Thursday, October 15, 2015

Book Review: The Martian

Ilustration by Matt Taylor

I am a self-proclaimed science geek, and I am not ashamed of it. I have lived and breathed science since first grade, well until the year that I finally ditched the prospect of studying medicine in exchange of pursuing the road to my first love - aviation (well, it's still science, right?).

I started reading sci-fi novels at a young age of nine, starting with Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park. Since then, read most of his sci-fi novels. Timeline, State of Fear, Next, and Airframe were my four ultimate favorites. Until his untimely death in 2008, I thought that no sci-fi novels will ever surpass his works. Until James Rollins came. To be fair, both were good and they have different styles in presenting science to their novels.

A few weeks ago, I went to Fully Booked to obviously buy some new books. Call me an oldie but books are still better than ebooks, even if the former is more expensive than the latter. Then I saw Andy Weir's The Martian, with Matt Damon's sullen face as its cover. Its movie version was making some waves in social media thus I got curious about it.

Here is the book's synopsis:

When a dust storm forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, astronaut Mark Watney finds himself stranded on Mars's surface, completely alone. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity, his engineering skills - and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength - Mark embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

You know, writing a sci-fi novel is challenging for the reason that all those scientific facts presented should be appealing to both technical and non-technical readers. I have already read several sci-fi novels and most of them fail to catch my attention. I may understand the concepts behind quantum physics, or biochemistry, but when you bombard a novel with just pure science which compromises the plot, it would be dreary to read. Besides, I am reading a novel, not a science journal.

But Andy Weir's The Martian proved something. It has a perfect balance of science and a terrific plot. Readers, regardless of their social background and preferences, will never be left behind by Weir's scientific approach. You get to enjoy Watney's dry humor despite his desperate situation, the bureaucracy of the national government (see also: NASA), and how the book wholly represent the basic human instincts.

It's really hard to find this kind of novel these days. It was so good that I'm still having an existential crisis as of this writing. No kidding! I can still barely move on from what I've read.

Here are my favorite quotes taken from the book:

1) The cost of my survival must have been hundreds of millions of dollars. All to save one dorky botanist. Why bother? