The story of “The Martian’s” unconventional path to publication

About four years ago, Andy Weir gave a talk at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on The Martian‘s path to success. As an editor who works with primarily indie authors and authors querying agents, I found it very interesting to hear Weir’s explanation of how he “failed” at publishing when he really, really tried, and then how he found profound success with a book he started out giving away for free. I also, on a personal level, find it really fascinating that his success came only after he let go: when he stopped trying and let things kind of run their own course, pursuing writing because he enjoyed it but without the pressure to “succeed.” Just interesting to ponder as we go about our lives, don’t you think?

Also, I’d like to just add here that I commend the screenwriter for sticking so closely to the book. There are differences, of course, and Weir goes into some of them in the talk, but it is remarkably close. I read the book after seeing the movie, and that often ruins the book for me but in this case it definitely didn’t – it’s the same story, with SO MUCH MORE DETAIL, and it’s fascinating (though not all scientifically accurate!). I just searched back so I could link to my review of the book, but apparently I never wrote a review (oops)…suffice it to says it’s AWESOME. And funny 🙂

Check out this video to hear the story straight from Andy Weir!

Short Stories and Sci-fi – Stepping out of my comfort zone (and a book review!)

So, my first grown-up book of 2019 was Nomad of the Emirates by E.B. Dawson (I mentioned this in a previous post).

43437257

This book was fantastic, and reminiscent of Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which I read last year at the recommendation of author Thomas Fenske. As in The Left Hand of Darkness, Nomad of the Emirates features a lone human emissary to an alien planet and follows the human’s interactions with and efforts to survive in the entirely foreign environment. Nomad of the Emirates tackles issues of race, culture, and class with a depth and emotionality that is impressive in such a short story, and these are the issues, I think, that will resonate with a wide audience. Jessica, the protagonist of the story, I believe, will also strike a chord with many people. What really blows me away is the Dawson’s worldbuilding. I feel like I understand the fictional world of Dawson’s The Emirates as well as, if not better than, Le Guin’s Winter, which is an impressive feat for such a short work. (There’s your bonus book review!)

——-

Now, about that comfort zone…

One author who asked me for a review described my reading style as “hard to pin down,” which I think is a pretty apt description; I read a lot, from all different genres. That being said, short stories and science fiction are things I’ve only recently begun to seek out. I started picking up short stories in 2017, and continued to do so in 2018. It’s a form of writing that I just didn’t even really think about. I’ve read quite a few now, though, including some collections, and I find the format intriguing, if a little broad. Let’s look at a dictionary definition of “short story”:

(n) an invented prose narrative shorter than a novel usually dealing with a few characters and aiming at unity of effect and often concentrating on the creation of mood rather than plot (Merriam Webster)

“Shorter than a novel.” That explains how some I’ve read are two pages long, and some are much, much longer. I do find it interesting, though, to think about the intention as described in the definition. It’s something I’d like to reflect more upon as I read more short stories…

My adventures into science fiction sort of happened by chance, and while I’ve enjoyed the works I’ve read I’m not sure it’s a genre I’ll seek out for its own sake. My big sci-fi read of 2018 was The Left Hand of Darkness, which is described on Goodreads as “a groundbreaking work of science fiction.” I picked this up after the death of Ursula Le Guin in 2018, of whom I had sadly just become aware; Nomad of the Emirates is my most recent sci fi read, and I think the last time I read sci-fi was when I read Ender’s Game over a decade ago. Left Hand and Nomad were both good books, but each makes me want to read more from the author rather than more of the genre per se. I’m open to persuasion, though, if you all have any suggestions!

I think by last count I have over 60 unread books on my Kindle (yikes!), but I’m always open to recommendations. What short stories do you love? What books made you fall in love with science fiction? Share in the comments!

 

Book Review: Spaghetti Head by Sarah Tyley

I’ve probably said a million times that one of the things I love about being a book-blogger is the opportunity to read new and interesting books by indie authors. Spaghetti Head by Sarah Tyley is a perfect example of why!   
Spaghetti Head

I received an ARC of the book from Sarah after weighing in on her book blurb via Twitter and I’m SO GLAD I volunteered to take the few minutes to comment on her blurb and get to “meet” Sarah, and through her, Nell and Sid/Cyd.

This book truly defies classification. There are sci-fi elements, as it’s set in the future with all sorts of new technology and gadgets — some of it scares me, to be honest. I’ve read and blogged a bit about AI before – freaks me out. No doubt it takes a lot of creativity to come up with the future world and all it’s accompanying technological advances (which, truthfully, seem mostly plausible).

Beyond sci-fi, there’s the whole post-apocalyptic thing – which really is two-fold. First, there’s the new world order and governance structure (The System) that comes about. Tyley creates an entirely new system of world government, taking gender, technology, and–she seems to argue–inevitable power struggles into account. Along with this, she adeptly brings to life the societal structures and shows us how people actually live in this new world order. The second and equally important part of the post-apocalyptic story: what was The Disaster? This Tyley does equally well. It’s introduced very creatively, weaving the backstory seamlessly into the action of the story. It’s also very believable — I think most readers are at least vaguely familiar with the natural phenomenon (no spoilers!) that Tyley employs to bring about the destruction of the Earth as we know it. It was one of my favorite parts, a super important and fully-fleshed out history for what could easily have been treated as an afterthought to the story.

Sci-fi, apocalypse… what else? Romance! Motherhood! Relationships! These are central themes without being so overpowering that the book would only appeal to women. The book has so many angles to it that I think it could be universally enjoyed.

The parts of the book that are most memorable and with which I identify the most involve mental health and mental health treatment. Nell attends a multi-week mental health “retreat” of sorts to help her deal with her inner voice and unravel the “spaghetti” in her head. The mental imaging techniques used in the treatment would be AMAZING if they truly existed – I couldn’t help but wonder what my own treatment would look like with such techniques available. Having experienced a significant amount of intensive mental health treatment, I also felt that Tyley’s portrayal of therapy techniques, as well as the characters’ varying paths to recovery–including how much effort they must expend, even when treatment is “over”–were spot-on just like so much of the rest of the book. It’s believable and really realistic.

Overall, there are so many complicated aspects to the novel that Sarah Tyley weaves together flawlessly. I am impressed by the creativity and depth of knowledge she demonstrates in writing such a complicated and yet utterly relatable story, not to mention the incredible amount of effort it must have taken to put that story into words and edit it to a point where it reads so smoothly!

Five stars!

** Thank you to Sarah Tyley for a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review!