The Martian by Andy Weir
Reviewed by Steve Bowers
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Broadway Books; Reprint edition (October 28, 2014)Language:
I first encountered this story online a couple of years ago. Andy Weir, who already has a popular online comic to his name, was serialising the story in instalments, and these were already making waves. By the time I got to read them there were only disjointed fragments online - as the decision to publish had already been made- but those fragments were very, very good.
Set maybe thirty years from now in a realistically extrapolated future, Weir's The Martian tells the story of an astronaut left behind on the Red Planet by accident. The technology he has available to him, and the clever fixes he uses to survive, are all very reasonable. Some terrible life-threatening disasters occur as well, often caused by minor, inadvertent mistakes he has made.
I'm particularly interested in the nuts and bolts of this mission; such devices as the atmospheric regulator, the water reclaimer and the radioisotope thermoelectric generator are plausibly described and used to good effect by Watney, the protagonist. He makes a good effort at establishing a Closed Ecological Life Support System as well, although this is far from straightforward. It is interesting to note the details of the mission itself- it is a modification of the plan known as Mars Semi-Direct, apparently, although Weir has amended it to incorporate the use of a VASIMR propulsion system; it seems that Weir wrote a program to calculate how this system would affect the mission profile. But none of this sophistication is intrusive into the tale - it is just basically a ripping yarn and a survival story.
Sometimes Watney might seem a little too competent to be believable, or at least I would have thought so if I hadn't recently read the biography of Ernest Shackleton. Despite the most appalling hardships, Shackleton never gave in to self-doubt, and I think that the fictional Watney is a similar sort of character. In the fast-moving final act of this book, Watney comes up with a rescue plan so bizarre that even he couldn't make it work; but it turns out he's not the only MacGyver on this mission.
Recommended. Table of Contents