Hiatus means backlog, and that means mini-reviews! It's too bad, too, because I had clever titles for these reviews.
Let's start with Moral Ambiguity, Part 3: Not That Ambiguous. Because I was on a little moral ambiguity roll back there, and Not a Drop to Drink, by Mindy McGinnis, fit right in.
Lynn lives alone in a world where you guard what you have closely--especially water. Since her mother's death, she's on her own in protecting the pond that keeps her alive. She's never exchanged more than a handful of words with anyone but her mother in her life.
But when she encounters a wandering family who can't take care of themselves, she agrees to take in their five year old daughter until they can get back on their feet. Lynn's growing connections to the people around her--to fierce, fragile Lucy; her very pregnant, very angry mother; her young, helpless uncle; and Lynn's own longtime neighbor whom she barely knows--change how she views everything.
Their world is full of danger, and when the time comes to protect themselves, Lynn's matter-of-fact ability to do what needs to be done is vital. This is where the post title comes in, and what I think made this story so good. Lynn was raised by a hard woman, and her values are frontier values. You care for yourself and your own, you don't let yourself be taken advantage of, and you take action when it's needed.
The other people in the story are more "civilized"--they come from the city, where the rule of law and the structures of society remove a lot of the decision making from life. I've always thought it was interesting that this invisible thing called civilization--the formal structures like police and roads, and the informal ones like the social contract and neighborhoods--really hold up a lot of our lives. There are a million things that you hardly think about that go into keeping the world running, and when you remove the automation from those things, the bare machinery of humanity is exposed. When do you kill a man who is going to come and steal your water? When he's hurt you? When you're sure he's coming for you? When you've seen him hurt someone else?
Lynn's internal barometer is solid--she knows right from wrong, and she doesn't argue with herself. The lines that she will and won't cross are not where ours might be, but they're all the stronger for it, and I think that watching Lynn grow without compromising herself was the most interesting thing about this book.
Next, Is There Life on Maaaaaaars? Yes, there is--Mark Watney is his name, and he's been left for dead when the third manned mission had to evacuate early in extreme weather. He's Andy Weir's The Martian, and he's a smart, cheerful, ingenious fellow who can make science fun! And lifesaving!
So Mark's stuck on the planet with all the supplies for six people to spend one month on the planet. The rest of the crew is en route back to Earth and doesn't know he's alive. The communication equipment's been destroyed, so he's on his own. His only hope is that the next mission is scheduled to arrive in four years. Now he's just got to live that long.
This is a science-heavy book. It's the uber-how-to. It's a competence fetishist's dream. Mark's going to run out of water in a few months, so he has to figure out how to turn hydrogen and oxygen into water. The next mission is going to land on the other side of the planet, so he needs to figure out how to get to the other side of Mars. Seriously, could you get to the other side of the US if the outdoors was a vacuum? No? Me neither.
This is not a psychological study of a man alone. This is handbook for survival. Food, shelter, resource allocation, problem solving. The positivity was Capraesque, but that's what made it so good--it wasn't about how awful people can be, or how hard it is to be human. This is man vs. nature in its purest form, and you know who wins? SCIENCE! Science proves how freaking awesome it is, and you will wish you knew more about chemistry and engineering when you are done with this book.
Seriously, this has been a great book year. I'm totally on a roll.