Monday, August 3, 2015

Review: The Martian


The Martian book cover

The Martian by Andy Weir is not the usual fare among us Wenches. But, I loved it so very much I just couldn't pass up writing a review on it. I hope to convince all of you to read it. I've already convinced Head Wench Barb, who also loved it. Especially with the movie adaptation coming out in November, this is not a book you want to pass up. 






To get us started, here's the blurb for The Martian:
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?

So, it's about an astronaut that gets stranded on Mars. Let me just answer your question before you ask it. Yes, there is quite a bit of scientific and mathematics jargon. But, within the context of the book, it is not hard to follow. And, occasionally, the characters are flat out asked by others to explain what they just said in plain English. Trust me when I say you won't get lost in the technical stuff. You'll be just fine. And, our leading man, Mark Watney, MORE than makes up for any confusing jargon. I didn't expect to come out of this book with yet another book boyfriend. But, that is precisely what happened. I can nearly guarantee that you too will have a new book boyfriend by the end.

Keep reading to hear more of my thoughts on The Martian!


The Story

You can't have a great book without a great story. This book has a FANTASTIC story. It's a mixture of Apollo 13 and Castaway that takes place sometime in the future. Due to a catastrophic level of bad luck, our hero, Mark Watney, is left behind while evacuating Mars with the rest of his mission crew during a dust storm. To be fair to the crew, they think he's dead. But, he survives and wakes up injured and alone....on Mars. Yet, Mark doesn't lose hope. He just gets up and starts to problem solve. And, he keeps on problem solving and coming thisclose to death time and time again. It's fascinating. 

The rest of the story takes us through all of the crazy stuff Mark has to do to survive on Mars, including figuring out how to contact NASA to let them know that he is alive. While the majority of the story is told from Mark's point of view, we do have some interaction with NASA and with the rest of Mark's crew. For me, the NASA scenes were quite interesting. I don't know how factual they are, but it was intriguing to see the inner workings of NASA, especially the decision makers. It was also fascinating to read about Mark's ingenuity while coming up with modifications and work arounds to help him survive. 

As much as I loved this book, I will say this, just as a warning, some books are character based, others are story based. This one is decidedly story based. Don't come into this book looking for a book about Mark's philosophical struggle while on Mars. You'll be disappointed. These characters aren't deeply developed like you'd see in, let's say, a Cormac McCarthy novel.  As weird as it is to say, this book isn't about the characters. It's about the struggle to bring a stranded man home. But, that makes the characters within the story no less enjoyable. Which brings me to....

The Characters
Mark Watney is the clear winner in favorite character from this book. In fact, I like him so much, I'm going to give him his own little section at the end of this review. So, this one is just going to focus on the supporting characters in our story, and there are plenty of them.

My personal favorite, besides Mark, is Dr. Venkat Kapoor. Dr. Kapoor, or Venk, as most of the characters come to call him, is the Director of Mars operations for NASA. But, just because he's a top dog at NASA doesn't mean he is a clueless science nerd or a too rigid administrator. Venk is great. He has a very dry sense of humor that I enjoy. And, he has no problem with blunt honesty. At one point, he flat out tells someone they are being difficult. It's awesome. And, even though there are other Mars missions in the works, he puts all of his efforts into bringing Mark home.

The whole NASA crew is likable actually, from the mission control people to Teddy Sanders, the head of NASA. Even the one character who is called a dick several times, Mitch Henderson, is likable to me. We don't see much of Mitch's dick...ness, dickatude, I'm not sure which word I'm looking for there, but you get the idea. Anyway, he's only in a few scenes, so we don't get too much into his character, but he does go behind the backs of Teddy and the other higher-ups about several spoilery things. Definitely a dick move, but for the greater good. The other notable NASA employee is Annie Montrose, the head of media relations. She is a hilariously foul mouthed woman. And, she doesn't take shit from anyone. She's great.


And finally, the Ares 3 crew, Mark's crewmates, are each fantastic. There's the smart, capable, 70s obsessed captain Melissa Lewis, the nerdy computer expert Beth Johanssen, Rick Martinez, the prankster pilot, Chris Beck, the crew's doctor who is Mark's closest friend on the crew, who also has a giant crush on Johanssen, and Alex Vogel, the stoic German astrodynamicist. 


