The Martian

Goodness. Where have I been? And how in the world am I finally finding time to write in the midst of the holiday season? I don’t know. I do know I’ve missed this outlet for myself. Is it too early to be talking about New Year’s Resolutions? Well here’s mine: to start writing more. And not just here- it’s time to really work on getting the stories in my head down on paper.

TheMartianCover

Anyways. I remember when The Martian first showed up in the library. I didn’t check it out immediately, despite how interesting it sounded, because we have a strong policy at work that staff are not ever, ever, EVER to be the first to check out new books. So I put it aside and watched despondently as the waiting list grew and grew and grew. And when the list finally started to go down, news about the movie came out. The list, naturally, then climbed up even higher than it had been. Being myself, I wanted to read the book before seeing the movie and I really wanted to see the movie. So I’m a bit ashamed to admit this, but I bought the book rather than wait for it to come to me at the library. It turned out alright though because I ended up loving it.

Mars has always had a special place in my heart. As a child, I had the most beautiful golden blonde hair and bright blue eyes (both of which, to my everlasting regret, darkened the older I got). Those aren’t unusual physical characteristics, to be sure, but when both parents and my only sister had brown hair and brown eyes, I felt out of place. And so, in my mind, I created a story where I was adopted from Mars. This solved the problem of my strange coloring for me. I loved Mars. I don’t know why; I have a feeling it’s because Mars was red (my favorite color) and that it was named after the god of war (I’ve always had a disturbingly martial side to my personality that is fortunately rarely acted on). Once I got older, that love grew with the discovery of Ray Bradbury and his sublimely beautiful stories of Martians with dark skin and golden eyes who lived in glass palaces and swam in clear blue canals.

I suppose it was a given that I would love this book then, since it combined my love of Mars with a fascinating survival tale. It was much funnier than I was expecting with science and math that mostly went far above my understanding, yet still incredibly heart-warming. And the movie was an admirable adaptation. I had some issues with changes to characters and events but it’s one thing to read about a man alone on Mars and it’s another thing to see a man, alone, on Mars. And getting to see the visual adaptation was a nice complement to the book. So yeah, you’ve probably seen or read The Martian already. But if you haven’t, I recommend it.

Advertisements

Jupiter Ascending

Am I the only one who liked this movie? Granted, it had plenty of problems but overall I enjoyed it. (Disclaimer: I wanted to like this movie. And generally when I want to like something, I do.)

Jupiter (played by Mila Kunis) is an illegal immigrant from Russia, spending her days as a house cleaner with her mother and aunt. But it turns out she’s actually a genetic copy of a Queen (sort of) and she gets thrown into a dynastic struggle between the heirs of that queen that takes her throughout space with, naturally, nothing less than the Earth itself at stake. It’s got Channing Tatum as a love interest, Sean Bean as a helper/protector/guide (who DOES NOT die – astounding!) and Eddie Redmayne as the villain.

It’s silly and a bit overblown and sometimes feels like it might be taking itself a bit too serious but I found it to be a fun movie. Done by the same people that made the Matrix trilogy and Cloud Atlas, it’s absolutely gorgeous to look at. There are flaws (including a penchant for Jupiter to rarely travel beyond the damsel in distress) but if you’re looking for a fun movie to spend a few hours, you could do worse than this one.

Gender and Tolkien

Tauriel

Tolkien has a bad reputation for gender diversity but (and I say this as a female with strong feminist tendencies) I don’t care. I don’t think I’ve written a post before like I’m about to, but with the introduction of Tauriel in the recent Hobbit movie and my discovery of this article, I felt I should take advantage of my platform here.

But first, read this article: One Weird Old Trick to Undermine the Patriarchy. Go on, go read it. It’s short. I can wait.

Done? Good. Let’s continue.

First, let me just say that I have no issue with switching genders of main characters if your kid wants it. It’s a bit untraditional but if it works, then ok. Stories can and do change.

So now, can we just talk about that picture for a minute? Insert my hands thrown up and a long drawn out wail of “whhhhhhyyyyy” right here. We’re switching genders of the main character! So yes please, let’s take that frumpy middle-aged hobbit who loves nothing better than sitting comfortably and eating and change him into a cute young hobbittess with a spunky haircut, a figure to die for, and a look that clearly says she’s up for anything. We’re staying completely true to the story here!

