the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘Mars

martian-chroniclesThe Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

published in 1950

where I got it: purchased used

 

I read Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles at the end of January as part of Vintage Month, but as you can see, I’m not getting the review up until now.  As these are short stories, this counts towards Tip the Wink’s Short Story February. Win!

 

This collection of short stories and episodic microfiction that chronicle humanity’s conquest of Mars is a fun read for a lot of reasons, foremost that early stories take place in 1999.  I always get a chuckle out of reading something that was written in the 50s and the author places it at the turn of the next century thinking “that’s so far in the future!!”. Well, the future is now, or it was 18 years ago. Fun little time slip there!

 

As the story goes, in the late 1990s, we sent expeditions to Mars, and the first few were complete failures. (Which makes me wonder – how much did we know about Mars in 1950? That’s the worldview that these stories were written in)  Some of the short stories at the beginning of the chronicles are from the Martian’s point of view, and they basically see humans as annoying curiosities. The Martians are telepathic and can appear in any shape to us, so sometimes they appear as humans as to help us feel more comfortable. One of the expeditions comes across an entire Earth village filled with the astronauts parents and grandparents, who “welcome” everyone home.  There’s a darkness here as well, as the Martian’s goal is be sure we never attempt to return. I viewed a lot of that with gallows humor, but I don’t believe it was ever meant to be funny.

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Martian Time-Slip (1981)Martian Time-Slip, by Philip K Dick

published in 1964

where I got it: purchased used

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I’ve never had much luck reading Philip K. Dick.  I enjoyed reading The Penultimate Truth, and got through Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, but other than that, I was rarely able to get more than 20 pages into one of his books. I assumed I didn’t like his writing style, and I gave up.  On a lark, I picked up a used copy of Martian Time-Slip.  It looked short, and thus easily survivable even if I ended up not caring for it.

 

What a happy surprise, to find myself really enjoying it! The beginning of the story follows Jack Bohlen, a highly skilled mechanic at a Mars colony.  He’s able to provide quite well for his family, as it’s nearly impossible to import spare parts, so anyone skilled with fixing machinery is in high demand on Mars.  From Jack’s observations, we get some information on the different colonies his employer sends him to. We also learn about the indigenous Martians, who are still alive. Sometimes hired as cheap labor, the Martians, known as Bleekmen (also known as an offensive term that I can’t bring myself to use), know how to survive away from the canals their ancestors cultivated.  The colonists generally treat the natives like shit, but it’s the law of the air that if you are piloting a flyer, and you see Bleekmen (or anyone) stranded in the desert, you are required the land and provide help as you are able. I’m not sure if it was Dick’s intention, but I saw the colonists treatment of the natives as a commentary on casual racism and post colonialism.

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Book-Review-The-MartianThe Martian by Andy Wier

published in February 2014

where I got it: purchased new

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I don’t know why I skipped this book back when it came out.  I remember it got a lot of hype, and that I’d recently been burning on some other titles being overhyped. Anyways, the book recently came out in paperback, and was chosen for the December book for my book club. The hype had long since died down, and I’d be discussing the book among friends, so the time was ripe for me to dive in.

 

Let’s get this out of way first – I absolutely, freakin’ LOVED Andy Weir’s The Martian. I’d sit down, planning to read a chapter or two, or maybe 20 pages, and before I knew it an hour had gone by and I’d devoured a chunk of the book and bitten of half my fingernails in the process. This is one helluva page turner, and Weir pulls the best kind of trick possible: You really don’t know what’s going to happen until the very last few pages.

 

The blurb on the back of the book sums up the basics nicely:

 

“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 forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’s surface, 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.

Changes are, though, Mark won’t have time to starve to death.”

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You can read “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” over at Tor.com, and really, you should.  It’s a quick story, but that doesn’t really matter, because you’ll be hooked right away. But you might want to read it at home, with tissues handy. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

Such a beautiful, but painful story to read.  On a happy note, I got a kick out of the nods to  a The Wizard of Oz, which gave the story an ethereal, almost nostalgic feeling.  A little funny to read a scifi story about a Mars colony, and getting a feeling of nostalgia! But that’s all that is funny about it. “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” has a gravitas to it, a maturity, a wordless something I don’t often get to see in science fiction. It’s about a husband and a wife who love each other, who want to help each other, and they both understand one of them is dying.

 

It was nice to read a speculative fiction piece that stars an aging woman. We get male characters of all ages, teens, young men, 20s, adults, retired guys. But those female characters always seem to be in that nineteen to thirty two sweet spot – old enough to kick some ass, but not, like, old. And Elma York? She’s old.  She’s retired. No one recognizes her anymore. Her  body is not taught, her back is hunched, her arms and legs jiggle. But she still dreams of flying. Back in the 1950s, Elma was known as The Lady Astronaut of Mars. But that was thirty years ago. Now, living on Mars, Elma has a new life.  Yes, she still keeps in shape as best she can, yes, she keeps up with the physicals and the tests, anything to keep her name on the active list of astronauts, but she knows she’s not going anywhere.  She’s retired. Her dreams haven’t changed, but her priorities have.

 

Elma’s in good health, but her husband Nathaniel, his health is failing rapidly. Their life rotates around his medication schedule, when the nurse visits, how his tests come back, when the doctor expects the paralysis to set in. There are some undignified moments, but Kowal lays their story bare, gives us everything. Because that’s love, you know? It’s in sickness and in health, for better for worse.  Signing up for love means signing up for everything. You know those stories that after you read them, you suddenly find yourself across the room, holding your partner’s hand, and they when they ask if everything is ok you tell them you love them? This is that story.

