Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Martian - Andy Weir

   2014; 369 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : “Hard” Science Fiction; Books Made Into Motion Pictures.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    Mark Watney is special.  He’s the very first human colonist of the planet Mars.  Kewl, huh?  Too bad Mark had no intention of earning that honored place in history.

    But a sudden and violent dust storm forced the Ares 3 team of astronauts to abort their mission after less than a week on the planet.  And in the ensuing desperate trek to the Mars Ascent Vehicle ("MAV"), Mark’s spacesuit was punctured, and that’s an immediately fatal condition, right?  So the rest of the crew were forced to abandon his body and flee the planet before the storm claimed all their lives.  Better one dead than six.

   Except Mark didn’t die.  And a Mars exit-flight is one-way only.  So now he’s got the whole planet to himself.  With no way to contact Earth.  Not that it would do him any good if he could send an SOS.  Even if NASA could launch a rescue spacecraft today, it would still years before it reached Mars.

    And Mark will starve to death long before then.

What’s To Like...
    The Martian is Andy Weir’s debut novel, and is a fine piece of “Hard” Science Fiction, meaning it is written to be as technologically plausible as possible.  The basic hypothesis is: if a person becomes stranded on Mars, is there any possible way for him to survive for months, or even years, on end?

    To have even a remote chance, Weir lets Watney start out with a couple advantages.  He has an inhabitable living area and adequate food, water, and air for the short term.  And Watney is by training a botanist and a mechanical engineer.  So, if he can somehow come up with “start up” resources, he can grow things and build things.

    The book starts out in the first-person POV; Mark Watney’s entries into his log, morbidly assessing the odds of his imminent demise.  About  the time you begin to get tired of that, Weir adds two more locations – NASA command center on Earth, and the spaceship taking the other five Ares 3 crew members back to Earth – and these provide third-person POV contrast to the text.

    Weir imbues the storyline with an abundance of wit, which makes for an entertaining read.  Then he seasons it with other kewl things like chemistry, 70’s/80’s TV shows-&-music, and lots and lots of Martian potatoes.

    I particularly liked that not all of Watney’s ideas go as planned.  Indeed, he very nearly kills himself a couple of times.  I also like that China helps in the rescue attempt.  There is some cussing, but that would be realistic in the story’s setting.  Everything builds to a gut-wrenching ending, despite the fact that you pretty much know all along that Watney’s gonna somehow make it.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Dreideling (v.) : spinning like a dreidel, which is a four-sided top.  Note : it rhymes with “labeling”.

    Before anyone could ask a follow-up, Venkat strode out the side door and hurried down the hall to the makeshift Pathfinder control center.  He pressed through the throng to the communications console.
    “Anything, Tim?”
    “Totally,” he replied.  “But we’re staring at this black screen because it’s way more interesting than pictures from Mars.”
    “You’re a smart-ass, Tim,” Venkat said.
    “Noted.”  (pg. 117)

   Each crewman had their own laptop.  So I have six at my disposal.  Rather, I had six.  I now have five.  I thought a laptop would be fine outside.  It’s just electronics, right?  It’ll keep warm enough to operate in the short term, and it doesn’t need air for anything.
    It died instantly.  The screen went black before I was out of the airlock.  Turns out the “L” in “LCD” stands for “Liquid.”  I guess it either froze or boiled off.  Maybe I’ll post a consumer review.  “Brought product to surface of Mars.  It stopped working.  0/10.”  (pg. 127)

 Everything went great right up to the explosion.  (pg. 43)
    If you’re a scientist, and I am, you are probably going to love The Martian.  OTOH, if you prefer your science-fiction reading to have sandworms rather than sandstorms, you may find Watney’s chapters tedious and a bit too science-y

    There’s also a plethora of acronyms to wade through – EVA, MAV, MDV, JPL, RTG, CAPCOM, AREC, NASA, MG54, MMU, and VAL, just to name a few.  Weir usually defines each one when he introduces it, but after a while you forget which means what.  And I don’t think “EVA” was ever defined; it stands for “Extravehicular Activity” in NASA-speak.

    But these are minor things; overall I found this book to be an entertaining read, with an original theme – Survival on Mars – and a well-thought-out way of making it so.  I enjoyed The Martian, and am looking forward to seeing how the movie adaptation handles all that technical stuff.

    8½ Stars.  Subtract 1 star if you think science belongs in the classroom, not in science fiction novels.

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