And then there’s this: “Bilbo, it turns out, makes a terrific heroine. She’s tough, resourceful, humble, funny, and uses her wits to make off with a spectacular piece of jewelry.” A PIECE OF JEWELRY?? Michelle Nijhuis is trying to make the point that gender isn’t an issue so she turns the quest to reclaim Erebor, the dwarven homeland, into some petty journey where girl Bilbo ends up with some pretty jewelry. If we’re trying to point out the gender of the main character doesn’t matter, maybe we should be avoiding blatantly feminine stereotypes? Just a thought. Not to mention that the Arkenstone isn’t even jewelry. (EDIT: Just realized Nijhuis might be referring to the One Ring here and not the Arkenstone- comment about female stereotypes still stands.)

I also find it interesting that Nijhuis adds “Perhaps most importantly, she never makes an issue of her gender—and neither does anyone else.” Except for us, that is. By writing the article, with the underlying idea that having a male hero is somehow detrimental to young female minds, WE are making an issue of gender. I find the idea incredibly patronizing that unless there is a female character, my enjoyment of the story will somehow be less.

I’ll be the first to tell you that women in our society, young, old, and in between, have serious image issues. But I don’t think that books with predominantly male characters are to blame.  Instead of teaching our children (boys and girls) that they can use their gifts to overcome adversity and find clever solutions to tricky problems, we’re hung up on trying to convince them that girls can be tough too! And go on adventures! Even though they’re girls! Maybe we should be more focused on the fact that the majority of Disney movies and young adult novels, while having female protagonists, almost always have the female ending up in a relationship (this relationship is generally a main plot line). This is why Brave was so refreshing, because there was no love story for our heroine- except with her mother. And maybe we should be more concerned about the fact that women are praised more for their youth and beauty than anything else, whatever they are trying to do (I direct your attention to the picture accompanying the article once more).

So am I upset that the writer of this article changed the sex of Bilbo? No. Do I resent the creation of Tauriel in the movie? Absolutely not. I’m a firm believer that women can be just as competent and entertaining characters as any man. Don’t believe me? Try reading The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. Or The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman. Or Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey. (True, there’s a love story in that one, but I’ve never read a more realistic character than Ellie. And the love story line is secondary to the plot.) It’s when we insist on making a point of saying “oh, this is a man, why can’t it be a woman?” or “oh good, a woman, that’s better” that I start to fume.

So here’s my suggestion: Instead of villainizing Tolkien (or any author) for writing books with mostly male characters, or instead of trying to make poor one-for-one substitutions of men for women, let’s encourage girls to write their own stories. Stories where women can be more than token characters, there just to make a point about gender. Or…not. Because that’s the thing: if gender doesn’t matter, then gender doesn’t matter. A good character is a good character regardless of their anatomy.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the article!

Another Liebster Award!

I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award again! And as this just means I get to answer another round of fun questions I will accept wholeheartedly.

Nominated this time by the lovely ladies at the Egotist’s Club.

Without further ado, the questions and my answers:

1) What leader (from history or fiction) would you follow into the very jaws of death? Why?

Well, Faramir from Lord of the Rings, obviously. Wise and gentle, yet strong and courageous. Even Eowyn, a shieldmaiden of Rohan, recognizes his value and that he would be unmatched by any of the Rohirrim (who are essentially idealized Vikings of the plains).

Also, Croaker from The Black Company series by Glen Cook. Croaker starts out as the company doctor and over the several decades covered by the series ends up as the Commander. He’s intelligent, cynical, gruff when needed and kind when needed. He does not make the men under him do anything that he would not or has not done himself. And if you have to enter into a life or death situation, I would rather have someone leading me that understands sacrifice.

2) Would you rather be an old-fashioned bard wandering around and telling stories, or a modern-day writer? Why?

Old-fashioned bard, absolutely.  Bards knew all the stories and were generally given positions of honor in the house they were visiting because they were one of the few entertainments available in a time before modern technology. And I don’t just mean the internet and tv but even readily accessible books. Granted, the freedom and prestige of a position was restricted a bit by having to rely entirely on wealthy patrons but it has a romance to it that I just can’t shake.

