by T.S. Snaefell
Copyright©2016 T.S. Snaefell. All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or retransmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of the author.
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Watney is an astronaut on NASA’s third manned expedition to Mars. When Ares 3 is hit by a sandstorm, the storm winds threaten the ascent vehicle. As a result, NASA orders the astronauts to leave Mars and head back to the Earth. During the evacuation, Watney is hit by debris and presumed dead by the other astronauts. The team’s commander makes a decision to launch the ascent vehicle, leaving Watney behind. Wounded but alive, Watney is stranded on Mars alone. He has limited resources and he must figure out how to survive.
The story of Mark Watney’s struggle for survival is truly a celebration of human ingenuity. Weir has done a great job describing a plausible manned mission to Mars. The novel includes an impressive amount of scientific and technical information gathered by Weir from his extensive research in the fields of botany, planetary science, astronomy, physics, chemistry, and electrical and mechanical engineering. A description of the technical challenges and solutions found in the book is very detailed and sometimes even overpowering.
Watney, a botanist and an engineer, documents his survival undertakings in his log. Many of these first-person segments of the novel read almost as a science or engineering lab manual, which might please any science geek. They do make the novel a more intellectual and less emotional read.
Watney’s great sense of humor makes his log more readable. Yet, the profanity involved makes it less suitable for a younger audience. This is unfortunate considering that the content of the novel could provide a great inspiration for youth interested in science and engineering.
The novel has little psychology involved; however, Watney’s story of his struggle for survival in a hostile environment is engaging. I cannot not say the same about the parts of the novel depicting NASA’s attempts to rescue him. Besides, the amount of swearing and “fist pumping” injected in NASA professionals’ dialogues sounds unrealistic.
At times, the plot seems less plausible because of the number of things that go wrong. That is, pretty much everything goes wrong around Watney. The Habitat, which has been used long beyond its design life, blows out; a drill shorts out a communications system built by Watney, etc. The chain of disasters that he has to deal with is unrealistically excessive.
Sadly, planet Mars, one of the main characters in the novel, is practically left out of the story. Readers are reminded about the planet indirectly when reading Watney’s log describing how the environment on Mars affects his survival. As the novel focuses on Watney’s attempts to fix things that do not work, little is told about Mars. Readers get a brief exposure to the planet during Watney’s trips, including his final trip to the place of his rescue. But it does not seem enough for those readers who wish to learn more about the destination of the Ares mission—planet Mars itself.
The Martian is a captivating novel about an astronaut who unwillingly becomes a lonely Martian and spends several months on the Red Planet trying to survive and return to the Earth.
All the wonders of Planet Mars, which humans have been fascinated with for centuries, are left far in the background and remain waiting for other literary explorers to reveal in more detail.
Kaufman, M. 2014. Mars Up Close: Inside the Curiosity Mission. National Geographic.
NASA’s Journey to Mars. www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars/main/index.html
Robotic Mars Exploration. www.nasa.gov/topics/journeytomars/index.html
Weir, A. 2014. The Martian: A Novel. Broadway Books.
Zubrin, R. 2008. How to Live on Mars: A Trusty Guidebook to Surviving and Thriving on the Red Planet. Three Rivers Press.
Zubrin, R. 2011. The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must. Free Press.