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big red buckleThe Big Red Buckle, by Matthew Alan Thyer

published December 2013

where I got it: received copy from the author

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A 1500 kilometer race the dangers of Mars. Failure means injury, embarrassment, and possibly death.

You had me at “Mars”.  but racing? sports? Wait,  what?

okay, let’s start at the beginning.

The Grand Martian Traverse is a 1500 km race, pushing competitors to their physical and mental limits.  Much of the race is run, but the huge cliffs, canyons and craters on Mars allow for unprecedented thermal air currents, encouraging competitors to leap off cliffs and glide on foldable hang-gliders as far as possible. For long distance and endurance runners, this is what they’ve been preparing for their entire life.  Martian colonists, Terrans, spectators, sponsors and the media flock to the event to see history being made.  Besides accolades and sponsorship awards, the winner receives the Big Red Buckle.

What all that really means is that wealthy competitors have the best equipment and huge entourage  support teams, and regular folks like you and me would typically have used equipment and are forced rely on our families and friends to be our support teams.  Terrans also have an unfair advantage, that of living in higher gravity.  Running and leaping in lower gravity is easy for the Terrans.  But only a Martian colonist would know the secrets of the Red Planet.

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It was just about a month ago that I met author Matthew Thyer at Confusion. We hit it off, he sent me home with a copy of his new novella The Big Red Buckle (review will be posted later this week), and we’ve been emailing and tweeting back and forth a bit since them.  After some initial confusion on my part, we ended up trading interviews.  You can learn more about Matt by following him on twitter, or checking out his blog, Feet For Brains, where he talks about writing, publishing, technology, traveling the world, parenting, and more.  He’s a pretty cool guy, and I’m looking forward to seeing him again at ConText later this year.

In our extensive interview, we talk publishing, sports, influential authors, NaNoWriMo, getting into science fiction, and more!

matt thyer

LRR: The Big Red Buckle is a novella in the scifi subgenre of “sports in space”. How did you come to the decision to make sports a large part of the story?

MT: It was not so much a decision as a happy circumstance. The Big Red Buckle was a short story I took to a critique group for fun. I am a huge fan of endurance sports, and I had written this piece because I could not shake the idea. The critique group liked it, way more than I had expected anyone would, they gave me some feedback and I went home and let it mature. Soon it had doubled, then tripled in size and the concept, “sports in space”, seemed like more and more like a series.

In the days before NaNoWriMo I was doing a great deal of preparation work for a novel idea and in tandem with that I finished the first one and outlined three more stories in the “sports in space” series. All the stories are based on sports I enjoy, but they were also world building exercises.

Why sports? Well, think about all the hubbub that we just lived through. Another Super Bowl is done and gone. High enough anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere it’s hockey and the Stanley Cup that are celebrated with equal vigor. Europe and South America have soccer. Sport is a huge part of any contemporary human society.

If fiction is supposed to be a mirror for self observation than this particular sub-genre seems underrepresented. With the series, I hoped to address a couple of issues. With The Big Red Buckle, in particular, what happens to sports that have a money problem (see Professional Bicycle Racing). I wanted to juxtapose athletes with elite levels of funding next to the people who compete because they love the activity. Book two, Up Slope, is more about a sport that is used as a utility, how it affects us mentally and physically, and becomes a part of our lives which can bridge functional gaps. How a sport, especially in a non-professional setting, makes better people.

Books three and four, will have similar thought experiments going within them.

big red buckle

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Let’s kick of Vintage month with something nice and truly old, shall we?

A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

published in 1917 (but serialized earlier)

where I got it: purchased used. This cover art is the version I bought it is from Fall River Press, printed in 2011, with cover art by Kekai Kotaki.

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A Princess of Mars is one of those sword and sorcery / planetary romances that I’ve been meaning to read for ages.  The movie came out in 2012 got mixed reviews, but I loved the visuals, thought the Tharks were great, and gently ignored the plotting that made no sense. Anyone who is anyone has named Barsoom as an influence to their love of science and science fiction – Carl Sagan, James Cameron, George Lucas, and Ray Bradbury, just to name a few.

Blending science fiction, fantasy, pulp adventure and western, John Carter is the epitome of the American Man – strong and independent, intelligent and well spoken, very handsome, keeps his promises and knows how to throw a good punch. Guys wanna be him and girls wanna date him.  If this book had been written today, John Carter would be conceited. He’d *know* he was the hero of the story. In the words and the mentality of nearly a hundred years ago, he’s just a man who does what needs needs to be done with grace and dignity.

This book is nearly a hundred years old.  The statute of limitations has run out on spoilers, so sorry, but I’m going to tell you what happens at the end. Copyright has run out too, and the book is in the public domain now and on Project Gutenberg, and an audio is also available as a  free download on Librivox.

After a mishap in Arizona, Carter wakes up on Mars, also known as Barsoom.  Thanks to the lower Martian gravity, Carter finds he can jump and leap incredibly far, and his muscles, developed for the gravity of Earth, offer him what is seen as super strength on Mars.  Shortly after arriving, he runs into a band of Tharks the 15 foot tall green men of Mars, led by Tars Tarkus, and is taken back to their camp as a curiosity/prisoner. He looks like the humanoid red men of Mars, but he can’t speak their language, and he hasn’t a clue about Barsoomian customs.   A Thark woman, Sola, is assigned to Carter to help him learn their language and customs, and he is guarded by Woola, a watch-dog of sorts.  I thought it was hilarious that Carter can’t bring himself to call Woola a dog, so he calls him a “watch-thing”.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.