A few pages in, I thought I wasn’t going to enjoy The Martian. Fortunately I read a little farther, and found I was wrong. It’s heavy on science detail, but quite a fun read.
I first bought the book because of the movie trailer.
It looks really cool, right?
The book has a slightly different vibe to it. The underlying idea is still the same – one man, struggling against a hostile environment, his only weapon his ability to ‘science the shit out of it’.
How that reads in the book can be a little dry at times:
My best bet for making calories is potatoes. They grow prolifically and have a reasonable caloric content (770 calories per kilogram). I’m pretty sure the ones I have will germinate. Problem is I can’t grow enough of them. In 62 square meters, I could grow maybe 150 kilograms of potatoes in 400 days (the time I have before running out of food). That’s a grand total of 115,000 calories, a sustainable average 288 calories per day. With my height and weight, if I’m willing to starve a little, I need 1500 calories per day.
Reading the book, it was easy to imagine that there might be long forum discussions about different technical points in the book. I was right to some extent, although it seems a lot more of it showed up in popular publications.
Weir is really setting out to think through the science. But he manages to weave in enough of a compelling story; it’s about one man, trying to survive, and the entire population of earth rallying behind him as he battles his way across Mars.
It’d be possible to read the whole book, I suppose, thinking carefully about the science. Fortunately, it’s also possible to skim it superficially, trust that it’s right, and enjoy the story. And it’s a fun one.
Weir describes his process, and it’s a reasonable summary of what I think underpins many good stories:
Even though my plan was to torture Mark, I knew from the very beginning that I didn’t want my hero to suffer one unlikely, disastrous coincidence after the next. I decided that each problem Mark faced had to be a plausible consequence of his situation-or, better yet, an unintended consequence of his solution to a previous problem. He could suffer an equipment failure in machinery stretched beyond its intended use, but he couldn’t be struck by lightening and then have a meteor crash on him.
I think that’s a key part of what makes a story readable, and it works here. Well worth it.