Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Martian, by Andy Weir

It's highly likely that you have read this book and/or seen the film (Award winning Comedy film, The Martian) but I'm going to write it up anyway.

Mark Watney is an astronaut and a member of the crew of the Ares 3, a manned mission to Mars in a future near enough to be indistinguishable from the present, but distant enough for Mars missions to be kind of old hat. This Mars mission *is* Historic, but not because it's pioneering. About a week into the mission while out in a storm that's worsening by the hour, Commander Lewis makes the decision to abort. The wind is high and fast enough to compromise the return craft, so it's back to the MAV for everyone and an early 8 month return to Earth. In an intense, confusing, deadly instant, Mark Watney is hit by flying debris and flung into the fug- visibility is close to zero and his suit is recording no signs of life- Mark is dead- the first person to die on Mars.

This is where the book starts; with a battered, patched up and barely functional Mark Watney surveying his options. He's injured. Has limited food supplies. He's alone on Mars. He's pretty much dead.

The rest of the novel comprises of first person logs by Mark as day by day (or Sol by Sol) he battles against the odds and the never ending hostility of Mars to survive. Luckily as a botanist, engineer and all-round McGyer style scientist, he manages to overcome the most obstacles: growing food, creating water, making contact with Earth in miraculous feats of engineering and pluck. Reading this, I couldn't help but Imagine how I would handle the same circumstances- probably just de-suit and walk out of the airlock to certain, swift death. So I had to very much admire Mark's insane resourcefulness, determination and refusal to die, despite the explosions, depressurisation, flippings, tumblings and starvings that Mars threw at him.

This is one of the few occasions ever where I'm glad to have seen the film before reading the book as so much of the science went over my head. It was also handy to have pre-imagined faces to attach to all the names at NASA- characters that have some pretty amazing dialogue but as characters are kind of interchangeable. Having Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor's famous faces pre-loaded into my head really helped.

Though the NASA guys and the other astronauts are important supporting characters, we find out very little about them- it's very much the Mark Watney show. There's no big emotional reunion with Earth-bound family, no weepy fiancee on the news, desperately waiting for an update on their space stranded betrothed- which I found really refreshing. It wasn't a particularly emotional story, not a vast personal journey- just a really resourceful guy with a sense of humour as dry as his planet, trying not to die or drive himself insane with loneliness, bad 70s TV and disco music and barely managing.

It's pacy and funny and full of action- even if there's never really any suspense (even if you haven't seen the film, it's pretty obvious that Mark isn't going to die- even if he wanted to he probably can't even). It's basically Robinson Crusoe in Space, but funnier. And with more science. I'm pretty sure most of the world have read this- but if you haven't, it's definitely worth giving it a go. It's one of the most universally appealing stories I've read or seen in ages. The film is a really stellar adaptation of the source material, and the book just provides more of the same. More Mark, More Mars, more laughs.

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