The Martian by Andy Weir
“I’m pretty much fucked,” thus is the assessment of astronaut Mark Watney and the first words in the log he began that is this book. He began this log after being left behind by his fellow astronauts who had assumed him dead following an accident, immediately before they made the emergency blast off which began their return trip back to Earth.
When Mark regained consciousness with his space suit still intact, he managed to make his way back to the Hab, the space shelter where the Mar’s Mission astronauts had lived. There, Mark begins to ponder being the only inhabitant on the planet and realizes just how seemingly hopeless his situation and future is.
Luckily Mark, who was a specialist in both equipment maintenance and botany, keeps his composure and immediately begins to take inventory of all the items around him, and starts to plan out what he must do to survive. The communication equipment no longer works, his fellow astronauts are on their months-long return trip to Earth, and another Mars mission isn’t scheduled to return to Mars for another four years, so for Mark to survive, he would need food, warmth, and oxygen to last that long. His inventory survey shows he has enough of everything except food.
There were plenty of vitamins and some types of food, but not enough carbohydrates to last four years, but he is able to formulate a possible solution: He does have some live potatoes, and if he could continually grow more, they could supply the carbohydrates he would need to keep him alive.
In order to grow enough potatoes he would have to fill the Hab with soil, mostly Martian soil, fertilize it with his excrement and that left behind from the departed astronauts, then augment it with some Earth soil from a space experiment, which would enrich the sterile Martian soil with the bacteria and fungi needed to grow plants.
He calculated how much water he would need for growing potatoes and found there wasn’t enough. Luckily Mark was enough of a scientist to know he could make water using some of the equipment at hand, some of the oxygen supply that was available, and hydrogen, that he figured he might be able to extract from a supply of unused rocket fuel. He almost blew himself up by doing it, but he was able to slowly manufacture enough water for his potatoes.
The novel continues with Mark using his scientific ingenuity to solve one crucial problem after another while maintaining a sense of humor to get through it all.
While this sci-fi novel is full of seemingly impossible feats, it takes the time to explain all the technology and science behind each action to make it all sound plausible. There is also a lot of humor in the storyline, like Mark’s comments in his log after repeatedly watching hours and hours of old TV sitcoms like “Three’s Company” or listening to the hated disco music that a fellow astronauts had left behind on a computer, because that was his only entertainment.
In the “Author’s Notes” the end of the novel, Andy Weir speaks of the fan mail he has received about The Martian: “My favorite email is one that starts: ‘ I normally don’t read science fiction, but....’”.
If I was writing him that’s exactly how I would have started my letter.
The Martian is an amazingly entertaining and rewarding novel to read no matter what the genre of literature you generally prefer.
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