Review: Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen

Title: Here and Now and Then
Author: Mike Chen
Rating: ★½
Summary: Kin Stewart is an everyday family man trying to keep the spark in his marriage and struggling to connect with his teenage daughter. But his current life is a far cry from his previous career as a time-traveling secret agent. Stranded in suburban San Francisco since the 1990s, Kin has kept his past hidden until the afternoon his “rescue” team arrives—eighteen years too late. Their mission is to return Kin to his proper timeline in 2142: where he’s only been gone weeks, not years, and a family he can’t remember is waiting for him. Torn between two lives, Kin is desperate for a way to stay connected to both. But when his best efforts threaten his daughter’s very existence, it’ll take one final trip across time to save her—even if it means breaking all the rules of time travel in the process.


Note: an eARC of this title was acquired via NetGalley & Edelweiss+.

I’ve been sitting on this review for a week or so, but I cannot figure out what to write. Like, Here and Now and Then was a book? And I read it?? Time travel stories are some of my absolute favorites to experience, but after I finished this one, I realized that there were a lot of things that happened but nothing that really grabbed me or made me feel truly invested in the narrative. Everyone feels like silhouettes of themselves, reduced to fictional stereotypes in a paint-by-numbers sci-fi romp.

I can tell that Mike Chen spent a lot of time thinking about the story—especially how time travel would work—but the prologue introducing Kin was too brief for me to really empathize with him getting stranded in 1996. And then the next time we meet him, in 2014, feels like another blip on the way to the real story: Kin being forced to return to 2142 and subsequently trying to figure out a way “back to his daughter”. (I won’t write how he accomplishes this, but I literally said out loud “Oh, that’s not what I thought would happen but okay sure” after reading it.) But once he’s back in his proper timeline, Kin is able to “process both eras clearly and cleanly,” the huge barrier providing tension to the previous chapters magically removed. Kin also talks a big game of having to choose between Heather, his wife in 2014, and Penny, his fiancee in 2142—but he never has to, not really. The choice ultimately becomes Penny or his daughter, but he doesn’t have to choose between them, either, getting to have both with little conflict. Everything just kind of… works out.

It’s not that Here and Now and Then wasn’t good, it’s that it wasn’t for me (even though I really wanted it to be). Chen’s characters are stilted outlines without much filler, the plot moves forward but doesn’t feel like it goes anywhere, and every scene is so full of extraneous stuff that you don’t notice how ultimately bland and empty the book is until you finish. With too much focus on the how instead of the why, the story, unfortunately, becomes forgettable, one of those books you’ll close with a “hmm” and then never open again.

Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Title: Dark Matter
Author: Blake Crouch
Rating: ★★½
Summary: After Jason Dessen is kidnapped and knocked unconscious, he wakes up strapped to a gurney and surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Everything is eerily familiar—except not. His wife is not his wife, his son was never born, and he’s a celebrated scientific genius instead of a college physics professor. The choices Jason’s forced to make stem from a single, seemingly unanswerable question—has he woken up from a dream or escaped into another?—and result in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined. Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about the choices and decisions we make, and how far we’ll go to accomplish our dreams.


If I weren’t a book blogger—who very much has to force herself to review the titles I’ve read—I would have given Dark Matter a star rating and moved on. Because unfortunately, the more time that passes since I finished it, the less and less I actually feel like I enjoyed the story. On one hand, yes, it was definitely engaging, and I might have spent one evening reading for two plus hours. But then, on the other, I feel overwhelmed by the many tiny annoyances I blocked out that only now, looking back, do I feel detracted from the novel as a whole.

Dark Matter bills itself as a science-fiction thriller, but it feels more like a fast-paced thriller with technological elements—which might seem like the same thing until the action and suspense become more important than the science (which, toward the end of the novel, happened a lot). Blake Crouch tried very hard to write a story that lulled you into a must-find-out-what-happens reading experience, but some of the narrative choices he made felt over-exaggerated, a quick satiety of sweetness overshadowed by a lingering gurgle of regret. He wants us to like the protagonist, Jason, to feel sorry for him, to hope that he makes it out of his situation—and we do, kind of. But we also grow weary of his circumstance and selfishness.

It’s not that I didn’t like Dark Matter and maybe that I didn’t like it enough. Almost every point in the novel reminded me of something else—the environment of Blade Runner, the plot of All Our Wrong Todays, the disappointment of Synchronicity, the smarmy almost-villain of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom—only those things had done it better (or else I’d just gotten to them first). I sincerely enjoyed not really knowing what was happening the first time Crouch throws in third-person narration—is this an alternate reality where Jason makes it home okay? Or merely the story he tells himself to feel better about being in a foreign environment?—but then it morphed into a crutch. We guess what’s happening much earlier than Jason does, and his slow crawl toward realization feels agonizing.

I stumbled upon a paperback copy of this book over the summer and, swayed by a sale (because, honestly, who isn’t), I convinced myself to buy it. Then it turned out to be the December pick for a local book club, and I bumped it up my TBR. But in deciding against going to the meeting, perhaps I missed out on some lively discussion, something which would have swayed my opinion. Maybe Dark Matter is just one of those books you can’t read alone; left stewing in your own thoughts, everything turns sour.

Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

Title: Artemis
Author: Andy Weir
Rating: ★½
Summary: Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent. Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself — and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.


Artemis was disappointing, to say the least. The Martian was a 5-star read for me, so I went into this book with high expectations. Unfortunately, there were just too many hang-ups and eye-rolling to make the novel more than a bleh for me.

