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June 29, 2016


a kind of meta joke: to flip the kind of SFF stories (we've all read so many of them) where almost all the characters "just happen" to be men.

Of course, James Schmitz did that flip long ago. And, to judge from your comment, did if far better as well.

The topic has been kind of in my mind since Mrs wj chivvied me into watching The Martian.

Yes, 2 of the 6 astronauts on the Mars expedition, including the commander, are female. But the thought kept popping up in my mind: Wonder why they didn't make this with one of the women being the one accidently left behind?

The only reason I could come up with is the difficulty of finding an actress with Matt Damon's box office draw. (Well, the novel had a male lead character. I suppose that could have contributed to the idea not arising.) Certainly no need for brute strength turned up. And having him shave off the beard he grew during his stay wasn't really that much of a thing.

So why, other than habit and inertia, not?

"Wonder why they didn't make this with one of the women being the one accidently left behind?"

Did it really? I mean honestly, did you think that while watching the movie? I just watched it Sunday and I enjoyed watching it, not once did I think "why isn't Matt's role a female". On the other hand I never wondered why the Captains role wasn't male.

I will say that the conscientious female protagonist being harried ny the male asshat is getting cliche.

Perhaps "kept popping into my mind" was less than perfectly accurate. (Except that I went thru the list below a couple of times, thinking about what I would to my favorite playwrite/screen play writer.)

Actually, I got into critique mode at the end of the film. It started when they were doing the course modufication to get close enough to pick him up. And I was thinking, "Wait a minute. If you modify your pass to come in even a little bit lower, it's going to have a big impact on where you are when you get back to Earth's orbit!" I could see why it was good for the plot. But the orbital mechanics? Especially with insufficient fuel to further course-correct? Dicey, at best.

Then, when I was thinking back and considered the landscape, I got to thinking "That looks more like the Southwest US than what I remember of the lander photos of Mars." I remember sand, and I remember rocks on Mars. Even big rocks. But those kinds of rocky canyons that he was driving through?

I suppose I may be mis-remembering what we know about the Marscape. Certainly I haven't gone digging for info on the specific path he was supposed to be traveling. But that's where my mind was.

And, then got to "What else would I have done differently if I had been writing this?" And changing the gender of the astronaut left behind was one of those things. Not from a cliche point of view so much as What differences would we see in the reaction, both of NASA and of the world at large?

Even today and with lots of political correctness around, I am pretty certain that the reaction would be different. Earlier decision that we have to at least try to go back and get her. Even perhaps stronger reaction from the world to the situation.

Does anyone doubt, even for an instant, that would be true? We may be far more willing today to let women do dangerous jobs. But the reflexive reaction of men in Western culture, even quite feminist men, is to go the extra mile to rescue a woman in trouble.

"We'd be risking 5 guys to maybe save one. So no, we won't even as the crew if they would be willing." just wouldn't fly. Even if the head of NASA was to make that decision, he would know that anyone else who knew she was alive and that a rescue was even possible would go over his head in a heartbeat. And no way he wouldn't get overruled.

The biggest scientific problem with The Martian was the event that set the plot into motion. I'll refrain from going into detail out of curiosity to see who else may have noticed.

hsh, I am not sure what was scientifically wrong, but I wondered at the time how the were taking off in a wind strong enough to blow over the anchored craft. But I am very good at suspending my questioning mind in favor of being entertained.

I noticed that, too. But I'm not sure we have enough data, over a long enough time period, to distinguish Very Rare But Possible from Just Don't Happen.

I just finished Ghost Fleet too late last night. It kept me up, which impressed me given the number of POV characters and situations involved. I enjoyed the setup that created a plausible WWIII without nukes.

The previous book was the Library at Mont Char. It was a bizarre and somewhat taxing fantasy-ish story set in America today. I enjoyed it, and the main themes about power and distancing were well handled... even though they resulted in a bit of distancing from me as a reader too.

wj: I thought that worldwide sustained attention was part of the overly optimistic Earth front. I liked it, but it seemed to be a conscious rose-tinting of the world's response.

