Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Martian - Andy Weir

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.
Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue 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 kill him first.
But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Space, the final frontier.  I have been a die-hard fan of flying to the stars for as long as I can remember.  My dad took me down to the Capital in Santa Fe, when I was five, so I could see the space capsule and shake the hand of the astronaut who flew into space (around the world a couple of times).  He gave me a signed postcard and a little flag.  My dad still has them and I still have the vivid memories. 
I still have the vivid memories of my dad waking us up so we could witness Neil Armstrong landing on the moon and taking those first steps.  “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.  It was an old black and white TV and the reception wasn’t the best, but we were watching history for mankind, and I felt the import of the event.
Sending men to Mars is not too much farther in my mind for us to do.  Come on, how far have we gone with Star Trek? Star Wars?  But really, even now, we have managed to get a space vehicle to go to Pluto with only a four hour delay in transmission.  WOW!!!!  That is so far beyond my thinking of the speed of what I thought we were capable of.
And then we land a man on Mars and he gets taken out by a sandstorm, not a meteor shower, or a capsule blowing up, but a sandstorm… man, we had sandstorms in Texas that could take out houses…
Can you imagine?  Stuck on Mars?  And no ride home?  At least not for three or four years.  Boy, time for creative thinking.  I have a year’s worth of food and no water…hm.  Well, of all the guys to get stranded, the lucky dog would be the farmer.  And to make matters even better, he was also the tinker man. 
I grew up with the expression being bounced around “nothing that bailing wire and duct tape won’t fix.”  Between a botanical degree, and the ability to disregard box-style thinking, Mark managed to create a biosphere from Martian soil, his waste, and figuring out how to suck water out of some Hydrogen fuel tanks.  He also created enough food to survive utilizing a few fresh food items he discovered on-board and growing them in the created biosphere. 
What kept the book, Mark, and me rolling, was the rollicking, tongue in cheek journal entries that were a caustic slap schtick.  He had the ability to laugh at his perilous situation and mock his tenuous hold on life out in the wilds of Mars --- alone.
In its interesting way, the book truly gave us a look at the kind of personality and tenacity that it demanded of an person who commits to a long term program of isolation and stress.  The demands needed to think on his feet, to be flexible, to be creative, to work through, around, over, and rework problems and solutions till answers are found. 
The other storylines of how NASA back on earth, and the astronauts returning home in the spaceship were handing the incident were also quite interesting.  While Mark was focused on survival, survival, survival, back at NASA politics and petty hierarchies seemed to take preferences, at times to the actual goal of getting Mark back home. 
The book was written in a journal format and in the first person.  The sections where there were flash-overs to NASA and to the other space craft (rocketing back towards earth), was written in a third person voice, as you observed what was happening, much like a fly on the wall.
Back story and depth was skillfully played out through Mark’s reflections in his log.  At one point, once he realized that NASA knew he was alive, he made the sarcastic remark that he was going to have to go back and clean-up and delete some entries on the journal, now that he knew it would be read.  I cracked-up.  Ooops….
I have always been one who says give me the book, maybe I’ll watch the movie, but this time around, Andy did such a wonderful job of building the world that Mark had to survive in, that I am now dying to see how it is visualized on the big screen this fall when the movie comes out. 
I loved this book.  It was a wonderful lite read that left me laughing.  The technical jargon was part and parcel and made the book work.  I give this book a full FOUR STAR RATING.  A great weekend read.  And a must read before you see the movie!!!!!
Net Galley provided a copy for me to read and review.


ANDY WEIR was first hired as a programmer for a national laboratory at age fifteen and has been working as a software engineer ever since. He is also a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects like relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. The Martianis his first novel.