The Martian – Andy Weir

the-martian

The Martian is the 2011 science fiction novel by Andy Weir. The story centres around the astronaut Mark Watney, a botanist and an engineer, who with five others travelled to Mars for the mission called Ares III. On the sixth day of the team’s mission however disaster strikes, and the team are forced to make a quick exit from Mars. The twist of this story though is that Mark, who is impaled by an antenna is flung out of sight by extreme winds, as a result he is presumed dead and gets left behind. I say presumed, because it quickly becomes apparent that Mark does not die, he survives, though is stranded on Mars. The novel explores Mark’s isolation on Mars, and the fight for his survival and return to Earth.

If you don’t live under a rock you will be aware that Weir’s novel was adapted into a film starring Matt Damon in 2015. I watched this film prior to reading The Martian. Usually I try to do the opposite, as I find my motivation to read a book hinders when I already know what happens from a film. I was excited to find though, that this order of film then book, did not hinder my reading experience at all! I found myself just as intrigued and swept away with the plot as I would have been had I not seen the film adaptation first. – which I feel is a real testament to Weir’s writing.

First things first, you may be thinking that because The Martian is about space, botany, and engineering, that it is not a book for you. And, I must admit I had similar feelings. Having read sciency novels in the past that included a lot of scientific terms, I was a bit sceptical. This is because I feel that in these types of novels all the language goes over my head, and I simply do not connect with the story or the characters because I do not understand. However, I found that although Weir does include science talk, it is not something that dominates the novel, and the stuff that is there is very accessible. So, if the idea of science talk is the only thing putting you off about reading this book then you have little to worry about.

What I loved most about The Martian is Weir’s character Mark. The novel is by large written through diary logs kept by this character, so we really get a feel for him as a person. The logs are used to reflect of what Mark has been doing throughout the day, and what he plans to do as he continues his mission to survive. Though, they are not as serious and technical as you may imagine. The logs are humorous, thoughtful, and determined accounts which demonstrate the character perfectly. Mark is certainly a character who strives to see the positive in situations, and doesn’t let setbacks stop him. Alongside that though he is an extraordinarily smart and logical thinking individual, if only we were all more like him.

When I began reading The Martian though I did worry that the novel would be one dimensional and would focus entirely on what was happening on Mars. However, after a few chapters, I was happy to see the inclusion of what was happening on Earth, and then further on what was happening on the spaceship that held the rest of the mission teammates. So, throughout the novel we are presented with a very rounded story, which was effective in building up the tension. It was also interesting to see three very different settings, we had Mars, the space stations on Earth and a space shift travelling through space between Mars and Earth. It is not often you get to discover settings that are so different yet so similar at the same time.

Whether you go on to enjoy The Martian or not, what is unarguably brilliant about this story is how everybody rallied around and wanted to help this one man. It truly demonstrates the best in humanity by showing how people come together when somebody is in trouble. Suffice to say, I would highly recommend Weir’s novel. It is a humorous, engaging, and thought-provoking story that is too brilliantly written. I struggle to find faults with Weir’s work on this novel, though if you feel differently, I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Hidden Figures – Magot Lee Shetterly

Here i review the book based on the true story of the female minds behind the early days of space exploration

hidden-figures

Hidden Figures is the novel by Margot Lee Shetterly, based on the true story of the women behind the space programs in the mid twentieth century. The novel focuses upon the efforts of America to get a man into orbit around the earth, as well as the mission to get the first man on to the moon. Shetterly uses this novel to tell us this previously untold story of a group of black women who were behind much of the maths and calculations that made these missions happen.

Hidden Figures is a true but untold story, so it is difficult to dislike, as it is so unique. It was great to read about how these women fought both racial and gender struggles in order to do the job that they were doing. And what was also fascinating was reading about how some of these women were thought of as being ‘computers’. At a time when we are surrounding with technology it’s hard to imagine a time when computers and calculators did not exist to carry out our work and mathematics. But the reality is, of course there was a time like this. And at this time it was people with ridiculous maths skills that would be in charge of making these calculations – often they were calculations that would mean life or death.

So, from the perspective of Hidden Figures being a big eye opener and a reality check for somebody who takes technology and pretty much life for granted, Shetterly’s novel is a great read. However, for me, I simply felt there were too many scientific and mathematical references. I felt because I am not somebody from that world and I don’t have a real grasp on space and maths, that I struggled to keep track and follow everything that was happening. Obviously for a book that is telling the story of these women in the space program it would be impossible to not include the science and maths, as that is the story. However, unfortunately for me, I did struggle with the novel a little bit.

I feel that Shetterly did a great job in bringing this story to the forefront of many minds, and it was great to learn that a program such as NASA, which most would associate with white males, actually had so many strong and powerful black females at its core. So, I would recommend this book for anybody who is after a book with something a bit different happening and something whereby you can learn from. However, if you’re like me and get a bit bogged down with terminology and references that you don’t necessarily understand, I would not recommend that you read Hidden Figures. Simple because I feel, like myself, you might find reading this book a bit more of a chore than a pleasure. That being said though, in 2016 Hidden Figures was adapted into a film. This I found to be so much more accessible, and allowed me to come to grips with the story so much more. So, although I am not here to recommend films, this is one I would recommend.

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