Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Jennavier Recommends: The Martian by Andy Weir


The Martian was definitely not the next book I’d planned on spotlighting. In case you’re wondering, I have a list. However it was just so awesome that I can’t keep it to myself.

Apollo 13 meets Cast Away in this grippingly detailed, brilliantly ingenious man-vs-nature survival thriller, set on the surface of Mars.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he's stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive--and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to get him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills--and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit--he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him

 One of the things that makes the Martian great is its awesome characters. If you’re going to be stuck with someone for a whole book, then you’d better like them. Mark, the main character, was great. He was smart, funny, and had enough flaws to keep him interesting. I especially loved how Weir used Mark's excellent voice to explain the science. Now, I’m a long time science fiction buff but even I steer clear of most hard science books. They’re just more then my middle school science level can handle. That doesn’t stop Weir from not only making the science understandable, but fun to learn and part of the plot. Yes my friends, he uses exposition to push the plot forward in a way that leaves me tense and fascinated. Don’t ask me how. As a writer it looks like a magic trick.


It would be easy for the book to get boring. After all, Mark is all by himself waiting for rescue. Luckily that never happens. Surviving on Mars isn’t easy, and Weir keeps us on our toes by letting us know that. Just when we think Mark is set something else goes wrong, and it takes his considerable smarts to get himself back together again. None of these interruptions feel like ridiculous plot points. It feels like Mark is doing what he has to do to survive, and the happenstance of life is working against him.


Even with a great plot the story wouldn’t work without some of the best humor I’ve ever read. The Martian is sometimes laugh out loud funny. While that’s sometimes awkward on your lunch break, it’s great for taking your mind off the job. So enjoy another great book on me my friends. Trust me, you’ll love it.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Relationships in YA

Okay, bear with me because this is going to be a long post.


When I discovered YA it was a lightbulb moment. The genre had changed since I was a teenager. I felt like there was finally a place where my books matched. And I loved it.


But I’m not having much fun reading YA these days. It isn’t because of lack or brilliance in the genre- quite the opposite. It’s because of a couple of trends that having been bugging me a little too much to be ignored.


One is the romance. When Edward first met Bella fangirl hearts squeed. Then they analyzed. And they didn’t like what they saw. Sure, Edward’s dedication to Bella was romantic, but in another light it was also creepy as all get out. He was controlling and difficult, basically forcing Bella to become a new person to be with him. There were huge amounts of internet screaming about how Edward and Bella were causing abusive relationships.


Now I don’t know how much I actually buy into that. I think that Twilight is a reflection of the world we live in, not creating a new one. But that problems for a different post. This one is about the romance.


Relationships in YA tend to be bizarre. Here’s an example of a YA love story for you. The girl (or occasionally the guy*) is thrown into a new world where it’s imperative that they learn how to do something quickly. She’s super special and only she can save the world. The love interest is most knowledgeable person around about the new world that the heroine finds herself. In fact, he’s her trainer/guardian/overlord to the heroine. And he treats her like crap. Despite the fact that she has perfectly valid reasons for not having the same experience level he has, the love interest is bothered by it and manipulates and bullies her until they perform up to the standards the love interest sets. Eventually she’ll win his approval by taking the appropriate amount of punishment and performing satisfactorily and they’ll live happily ever after.


Okay, I’m saying it. This whole dynamic creeps me the heck out. It’s obnoxious, unhealthy, and borderline abusive. So how did we get here? I found the answer when I started reading romance novels. The relationships in YA have come down to us from the romance genre. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The romance genre’s have had decades to build their formulas. The problem is that they depend in part on the age of their protagonist.


Take this for an example: The hero shows up. He’s smart, driven, and has a crap ton of experience. The problem is that he got that experience in a way that liquefied his sense of humor and/or empathy. He’s about doing his job and he’s going to do it no matter what. The heroine is a relative newbie. She wants to do her thing and save the world but isn’t really sure how to do it. The hero takes her in hand, pushing her hard to help her achieve her full potential. On the way she learns how to be the butt kicking lead that she wants to be, while he learns a little bit of humanity by falling in love with her.


Honestly, even if those characters are in their twenties or thirties that story still has a wacky power dynamic. But imagine that these characters are in their teens. I’m sorry, but there is no plausible way that a teenage boy should have the kind of experience to turn himself into that kind of hero. Even if he did, the larger implication is that he somehow has more agency then the heroine, even though they’re of a comparable age. He has all of his crap together and is skipping teenagerhood entirely. Despite having the body of a teenager he is an adult.


