Friday, December 11, 2015

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

It's been a while since I reviewed a book on this blog, so we're going to do something about that.  Today we'll be reviewing The Martian by Andy Weir.  By now you probably know the plot, especially thanks to the recent movie adaptation, but let's recap it anyway.  In the not too distant future the Ares III mission to Mars has had to return Earth prematurely due to surprise dust storm.  Unfortunately, Mark Watney has been left behind because everyone assumed that he died during the storm.  Now it's going to take everything Mark's got and then some to stay alive, reestablish contact with mission control and get back to Earth.

This was one of those books that I heard about it so much that I decided give it a listen to see what all the buzz was about.  I can safely say that the buzz wasn't without a very good reason.  I enjoyed this book very much.  I enjoyed Mark's snarky and sarcastic internal commentary.  It made even the grimmest and most serious of situations feel lighthearted and not quite as serious.  Of course, as Mark himself says, for NASA equipment failure is a serious issue, but for him it was a pretty normal Tuesday.  Mark's dialogue reminded me of what I always imagined would happen if Percy Jackson were to get stranded on Mars.  This book did a really good job of capturing just how risky and potentially dangerous space travel and exploration can be.

I also liked how the narration shifted between Mark, Mission Control and the crew of Ares III.  It was nice to get the perspective of the other characters as they struggle to get Mark home alive.   Venkat Kapoor was probably my favorite among the Mission Control gang.  In many ways this novel can be described as Robinson Crusoe on Mars.  It was fun seeing how Mark would solve the latest puzzle that was thrown at him.  I also liked how the Hermes orbiter was a reusable spacecraft that parks in Earth orbit when not being used for a mission; really felt like something that might, hopefully, happen one day.

The science in this book is extremely solid.  In fact, this is one of the hardest of the hard science fiction books that you're bound to find.  Having said that, there are a few notable exceptions.  The most glaring begin the very thing that sets the plot in motion: the dust storm.  Due to Mars' low atmospheric pressure, even the most raging dust storm or tornado would only be about as powerful as a gentle summer breeze.  To his credit, Andy Weir has stated that he regrets making this and wishes that he could go back and create a more realistic reason for Ares III to abort their mission.  Also, no matter what Mark may tell you, disco does not suck!  To be fair, thought, if I only had it to listen to for several months I'd probably be sick of it too.

For those of you who enjoy audiobooks there is an excellent audiobook version that is narrated by R.C. Bray.  I'm sure you're also more than aware of movie adaptation directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon.  As of this post I have not seen the movie, but I have heard very good things about it, and I plan to see it at some point or another.  This book has proven to be quite popular not only with everyone at NASA, but also with Neil DeGrasse Tyson himself, which is no small feat of achievement.  

All in all it is an excellent and believable novel.  The hype has been happening for a very well deserved reason.  Do yourself a favor and pick up this book, in physical form or in audio, you'll be glad that you did.

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