I’ve been on a space kick. I don’t read a lot of science fiction, but recently, I’ve been devouring space-themed books. After Chris Hadfield’s memoir AN ASTRONAUT’S GUIDE TO LIFE ON EARTH, and Lily Koppel’s THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB, naturally, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN.
This book has a fabulous premise….after a terrible dust storm forces the crew of Ares 3 to evacuate Mars, the world is shocked to learn an astronaut has been left behind, thought to be dead. But he isn’t. And now Mark Watney is alone on the Red Planet with no way to contact Earth, no hope of rescue, and very few provisions.
I couldn’t imagine a better hook and was excited to see what was in store for this poor space hero. Much of the book is written as log entries as Watney goes about trying to suvive on Mars one day at a time. I must admit, I’m one of those people who will give up on a book after about 30 pages if it doesn’t capture me, and I almost gave up on this one. If you love science, this will probably keep you reading without a problem. But I got stuck on page after page of this type of entry, when he was trying to figure out how to make an indoor garden:
“To be viable, soil needs 40 litres of water per cubic meter. My overall plan calls for 9.2 cubic meters of soil. So I’ll eventually need 368 litres of water to feed it.”
“I’m willing to dedicate all but an emergency 50 litres to the cause. That means I can feed 62.5 square meters at a depth of 10 centimeters. ”
And a few entries later, his problem-solving switched to potatoes:
“My best bet for making calories is potatoes. They grow prolifically and have a reasonable caloric content (770 calories per kilogram). I’m pretty sure the ones I have will germinate. Problem is, I can’t grow enough of them. In 62 square meters, I could grow maybe 150 kilograms of potatoes in 400 days (the time I have before running out of food). That’s a grand total of 115,500 calories, a sustainable average of 288 calories per day.”
Don’t even get me started on his soil calculations. For a while, I felt like I was reading an entire book of math problems (if two trains traveling from opposite sides of the country are planning to meet in twelve days, and one train is going 120km/hour, the other 100km/hour, the first train stopping midway to let off passengers and causing a 20 minute delay, etc., etc.). You get the picture. Mind you, Weir interjects some fun into the mix with these entries, but it was tough slogging.
And then I hit page 49.
If you can persevere, you’ll be rewarded at page 49! The entire book takes a turn and switches between Watney’s log entries and a seriously freaked out bunch of people at NASA. From that point on, I couldn’t put this book down.
There are so many exciting twists and turns here, and you’ll start to cheer for Watney to overcome obstacle after obstacle. He’s one plucky dude!
From an accuracy standpoint, I know the log entries were probably very realistic. Watney had no choice but to figure out what he needed to survive, and I’m sure a trained engineer would spend much of his time on calculations. He’d treat the logs the way any other scientist would. They weren’t diary entries where he would talk about his feelings. I get that. I just found it difficult to enjoy. I wanted a little more fear, and a little less chatter, I guess.
But I really, really enjoyed this book once it got going, and I’ve been talking it up to everyone I know. Watney is a great character, and for one character to carry most of the book on his own, it says a lot for Weir’s writing. It’s got the same feel as GRAVITY, but with more action.
Looking for the next great read. In the meantime, back to listening to the audio version of ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK. (Fabulous! Who knew???)