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Posts Tagged ‘Mars’

Today’s Thing I Like is nonfiction writing in general, and author Mary Roach in particular. If you aren’t familiar with her work, check out the books linked below or this interview with Seth Shostak at SETICon 2012.

Nonfiction can be a fiction writer’s best friend. At its best, it includes detailed, character-driven explorations of real-life situations and challenges, and can provide the sort of solid foundation a more speculative piece needs to succeed. I’ve mentioned this before, but avoiding abstractitis is key to good writing.

Specifically:

No matter how abstract your topic, how intangible, your first step is to find things you can drop on your foot.
— John Maguire

Nonfiction helps you do that, and Mary Roach is a great example of a quality nonfiction writer.

I have yet to read all of Roach’s books but Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void were terrific. Her books take a somewhat off-beat topic and delve in, deep. She’s also funny. The level of detail is satisfying and succeeds in painting an engaging portrait of her subject that is also educational. Packing for Mars, for example, is a great way for writers to familiarize themselves with the nitty gritty of space exploration, how we got to where we are now, and how we’ll get to where we’re going.

To note, if you’re interested in popular nonfiction about the intricacies of digestion or Mars exploration, check out Giulia Enders’ excellent Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ, and Steve Squyres’ Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet.

Read, then write:)

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Oh, I love this*: the folks at the most excellent Science News have assembled a scrapbook of sorts for the Curiosity rover. It tracks the rover’s path from August 2012 to the present, and includes a date/sol-based timeline, rover tweets, photos, maps and commentary. Fun and educational. And fun!

* Partly for the same reason we love R2D2, no doubt; Curiosity is both awesome and adorable. Also, adventures in space!

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Planet boredom
On Mars I learned that boredom has two sides – it can either rot the mind or rocket it to new places…

This essay provides a fascinating look at the HI-SEAS (Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) Mars training mission from the inside. Written by Kate Greene, a science and technology journalist (i.e. not an astronaut), the piece gives a great inside look at what a trip to Mars might be like. For speculative fiction writers, this sort of research provides terrific insight into what life in space would actually feel like to those living it.

Short answer? Boring. Longer answer? Sometimes boring can be a good thing…

Find the full essay at aeon Magazine. For more on the pitfalls of life on Mars, you could also check out Andy Weir’s recent novel The Martian.

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This article by scientist Pascal Lee has a great point: reading helps kids turn dreams into reality. I just have one tiny bone to pick, and that has to do with the non/fiction divide:

“Let’s get ready for Mission: Mars and take our kids with us. Let’s start them on this journey with a non-fiction STEM book.”

I absolutely agree that Science, Technology, Engineering and Math learning and advancement requires books of the non-fiction variety. That’s right, actual facts are actually important. No question. I would add, though, that not only is it not bad if Generation Mars includes fiction on its reading list, doing so will help them with that first bit: having dreams. It’s also important to remember that much of the best science fiction is based on extrapolated science fact.*

“The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.”
— Peter Diamandis

As Lee points out, Scholastic’s “Read Every Day. Lead a Better Life” motto is right on target, but why limit that reading? Non-fiction shows you how to build the path, fiction helps you decide where you want to go and imagine what it will be like when you get there.

I can’t wait to see where Generation Mars takes us.

* While “top X” lists are always arguable, they can be a great place to start. Check out this list of The Best Hard Science Fiction Books of all Time: Ten titles that inspired Technology Review to publish TRSF, its own collection of sci-fi stories.

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