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The Martian by Andy Weir – review
The Martian is not a new book, having been self-published in 2012 after author Andy Weir failed to attract the interest of any literary agents. However, it sold well enough through other outlets to attract the attention of Crown, and is now available in hardcover, e-book, and audiobook formats. The film rights were recently optioned by Twentieth Century Fox. As someone who has enough of an astronaut fixation to have previously applied for a position as such, I found myself immediately interested in this book.
The novel tells the story of Mark Watney, botanist and mechanical engineer, one of a crew of six on an expedition to Mars. His problems begin when a dust storm forces the astronauts to evacuate and abort their mission. Unfortunately, Mark is impaled by an antenna as they flee for the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV). In the aftermath of the storm, he manages to seal his space suit and return to the crew’s protected habitat only to discover that he has been left for dead and abandoned on Mars.
The novel is told in a series of journal entires by Mark, cataloguing his struggle to survive in an unforgiving environment. Even if his crew or NASA scientists knew he was still alive, he cannot fathom how he can survive long enough for any rescue mission. Yet Mark doggedly persists, logically working his way through the elements he requires to survive. He misuses equipment and creates innovative solutions, utilizing everything at his disposal. Of course, it wouldn’t be an entertaining book if everything went according to plan. So Mark must overcome several near catastrophes, from a minor hydrogen explosion to another dust storm. At its heart, this book is a survival thriller. There are no martians to thwart Mark’s progress. It’s simply man versus his environment.
The amount of research that the author has put into this novel is formidable. I enjoyed reading a book in which the science behind gases, temperature, and pressure is clearly understood. Not only are the physics and engineering challenges of the environment investigated, but even the biology of soil and potatoes becomes critically important.
I did feel that Mark’s calculations became slightly repetitive in the first few chapters, and this may be off-putting to someone who is less interested in the hard science facts. However, the story soon settled into an engaging tale, aided by a wry sense of humor in Mark Watney’s outlook on life.
As the novel progresses, we are introduced to a third-person narrative from the NASA scientists back on Earth. An observant satellite operator realizes that objects at the former outpost have moved, and it doesn’t take long for the truth to surface. All of Earth rallies to save Mark Watney, in an endeavor that overcomes politics and spurs international cooperation. The book also touches on the ethics of the value of a single human life. How much money should be invested to save one man? What if that endeavor risks other lives?
The Martian was a gripping tale, and I had a hard time putting it down. The stakes were always at their highest, with Mark never more than a slight error away from instant death. The portrayal of NASA operations and the astronauts was as accurate as anything that I’ve read. Even with all of the technical aspects of the story, The Martian is a novel about the perseverance of the human spirit. The conclusion of this superb book left me emotional and fulfilled. Highly recommended.