Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

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The movie The Martian is coming out on October 2. I’ve seen the trailers and it looks good. I hope it is true to the book because it is an excellent book. This is one of those rare books that can really grip you and make you stay up late because you can’t sleep while wondering about what is going to happen next. Normally, I prefer to read books before seeing the movie adaptation. The adaptation is usually so poor as to do the book an injustice, but contains enough of the story to be a spoiler to the book. My solution is to read the book before hand and then endure the inadequacies of Hollywood screen writers. This is particularly true of any kind of science-based storyline (Is there ANYONE in Hollywood who can even spell the word ‘science’?) However, the word coming out is that The Martian is pretty accurate.

The book is not only an excellent book, but the story of how it came about is pretty remarkable. It is not a spoiler to tell you it is the story of an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars. This comes out in the first few paragraphs of the book. There is a large storm and the manned mission is forced to evacuate. Mark Watney is observed getting impaled by debris and swept away. Remote sensors show the pressure in his space suit going to zero and his life signs flatlining. It’s a crisis and the rest of the team has to evacuate, leaving his body behind. Unbeknownst to them, the debris that impaled him destroyed his life sensors, causing the flatline. The blood from the wound sealed the hole in his suit, keeping him alive. But, by the time he awoke he was alone. The real problem is he only had a few days of food, no way to reach NASA, and years from another mission that might rescue him. He had to find a way to survive on his own. The result is a modern day Robinson Crusoe combined with Apollo 13 and touches of MacGyver.

One of the remarkable things about the story is how valid the science is. Okay, here’s a spoiler, the storm depicted that caused the problem is not possible. The air on Mars is so thin the storm, as described, would hardly have gotten any attention from the astronauts. I read a calculation that said it would take winds of about 10,000 mph to get the effect in the book. Storms of over 100 mph are rare on Mars. After that, the science and math are very solid. Warning: There is some serious science in the book, but the author writes it in a way that it adds to the story, not detract.

Even the story of how the author, Andy Weir, got the science so accurate is a good one. He posted it as a serial novel on his webpage, one chapter at a time. This not only developed a following, he stated getting feedback from a lot of technical people pointing out areas that were weak. These included “astronauts, people in Mission Control, nuclear submarine technicians, chemists, physicists, geologists, and folks in pretty much every other scientific discipline.” He finally relented to their demands and put it on Kindle where it went to the top-five science fiction books. A book contract followed and he found himself on the New York Times’ Best Seller list. Obviously, a movie deal followed.

Not bad for his first novel.

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