(Disclaimer: I wrote this review a year ago and had it saved in a draft until now. So some of the references are a bit outdated, but I decided to keep the text as-is.)
I think if you haven’t heard of The Martian by now, you’ve probably been living, well, on Mars (*badum tsh*). But seriously, after we all got to watch Matt Damon survive the red planet for an hour and a half on the silver screen, I feel a little silly giving a summary of the story. But in case you have managed to miss it, here’s a quick recap: it’s the third manned mission to Mars, and something’s gone wrong. There’s a storm brewing on the horizon, and the crew needs to abort the mission and start the journey back to Earth. Not a problem – except one of the astronauts gets hit and killed by a piece of debris during the evacuation. Only…he’s not really dead. What follows is an intense struggle for survival on a planet where humans should not be able to survive. With only intermittent contact with the folks back in Houston (and Pasadena – hey, JPL!), Mark Watney has to figure out how he can make his food, water, and air last until help can arrive.
This book got me back in the swing of reading. It’s been a really busy time at work, and the book I was reading before this wasn’t very engaging, so it took me almost a month to finish my previous book. I finished The Martian in a few days. This is partly because I was no longer working 12+ hour days, but also because it was just fun! Watney’s narration is hilarious, and serves well to break up the seriousness of the subject matter. How many of us would react to being trapped on Mars by cracking jokes and solving problems in the most mad scientist way possible? But despite Watney’s engaging personality and gripping narration, a lot of the book was surprisingly technical. As someone who last took chemistry in high school and has never actually taken a physics course, a lot of it went over my head. Nevertheless, I still found it fascinating! I couldn’t tell you if Watney’s description of how he made water using hydrogen and oxygen was correct, but it was amazing to read about.
I’m actually really glad I read this book now, since I just visited JPL for the first time a couple weeks ago! I actually got to see some of the rooms talked about in the book – the Spacecraft Assembly Room, Mission Control, and others. As I was reading The Martian, I found myself imagining the people I met at JPL as the characters in the book. It was awe-inspiring to get even just a glimpse into the incredible work they do there every day – though the best part was when someone asked how they felt about science fiction being influenced by the work they do there, and they clearly had to restrain themselves from launching into a list of what was wrong with recent movies like The Martian and Interstellar.
I recommend The Martian even to the non-scientists among us. You may not understand everything, but you’ll be impressed by Watney’s tenacity, ingenuity, and just plain determination to survive on a planet that seems to actively want him dead.
Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Dates Read: April 25-28, 2017
Rating: Four stars