Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Landline: Take in combination with Greg Laswell song of the same name. Writer's orders.

It’s no secret around these parts that I’m a fan of this Rainbow lady. Thanks to my continued association with people who have their fingers on the pulse of literature (pretty sure this all started with Raych, but then of course it was Alice who enthusiasm-ed Rainbow into being our friend), I got in on the ground floor with Attachments and have since happily ridden the elevator up, first to Eleanor & Park and then to Fangirl.

But the floor I arrived at when I pressed the button marked Landline was something altogether different from the others, because instead of being a place full of beanbag chairs where I could drink a sugary coffee beverage and watch young people lovingly tousle each other's hair, there was a full bar and arm chairs with permanent dips for my bum. For me, it was present (with a hint of future) tense.

Help yourself to a whiskey.

Georgie and Neal have been married for about 15 years and have two young daughters and a home in Los Angeles. They’ve grown complacent in their relationship, finding endless distractions in their girls and in Georgie’s work as a sitcom writer. But all the things they haven’t been saying to each other have been piling up, as they do, the distance yawning imperceptibly wider, as it does, and when Georgie chooses to pursue an important career opportunity rather than visit Neal’s family for Christmas, the distance becomes literal. Neal takes the girls and goes to Omaha anyway, leaving Georgie at first in denial that anything is wrong and then completely uncertain about where their relationship stands.

And then the story takes a turn for the fantastical. When Georgie calls Neal from the landline in her childhood home, she discovers that she can talk to the Neal of 15 years ago, before they decided to get married. As Present Georgie talks more and more to Past Neal, she starts to wonder whether this is her chance to change history . . . and if she even wants to.


This story hit me pretty hard in a personal way. Maybe it's because I'm a lot like Georgiedomestically challenged, career-driven, inclined to pick the most saturated color on the paint sample card. Maybe it's because my husband is a lot like Neala better cook than he has any right to be, quiet with his emotions, big with his romantic gestures. I also have a mother who's obsessed with her pug, and we also live in Silver Lake (technically Echo Park, but that's just semantics and roughly 15% less hipsters).

Or maybe it's because he was literally digging himself into a hole while I was reading the first half of the book.

No but really.

We're coming up on 4 years of marriage, which is exactly the number of years we were together before the wedding. But marriage, guys . . . it's this whole other THING. And, unsurprisingly, Rainbow captures that flawlessly:
You don't know what it really means to crawl into someone else's life and stay there. You can't see all the ways you're going to get tangled, how you're going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten—in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.
It's not all introspection and married-people angst. The secondary players in Georgie's life (her mom, stepdad, sister, close friend and writing partner, daughters, and more) don't seem to have any idea that they're secondary, because Rainbow doesn't ever treat them that way. And of course there's playful banter. Of course there is.
"She reclaimed her virginity?"
 "Leave it, Georgie. She can do whatever she wants with her virginity."
"Right," Georgie said, nodding her head. "Right . . . It doesn't sound like such a bad idea, actually. Maybe I'll reclaim mine before you come back. In the name of Queen Elizabeth."
Subliminal messages in the Harry Potter books, obvs.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Martian, or Tony Stark Goes to Mars

I don't have a brain wired for scientific reasoning, but I'm endlessly fascinated by people who understand science and can explain it to me in a way that makes me almost think I can understand it, too. I put them in the same category as those individuals who roughhouse with wild hyenas.

Science, like hyenas, can never be tamed.

The six crewmates of Ares 3 are caught in a serious windstorm (sustained gusts of about 110 mph) on Sol 6 of their scientific mission to Mars. They’re forced to scrub the whole mission and flee the planet as the wind makes serious moves toward tipping the MAV (i.e., the Mars ascent vehicle, their only ticket off that godforsaken rock). As they’re shuffling their blind way toward the MAV, through the whipping wind and dust, Mark Watney (specialties: mechanical engineering and botany) is impaled by a wind-borne antenna and swept far away from the group. Presumed dead by his crew (and reasonably so), he's ultimately abandoned on Mars. The ensuing story is something like Castaway without the coconuts.
If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death.
So yeah. I’m f*****.
As Mark applies his wits and expertise toward the end goal of not becoming dead, he walks us through his adventures and misadventures via logs. He explains his methods in what should be an irritating amount of detail but is not, because tell me more about how you separated pure hydrogen from rocket fuel and then used it to make water and also how you took that whoozit and connected it to this whatsit to create an even handier doodad.

This is a literal fight for survival from beginning to end, and it's an incredibly tense read. It would be much less enjoyable without the levity that Andy Weil (through Mark) brings to every page (let's hope Ridley Scott doesn't run the movie adaptation through his Ultra-Serious Doom Machininator™ and squeeze all the humor out). It's a rare variety of person who can keep the jokes coming while alone on a barren planet that is actively trying to pop him like a blood-filled balloon—which kind of reminds me of this other guy I know.
“I admit it’s fatally dangerous,” Watney said.
“But consider this: I’d get to fly around like Iron Man.”

One more thing: That crew of six people? TWO of them are women. That is one more than the absolute bare minimum, which means this book about a to-this-day overwhelmingly male-dominated profession that centers on a white man stuck on Mars alone passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. All arguments against including real women in sci-fi are invalid for all time.