A Challenging Read

I took a challenge recently, and it paid off.  READING WITHOUT WALLS  is a worldwide call to all readers that’s pretty simple.  Just read a book out of your comfort zone and see where it takes you.  My chosen book took me to Mars.  The Martian is a 2014 book written by Andy Weir.  Here’s more about this amazing tale and the challenge that inspired me to try it.

READING WITHOUT WALLS has three parts:

1. Read a book about a character who doesn’t look or act like you:  Mark Whatney, the main character in The Martian fills this bill.  He’s male. I’m female. He’s in his 20’s.  I’m…well, let’s just say I have a few years on him.  He’s a botanist, an engineer, and an astronaut.  I’m an English major who works in a school library.  As different as we are, I grew to love this character.  Long story short, Mark is stranded on Mars after an aborted space mission.  His training, his intellect and his “never give up attitude” helps him survive the unforgiving planet for more than a year.  But his final rescue comes about through the herculean efforts of his fellow man.  Their actions fill him with pride and love for the human race.

“If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search.  If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood.  If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies.  This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception.  Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care.  But they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do.”

 

I took the READING WITHOUT WALLS challenge. Will you?

2. Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about:  Space travel, NASA, EVA suits, chemistry…I know little of these subjects.  But I learned about them and so much more.  Heck, I now know the basics of making water (mix two parts hydrogen with one part oxygen.)  Weir’s clear writing and humor make the science clear and even entertaining.

 

3. Read a book in a format you don’t normally read for fun (a chapter book, a picture book, poetry, or an audio book): I fell somewhat short in this regard.  The Martian is a novel which is my go-to format for pleasure reading.  It is, however, a genre I rarely grab–science fiction.  This challenge reminded that a good story is a good story, no matter how, where, or why it is written.

READING WITHOUT WALLS is the brainchild of Gene Luen Yang and the Children’s Book Council.  Go here to learn more.

BONUS BIT: Three other book’s I’ve read that challenged me and opened my eyes:

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, 2008:  This sweeping novel taught me about Afghanistan and its history.   I can now associate real places and people with this country that is so often in the news.  Plus Hosseini’s storytelling is superb.

 

Honey Bees: Letters from the Hive by Stephen Buchmann, 2010: This non-fiction book kindled a passion in me for honey bees and the food they produce.   I now keep a jar of honey in my pantry at all times.

Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin, 2012: This book detailing the build up to the atomic bomb was fascinating.  It’s a real-life story that reads like a movie script.  Hollywood take note.

QUESTION:  Care to share anything you’ve read that was out of the ordinary?  I’d love to hear!

Take Me To Your Leader

The psychedelic aliens on this book cover just scream campy. Which is a shame since many of the short stories in Creatures from Beyond are wonderfully written and inducted me into the science fiction fan club.  Terry Carr collected and published these nine tales in 1975.  While that easily qualifies them as retro sci-fi, their original publication dates reveal them as positively vintage.  The oldest was written in 1927!

Creatures From Beyond, edited by Terry Carr, 1975
Creatures From Beyond, edited by Terry Carr, 1975

Post Format:  Blast from the Past…or is it?

To be sure, Mystery Science Theater 3000 would have a field day with some of these tales.  But more than a few represent great storytelling.

The Mimic by Donald Wolheim, 1942: This story takes real science and puts it on steroids. (I’ll take this kind of sci-fi any day over dueling space ships and galactic intrigue.) The narrator is a young man who works in a natural history museum classifying and mounting insects.  Through him, we get a fascinating science lesson on nature’s survivalist skills of camouflage and mimicry. Examples include one beetle species whose false markings and erratic speed allow it to live unnoticed and unharmed among predatory army ants. He goes on to describe man

Popular culture many have overlooked Clifford C. Simak (1904-1988). But this science fiction author is a superstar to many for the humanicty and subtle humor found in his storeis. One German fan even operates a Simak website devoted to keeping this author's memory alive! I sure plan on reading more from writer.
Popular culture  has overlooked Clifford D. Simak (1904-1988). But this science fiction author is a superstar to many for the humanity and subtle humor found in his stories. One German fan even operates a Simak website devoted to keeping his memory alive! I sure plan on reading more from this writer.

as the “greatest killer, the greatest hunter of them all.” Could there be mimics surviving unnoticed among humans?  This clever, horrific story answers that very question.

The Street that Wasn’t There by Clifford D. Simak and Carl Jacobi, 1941: An old professor takes the same walk every evening but discovers one day that a whole street has simply disappeared!  This is a beautifully written, convincing story that had me wondering what is real and what isn’t.

Dear Devil by Eric Frank Russell, 1950: Okay, so the hero of this tale is a blue alien who communicates through tentacles.  But you’ll fall genuinely in love with him anyway.  The setting is a familiar one in sci-fi, a post-apocalyptic world with a handful of human survivors.  But the ending is anything but bleak thanks in large part to this generous, intelligent Martian.  Dear Devil closes out Carr’s collection and is easily my favorite.

Bonus Bit: Got a long, sit-down task ahead of you? For entertainment, play this 35-minute YouTube clip of Peter Yearsley reading The Street That Wasn’t There.

QUESTION: Do you have any great sci-fi writer/story recommendations?

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