Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Retrograde Review

This review needs to start with a few apologies and asides, which most might not deem necessary...but I'm occasionally neurotic and not "most people".

First off, for regular readers of the blog, I will start with my apologies that I have a tendency to read a lot of books that are eerily similar. I have always said that I will read anything, regardless of genre, as long as the story sounds interesting. But, occasionally I become hyper self-aware, and start to wonder whether the reason that last grief-filled book of loss didn't strike a cord is because I've read SO many books recently with similar plots that they've got somewhat boring, no matter how good the writing is. Some of it is because I have been reading a lot of books recently that I didn't pick out. And some of it is because I am prone to ruts. I find something I enjoy, like thrillers...and then I read them to death. But I need to remember that variety is the spice of life, and has always been my reading motto. So, I will strive to add a better mix in the future. (Right now some of you might be thinking, but it IS a mix Christina?!? In which case, I say thank you, and you now have a small taste of the crazy lady that my husband has lived with for almost 24 years.)

Now the second has more to do with this review. I don't read very many Science Fiction books. As I said in my review of Dark Matter, it's just not a genre I regularly pick up...not for any particular reason really...but when I do read one, I'm never analyzing the science in it. So with Retrograde by Peter Cawdron (which was sent to me by the publisher, thanks!!), I devoured the book with lightning speed...and then wanted a second opinion.

I had recently been discussing books with one of my daughter's best friends at college, an extremely intelligent cutie of a guy with a wry sense of humor. In fact, I believe he was at the house when I received Retrograde in the mail. Anyway, he mentioned that he'd read quite a few Science Fiction books, and enjoyed them. So, as soon as I finished this book, I shoved it into my daughter's hands and asked her to please give it to R so I could hear what he thought of it. (after grilling her to be sure it wasn't too weird...)

But, I hadn't taken my photo of it yet. 😢 And despite it vexing me at times, I really do enjoy taking my own photos of any books I have physical copies of. So instead, you guys get my first try at making my own backdropped cover photo. I'm reasonably happy with it...reasonably.

And now to my actual thoughts about Retrograde...finally.

Retrograde is a fairly small (256 page) novel about an international colony on Mars in the near future, filled with scientists, engineers and medical personnel, who are forced to deal with the repercussions of a massive nuclear war on Earth. It is told in the first person, through Liz...an American who is in a relationship with a Chinese doctor. There is something of a twist in the plot, which I don't want to spoil in any way...so I'm going to keep the details sparse.

Mars is a popular place in Fiction, with the book/movie The Martian being enjoyed by just about everyone. A big difference between the two stories is that in Retrograde we have an entire colony that is unprepared to sustain itself for the long haul, and may never have help from an Earth that has been plunged into chaos. And this book really made me think about what would happen with an international group of colonists, who regularly work together in harmony (for lack of a better word), if a war broke out between the nations that were forced together in the group. Would the discord travel to the colonists? Should it impact them? I know that this is a quandary that has been in play probably since people have been around...but the Sci-Fi element just amplifies it to a much higher degree. Because a massive War is taking place on Earth, does that mean it also needs to happen on Mars? (My second opinion agreed with this, I think.)

But then, about halfway through the book, you realize there is something else at play. And although I read this book incredibly fast, totally intrigued, I honestly feel that this is where the size of the novel negatively impacts the story. Things get very complicated, and in a way it felt like there was just too much jammed into too small of a space, if that makes sense. The plot was a bit much for less than 100 pages. Hopefully R won't hate that I'm quoting him here, but he said "It's a pretty short book, and he tried to do a lot with it, so it felt a bit convoluted at points." And I agree, wholeheartedly.

My only other, somewhat minor issue, is that with the book being told in the first person, I didn't really feel like I got to know any of the characters very well...including the main character, Liz. For loss to have much of an impact, you have to care about your characters, and that requires more than a little time, attention and background. Although I think an effort was made, I didn't have as big of an emotional response as I might have if it weren't told in the first person. But I also know that's more a personal preference thing.

So, I enjoyed Retrograde...and a huge Thank-you to the publisher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) for sending it my way! From what I can tell, I think it was very well-researched...which isn't so important to me but I'm sure is important to others. It was a fast-paced, entertaining read that definitely kept me thinking. If you're a fan of Science Fiction, I would add it to your reading list. My second opinion said "It was a really interesting book, with a pretty well built world." and I agree with his sentiments. Today you got two reviews instead of one!! (Thanks again R for humoring me, and finding the time in your busy schedule to not only read this book, but to also let me know what you thought!)

But in the end, I'm really just curious if anyone else gets in a reading rut, and finds that they've been reading too many of the same type books?!? Let me know in the comments!!


  1. Sometimes a chance of genre can be necessary to refresh the reading mood! I do get that myself sometimes! I tend to overdose on apocalypse books at times though it takes a lot for me to get bored of them!

    1. Good to know I'm not the only one who can get in a rut!