Saturday, May 23, 2015

Book review: The Martian

I finished reading "The Martian" Friday night. It's put the forthcoming movie (Thanksgiving 2015) at the top of my list of anticipated movies. Yeah, more than Star Wars episode 7.

I had no choice but to read this book. None. While walking through the bookstore my attention would be drawn to this book over and over, visit after visit. I wanted to read it right off, but it was only in hard cover and I didn't want to read it $25 worth. I finally got it when I built up a pile of gift cards. Then it sat while I read all these other books that I really wanted to read. I should have just coughed up the cash. It's totally worth it.

The story is near-future, hard-science fiction. NASA is running a series of manned Mars missions. During the third mission a particularly bad sand storm comes up and the crew has to leave before their rocket blows over. One person gets left behind, assumed dead, when the storm stabs him with a broken off antenna and blows him out of sight of everyone else. When he finally comes to he has to figure out how to expand his 400 days of food into enough to last until the fourth mission arrives in four years on a different part of the planet.

The story gets into the chemistry of breaking down the toxic rocket fuel into components that can be combined back into water and breathable air, the reclaiming of Martian soil for farming, and how much food can actually be grown with the resources at hand. He has to adapt the rover for long trips to scavenge parts from old Mars missions, real ones. And it gets into what's going on back on Earth and on the craft that left without him and their efforts to help him once they see activity on Mars.

A desperate survival and rescue story is always good, but a large part of what makes this book so enjoyable is the writing style. When on Mars the story is told via the mission logs. More of a diary or blog, really. He has no pretense of formal, technical writing for NASA. He's writing as much to amuse himself as to document things for history or for technicians. On Earth the story is told more like a normal book, but you get people bantering more.

The movie will have to cut some of the more interesting parts of the story because they just won't work on screen. So be sure to read the book as well.

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