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The Martian: A Novel Hardcover – February 11, 2014
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"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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8 Tips for Surviving on Mars from Andy Weir
So you want to live on Mars. Perhaps it’s the rugged terrain, beautiful scenery, or vast natural landscape that appeals to you. Or maybe you’re just a lunatic who wants to survive in a lifeless barren wasteland. Whatever your reasons, there are a few things you should know:
1: You’re going to need a pressure vessel.
Mars’s atmospheric pressure is less than one percent of Earth’s. So basically, it’s nothing. Being on the surface of Mars is almost the same as being in deep space. You better bring a nice, sturdy container to hold air in. By the way, this will be your home forever. So try to make it as big as you can.
2: You’re going to need oxygen.
You probably plan to breathe during your stay, so you’ll need to have something in that pressure vessel. Fortunately, you can get this from Mars itself. The atmosphere is very thin, but it is present and it’s almost entirely carbon dioxide. There are lots of ways to strip the carbon off carbon dioxide and liberate the oxygen. You could have complex mechanical oxygenators or you could just grow some plants.
3: You’re going to need radiation shielding.
Earth’s liquid core gives it a magnetic field that protects us from most of the nasty crap the sun pukes out at us. Mars has no such luxury. All kinds of solar radiation gets to the surface. Unless you’re a fan of cancer, you’re going to want your accommodations to be radiation-shielded. The easiest way to do that is to bury your base in Martian sand and rocks. They’re not exactly in short supply, so you can just make the pile deeper and deeper until it’s blocking enough.
4: You’re going to need water.
Again, Mars provides. The Curiosity probe recently discovered that Martian soil has quite a lot of ice in it. About 35 liters per cubic meter. All you need to do is scoop it up, heat it, and strain out the water. Once you have a good supply, a simple distillery will allow you to reuse it over and over.
5: You’re going to need food.
Just eat Martians. They taste like chicken.
6: Oh, come on.
All right, all right. Food is the one thing you need that can’t be found in abundance on Mars. You’ll have to grow it yourself. But you’re in luck, because Mars is actually a decent place for a greenhouse. The day/night cycle is almost identical to Earth’s, which Earth plants evolved to optimize for. And the total solar energy hitting the surface is enough for their needs.
But you can’t just grow plants on the freezing, near-vacuum surface. You’ll need a pressure container for them as well. And that one might have to be pretty big. Just think of how much food you eat in a year and imagine how much space it takes to grow it.
Hope you like potatoes. They’re the best calorie yield per land area.
7: You’re going to need energy.
However you set things up, it won’t be a self-contained system. Among other things, you’ll need to deal with heating your home and greenhouse. Mars’s average daily temperature is -50C (-58F), so it’ll be a continual energy drain to keep warm. Not to mention the other life support systems, most notably your oxygenator. And if you’re thinking your greenhouse will keep the atmosphere in balance, think again. A biosphere is far too risky on this scale.
8: You’re going to need a reason to be there.
Why go out of your way to risk your life? Do you want to study the planet itself? Start your own civilization? Exploit local resources for profit? Make a base with a big death ray so you can address the UN while wearing an ominous mask and demand ransom? Whatever your goal is, you better have it pretty well defined, and you better really mean it. Because in the end, Mars is a harsh, dangerous place and if something goes wrong you’ll have no hope of rescue. Whatever your reason is, it better be worth it.
Remember Man Plus, Frederik Pohl’s award-winning 1976 novel about a cyborg astronaut who’s sent, alone, to Mars? Imagine, instead, that the astronaut was just a regular guy, part of a team sent to the red planet, and that, through a series of tragic events, he’s left behind, stranded and facing certain death. That’s the premise of this gripping and (given its subject matter) startlingly plausible novel. The story is told mostly through the log entries of astronaut Mark Watney, chronicling his efforts to survive: making the prefab habitat livable and finding a way to grow food, make water, and get himself off the planet. Interspersed among the log entries are sections told from the point of view of the NASA specialists, back on Earth, who discover that Watney is not dead (as everyone assumed) and scramble together a rescue plan. There are some inevitable similarities between the book and the 1964 movie Robinson Crusoe on Mars, but where the movie was a broad sci-fi adventure, the novel is a tightly constructed and completely believable story of a man’s ingenuity and strength in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Riveting. --David Pitt
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The main character, Watney, presumed dead, is accidentally left by his crew mates when an intense Martian dust storm forces them to abort their mission. What follows for part of the book is a logbook style narrative that describes in great technical detail Watney's efforts to extend his life until the next scheduled mission arrives in 4 years. After reading just the first 20% of the book (my Kindle has no page numbers) one can't help but be impressed by the author's depth of knowledge in this regard. In fact, the entire book is an astronaut's primer on extraterrestrial and deep space survival and rescue.
