The Martian

by Andrew Weir, audiobook read by R. C. Bray

Science fiction

So I finished The Martian next. I was listening to the audio book version in the car last week while I was finishing off Snoop. I found myself wanting to spend more and more time in my car so I could listen to a bit more. A little over half-way through the book I decided that I couldn’t wait any longer and decided to pick up a copy of my own so I could finish it sooner.I liked it that much.

To start out with, The Martian is a survival story. Something of a Robinson Crusoe for the 21st century. Astronaut Mark Watney, mission engineer and botanist is one of the first people to set foot on Mars, and he is pretty much screwed from page 1. Sandstorm happens, mission is scrubbed on the 6th Martian day, in the evacuation from the sandstorm Watney is separated from the rest of the crew(in a blinding sandstorm with 0 visibility), his suit punctured, leaking air, bleeding, face down with a large piece of the (broken) main communications array sticking out of his pelvis. So he’s having a bit of a bad day. After lucking out on that first by not dying, he has to work out how to survive without enough food and water to wait for rescue. He needs to figure a way to MacGyver a way to talk to Earth, and make things that were put on Mars to last for a 35 day mission last for 4 years.

The overall format of the book is mainly Mark Watney’s log entries, interspersed with the actions of NASA and others as they all are working to get Mark home. One of the things that I really liked about The Martian is Mark Watney’s voice. He is a great character, human, fallible, funny, and over the course of the book you get to know him. He feels like a great guy, with a great sense of humor and it comes through his log entries. I’m really excited to see how they handle him in a movie (to be released this fall).

Another thing that I really liked about the book is that it’s sci-fi, but heavy on the science, light on the fiction. Looking into it, this is a bit of the result of the way that the book was created. Andrew Weir is a programmer and geek, and as a hobby he would do orbital mechanics calculations. He created a custom program to do these calculations in and then thought about what it would be like as a Mars bound astronaut. What would the mission look like? What would you do for 124 days each way to Mars? How would NASA supply the mission? What could go wrong? That last question spawned the idea for Mark Watney’s predicament. The list of things that can go wrong when you’re 56 million km from home is long and exhaustive and generally result in your death. When you solve one of the problems on that list, what side effects does your

solution

create?
So Weir starting writing the story, relying on the science to create drama, and posting chapters on his website. As much as he could, the science checked out. When he didn’t get something right, someone would comment, and then the community would get it right. Eventually people wanted him to post it to Amazon so they could get a version on their Kindles. Initially he priced it at 99 cents because Amazon wouldn’t let him make it free permanently. Then it became a best seller, and was picked up by a major publisher, became a New York Times best seller, and became a movie script within a few months.

So, lots of people read this, some very smart people (scientists, astronauts(real ones like Chris Hadfield), and writers) have all liked it. I just wish that I had picked it up sooner.

On a personal note, look at that, some basic HTML formatting for this post and others to create a read more hook.

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