Monday, March 9, 2015

"The Martian": A wild ride with an American hero through the red planet

"So that's the situation. I'm stranded on Mars.  I have no way to communicate with Hermes or Earth.  Everyone thinks I'm dead.  I'm in a Hab designed to last thirty-one days. If the oxygenator breaks down, I'll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I'll die of thirst.  If the Hab breaches, I'll just kind of explode.  If none of those things happen, I'll eventually run out of food and starve to death.  So yeah, I'm f'd."

Six days prior to Mark Watney's break down of his predicament on Mars, he was one of the first people ever to walk on the surface of the red planet, but now it looks like he'll be the first person to ever die there unless he figures out a way to survive . . . for 4 years when the return mission to Mars can rescue him.

It's not the best situation, but somehow Mark Watney who was left behind by his fellow crew mates after a freak wind storm threatened to kill all of them, finds a way to not let his Martian dilemma deter him from using his engineering skills, botany expertise and his witty sense of humor to help him survive even the most dire of circumstances that arise in his fight for survival.

In the same strain as movies like "Castaway" or "Gravity," the readers of Andy Weir's NYTimes Best Seller "The Martian"roots for Mark's survival.  He's alone.  He's in a place with no other human beings.  His likelihood of getting out alive is REALLY LOW.  Unlike either of these movies, though, the weakness (maybe the strength for some readers) is the tendency for Weir, a self proclaimed "space nerd," to veer too much in the technicalities and science behind each of the emergency situations that arise.  When Mark decides to harvest potatoes to keep himself alive, the reader gets a lesson in farming, soil production, fertilizer needs (Mark uses his own human waste), how to create water, and how to even split the potatoes.  For some readers, they might love the pages and pages of mathematical equations, the space / science technical problem solving, and the hypothesizing about potential hazards that will arise.  For me, I wanted more of the life and death dilemmas that Mark was facing to surface in a more philosophic and psychological ways, and I never really got that.  Mark simply seemed to crack more jokes as NASA and his own unflappable ingenuity helped him to survive day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year.

My husband read this book on our vacation and urged me to read it.  I am not a Sci-Fi / Fantasy lover, and usually tend to steer away from books that my husband loves, but hearing him laugh out loud and basically eat this book like a bowl full of dark chocolate almonds made me reconsider.  I need to get out of my reading comfort zone of murky memoirs, epic historical fictions and my favorite, books about dysfunctional families.  This space thriller did make me turn the pages quickly (except the overly technical parts which thankfully dissipated as Mark's journey lasted longer and longer), and I did actually laugh out loud in two different parts of the book.  I found myself criticizing the writing style (the word "nerd" is used quite a bit and let's face it, Weir is more of a space nerd than a writer), and I thought that a few of the characters were heavy handed stereotypes with really badly written dialogue.

Overall, though, I loved that Mark survived by watching "Three's Company" reruns.  I learned about space travel - especially about travel to and on Mars, and I had a renewed sense of the spirit of the American "survival at all costs" and innovation that Watney represents.  What he does to survive is truly amazing, and it will have you questioning your own problem solving capabilities.  It may even make you consider the question, "If you were left behind in space and no one could rescue you for four years, what comfort items would you want with you to help pass the time and help you with morale?"

This book will surely become a blockbuster movie.  It will surely sell millions of copies.  It will surely make Andy Weir a well known author, and people will surely enjoy it.  I'm glad that my husband from time to time can pull me out of my reading ruts and introduce me to new stories that teach me something new. "The Martian" taught me that staying calm and laughing in the face of even the most improbable dilemmas is better than panicking, and it provided me with a hero worth cheering for.

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