The Martian isn't without its typos and editorial glitches, and I'm not sure if this was a result of a bad Kindle conversion or just a shortsighted editor. For me, though, typos and editing issues paled in comparison to the snowballing storyline, which I gladly admit is not for everyone.
This is not a touchy-feely book about love, romance or relationships. There is no overpowering angle between characters. No good guys in white hats and bad guys in black hats. There's no room for cliches. It's all very business like and scientific. So, if you're looking for Twilight in Space. Or Fifty Shades of Mars. Or Tom Hanks making himself a friend by drawing a face on a soccer ball, you'll probably want to skip this one. This book is simply about the mission, and the cold reality of working hard to turn a wrong into a right.
Another thing you won't find in this book is a lot of heartfelt reminiscing or reflection. There are no flashbacks of our main character fishing with Dad at the old water hole, or him riding his first bicycle without training wheels. This is a book about a guy with a keen intellect surviving on a hostile planet and doing so by making the most out of a given set of resources.
About a third of the way through the book, the author adds third person narratives from mission control and the Hermes space craft, the latter manned by the crew that left our hero behind -- and make no mistake, hero is the operative word. Again, we don't follow our mission control cast of characters back too their respective homes and meet their wives and husbands and get served up cliche insights into their innermost thoughts. Blech! I hate those stories! Which doesn't mean these characters are cookie cutter or superficial. On the contrary, I found the characters sufficiently individuated and interesting.
I highly recommend this book to people who are into reading hard sci-fi of the not-too-distant future, sci-fi without blasters and ray guns or 9' tall aliens that bleed acid. (Btw, I like those stories, too, but good ones are hard to find.)
Somebody did their homework on this one -- and that's what stands out above all else.
For some reason I thought the Matt Damon movie was coming out next year, but as soon as I heard it was THIS October, this rocketed to the top of my To Read pile (get it?).
I'm sure the movie will disappoint (they almost always do; that's why I usually try to watch a movie to enjoy it first and THEN read the book so I can enjoy both), but I don't care because the book was amazing. Loved every minute of it.
It's set in the near future after NASA has already sent two manned Ares missions to Mars. Mark Watney is part of Ares 3, but their mission gets cut short after less than a week thanks to a huge dust storm that forces them to abort and evacuate immediately. During their escape, a piece of antenna impales Mark directly through his bio-monitor and the entire crew assumes him dead. Luckily for Mark, the puncture wound wasn't too serious and his space suit never decompressed. Unluckily for Mark, the crew continued with their planned evac after not finding his body & seeing his flat bio-readings, taking all comm systems with them.
Watney is stuck on Mars with enough provisions to last six people about a month (or one person about six months). The next planned mission to Mars is 4 years away so Watney has to rely on his botany background to somehow grow food on the desolate red planet.
A series of unfortunate events occur, and the storytelling by Andy Weir is just fantastic. There's a short essay written by Weir in the end of the e-book that talks about how he chose to create problems from Watney's solutions. As I read the book, I kept expecting the worst to happen and was surprised when he didn't have a meteor land on top of him as he became a new crater! It was nice to read how Weir specifically avoided giving Watney the worst luck possible and tried to stick to more real life problems.
The Martian starts off as a simple first-person narrative in the form of Mark's journal entries. The first lines:
LOG ENTRY: SOL 6
I'm pretty much f***ed.
That's my considered opinion.
immediately drew me in. Watney is intelligent, charming, inventive, and hilarious! His diary entries often go day by day with a good mix of science, math, suspense and jokes. Another great journal entry [after Watney realizes everything he writes will be broadcast all over the world (if he's saved)] is, "Look! A pair of boobs! -> (.Y.)"
Without getting too spoilery, the novel does switch from first person journal entry narrative to third-person authorial narrative as we see how the guys at NASA & JPL deal with finding out Watney didn't die on Sol 6 and how his Ares 3 crewmates deal with the fact he's still alive. The story transitions from day to day journal entries to entries & narration that span weeks or months, but the suspense never really lets up. Watney almost dies like a dozen times but he's always cheerful/humble as he attempts to stay alive ("Mars and my stupidity keep trying to kill me"). Back on Earth, dozens of scientists band together to spend millions (if not billions) of dollars to save one man and eventually the whole planet watches their televisions as everything draws to an exciting conclusion.
Can't lie—near the end I got a little misty-eyed. And I laughed out loud several times throughout. I think Ridley Scott (director of Alien) is going to do great with this. Can't wait to see Matt Damon use his funny bone as Watney. The whole cast (Mara, Wiig, Chastain, Bean, Ejiofor, Daniels, Peña, Glover, et al) looks great. I really want to just read the book again since the movie isn't coming out for another month...