Not Your Ordinary Book Review: The Martian

Robinson Crusoe on Mars
I was with my cousin sister at her lazimpat residence playing hide and seek when I decided the best way to "hide" was to lock myself up in a room and just sit down in a corner. My logic was that if she can't see me, she can't win. Soon after a very boring few hours, my kidneys started crying out for freedom and I had no choice but to reveal myself. Only this time, I couldn't; the rusty old lock wouldn't open. 

Panic soon set in and I started crying like a little girl. There was no other person in the room but me and the only way someone else could open the door was if they broke open it. Of course, you can't expect your eight year sis to blast her way through like a super nepali ninja so all I could do was  think that the world had come to an end and I am going to starve myself to death and that all but the god of death is shining on me with her brilliant rays of divine yet demonic light. 

What a pussy. All i had to do was either unscrew the lock or use a lubricant to remove some the rusty, friction-y portion of the lock and calmly walk out. Nope, I had to make it such a big deal that the local police had to come make the rescue. Just letting you know, Nepalese Police are not really known for their competence, and they rescued me. 

How bad is that?

Think about what that guy would have done if he was left alone to die on the surface of mars. Well, that was what Martian was all about it wasn't it? Protagonist Mark Watney has to find a way back home after his crew leaves him stranded on the red planet with only life support equipment and handful of potatoes as ration. Tough ask compared to putting oil on locks and simply sliding it through. 

Besides the fact that I had never seen a book that dropped the f-bomb on the very first line, the very first thing I noticed about Andy Weir, the author of the book, was that his writing style was incredibly..how do you say..bloggy. The couple of chapters in the beginning felt like it was straight out from a blog. And also a story line where he knew exactly how the whole story was going to end but didn't know how he was going to play his engineer/botanist/astronaut to do it. Heck, he didn't even think about what his character was in the beginning. Because for 1) you cannot be a botanist and a mechanical engineer at the same time 2) you cannot be a botanist and a mechanical engineer who has an incredibly sound knowledge on rocket fuel chemistry. Nope it's just not possible. Maybe a hobby botanist but not someone who went to Chicago University to get a degree type botanist. And, I mean, playing with Hydrazine (N2H4) is no joke either. 

Notice Hydrazine there? N2H4 is something we deal often here at aerospace
Turns out my initial guess that it was blog post was indeed correct. Andy had been putting up chapters of the Martian up on his blog for the past ten years and the story has, since then, evolved to become an incredibly well researched book of hard science fiction. The book has been hailed for it's accuracy in presenting calculations that lead up to saving Mark's own ass and I really do have to take the time and appreciate the effort and tediousness the writer had to go through it to make it presentable and not boring at the same time. 

But more than anything else, this book is all about humor. I like the science part but I am nor a space geek or nerd or am I really that passionate about all that's been written. Nope, I just happen to be studying something remotely related but I what I am incredibly passionate is using humor in writing. Those are the real meaty-juicy chunky portions of book. I did listen to a couple of Andy Weir's interviews on the Inquiring Minds Podcast and with Mythbuster's Adam Savage's channel on youtube and you can almost instantly see where Mark Watney get's his humor from. The author was adamant in stating that it's his improved, super human, super problem solving alter ego of his and I do seriously believe that it is the case. 

If you have watched the movie and found Matt's humor incredibly ticklish, wait till you read the actual book. This was perhaps my favorite part after Mark ascents at an acceleration close to 12 g and breaks his ribs in the process. The part comes right after he's rescued from the torn down JPL developed MAV.

" I broke two ribs during the MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle) ascent. They were sore the whole time, but they really started screaming when Vogel (rescue astronaut) pulled us into the airlock by the tether. I didn't want to distract the people who were saving my life, so I muted my mic and screamed like a little girl.  
It's true, you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl"

The whole book was riddled with these, the other one I went absolutely HAHAHA was when his rover topples while on route to Ares-4 MAV on the surface of mars and he nearly get's himself killed (part skipped on the movie):

"I got bounced around a lot, but I'm a well-honed machine in times of crisis. As soon as the rover toppled, I curled into a ball and cowered. That's the kind of action hero I am."

pure. honest. ridiculously hilarious. 

Book keeps getting better. Notice the bookmarks for amazingly funny lines.
In all seriousness, Andy does show how real engineers work. They face a problem and they find solution one step at a time. Most of them don't work but for Andy to keep saving his character from all his death traps he himself set up, he had to come up with clever solutions. The fact that he was making things up as he was writing allowed him to be really creative and research the shit out of science in the process. 

One thing you are left wandering is whether saving one man's life is worth spending billions of dollars. Funny enough, the author addresses it and rationalizes by saying that when it's about saving people's lives, there is an almost primal need to help the person in danger. He agrees that while some people are complete assh**les, the ratio between them and the rest is so mind bogging-ly huge that their selfishness is never going to prevail. 

I mean seriously, what type of hard sci-fi author rationalizes like that? 

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