#REVIEW, sorta: ARTEMIS, by Andy Weir

41rdzW8wCHL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

Sophomore books are a bitch and a half, man.  You’ve got literally your entire life to get that first book written and ready to go and completely 100% perfect, right?  And then if your first book is a big hit, you’ve only got at most a year or two to get that sophomore effort out the door.  Some authors end up with a second effort that is every bit as brilliant as their first: I point at April Daniels, whose Dreadnought and Sovereign I both read in 2017 and… well, wait a few weeks to see how well those turn out.  Or somebody like Kevin Hearne, whose first three Iron Druid books came out in something like six months and were somehow all of equivalent high quality.

At the other end of the spectrum is Ernest Cline, whose second book was so bad that it called my high opinion of his first into question, highlighting every single weakness of his writing and somehow diminishing both books.  We kinda want to avoid that.

Andy Weir’s The Martian was a brilliant book; my favorite book of 2014.  I talked the other day about the annoying similarities Martian and my own Skylights have, and the fact that I plan at the moment to follow up Skylights with a book involving the Moon, and, well, so did fucking Andy Weir.  So it’s kind of hard to review the book entirely independent of my own shit, right?  I know I’m not on remotely the level that Weir is, obviously, and that most of this shit’s only in my head, but I don’t want copies ideas from more well-known authors as a thing that’s hanging over my head.

Well, here’s the good thing:  other than being set on the moon, Artemis doesn’t have a damn thing in common with what I have planned for Moonlight.  Not a single damn thing.  The cover is also annoyingly similar to the cover I put together for the bookyears ago, which really pisses me off because I still love that cover and I may not be able to use it now.  But I’ll worry about that once the damn thing is written.

But anyway: is the book any damn good?  Well, there’s a reason I started this piece the way I did: while Artemis is is not as good of a book as The Martian was, and the places where it isn’t as good kind of are things that show weaknesses in The Martian, it’s still a really solid effort.  In some ways it’s a very different book; the main character is a female, at least nominally Muslim smuggler, which one would think would be a very different person from corn-fed Iowa botanist Mark Watney.(*)  And the thing is, she’s not.  She’s Mark Watney in niqab.  And since Mark Watney was basically Andy Weir, as he’s admitted in reviews… well, so is Jazz Bashara.   And while Watney’s constant science-and-chemistry talk made sense in-book, as he was trying to keep himself alive, Jazz’s kind of feels forced.  Like, I know she’s on the Moon, but so is everyone else in the book, and the constant science asides don’t work as well.

That said, I’m a huge astronomy geek, so while it bugs me on a craft level it’s fascinating on a bunch of other levels, which kept me from disliking the book.  I liked Artemis, but I absolutely didn’t love it, and after his first book owned 2014, that can’t help but be a bit of a disappointment.

(*) Okay, maybe he’s not from Iowa.  Maybe he is?  That sounds right.  I’m not looking it up.  He’s sure as hell not a Muslimah.

Three quick anecdotes

dd7065d25a40c3ebc3df5c394d80aab9.jpgNone of these are really worth posts on their own– well, one, maybe– but I wanna record them, so here you go.


Driving home from dropping the boy off at school one day last week, a bird happens to catch my eye at a traffic light.  It’s probably a blackbird, but it’s a bit too far away for me to be sure– crow-shaped, and black, but too small to be a crow unless it’s a juvenile.  So, sure.  Blackbird.  As I’m watching it, it abruptly does a tight 270° turn and heads straight down to the ground, wings out.  I think at first that either the bird has been shot and what looked like a turn was actually a tumble or I’ve literally just seen this bird die in midair— which has to happen to birds sometime, right?  Surely once in a while a bird just has a stroke or a heart attack or something?

At any rate, it pulls up right before it hits the ground and lands and then I lose track of it. If it had dove down at an angle, I’d not have said anything about it and just assumed it was going after a mouse or something, but 1) it looked way too small to be a bird of prey and 2) I have never seen a bird fly straight down before.  It was weird as hell.


I’m at work, and I notice a spider perhaps two feet above my eye level and maybe three feet off to my right.  The building I work in has very high ceilings, and my first thought is where the hell is his web attached, because if he’s coming down a string of silk it’s gotta be thirty or forty feet long by now.  Then I notice that he’s coming straight toward me, which is not something I’d expect a spider coming down a strand of silk to do.  He’s a tiny spider, and I’m not frightened of them, so this provokes fascination rather than oh god kill it fear.  As he gets closer, I realize that he’s not attached to anything and he’s not acting like he’s climbing a web– he’s got his legs curled up underneath him, in fact.  The damn thing is floating.  I even wave my hand above him to check, and the breeze from my hand stirs him a bit but I clearly don’t break any strands of web.  I try to film him but he’s too small for the resolution on my phone to handle.  I watch him drift onto a sofa and crawl away.


Yesterday, first customer of the day.  He waves me off at first, saying he’s only looking, which is just fine.  I tell him everything in the store is on sale (which is true, and is useful information, I figure) and that the way our current deal works is “spend more, save more.”

He looks dead at me and says “You mean Jew more, save more?”

It takes me a second to process yeah that’s what the fuck he said.

“No,” I reply, shifting into my Teacher Voice.  “I said spend more, save more.”  And then I walk away and let my manager know that this fucker will be receiving no help from me whatsoever while he’s in the store and that if he speaks to me again we’re all lucky if the only thing I do is refer him to another salesperson.

