So yesterday I started composing in my head what I wanted to say about Andy Weir’s The Martian and I was working up a good post too until I realized I had homework to attend to! Poof went all my mental work. Crud. The homework was writing and submitting my Library Journal review on Frida Kahlo’s Garden. I can only submit reviews between 175-200 words and they have very specific requirements. Every word counts. It isn’t so very hard to write it now that I’ve gotten good practice at it. However, it doesn’t leave time to write that blog post either. Having begun writing that blog post in my head and getting on with it pretty well, do you think I might remember any of it? Ha! Ha! Ha! Of course not! That’s why there’s this excuse of an introduction. And unfortunately I had no mental dreaming time at work today to begin again so I begin now and we’ll see where this goes.
The Martian. Loved it. Laugh out loud funny at times. Mark Watney’s smartass humor is what helps him survive alone on Mars and that’s saying something because I don’t think many of us would find any kind of humor in being left for dead on Mars by your crewmates in an emergency evacuation during a major dust storm. And he doesn’t even have a radio with which to contact NASA. Talk about being completely and utterly alone. So he begins recording a log of his days and the things he has to do to survive. He is a botanist and an engineer, two skill sets that turn out to be really helpful as he has to repair things that break and jury-rig other equipment to make them do things they were not designed to do. He also has to figure out how to grow food because there is not enough astronaut food for him to survive the four years he is going to be there.
The book is Watney’s log but it also jumps around a bit so we get the story told through the perspective of NASA as well as the crew who left him behind. Here is an example of some of the humor. NASA has just realized Watney is alive and given a news conference. Two of the people in charge of the program are talking and we get this:
‘I wonder what he’s thinking right now.’
LOG ENTRY: SOL 61
How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.
The pacing is great. There are many tense moments especially getting towards the end when something really bad happens. I was reading that part on the plane Sunday afternoon and I had a momentary mental fit: dammit! He better not die! If he dies I’m going to be really pissed! Weir wouldn’t do that would he? Take him so far just to kill him? He’s not George R.R. Martin. Please don’t be like George R.R. Martin!
There was actually another event so very close to the end that precipitated another similar outburst. These outbursts had to be mental you see because I was already in trouble for attempting to bring some very dangerous hummus onto the plane. I didn’t want to give them any reason to escort me somewhere when the plane landed.
I don’t think it is spoiler to say the book has a “happy” ending. If it is, I’m sorry to have just given it away.
Weir originally published the book chapter by chapter on his blog. He is one of those uber-geeks who spends his free time learning about relativistic physics and orbital mechanics. But in this case it is good because he began daydreaming about what-if Mars scenarios and it turned into a book with very accurate science. The book was so popular his readers asked him to make it available as an ebook. So Weir formatted it and published it on Amazon for .99 cents because Amazon wouldn’t let him give it away for free. It became such a success that he was approached by a publisher and the rest, as they say, is history. But between the Amazon publication and the print publication Weir received numerous letters from scientists kindly correcting his errors and Weir made corrections to the book accordingly before print publication. While we have not gone to Mars yet, NASA has a Mars program plan called Mars Direct and Weir used this as the basis for his book.
The book touched all kinds of buttons in my geeky heart; space travel, real science that not once relies on some made up magical science to save the day, funny, suspenseful, surprising and unabashedly entertaining. Also, if it were me stuck on Mars, I’d be so dead. Therefore, when the day arrives when humans do actually go to Mars, you will not find me standing in line for a chance to go. I’ll keep my feet firmly planted here on Earth, thank you very much.