Mars, Matt Damon, and Science

Let’s talk about The Martian by Andy Weir. I saw the trailer before reading the book, and read the book before watching the movie, so the only things I knew going in was from the trailer.  Matt Damon gets left on Mars, must figure out how to feed himself and not die until rescue comes, and decides to “science the shit out of it.”  And he does.

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The book was an interesting read after the trailer.  This is apparently what is called “hard” sci fi, so heavy on the science.  Pages upon pages of science.  It is apparently fairly accurate science.  I wouldn’t know as I didn’t read all of it.  I discovered I’m not a huge fan of hard sci fi!  That’s okay though; it is a personal preference.  If you like hard sci fi, I bet you’ll like The Martian.

It was in an interesting format, as the reader gets to listen in on the protagonist’s logs.  I did enjoy all the personal flair given here, outside the science.  Our hero is a smart ass, and he’s got nothing to lose since he’s stuck on Mars.  I’d be in too bad of a mood or too dead for being funny if I was stuck on Mars, but perhaps that is why I’m not an astronaut.

I found it much better if I skipped the most technical stuff and slowed down for the people stuff.  It did disappoint in this area some though, with a few conversations between characters occurring just to tell the reader what was happening with the science.  I won’t give any spoilers, but it really bugged me when there was a daddy/daughter conversation and daughter astronaut decided to share a bunch of morbid planning details with her emotional dad.  No daughter should EVER have this conversation with this dad.

Something I thought of after reading it was how many novels suffer from a protagonist that is just too good for the situation.  They’re just the best fit for their disaster, even though they have no reason to be.  Luck smiled upon us all when the otherwise boring low level accountant managed to rid the world of flesh-eating, alien squirrels!  (Yes, I made that up.)  The Martian does not fall into this category because we all know NASA would not send morons to Mars.  The worst astronaut in space is still one of the most competent people on the planet.  We can cheer when he throws science at it and wins, because even though it is a stretch, it is entirely believable he could win.  We are not surprised the scientists on the ground figure out how to help him.  We are not surprised when his crew wants to save him.  We expect it from these people, because they are some of the best in the world.  You and I would die on Mars, but these people might not, so we buy it.

Overall, I recommend the book if you like more science in your sci fi.  You’ll likely love it.  If you’ve never read sci fi, you should try it out and see what you think!  If you don’t enjoy it, just know there are more sub-genres out there.

 

Onward and upward to the movie!  The movie was definitely better than the book, in my opinion.  There was all the cool stuff from the book with less of the science.  There’s still plenty for him to “science the shit out of it” with, but it isn’t as overwhelming.  There are also more personable moments, and the characters get a better resolution of their stories at the end.  Anyone who likes action movies will probably enjoy The Martian film.

You can buy the book and the movie at Amazon.

Questions for You!
Have you read this book and/or seen the movie?  What did you think?
Would you travel to Mars?
What book(s) should I read next?

More Information
Andy Weir’s website
NASA’s page on Mars
Health Dangers of Mars Travel  In addition to being left there, I assume.

Blood, Spies, and Ships

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A year or so ago, I read the Raven’s Shadow series by Anthony Ryan.  This was a fantastic trilogy that left me thinking about the characters long after I’d finished reading, so I was excited to read the first of his new series.  The Waking Fire did not disappoint.

Throughout the vast lands controlled by the Ironship Trading Syndicate, nothing is more prized than the blood of drakes. Harvested from captive or hunted Reds, Greens, Blues and Blacks, it can be distilled into elixirs that bestow fearsome powers on the rare men and women known as the Blood-blessed.

But not many know the truth: that the lines of drakes are weakening. If they fail, war with the neighboring Corvantine Empire will follow swiftly. The Syndicate’s last hope resides in whispers of the existence of another breed of drake, far more powerful than the rest, and the few who have been chosen by fate to seek it.

Claydon Torcreek is a petty thief and an unregistered Blood-blessed who finds himself pressed into service by the Protectorate and sent to wild, uncharted lands in search of a creature he believes is little more than legend. Lizanne Lethridge is a formidable spy and assassin facing gravest danger on an espionage mission deep into the heart of enemy territory. And Corrick Hilemore is the second lieutenant of an Ironship cruiser whose pursuit of ruthless brigands leads him to a far greater threat at the edge of the world.

