Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Martian

I loved The Martian by Andy Weir! Described as Apollo 13 meets Castaway, it was a gripping novel filled with science, humor, and adventure. In The Martian astronaut Mark Watney, a botanist and engineer, is struggling for survival on the unforgiving landscape of Mars after having been accidentally left for dead by the rest of his crew during a mission. Just a few days prior to us meeting Mark, he’d celebrated being one of the first people to walk on Mars but now he might be the first person to die there. All alone and stranded, he is left to scramble for food, oxygen and shelter; and while his physical needs are his immediate concern, finding a way to communicate his existence to NASA falls close behind since it's pivotal to his long-term survival. Even with all the odds stacked against him, Mark isn’t ready to give up the fight. Relying on his knowledge and skills, including botany and engineering, he bravely and relentlessly confronts one obstacle after another in a fight to not only survive but ultimately make his way back home.

This was such a thrilling read. In an interview with industry newsletter Shelf Awareness, Weir said his goal was to offer the reader the same feeling of excitement he got watching the film “Apollo 13,” in which astronauts and NASA staff scramble to create unorthodox solutions to rescue the spacemen. “It's like MacGyver in space, with billions of dollars of equipment being misappropriated to barely stay alive, and everybody working together,” he said of the film. “And I just love that.” Boy oh boy did Weir ever deliver; not only giving us an epic struggle for survival but also a funny, irreverent and totally relatable hero that you can’t help but love. It’s Mark’s heart and steadfastness that gives the reader a rooting interest in the story.

Each chapter is written like a log book entry detailing the sol's (martian days) events, making the reader privy to Mark’s innermost thoughts and fears. As he documents successes and failures, we experience first-hand a true man vs nature tale, though one unlike any we’ve experienced before. The obstacles are common to this age-old struggle, like fighting the elements, though this time way outside the realm of our past experience; we’re not talking about snow and ice, instead Mark is facing Mars’ average daily temperature of -50C (-58F). Oh, and while “earth’s liquid core gives it a magnetic field that protects us from most of the nasty crap the sun pukes out at us, Mars has no such luxury. All kinds of solar radiation gets to the surface," so unless he wants to get cancer he needs access to shelter that is radiation-shielded.

The novel features tons of science and information about Mars, some of which was totally over my head, nonetheless there is so much depth to this survival tale that despite not grasping all of the technical and science jargon I was still thoroughly enthralled by every page and chapter. Given that the events are taking place in the not too distant future, I’m not really sure how much of it is real science, as I said a lot of the science was pure mumbo jumbo to me, but whether fact or fiction it reads like the truth and therefore very believable. In a lesser author’s hands The Martian could’ve delivered information overload and just a run of the mill science lesson, but thanks to Weir’s one-two punch of a tension-filled tale and a great protagonist that easily charms the reader with his snarcasm (snarky and sarcastic) and humor, we not only learn a thing or two but also enjoy tons of laughs.

Every page of The Martian speaks, no shouts, to the strength of the human spirit and our will no matter the odds to survive. An unforgettable story and captivating hero whose ingenuity, courage and determination highlight the pioneer spirit which started the space race, landed us on the moon, and which will undoubtedly one day catapult us to that oh so distant red planet.