The Science
I am nowhere near smart enough to know if anything that happens in this book is actually possible or not. However, having read the wikipedia page a little bit about Andy Weir's process in writing the book, I do know that he is a very smart man and did TONS of research into it. He actually went as far as creating his own software to calculate the constant-acceleration orbital trajectories the astronauts use in the book. And, Mark does tons of math and science-y stuff to stay alive. It is fascinating to me. And, it is written in a very accessible way for the common reader. Sometimes Mark will spell things out for us, sometimes he says he's going to spare us the details and here's the end result. Maybe it's just a nerd thing, but a large part of my enjoyment of this book came from watching Mark work through problems on his own. What can I say, I'm a sucker for smart guys.

Mark Watney
I can't even begin to tell you how much I love Mark Watney. He's everything I want in a man.....well, almost. He mentions shaving with an electric razor while on Mars, so he doesn't fulfill my beard kink. But, he fulfills everything else I could want in a man. He's smart, super duper crazy smart. Can do complex math and physics equations in his head smart. He's handy, doctorate in mechanical engineering handy. He's got a good sense of humor. He's from Chicago. He has appalling taste in baseball teams (Go White Sox!), but I can look past that. He's a botanist, so he can counteract my black thumb, with his green one. And, he's an astronaut for fuck's sake. Who didn't want to be an astronaut when they were growing up? That was the coolest job there was except for movie star or rock legend. He is also calm and cool-headed in a crisis...mostly.


But, my favorite thing about Mark Watney is his snark. The man is a snark monster. He's got snark, sarcasm and sass coming out of every orifice and I LOVE IT! He tells NASA to go fuck themselves! How many people would have the balls to do that? Not many, I'm sure. His daily log and correspondence to NASA had me laughing my ass off the entire book. His sense of humor and his snarkiness save the book from being too scientific and technical. Without Mark's commentary and translation from science-ese to normal human English, I wouldn't have enjoyed this book nearly as much. My other favorite thing about Mark is his potty mouth. He starts one log entry with "I am fucked and I'm gonna die." He's hilarious and I love him. I can't wait to see Matt Damon bring him to life on the big screen in October.

Quotes
And now, for some of my favorite quotes from the series. You might recognize a few of these from my Quotes of the Day posts.


​[12:04] JPL: We’ll get botanists in to ask detailed questions and double-check your work. Your life is at stake, so we want to be sure. Sol 900 is great news. It’ll give us a lot more time to get the supply mission together. Also, please watch your language. Everything you type is being broadcast live all over the world.          
[12:15] WATNEY: Look! A pair of boobs! -> (.Y.)      

​AUDIO LOG ​TRANSCRIPT: SOL 119      
You know what!? Fuck this! Fuck this airlock, fuck that Hab, and fuck this whole planet!    
Seriously, this is it! I’ve had it! I’ve got a few minutes before I run out of air and I’ll be damned if I spend them playing Mars’s little game. I’m so god damned sick of it I could puke!         
All I have to do is sit here. The air will leak out and I’ll die. 
I’ll be done. No more getting my hopes up, no more self-delusion, and no more problem-solving. I’ve fucking had it!       
AUDIO LOG TRANSCRIPT: SOL 119 (2)    
 Sigh…okay. I’ve had my tantrum and now I have to figure out how to stay alive. Again. Okay, let’s see what I can do here.… 

​LOG ENTRY: SOL 37  
I am fucked, and I’m gonna die!  
Okay, calm down. I’m sure I can get around this. 
I’m writing this log to you, dear future Mars archaeologist, from Rover 2. You may wonder why I’m not in the Hab right now. Because I fled in terror, that’s why! And I’m not sure what the hell to do next.

​My conversation with NASA about the water reclaimer was boring and riddled with technical details. So I’ll paraphrase it for you:      
Me: “This is obviously a clog. How about I take it apart and check the internal tubing?”      
NASA: (after five hours of deliberation) “No. You’ll fuck it up and die.”      
So I took it apart...... 
I told NASA what I did. Our (paraphrased) conversation was:    
Me: “I took it apart, found the problem, and fixed it.”      
NASA: “Dick.”