I agree that a woman might trigger more "must save" narratives; I think it's another facet of the naive optimism that lets him rally the earth around a man's plight.

I finished a reread of the Ancillary trilogy. The first novel was excellent, the reread was like catnip. The rest of the series just lost me. Really disappointed.

I have been starting on some Octavia Butler I picked up on sale. I cannot recall the title off hand, but it starts out with two very different types of immortals. I like where it is going so far.

Moonking, it may be that I had no problem with that world-wide attention because I remember the first moon landing.

We were all clustered around little TV sets and radios, not watching enormous screens in public places. But to quote the song: "the whole world stopped to watch on a July afternoon, watch a man named Armstrong walk upon the moon." That was not much of an exageration.

Why do you need a pressurized suit on Mars?

The atmospheric pressure on Mars is about 0.09 PSI. Blood boils (at human body temperature) at 0.9 PSI -- ten times higher. Hence the need for a pressurized suit.

Okay. So, in the opposite direction, Venus has a very thick and heavy atmosphere. Wind speed are very high in the upper layers, but extremely low at the surface. Despite the low speed of the surface winds, the force of the winds are still capable of moving small rock along the ground because the atmosphere is so thick. The molecules pushing the rocks aren't going very fast, but there are so many of them that they still create sufficient force to move the rocks.

I read about that in some science article several months before reading The Martian, and it stuck with me.

John Carter dint need no fancy duds.

The Bad Guy being motivated by essentially personal issues.

This is really an extremely American impulse. You see it elsewhere, but we Yanks love to death to make it personal. It's probably more obvious in cinema; if you have an essentially faceless mass antagonist (which is rare in itself), at least as often as not the director will single out an individual antagonist even if it makes no sense to do so. More often it's avoided by not using collective antagonists and just making it a personal conflict from the start, but even when a conflict should in no way be personal there's a strong temptation to shoehorn in an individual touchstone antagonist for the sake of lazy emotional manipulation.

(If you need examples of what I'm referring to, the two that stuck out most vividly over the years for me were Signs and Black Hawk Down.)

@wj: The early lander photos of Mars were of flat, boring places because those were the safest places to put down a lander. Even today, landing safety is a consideration, but rovers have made it possible to visit more interesting parts of the landscape.

Here's Mount Sharp, in Gale Crater, taken by the Curiosity rover (not true color--the sky would really be much more beige):


The silliest example of what NV just said was in later episodes of the various Star Treks where there was a Borg queen. The whole point of the Borg, which made them alien and scary, was that they were a technologically superior enemy civilization where there were no individuals.

Donald, the first thing I thought of when reading NV's post was your (accurate) complaint about the treatment of Denethor in the movies.

I thought the Borg Queen did a good job as Oliver Queen's mom in Arrow. Great match for Malcolm.

Matt, that's actually the picture of Mars I was thinking of. There are hills. Mountains even.

But what we don't see (at least I haven't) are craggy formations sticking up in ridges above a (sandy) relatively flat valley.** Which is what was depicted in The Martian.

And it may be worth noting that the kinds of wind/sand storm depicted would long since have ground down, as in rounded off, that kind of formation.

"I think it's another facet of the naive optimism that lets him rally the earth around a man's plight."

I actually don't think this level of optimism is misplaced. As humans I believe we all react emotionally to some things, being stranded on another planet waiting to starve or suffocate is likely to get a lot of people on your side.

The review of "Slow Bullets" makes me wonder -- what would life be like in a world where all of the survivors of the Great Disaster were asexual (either because the gene for surviving the Plague was associated with being asexual, or because something in the Disaster "turned" the survivors)? How would they live? What kind of groups would they form? Would their children also be asexual, or would they have a range of identities, and have a hard time of it because of the asexual society they grew up in?
Would it be titled "Aces High"?
-- Mister Older

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