Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My review of The Martian

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yeah, this was a great romp. Good story, well told, and left me dreaming of space travel.

It's really rare to find a good science-fiction book that relies on good science, but it sure is a pleasure when it happens, and it's done right. The Martian is really special in this regard, but that alone wasn't what made it work so well for me. I also really enjoyed Watney and the others on the crew. Yeah, I agree that we didn't get to see everyone fleshed out as much as I'd like, but the concentration of the book is on the individual vs (lack of) nature conflict, not issues of individual vs government bureaucracy or individual vs individual (though those both came into play at some point).

It's always a bit tricky to talk about books without giving spoilers, and, of course, there is a movie with Matt Damon that is out October 1, so everyone will know the plot anyhow, but there is enough to say about style, humor, and the most compelling thing of all (Mark's resourcefulness) without giving things away. There are also some important lessons and I can talk about all this without giving away much at all.

First off, the story is mostly told (at least the main part of the tale) from log entries of my favorite Martian, Mark Watney, who was left behind and needs to survive. I have to admit this was pretty dry for me until and the writing felt barren because, well, they're log entries and Mark is alone. We don't really know much about him at first, but as the story progresses, the log becomes a window into his soul, and what we find there, through his childish humor [12:15] WATNEY: Look! A pair of boobs! (.Y.) and general geekiness (including comments about how hard it is for a botanist/mechanical engineer to get dates), is a plucky fellow who uses his optimism to find his way through impossible challenges.

It's never predictable and it's never that farfetched. (Ok, there are some things you shouldn't try at home though) In fact, one of the strengths of the novel, to me, who enjoys "reality-based" science-fiction, is the practical nature of the space mission. I get an optimistic feeling that something like this could actually be pulled off, maybe even in my lifetime (which I know is absurd, but still...)

I want to say two more things before I'm done here. One is the way the book left me feeling about humanity, in that, if something like the response and collaboration resulted from a disaster like this, it would probably be worth it. The conflicts of the world are deep and we are all very divided. Maybe a Watney event would even be beneficial no matter how it turned out.

The last thing, and what MOST impressed me, is the realization (I already knew this but it was sledgehammered into my head) that everything that we bring from Earth is a resource on the other world. Mark Watney uses his urine and feces to great effect and cannabilizes the equipment over and over again. All along my mouth hangs open and my hand in a steady clap. Even our shit is valuable.

You can't really help but cheer for him and in doing so, it feels like you're cheering for us all.

What a great tale!

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