For about the past year I’ve been hearing about this book. It’s supposed to be like Robinson Crusoe in space. It’s about a mechanical engineer, who is also a botanist that gets stranded on Mars.
Maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s called The Martian.
Apparently it’s so amazing that they’re making a movie about it. The trailer is below.
I don’t know why I’m putting it in this post because I don’t really want you to watch it, and now that I’ve said that it will be psychology impossible for you not to watch it. It’s kind of like trying not to think about elephants after someone says, “Whatever you do, don’t think about elephants.”
Update: The Martian (the movie) has since come out, and I was wrong above because it was pretty dang good. I added my movie review at the end of this post, which you can jump to by clicking here.
Anyways, I’d rather you read the book. But, alas, not everything makes sense, which was also my initial thoughts about the book.
An Engineer’s Thoughts on The Martian
The main character in The Martian is a mechanical engineer, who is also a botanist (I think I already said that, like 30 seconds ago), and his name is Mark Watney.
After an unexpected dust storm the crew is forced to evacuate Mars, but Watney is impaled by one of the communication antennas and his suit’s bio monitor destroyed. Unable to find him due to the low visibility of the dust storm the Commander makes the decision to continue the evacuation, thinking he’s dead.
When Watney comes to he makes his way back to a Martian Habitat (called the Hab), which essentially is a large canvas dome that takes care of radiation shielding, pressure, and oxygen.
He’s essentially left with 4 main problems, of which he replies (in the movie), “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”
- Water. There’s enough water for a 6 man crew for 30 sols (Mars days are something like 2 hours longer, so they are called sols not days). So at Sol 180, he’s dead.
- Food. Same situation as the water.
- Communication. He’s got to find a way to get in touch with NASA.
- Evacuation. The only option he knows of is the next Mars mission (Ares 4) which is in approximately 4 years.
As you can see he’s got some serious issues to deal with.
The next few hundred pages of the book are written in a journal/action format where Watney essentially presents the series of problems and how exactly he plans to overcome them.
It’s early, like 8 a.m.. I’m not a coffee drinker, and I don’t have any mountain dew, so my cognitive processing abilities are pretty low. Anyways, you get the point. The next part of this review includes details about the book. Proceed at your own risk.
I absolutely loved and hated this book.
The first 20% of the book is essentially Watney, alone, figuring out how to survive. I could appreciate a lot of the technical details (i.e. burning hydrazine to make water, or the mathematical and systemic calculations of food needed for survival), but to be honest there was a good portion of the details that was over my head.
Hopefully this doesn’t come off as arrogant. I know I’m no astronaut or astrophysicist, but as someone with a Master’s in Engineering that couldn’t follow all the details I have no clue how/if other people did.
With that said though, here are 3 engineering parts I geeked out on:
- Duct tape. As someone who has designed and built bridges all over the US, I can 100% agree that duct tape solves nearly everything. I think Watney would agree.
- The Rover. The amazing and cool ideas that he has (along with NASA) to retrofit the rover are just plain…well, cool.
- ASCII. I actually don’t know that much ASCII, but how he uses it to solve the communication problem was ingenious.
Watney finally gets in touch with NASA and this is where the book really took off for me. Partly because the conversations he has with NASA are hilariously awesome, and partly because there’s finally some other characters to connect to.
The rest of the book dips in and out of several crises that either Watney, NASA, or both of them have to overcome. Ultimately they conclude that Watney must use one of the rovers to travel 3,200 kilometers to get to the Ares IV MAV (mars ascent vehicle).
By the time I got to the last page I didn’t want the book to end. I was in problem solving mode and was thoroughly enjoying Watney’s comic air and ability to find unordinary (I don’t think that’s a word) solutions to extraordinary problems.
My 21 Favorite Quotes from The Martian
The last thing I expected this book to be was funny. But funny would be an understatement. I guess if you’re trapped on Mars alone, a little humor goes a long way. The following are my favorite quotes from the book. I had about 20 more, but these are my favorites.
