Book Report: The Martian by Andy Weir (2014)

Book coverI bought this book as part of a recent new book buying frenzy (see also The Curmudgeon’s Guide To Getting Ahead). I was eager to read this book after seeing it on the blogs and in the Wall Street Journal because it sort of tracked with an idea I had, oh, about twelve years ago.

I remember distinctly walking into the foosball room at the start-up where I worked and explaining that, before we send men to Mars, we need to start littering Mars with things that those men can use in case of trouble. It was right about the time the mission with the rovers Spirit and Opportunity were launched, and I was probably reading some science fiction at the time.

At any rate, this book details a single astronaut’s struggle to survive on Mars after a sudden sandstorm threatens the mission and his injury and apparent death cause his crew to leave him behind as they evacuate. He has only a habitat designed to house six people a limited number of days, two buggies, six potatoes, and his own ingenuity to make the best of his situation and hopefully hold out for some sort of rescue.

The book is a little heavy on the science and the engineering of his predicaments and solutions, but the voice of the fellow keeps it moving along pretty well. Eventually, NASA discovers he’s still alive, and they get to communicate with him when he drives to the Mars Pathfinder and reclaims its radio–see how it meshed with my pre-foosball musings?

So I really liked the book, although it could have been a touch shorter and some of the setbacks seem thrown in to lengthen the book or to pad it out. Of course, Mars is a hostile place–it’s not the kind of place to raise your kids–so I imagine the survival of the fellow is the improbable portion of the story. But it’s a good story.

Books mentioned in this review:

Five Things On My Desk (V)

I haven’t done one of these posts in a while, and although my desk is far cleaner in 2014 than in 2012, I still end up with an eclectic collection of odds and ends on it, including:

The April 28, 2011 edition of the New York Review of Books:

April 28, 2011 New York Review of Books

A number of years ago, when I was looking to publish my novel, I researched places that reviewed books and bought a number of magazines off the news stand for ideas where to send review copies of my book. Many of these languished in the magazine rack beside my reading chair for years because I don’t tend to read magazines in my reading chair. So when I recently came up with a job task that requires my computer’s full attention for a couple of snippets of minutes per hour, I brought this into the office for something to look at while my computer processed. Unfortunately, the essays are pretty in-depth, so it takes me a while to get through the ones I want to read.

A cape from a set of Superman pajamas, sized 4T::

A facsimile of Superman's cape

This came from a set of pajamas my children wore when they were younger; sometimes, we removed the capes and threw them into a separate drawer. This one got orphaned when the boys outgrew the pajamas and we passed them onto someone else. Of course, I can’t just throw it out because it’s a perfectly good tiny cape. I was going to write a post about it as a future personal relic, but now I think I’ll use it in a craft where you’ll have to tug on it to ring a bell or something.

An annual pass to the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield (expired):

A facsimile of Superman's cape

We live a mile outside this national battlefield (less, actually, but there’s no gate at the closest point). So I always want to think that I’ll go there fairly often for walks or to enjoy its amenities, so every year (almost), I go up and buy an annual pass for $20. At that time, I might or might not actually go past the visitor’s center and into the battlefield itself. And then I don’t end up going again for another year or year and a half. I took this pass out of my wallet because it expired (last November), which means it’s time for me to go spend the $20 again. And perhaps go twice in a year. Some day.

A broken wind chime:

An apple wind chime

I picked this up at some garage sale or another some day in the past, and the twine holding the wind chimes on broke. Eventually, this migrated from the work bench in the garage to my desk since it’s a little string project that I could do quickly as a work break or something. Yeah, about that: I didn’t. I’ve misplaced the missing chimes, and the heavy decorative relief at the top serves as a paperweight that keeps credit card receipts from blowing all over the desk and office when I have the window open. So don’t expect it to be fixed any time soon.

One bottle of kitty downers (inverted):

Kitty downers

We’ve found ourselves with yet another kitten, which means weeks sequestered in my office. The new kitten got a bottle of downers to calm him and keep him from jumping around madly while healing from the declaw operation. I’d put them in a cabinet, but taking something from the cabinet caused them to fall to the desktop upside down. I’m going to put them up again, but for now they’re on the desk.

Also often on my desk: Aforementioned sequestered kitten whose predations are rapidly shifting the items that can be classified as Things On My Desk and Things On My Floor.

Book Report: The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead by Charles Murray (2014)

Book coverI bought this book because all the cool kids were reading it, and by that, I mean someone on some blogs mentioned it. It sounded like something that might interest me, so I got it.

It’s a book that aims at the Elements of Style for professional behavior and thoughts of millenials coming into the workplace without a sense of etiquette and how to work with others in adult jobs. At least, that’s the way blogs have pitched it to me. It has that, of course, as a bit of a sandwich among a big portion of how to write and think well. So I was taken a bit aback by how much of the book was about how to work at a think tank and less about how to behave in the workplace.

Because, brothers and sisters, that first part is something that was kinda lacking the last time my visage darkened a workplace lo those eight years ago. (Have I been a freelancer that long already? Yes, yes I have.) I can’t imagine they’ve gotten better as that next generation has come up.

But this book didn’t ultimately resonate with me because its focus is split like that: workplace rules and writing well. Murray says this came about as a collection of intranet postings of his at the think tank where he works, and that shows a bit.

