After reading the first 20 pages of this sci fi thriller, I thought to myself, if high school kids (or elementary or anything in between) could read this while studying science, they’d get a lot more out of the content in their classes. The chemistry alone in those first pages makes you want to go back to the periodic table and get a better understanding of some basic elements. Early on, the astronaut Mark Watney who finds himself stranded on Mars after their mission must abort and he’s left behind for dead (except that he’s not dead) says, “I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Hermes or Earth. Everyone thinks I’m dead. I’m in a Hab designed to last 31 days. If the Oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the Water Reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m f—-d.” – Mark Watney. Thus his journey for survival begins. And from there, it’s physics, astrophysics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, nuclear engineering, botany, and just about every other type of science he must employ to survive day to day, figuring out how to feed himself, and eventually hatching a plan to meet up with the next mission in four years so he can get back to Earth.
Watney’s slap stick-y sort of humor/self-deprecation gets a little old at times, but the science and the plausible adventure story kept me interested. And just when we need a break from his character, the scene switches to the top dogs at NASA (who eventually realize that he’s alive and are able to make contact with him once he figures out how to make that happen). So we get the sort-of inside look at command central and how they might go about planning a Mars mission–exploratory or rescue. Or both. We also see the billions of dollars this would all take. And since NASA has been all but defunded, it’s also clear that this could never happen outside of the private sector. NASA, however, must love the hope and hype that this book offers.
The book was first published as a serial story on the author’s website (downloaded for free) after he had no luck getting a publisher. But with unmatched download success, Random House came running, and this book skyrocketed (pun intended) to No. 2 on the bestseller list. Amazon has 17,000 customer reviews. It’s set to come out as a movie later this month starring Matt Damon (I bet it will be a lot better than Interstellar).
All in all, the writing isn’t great (or even very good) measured by usual characteristics of writing (sentence structure, beauty of language, character depth, etc.), but the science writing is pretty cool, and in this book, that trumps the way I’d normally measure a book’s worth. This is a page-turning astro-adventure novel that feels plausible, especially with all the talk of Mars missions supposedly in our future if Space X and other companies continue to find funding to propel our space exploration program. (science-fiction)