“The Martian” by Andy Weir (Crown Books, 2014)

The Martian
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Mars is one of those planets that no matter how many books are written about the big red planet, be they fiction or nonfiction, science fiction and astronomical readers and fans will never be satiated. But while a number of novels have been written about our red neighbor, none of them have been written quite like Andy Weir’s The Martian.

Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars, as a member of the élite Ares crew. Then a dust storm threatened the crew and their equipment and the plug was pulled and the order given to return home, which everyone did except for Mark who suffered an accident and was hit by a flying piece of metal. His vital signs no longer showed any life and the crew made the call and left Mars to return to Earth.

Except Mark didn’t die and was able to get himself into the habitat the crew had erected the short time they’d been on Mars. Then the real story of The Martian begins as Mark works out when the next Ares crew will be coming to the red planet – over four years from now – and what supplies and equipment he has to work with. As an engineer and a botanist, Mark has the skills and tools he needs, but he still has to do all the math and calculations and thinking to come up with, say, how he’s going to turn the floor of the habitat into a viable potato farm to help provide food, or use the components of the Martian rover to help him survive. And Mark is the sort of person who delights in showing you all his work, whether you understand it or not. The book kicks it into high gear when Mission Control final realize Mark is still alive and well on Mars and needs to be rescued for his sake and saving their own face in front of the people of Earth.

Andy Weir has a background in computer science, and clearly had a lot of fun putting in hard work researching and writing The Martian. Mark Watney is a fascinating character in that he is incredibly intelligent and comes up with brilliant ideas that he explains in detail to the reader. It’s as if Discover Magazine was reporting on the story of Mark Watney surviving on Mars. While it is told in first person journal entries, halfway through the book shifts its focus as a ridiculous rescue mission is conceived. Ultimately, The Martian is a book on one human’s will to survive at any cost, how he MacGyver’s himself out of every situation using intelligence and critical thinking, and is the sort of science fiction that science geeks (who are all pretty much science fiction fans anyway) absolutely love.

Originally written on March 24, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

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