Book Reviews – The Martian by Andy Weir (Spoiler free and With Spoilers)

Before I begin, I’d like to say a few words. And they are Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! (I’ve always wanted to use this intro)

Hi everyone! Today’s post is about a book that I have mentioned a lot in my previous posts. It happens to be my favorite book and nobody (including I) gets why.

Title – The Martian

Author – Andy Weir

Publisher – Crown Publications

Genre – Sci-fi

My Rating – 5/5

GOODREADS BLURB

A mission to Mars.

A freak accident.

One man’s struggle to survive.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, Mark won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills—and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive.

But Mars has plenty of surprises in store for him yet.

SPOILER FREE

While I normally wouldn’t give a 5 to any book as such, Martian is my favorite as previously mentioned. I think I’ve read it front to back about 17 times and I always have it open on my phone to read my favorite moments everyday. The movie might’ve made it look like living on Mars is easy, but an important attraction of the book for me is Mark narrating his thought process so you know exactly what he’s doing to survive on the planet. Not to mention, he has a great sense of humor. Anybody with a penchant for Sci-Fi and light humor should definitely read it.

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SUMMARY

The book is the personal log of an astronaut stranded on Mars. It opens with Mark Watney describing his predicament. What was supposed to be the best month of his life has turned into a nightmare.

Mark is part of Ares 3, a six-manned mission to Mars by NASA. However, the mission comes to a sudden end when a dust storm threatens their landing site Acidalia Planitia six days into the month long mission. As they evacuate, Mark Watney, the botanist and mechanical engineer of the group is hit by flying debris and is lost, presumed dead. The crew, believing him to be dead, are forced to leave before the storm worsens.

Mark, however, has survived. After being impaled by an antenna, his damaged bio-monitors displayed that he was dead but he had in fact survived and is now alone on Mars. He has no way to contact Earth and letting them know he is alive. His immediate focus is depleting food resources and finding a way to communicate with Earth. Using his “crazy botany skills” he grows potatoes and meanwhile plans a trip to the landing site for Ares 4 known as the Schiaparelli crater. He begins modifying one of the Mars rovers for this purpose.

Meanwhile, Mindy Park, an employee at NASA realizes that Mark is still alive and immediately alerts Venkat Kapoor, Director of Mars Missions. The superiors at NASA are informed and they come up with plans to inform the public, but decide to withhold the information from his crew mates so that they can complete their journey back to Earth incident free. Eventually, Watney becomes the most watched man in the world with everyone rooting for his survival, but he is still unaware that the Earth knows he’s alive.
NASA makes establishing contact with Mark first priority while also working on a plan to use the Ares 4 to save him.

On Mars, Mark is busy working on the Rover. He makes several test missions near the Hab (his Martian habitat) itself for this and names the missions Sirius. Finally he makes a long distance drive for about 20 days in order to retrieve Pathfinder, an unmanned lander that had been left on Mars. He is able to establish contact with NASA using this.

Now that Mark is in contact with them, Mitch Henderson, the Ares 3 Flight Director, convinces NASA Administrator Teddy Sanders to allow him to inform the Ares 3 crew of Watney’s survival. His crew mates are thrilled, except for Mission Commander Melissa Lewis, who is guilt-stricken at leaving him behind.

While tending to his potato farm, the canvas at one of the Hab airlocks tears due to Watney’s repeated use of the airlock, decompressing the Hab, nearly killing him and killing all his potatoes. He realizes that his deadline to starvation has decreased.

Given the change of circumstances, NASA prepares an unmanned probe to send him supplies that can sustain him till he is rescued by Area 4. However, given the time constraints, they are forced to skip safety checks and the rocket explodes soon after it is launched.

However, all hope is not lost as the China National Space Administration realizes that they have a booster they can provide for another trip. NASA strikes a deal with them and begin working on another probe for food supplies but are not confident of it’s success.

Meanwhile, astrodynamicist Rich Purnell works out a manoeuvre have a slightly higher chance of success. He realizes it is easier to use the probe to provide supplies for Mark’s crew mates on Hermes so they could go back to Mars and get him. However as this involves endangering 6 crew members instead of 1, Teddy rejects the idea despite objection from Mitch. Going behind his back, Mitch sends the manoeuvre to Hermes anyway and the crew decides to execute it against NASA’s wishes, hence forcing their hand. The resupply probe docks with the Hermes successfully.

Mark is informed of the new plan and immediately resumes working on the Rover. The new plan involves him using Ares 4’s  Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) to launch to the orbit where Hermes would get him. However while working on the River he accidentally destroys the Pathfinder and hence loses communication with Earth.

Watney finishes Rover modifications and leaves for Schiaparelli. On Earth however, NASA realizes there is a dust storm approaching him that could destroy the efficiency of his solar cells but have no way to warn him. Luckily, Watney notices the decreasing efficiency and manages to get out of the storm before it’s too late.

When just a few Sols (one day on Mars) are left for him to reach the the Rover hits an obstacle and rolls over. Luckily no major damage is caused and Watney reaches Schiaparelli. He reestablishes contact with NASA who give him instructions on modifications to the MAV enabling it to intercept Hermes during the flyby. The modifications include removing the front of the MAV, which Watney has to cover with Hab canvas which unfortunately tears during lift-off creating a drag and reducing his velocity. Watney suggests that he could poke a hole in his suit and use the escaping air as thrust, calling it the Iron Man manoeuvre. Lewis instead asks the on board chemist, Vogel, to construct a bomb to blow up three front airlock, hence using the escaping air as thrust to move towards Watney. Beck, the EVA specialist, then reaches a Mark using a tether and brings him back to Hermes.

In his final log entry, Watney wonders why so many people went to such lengths to save him. He concludes that while it could be said that this was because he represented progress in Science, it was more likely because everyone human had the basic instinct to help another in need.

MY OPINION

Like I’ve mentioned a thousand times before, the Martian is my favorite book currently. Mark Watney is very relateable despite the extremely bizarre and dangerous situation he is in. Even though his logs are extremely factual, they always manage to keep you entertained and engrossed. It is also pretty interesting to learn more about Mars and NASA’s space missions.

WHERE THE MOVIE WENT WRONG

While I enjoyed the movie too, I did feel it had a couple of inaccuracies –

  • They made it look like Watney survived on Mars purely because of NASA’s technology but so much of the book was about the inventive ways he came up to fight challenges.
  • They changed the name Venkat to Vincent Kapoor. I don’t quite know why I have an issue with that.
  • Mark never lost contact with Earth once he established it with Pathfinder. The fact that he traveled from Acidalia Planitia to Schiaparelli without any help from Earth was important to the book and I wish they hadn’t removed it.
  • Mark did the Iron Man manoeuvre. While I actually did enjoy seeing that in the movie, it was inaccurate with respect to the book.
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