The Martian, By Andy Weir

What’s This Book All About?

A thrilling survival story with a hearty dose of humor, The Martian is a brilliantly researched story about Mark Watney, an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars, after being  presumed dead. But here is the thing, Mark is not dead, but he might as well be because now he has to figure a survival strategy. The only good thing? Mark is not an idiot.

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He has been given medical training by NASA {boom, injuries sorted}. After all sending untrained idiots to space is not something NASA would do, right? Mark is also well adept at mechanical engineering and has an undergraduate degree in  Botany. Stupid, when it’s a mission to Mars, you think? I mean why would you need to plant anything on such a hostile planet? Wrong, because it turns out botany plays an important role in keeping him alive. Though he has a plan for survival, it does not take away from the fact that he is completely fucked. He has got to stay alive until another mission comes to Mars {in the next four years, yikes} or establish a communication channel with Earth. Clearly, it’s a better idea to try and communicate with Earth so that they can come get him. What happens next? Well, you need to read the book for that.

Referred to as Cast Away that happened in space, the only difference in The Martian is that rather than washing up on a deserted island with plenty of unopened FedEx boxes, Watney finds himself abandoned on Mars. Not the best case scenario, but Mark is not the one to give up so easily.

The Bigger Picture

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Ok, let’s get one thing clear, Science is not my strong suit. I’m not even going to pretend to tell you that I understood much of anything Mark did to survive. And the downside is that there’s a fair lot of that information in the book, that blew over my head. 

Garble-mumble molecule + Mumble-garble molecule = Fizzy-pop molecule
Yay Mark survives for another day!

And with so much science {I envy all you smart peeps, who understand them} and dairy entries by Watney, you would think that reading this one would be a boring affair. But it was not! And maybe a part of the reason, is that this book has a very quick pace and Watney’s irrepressible sense of humor made me want to cheer for him as he tried to survive against impossible odds. Yes, I agree it might make him less realistic, but if you’re going to abandon anyone on Mars, better be someone with a sense of humour.

[12:04]JPL: We’ll get botanists in to ask detailed questions and double-check your work. Your life is at stake, so we want to be sure. Also, please watch your language. Everything you type is being broadcast live all over the world.

[12:15]WATNEY: Look! A pair of boobs! -> (.Y.)

Another instance of his killer humor.

“He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?”
He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”
LOG ENTRY: SOL 61
How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.

That’s not all. There’s a lot of geeky jokes, involving NASA’s tendency to overspend on, well, just about everything.

One thing I have in abundance here is bags. They’re not much different than kitchen trash bags, though I’m sure they cost $50,000 because NASA.

Also don’t forget the computer-related jokes that might go over the heads of people who don’t fuck around with computers for fun.

“We updated Pathfinder’s OS without any problems. We sent the rover patch, which Pathfinder rebroadcast. Once Watney executes the patch and reboots the rover, we should get a connection.”

“Jesus what a complicated process,” Venkat said.

“Try updating a Linux server some time,” Jack said.

After a moment of silence, Tim said “You know he was telling a joke, right? That was supposed to be funny.”

Basically, I loved Mark. Even though he was stranded on Mars, he still had time to make “that’s what she said” jokes and complain about Disco. He was hard-working, intelligent, refused to give up, and didn’t hold a grudge against his crew members. Plus, I also have some new found respect for astronauts who are willing to sacrifice so much for their career and expansion for human knowledge.

It was also nice read about the story from the NASA’s points of view on Earth, as well as from the crew members when they eventually find out Mark is still alive. It provides some unique perspective to the story and keeps you hooked till the last page. And mind you, there are some pretty tense moments, especially near the end.

A word of appreciation is also due to Weir’s writing style and the level of intense research that has evidently gone into writing this novel. Multiple pages are filled with summaries of complex calculations from Mark trying to figure out his calorie consumption over a two-year period to successfully reaching the orbit. I believe the math and physics in this book are accurate as actual rocket scientists have critiqued the author’s work. So kudos on that, even though the fact remains that in a similar situation, I would have died in the beginning itself.

Final Verdict

The Martian might be a science fiction, but that is not why it has become a big success. It is a hit because it reminds people of the enduring spirit of humanity. It’s a tribute to smart.

And the best part is that it does it in a manner that will inspire everyone to move out of their comfort zone and push boundaries, so that they can solve real problems, irrespective of whether they are on Earth, or on Mars or anywhere else in the galaxy. And if you are put off by the thought of a science story, let me assure you that the main soul of this story is its ingenuity and creativity. Like the author says, “If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do.”

So, yeah, I’d recommend this one. It’s a smarty-pants book that even a science dummy like me can read and enjoy. Plus, Mark Watney uses duct tape. Proving, once again, there’s nothing you can’t do as long as you have the knowledge and courage.

Buy the book here.

Anything Else?

This is one of the few books, that I enjoyed in the movie version as well. Matt Damon was perfectly cast as Mark Watney, and with a supporting cast of Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan {FYI, he is hot}, Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor, this was two and half hours well spent on watching the book come to life. After all survival movies make for the best form of entertainment right?

Favourite part of the movie? The closeups of sprigs sprouting from the potatoes that Mark buried in his greenhouse. Life goes on no matter what.

Watch the trailer here.