Thursday, April 3, 2014

Shelf Life [adult]

The Martian by Andy Weir

Mark Watney, astronaut, is one of the very first people to walk on Mars. But he is currently turning the Red Planet’s atmosphere blue -- he is upset both by the fact that his mission to Mars has been suddenly aborted, and that while evacuating the surface his team thinks he’s been killed by flying debris, and leaves without him.

What does a botanist and mechanical engineer do, facing the task of solitary survival for the next four years, until the next Mars mission arrives? Fortunately for Mark, he is a creative and resourceful scientist. He calls upon every bit of knowledge he has ever encountered (along with some disco and vintage Agatha Christie to stay sane) and builds his own survival strategies. Right at the start, as Mark tries to create water and plant potatoes, the story is a little dense in its level of detail. But once the action really kicks in, it's a very quick read; think of “MacGyver on Mars”. It’s an entertaining combination of adventure, pure scientific ingenuity, space exploration, and humour.

This book is full of lots of hard science of interest to space fanatics, along with a fun character with a dark sense of humour that stands him in good stead in his extreme situation. Mark finds a way to communicate with NASA, on a patchy basis, and they make a plan for his rescue. Unfortunately for NASA, the fact that they’ve left a live astronaut behind on Mars gets leaked to the media; in the ensuing frenzy, we also see the desperation on Earth as people across the world follow Mark’s every move. There is also a good sense of the teamwork involved in space travel, as both NASA ground control and Mark’s team, now on their way back to Earth, engage in numerous strategies to ensure his rescue.

Pick this up if you’re in the mood for a fun, plot-based novel. If you don’t mind sarcasm and strong language, and enjoy the triumph of creative survival over harsh odds, you’ll love this, even if you think you don’t like science fiction.  Recommended for its strong setting and fast-paced story, tempered by humour. 

This review was published in the Stratford Gazette on April 3. Written by Melanie Kindrachuk, Librarian.

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