Book Review – Project Hail Mary

A kinda-sorta Book Review of Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir.

I’m not as big a fan of Sci-Fi as I am of Fantasy novels but sometimes one drags me in and won’t let go. I loved Andy Weir’s The Martian. I was ecstatic when they made it into a movie with Matt Damon. He was the perfect Mark Watney. I’ve read the book 3 times, unusual for me. I seldom reread a book or series. My exceptions are the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Dune, and the Recluse Saga by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. The Recluse series are the books that put me firmly into the Fantasy camp. A lot of character development, which is what I really love. And now The Martian, which made me fall in love with Sci-Fi again. 

With The Martian, I was rooting for Mark Watney all the way, something that seldom happens for me with a book. Maybe I’m overly critical with other books, but the character development in The Martian was wonderful. The humor in it was an added attraction that I think they got right in the movie, a self-deprecating character who is not going to let his situation get him down. I picked up Andy Weir’s next book, Artemis. I enjoyed it and its female protagonist. It was a different story, set on a colonized moon. I was fascinated by the science in it, as I was with The Martian. The science explanations in both books were just right for a non-scientist science buff and pushed me to look up things and find out more. A bonus! 

Shiny Object

When I heard Andy had a new book coming out, Project Hail Mary, I was all over it. This is the Amazon Blurb for it. 

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish. Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it. All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company. His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery—and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species. And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone. Or does he?

Project Hail Mary is one of those rare books that sucked me in and I had to read ‘just one more chapter’. Outer Space and science and survival and astronomy. The perfect mix. There is a twist a third of the way through I didn’t see coming, and a twist at the end I didn’t know I wanted until I read it. No spoilers here. I’m not giving anything away because it’s one of those books you have to jump in blind to fully appreciate. The book has humor and pathos, and a hopeful outlook. I can say without reservations I liked this better than The Martian. Something I didn’t think was possible. 

On My Wishlist

This has to be a movie. With today’s special effects it could be outstanding. Bring back Matt Damon to play Ryland Grace. He’d be perfect. They could do what they did in The Martian and cut out some of the admittedly excessive engineering problems – although they appealed to my inner science nerd. Anytime you can enjoy a novel and learn something at the same time is a positive for me. I know I haven’t ‘reviewed’ the novel but there is no way to talk about the fantastic bits without spoiling them. If you’re the least bit interested in Sci-Fi and the future of mankind, this is the book for you. If you’re uncertain, wait for the movie. Because I can’t see this not being a kick-ass movie. Now I’m off to read Project Hail Mary for the third time. It’s that good. 

Mentioned Books

Project Hail Mary

The Saga of Recluse (21 books)

The Lord of the Rings


Other Essays on Reading

The Kindle Dilemma

Genre Reading and Writing: Arithmetic Free

Reading: An Opinionated Overview

More Lessons from Printmaking

Just when I think I’ve got printmaking (and writing) figured out, I get a curveball. I usually do Relief printmaking but decided to try something new, drypoint etching. Instead of using linoleum block or wood to carve out a design and print it, drypoint is an intaglio method. This means you etch your drawing into the plate, the lines create a burr that holds ink, you wipe the ink off the plate, (it stays in the grooves) then print with damp paper over the plate, in an etching press which squeezes the paper into the lines and picks up the ink to reveal your etched drawing.

Printmaking makes me think. Usually about writing.

If you look at the Jackrabbit at the top of the page, he’s a test print. (Color on the photo doesn’t do him justice.) I got the drypoint image I want. I like him. But as I look closer, I see I wiped the ink away a little too hard in the grass. It’s barely there. I also would like more tone on the rabbit himself. Again, I wiped away too much ink. A shadow of ink here and there, soft wiped, would give the image more depth. It’s fuzzier than I want. So I have more work to do on Mr. Jackrabbit.

The Lemon print below was also a test run. I usually don’t do still life. But I wanted a test print to learn how to get better areas of tone, and use different plastic material. The spot under the lemon was made by using sandpaper to scratch the plate. I like the tone. Crosshatching made the leaf darker. I don’t like the glaring white spot on the cut lemon, so I’ll likely scratch some lines in there to break it up. The backside of the whole lemon is a tad fuzzy. A little less damp paper.

Printmaking Dry Point

A world of difference from how I learned. Etching in college consisted of copper or zinc plates, which you covered with an acid-resistant ground on front and back, (usually varnish) and then you drew into the ground down to the metal with an etching needle. After that was the dangerous part. The not-so-healthy part. Suffering for art is a thing.

