Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nerdy Thrills: Voting and Flights to Mars

I've spent the last 2 weeks reading Andy Weir's The Martian.  It's about an astronaut, Mark Watney, who is stranded on Mars--his crewmates saw a catastrophic accident and assumed he had died.  But his spacesuit healed the leak, and now he has to figure out how to survive.

I'll be honest:  I thought the first part of the book was much more fascinating than the latter part.  In the beginning, Mark strategizes about how to extend his food source--that part was much more interesting to me than some of the engineering problems which perplex him later.

I am a product of my childhood reading, so I was hoping for a book where he'd colonize Mars.  I was halfway expecting some encounters with strange Martian creatures--too much War of the Worlds kind of storytelling in my youth.

But Andy Weir is a different kind of writer, a much more true to the science kind of writer, the kind of guy who likely follows NASA on a web site.  I say this without meaning for it to sound snarky, although I know that it might.  I, too, would follow NASA on a web site.  I would love to be an astronaut--if it didn't take so much training in math.

Poets in space--now I would support that kind of presidential campaign.  However, this book is clear about the risks to space travel.  And not just risks--it's a lot of time out of one's life, and loved ones left behind try to be brave, but the astronauts will miss major life events.  Is the price of discovery worth it?

I love this paragraph:  "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."

And this description:  “I need to ask myself, 'What would an Apollo astronaut do?' He'd drink three whiskey sours, drive his Corvette to the launchpad, then fly to the moon in a command module smaller than my Rover. Man those guys were cool.”  

This morning, as I was looking for the book review which led me to put this book on my ever growing to-read list, I came across the story of how the book was published.  It's one of those stories that fascinates my writer self.

According to this Wikipedia entry, Weir sent it to literary agents, to no avail.  So he offered it for free on his website.  And then, "At the request of fans he made an Amazon Kindle version available through Amazon.com at 99 cents (the minimum he could set the price)."  He sold 35,000 copies in 3 months; even a non-math person like me can figure out the profit there.

And thus, he attracted the attention of the mainstream publishers.  And soon, the book will be made into a movie.

I love these kinds of happy endings!

And now, speaking of happy endings, it's time to get ready to vote.  Yes, I could have voted already, in any variety of ways:  I will never understand these claims of voter suppression.  It's much easier to vote now than it was when I voted in my first election in 1984. 

Thirty years ago--wow.  I had to send documentation that I really was away in college before I could get an absentee ballot.  And this year, the polls have been open for several weeks, and I could have mailed in a ballot or voted online, even though I'm in town and can go to the polls.

So, yes, in an hour or so, we'll go to the polls. I don't expect a crowd, but I'd be happy to be surprised and late to work.

Do I think that my vote will make a difference?  Yes, I really do.  Even when I lived in places where I knew I would be outnumbered, I voted.  It makes a difference to me.

I know how many people have struggled so that I can exercise this right to vote--and I know how much of a struggle it was to have the larger population acknowledge that women have that right.  Thank you, suffragettes!

I'm still nerdy enough to be thrilled by the idea of space travel, to be thrilled at the idea of participatory democracy, to be intrigued by the challenges of colonizing new spaces, whether it's Mars or new populations of voters.  These thrills don't come cheap, although we may not give them their due.  I'm happy that the thrills of younger years still hold their power.

No comments: