Monday, August 3, 2015

The Martian

The Martian
by Andy Weir
Recommended Ages: 15+ [Adult Content Advisory]

Ares 3, the third in a series of manned missions to Mars, is supposed to last 31 days. On the sixth day the astronauts are forced by a sandstorm to abort, blasting off for an early return to earth. Thanks to a freak combination of events, botanist and engineer Mark Watney is left behind, presumed dead by his crewmates but actually quite alive. Now all he has to do is stay that way in a lifeless, airless desert with supplies to last six crewmen a month and no way to call home even to tell the world he's alive. Best case scenario, a rescue mission starting right away would take more than a year to reach him. Everything is against his survival except his own ingenuity, his will to live and a few million dollars worth of abandoned NASA equipment.

What would you do in Watney's situation? A lot of us would probably give up and wait for death, or maybe even hurry it along. Some of us would be paralyzed with fear. Watney copes with his hopeless situation, the loneliness of his harsh environment and the whisker-thin membrane between life and death with cussed (and frequently cussing) stubbornness, inventiveness and brilliance, lightened by endearingly goofy humor.

Soon enough folks back on Earth are racing to save him. His Ares 3 crewmates, still en route home, are ready to risk everything. The space agencies of more than one country commit enormous resources to his rescue. But ultimately Mark's rescue depends on his own heroic effort and a journey across the surface of Mars, where every moment seems to bring another brush with death.

This book first came to my attention on a list of must-read science fiction novels. I bought it as a gift for my dad, who is much more into sci-fi than I am, and he expressed his enjoyment of it so strongly that I read it after him. According to the author's note at the end of it, the book started out as a serial published on his wesbite and was later packaged as a 99-cent e-book on Amazon. From there to best-seller, soon to be a motion picture starring Matt Damon, is a journey almost as amazing as that of its main character.

This might turn out to be a historically important book, lending insights to the development of manned Mars exploration. But for now it's notable enough for what it is: a smart, exciting piece of entertainment that touches the heart and transports the mind to a strange but real world. It makes us feel just how close and how far away Mars is. And it leaves us with a warm thought about the human family.

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