Tuesday 29 April 2014

The Martian (not an a to z post)

I read 'The Martian' by Andy Weir at the weekend as part of the read-a-thon. It is verging on an instruction manual on how to survive an extreme experience. It is a little like an outer space version of 'Cast away'. Mark Watney is abandoned on Mars when his team think he has died and they have to make an emergency launch, and his story is recorded in a series of log entries that are interspersed with the story of what is going on back on earth, and also what is happening to the crew who are headed home. 

I have to assume all the science and maths is well researched and real, what would be the point otherwise, but it did get a little dull and I skim read some of the descriptions of how the equipment worked and when he was calculating his oxygen, food and water needs to survive until the next mission arrived. I know nothing about surviving in space but sometimes the whole thing seemed a little far fetched; I would have imagined a punctured space suit was pretty much unavoidably fatal, and I was concerned that their 'Hab' (habitat, I assume) appeared to be little more than a very fancy pressurised tent. He was very clever, though I assume that to get to be an astronaut you would have to be, and yet at the same time very stupid. I am not sure anyone would become so blasé about the life threatening situation he was in. He nearly kills himself several times doing very risky things. If your life depended on the equipment around you then you would be a damn sight more careful with it than he seems to be. It is a very plot driven book and the story lurches from one crisis to the next with our hero coming up with some very imaginative solutions to his problems. I found myself engaged not because he was such a strong character but because you would just have to root for anyone in such a situation. He lacked a certain emotional depth because the whole story is about how he deals with the practical problems, at no point does he really lose hope or have any kind of existential crisis. I was left feeling that he was not particularly changed by the experience, so maybe a bit of a 'bloke book' then. Having said that I did enjoy the book and have a couple of choice quotes that amused me:

"I unravelled Martinez's bed and took the string outside, then taped it to the trailer hull along the path I planned to cut. Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped." (p.220)

"There's an international treaty saying no country can lay claim to anything that's not on Earth. And by another treaty, if you're not in any country's territory, maritime law applies.
So Mars is "international waters"
NASA is an American nonmilitary organisation, and it owns the Hab. So while I'm in the Hab, American law applies. As soon as I step outside, I'm in international waters. Then when I get in the rover, I'm back to American law.
Here's the cool part: I will eventually go to Schiaparelli and commandeer the Ares 4 lander. Nobody explicitly gave me permission to do this, and they can't until I'm aboard Ares 4 and operating the comm system. After I board Ares 4, before talking to NASA, I will take control of a craft in international waters without permission.
That makes me a pirate!
A space pirate!" (p.260)

"Once I'd shut everything down, the interior of the Hab was eerily silent. I'd spent 449 sols listening to its heaters, vents, and fans. But now it was dead quiet. It was a creepy kind of quiet that's hard to describe. I've been away from the noises of the Hab before, but always in a rover or an EVA suit, both of which have noisy machinery of their own.
But now there was nothing. I never realised how utterly silent Mars is. It's a desert world with practically no atmosphere to convey sound. I could hear my own heartbeat.
Anyway, enough waxing philosophical." (p.284)

Conclusion: I think the film will be excellent.

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