Wednesday, October 28, 2015

MY AFTERSCHOOL JOB



I noticed her during pre-calc, a pale girl in a gray dress hanging around, peeping through the classroom window trying to catch my eye. I swore to myself and stared doggedly forward, trying to pay attention. The bell rang and I finally met her glance. She smiled, thin as a moon beam and I felt the familiar pang of sympathy. I knew I was going to spend my night helping her rather than sleeping.

I waved at her.  “Okay, okay.”

The kid at the desk next to mine looked at me, looked out the window and back.

“Nut-job,” he sneered loud enough for me to hear but I ignored him. Jackass. I turned off my tablet, gathered up my stuff and shuffled through the crowded halls, thick with the smells of body odor, too much cologne and government-issue disinfectant. Everyone ignored me. Mostly because they're half-terrified afraid I'm going to crack and attack them (Yay for everyone knowing you've been to a Psychologist for hearing voices!) or because I'm a lower life form unworthy of their notice. Ah high school. These are truly the best days of our lives. 

Seriously, if that were the case I'd jump off a cliff right now. I cannot wait to get out of here.

I found the pale girl lurking between the mobiles where the grass hadn’t quite been trampled down to bare earth. Most of the other kids had already left the area when I found her, so we had a little privacy. She looked only a little older than I was, maybe eighteen or nineteen. Her hair hung in rumpled ringlets and her threadbare gray dress seemed suspended from rather than worn on her bony body.

"You're the Realtor?" she asked. "Mordecai said you could help me."

Oh God. That guy. Talk about a picky customer. I still have nightmares about him.

“Yeah,” I said. It wasn’t my nicest opener but I was feeling put out again. "I take it you need a new place?"

“I got kicked out of my old one.”

Half-my job is this emergency crap. It annoys the heck out of me because it's usually so avoidable.
 
“Really? Just out of the blue?"

She nodded. 

"You weren’t causing any trouble. No moaning or groaning or messing with stuff that didn’t belong to you? Your housemates just suddenly up and booted you?”

She opened her mouth to protest but I gave her my best “mom” look. The one that says "If you lie I'll know and then I'll be really pissed." I must have pulled it off because she dropped her head to look down at the scuffed buckles on her shoes.

“I didn’t mean to cause any trouble. I was just… bored. And it was rather funny.”

I tried to suppress my smile. If I was invisible I might get off on freaking out people too. Her gray dress stirred on a breeze I couldn't feel. As I watched her looking so pathetic that familiar pang of sympathy returned. Some times I really am a sucker for a hard luck case. Maybe it was her fault she had been kicked out of her place. Maybe it wasn't. But it sure wasn’t her fault she was stuck haunting the same thousand square feet of land until whatever unstated laws of the afterlife determined she could move on.

“At least tell me your anchor isn’t in their friggin’ crawlspace.”

With my skeleton key it's easy enough to get in and out of places. Perk of the job. But getting all the way down into a crawl space or up into an attic to recover some bit of bone or locket (it's always a locket for some reason) without anyone noticing is tricky. I could wait until no one's around, but that's always dicey. A ghost can only survive so long once it's been driven from its anchor. We're already on the clock.

“No,” the girl said with a smile. “It actually got churned up when they planted their roses. I can show you right where it is. You won't even have to go into the house.”

“Great, that’ll be easy enough. Once we’ve got that we’ll have all the time in the world to find something new.”

"Thank you, Lucy," the ghost girl said.

I smiled. "You're welcome. And don't worry. We'll find you a new place you'll be happy in for a long time."


We headed towards where I'd locked up my bike. My mind was already in high gear. Get the anchor on my way home. Homework, dinner, then back out to start showing properties. There was a new development on the north-east part of town that was still largely under construction and unoccupied. They had some great floor plans and it would take decades for people to start thinking “ghost” when things went bump in the night. No one would notice us looking around either. More accurately they wouldn't notice me. It takes a special person to see ghosts.

Some time's I hate being that person. Some times it's really fulfilling. Other time's its just a huge pain in the butt. I guess it all comes with the job, but then so does the commission. And I could already taste mine.

~SJA

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Martian - Book Review

From the Publisher: Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?


I'm going to be honest. I only picked up Andy Weir's The Martian because enough of my friends AND the Amazon algorithm god recommended it. I'm not usually one for hard science fiction as they tend to be dull and entirely too introspective for my tastes.  I'm pleased to say, The Martian is neither. I devoured the entire book in just a few days and I highly recommend it, but it is not without its short comings.


The book is extremely well written. Weir's voice and writing style (a mixture of first person, third person, chat transcripts and miscellaneous reports) are marvelously unique. The Martian doesn't sound like every other book, and that makes it positively refreshing. In addition, there's a great bent of sarcastic humor throughout that keeps you chuckling and turning pages as things get worse and worse for Mark Watney.

Although much of the tech is a figment of Andy Weir's imagination it's so firmly grounded in reality that you're never jarred out of the story by any of it. There's never that laser cutter, or robot that is so conspicously science-fiction as to make you start wondering why and how exactly it's there. The characters are extremely believable too. They react the way they should, and the way you want them to. They panic. They break down. They pull it back together. It's great.

Where the book falls short is in just three places in my opinion.

First, there's a lot of math.  You heard me. A lot. We regularly are treated to large passages which basically are word problems the author talks through. I have X number of X available to create X number of a resource I require. Or, I have X number of resource and X number of days it must last, equaling X number of resources used per day. It's not a big deal and at first it's interesting. But after a while it becomes easy to start skipping.

Second, and I don't want to give anything away, but this is a story of Man vs. Environment which if you're not familiar with the means: man has problem. He deals with it. Some random event causes a new problem or aggravates the old one. Repeat until rescued or hero dies. The Martian is no exception to the rule. There's just no relief, no true success which became frustrating for me. After a while I found myself just sort of grudgingly resigned to the fact that even though the latest problem was solved another worse problem would soon appear.

The third, and perhaps most egregious of The Martian's few sins occurs at the end of the book. I'll try to keep things vague to avoid spoilers. Basically, the conclusion of the book, the climax everything has built towards, is taken out of Mark Watney's hands. I felt cheated. In a book, ENTIRELY about taking control of one's situation, stripping away the Hero's Choice in the final chapters is a huge let down. The author must have recognized this on some level because he tries to build in a Hero's Choice moment but we've jumped over to different characters, and Mark is left to face random chance alone, while we observe from an extreme distance.

 A little disappointing to say the least.

That said, I still think  The Martian is a brilliant piece of writing. The humor and voice alone makes it worth the read. If you aren't aware, it was self-published in 2011 and recently has been thrust into the main stream. An amazing accomplishment and I tip my hat to Mr. Weir, writer to writer on that account. Well done, sir. Well done.

What to know: There is a lot of swearing in this book. Admittedly, I'd be swearing quite a bit too if faced with grizzly death on an alien world but it must be noted for more sensitive readers. There is implication of a sexual relationship and mention of "lovemaking." Mark spends a few lines lamenting the lack of women on Mars but nothing untoward.