So, I’m a little late to discover Any Weir’s The Martian – finally tipped over to experiencing it after seeing the movie trailer, even though it had been on my radar for a couple of years.
Then there’s Earnest Cline’s Armada (just out a couple of weeks ago), similar in vein to his first book Ready Player One (which I also was slow to experience, just because of the depth of my TBR stack).
I tell you that, to say this:
Holy fucking shitballs! If you are any kind of SF person, it is my opinion that these works need to be consumed. Period. End of discussion. (Disclaimer: I listened to the audiobooks for both Martian & Armada. For both, there were points I laughed out loud by phrase turns, sarcasm and shots of gallows humor. I also couldn’t wait to get back to the stories…)
Okay, deep breath. Let’s readdress that, and unpack it for context.
The obvious: I am substantially inside the target audience for both works. For Armada, I’m also a returning reader (from RPO), and like Cline grew up in the 80’s, so I had experienced most of the gaming/music/pop culture references myself.
The not-so-obvious: This is the point where context really matters in the formation of my opinion, but context here is a non-linear thing. I am a writer, and have been studying craft closely for a couple of years (remember that MFA thing?). Part of that has been other sources of information – writer’s blogs, the Writing Excuses podcast. Lots of Writing Excuses. This year, they are running the season as a Master Class format, with a specific strategy for the season’s episodes, with each month being themed (instead of different, sometimes random, episodes). Recently, there has been a lot of talk in the episodes about middles, of try-fail cycles, “yes, but” and “no and” complications (the overly simplistic explanation: “yes, thing worked, but the something else happened that makes the situation somehow worse” or “no, thing did not work, and the situation has gotten worse”).
There was also some discussion in the Facebook group for my MFA program about “making plans.” [I can’t find the original at the moment, but the basic question someone asked: “What do you think about someone talking about their plans, before actually doing them?” The general consensus: Only to provide context for when the plans break down during implementation.]
All of that stuff was informing my listening experience, and since I was only passively experiencing the events of the story (as opposed to having to physically read the words in the increasingly minute chunks of time that having the kids under age 3 affords) – so I was able to get through more story at once while in that headspace.
Martian was all about “Here’s my plan” followed by “Well, that didn’t work, but here’s what did.” Not to mention tons of examples of “how things can get worse for the protagonist” (as if, SPOILER: Being left behind, presumed dead, on MARS, wasn’t bad enough). Similarly, I was able to see most of the escalations (both subtle and not-so-much), in Armada.
But even while being able to see behind the curtain, I was still engaged in the story. That is the key thing… And as a writer, both of them had things I intend to
steal use as examples for some of my own projects.