The release date of The Martian has just been moved up to the October 2nd, 2015. The film, based on the book by Andy Weir, will be directed by Ridley Scott and star Matt Damon. For all of you considering reading the book before the movie hits, here’s a review.
The premise of the book is simple enough. Mark Watney is a mechanical engineer and a botanist. He’s also stranded on Mars, left behind by his crew. Not because they got tired of his jokes, but because they thought he was dead. Because let’s face it, it’s fair to assume that your fellow astronaut did not survive being impaled by a satellite antenna in the middle of a sandstorm on a foreign planet that has no breathable atmosphere.
Mark Watney is not only alive, he’s also desperate to get back to Earth. With all communication with Earth lost, a Martian Habitat only designed for a mission of two months, and the next Mars mission scheduled to land 2000 miles away in four years, this poses some rather obvious problems. On the plus side, he’s lost all communications with Earth, so there’s nobody at NASA to tell him off when he starts to rewire, take apart and blow up parts of the Hab in order to survive.
Astrophysics and Mars Pirates Made Easy
Author Andy Weir studied computer sciences, and it’s easy to tell that he has thought about the problems Mark Watney will encounter over the course of his time on Mars. From the most obvious problems like lack of food and water, to the slightly less obvious problems, like “How high can you stack solar panels safely?”, Andy Weir has come up with ingenious solutions to solve all of them, or to at least blow up parts of the Hab. This is where the book excels. The science holds up all the way through, the numbers add up and if you have the time, you can actually calculate when the Ares III mission that took Watney to Mars left Earth, down to the exact day (Andy Weir has confirmed it’s July 7th, 2035 ). For anybody interested in science, this level of detail and commitment is a treat. And if you’re not? Don’t worry, Andy Weir has a talent for explaining all kinds of things, from crop planting to space law and piracy, and not only does he make these explanations easy to follow, he also makes them fun to read.
Probably the biggest problem that both Watney and Weir have to grapple with is that Watney is The Martian. As in, The One and Only Martian. This makes dialogue rather difficult to come by. To mitigate this, Andy has Watney write a diary to keep himself and us entertained and leave a record of his adventures for future Mars explorers to find. This diary is anything but dry. As mentioned before, Mark Watney likes his jokes a lot, and so do I. While maybe not always the most sophisticated, they are quirky, quick witted and show a talent for insubordination. After all, it’s not likes there’s anything his commander can do about it.
While his diary is hilarious enough to bring tears of laughter to my eyes, books live of human interaction. In this case, all the supporting cast are either back on Earth or on Ares III, the spaceship that Mark Watney and his crew used to get to Mars. They’re all lovely people, complete with background stories, ideas and thoughts of their own, but I found myself not all that interested in the fate of the scientists at NASA. After all, what are a couple of sleepless nights working on a rescue mission compared to being stuck on Mars? The crew on board of Ares III fares a bit better, sympathy wise. Not situation wise. First they’re stuck on a spaceship, believing they left behind their dead friend, then they’re stuck on a spaceship knowing they actually left behind their very much alive friend. While this might make for good drama, it does not make for a pleasant year long trip on a cramped space ship.
«Astronauts are inherently insane. And really noble.»
At the end of the day Mark Watney is the protagonist and hero of the story. If I found myself waiting for chapters set on Earth to end, it was only because I was so desperate to know how Watney was doing on Mars. Every time anything launches anywhere I found myself literally gripping the book almost as if I was scared if would go shooting off too, and the list of things that go flying off is extensive. Rockets, doors, rovers, potatoes, water, drills, protein bars and astronauts, they all go flying of in every possible direction and left me reading «just that one last chapter» long into the night. I cried over a single bolt for longer than I care to admit.
I do not remember the last time I was so invested in a fictional human being 225 million kilometres away. So now, Ridley Scott, it’s up to you. Mark Watney is trapped on Mars, and I’ll be here on Earth, waiting until the 8th of October for you to Bring Him Home.