The Martian

by Andy Weir | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 0091956145 Global Overview for this book
Registered by erinacea of Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on 5/5/2016
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1 journaler for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by erinacea from Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on Thursday, May 05, 2016
Back in December, I watched the movie (which was great!) with some colleagues, two of whom already knew the book. When I asked them afterwards, they both said the book was just as good as the movie and one even offered to lend it to me. I declined because I don't like deadlines and already considered buying the book. I ended up doing so at the beginning of April, hoping to find the time to read it sometime during the course of my one-book-per-week challenge.

In mid-April I read 2001, which brought "The Martian" strongly to the forefront of my thoughts. I ended up reading another book after that one, but then this book got its chance.

And I loved it. I already knew what was going to happen, of course, but it was still really suspenseful. Some of the quoted comments (love those) describe it as "MacGyver in space" or "Robinson Crusoe on Mars", and both of these absolutely are apt comparisons. For me, my main impression was that it all felt so stupendously real. Half the time, I had to remind myself that this was an entirely fictious tale and that mankind has actually not managed to reach Mars yet, but it was difficult because it sure read like one of these biographical adventures based on a true story.

I'm not sure I would have entirely understood what was going on if I hadn't seen the movie first because I know next to nothing about space travel and its dangers. My only other semi-trustworthy sources on that account are "Gravity" (movie) and "2001" (book).
I would have greatly appreciated a glossary explaining at least some abbreviations. I still don't know what JPL or EVA stand for. (Hmm... "Jet Propulsion Laboratory" and "Extravehicular Activity", apparently.) Also, I know we got an explanation for MDV and MAV at the start, but it would have been nice to have one place to look it as a reminder rather than to have to dig it up in the actual text.

I was actually surprised that almost everything that happened in the movie was already in the book (except for the very end); I had expected the book to focus almost entirely on Mark and that most of the discussions on Earth were inventions of the script, so I was pleasantly surprised when this turned out not to be the case. Similarly, most of what happened to Mark in the book also made it into the movie (I think they left out the sandstorm, though), which is quite a feat. Man, now I want to see the movie again. (Maybe I should check out "Apollo 13", too.)

I was also surprised to find the book really well-written and full of interesting, likable, yet flawed characters. I really didn't expect that. What I expected was a very technology-focused story of how man manages to survive in extreme circumstances, and sure, that's what it is, but it's also so much more than this.

The ending left a bad taste in my mouth. I don't remember whether we got the same moralistic summary at the end of the movie, but I don't buy that whole "people stick together and help one another out because we're all human". Obviously it's fantastic for Mark that they did, but his rescue cost "hundreds of millions", possibly billions of dollars, and I'm not convinced it's a worthwhile expense for a single person. If people scrounged up that much money for, say, research of renewable energies or foreign aid, it would benefit a lot more people, and if America and China worked together in other crises, I'm sure entire wars could be prevented.

The truth of the matter is that everyone worked together to save Mark because he stood out, because he had a face and a name and a story. To begin with, the NASA people felt guilty about him being left behind (some of them knew him personally, I bet) and even as things got more and more difficult and expensive, they had already invested so much it was impossible to back out and still save face.
The media reacted to this unprecedented situation with an understandable onslaught of constant attention. Anyone making the decision to abandon Watney to his fate would have been the target of a concerted smear campaign. At the same time, I'm cynical enough to believe that once the whole attention dies down (in about a year or two or maybe in time for the next legislative period), that very same media will focus on the horrendous expenses and how much better they could have been spent in favour of the average American.

Awesome read. The only reason I'm docking one star is because of some of technical details being a bit hard to understand.

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