You drop your metal plate in an acid bath—could be ferric chloride solution and some citric acid powder and water—then you let it sit in the solution until the acid ate away at the scratches you made in the plate. Depth of scratches equals time in acid bath.

Acid bath. I shudder now to think of being around toxic substances in a hopefully ventilated area with gloves and goggles and apron and trying not to splash and end up in the ER… The nice thing about the drypoint prints I’m doing now is it’s done on a thin Plexiglas plate. Just like the ones that come in picture frames now instead of glass. It’s light, it scratches easily, and you can go back and make darker areas if need be after a test print. Etch your design, dust off, ink, and print. How easy is that? No standing over a bubbling cauldron of acid bath like some demented sorcerer.

Of course, a new method has its own drawbacks. I have to learn how damp is damp enough for the paper. Too dry and the ink won’t transfer. Too wet and the image is fuzzy. Ink consistency. Relief printing is done on dry paper. I like that. For every drypoint image I pull I like there may be a couple of duds. Things are coming along. Overall, I’m pleased with my test prints. I tried something new, succeeded and failed, and encouraged myself enough to continue.

Just like writing.

It gets better with practice, but it also gets better when you get rid of the acid baths in your writing life. Toxic people, negativity from others or self, reading too many how-to books, and becoming immobilized by too many options. It took me a long time to figure out I like my printmaking method. Take the parts that work, explore options, then discard what doesn’t work for you. Do what interests you. Please yourself first.

Use drafts as fine-tuning to see if it needs more something. Or that something needs to be wiped away. The best process is your process. Confidence comes just like in printmaking, trial, and error. No one has to know your edition of 10 prints was supposed to be an edition of 20. Forward motion, no matter how small, is always assurance you can do it. Who doesn’t need more of that?

Drypoint Tools:

.04 mm Plexiglas plate for Jackrabbit

Cut down plastic top of salad container for Lemon.

Twisted etching needle

Caligo Safewash Etching Ink, Burnt Umber

Stonehenge printmaking paper

Etching press

Stray cat hair courtesy of Lorenzo

Links to Printmaking Explanations

Drypoint Printmaking

Tate Museum Drypoint and Intaglio

Intaglio Explained

What is Relief Printmaking

Links to My Other Posts on Different Creative Processes

Using Weaving for Bursts of Writing Creativity

A Meditation on Walking and Writing

The Renaissance Woman Today

What I Learned From Editing

Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear. — Patricia Fuller 

What have I learned from editing both a novel and poetry? They aren’t as far apart as I thought. I learn from editing poetry how to make novel sentences more succinct and to punch up the imagery. From editing novels I learn to look at the big picture of a poem and how to decide whether to cut or expand to enhance meaning. 

It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book. 
— Friedrich Nietzsche

Poetry editing may take two, twelve, or twenty passes. (At least for me) The novel can take 100. They need what they need, but poetry tends toward more instant gratification. Editing a novel can make despair set in. Will this furshlugginer thing ever be done? As with poetry, eventually, you have to abandon your work and declare it done. Continual editing is counterproductive. That way lies madness. 

The writing itself is no big deal. The editing, and even more than that, the self-doubt, is excruciatingly impossible. 
— Jonathan Safran Foer

I like editing, smoothing out the big, glorious mess that’s a novel, or paring down a poem to the essentials. Hopefully, I don’t wind up with haiku, because haiku have their own baggage to contend with. On rare occasions, the prose needs to be added to instead of cut. When I go into editing swinging an ax, I can overlook spots where more is better. Problem nail, meet hammer.

“Editing. It’s like dieting; except a lot more violent.” 
― Leya Delray 

Poetry and novel writing both share the same problem. In editing too much, the freshness evaporates into a saggy old balloon. I think it’s true you need to put new writing away for a while to look at it with new eyes, untainted by the story you had in your head. Poems, from anywhere from a week to a month. Novels for a month or more. But writers are impatient. We want to see our poetry in print as fast as possible. Ditto novels. 

While writing is like a joyful release, editing is a prison where the bars are my former intentions and the abusive warden my own neuroticism. 
— Tiffany Madison

I don’t write or edit to music. I’ve done it before, but even 10 years on I can still hear the piece of music I wrote a certain scene to playing in my head. After 10 years, I still hear every word and guitar riff, and I can’t write a similar scene without the piano refrain rearing its head. (Correction, my music is the chirp of birds outside my window. I even recorded 10 minutes of it and looped the redwing song into an hour-long feather-filled backdrop for writing.)

