[Book Review] The Martian

The Martian / Andy Weir (Powell's Books)

Separated from his crew during a dust storm after being struck by a piece of debris, with biostats reading zero, and a storm requiring an immediate launch, Mark Watney was left behind on Mars.  Unfortunately for Watney, dumb luck and circumstance meant he was still alive.  Alone, with very limited supplies, on Mars.  With no way to communicate with Earth, and the next mission not expected for several years, he might just stay alive long enough to starve to death, if nothing breaks first.  Mark must be incredibly creative and extremely lucky to pull through as the single largest rescue mission ever starts to pull together on Earth.

So when I chose this for the November read, I had no clue that it was coming out as a feature film in October.  Whoops.  Made finding a copy in the library system a little challenging, but fortunately not impossible.

The Martian was a surprisingly light read.  I tore through it.  I'd say in terms of pacing and voice it actually felt similar to Ready Player One, with a focus on science instead of 80's pop culture and video games.  Considering how much of this book is literally talking about the various science and engineering that goes into keeping Mark Watney alive, that sort of lightness is not something I expected at all.  As Ready Player One is a love letter to 80's popular culture, The Martian is a love letter to NASA and space exploration.  The fact that Chris Hadfield describes the book as having "the rare combination of a good, original story, interestingly real characters, and fascinating technical accuracy," speaks volumes to me.  A real astronaut reading it and going "yeah, that's accurate" is a good endorsement.

I'd like to recommend watching this video, where Adam Savage, Chris Hadfield, and Andy Weir discuss The Martian as both a book and a film.


Discussion Fodder:

  • A deliberate decision was made to not inform the Ares 3 crew of Watney's survival.  Do you think this was the right thing to do?  How would have keeping them in the loop from the start changed things?
  • One of the criticisms of the book is Watney's humor and tendency towards crude remarks.  Was it realistic, unnecessary, understandable?
  • Watney has a certain disregard for instruction, is it warrented?
  • The expenditure of resources to rescue Watney was astronomical.  Would you argue it was too much?  What do you think of the original decision against the Rich Purnell Maneuver to risk fewer lives?
  • What do you think of the plan for ensuring that one of the Ares crew survives?
  • What do you think about things from the book bleeding in reality?  In particular the adoption of the "Watney Triangle" as mentioned in the video above.
  • Is travel to Mars something we should be pursuing?  Do you think it's something that's achievable in our life time?  Would you want to go to Mars if you had the opportunity?
  • Did you go see the movie?  How does it compare?  What stood out to you?

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