3) What musical instrument best communicates your personality? How or why?

I guess I would have to go with a fiddle on this one. I might seem a bit like the coldly formal violin when you first meet me, but get to know me and I’ll loosen right up.

4) If you had a hedgehog, what would you name it, and why?

(I happen to live in one of the few states that does not allow hedgehogs. This is an absolute travesty.)

I would probably name it the horribly and embarrassingly un-clever “Hedgie”. I had a book growing up called Miss Jaster’s Garden about a hedgehog (simply called Hedgie) and his human friend (Miss Jaster) that lived near the sea. I had no idea what a hedgehog was at the time but the book still holds a special place in my heart. But I might name it something else. Pet names have generally been spur of the moment decisions for me based on either characteristics of the pet (hence, a cat named Fluffy- I swear she was part Persian) or names that I happened to like at the moment of naming (hence, another cat named Simon, who narrowly avoided the name of Wildthing).

5) If you could tell high school students one thing that would influence them for the rest of their lives, what would it be and why?

That the past four years don’t matter. I know that sounds horrible, and it’s not even entirely true, but high school is such a time of drama and petty tragedies that we place far too much emphasis on. The things learned in high school may or may not come in handy, and any character building will stay you forever but I’m about 10 years on from high school and you know what? Nobody really cares about that part of my life. It doesn’t come up in jobs, new friends don’t usually ask any details about it, and I myself rarely think of it.

I also think that the recent rise of YA fiction as a literary powerhouse has contributed (dangerously) to the idea that life in high school is the Most. Important. Thing. EVER. I respectfully disagree.

6) What is the very first book you would read aloud to your baby, and why?

To my baby? Honestly, it will probably be something along the lines of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See or maybe Goodnight Moon. Something simple with appealing pictures. Once they get to toddler-ish age I’d start reading them the same collection of Richard Scarry stories that I learned to read from. And once they get even older, Narnia. Definitely Narnia. I will always regret that I tried to read the Narnia books too old and could not enjoy them- they seemed too simple and a tad patronizing. It wasn’t until I was an adult and could understand the Christian story behind them that I grew to love them.

7) What are your thoughts on Disney acquiring Star Wars?

The emotional equivalent of a wavy line. I’m not indifferent but I’m withholding judgment until the new movies come out. Disney might be able to curb George Lucas’ attempts to “fix” things unnecessarily but I’m terrified Leia is going to end up as a Disney Princess.

8) What qualities of leadership do you possess?

I’ve never considered myself a leader. As an introvert, I’ve always tended to be a bit of a loner and very much an observer. So if a leader is doing the right thing and deserves to be followed? Great, count me in. But I like to flatter myself that I have never done anything simply because it was what everyone else was doing. That being said, I have been described as being a servant leader so I suppose I am good at seeing something that needs to be done and doing it. Generally in the background. Let someone else deal with the spotlight!

So there we go. And now dear reader, I would love to hear your responses to one or all of these questions.

A Fairy Tale Wardrobe

I love the show Once Upon A Time. I love the stories they tell and the characters they’ve created and I particularly love the crazy way they have connected the core group of characters. Imagine being the genealogist for that family! My head hurts just thinking about it.

I also love the costumes they have on the show. Like Game of Thrones (albeit on a smaller scale), they manage to create beautiful costumes for the characters both in our world and theirs. I recently came across a photo album for some of the best costumes from the show and here are some of the highlights:

Prince Charming

Prince Charming

Captain Hook

Captain Hook

Regina

Regina

Mulan

Mulan

Tiny

Tiny

You can see the whole gallery here.

Some of my favorite costumes didn’t make the gallery (or at least not clearly).

I love Belle’s main blue dress.

Belle

Belle

And pretty much anything on Snow White. Especially this cloak:

Snow White

Snow White

And this dressing gown (finding a good picture seems impossible so enjoy this short clip!):

I will say they love their leather on this show and lots of prominent, um, bosoms. But the fairy tale costumes are lovely and even the modern day costumes make me wish I could ask for some advice from the costumers!

Liebster Award!

