Friday, May 7, 2021

Every Day Is A Gift, by Tammy Duckworth: What an Inspirational Story!

If you don't live in Illinois, you may not know a ton about Tammy Duckworth — Illinois' junior Senator. But she has an immensely fascinating, hugely inspiring story. The daughter of an American serviceman and a Chinese / Thai mother, she was born in Thailand, and grew up in Cambodia, Singapore, and nearly homeless and extremely poor in Honolulu. She joined the Army and trained to fly Black Hawks. In 2004, she lost both her legs and severely injured her arm when an RPG exploded in the cockpit of her Black Hawk as she was flying a mission in Iraq. She should've died, but thanks to the heroism and quick-thinking of her fellow soldiers, she was rushed back to the base in Baghdad and lived. 

After a long recovery, a losing Congressional campaign, and stints working for the Illinois and Obama Administration Bureau of Veteran's Affairs to improve conditions for wounded warriors like herself, she successfully won a seat in Congress (beating the crap out of right-wing misogynist and all-around terrible human Joe Walsh) in 2010. Then in 2016, she beat Republican Mark Kirk to win back Barack Obama's former Senate seat. She's the mother of two daughters, both born while Duckworth was in her late 40s, and she's the only woman ever to give birth as a sitting U.S. Senator. 

As inspiring a human as Tammy is, and how much I admire how hard she worked to overcome all the obstacles she did to be successful at every stage of her life, one of the things I like most about her is her sense of humor. It's really dark. But awesome. So awesome. An example: A joke from when she was running for Congress about how she and her husband still squabble — he chews gum with his mouth open and I leave my legs lying around the house. Or, how she and her Black Hawk crew mates played a game called "If you die, I get your stuff" before missions. Or how when, many years later, she was flown over the site of her attack, she joked "Are you sure this is the right place? I don't see my foot down there."

Political memoirs can be really hit or miss: Sometimes they're just thinly veiled campaign speeches. This one is not that. It's the actual story of her life, and what an exhilarating, uplifting story it is. This is easily a favorite book of the year — EXTREMELY highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir: "The Tiebreaker" is a Win

When I first heard Andy Weir's third novel, Project Hail Mary, was imminent, I joked it should be subtitled "The Tiebreaker." The Martian was an unmitigated triumph — just for sheer reading fun, one of my favorite novels of the last decade or so. Weir's second novel, Artemis, was....um.....less successful. So which way would this one go?

It's a win! Project Hail Mary returns to the tried-and-true formula that made The Martian so much fun. Science dude is in deep doo-doo, cracks wise, solves science problems. And it works again! Here, our hero Ryland Grace is shot off into deep space to find a solution to a problem that literally threatens all of humanity. Like The Martian, problem after nearly disastrous problem pops up. And Grace, like Mark Watney, uses a massive resourcefulness and an almost preternatural command of science to solve them. Again, Weir takes us deeply into into the weeds with the science — get ready for more than your fair share of physics, chemistry, and astronomy. If you liked that about The Martian, you're going to love this, too. 

One issue with this novel though is that Grace is very much a G-rated, highly sanitized, and therefore MUCH less interesting, version of Mark Watney. Watney consistently cracked me up with his off-color and low-brow jokes (NASA: You're cleared to start drilling. Watney: That's what's she said). Grace, by contrast, is as milquetoast as a guy can be. He tries to be funny, but all his jokes are dad-tastic to the nth degree. I'd love to have a beer with Watney. Grace: Not so much. I mean, you still root for the guy, you're just not necessarily sure you'd want to hang out with him beyond the 500 pages of this novel. 

But I did enjoy this a lot — it's a book you'll speed through, you'll pump your fist, and maybe your faith in humanity's ability to solve huge problems will be slightly restored. That's something we need right now for sure!