As lives and empires clash and intertwine, as the unknown and the known collide, all three must fight to turn the tide of a coming war, or drown in its wake.   ~Inside Flap

After reading His Majesty’s Dragon, I told a friend I’d read a novel about the Napoleonic Wars, but with dragons!  This friend isn’t into fantasy so I don’t think she was impressed.  I told her I’d finished another novel after reading this one, and she asked if it had dragons.  “Drakes!”  She didn’t share my excitement.

The start of this book is very engaging.  Between the prologue and the first chapter, I wanted to know what was really happening in this fictional world.  I knew I’d be reading the whole series shortly after that, and was then dismayed to find the third book won’t be out until 2018.

My favorite of the three main characters was Lizanne.  Who doesn’t like an awesome spy?  She was written so well I truly cared about her welfare as the book progressed. Claydon was also a great character and fun to watch, just like any good rogue.  I’d say the least interesting of the three was Corrick, but the naval battles more than made up for that weakness.

The chapters switch between the characters, who all interact with each other at various points.  It was a great way to show what was happening at different parts of the world at the same time, and how the actions of one character affected the others.

Both in this book and the Raven series, I noticed his ability to elicit my understanding of a scene without needing to describe it in detail.  There was a fortress in one of the first books, and I could envision it perfectly even though relatively little space was dedicated to its description.  In Waking Fire, there are a few scenes that take place in a dressmaker’s shop.  Again, almost no time is spent describing the shop, but somehow I was able to build the visual anyway.  This is a great skill I’d love to be able to learn and employ in my own writing.

This is a great book, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.  You can find it on Amazon here.  As an added bonus, you can pre-order the third book as well!

Questions for You!
Have you read this book?  What did you think?
Have you read the Raven’s Shadow series?
What book(s) should I read next?

More Information
Anthony Ryan’s site
Blood Song on Amazon
Wikipedia redirects from Drake to Dragon

Sit Up Straight, Kids

Last week, I told you I reached 10,000 words for NaNoWriMo.  Today, I’m happy to report I’ve hit 21,762!  I am finally out of Act I, and my character is running away.  Flee! Flee for your lives!  I don’t think it is going to work out for her, sadly.  I still need Acts II and III.

It has been a busy week, but I’ve remained ahead of the target word count and I’ve learned about several more aspects of writing.

Laptop Ergonomics

Weren’t expecting this one, were you?  Neither was I!  My chiropractor could have told me though, if I’d asked before I went in with terrible neck pain and a headache.  The recliner is not the best place to type away on your novel, head down and shoulders rolled forward.  I should have guessed this, as I spent a lot of time on my desk at work.  I just didn’t apply those lessons to my home life!

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This was my temporary solution, as the show must go on.  Or rather, I needed to keep writing while at the same time avoiding daily trips back to the chiropractor and/or massage therapist.  You can see Aragorn approves. Faramir was scoping it out from afar, plotting to take it down.

On Thursday, I received a desk from Amazon that will crank from sitting to standing.  I have the same one at my work office, though this one is smaller.  It was a disaster to put together, taking around five hours total with four extra people.  It is a great desk, but the instructions were Ikea-level ridiculous.  They led to a slight misunderstanding right out of the gate, and we built it backwards and didn’t realize our mistake for two hours.

Good thing it works.

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Character Language

This one takes a little more explanation.  My employer has offices worldwide, and I’ve recently had the opportunity to work with people from South America, Europe, and Asia as part of a special project.  They all sounded different.  And that is the extent of my appreciation of language differences – we have them.

If I get on the phone with someone and they sound different, I might think, “they’re from somewhere else.”  I don’t really care though because we are exchanging information, and as long as the language barrier doesn’t prevent that task, it is irrelevant they sound different or are from “somewhere else.”  The only reason location is important is so we can manage the time zone issues when setting up conference calls.

