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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Review: The Martian

The Martian, as everybody knows, is the science fiction novel about an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars, and what he does to survive. It's been made into a movie (by Ridley Scott), but if you have 2 kids, you don't really have time to run out and watch a movie, but books can be read in drips and spots where you have time, so I checked it out (digitally) on the Kindle from the library.

The first part of the book read like Robinson Crusoe in space. Out of all the pieces of equipment left to him from his expedition, Mark Watney has to learn to grow food, and create enough rations to survive. Things, however, get a heck of a lot more fun (and exciting) once he scavenges one of the pathfinder probes and resumes contact with NASA. The project to rescue Watney and the coordination between Earth, Watney, and the ship in interplanetary space portrays a heroic effort with many people pitching in. Unlike many depictions of government agencies, NASA here is competent, filled with intelligent people, and makes effective, meaningful decisions.

The Martian's also a great illustration of how important story is. Weir does not write in fancy language, there are no multiple threads of narrative weaving together, and the entire story is written in linear fashion almost completely from the beginning to end. Yes, there are obvious places where he switches from first to third person, but those were essential. There are a few places where the accidents and setbacks that face Watney feel almost contrived, but I can forgive that: the book is interesting, provides lots of science, and is in the best tradition of science fiction. It's the story of an engineer who solves problems as they come up, and despite bad luck, survives via ingenuity.

The technical details are great. I'm normally a nit-picker, but I can't pick any technical holes in the plot or story.

An excellent read, and I doubt that the movie will be anywhere as good or detailed. Highly recommended.

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