- “I have some ideas. Really bad ideas, but they’re ideas.”
- “One thing I have in abundance here are bags. They’re not much different from kitchen trash bags, though I’m sure they cost $50,000 because of NASA.”
- “Turns out even NASA can’t improve on duct tape.”
- “Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”
- “How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.”
- “Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.”
- “Frankly, I suspect you’re a super-villain. You’re a chemist, you have a German accent, you had a base on Mars…what more can there be?”
- “I used a geological sample container (also known as “a box”).”
- “You know what? “Kilowatt-hours per sol” is a pain in the ass to say. I’m gonna invent a new scientific unit name. One kilowatt-hour per sol is…it can be anything…um…I suck at this…I’ll call it a “pirate-ninja.” There. I saved myself 3.6 pirate-ninjas.”
- “Conclusion: I don’t need the water reclaimer at all. I’ll drink as needed and dump my waste outdoors. Yeah, that’s right, Mars, I’m gonna piss and shit on you. That’s what you get for trying to kill me all the time.”
- “I tested the brackets by hitting them with rocks. This kind of sophistication is what we interplanetary scientists are known for.”
- “‘Just think of the playground cred he’ll have later in life,” she said. “‘My dad went to Mars. What’s your dad do?’”
- “They’ll probably say, “Thanks for gathering samples. But leave them behind. And one of your arms, too. Whichever one you like least.” But on the off chance I can bring the samples, I’m gathering them.”
- “I’m in the middle of a bunch of craters that form a triangle. I’m calling it the Watney Triangle because after what I’ve been through, stuff on Mars should be named after me.”
- “I can’t wait till I have grandchildren. “When I was younger, I had to walk to the rim of a crater. Uphill! In an EVA suit! On Mars, ya little shit! Ya hear me? Mars!”
- “Also, have I mentioned I’m sick of potatoes? Because, by God, I am sick of potatoes. If I ever return to Earth, I’m going to buy a nice little home in Western Australia. Because Western Australia is on the opposite side of Earth from Idaho.”
- “I’ll spend the rest of the evening enjoying a potato. And by “enjoying” I mean “hating so much I want to kill people.”
- “I’m traveling 90 kilometers per day as usual, but I only get 37 kilometers closer to Schiaparelli because Pythagoras is a dick.”
- “Who knows how far south the storm goes? Well, NASA probably knows. And the news stations back on Earth are probably showing it. And there’s probably a website like www.watch-mark-watney-die.com. So there’s like a hundred million people or so who know exactly how far south it goes. But I’m not one of them.”
- “I got bounced around a lot, but I’m a well-honed machine in times of crisis. As soon as the rover toppled, I curled into a ball and cowered. That’s the kind of action hero I am.”
- “Hey,” Watney said over the radio, “I’ve got an idea.” “Of course you do,” Lewis said. “What do you got?” “I could find something sharp in here and poke a hole in the glove of my EVA suit. I could use the escaping air as a thruster and fly my way to you. The source of thrust would be on my arm, so I’d be able to direct it pretty easily.” “How does he come up with this shit?” Martinez interjected. “Hmm,” Lewis said. “Could you get forty-two meters per second that way?” “No idea,” Watney said. “I can’t see you having any control if you did that,” Lewis said. “You’d be eyeballing the intercept and using a thrust vector you can barely control.” “I admit it’s fatally dangerous,” Watney said. “But consider this: I’d get to fly around like Iron Man.” “We’ll keep working on ideas,” Lewis said. “Iron Man, Commander. Iron Man.”
- “It’s true, you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl.”
The Martian: Movie Review
As I mentioned above, since writing this post, The Martian was released on the big screen, and here’s what I thought (man that sentence had a lot of commas!)…
For the most part the movie was incredible. There were a lot of very minor discrepancies, however there was really only one major difference between the book and movie that I was pretty unhappy about: they cut the entire journey from the “Hab” to Ares IV, which was a HUGE part of the book.