On one hand, I’m fairly certain this means I’m not overtly discriminatory.  I’m happy to work with whoever, from wherever.  Diversity at work leads to far better results than we’d have if we only talked to people just like us.  And to be clear, I do care about where they are from as I get to know them.  I enjoyed speaking with my coworkers from across the world during the project last year, on both professional and personal levels.  We had terrific (and calm) conversations about religion and politics when we’d go out to dinner.  I just never stopped to consider our languages and how they sounded.

This week, I read some of Brandon Sanderson’s annotations on the Mistborn series. I won’t spoil any of the details, but I discovered that the characters from the one of the cultures were written to have the same language structure.  Their voices sounded similar because they had similar backgrounds.

Mind.  Blown.

I know this seems obvious, but I have never considered this.  Oh sure, I knew characters were all supposed to sound different.  I’ve concluded I’m pretty terrible at that right now and it is something I’ll need to tackle in revisions, but I hadn’t thought about groups of characters sounding somewhat similar.  I’ve never noticed this in other people, so it didn’t occur to me to plan it into my writing.

Questions for you!

  • What does your writing setup look like?  Have you had problems with a poor setup?
  • Are there other authors out there with annotations/notes on their books?  In addition to being interesting, I found it educational.
  • How is your NaNoWriMo coming along?

Historical Fiction, with Dragons

HisMajestysDragon

Recently, I had the pleasure to read His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik.  Published in 2006, Goodreads was kind enough to recommend it to me, and my library was kind enough to lend it to me.  I found it enjoyable enough I didn’t put it down at all, finishing it one blissful Saturday on my couch.

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire. ~ Back Cover

To be honest, I’m not sure I would have picked this up on my own.  I know very little about the Napoleonic Wars, and I might assume that would be important.  It is not.  The historical context is apparently accurate, but once you add dragons, you get a whole different thing and knowledge of history isn’t required.

I fell in love with the dragons in history concept very quickly, as she dragged me right into the action with the frigate capture and dragon egg discovery.  I wanted to know about this dragon before it hatched, and how the dragons would act, and what the humans did.  I was aggravated when it looked like the dragon was going to go to the wrong person, though it clearly states on the back cover which character we’re to follow.

The interaction between the dragons and their humans was fantastic throughout the book, with some of each being good or bad and smart or not so smart.  The personalities were all very different, which made it interesting to meet each one.  I wanted to know what happened to each character, dragon or human.  Finally, dragons are just cool.

My only complaint was there were a few short sections I wasn’t entirely certain what was happening.   The details seemed to be dropped in favor of moving forward, leaving me unable to visualize that specific part of the scene.  These were few and far between, and I didn’t end up caring so long as I found out what happened to the characters I’d grown to love.

I’d recommend this book to people who like dragons or who think dragons in history sounds exciting.  It was a fun read.  At the time of writing this, it was only $2.99 for the Kindle.

Questions for you!
Have you read this book?
Is the rest of the series as interesting?
What book(s) should I read next?

More Information
Naomi Novik’s page
Encyclopædia Britannica’s entry on the Napoleonic Wars
Wikipedia’s entry on Dragons

All the Numbers

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NaNoWriMo Statistics & Graph

I told you there would be graphs!  As we begin this beautiful Sunday, I have 10,000 words added to my story since November 1.  That means I’m 20% done with my NaNoWriMo goal!

It has only been four days, but I’ve already learned quite a bit more about writing and my novel than I did on October 31.

I’ve added 10,000 words to what I started with, which was just over 9,000 words.  I have close to 20,000 words, and I’m still very much in the middle of Act I.  I guess this means I have more words than I thought, or my Act I needs some editing!  Probably a bit of both.

I was concerned I wouldn’t have enough words because I don’t explain things well.  Setting?  What setting.  I have no idea what my characters are wearing, though I assume they aren’t naked.  I’m envisioning trees and hills and grass in my head as I write the scenes, but frequently forget to write that down.  People have five senses, but my characters only talk about what they see.  It is a problem.  Thankfully, I still have a lot to write about!

This many words presents a challenge to my plan.  Revising will take longer than I expected, which is made more problematic by the fact I don’t know what to expect.  And I need to add trees and clothes and smells to the scenes.  There will be plenty of work to do after I’m done writing this draft!  I’ll have to wait to worry about that until then though.

