Friday, April 3, 2015

Tales from the Bookshelf: The Martian

Earlier this month I read The Martian, by Andy Weir. I'd been wanting to read this for quite some time, but I had it ordered from the library and it took fooorever for it to be my turn with it (I almost caved and bought the paperback when I saw it in Barnes & Noble, but I resisted). I'd read many good reviews on it, and with the movie coming out this Summer it's been gaining even more popularity. All for good reason, because this book was really great!

The Martian Andy Weir

Bio from Goodreads: Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first man to die there. It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he's stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive--and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to get him first. But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills--and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit--he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

I find the background on this book pretty fascinating. The author, Andy Weir, is a program engineer and a lifelong space nerd. Extensive research went in to making this book, as he wanted everything to be as realistic as possible! When asked about this in an interview with Crown, he said - "The basic structure of the Mars program in the book is very similar to a plan called “Mars Direct” (though I made changes here and there). It’s the most likely way that we will have our first Mars mission in real life. All the facts about Mars are accurate, as well as the physics of space travel the story presents. I even calculated the various orbital paths involved in the story, which required me to write my own software to track constant-thrust trajectories."

So clearly he was pretty dedicated to this. The Martian started off as a story serialized on his blog, and while it had an impressive following, he wasn't able to get any agents or publishers interested in his work. Eventually his blog readers asked if they could get an e-reader version of the novel, so he listed it on Amazon for as little as they'd let him: $0.99. Within four months, The Martian rose to the top spot on Amazon’s sci-fi best-seller list, then two months later he signed a book deal with Crown Publishing AND a deal with 20th Century Fox for a movie starring MATT DAMON. The book is currently number 10 on The New York Times’ fiction best-seller list. If that isn't inspiring for a writer then I don't know what is!

Official teaser trailer from the upcoming movie. Doesn't show a whole lot, but it's enough to make me geek out a little!

Now let's talk about the story. What I really loved about this book was that even though our protagonist, Mark Watney, was in a terrible situation with all odds against him, the story didn't feel sad and dreary. Most of the story is told from Mark's point of view in the form of "logs," which for Mark are more or less journal entries. I'm not sure if any real person in that situation could manage to look on the bright side 90% of the time, but fictional Mark Watney definitely does, and with plenty of humor thrown in, too. Mark seems like a cool dude to hang out with. I've read some reviews from people that don't like the way it's written and that Mark's light attitude sucks the tension out of the dire and dramatic situations he gets into. If you're simply looking for an edge-of-your-seat thriller, then I guess I can kind of see their point, but I still don't agree with it. You do you, Mark.

What they don't tell you on the book flap is that you also get little pieces of the story from the people working at NASA; from when they first realize Mark's still on Mars to their plans on how to get him back. These moments are mostly written in third person. Knowing what they have going on at NASA while also knowing what Mark's up to on Mars definitely added to the story, but often left me feeling even worse for Mark that he wasn't able to communicate with them and hear these things himself!

While there's still so much more I want to say about this book, I think it's best I cut this one short if I don't want to slip out any spoilers. But seriously, I can't recommend this book enough. I don't care who you are or what kind of books you're into, but give this one a shot. I wasn't sure if I'd like it at first because space stories aren't really my thing, but right now I wouldn't be surprised if The Martian is the best book I read this whole year.

Also I now know way more about Mars than I'll (probably) ever need to. But a little extra knowledge is always good, I like to think ;)

Run down - 
Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Published + Publisher: Crown, February 11th, 2014
Genre: Science Fiction, Humor, Adventure > Survival
Pages: 384 (hardcover)
Awards: 2015 ALA Alex Award, 2014 Goodreads Choice Winner
Source: Library

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