Weekly Ramble Three: Return from Alaska

Alright people, I'm exhausted. I went to Juneau, Alaska and back between Saturday and Tuesday, and started a new role at my day job on Wednesday. Needless to say, things have been a liiittle hectic around here, so I apologize in advance if this week's ramble is a little ramblier than usual. With that out of the way, lets get started.

Alaska

Juneau was both exactly as magnificent as I'd hoped while also having a very different effect on me than I had expected. I had definitely romanticized it in the weeks leading up to the trip. Wilderness! I thought. Isolation! Culture! Seafood! And while there were all of those things in abundance, I'd forgotten to factor in two things: Juneau is a small town American city, and a good portion of it's economy is based in tourism. I knew, of course, that the end of October was in the "off season" where there wouldn't be many tourists. I planned it that way, because I wanted to get a feel for the 'real' city, the city that people live in instead of visiting for a day, or a week.

Juneau was deserted. I was the only person in most shops that I entered, and 3/4 of the shops were closed for the season. I would walk down empty streets and only occasionally see someone else in the distance. I saw more ravens than I did people, most days, and this was in downtown Juneau. While that certainly isn't bad considering the fact that I was doing research for a post-apocalyptic project, it was eerie. I had come to Juneau expecting to fall in love with its charm, mountains, and people, and instead I fell in love with the mountains, and grew increasingly uncomfortable in the city itself. Even thought there was a possibility of encountering a bear out in the 'wilderness' of the trails both above downtown and by the Mendenhall Glacier, I enjoyed my time hiking more than I did my time in town. I don't regret going at all; it was an odd but incredibly informative experience.

One thing that I definitely learned from visiting Juneau is how important the area's native cultures are to the city. I hadn't included them in the first draft of the novel at all because of some early research that I did that indicated that they had some very particular views about the ownership of stories, and that it might not be respectful for an outsider to tell their stories. You just can't write about Juneau without writing about the native peoples that still live there, though; it's a vital part of what the city is. So I've got a lot of research to do before I can start draft two; I need to understand the Tlingit and the Haida much better than I do now before I can write this book.

Writing

I had a really hard time convincing myself not to jump right into revisions for Mendenhall right after getting back from Alaska, but I have a lot of research to do, and Sea Witch needs to get finished, so I buckled down and got myself back on track with Sea Witch. The story for after Ursula and Ariel meet is starting to shape up, which is good, but it's getting complicated, which makes me despair of whether or not I'm going to get it done in under novella length. Though now that the two have met, it feels like I'm starting the actual story, so I can probably cut or shorten a lot of stuff that's just Ursula from the front.

I missed working on the book Sunday-Wednesday, so only added 2,831 to Sea Witch, for a total word count of 19,417.

Book Reviews

I only have one book review for you this week and it's super short. Sorry.

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

If you liked the first Murderbot book, you're sure to like this one. Murderbot only gets more lovable as they have to make more moral decisions for themself, and it's nice to see a little bit of Murderbot's backstory, as well as more of the world that created them. ART, also, is pretty damn great.

Weekly Ramble Two: Alaska and Anxiety

I'm going to Alaska this weekend! Tomorrow morning (way too early), as of when this posts, actually. It's my first time taking a whole vacation completely alone. I'm thrilled. I'm terrified. The only sure thing is that it's going to be an adventure, and I couldn't be more excited. I saved up for this trip the whole time that I was writing the first draft of the novel (working title: Mendenhall) and soon I'll actually be able to look at the glacier (that won't be there anymore by the time the events of my story take place) that I got the working title from. Not in a picture but in real life! I'll be taking a ton of pictures, which I'll be sure to post somewhere so that this time next week you can see what happened on my crazy Alaskan adventure.

Because of the upcoming trip and this Monday starting my fourth week without exercise because I had open wounds on my face from a mole removal (nothing to worry about, I promise) and couldn't swim, the start of this weeks was a little rocky and anxiety ridden. However, I still got a fair amount of writing done, and I finally caved and spent half an hour on an exercise bike on Tuesday just to get some of those endorphins, which helped a ton. And tonight, finally, finally, I'm going for a swim. Hurray for healing!

Things are going well in my 'short' project, Sea Witch. I got bogged down in some dialogue and the introduction of a very important character this week (yes, that character), but pushed through to add 4,254 words to it for a total wordcount of 16,586 for the project so far. I think I'm almost at the halfway point, so my goal of keeping this 'not a novel' seems doable. I'm beginning to wonder if I should stick to my goal of starting revisions on Mendenhall on November 1 even if I haven't finished Sea Witch by then. It would be a shame, I think, to leave Sea Witch hanging when it would only take a couple of extra weeks to finish a first draft.

In any case, here are the books I reviewed this week:

A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

If you're a white American, you need to read this book. It's short. It's easy to read. It presents the facts about the differences in policing between white and black communities, and the ways that these differences affect everyone, white and black, in America very clearly. We need to see what's going on in our own country; our own back yards, even, and this book is a quick, efficient way to get the basics down. Read it. You have no excuse.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go is a strange sort of book, and I'm not sure how much to write about it, because this is one of those few books that I feel like are enhanced by knowing very little about the premise, and sort of piecing it together as you go along. I can remember specific points of view where some small detail slipped into place and the whole world in the book crystallized around me, and seeing the puzzle pieces fall into alignment like that was part of the joy of reading this book. All I'll say, then is this: Never Let Me Go is a deeply atmospheric and troubling book, set at least in part in a english boarding school, and that it is highly science fictional in that it is asking some very big questions about our use of science and morality, even though at the outset it may not feel like it's that kind of book.

Whether you've been spoiled or not, this book is well-written, the characters are drawn with detail and care, and the atmosphere, as I said before, is subtle and troubling and perfectly rendered. It wasn't one of my favorite books ever, but I know a carefully crafted and precisely written book when I see one, and this is it. If you like that strange liminal space of science fiction that's pretending to not be science fiction, or if you like a precisely crafted atmosphere of unease, this book is for you.

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

Hurray for Hidden Figures! This book is exactly what I needed to read in a time when I was just starting to go down the road of "Wait, the history that I learned in high school isn't the whole story? Women and people of color were less likely to be written about? They did things? What?" It's the untold story of the African American women that served as NASA's calculators, and I am just so excited that this had come to light, and that I get to know about things like this, now.

That being said, the book is incredibly well-researched, and leans more on the research than storytelling or character work, which is obviously a valid choice for a nonfiction book, but makes for slightly less enjoyable reading, at least on my part. I imagine that the movie would fill in the storytelling and character work that I crave, so I better go watch that ASAP. For all that the book it a little dry, I enjoyed it, and I think that anyone willing to give this a shot will be glad that they waded through a little bit of research to get the knowledge that this book holds.

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Calculating Stars is the first book in an alternate history science fiction duology about what would have happened if a meteor hit Washington D.C. in 1952, devastating the eastern seaboard and causing climate change that necessitates humanity getting off of Earth and starting colonies on other planets ASAP. It's told from the POV of a Jewish calculator at NASA who also suffers from anxiety (anxiety-havers represent!).

I read this book almost immediately after reading Hidden Figures, and the pairing could not have been more perfect. Elma is such a wonderful main character, and Kowal does an amazing job of showing how a character that was marginalized in several different ways still manages to become one of the most important people in NASA's space program. It also deals with her privilege in relation to people more marginalized than herself, which I greatly enjoyed. Honestly, I enjoyed this whole book immensely, and would happily recommend it to anyone, whether you've read Hidden Figures or not. This would also be a great recommendation if, like me, you recently saw First Man, and wished we had seen, I don't know, any women working at NASA in the movie.