Audiobook Review- Artemis

Could this be our future in 2080?

Ok, I purely lucked onto this book. I was searching for the audiobook version of Artemis Fowl – prompted by the release of the motion picture of the same name – when I came across another novel with a very similar title. And my interest was piqued by the back sleeve blurb telling of life on the Moon, and the promise of criminality on the lunar settlement – I was sold!

Artemis (the name given to the lunar settlement) is written by American science fiction writer Andy Weir – who is famous for ‘The Martian’, and to follow-up his successes with that book (which was turned into an action blockbuster featuring Matt Damon), Andy has penned ‘Artemis’ which soon will also be turned into a Hollywood motion picture. The protagonist of Artemis is Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, a porter by day and part-time smuggler when the need arises – filling the demand for contraband on the moon, which has resulted in a life-time of petty acts of criminality. However Jazz is drawn in over her head into a conspiracy with the promise of a pay-day she  simply could not refuse. So a life of petty-criminality is replaced by planning for and pulling off the mother of all crimes, to bring down a mining operation with dire consequences for her, her employer, and all the inhabitants on the Moon, both friend and foe alike!

It’s Han Solo-esque space smuggling meets Oceans 11, as Jazz assembles a rag-tag team to help her pull off the ultimate destructive act in 1/6 of the earth’s gravity, in a vacuum where no-one can hear you scream!

I personally really enjoyed the book because it was a whole new world, while it was still a world which was familiar. Andy Weir leaned on his geeky background – thus the science elements of the book were based on believable fact, not on unbelievable fiction. And it was fast-paced, and seemingly insignificant details in the earlier parts of the book, ultimately played a significant role in the conclusion of the story!

And a big bravo to the production team who put together the audio version of the novel, with special praise to Rosario Dawson the narrator…..or should I call her a voice actor!? As to me it felt more like listening to a feature film, rather than just listening to a plain old audiobook. Her delivery and changes in the tone of her voice to reflect disappointment, fatigue or excitement was wholly believable and immersive. And Andy Weir’s storytelling and Rosario Dawson’s delivery made even the regular appearance of metal welding interesting! Who knew that welding and metallurgy could be so gripping and would play such a vital part in a story-line!? And discussions about “what is the most important item to get your hands on, if there was a global lock-down?” Before listening to this book, my answer was water. Must, must have water, as you can’t survive more than a few days without it. But after listening to Artemis? Ok, you’ve changed my mind. What we can’t live without? It’s oxygen! The good O on the periodic table!

If you want to listen to a tale which is out-of-this-atmosphere? Check out Artemis HERE!

Podcast Recommendations- Coronavirus Global Update

When you care about the welfare of the world!

Granted, news on the Coronavirus pandemic should not become a form of entertainment for us- which podcasts and TV shows ought to be. However when you just want to know more about what is going on around the world, in a quick, no fuss, no effort manner- BBC World Services’ Coronavirus Global Update is maybe what you’re looking for?

The BBC’s latest podcast is a twice daily feed, lasting for no more than 6-8 minutes at-a-time. Delivered as a handful of short reports, updating you on the latest global Coronavirus breaking news in the past 12 hours.

Yes, admittedly at the moment we’re already being bombarded with news on the deadly outbreak each time we turn on our socials or TV, however in most cases the chatter that we hear are highly localised or only focused on the major countries with the highest number of infections. But what about all the other 200 odd countries around the world?

Sure, you can pick a country and Google the heck out of it, learning what is going on in that region of the world to find out how they’re handling the contagion- but isn’t it easier if it could be spoon-fed to you via a twice daily podcast which automatically drops into your podcast player?

From the Coronavirus Global Update, I’ve  learnt of the impact of the virus on India and its people when a lockdown was announced only 24 hours ahead of time – leaving thousands stranded away from home; or the impact of the virus on Kenyans, where the government and military enforce ‘social distancing’ measures – resulting in beatings, shootings and deaths; or the impact of the virus spreading on a US naval aircraft carrier – leading to the captain of the ship pleading for help as ‘it isn’t war time, there is no need for young men to be dying at this time’; or the impact of the virus on the people of Panama as ‘social distancing’ measures separate the genders by forcing men and women to leave their homes on alternative days – bringing a swift end to developing romance for unmarried couples…… All of which are interesting topics to know, which would never find its way onto our main stream news cycles- as we’re too caught up on our own domestic issues.

So if you still want to keep yourself outward focused during these unusual times, check out the Coronavirus Global Update, click HERE to start listening.

Netflix Recommendations- 100 Humans

Are they really answering life’s big questions?

So as the world goes into lock-down, what are we really left to do but to binge from our various streaming services – and this week’s binge has been Netflix’s 100 Humans!

If you’ve ever studied Psychology at university before, you’d agree that the method and packaging of ‘100 Humans’ isn’t anything novel. It’s basically first year psychology – right down to the volunteer subjects – for which ‘100 Humans’ have 100 to prod, deceive, manipulate…… All in the name of science of course, and of course no humans were harmed in the process……. So they say.