My first blog award! How exciting. Awarded to me by the wonderful Jubilare, this “prestigiously obscure” blog award is meant to draw attention to blogs with under 200 followers. The rules/requirements/gentle suggestions for the awardee:

1) Expose my readers to the randomness of my soul.

2) Supply my nominator with answers to her queries.

3) Impose this honor and task upon others deemed worthy.

4) Notify said worthies.

5) Demand said worthies to expose the randomness of their souls.

6) Give thanks.

Well, 1, 2, and 6 are ok. But I’m going to have to bow out of passing along the award. While I follow several blogs that certainly deserve a much wider audience, they have either won the award already or else have too many followers. Forgive me jubilare? Hopefully my answers to the questions will delight and appease.

And so, the questions!

1. If you could walk into a book and make a home there, where would that home be, what would it be like, and what sort of people/creatures would you try to befriend? Specifics would be fun and you can give more than one answer if you like.

Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings. I suppose I would ultimately want to settle in Ithilien (post- Ring destruction naturally) where Eowyn and Faramir would rule. But first I would want to travel to the Shire, to Gondor, perhaps to Rivendell and Lothlorien if I was allowed, and a healthy amount of time in Rohan. And perhaps to see the Glittering Caves of Aglarond and maybe even to see the dwarven cities? Basically I would want to see it all and meet as many of the inhabitants as possible- hobbits, dwarves, elves and men. And oliphaunts.

To a lesser extent, I would love to jump into a Jane Austen novel. I love the Regency era with the beautiful dresses and frequent dances and in an Austen novel, there would be plenty of lively conversation and enough scandal and drama to keep things interesting.

2. Name a food you have read about, but never eaten, that you have since wanted to try. It doesn’t have to actually exist. What, in the reading, piqued your interest?

From Perelandra by C. S. Lewis:

Now he had come to a part of the wood where great globes of yellow fruit hung from the trees — clustered as toy-balloons are clustered on the back of the balloon-man and about the same size. He picked one of them and turned it over and over. The rind was smooth and firm and seemed impossible to tear open. Then by accident one of his fingers punctured it and went through into coldness. After a moment’s hesitation he put the little aperture to his lips. He had meant to extract the smallest, experimental sip, but the first taste put his caution all to flight. It was, of course, a taste, just as his thirst and hunger had been thirst and hunger. But then it was so different from every other taste that it seemed mere pedantry to call it a taste at all. It was like the discovery of a totally new genus of pleasures, something unheard of among men, out of all reckoning, beyond all covenant. For one draught of this on earth wars would be fought and nations betrayed. It could not be classified. He could never tell us, when he came back to the world of men, whether it was sharp or sweet, savoury or voluptuous, creamy or piercing. “Not like that” was all he could ever say to such inquiries.

The fruit of an Eden! No rot, insects, weather, etc. to destroy the purity. How could anybody refuse such a delicacy?

Also, open any book in The Game of Thrones series by George R. R. Martin to one of the numerous feasting/private dinners/camp meals and tell me you’re not suddenly desiring a hot meat pie, roasted swan, or crisp loaf of freshly baked bread. The man loves his feed and so do I.

3. Do you have a favorite plant? If so, what is it and why do you like it so much?

I have a favorite tree- a weeping cherry.

weeping cherry

Combining the fragile loveliness of a cherry blossom with the twisted beauty of a willow, I’m not sure a more perfect tree could exist. It is one of my favorite sights in spring.

I’m also partial to wildflowers and any sort of flowering weed including, but not limited to, dandelions, honeysuckle, morning glories, and wisteria.

4. What fictional character is your favorite hero (male or female), and what villain really scares you and why?

I have three favorite heroines:

1) Eowyn (of course) from The Lord of the Rings. She’s strong and courageous while being feminine and graceful. She has a realistic personality and her love story with Faramir is one of the most beautiful I have ever read.

2) Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility. I know everyone loves Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice with her beauty and her lively wit, but Elinor has always been the Austen heroine I’ve related to most. She’s plain yet entirely sensible and manages to keep her rather emotional mother and sister in check. Her quiet strength appeals to me far more than any of Austen’s more vivacious ladies.

3) Major Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell. The ultimate strong female character without being a stereotype. She’s strong, smart, and ready for anything you can throw her way. The TV show Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is really what got me into anime to begin with.

