Book Review

The Martian by Andy Weir

Publisher: Crown | Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure

The Martian by Andy Weir is a hard science fiction novel about one man being stranded on Mars and trying not to die. It features such riveting activities as growing potatoes using your own faeces as part of the soil and repair work on multiple pieces of equipment.

Title: The Martian

Author: Andy Weir

Publisher: Crown

Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure

First Publication: 2012

Major Characters: Mark Watney, Commander Melissa Lewis, Major Rick Martinez, Beth Johanssen, Teddy Sanders, Mindy Park, Annie Montrose, Mitch Henderson, Dr. Irene Shields

Theme: Literature and Connection; Family, Parenting, and Legitimacy; War, Hunger, and Humanity; Women, Marriage, and Work

Setting: Science, Human Ingenuity, and the Fight to Survive; Bureaucracy vs. Human Endeavour; Solitude and the Human Need for Connection

Narrator: Much of the novel is told from Mark Watney’s point of view; these passages take the form of Watney’s log entries during the Mars mission. Weir alternates between the log entries and passages narrated from third-person omniscient and third-person limited perspectives.

 

Book Summary: The Martian by Andy Weir

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?

Book Review - The Martian by Andy Weir

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir is a hard science fiction novel about one man being stranded on Mars and trying not to die. It features such riveting activities as growing potatoes using your own faeces as part of the soil and repair work on multiple pieces of equipment.

Mark Watney was part of a six-person crew that constituted the third manned expedition to Mars. The mission was to remain on the Red Planet for thirty-one days, but six days into their stay, a huge dust storm blew up with ferocious winds that forced the crew to abandon the mission.

As they’re racing toward the MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle) that will take them back to the safety of their orbiting space ship, a long, thin antennae blows free and slams into Watney, piercing his space suit and wounding him. The crew is moments away from disaster but searches through the swirling dust in an effort to find him. Unhappily, the antennae has also pierced his bio-monitor computer, which now flatlines. Watney’s bio-monitor computer is networked to those of all the other crew members who see the data and draw the obvious conclusion.

“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”

Out of time, and perilously close to losing their own lives, the mission commander has no choice other than to abandon the search for Watney’s body. She orders the crew to race to the MAV and the remaining five crew members make a very close escape, reluctantly leaving behind the body of Mark Watney, the first human being to die on the planet Mars.

Except that he didn’t.

Those NASA guys make great space suits and Watney’s functions exactly as it should have under these circumstances, saving his life and allowing him to live another day. Some minutes later, he recovers consciousness and discovers his fate. His first conclusion is the obvious one: he’s screwed big-time. He’s alone on Mars, and while he does have the crew’s living quarters which survived the storm, it’s designed to last for thirty-one days. He has a limited amount of oxygen and water and enough food to last three hundred days, if he rations it carefully.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the next manned mission to Mars is four years away and will be landing way the hell and gone away from the site assigned to Watney’s expedition. Additionally, he has no way of communicating either with NASA or with the crew that left him behind. So yup; he’s pretty much screwed.

But Watney is a very clever and resourceful guy. He was the mission’s botanist and engineer, and he refuses to accept the inevitable. He gets down to work, determined that he will not be the first person to die on Mars if there’s any possible way of avoiding it. In the process, he begins a journal, detailing his efforts to survive, and the journal constitutes the bulk of this book.

“I guess you could call it a “failure”, but I prefer the term “learning experience”.”

Though a nerd at heart, Watney is also irreverent, funny and mischievous, and thus turns what might have been a dull, technical treatise into a gripping read. His story is part Apollo 13, part Castaway and a helluva ride. The beauty of the book, which is set in the not too-far-distant future, is that it all makes sense and seems perfectly believable. This is not the science-fiction of Star Trek or even of Arthur C. Clark; rather it’s a tale of one man’s gritty effort to survive under impossible circumstances that would defeat anyone of lesser spirit.

The sheer amount of knowledge that went into writing this book, as well as the level of brainpower, is mind-boggling to me. (The author is a computer programmer whose hobbies are relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight.) The technology is either real or extremely realistic; if there are scientific or factual errors, it’s far beyond me to suss them out. And on top of that, to make the story fascinating, and to include quite a lot of humor to leaven it all, is quite an achievement, especially since this is the author’s first traditionally published novel.

“It’s true, you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl.”

What keeps The Martian by Andy Weir from becoming a yawn-fest is the way it is told by Mark Watney in a series of journal entries. He’s also a Martian McGyver, fixing and re-purposing a lot of his equipment, including the Pathfinder probe, which he drove across the Martian surface in a rover to find.

The humor keeps the story going even during the dull times. Thankfully, Mark is funny without being obnoxious about it and Weir has the chops to know when the tone needs to be more serious. He also has the timing to get the most of his one-liners.

Once NASA finds out Watney is alive, they scramble to figure out a way to get him back as he battles problems like running out of air, too much water, and his growing dislike of potatoes and 1970’s television. There were some pretty tense moments, especially near the end.

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