The 8 episode series is hosted by Zainab Johnson (Comedian), Sammy Obeid (Comedian), and Alie Ward (Science correspondent). Each episode is based on a theme, varying from attraction, battle of the generations, battle of the sexes, to challenging our biases. Within each episode is a series of experiments involving some of, or all of the 100 Humans. The hosts (and us) watch them undertake the various challenges, oblivious that they are helping to prove or disprove a particular scientific hypothesis.

Are better dancers more virile? Are older folk better communicators? Who is the superior sex? What are our subconscious biases? Do humans perform better with the promise of a reward or avoidance of punishment? And how does our mood influence our judgement?

All of these questions are answered through fun, light-hearted experiments, and the results presented back to you, the viewer, after each experiment – with expert commentary in between, explaining why they achieved the results that they did. And at the end of each episode, the unknowing Humans are also let in on the secrets. Therefore Netflix has forwarded social-science a little step forward, with these new findings added to the mix, and in the process, made a number of Humans instant famous! Like the Tic-Tac-Toe guy! God bless the Tic-Tac-Toe guy (aka Human 28).  

If a bit of mirth and something educational can help you pass the time while under lock-down, please click HERE to start viewing! Enjoy!

Audiobook recommendation- The Slightly Alarming Tale of the WHispering Wars

…& we’re still searching for a Harry Potter replacement.

13 years on, after the last Harry Potter novel was released, once-were-young adults are still searching for a fantasy novel to fill that void which J. K. Rowling left after she packed up her quill and ink bottles and called it a day. But has Jaclyn Moriarty potentially penned a fantasy series which will keep the next generation of primary school kids and soon to be young adults spell bound?

“Hey? Whatcha reading?” my wife asked a 9 year old daughter of a close friend at a summer’s BBQ party.

“It’s ISBN 9781760297183- The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars” she replies in a no-nonsense 9 year old way, blinking up at my wife.

“Oh cool, is it any good?” asks my wife……….

And returning home, my wife proceeds to tell me of a new book she’d like to listen to on Audible. And here we are, me letting you know what I thought.

Well, we first have to back-track a bit, as The Whispering Wars was the second novel of a loosely connected series; ‘The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone’ was the first book (although the Whispering Wars is actually a prequel). *Cross-eyed*. But let’s keep Bronte Mettlestone to another day and another time, as quietly just between you and me…. It wasn’t all that good. *Whispered from the corner of my mouth*. But if you read it first, it does complete the entire story for the Whispering Wars (although WW can be deemed as a standalone novel).

Well, essentially The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars (hence forth to be referred as TSATotWW) is set in a fantasy world, similar to our own world (including an incurable infectious illness) where there are 2 groups of children living in a fictional harbour town called Spindrift. On one side of the tracks, we have the orphans (a boy called Finley being the main protagonist) and on the leafy, affluent side of the tracks are the boarding school children (of which a girl named Honeybee is the main character). The children first come together in a local track & field competition, and after a disagreement breaks out between the two schools, one of the orphanage kids goes missing, and shortly after, a declaration of war is pronounced by the Whispering folk from the Whispering kingdom……. & the story unfolds from there.

TSATotWW follows a well-thumbed recipe for fantasy books, i.e. there is a fantasy world with fantasy kings and queens (check); there are mystical beings (check); there is the use of magic (check); warring kingdoms (check); and time travel to boot (check). However, where say, Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings used well known mystical beings e.g. goblins, dwarves, rangas, and Pegasus, Jacclyn Moriarty has invented her own mystical beings which…. um….. doesn’t always work. However I’m nit-picking now….

But the story was interesting enough, riveting enough, had me turning the pages, and there were plenty of twists and reveals which made it a stand-out read. And Jacclyn Moriarty use of epistolary form, i.e. alternating chapters voiced by a different character (Finley for the orphans and Honeybee for the boarders), drove the story forward through letter entries, each in their distinctive style – requiring different voice actors for the audiobook version. That made it quite an enjoyable listen. But will Bronte Mettlestone be a household name like Harry P? Unfortunately I don’t think so, so the search for an HP replacement goes on!

So if you, or if you’d like to gift your child a new fantasy series to immerse themselves in? Give TSATotWW by Jacclyn Moriarty a go, you can start listening to it HERE!        

Podcast recommendations- Monocle 24: the Menu

When you’re not travelling nor eating out.

It’s pretty crazy at the present time, with Coronavirus and fear of Coronavirus shutting down schools/businesses, cities and countries. So if you’re finding yourself spending more and more time at home, why not do everything virtually?

With ‘Monocle 24: The Menu’, and its sister program ‘Food Neighbourhoods’, you can travel the world and savour its delights from the safety of your own home!

Both The Menu and Food Neighbourhoods are weekly podcast extracts from the Monocle 24 radio station. The menu is a longer program (upwards of 30 mins) where host Markus Hippi takes you on a food journey, interviewing chefs, restaurateurs, producers, and people behind the scenes of the dining industry. The program comes out of the UK, but its stories and guests are from all over the world. Literally all over the world! So even though I’m based in little old Sydney Australia, I feel as if I’m better connected with the goings on in the wider global dining scene! For example, I’ve learnt of the craze of South Koreans wanting to try North Korean food, to hearing about one UK woman’s start-up where she’s producing cannabis based soft drinks? And all of this was in one single episode!

