Wednesday, January 21, 2015

About a Certain Martian

"I'm pretty much fucked.

That's my considered opinion.


Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it's turned into a nightmare.

I don't even know who'll read this. I I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now.

For the record... I didn't die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can't blame them. Maybe there'll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say, "Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars."

And it'll be right, probably. 'Cause I'll surely die here. Just not on Sol 6 when everybody thinks I did."


Mark Watney is Andy Weir. Or Andy Weir is Mark Watney. I would have said it even if I hadn’t read the interview in Entertainment Weekly. But what he says there confirms it. “My theory is that every protagonist is someone the author wants to be or who the author wants to screw. Just so we’re clear, Mark Watney is who I want to be. He has all the qualities I like about myself magnified without any of the qualities I dislike.”

Read the whole interview. It’s a very cool one.

The whole book is in fact a vehicle for Andy Weir to be Mark Watney and to have an adventure on Mars. And that’s all right.

The other characters seem to be there only to deliver dialogue and move forward the story about what’s happening to Watney/Weir on Mars. I suppose their behaviour is typical of NASA employees at that level and in such situations. I don’t know. I’ve certainly seen it in many movies dealing with space realistically. Many other reviewers have complained about the two-dimensionality of these characters. I say that there’s no use in knowing more about them; it would be just unnecessary details.

Because “The Martian” is a story with one character, or —okay— let’s say two at most: the protagonist —Mark Watney, and the antagonist —Mark Watney’s bad luck.

Mars is not really the antagonist. Mars is just the background. If there’s one thing I would’ve liked Andy Weir to do more, is to have Mars be more than just the background, share more descriptions of what must only be incredible, desolate vistas. 

Each page is heavily laced with scientific musings and calculations, so, if you’re not (very) scientifically inclined, you might find it boring to read.

Actually, this is not a science-fiction novel. This is a very realistic novel. People haven’t stepped on Mars yet but they will pretty soon.

There is one thing though that I don’t understand. In the book, NASA spent a lot of resources on these missions to Mars and, obviously, they knew that there are dust storms there, some so big that they could envelop the whole planet. So how come such a well-planed, expensive mission is aborted just a few days in because of a storm?

Obviously, Watney “needed” to be abandoned on Mars and with plenty of resources left behind by his teammates, but I cannot believe that NASA didn’t have a solution for such a scenario. Maybe an anchoring system for the MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle) or something like that? After all, all these missions, of which Watney’s was the third,  were based on the MAV sitting there and producing fuel for the return ascent to orbit long before the crew even arrived to Mars.

However, the need to hastily abandon the planet comes from the danger of the MAV tipping over because of the high winds. Apparently, it was calculated for 150 kph winds and what they got there was 175 kph. And those winds were starting to tip the MAV over.

No. No. No. I’m sorry, but no.

According to Mars-One, “Mars has a very thin atmosphere, about 1% of Earth’s atmosphere. Because of this, hurricane forces on Mars feel like a gentle breeze on Earth. The problem of a storm is not that it will push you over or destroy material, the problem is that Mars is extremely “dusty”.” Read more about this at Space Exploration.

Mariner 9 has recorded wind gusts of 500 to 600 km/hr (or 300-375 miles/hr) and typical wind speeds in the Martian atmosphere exceed 200 km/hr (or 125 miles/hr). That doesn’t match with the 175 kph.

That being said, I simply cannot believe that the author, who seems to have researched and to have got the science brilliantly on everything else, could’ve made such a mistake. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe there’s a catch. If you know it, please share it with me.
Leaving this aside, I loved the story and I loved Mark Watney. His ingenuity and his optimism are infinite and contagious. It was a pleasure reading his logs. His somewhat childish ways, his humour, and his use of profanity are not only endearing but also —I think— his way of overcoming one of the direst situations into which someone might find themselves.

He’s a great guy, made of the stuff the first astronauts and cosmonauts were made of.

"I need to ask myself, "What would an Apollo astronaut do?"

He'd drink three whisky sours, drive his Corvette to the launchpad, the fly to the moon in a command module smaller than my Rover. Man, those guys were cool."

Watney reminded me of “If the Sun Dies” (Se il Suole muore) a book about the early American Space program by the Italian journalist, author and political interviewer Oriana Fallaci. If you can find it, read it. If you can't find it, at least read the quote here from “If the Sun Dies" —it’s amazing!

And isn’t it a case of very good writing when you pretty much know the outcome and, yet, you’re still on the edge of your seat reading the story? I think that it is.

I gave “The Martian” five stars wholeheartedly.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Taking Turns

This pair of cardinals has been gracing my backyard for many years and I was very worried about them during the brutal cold we had a few days ago, minus 18 F or minus 36 F with the windchill...

But here they are, on this balmy day of 12 F... Big sigh of relief...

They're always taking turns. He eats, she watches. She eats, he watches. Could be also because there's not enough space for them to eat at the same time... Welcome back!

He eats...

She watches...
He watches...
She eats...

Monday, January 05, 2015

Well, Hello 2015

I'm sorry to say that 2014 hasn't been a good year for me. I didn't write about this on the blog -although I did write a post or two that I chose not to publish- because I simply didn't want to think about it, couldn't think about it. Someone extremely dear to me lost her battle with cancer in June, and bad things happened to other people about whom I care a lot.

There is one thing that "saved" me, in a way, and that was working on my novel, my short stories, and preparing the collection of short stories for publication. You know, something like in Simon and Garfunkel's "I am a rock:"

I am a rock,
I am an island.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;

Holding that real book in my hands was certainly the high moment of the year.

So, what can I say about 2015? I certainly wish it's a very happy one for all of you, for everybody. Probably for the first time in many years, I didn't feel the moment between the 31st of december and the 1st of January as a threshold. 2015 doesn't feel like a new beginning, or a new hope. It's more like this:

I had no idea that this was a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for the WWII. Well, I can certainly use it this year... and perhaps I won't be just drifting away... like in this song that I love and that sometimes doesn't let me sleep at night with its obsessive refrain....

So, allow me to wish you all the best: good health, love, good books, and good music.... and if you haven't bought it yet, perhaps you might consider buying my book this year...

...from or Amazon. ca. Thank you! :-) :-) :-)