I’d hoped I’d get a two-fer on this book and get to review it for my other blog, but meh. It didn’t impress me that much. And although you, gentle reader, get a couple of paragraphs blatted all over your monitor for every book I read, the professional blog only gets things that will fit and that impress me. So take that as my final word on it.

Books mentioned in this review:

An Unannounced Boycott?

Firefox falters, falls to record low in overall browser share:

Firefox’s user share on all platforms — desktop and mobile — has plunged in the last two months as its desktop browser continued to bleed and its attempt to capture users on smartphones failed to move the needle, new data shows.

Huh. Can you think of anything that might have happened about two months ago that might have angered a large number of its users and caused them to change browsers?

Firefox blocked image

Correlation is not causation, but a sudden shift might not come just from the release of the iPhone 5S.

An Ordinary Man, A Legend To Some

To my cats, I’m a LEGENDARY HERO. When the eldritch and unholy vacuum cleaner, the chupagato, emerges from its primordial lair, I always meet it on the open plain of the floor to struggle and wrestle with the beast until it retreats again into the darkness of the hall closet.

Without me, surely they realize, the chupagato would suck them up.

Which is why they tolerate me.

Somehow, I Have Lost All Of My Son’s Respect

As part of a Father’s Day craft, my six-year-old was asked a series of questions about his father which someone transcribed onto a piece of paper which my son decorated with stickers and his handwritten name.

He got the name and age right for me, and for my job, he answered “Office” which is a pretty fair description as I am not a professional hockey player.

However, when asked the question If my Dad was a superhero he would be[sic], my son replied Robin.

Now, it’s bad enough that my son did not choose a respectable Marvel superhero like Spider-Man, The Thing, Iron Man, Captain America, Quasar, or Speedball. No, he chose a DC superhero.

Worse, he chose a sidekick. A DC sidekick, I’d like to add. Not a respectable Marvel sidekick like Nomad, the Falcon, or Bucky.

But the unkindest cut of all: My children know who Nightwing is.

That’s right.

Not only am I a DC sidekick, albeit the best known sidekick in the entire DC galaxy (I refuse to call it a universe or mythos (which I call the Marvel milieu to put it on par with Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Norse mythologies, all of which the Marvel mythos has subsumed)).

But I’m not even the best Robin there is. I’m not the Dick Grayson Robin, I’m the Jason Todd Robin.

I don’t know what I’ve done to turn the child against me so.

Book Report: The Battle Off Midway Island by Theodore Taylor (1981)

Book coverThis book is a young adult history book. About World War II. Whoa, we are looking at an artifact here, aren’t we? Nowadays, it seems from the news that all young adult books are sparkly vampire dystopian fantasy bestsellers because adults read them or gritty real-world-of-fevered-dreams fests of sex and drugs that teenagers really deal with in books that teenagers read because they’re told to and only become news stories when someone wants to remove them from a school reading list.

I mean, in 1981, someone expected young readers to read about American history? Like battles and stuff, not about how America sux? I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around it. And this book is touted as the first in a series.

At any rate, I only remembered the basics of the battle before reading the book: Big deal, many Japanese carriers sunk, turned the tide of the war. Given that I know that much, it’s clear I’m not a 21st century young adult.

The books is short–135 pages–and it really only gives an overview of the events after the Coral Sea battle, where the Japanese hoped to lure out the remainder of the American fleet to destroy it, but the Americans had broken the Japanese code and managed to get the drop on them. Then, through (and sometimes in spite of) sacrifices and ill-fated bombing runs on the Japanese carriers, the Americans break the Japanese fleet.

It’s not a jingoistic book, and it’s not an academically detailed book, but it does blend striking moments with the ebb and flow of the engagement, so a (young adult) reader isn’t overwhelmed but does get a sense of warfare. Except when talking about the pilots, one does not realize how young these guys are.

So I enjoyed it and read it quickly, and I’ll be honest, I come out of it knowing only a little more than I had before–knowing which American carrier sank during the engagement and whatnot–but every little bit makes me a bit smarter, so I’ll take it. Combining this book with a recent viewing of The Karate Kid Part II sent me to the globe to relearn some of the topography of the Pacific Ocean, and I’d forgotten where Okinawa is in relation to Japan and where Midway Island(s) is relative to Hawaii. So the book has done me some good indeed.

I’m almost interested to the other books in this series.

Books mentioned in this review:

That’s Not A Library, This Is A Library

While we’re on the subject of things I found in WSJ magazine, here’s a photo from one of the palatial estates and vineyards the magazine regularly features:

One of the many libraries

The caption is:

BOOK SMART One of the three libraries at Harlan Estate house dozens of volumes on winemaking through the ages.

You know what we call that at Nogglestead? A bookshelf.

And they have three such libraries at the estate. Why, they might have a hundred books!

(Contrast with this four-year-old photo essay on the Nogglestead library.)

More Proof That The Fashion Industry Is Punking Us

Behold, the cartoonish Maison Martin Margiela Artisanal corset and veil embroidered with found objects featured in the most recent WSJ magazine:

A junk drawer dress

It looks like that poor girl was first dipped in a glue vat and then fell into a junk drawer.

The model, the beautiful Sam Rollinson, looks as though she’s in on the joke with us.

Nobody would really buy something like that and wear it, ainna?