My characters are developing nicely.  My main character has informed me she’s calmer than I planned, even if she’s got serious anxiety.  She’d also like me to know her parents were more brutal than I expected, which is kind of awesome.  And a secondary character is showing herself to be far more charming, and also more sneaky, than anticipated.  She’s going to be surprising at the end; I can already tell.

Did you know you can subscribe to this blog via email?  Check out the link on the right under “Follow the Quest via Email.”  Hint: this is a good option for my family who wants to know how the quest is going, if I’ve updated my blog, and how the cats are (they’re fine).

How is your month going?  Hitting those word counts?  Let us know in the comments!

 

Eating an Elephant

Tomorrow is the first of November, and Aragorn already loves my story! It is almost National Novel Writing Month. I’ll be joining writers across the world in trying to bang out 50,000 words in 30 days.  That’s 1667 words per day, if you do the math.  I did all the math, and will be updating it as I get ahead or fall behind on the total count.

Tonight, the word count for my novel sat at 9,953.  This means by November 30, I will have 50,000 more words, or 59,953.  Hopefully, I will not be done with the novel then and will continue to work on this draft into December.  If all goes according to my master plan, I’ll finish this draft for the New Year.  What hurdles await?

So how does one write 1,667 words per day?  My main resource in tackling this question for November is 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron.  I recommend the book, but if you’re starting NaNoWriMo tomorrow and just want the 2k to 10k part, you can check out her blog post here.  I’m uncertain it will work perfectly, but I’ve been using the tips for the last week and have found my word count increasing as I stare at the page blankly for less time each day.

My schedule will call for writing in the morning as often as possible, because I’m the most productive then.  Morning may not be your time, but it is likely you’ll have better results if you schedule your writing sometime instead of starting the day and hoping for the best.  Here’s a hint: timer set to 30 minutes before you wake up, attached to a space heater in your bedroom.  Thank me later.

The next strategy I’m using has nothing to do with writing.  I’ve learned that all goals I pursue are better accomplished if I feel well.  What does this mean for me?  Quality sleep, quality food, quality exercise, and quality time with friends.  These things will keep me feeling well so I have the mental energy to tackle that word count goal daily.  Yes, this is a busy month.  Yes, there will be snacks aplenty all around us.  Yes, it is likely cold.  Taking care of our health is worth it though.  I’m no expert on writing, but I am an expert in efficiency, and you will be 100% less efficient in your writing if you are out cold because you are sick.

What strategies do you have for staying on track with your word count this month?  What are you doing to stay healthy and happy in the process?  Good luck, writers!

The Call to Adventure

I’ve been reading how important the first page of a novel is, so I assume this first post is super critical to my entire career as a writer and possibly my life as a human.  That seems like a lot of pressure though, and if you’ve looked at my “about” page, you know I’m not yet qualified for such a hefty task.  Perhaps once I’ve learned more I can revise this page so it becomes the epic introduction everyone expects.  Until then, you may have to deal with my information dumping and incomplete character development.

I’m also going to spoil the ending right now.  I’m going to finish a novel by the end of October 2018.

Now that I have the beginning and end of this adventure, I need the middle.  I don’t know enough about writing to plan the middle yet, so that’s where this site comes in handy.  I’ll be keeping track of “Act II” of the quest to complete a novel here, chronicling what I assume will involve a whole bunch of problems.  These problems may include misidentifying my “Act II,” but we’ll burn that bridge later.

I’m starting my second-ish draft of my project.  It has gone through several revisions, false starts, near-death experiences, and abandonments over the last decade so I’m not sure what to call its current state.  We’ll go with “second draft.”

This week, I’ll be starting in on National Novel Writing Month to help me add another 50,000 words to this draft.  Most people will start a new project at the beginning of the month, but as a ferocious rule follower, I’ve concluded I can start where I’m at so long as I only count the words written in November for my NaNoWriMo total.  I hope to put weekly updates here, and be warned!  They will involve graphs.

I hope you will follow my quest and provide assistance.  The hero always has friends, sidekicks, mentors, and random secondary characters who give them food.  I like bacon, just FYI.  The role of antagonist is already filled by impersonal forces working against my success though, so no need to apply there.