07 January 2015

Books: The Martian By Andy Weir (2014)

Andy Weir's The Martian has done something that seems brilliant, yet familiar. Yes the tale of a modern day (somewhat) astronaut left on Mars and forced to fend for himself is not new (Robinson Caruso comes to mind first, then Castaway, MacGyver and a lot of Apollo 13), but Weir does not give his protagonist an easy time (Martians helped Caruso) in solving how the man will survive on the red planet. 

The story opens with Mark Watney, one of the first humans to walk on Mars. Him and fellow astronauts on the spaceship Hermes, are surveying the planet when a huge dust storm forces an emergency evacuation of Mars. But a piece of debris hits Watney, holing his suit and plunging him away from his crew. With no time to waste, and with his fellow members believing him now dead, the landing party leaves Mars and Mark behind. But the man survives and finds himself stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive--and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission 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 get him first. But the human will to survive is strong within Mark, and drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit, he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. 

The novel owes a lot to the science fiction authors that came before, but I think Weir achieves something that even writers like Asimov or Clarke could not, which is a very technical, very realistic science to science fiction novel, using no magical realism to propel the story forward. This book is also a celebration of human ingenuity, something seen today as not being praise worthy.

Most of the book features Mark, and it's Weir's ability to make that compelling is its greatest strength. Plus, Watney is a smart-ass as well as super smart. It makes him appealing human even when he rattles off mathematical equations that the average reader will never fully understand.

NASA, for all is bureaucracy that has overtaken it, hires smart people, ones whom have the ability to think outside the box, take risks and force the next step to solve a problem that propagates twelve more. It's these people who I want in my corner when things fall apart.

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