Wednesday, January 21, 2015

About a Certain Martian



"I'm pretty much fucked.

That's my considered opinion.

Fucked.

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.




13 comments:

the walking man said...

My nephew worked for NASA during the shuttle program and some of the Mars launches. I'll let him know of the conundrum and see if he can figure if it is artistic liberty or a calculation mistake.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

It was like a Sci Fi Robinson Crusoe on Mars. It was interesting how he approached each problem. I don't think I would have done as well -- but then I don't I am astronaut material either!

If you are enjoying a novel, sometimes you just have to forgive the author a jarring mis-step. I'm glad you enjoyed it overall.

I am very happy for Mark that THE MARTIAN is doing so well.

Magyar said...

__Perhaps, taking a chance is the space to fill; self publication.
__"Fiction" based on fact, might often be labeled, "Fiction- Predictions". _m

sage said...

I like the way you "pulled us" into this post! Sounds interesting.

Margie said...

I must check on this book if you gave it 5 stars.
Sounds very, very interesting and I know for a fact my husband would really enjoy it.
Thanks Vesper, great post!

Charles Gramlich said...

I had been leaning away from reading this book, but your review reverses that decision. I'll probably give it a go

Brian Miller said...

huh. we will be at the book store in a bit...perhaps i will leaf through it....its sad to do so much research and then go against one very obvious fact....

A Cuban In London said...

Loved the start of your post. I'm not keen on swearing but when it's justified by good writing I pretty much forget about it instantly. :-) Thanks.

Greetings from London.

Vesper said...

Mark, what an interesting job your nephew had! Yes, it would be great to know what he thinks of this...

Roland, yes, I think that Andy Weir did an amazing job with this novel - in many ways. Good for him!

Exactly, Doug! :-)

Sage, thank you! Glad you liked! :-)

Margie, Space and everything related to it have always been one of my passions. I hope your husband will love it if he reads it. :-)

Charles, for probably more than the first hundred pages, I was thinking of abandoning it... and then something just "clicked"... :-)

Brian, yes, that's very weird... I can't understand it.

Cuban, that's quite a catchy beginning for "The Martian," isn't it? :-)

strugglingwriter said...

I have to say I absolutely LOVED this book. It is quite heavy on the scientific details but in this case I think it added to the story.

One of my favorite books I read last year.

Denise Covey said...

I'm no fan of sci-fi, but it sounds like this was a really good story, even though you wondered about a few points. I have a scientist friend who is a sci-fi fiend and is always picking apart the science of every book he reads. Doesn't stop him enjoying the stories, though.

Thanks for visiting and letting me know my blog feed is turning up. I had to get real techno to fix this! Now I know how to 'ping' feedburner. Yay!

Denise :-)

SzélsőFa said...

An interesting post.

I've read a thorough article on mars one program, I found it on Paul's face..book page.
I am sceptical about it.
But at the end of the day, it is really fascinating.

IBU RISKA said...

Saya sangat bersyukur atas rahmat yg diberikan kepada saya dibulan ini karna alhamdulillah melalui MBAH RAWAIRE saya sekaran sudah bisa sukses atas nomor yg diberikan kepada saya dan saya yg dulunya cuma seorang TKW dari singapur yg gajinya tidak pernah mencukupi kebutuhan keluarga saya dikampun dan alhamdulillah berkat bantuan MBAH RAWAIRE kini saya sudah bisa pulang kampun,saya bersama keluarga dikampun sudah punya usaha sendiri dan saya tidak pernah menyanka kalau saya bisah seperti ini,jika anda ingin seperti saya silahkan hubungi MBAH RAWAIRE di nomor 085-316-106-111...karna alhamdulillah saya menan nomor togel dari MBAH dan kalau uang indonesia 750 juta,,ini bukan rekayasa dari saya dari IBU RISKA.untuk lebih lenkapnya silahkan buka SITUS MBAH RAWAIRE












Saya sangat bersyukur atas rahmat yg diberikan kepada saya dibulan ini karna alhamdulillah melalui MBAH RAWAIRE saya sekaran sudah bisa sukses atas nomor yg diberikan kepada saya dan saya yg dulunya cuma seorang TKW dari singapur yg gajinya tidak pernah mencukupi kebutuhan keluarga saya dikampun dan alhamdulillah berkat bantuan MBAH RAWAIRE kini saya sudah bisa pulang kampun,saya bersama keluarga dikampun sudah punya usaha sendiri dan saya tidak pernah menyanka kalau saya bisah seperti ini,jika anda ingin seperti saya silahkan hubungi MBAH RAWAIRE di nomor 085-316-106-111...karna alhamdulillah saya menan nomor togel dari MBAH dan kalau uang indonesia 750 juta,,ini bukan rekayasa dari saya dari IBU RISKA.untuk lebih lenkapnya silahkan buka SITUS MBAH RAWAIRE