And the villain:

Gmork

Gmork from The Neverending Story. I don’t care that you can practically see the sticks holding that puppet up. He is by far the most terrifying thing I have ever seen in movie and not just for how he looks but also what he represents.

5. There is a crossroad at your feet. Behind you lies the path back to home and hearth (wherever that might be). The road directly ahead leads to a city, blue in the distance, settled among hills and on the edge of a bright inland sea. To your right lies a steep climb into old, low mountains clothed in forest and fern. To your left is rolling farmland that eventually flattens out into broad plains dappled by the clouds overhead. You can go as far as you like on any of the roads (even farther than you can see), including back home. There’s no wrong answer, only the where and why.

To the mountains I go! While the blue city sounds lovely it also sounds more like a temporary vacation spot or else a jumping off point for other adventures. Anyways, cities are not the best choice for this particular introvert. And as for the rolling farmland and open plains, no thanks. I had a professor in college who mentioned that he felt uneasy when he first moved to my hometown from the Chicago area because, living in the Appalachian foothills as we are, he could not see the horizon like he was used to. And then I realized why I had felt so uneasy the year before visiting my grandmother in Wisconsin- because I could see the horizon! It’s a bit unsettling to be surrounded by flat open farmland when all your life has been lived in foothill country. And I love being in the mountains, especially old mountains where ferns and greenery are plenty and even next door neighbors can be miles away. I might try to cross the mountains to see the valley beyond but I would probably be too much in love with the ferns and forest to go far.

And so, many thanks to jubilare for the nomination and I hope that I have provided my readers with some entertainment. And I would love to hear any answers you have in the comments!

Deathless

Deathless By Catherynne M. Valente; Published 2011.

Read as part of the unintentional Russian binge I’ve been on.

I checked this out when it passed through my hands at work, partly because of the Russian influence, partly because it sounded interesting and partly because of the author. I’ve been hearing a lot about Valente recently because her book The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making has been getting a good bit of buzz. I haven’t read it yet but it’s on my list. I thought this might be an interesting introduction to her writing.

So I read it and I liked it, for the most part. Valente has a great talent for words, although at times it feels a bit self conscious- as if she knows this will sound interesting or unique but it really could have been said a different, better way. But that’s a small thing and it bothered me more at the beginning of the book than at the end so perhaps I just needed to get used to her voice.

Deathless is the story of Marya Morevna, a young girl born just at the end of the 1800’s. She grows up during the turbulent times in Russian history that began just before World War I and continued through the Communist Revolution. Marya is chosen to be the bride of Koschei the Deathless but before being allowed to marry him, she is given three tasks by Baba Yaga. After her marriage, she is drawn into the war between life and death before rediscovering her humanity after falling in love with a simple soldier.

I feel that I missed a lot of references because of my lack of knowledge regarding Russian myths. There were plenty of things I did understand though. Baba Yaga, for one, and her house with the chicken legs. Firebirds make frequent appearances and the man who reminds Marya of her humanity is named Ivan- a common Russian name that has appeared in all of the few Russian tales I have read.

The one thing that Valente excels at is creating a fairy tale from her novel. If you have read any amount of fairy tales, one thing that tends to stand out is the repetition in the plot. And this is not a bad thing. But there is a certain form in fairy tales that Valente makes good use of. For example, Marya has three older sisters and Valente describes each of their marriages in almost the exact same way. This repetition helps the reader (and, as it was initially intended for, the listener) to remember plot points and for the teller to succinctly and clearly express them.

But the main thing that bothered me about this book was the lack of purpose. The best stories have a problem, a climax, and a solution. The only thing that I can think of that might be the problem would be Marya’s loss of her humanity. But if that is the problem, I’m not really sure why I should care. Lots of stories deal with characters losing their humanity and become more interesting for it. There are also large jumps in the timeline of the plot and characters disappear before we can get to know them enough to care about them.  Deathless seems more of a cautionary tale against meddling in the affairs of magic and mythical characters but Marya takes too much evident pleasure in the world she lives in to make that seem like a viable option either.

So I did enjoy this book and might even read it again but it’s not something that I feel I can recommend as a book to make an effort to read.