Just Finished Reading: The Martian by Andy Weir (FP: 2013/2014)
It sucks when you’re dead. It’s even worse when billions of people think you’re dead, and you’re not – obviously. But when you’re millions of miles from home, alone on an alien planet, years from rescue and in an environment where any mistake will likely kill you then you have to show that all of the ‘Right Stuff’ NASA mythology is true. Either that or you really die. Of course there’s the upside – all of those firsts for one thing: longest time alone on a planet, longest journey on the surface, first plants grown on Martian soil (he’s a Botanist after all) hence officially colonising the planet and not forgetting the first act of Space Piracy – which is a definite turn on with the women (apparently). But for Mark Watney (played brilliantly by Matt Damon in one of my favourite films of 2015) it’s not all fun and games, there’s the danger, the loneliness, the life and death problem solving and then the worst part of all – having to listen to the Mission Commanders 70’s disco music. Of course mere survival is just the start of things. Mark needs food, water, air, to communicate with NASA and ultimately to get home. NASA will do all it can to get him back but that alone won’t be enough. It will be down to people all over the Earth, and in space, to put their own lives on hold in order to do what humans do best – save each other.
When I saw the trailers of this movie I immediately fell in love with the look of things and the feel of Mars right there on the screen. That sucker looked real! Then there was Damon himself, largely carrying the movie on his own for extended periods when he alone appeared on screen. I liked the guy before this film and I honestly loved him afterwards. He was BRILLIANT. One of the things I really liked about the book is that the tone of the film was deeply embedded in the pages. It wasn’t Hollywood taking a decent idea and jazzing it up for entertainment. The ideas, the feel of things, the drama, the humour, the pacing and the great characters (I loved the young satellite technician Mindy Park played by Mackenzie Davis) including the rest of Watney’s crew played by the great Jessica Chastain, very funny Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie. The drama was, as you might imagine, there in spades both on Mars, back on Earth across NASA (I’m sure that nerds everywhere loved the techie bits both in the movie and even more in the book) and, naturally in the Hermes spacecraft itself.
The author certainly seemed to know his stuff. The science sounded very real (and probably was), the technical solutions – and the problems they were meant to solve and sometimes caused – felt logical and could probably be studied as a primer for a survival course. The emotional and intellectual reactions of all involved never really strayed from the believable. Some of the meetings at NASA very much reminded me of meetings I’d been in at work over the years and, yet again, had a firm grounding in reality. This was HARD SF par excellence and was my favourite read so far this year. If you haven’t seen the movie I can heartily recommend it. Likewise if you’ve seen the film you definitely won’t be disappointed in this book. Highly recommended.