The man and his wife circle the sales floor and leave without speaking to or being spoken to by anyone else.  I spend the rest of my day with half of my brain proud of me for not losing my job by lighting this fucker up and the other half of my brain ashamed of me for not lighting the fucker up anyway.

I am, much later, trending toward the second option, for the record.  How the fuck are you so fucking comfortable with being a bigot that you’ll just say shit like that to random fucking strangers in public?  I shoulda thrown his ass out.

On overthinking things

vFZ9eminem-hi-my-name-is-slim-shady-name-tag-design-4-x-2.jpgSo technically we’re supposed to wear nametags when we’re at work.  In practice this almost never happens unless there’s a corporate visit coming; sometimes someone will put theirs on for the hell of it and then it tends to spread virally; if a shift starts with one person wearing a nametag, everyone will have theirs on by the end of that shift, but it usually doesn’t happen.

Our previous work nametags are pretty utilitarian; they’ve got the corporate logo on them and a space for your name (printed on a laser printer and slid into a little hole on the side) and that’s it.  Recently for some reason corporate has decided that our nametags need to be more “fun.”  And we have a visit coming by a Lord High Muckety-Muck next week, and so the new, fun name tags need to be at least ordered if not actually on everyone’s shirts.

They require that, in addition to our names, we reveal our hometowns and, and this is the kicker, a passion.  Like so:

NAME:
Luther

HOMETOWN:
Chicago, IL

PASSION:
Butt stuff

Only it can’t say “butt stuff,” because, I dunno, reasons, and I also have to admit that I grew up here in Somewhere in Northern Indiana, which I find vaguely annoying.  I should have just put Chicago and dared someone to correct it.

The problem is that “passion” part.  One, I’m philosophically opposed to it.  I’m a goddamn furniture salesman.  I know that connecting with customers is supposed to be a great help in making sales and blah blah blah, but goddammit I’m at work and I’m doing my job and the fact that you want a chiffarobe does not entitle you to know shit about my life.   

Plus, it has to be something that’s not intrinsically alienating to any substantial percentage of our customer base, and it has to be something that doesn’t lead to conversations with customers that I don’t want to have.  So, for example: I could say politics!  I am, in fact, passionate about politics!  Only no, because the last fucking thing I want to talk to any of my customers about is politics for a wide variety of reasons.  I could say writing!  That is also a true thing!  The only problem with that is that it leads to talking to people about my writing, which I really don’t want to do at work, and even if they happen to be sci-fi/fantasy people who might enjoy my work, handing them one of Luther’s cards would lead them back here, and that opens all sorts of potential cans of worms that I don’t really want open.  I don’t badmouth my customers all that damn often and it’s incredibly rare (I can’t think of any examples, in fact, although I’m sure there are some) that I tell stories about specific individuals but still.  I don’t need those worlds mixing.  Books?  Okay, but I don’t want to get into talking about reading (or the fact that my customers don’t read) with every jamoke who reads my name tag.

The other possibility is to make it a joke.  I spent a long time considering just putting “Apples” as my passion, because hell, who doesn’t like apples?  Another one I considered:  extispicy, which is fortunetelling using the entrails of sacrificed animals.  My manager shot that down for some reason, and pointing out that another staff member had chosen “charcuterie” did not gain me any points.

I ended up picking astronomy, which means that I’ll be explaining the difference between astronomy and astrology a lot.  But it’s true and will probably not lead to obnoxious conversations.  Fact of the matter is, once the muckety-muck is gone I will go right back to not wearing the nametag, so any amount of thought past the first five minutes that I put into this is probably wasted time anyway.  But what the hell.  I gotta do something when I’m not selling furniture.

#REVIEW: Ada Twist, Scientist

61pu8UIQ+kL._SX406_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgSomething a little different tonight, if you don’t mind (and it’s my blog, so I’m doing it anyway whether you mind or not): I need to make sure you’re aware of a certain children’s book I just read to my son.  I was considering making this part of my Creepy Children’s Programming Reviews series, but decided not to.

So here’s the deal: if you have kids under, say, 12 or so, or if you teach science to any kids of any age, or really if you teach at all, you need to acquire a copy of Ada Twist, Scientist and make reading it out loud to said children a part of your mission in life for the near future.  Educators will already be aware of this: it’s occasionally a great idea to read out loud to kids, regardless of their age, and it’s also occasionally a good idea to read what are ostensibly children’s books to kids who are on paper too old to be reading those books.  You should all find your kids and then find this book (in that order, preferably) and then read it to them.

Here’s why: Ada Twist, Scientist does a great idea of breaking down how science works and how the scientific process works and how scientists think in 32 pages of simple, rhyming prose.  The fact that the titular scientist is a young black woman is just icing on the cake.  Representation is important, and young women of any race need to see themselves as scientists.  So do black children of either gender.  And my white male son needs to see scientists who don’t look like him.  Plus, again: it taught my five-year-old the word hypothesis.  Which he’ll be using in sentences by the end of the week.

Go check it out.

Yeah haha whatever

ants-4239_640.jpgNormal blogging is suspended today because I damn near just stayed up last night until I had Chuck Wendig’s INVASIVE finished, only that would have meant very little sleep, and I was enough of a zombie at work today as it was.  I have tomorrow off, so I’m ferdamnsure gonna get the thing finished before I sleep.

Expect a review soon.  In the meantime, spoiler alert, I’m gonna tell you to buy the damn book so you may as well go ahead and do that.