Finally there’s proof that I’m not the only one with Mars on the brain. Originally published as an ebook in 2009, Andy Weir’s The Martian was destined for broader horizons. Recently picked up by Crown Publishing (a subsidiary of Random House Publishing), it spent a handful of weeks on the NY Times Bestseller list earlier this year. Must be nice.
Weir’s first novel is all heart. And by heart, I mean comedy. Maybe that sets the wrong tone. Beginning again then. The book is all Watney. Mark Watney is the first astronaut (we all know there’s going to be one) to be stranded on Mars. And The Martian, first and foremost, is about Mark Watney. From the opening line, to the last page, Weir’s development of Watney through how he handles the obstacles that present themselves to him as he attempts to live on Mars acts as the life-giving oxygen necessary to sustaining his life on Mars.
The critics (really anything you’ll read about the book) frequently laud Weir’s attention to detail and eloquent grasp of the science behind traveling to and living on the red planet. But that’s not what kept my attention. (Like I have any way of verifying any of the story’s science anyhow.) What I do know is that I enjoy the feeling I get as bursts of unexpected air come out of my mouth or nose. And this book causes plenty of that. It’s a weird feeling, the feeling that accompanies laughing at unmoving text. But it is as enjoyable as any other feeling I can think of.
If you’re like me, you probably won’t rush out and buy the book based on a recommendation. But you might pick it up off the bookstore shelf and begin reading it. Here’s what you need to know as you begin to feel guilty for reading so long and hurriedly put the book back before anyone can claim that you must now purchase it because you’ve read too much of it: despite the opening chapters, the book is not just a diary. I started chapter’s four and five with a bit of a groan because while funny and interesting, it was a little too much Mark Watney. Then chapter six arrived in a much welcomed third person omniscient point of view. From there on out, it is a nice balance between the two.
In the end, it is a page-turner. It is funny. And its theme is hope. If you have any interest in one of those three things and are space-curious, read it.
Of course, that it takes 9-months to get there means I won’t actually arrive until 2023. The fact remains, I’m going. Back in 2011 Mars One announced its purpose. The Mars One home page reads, “The Mars One Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that will establish a permanent human settlement on Mars in 2023.” As far as a mission statement or S.M.A.R.T. goal, they don’t get much better or simpler than that. Precisely that kind of focus will ensure achievement of the mission.
For me, the idea became a reality when I first heard the quote, “What is possible is done; what is impossible will be done.” The quote is diluted enough to not really be associated with any one person, and more important than who said it is the idea it expresses–that being, everything is first an idea, even if only an impossible idea. Growing up in the 20th century surrounded by pop culture that included “Star Wars” and “Star Trek,” it is more than clear that humans as a group believe we’ll be zipping around the universe in the future. What I didn’t expect, but have now come to believe, is that it will begin during my lifetime…and could be me.
Placing all my fever-pitched excitement aside, I can’t deny that there is a nagging voice in my head that says, “Nobody is going anywhere.” Now Mars-One assures me that the reasons they are going to succeed include all the technology already exists, they’re eliminating the return trip (which was probably the single largest hindrance to past Mars plans), and they will be able to privately fund the project by giving the people what they want—a front row seat to the whole thing via some amalgamation of reality TV programming. This all still sounded crazy to me until they pointed out the ad revenue the last Olympics generated was nearly enough to fund this mission. And that was a recurring entertainment event. Settling humankind on Mars will be a first-time-ever event, and will change the nature of human existence.
Part 2 Monday…