On the other hand, Food Neighbourhoods is a quick wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am program no longer than 8 mins in length. FN takes you on an actual food journey – a different journalist each episode takes you on a virtual walking tour of a literal neighbourhood, describing the sights, sounds and smells of the place, and sharing with you their favourite dining and entertainment spots. It’s both informative, appetising and it’s super interesting when you hear them feature a neighbourhood you’re familiar with! As you can see how accurately (or not) they’ve depicted one of your favourite haunts.

So in the next couple of months, where global travel is unadvisable and eating out is a risky affair, why not just close your eyes and sit back and do your journeying virtually- thanks to Monocle 24: The Menu and Food Neighbourhoods, to start listening, click HERE!

Netflix Recommendations- Love Is Blind

Sure, love is blind. But people ain’t!

Fascinated by the promise of a social experiment, we readily settled ourselves in to watch ‘Love Is Blind’, a new Netflix original dating program. Totaling 11 episodes, 30 individuals (15 men and 15 women) are initially locked in a complex for 10 days, with genders segregated into individual dorms, and throughout the 10 days the guys and girls undertake speed dating rounds in ‘pods’ separated by a thin pane of frosted glass – so they can get to know one another without being influenced by their companion’s appearance. The social experiment the producers are trying to test for, is to see if love and connection is able to surpass looks, ethnicity, physicality, stereotypes, societal prejudices, socio-economic status, education, family background, upbringing etc etc. So you can say that the producers had a pretty big task and responsibility on their hands.

And once a couple develops a connection, they can request for further dates with each other until the man feels compelled to  propose to the girl ‘sight unseen’. And through the wall of frosted glass (and often through tears) she can accept or reject their proposal of marriage. And the day after (if they do say yes), they finally get to meet each other in person and possibly leave the complex immediately even before the 10 days is up?

Once out of the complex (while they are still out of contact with their family and loved ones), the couples who are now engaged are taken to Mexico for a week long post-engagement holiday. Here they start to familiarise themselves with each other’s appearance and physical attributes……… If you know what I mean. *Wink*. And on one of the evenings, all of the couples are re-united and for the first time the rest of the guys get to meet the  rest of the girls (and vice versa), as everyone had blindly interacted in the pods with one another, but now they can place a face to the voice. Are there any roaming eyes, checking-out other people’s fiancées?

And after they return from their holiday, they’re made to live in the same apartment complex (seems like all of them reside in Atlanta Georgia), and as they return back to their everyday lives whilst adapting to live with a new person, they progressively start to meet each other’s parents and close friends (or break the news to besties that they’re now ENGAGED!). And here, their love and connection is put to the test, where external forces start to invade their previously insular love bubble.

And at the end of the 28 days since first setting eyes on each other (and after the usual wedding preparations and drama is out of the way), they’re at the altar in front of God, family and friends (and soon the world), with the final chance to say ‘I do’ or ‘I cannot marry you’. All very suspenseful……. Imagine if all weddings had this level of uncertainty? Def bring back some excitement back to the traditional marriage vow ceremony. Haaha.

So what did we think? Well, the initial lingering impression that I got from the first episodes when they were still blind dating each other, was that the real risk of proposing to someone ‘sight unseen’, was significantly reduced when the producers vetted and casted only ‘hot’ people. Like they weren’t just alright looking, or good looking, but they were ‘hot’! So if I knew that going into the experiment, and when I was talking and connecting with a disembodied voice, knowing that on the other side of the wall was a hottie, sure it’s a lot easier to propose to someone that you’ve never laid eyes on if there was a genuine connection there. So that eliminated some of the “wow, you’re making such a crazy decision here!”  

The second thing which stuck-out for me in those early episodes was that there wasn’t more diversity in bringing together the 15 guys and 15 girls? Either in body shapes, ethnic minorities, and differently abled? That would have taken the ideals of ‘love is blind’ to the next level! But admittedly, it could be psychologically harming for an individual, to see the shock and disappointment on their face when they met for the first time. And I guess TV producers do have a responsibility to protect people from those traumatic experiences, so probs this avenue didn’t pass Netflix’s ethics board.

While overall, we found the show to be totally compelling! The real life drama which unfolded was so dramatic, it couldn’t have been scripted any better than how things naturally unfolded. And even if the show did or didn’t prove that love is blind, it did create an interesting real-life drama, which will go down as a historic piece of sociological resource, which could be required viewing for countless future sociology majors.

My final take-away is this, love is blind. But people ain’t. In the end people are driven by their minds which drives behaviour. People are guided by various experiences they’ve been through along the way – life lessons which have shaped them and heavily influences their future choices and actions. Although there is “love” and there is genuine affection, in the end people make life-defining choices with their minds, and probably less so with their hearts (well, it’s actually more emotions). And you can see for yourself, how often love wins out over better judgement. Click HERE! to start binge watching ‘Love Is Blind’.