A note from the editor: literature, like any other art form, is subjective. I realize that not everyone shares my taste in books, especially the person who reads next to me in bed every night. While my husband Zach and I don’t necessarily enjoy the same books, we both love reading and writing. You may remember that I asked Zach to share his review of Kent Wascom’s The Blood of Heaven last year. Now I’ve asked him to write a regular guest post that I’m tentatively calling “Fiction for Him Friday.” As you’ll learn, Zach reads a lot of sports and nonfiction, too. I hope Zach will introduce us to new genres, titles and writers, although I’m the one who put today’s book, The Martian by Andy Weir, into his hands. That’s what you do for people you love, right? Recommend books? Besides, nepotism and fresh content rock. – Alison
I have written manuscripts. None of them have advanced to the “sold” stage, and maybe it’s because I haven’t come up with the right opening line. The Martian by Andy Weir has such an opening line, and forgive the language.
“I’m pretty much fucked.”
Such is the beginning for Mark Whatley, an astronaut stranded on Mars after an unfortunate impaling that leaves him dead but not quite. A bad sandstorm causes Mark’s team to abandon him on Mars and the botanist/engineer has to MacGyver his way through emergency after emergency to stay alive on a planet hostile to life.
The end of the first chapter summarizes Mark’s plight perfectly:
I’m in a Hab designed to last thirty-one days. If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of these things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death.
Naturally, Mark’s not as screwed as he thinks, otherwise this would be a short, depressing novel. Astronauts in the Ares program have multiple specialties, which explains Mark’s botanist/engineer bona fides. The latter is good for things like taking hydrogen out of water to make fuel. The former is important because Mark has to survive long enough to be rescued by the following Mars crew, and that’s hundreds of days in the future. Mark finds a stash of potatoes, brought on the trip for a Thanksgiving Day feast, and discovers a way to get enough water to saturate the dry Martian soil and become the first farmer of Mars.
Mark eventually finds a way to communicate with NASA, who has to solve a problem about a hundred more times complicated than Apollo 13 to get Mark back home, or at least resupplied with enough food to survive. The rest of the book is non-stop problem solving. Mark seems like a bit of a movie hero for a while, solving all of his problems with brain or brawn. He does make the occasional error or two, because otherwise the tension would evaporate. He needs the help of people “billions and billions” of miles away to continue his modest goal of not dying.
While the book doesn’t make me want to sign up on the next interplanetary mission (the book doesn’t specify when this happens, and I’ll assume the answer to that is “not in my lifetime”), it does move the blood. Mark doesn’t accept defeat, despite some major setbacks. He chafes at times to the ultra-conservative ways of NASA. Let’s face it, the world was somewhat bored with traveling to the moon by the time Apollo 13 had its struggles. The human side of space travel is what makes kids want to become astronauts when they grow up.
I’d like to bring up one point: Andy Weir self-published this book first–the so-called kiss of death if you want to be considered a “serious” author. Three years after self-publishing The Martian, Weir has a publisher (Crown) and guys like multiple-Hugo winner Larry Niven blurbing the novel. The last 150 pages of The Martian are a rush you really can’t slow down. This is the “hard” sci-fi book of your dreams, with no space opera or green alien queens to tide you over. Andy Weir is the real deal. To learn more about the author, visit his website at andyweirauthor.com.