The Martian: what hard Sci-Fi should be (book review)

Q Awesome Sauce, Book Review 1 Comment

A bad day for Mark Watney

I actually got through this book a month or two ago, but, for some strange reason, didn’t bother writing a review of it.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me, because this book DEFINITELY deserves the attention.

Why?  Because it was awesome; that’s why.  Seriously, this book is fantastic, and, despite being an overly critical person, I would have to put some real effort into finding something to complain about.

Andy Weir took his science VERY seriously, and unless you’re a professional astronaut or an astrobiologist, I doubt you’ll find any problem believing the events in this book could be possible.  On top of the good science (Hollywood, you could learn something), Weir manages to tell a pretty damn compelling story, with a hero you’re going to love.  In other words: some mighty fine hard sci-fi.

Details after the break (with spoilers thrown in to spice things up–you’ve been warned).

What I didn’t like (sorta)

Traditionally, I point out flaws (as I see them) in the movies or books I review before getting to the stuff I like.  For The Martian, this is a bit of a challenge.

Some people might call Weir’s world-view naive, insisting that we could never unify so strongly to achieve any goal.

Just about everyone on Earth bands together in this book to save one stranded astronaut on Mars.  A freak accident in a sand storm separates Mark Watney from the rest of the mission team and they are forced to leave him behind before their lander is destroyed.  For a few months, everyone thinks Watney is dead.

NASA_LogoHowever, after Watney’s funeral, satellite photos show irrefutable evidence that the lone martian is, indeed, alive.  What follows is a mad rush of support and love for Watney.  NASA bands together with the China’s space program to send supplies so Mark can survive, the crew of the original mission risks their lives to turn back and get the man, and everyone, everywhere watches with baited breath.

The more jaded individuals out there would call shenanigans on this.  They’d insist that nobody cares enough about saving one astronaut to spend billions of dollars, ally with old enemies, and generally throw a lot of grudges and hate out the door.

This is where the “sorta” in the heading comes in–I disagree.  In today’s society, it’s the loud, obnoxious, opinionated, bigoted assholes who make the most noise.  Generally good people don’t feel the need to scream to the world, “Hey!  I’m here, and I’m a good person!”  There’s just not need.  Whereas the aforementioned assholes know, deep down, that they’re assholes.  Because of the basic human need to belong, they shout their idiocy at the world in a desperate effort to get people to agree with them.

In short, bad people make more noise than good people, but that doesn’t mean there are more bad people out there than good.  In fact, the evidence would seem to suggest the opposite (seriously, read the book, there are examples).


So, while I don’t have a problem with the world banding together to save Mark Watney, I can see how some people would.  Personally, I see it as a fairly realistic portrayal of humanity growing up a bit–and hey, go back and review the news coverage of the first moon landing.  Everyone was watching that.

What I did like

There’s too much here to really go over in detail–I’d have to write you a complete essay.  The book is awesome, and instantly became a favorite of mine.

What I liked most was the hope.  Andy Weir takes a decidedly unjaded view of humanity in this book.  It seems like everyone wants to save Mark Watney.  Sure, NASA is a public organization, and it shares data with the world openly, so people were bound to discover that Watney was alive.  Everyone knows that politicians would sell their kids if it kept them in office, and refusing to save a man stranded on Mars probably would have been political suicide, making policy makers look evil and heartless.

In short, the leaders of NASA and the space program in China leveraged political greed to save Watney.

OK, I know I made that sound a little less than noble, but think about it.  Refusing to save Watney would have been political suicide.  That’s the key!  It’s only political suicide because the people of the world wanted to save Watney.  He was a symbol that everyone could rally behind–a reason to come together, and a common goal to achieve.

It’s simple, really: Watney is a single man, and thus provides focus.  Psychologists talked to Watney as part of his training, so they could go on TV and share what they knew of the man.  Pictures of him could be shown to the public so they all knew his face.  One man is easy to remember.  He was lost on a mission to discover new things and was an explorer–furthering humanity’s reach and knowledge.  Basically, he was the ultimate celebrity.  Most of the time, natrual disasters and other horrible noteworthy events have so many faces that it’s hard to connect personally to any one individual involved.  Watney was one guy, in space, which made it so much easier.

I loved that everyone banded together to help, and I love how Weir points out that, historically, this desire to help isn’t an uncommon thing for humanity.  Yeah, you’ve got loud-mouth talking heads on TV telling you how horrible everything is, and encouraging you to fight against any idea they disagree with, but, for the most part, people are good.

This book will remind of you of that, and it’s well written to boot!  Go get it!

Everyone loves an astronaut!

Comments 1

  1. Pingback: Cleveland, the RNC, and peace (a humble nerd’s perspective) | Q Continuously

Let me (and others) know what you think

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.