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Recommendation: The Martian

The Martian

by Andy Weir

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

I just love it when the underdog wins.

Some might not consider Andy Weir, author of the bestselling novel and popular movie, The Martian, to be an underdog because as we all know, his book is a success. The book earned a coveted spot on the New York Times Best Seller List, where it sat for 33 weeks. Matt Damon starred in the movie as the fallible but ever resourceful and likable botanist and engineer, Mark Watney. So on paper, Andy Weir is the picture of accomplishment and triumph.

But he is an underdog. And, he’s a nerd.

A nerd is anyone who willingly chooses to become a scholar of subjects like astronomy, spaceflight, and orbital mechanics in his spare time and someone who readily admits to having seen every episode of Doctor Who. A nerd is someone who decides to write his own computer program just to calculate the orbital trajectory that his imaginary crew might take to get from Earth to Mars and back again. And a nerd is anyone who decides to become a computer programmer at the age of fifteen, that precarious age where most boys are interested in how they look with their shirts off and which girl they can get to go to second base with them in the backseat of their mom’s car.

Andy Weir is a nerd and guess what – nerds run the world. And apparently, they run Space and the Great Beyond as well.

The Martian is the debut novel from a science-fiction geek and meticulously correct and self-made spacial expert, and the story of one man’s quest to make it back home after being stranded on Mars. It is not, as the title may suggest, a book about little green people.

Mark Watney is on a mission with his NASA crew that should be routine, but when a dust storm fouls their plans and the group has to book it out of there in a hurry, he is left behind – and thought to be dead.

But Mark is indeed alive and after waking up on the surface of the planet Mars alone, he begins the slow trek back to camp, only to discover that his crew has abandoned their search for him and has left him with no way to garner communications back to Earth to prepare for his retrieval. He must rely on himself for survival, and begins to take stock of his surroundings and prospects. He knows how much food he has left and he knows how long he can stay alive with it. He knows that he needs to create more food, but to do that, he needs water. Mars isn’t an ideal place to have these problems, and he finds the planet less than cooperative. Mark has to call on every ounce of his ingenuity and skill as a trained botanist and NASA engineer to maintain life.

” LOG ENTRY: SOL 381

I’ve been thinking about laws on Mars.

Yeah, I know, it’s a stupid thing to think about, but I have a lot of free time.

There’s an international treaty saying no country can lay claim to anything that’s not on Earth. And by another treaty, if you’re not in any country’s territory, maritime law applies.

So Mars is “international waters.”

NASA is an American nonmilitary organization, and it owns the Hab. So while I’m in the Hab, American law applies. As soon as I step outside, I’m in international waters. Then when I get in the rover, I’m back to American law.

Here’s the cool part: I will eventually go to Schiaparelli and commandeer the Ares 4 lander. Nobody explicitly gave me permission to do this, and they can’t until I’m aboard Ares 4 and operating the comm system. After I board Ares 4, before talking to NASA, I will take control of a craft in international waters without permission.

That makes me a pirate!

A space pirate! ”

Once he has the problem of food somewhat out of the way, Watney moves on to his second problem – instrumenting his rescue. Readers are privy to his daily schedule and routine via travel logs that he enters into the computer every day, as part of his quest to remain sane. It was great to get insight into Mark’s personality at times like this, because he really is a funny guy.

“ Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be “in command” if I were the only remaining person.
What do you know? I’m in command. ”

In the meantime, NASA has picked up his movements over satellite imaging and they are trying to decide how best to proceed. After all, they have already announced not only to Mark’s family that he is dead, but have also told the Free World – and Mark’s crew is still out there in space, making their own way home. The powers that be decide to withhold the information of Mark’s survival from the crew for the time being, not wishing to distract them.

Eventually though, Mark’s crew is told of his survival and they have a choice to make. Do they go back? How do they go back? How do they even find Mark if they decide to go back?

Readers are given the point of view of Mark, his crew mates, and the NASA headquarters as preparations for Mark’s rescue begin.

What I liked most about The Martian was that at every turn, Watney would hit a snag, and sometimes, it was a major one. More often than not, the NASA engineer seemed almost bumbling, at constant war with Murphy’s Law, and if it could happen to him – well, it did. It helped turn a character from someone who could easily become aloof and unrelatable due to his high intelligence level (I mean come on – NASA engineer, right?) into someone who was common and real. The author did not include a whole lot of character development or description, focusing mostly on the science and orbital function of the missions.

And that brings me to what I did not like about this book. The science. . . oh, the science. Admittedly I am not a scientific sort. I failed high school chemistry and had to retake the course, and still only barely scraped by. I have never been mathematically inclined either, as all of my interests and talents have always leaned towards English and sociological subjects. But I am a reader of anything and I have gotten through many a science fiction novel, although The Martian is more than that. The author sometimes went off on these scientific tangents and it left me so bored and eventually irritated that it took me much longer to get through this book than I think it should have. My advice to any reader who finds this could become a problem is simply this – skip through (unless, of course, you think you may soon be stranded on Mars). You won’t be missing anything, I promise. The underlying story and plot is so interesting and gripping that you’ll find that even with the massive amounts of science, you can get through the book with some ease – as well as find it enjoyable.

All in all, I give The Martian 4.5 out of 5 stars. The book was innovative and original, and I have to hand it to a guy who threw his book up online for .99 and ended up on the New York Times Best Seller List. He’s kind of my hero.