Wednesday, 9 September 2015

A book review - The Martian by Andy Weir

I was unable to put this book down until absolutely necessary for life in the SNAFU household to continue normally.
The basic plot is about a future manned (and womanned) mission to Mars. During the early days of the mission a powerful Martian dust storm builds up to unexpected wind levels and their return vehicle is in danger of being blown over. Soon it becomes necessary to abort their mission, get aboard and take off before their return module gets damaged and strands them all. During the short trip through hurricane force winds to get aboard, one of the crew is knocked down by flying debris, injured and left for dead. Fortunately, but unluckily for him, he is still alive and so starts the long story of how he manages to survive in a hostile environment using all his skills as a technician and a botanist. At first he cannot communicate because the thing that injured him was the communication dish which is their only contact with Earth. Slowly he is able to learn how to survive, make communication and report that he is alive. Soon he becomes a media event and the whole world is watching his fight for survival. Will he be able to stay alive for the next four years until a rescue mission can be sent? A really, really gripping story. However, this book is written for nerds and space junkies. It uses a lot of technical jargon which is fine for the initiated, but may be obscure to many muggles. The book is factual to a degree that I have not experienced in any other work of fiction that was not based on real events. All the science and technology is as accurate as I can ascertain and not only detailed, but essential to the story.

The book reminded me of another one I had read way, way back called No Man Friday by a writer named Rex Gordon. Same plot but different. No Man Friday was first released in 1956 and Mars was a very different place then, we knew much less about it in 1956, but much of the story line is familiar.

This time it is a British manned expedition to Mars and again only one survivor. In this book the rest of the crew die before they land due to an airlock failure whilst our hero is EVA (outside the ship). The sole survivor crash lands on Mars, not being a pilot, and then has to figure out how to survive. Like the Andy Weir’s Mark Watney, Rex Gordan’s Gordon Holder, (yes same name as the author) creates his own air plant and water recycling equipment. However, unlike the 2015 hero, our 1956 hero is on a Mars with plant life and so is able to cultivate that. The first part is almost the same as both protagonists, using their technical skills, devise sources of oxygen and water. This is where the two books diverge, because the 1956 Mars is populated by Martians who eventually help Rex Gordon’s hero stay alive for fifteen years until an American mission is able to find him and take him home. There are no native Martians on Andy Weir’s Mars, not even bacteria. The book, The Martian has been made into a movie and I have not as yet seen this and await in anticipation to see how well the director has turned it into a visual experience or, like so often happens, mangled the plot and changed the characters around to suit their own interpretation of what could have been a great movie. Ok so I am a cynic, but it happens over and over; my fault for reading so many books.
Mind you, having said all that, the trailer looks hopeful.