​In other news, I got an e-mail from Venkat Kapoor:                 
Mark, some answers to your earlier questions:          No, we will not tell our Botany Team to “Go fuck themselves.” I understand you’ve been on your own for a long time, but we’re in the loop now, and it’s best if you listen to what we have to say. The Cubs finished the season at the bottom of the NL Central.          
The data transfer rate just isn’t good enough for the size of music files, even in compressed formats. So your request for “Anything, oh God, ANYTHING but Disco” is denied. Enjoy your boogie fever.   Also, an uncomfortable side note…NASA is putting together a committee. They want to see if there were any avoidable mistakes that led you to being stranded. Just a heads-up. They may have questions for you later on.          
Keep us posted on your activities.          —Kapoor                
My reply:                 Venkat, tell the investigation committee they’ll have to do their witch hunt without me. And when they inevitably blame Commander Lewis, be advised I’ll publicly refute it. I’m sure the rest of the crew will do the same. Also, please tell them that each and every one of their mothers is a prostitute.   —Watney          
PS: Their sisters, too.

Time to chow down and see what the good commander brought along for music.                      
LOG ENTRY SOL 38 (2)      
Disco. God damn it, Lewis.

Lewis:  Hi, Commander.        Between training and our trip to Mars, I spent two years working with you. I think I know you pretty well. So I’m guessing you still blame yourself for my situation, despite my earlier e-mail asking you not to.        You were faced with an impossible scenario and made a tough decision. That’s what commanders do. And your decision was right. If you’d waited any longer, the MAV would have tipped.        I’m sure you’ve run through all the possible outcomes in your head, so you know there’s nothing you could have done differently (other than “be psychic”).        You probably think losing a crewman is the worst thing that can happen. Not true. Losing the whole crew is worse. You kept that from happening.        But there’s something more important we need to discuss: What is it with you and disco? I can understand the ’70s TV because everyone loves hairy people with huge collars. But disco?       Disco!?

 ​“I admit it’s fatally dangerous,” Watney said. “But consider this: I’d get to fly around like Iron Man.”    
“We’ll keep working on ideas,” Lewis said.    
“Iron Man, Commander. Iron Man.”

​They say once you grow crops somewhere, you have officially “colonized” it. So technically, I colonized Mars.        In your face, Neil Armstrong!

 ​Oh, sorry, am I being difficult?” Rich asked. “I’m not good with people. Sometimes I’m difficult. I wish people would just tell me. Anyway, the Taiyang Shen is critical. In fact, my idea won’t work without it. But a Mars probe? Pfft. C’mon." 
“All right,” Venkat said. “What’s your idea?”      
Rich snatched a paper from the desk. “Here it is!” He handed it to Venkat with a childlike smile​.  
Venkat took the summary and skimmed it. The more he read, the wider his eyes got. “Are you sure about this?”     
          “Absolutely!” Rich beamed.     
          “Have you told anyone else?”      
          “Who would I tell?”      
          “I don’t know,” Venkat said. “Friends?”    
          “I don’t have any of those.”      
          “Okay, keep it under your hat.”    
          “I don’t wear a hat.”     
          “It’s just an expression.”      
          “Really?” Rich said. “It’s a stupid expression.”     
          “Rich, you’re being difficult.”      
          “Ah. Thanks.


​LOG ENTRY: SOL 381        I’ve been thinking about laws on Mars.        Yeah, I know, it’s a stupid thing to think about, but I have a lot of free time.        There’s an international treaty saying no country can lay claim to anything that’s not on Earth. And by another treaty, if you’re not in any country’s territory, maritime law applies.        So Mars is “international waters.”        NASA is an American nonmilitary organization, and it owns the Hab. So while I’m in the Hab, American law applies. As soon as I step outside, I’m in international waters. Then when I get in the rover, I’m back to American law.        Here’s the cool part: I will eventually go to Schiaparelli and commandeer the Ares 4 lander. Nobody explicitly gave me permission to do this, and they can’t until I’m aboard Ares 4 and operating the comm system. After I board Ares 4, before talking to NASA, I will take control of a craft in international waters without permission.        That makes me a pirate!        A space pirate!

All right, Saucy Readers, that's all I've got. So, what do you think? Did I convince you to read this outstanding book? If you've already read it, are you as excited for the movie as I am? Sound off below!!


**All gifs came from Tumblr. 

3 comments:

  1. I am listening to The Martian and loving it. I have about half an hour to go. I have already recommended this book to everyone I know who reads. I don't care what they normally read. They need to read this book.

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  2. You've definitely convinced me to read it! Sounds great, and so does the movie!

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  3. Great review Anne. I loved this book. I wouldn't have read it if you hadn't talked about it :-).

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