It’s really a wonder that we human beings have this obsession with leaving Earth and trying our luck off the planet. Our bodies are specifically designed for living within the narrow parameters of this world; take us away from here and death closes in from every direction! First, there is the small issue of food, air, water, and proper temperature - you know, the simple things. Next, there is the issue of cosmic radiation shooting its way through spaceships and astronaut bodies like nanoscopic bullets, destroying DNA structure to the point of guaranteeing cancer. Can’t you just make shields? Maybe, but it hasn’t been done yet. Finally, there is the issue of bone loss that few if any science fiction stories play up because it isn’t cool to mention things that we simply haven’t figured out how to surmount.
In Andy Weir’s The Martian, astronaut Mark Watney is forced to deal with being accidentally left alive on Mars after a mission is suddenly aborted. If you happened to catch the film Mission to Mars back in 2000, this is the same predicament dealt to Don Cheadle. I always thought Cheadle’s story would have made a much more interesting focus for that movie rather than the silly first contact story the film became, but thankfully we now have a meaty tale along very similar lines. The narrative comes mostly in the form of Watney’s personal journal entries as he struggles with his situation and ingeniously devises solutions with materials on hand. There is a very satisfying level of true science and math in Watney’s calculations, giving the reader insight into every calculation Watney must make in order buy himself more time. And when I say every calculation, I am not using hyperbole - it’s this unique aspect of the novel that will either make it or break it for readers. For me, I found it refreshing and inspiring. Weir has either spent time in the space program or done his homework well! He offsets the tension with Watney’s fun/cheesy humor, as our hero tries to grapple with his impending doom in the best way he can. Will he be able to make it home alive? Will he try to kill Gary Sinise with a geological rock-pick hammer?
Once you finish this story, you will want to run outside, pat the sun-kissed ground beneath your feet and coo “Home, sweet home.”