyone is welcome in an ever extending middle class. Those who are unable to climb up the social ladder are explained as lacking the personal qualities required and therefore blamed for their own poverty.

Jones uses many sources, data and objective facts to debunk the myth that the working class is a parasite of the middle class through benefit fraud, and that the only reason they keep being poor is because they don’t try hard enough to succeed. Jones argues that the game is actually rigged against those who are born to the lower classes, who have it much more difficult to overcome poverty, regardless of talent.

The book made me think a lot about class and classism, how it still exists and how trying to convince us that it is an obsolete concept actually goes against us, as working class. The moment they convince you that everyone has equal access to the middle class, you’ve lost (if you’re not middle or upper class already).

Jones has a clear thesis and defends it with everything he has. To people who are not used to complete arguments about anything, he might sound opinionated and one-sided. If you consider you have a formed opinion about a certain topic and you have got it from a single source, the problem is yours, not the author’s. Go out and read a book about why Thatcherism was so great and form your own opinion.

The curious case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher, 2008)

tumblr_o0ap66przp1thiezso1_r1_500

The curious case of Benjamin Button, directed by David Fincher (2008).

Score: Heartwarming, at times.

I watched this in the cinema back when it came out in 2008. I was twenty and I didn’t get it. There was a rerun last night on TV and while the movie is not perfect, I appreciated it much more now than back then.

The curious case of Benjamin Button is the story of a man (Brad Pitt) who is born in New Orleans in 1918 with the physiology of an already ailing person. Abandoned by his father (Jason Flemying) at a nursing home, he is adopted by an African-American maid (Taraji P. Henson). As the years pass by and he doesn’t die, people around him realise that he’s just aging backwards. While still a kid (that looks like a very short old man) he meets one of the resident’s granddaughter, Daisy (Cate Blanchett), who goes on to become the love of his life.

***SPOILERS***

Continue reading