The protagonist, Jazz, felt like a cardboard cutout of a female character, stripped of a multi-faceted personality and, instead, given what Weir thinks a female ought to possess in order to fit her surroundings. (Or perhaps he just transplanted his thirty-something, white, cis, heterosexual fictional stand-in, Mark Watney, into the body of a twenty-something Arab. Who knows.) Her understanding of the world has stalled at puberty, and she comes off completely self-centered, her actions and motivations before we meet her cringy to read. (Her main impetus for taking over the heist is to repay her father for an accident she caused; Jazz has apparently completely ignored him for seven years among of a population of only a few thousand  and is certain his wants and needs have stayed static in the intervening half-decade. Hey Jazz, why don’t you just, I don’t know, talk to him??)

The plot itself is a jumble of a heist but also a murder mystery, with spots of romance thrown in for good measure. Except it’s also a science fiction novel… I guess? Weir has Jazz sarcastically overexplain her actions, but it’s not as quirky as Mark running through how he’s going to survive on an inhospitable planet; it’s just grating. I suppose that Weir wanted all of his science to be accurate, but I was already on board with humans living on the moon: I didn’t also need Weir to treat his lunar base as potential science fact. (As if, in the future, scientists would read this book and go, “ooh good idea”?) In the end, he never quite found a balance between underexplaining the economic, cultural, and social facets of Artemis’s social construction and then overexplaining the physical.

Artemis had a good outline but needed too many changes for me to actually enjoy it. Maybe if Jazz had been appropriately aged to match her personality, or she’d been explicitly written as a white male instead of a brown female. Maybe if there’d been one solid plot instead of two and a half meh ones, or if the book didn’t come off as a half-assed attempt to replicate The Martian‘s success without understanding why it succeeded in the first place. (Um, The Hangover 2??) Maybe if every character didn’t come off as a checkbox next to a diversity hire so that no one could fault Weir for only writing about able-bodied white people in space.

Or maybe it was all the welding.

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

TheMartianTitle: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Rating: ★★★★★
Summary: Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills — and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength – he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive. As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive – but Mars has plenty of surprises in store for him yet.


If it weren’t for the big-budget movie starring Matt Damon that just came out*, I don’t think Andy Weir’s The Martian would be flying off the shelves as much as it has – but that’s kind of a shame, really, because it’s super (ridiculously) good. And not just good in a hard sci-fi kind of way where you’re already kind of enthralled by NASA and interested in Mars and always maybe wanted to be an astronaut when you grew up. It’s good in the way a spy thriller is good or an adventure story is good – good where there’s a clear good guy vs. bad guy thing going on and there’s a nail-biting chase scene (or three) and you’re not JUST rooting for the bad guy to fail, you’re actually rooting for the good guy to win.

For me, books like The Martian don’t come around very often: books that make me bark out peals of laughter, put off watching TV (admittedly, my favorite thing to do), and keep me up way past my bedtime so that I can finish just one more paragraph (okay, fifteen). A book that fills my mind so that the seconds tick by into minutes, fifteen minutes roll into thirty, and one hour somehow becomes four… hours where I’m sitting and then lounging and then stretching, all to feed the insatiable need of omg what is happening i need to know how this ends. (If I could somehow read at the edge of my seat then that’s what I was doing for, like, ninety percent of this book.) I knew that I would enjoy The Martian, but I didn’t anticipate just how much this book was going to win me over. (Kind of how Netflix thinks I’ll rate a Gritty Crime Drama with an Engaging Female Lead four stars and I’m like, “Why would I watch that, Netflix?” and then I watch it and give it four stars. (Because Netflix just knows, okay??? So let’s pretend that I’m Netflix and I just know.))

You don’t need to know a whole lot about this book before going in – namely because Weir’s fearless protagonist Mark Watney spells it out in literally the first chapter of the book – but I suppose it’s helpful to know that Watney is an astronaut presumed dead and, as a result, left stranded on Mars. So, basically, the entire book is various forms of “Way to go, Mark!” and “Have fun, Mark!” and “So glad you’re not dead, Mark!” except Mark is saying this all to himself because he’s the only human being on an entire freaking planet and he doesn’t even have a robot for company.

Basically, The Martian is sarcastic and smart and nail-biting and laugh-out-loud funny and I wish you would just read it already because this review is turning out useless. (You’ll like it, though, I swear.)

* Everybody’s Favorite Scientist™ Neil deGrasse Tyson actually shot a (real) promo for the (real) film’s (fake) Ares 3 mission, (theoretically) taped for his (real) program Star Talk. META.

Five Favorite: Science Fiction Novels

“Five Favorite” is a feature on thewasofshall where I lay out my five favorite “x”. Sometimes they’re relevant to a season or holiday, mostly they’re not. It’s an all-around fun excuse to give my 100% amazingly awesome opinion. To see previous (and future) topics, click here. To participate, scroll all the way down.

I intended to have more than five science fiction novels from which to choose – and to spend the majority of this list detailing why I had to whittle it down – but, instead, I belatedly realized that I spend way more time thinking about sci-fi literature than I do reading it. So, below are four of my favorite sci-fi novels as well as one high on my tbr list.

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11/22/63 by Stephen King (on my tbr, especially now that the mini series is imminent!!)

Blackout

Blackout by Connie Willis

TheMartian

The Martian by Andy Weir

MsMarvelVol1

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

ThePassage

The Passage by Justin Cronin

Have your own five favorite science fiction novels? Share them! Post them to your blog, link back to this post, and then comment letting me know!