MacGyver on Mars…

Author:  Andy Weir

The Martian Cover (198x300)I’m confident that someday – maybe in the next couple of decades – humans will set foot on Mars.  The red planet is just too tantalizing a target for a manned mission to be passed over for too much longer.  But until that day, science fiction will have to be the only source of interplanetary adventure; and after reading Andy Weir’s remarkably entertaining novel, The Martian, I’m afraid that the real thing may turn out to be pretty dull.

Astronaut Mark Watney is the loneliest person in the solar system.  Maybe also the unluckiest.  One of the six members of Ares 3, the third in a series of manned missions to Mars in the not too distant future, he was mortally wounded by flying debris during an unexpected windstorm just six days into the mission.  Assuming Watney was dead and trying to avoid further casualties in the storm, the rest of the crew obeyed NASA’s mission abort command, boarded the Mars ascent vehicle and evacuated the planet.  But it turns out he wasn’t entirely dead yet.  While generally one’s unexpected survival in the face of death is cause for celebration, in this case it’s a bit of a mixed bag.  Watney is completely and utterly alone, many millions of miles from home.  No one knows he’s there and they’re not planning to return to the planet for another four years.  He’s royally screwed.

The Red Planet from space, featuring Galle, the happy face crater

The Red Planet from space, featuring Galle, the happy face crater.


But Watney, the mission engineer and botanist, is not about to give up easily.  Courageously maintaining an unstoppable sense of humor, he calls on impressive reserves of resourcefulness and imagination to try and figure out how he might just manage to survive.  He struggles mightily against the many obstacles that his new home planet throws at him, exhibiting ingenuity that would make ten dozen MacGyver’s proud.

In his first novel, author Weir – a software engineer who nerds out on orbital mechanics, relativistic physics and spaceflight trivia in his spare time – has created a consistently engaging space thriller.  He takes a fantastic premise and gets every kilometer out of it

Gusev Crater on Mars.

Gusev Crater

from start to finish.  It’s clear that dialog and characterization play second fiddle to loads of geeky tech talk, but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the story one milliliter. 

The Martian is quite the interplanetary thrill ride, brilliantly conceived and remarkably executed.  Supported by loads of research, it’s well anchored in the realities of space flight, which makes it that much more believable and exciting.  While all the science jabber may wear on some readers, as a card carrying space nerd, I can’t recommend it more strongly.

 — D. Driftless

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