Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mini book review: The Martian by Andy Weir

I tend to shy away from things that everyone raves about, not getting around to them until the mania passes.  Not so with The Martian, by Andy Weir, a best-selling first novel that apparently is being made into a movie.  NPR and the A.V. Club both liked it and I was looking for something new; lo and behold, I really, really liked it too.

Ares 3, the third manned mission to Mars starts out okay, everything working out as planned for the first six days.  But then a big storm whips up, with winds far beyond what the astronauts and their habitat and equipment can safely withstand.  The order to abort the mission was given and the six astronauts fled their habitat for the rocket that would take them back to Earth.  One of the astronauts, Mark Watney, gets hit by a piece of debris while rushing for the ship; he is carried out of sight and the computer reports that all signs of life have ceased.  The rest of the crew search for him until it is imperative that they leave - now or never - and then they go, rocketing back into space for the long trip back home.

Here's the thing: Mark survived.  And now he's all alone, the only living thing on the entire planet, with no hope of rescue until Ares 4, the next mission to Mars, scheduled to arrive in about four years, and no way of contacting NASA.  Mark is in a habitat that was designed to last about a month and if it pops, he'll die instantly.  If his oxygenator fails, he'll suffocate.  If the water reclaimer fails, he'll die from dehydration.  .  He has food enough for six people, which will last 300 days without rationing - which is nowhere near long enough.  These are all the bad things.  The good thing is that Mark is smart, creative, handy and resourceful (his mission specialties are botanist and mechanical engineer) and he's not ready to give up and die quite yet.

This is fiction, obviously, and science fiction, because its' set on Mars.  But the coolest thing about it is that it's really SCIENCE fiction.  There is a LOT of science in here, from the machinery and equipment Mark uses and abuses, to growing crops in sterile Martian soil, to plotting spaceship courses.  I was skeptical at first, thinking that it would be too science-y for me, but it wasn't.  It was exciting, witnessing Mark's thought processes and experiments, it was suspenseful.  The Martian is a fantastic book, very fun and exciting, and attractive, I think, to both people who love suspenseful fictions and people who prefer their fiction of the non- variety, because of all the technical details.  Good book.  Go pick it up.

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