On the flip side the heroine is still a teenage girl. She has all the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of a teenager. When she falls for the hero she’s doing so from the perspective of someone not really capable


When there is a vast power imbalance in a couple the relationship is almost always abusive. Yes, there are exceptions to this rule, but there’s a reason the legal age to marry without parental consent is 18. We try to protect our teens from making decisions that land them in a place they can’t get out of.


So why are these relationships a problem? Two reason. First is that the people reading this are overwhelmingly teenage girls. They’re not grown women who can tell that this fantasy hero doesn’t exist, and if he did she’d get the heck out of dodge after ten minutes with him. Second is that we’re perpetuating a stereotype that isn’t healthy for girls or boys. Boys have just as many problems adjusting to adulthood as girls. And there is no reason to teach girls in books that they are weaker than their future boyfriend- that’s what movies are for.


Sorry this has been long my friends. It’s a rough topic. I know mine won’t be the last word on the subject but I’m glad to be part of the conversation.


*For the sake of this post I’m going to assume that the more powerful member of the relationship is the guy and the less powerful is the girl. While YA predominantly features these gender roles, they are by no means the only portrayal of power differences in a relationship. For this post the difference is academic- no matter which gender has the upper hand the problems remain the same.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Why losing work really sucks as a writer

So we’ve all been there. The computer screen flashes and dies, taking the last two hours of work with it. Or maybe it just didn’t save properly. You reopen your file and it’s missing a huge chunk of data. If your going really old school, a drink spill could mean that chapter 5 is gone forever, along with half of your scribbled outline.

Why am I talking about every writers bogeysituation? It’s happened twice to me in the last week. One was a major set of edits where the file got corrupted. Don’t ask me how, my computer knowledge is not that intense. Since that one was fixable (backup files!) it wasn’t too stressful. It was the smaller one that became a problem, since that’s information I can never get back. Over the course of my vacation I tried working on the outline for my WIP. I actually had a ton of success, especially during the long drives where I had little to do but stare out a window. Sadly it all evaporated by the time I got back. I opened the files to discover that it was to my last save point before I left. It’s my own fault in that case, as it often is, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

This has happened to me before. In my freshman year of college I tried to start a new novel. I was writing feverishly and got to thousands of words before my computer spontaneously died at two o’clock in the morning. Yes, I’d forgotten to save. When I rebooted the fledgling novel was gone. I didn’t write creatively again that year.

And that’s the rub. It’s not just that I lost work. For me, for whatever reason, I can’t always pick up where I left off again. The creative spark goes down with the file. I try to avoid the whole Muse thing so I’ll try to keep this ‘logical’. I write off momentum. The more momentum I have, the better off I am as a writer. I can get slowed down by a lot of things, but the only thing that can truly stop me in my tracks is losing work. And there is this part of me that feels like something has died. I could see the way this story was supposed to go, and now I’ve lost it. It’s bitter and heartbreaking.

I haven’t written on The Demon’s Daughter since I got home, or much of anything else either. I know I won’t abandon it- my college novel was an extreme case. But I don’t know how long it will take me to be willing to put my heart back in it again.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Friends or Mud

It’s a contest! Jonathon and I took separate vacations and you get to decide which of us had the best idea of a good time.

Every year that he can Jonathon volunteers at the Raise the Bar Scout Camp in Ohio. Luckily for him he married a girl that will put up with him absconding for a week every summer, since my dad did the same thing. Normally he goes and has a great time and I stay home, eating frozen dinners and getting to sleep at two in the morning. Not this year! This year I had an awesome moment of awesome and went to visit my friend Danielle in Indiana for a week. Now, this would be the coolest thing if it were just Danielle but it’s not. Danielle just had a baby, and I am her honorary aunt.

I would add pictures but A) I’m not going to post pictures of someone else’s baby on a public forum and B) both Jonathon and I forgot to take any. Obviously we are members of the wrong generation. Also, the cuteness of said baby might overload the internet.

Jonathon had fun in the mud. They have a new location so it was a little rough. He got to teach swimming in the lake. He came home tanned, dirty, and covered in chigger bites with a big grin and a lot of stories. Doesn’t sound like my idea of a great time, but I’m not going to judge.

I hung out with Danielle and Seth for the week. Seth’s parents were great enough to let me stay with them, and boy did I appreciate it. I especially appreciated their pool! There’s nothing like swimming to make the summer perfect. Danielle’s baby is absolutely adorable. I think she wins for cutest niece of the year, although I’m sure there are other proud aunts that would claim otherwise. Danielle showed off the Lafeyette zoo, which if your ever in the area you should check out. It’s free to the public and there are baby wallabies! So cute.

Anyways, I think I’m the clear winner of the vacation destinations, but I’ll leave it up to your vote. Who do you think had the better idea?