I am one of those strange writers who can actually derive pleasure from the editing process. 
— Cindy Matthews

However you edit, dive into it with open eyes — and a glass full of your motivator of choice. Novels, poetry, the rambling essay, they all benefit from a good nap before you edit your way to success. How do you like to edit? 

Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain. There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred pages are there. Only you don't see them.
— Elie Wiesel

Other Essays on Editing

Pulling Words Apart to Smash Writing Together

Revising 101 (Housekeeping)

Advice Paralysis

Author Places to Learn About Editing

Nathan Bransford Blog

Holly Lisle Articles

Janice Hardy’s Fiction University

Using Weaving for Bursts of Writing Creativity

It’s been a few months of frantic creativity – both with writing and a favorite hobby, weaving. In the past few months, I’ve woven 12 regular towels, 2 kitchen towels, 4 hand towels, 2 washcloths, 1 shawl, and 4 scarves, with the 5th on the loom. Oh, and made 24 bars of soap. The towels needed accompaniment. (No, not the Zombie Apocalypse, just holiday presents.)

Weaving - Woven Towels
Sets of regular cotton towels

Why this frantic activity? I finished the outline of the Sequel Fantasy Novel, wrote the first several chapters, and paused, needed to parse out what the outline said next. My usual method is to read the outline, ponder the scenes, then write and refine them in my head. The best way I found to do that is while doing something else. Some people use music or jogging. I use weaving (and knitting). I find the repetition soothing, especially the back and forth of the shuttle between the yarns. 

Weaving - Kitchen towels
Cotton Kitchen towels in fall colors

Off the Loom (Brain)

Weaving is kind of mathematical in nature and the orderly arrangement of calculating warp and weft is much like outlining a story. Once warped on the loom, all that’s left is to weave so many inches until it comes to the designated stopping place. The same with the scenes I write in my head. Once the weaving is done, I hemstitch the ends or make fringes and remove the item from the loom. Once done working out the scene, I remove it from my head to paper. Then start all over again. 

Weaving - 4 scarves
Tweed scarf, windowpane wool scarf, milk-protein scarf with Brooks Bouquet lace, wool and silk scarf.

It’s been a great method for me. Warping the loom involves a lot of walking back and forth from loom to warp peg to loom, sometimes for 220 strands of yarn for each item. (My Fitbit loves this.) It’s all very meditative, including the part where I separate double strands into singles and slot them through the holes in the reed. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to remember all the weaving lingo, there is no test at the end.)

Woven Shawl
Summer shawl, cotton and Tencel

Since my mind is ordinarily moving at warp speed on different things, the meditative rhythm and silence slow it to a gentle hum. When I feel the need to throw rocks at a character, I just look for the mistakes in my work. Because there will be mistakes. Such as warping 200 slots and missing one in the middle. But it’s fixable, just like the writing is fixable if I ponder long enough. What other ways have you come up with to work on your writing while not actually writing? 

Rigid Heddle Loom
Image from Weft Blown

Weaving Terms for the Curious

Fringe = A fringe is an ornamental appendage to the border of an item, twisted or left loose. It is the ends of the warp, projecting beyond the woven fabric.

Hemstitch = The hemstitch is an ornamental thread work technique to finish the ends of the woven item, just like you would hem the edges of clothing.

Reed/Heddle = The comb-like device that holds and separates the warp threads. It has slots and eyes/holes which allow every second warp thread to move up and down and create the shed. It is also used to beat the weft into place.

Warp = the threads going lengthwise

Weft = the threads woven across the warp threads

Shed = the space between the warp threads when the reed is up or down

Shuttle = yarn is wound onto the shuttle. The shuttle carries the yarn through the weaving

More Posts on Writing and Thinking

A Meditation on Walking and Writing

The Value of Silence in an Uncertain World

This is Your Brain on Writing

Some Links on Weaving

Need some looms? Mine are all Schacht. I have a Flip Loom, a Cricket Loom, and Inkle Loom, and I’m eyeballing a Tapestry Loom.

Things you can weave with a rigid heddle loom (Pinterest)

Everything about rigid heddle looms in one place. Gist Yarn

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