No… it’s not a low-budget 60’s TV show, it’s a 99c ebook called The Martian by Andy Weir, and it’s been optioned by Fox as a possible feature-length movie.
Paulo Ribeiro put me on to this little nugget of a book.
At first, it didn’t work for me. I read the opening chapters and found it a hard slog, but once the book found its rhythm the story moved along quite nicely and with enough twists and turns to maintain a sense of intrigue.
The story revolves around Mark Watney, an astronaut on the second expedition to Mars, a mission with a 30 day stay on the planet’s surface. During a freak storm, he’s injured and left for dead by the crew as they rush to escape before high winds tip their MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle).
In reality, within the thin Martian atmosphere, even hurricane-like storms with winds of 120mph will feel like a summer breeze on Earth. There’s just so little atmospheric mass.
For the sake of the story, though, it’s conceivable the MAV was built from lightweight, thin, sheet-metal to save on fuel (like the ascent stage on the Lunar Module), and poor design meant it acted as a sail, catching the wind. Or perhaps the MAV landed on uneven ground and the wind exasperated an already existing lean.
If NASA used the classic large landing pads seen on Apollo, though, with legs spread out broadly to increase stability, then the real danger from the storm wouldn’t be the wind tipping the MAV, it would be grit clogging the engine lines or erosion wearing through the insulation layers and rubber seals as the craft was effectively sand blasted by the Martian hurricane.
In any regard, Mark is stranded, and here’s where the story kicks off. Alone, with no means of contacting Earth and meagre supplies, Mark’s got to figure out how he can survive for roughly three years before the next mission arrives.
Mark Watney’s first task is growing potatoes and, honestly, this had me give up on the book for several weeks. Although it’s plausible, the writing at this point is like a long-winded question from a mathematics exam for 12 year olds. Unless you have a calculator handy and are passionately interested in running the sums, it becomes a bit tedious going through so many different scenarios.
I lost interest.
Paulo loves this book, and his enthusiasm encouraged me to give it a second go, and I’m glad I did.
As tedious as those calculations/scenarios are, an astronaut in that predicament would have to be that tenacious and resourceful to survive. I’m fairly certain he’d never eat another potato in his life once back on Earth, but on Mars, he’d have to do whatever it took to stay alive.
Beyond this point, the book kicks up a gear and the interest builds as the story expands. There’s highs and lows, there’s well-worked plans and unexpected disasters, there’s contact with Earth and humorous anecdotes, and the writing keeps you wanting to learn more about this celestial Robinson Crusoe, this Martian MacGyver. By the end, I was racing through this book, not wanting the story to stop.
Author Andy Weir has a wonderful grasp on the kinds of challenges a stranded astronaut would go through and the depth of thinking NASA would apply in such a scenario, and that makes the book fascinating to read.
At a buck, you can’t go wrong with The Martian. You’ll spend twice that on the next rubbishy candy bar you buy, and how long will that last? It won’t be as enjoyable or as healthy.
Anyway, if you’d like to idle away your time exploring the Acidalia Planitia on Mars, you’ll enjoy this plausible, lighthearted ebook.
And as for the movie, I’ll be lining up for tickets on the opening night