The story is enough.

The story is enough.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Martian by Andy Weir

I DO NOT read science fiction.  Ever.  Until this month when I wanted to find a book that was out of my comfort zone.  I read “The Martian” by Andy Weir.  And I must admit I enjoyed it.  A lot.  It is the story of Mark Watney, a failed mission, and his quest to survive on the frigid planet of Mars, months before a possible rescue.  It is an inventive tale of suspense, science, and humor.

Now a major motion picture starring Matt Damon (in theaters October 2015), “The Martian” began as a free serial novel, posted one chapter at a time on the author’s website.  A self-proclaimed “nerd”, Andy Weir began dreaming up a fictional, yet plausible, manned mission to Mars.  He says, “Science creates plot.”  And along with the story’s hero, we learn that every action does have an equal - and opposite - reaction.  We follow the astronaut through trial and error, problem and solution, logic and imagination.  

A dust storm forces Mark Watney’s crew to abandon their mission. Mark is left behind, injured and believed to be dead.  Alone, with dwindling supplies and no communication with Earth, he uses his skills to stay alive - to find a way home.
Through a series of log entries, we experience survival on the Red Planet through Mark.  We are witness to his incredible wealth of scientific and practical knowledge, as well as his creative solutions to inevitable complications.   Drawn in by his dry, subtle humor, we can’t help but admire how he keeps sane in this utterly solitary situation.  We are thrown up against high level mathematics and science concepts, but he is an infectious teacher – and his lessons are tempered with disco, 70s tv, and Agatha Christie novels.

Mark Watney’s situation has been compared to “Robinson Crusoe”, but this episode is timely.  And unlike the writing style of Defoe’s classic, readers are offered intermittent breaks from Mars, observing what is happening behind the scenes at NASA and with the remainder of the crew – all focused on bringing the man home. 

The non-stop action is addicting.  Will this man make it- or won’t he?  Will another dust storm wreck havoc – or not?  Will he have enough food – or is he in dire straits?  Where will he get water?  Will he be able to communicate with NASA – will they be able to communicate with him?  The odds are stacked against Mark – can he make it home?  What happens when something goes terribly wrong?  Constant problem-needing-solution creates a tightly driven plot. 

I repeat: I DO NOT read science fiction.  Ever.  But this creative, original story hooked me in with the possibilities of our day and the unique laws of each planet.  Taking a bath in space, creating units of measurements (the “pirate-ninjas”), and planting Martian crops are incidents woven into the type of science-fiction story I WILL read.  Maybe even twice. 

This review originally appeared in the July 25, 2015 issue of The Canon City Daily Record on page 7B.

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