Sci-Fi That’s Not Sci-Fi, But It’s Sci-Fi

Back when I was young, I devoured all of the books I could get my hands on.  My mother taught me to read before I turned 3, figuring that since she was already teaching my four-year-old sister, she might as well take me along for the ride.  I’m not sure if it was the whole ‘2 birds, 1 stone’ approach or simply a way to keep me occupied and out of trouble, but it worked. Worked as in ‘I learned to read’, not worked as in ‘kept me out of trouble’. Reading opened my mind and fueled my imagination, guaranteeing that I’d actually get in more trouble in life.  But you know what…?  I’m okay with that.

As I grew up, I’d try reading almost anything – animal stories, Encyclopedia Brown investigations, old west tales, the entire Hardy Boys series…  And fantasy and sci-fi as well. Books had nothing to do with genres back then. It was all about the stories.

I’m usually an optimist about books, expecting the best, and planning to enjoy a good story with interesting characters when I pick one up.  And I shouldn’t be ashamed of reading ‘those types of books’, whatever they might be. Especially as good writing is good writing (and bad is bad) no matter the subject matter.

All of this leads to me reading The Martian by Andy Weir.  This is an example of realistic science fiction (in that it’s fiction and it deals with issues of science). It just doesn’t have aliens and space battles and the types of things that are expected from people who don’t really read sci-fi. The “Martian” in this book is astronaut Mark Watney, who is left for dead after an accident and finds himself stranded alone on Mars.  Plenty of science is involved in this fiction (see what I did there…?) as the main character attempts to survive for month upon month until rescue can arrive.  

The technical issues and descriptions actually work throughout the story, and work well.  What’s strange is how the book suffers when other characters are involved.  Dialogue is strained, people are two-dimensional, and yes…it seems like the author doesn’t really know any women.  That’s where I can see the issues women may have with the book.  And in that regard, it kind of reminds me of some of those sci-fi books I read as a kid, where characters – especially female characters – weren’t completely fleshed out (so to speak).

I’d actually give this book 8.25 out of 10 (I just can’t use a five-star guide because there’s just not enough range to play with), despite these issues.  It’s gripping to read from beginning to end and the main character is entertaining when he’s talking to himself on a planet he doesn’t share with another person.  As long as the story is a soliloquy, and every other character stays out of the way, it’s fun to read.  And that’s not a description I ever thought I’d use for a book is actually recommend.

So I can’t say that I’m embarrassed to have read this one compared to those sci-fi books of my youth where the men (or male aliens) fought through the universe meeting females described only by their physical attributes rather than their strengths, weaknesses, background and flaws.  But then I can’t remember the male characters being that much better.

So does that mean that I don’t have to apologize on behalf of my gender for reading those?  Because I swear I’ve forgotten all about them them and they’ve yet to leave the moldy boxes stored away in my dad’s garage.  I’ve moved on to bigger and better things…


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