Wednesday, July 2, 2014

THE MARTIAN, second July Book-A-Day review


THE MARTIAN
ANDY WEIR

Crown Publishers
$24.00 hardcover, available now

Rating: 5* of five

The Publisher Says: Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he's stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive--and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to get him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills--and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit--he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

My Review: The UK Book-A-Day meme, a book a day for August 2014, is the goad I'm using to get through my snit-based unwritten SF-book reviews. Today's prompt, the fifth, is a classic hero book. Well, okay. I'm double-dipping here, I admit it, but if Mark Watney isn't a classic hero I don't know who is!

The Doubleday UK meme, a book a day for July 2014, is the goad I'm using to get through my snit-based unwritten reviews. For today, which appears to be World UFO Day (snort), it's your favorite SF/F novel, and boy howdy does this qualify!

Starting from the get-go, "Well, I'm fucked", you know Mark Watney isn't going to be one of those steely-eyed, square-jawed Ken-doll astronauts. Those came on the first and second Mars landings, vetted and trained (I don't doubt) by PR consultants as heavily as by scientists. Watney's on the third Mars landing, the one that won't get a parade on their safe return just a handshake and a Groupon for free Tim Horton's or summat like that.

And thank goodness for that, because Kendoll Astronautibot would've Died the Glorious Death for PR purposes. Watney's a helluva lot more fun.

And that is the crux of my review: FUN.
“Well, it is a photo taken from orbit,” Mindy said. “The NSA enhanced the image with the best software they have.”

“Wait, what?” Venkat stammered. “The NSA?”

“Yeah, they called and offered to help out.”
Maybe some po-faced Grimsby McFrownington doesn't think that's side-splittingly funny, but I sure as hell do.

This book is something unusual in my long experience of reading SF. It is exciting, it is convincing, and it is FUN. (Make that reading, not just reading SF.) Andy Weir took a very, very serious situation...life and death, not remotely figuratively...and didn't minimize any of the stakes, didn't make the mistake of downplaying OR overplaying the main character's nature, and delivered a believable smartass engineer, a lateral thinker and a complete fatalist who refuses to give up until he's actually assumed room temperature:
I could cut off an arm and eat it, gaining me valuable calories and reducing my overall caloric need.
I need a minute...laughing....

Now that, my chick-a-biddies, is Andy Weir making an angry, frustrated, maddened-by-stupidity old man lose it, howling with laughter, before he's finished his first cup of coffee. If I were religious, I'd have him on the Sainthood Watch List for performing miracles while still alive, from a long distance.

We all know that there's a movie on the way, starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott (he's a hard sneeze away from EIGHTY YEARS OLD and he's directing this! mother, may I please be Ridley Scott in my next lifetime?). The odds are reasonably good that this team won't eff it all up and make it into a s'mores-around-the-campfire-Kumbaya-singin'-Murrika-First nightmare. There are real stakes here, and the book delivers laughs while delivering some deeply pulse-pounding action.

And Everything Comes Out Right.

How refreshing is that. How very seldom do we get entertainment where everything comes out right. Post-apocalyptic zombie-plague vampires-eating-your-mama political/prison dramas. Kids dying of cancer before they're old enough to drink played as a romantic theme. Soldiers coming back from the idiot wars our political scum sent them to fight for hugely profitable untaxed corporate "people," who now even have religious rights that I don't think ordinary humans deserve.

It is not a pretty world out there. But for a blessed day or so, Andy Weir made me, the bitterest angriest most man-the-barricades-and-lube-the-tumbrils old cynic y'all know, smile with the uncomplicated happiness of a churchgoer at a picnic. It didn't last, unlike the idiot's bliss, but I treasured it while it was happening. Mark Watney, you get the last word:
I can't wait till I have grandchildren. When I was younger, I had to walk to the rim of a crater. Uphill! In an EVA suit! On Mars, ya little shit! Ya hear me? Mars!

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