Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Martian

Book: The Martian
Basic Information : Synopsis : Thoughts : Evaluation : Book Group : New Words : Good Quotes : References

Basic Information: 

Author: Andy Weir
Edition: eReader Nook Book
Read:March 20, 2016
          October 14, 2016 (Book Group)
304 pages
Genre:  Science Fiction
Rated: 4  out of 5

Astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars when a forceful evacuation takes place and the rest of the crew thinks that Mark is dead. But he survives an antenna through his suit and into his chest. Mark has to figure out how to survive without communications, limited vital resources, and damaged shelter.

His crew mates and Houston are unaware that he is still alive until a tech notices changes happening at the project site from satellite photo's. Things are moving around the site which needed to be evacuated. Watney is smarter than the average cookie and has figured out how to adapt and survive the hostile environment of Mars. Even more so, he has a knack for working things out. He figures out that if he can get to an old probe he would have communication with the earth-which is what he does.

At least communications enough to get a plan together  on his rescue. Of course, then disaster strikes again and he loses communications  and Watney has to travel across Mars about 2000 miles to a lift off point. With heroics on Watney's part and the crew which abandoned him, he is rescued.

I enjoyed the book, but I did not find this a particularly deep book. I think it can be broken down into these parts:

  • Accidents do happen, be prepared
  • Through intelligence, attitude and work, you can overcome obstacles
  • People will try real hard to help others, even at the sacrifice of themselves.
There is little religion in the book. To me this is more of a symptom than a statement. Weir is more interested in weaving a good story with scientific information than looking into the mysteries of life.

There is one exchange between Commander Lewis who avows she is an atheist and Martinez, a Catholic. But all which it  was said is that Lewis lacked faith, maybe faith of any kind or in anything. There is one more scene where Watney finds Martinez' wooden crucifix and needs something to start a fire with. Watney burns the cross. I had more of a feeling it was not a metaphor for burning away religion to make way for survival and science, but only because it would be appropriate for Martinez to have a crucifix stowed away.

Weir notes that the sandstorm he describes would not happen--the atmosphere on Mars is not very much so the dust would not be enough cause that kind of damage nor push over a lander.

I like how the phrase in says it, not science fiction but fictional science.

Weir published this in installments on his web site. That way he made corrections as he published.

The first line in The Martian is very indicative of the book. It goes I'm pretty much [f'ed]. Well maybe a bit more forward than my slight modification. The line contains Mark Watney's circumstances, the feeling of frustration throughout the book, along with an undercurrent of what am I going to do about it. It also has the language which the author Weir will  liberally use.  The tension in the statement is resident in the book, which makes it work.

Andy Weir blends the technical with a good story line. As what others have pointed out, it is like Apollo 13 meets Tom Hanks in Castaway.  While much of the book deals with the technical issues of survival on Mars, Weir does a good job of not bogging down the story with too much science. Science is more of a method to move the story along. Being someone who enjoys understanding, I liked how he brought in science into the story.

Being along, the resourcefulness, the knowledge, optimism and the drive all make for this to be a read you will want to sit down and read in a night. Oh yeah, did I mention that Weir brings in enough irony into the story that you will be snickering through your read? Enjoy.

Notes from my book group:

Most of my questions was based upon, but modified from, the LitLover's questions:

  • What would you have done if you were on Mars and something like the storm happens and a crew member was presumed dead?
  • A journal or diary can be a tool to reflect or serve as a companion. Do you keep one? How does it help you in dealing with your issues?
  • Did you find Weir's book plausible? Was it readable? Many times an author cannot combine the two.
  • How does The Martian compare to other science-fiction books? Do you think it will be something which people will be reading in ten years? This book group is not much on science fiction.

From LitLovers
1. How did The Martian challenge your expectations of what the novel would be? What did you find most surprising about it?

2. What makes us root for a character to live in a survival story? In what ways do you identify with Mark? How does the author get you to care about him?

3. Do you believe the crew did the right thing in abandoning the search for Mark? Was there an alternative choice?

4. Did you find the science and technology behind Mark's problem-solving accessible? How did that information add to the realism of the story?

5. What are some of the ways the author established his credibility with scientific detail? Which of Mark's solutions did you find most amazing and yet believable?

5. What is your visual picture of the surface of Mars, based on the descriptions in the book? Have you seen photographs of the planet?

7. Who knew potatoes, duct tape, and seventies reruns were the key to space survival? How does each of these items represent aspects of Mark's character that help him survive?

8. How is Mark's sense of humor as much a survival skill as his knowledge of botany? Do you have a favorite funny line of his?

9. To what extent does Mark's log serve as his companion? Do you think it's implicit in the narrative that maintaining a log keeps him sane?

10. The author provides almost no back story regarding Mark's life on Earth. Why do you think he made this choice? What do you imagine Mark's past life was like?

11. There's no mention of Mark having a romantic relationship on Earth. Do you think that makes it easier or harder to endure his isolation? How would the story be different if he was in love with someone back home?

12. Were there points in the novel when you became convinced Mark couldn't survive? What were they, and what made those situations seem so dire?

13. The first time the narrative switched from Mark's log entries to third-person authorial narrative back on Earth, were you surprised? How does alternating between Mark's point of view and the situation on Earth enhance the story?

14. Did you believe the commitment of those on Earth to rescuing one astronaut? What convinced you most?

15. To what extent do you think guilt played a part in the crew's choice to go back to Mark? To what extent loyalty? How would you explain the difference?

16. How does the author handle the passage of time in the book? Did he transition smoothly from a day-to-day account to a span of one and a half years? How does he use the passage of time to build suspense?

17. Unlike other castaways, Mark can approximately predict the timing of his potential rescue. How does that knowledge help him? How could it work against him?

18. When Mark leaves the Hab and ventures out in the rover, did you feel a loss of security for him? In addition to time, the author uses distance to build suspense. Discuss how.

19. Where would you place The Martian in the canon of classic space exploration films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Apollo 13, and Gravity? What does it have in common with these stories? How is it different?

20. A survival story has to resonate on a universal level to be effective, whether it's set on a desert island or another planet. How important are challenges in keeping life vital? To what extent are our everyday lives about problem-solving and maintaining hope?

New Words:

Good Quotes:
  • First Line:  I'm pretty much f'ed.
  • Last Line: This is the happiest day of my life.
  •  No plan survives first contact with the enemy. pg 233
  • every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. pg 304


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