Thursday, July 2, 2015

Random Reviews: The Martian

“I'm pretty much fucked”

I am not normally someone who gets bent out of shape by movie adaptions.  I understand that movies and novels are different mediums and that sometime changes need to be made to the way the story gets told.  I also don’t sweat it too much if the movie sucks.  After all, the book will always be there regardless of what sins against cinema the movie commits. So the fact that the first thing I though when I heard that they were making a movie out of Andy Weir’s The Martian was, “I hope they don’t screw this up”, is a sign of how much I love this book.

The Martian has an incredibly simple premise.  Astronaut Mark Watney is accidentally left behind on Mars when he is injured and believed killed during a dust storm that causes the Ares 3 mission to be scrubbed.  With no way to contact Earth, and no hope of rescue before his supplies run out, Mark Watney must find a way to survive on a planet that cannot support human life.  It is basically Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

So if the premise is so simple, why do I like it so much?  Well, first off the science is exceptionally good.  No work of fiction will every be 100% scientifically accurate, but Andy Weir obviously worked very hard to make everything as plausible as possible.  In an interview he had with Adam Savage (worth a view BTW), he talked about how he had even worked out the launch date where the distance between Mars and Earth would be favorable for a mission where the astronauts would be on Mars over the Thanksgiving holiday for plot reasons.  Please note that Andy Weir never actually mentions the launch date in the novel, he just wanted the novel to be as accurate as possible.

When you are calculating orbital mechanics and trajectories for interplanetary travel just to make your novel more accurate, well you sir are a steely-eyed missile man.

With all of this focus on scientific accuracy, you might figure that it is a dry read.  That is where you are wrong.  Knowing that we would be alone with our protagonist for the majority of the novel, Andy Weir makes sure Mark Watney is an enjoyable person to spend time with.  Smart, inventive, and possessing a sarcastic wit, there would be no one I would rather be trapped on Mars with.  OK, maybe a sexy starlet, but I am sure I would survive longer with Watney to work through problems as they arose.

As for the challenges Watney has to overcome, Andy Weir does a great job of making them appear insurmountable before showing us how the protagonist overcomes them.  In the interview with Adam Savage linked to above, he mentions how he wanted all of Watney’s problems to be a “cascade failure”.  In other words, almost every issue Watney faces is either a result of the initial dust storm that stranded him there or the result of something he had to do since then to survive.  This is not the story of someone with incredibly bad luck; it is the story of someone forced to overcome incredible odds.

I know this review is a bit of a love fest, but I can’t help it.  The Martian is easily my favorite book of the century so far.

Now I just hope they don’t screw up the movie.