The Martian

When The Martian was released in theaters a few months ago I said I’d been on the fence about reading the book. I’d read awful reviews of it, and I just decided to skip it all.

Not long after that I sat on a couch next to my sister-in-law while she opened the book for the first time and began reading. She was laughing for on every other page. Odd, I thought – everything I read said it was boring. Since then others have had the same experience she did.

I finally got a copy. I was not laughing as often, but it was good. And then it wasn’t. And then it was.
the-martian-cover_edOverall view: the book is good – smart, funny, decently nerdy (these are scientists after all), and a rollercoaster of “He’s saved! Oh wait, he’s going to die…again!”

Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.

The thing that makes it awful: there is a lot of technical stuff in it.

If you missed the whole movie aspect (or the movie is vastly different – haven’t seen it so no idea), here is the gist. Astronaut Mark Watney, a member of a Mars exploration team (the third team up there), is left behind, believed dead, when the team must quickly evacuate after only recently landing on the planet. The team tries to find him, but has to make a call to all die looking for him, or evacuate without him.

Turns out he isn’t dead. But he will be if he doesn’t figure out how to survive on the planet, make contact with Earth, and find a way off planet.

Here’s where we get to what I see as the awful part of the book. Watney is an engineer and botanist (convenient, right?). Much of the book, in fact all the book for a couple hundred pages, are his logs – logs he believes no one will ever find, read or hear. Which actually makes for several funny stories of sorting out some of the issues he has to battle, but it also means lengthy tales full of technical information about how he could or should or did go about fixing the device that alters the air to ensure he can breath, and other technical issues he has to tackle.

After awhile it’s just too much. Thankfully, Earth comes into play right when you’re ready to give up.

Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.

But then as the story switches between the two planets, you get a lot more of the technical info. My suggestion: skim those parts.

An additional warning: every so often, it looks like Watney will be saved. And then something happens. And it looks like he’ll never make it off Mars. Luckily his engineering/botany background saves him, and again you’re ready to celebrate. But hold off – cause catastrophe will strike again, and again.

Initially assuming I wouldn’t like, and then assuming I’d like it much more than I did, it was good. Not amazing, not awful. Just good. The good parts are really good though.

Now I have a million questions – like how far are we from being able to do these kinds of NASA missions, and would they be anything like this. How does one do research for a book like this? Or do you just make it all up and hope its remotely believable?

Anyone know if the movie was any good?


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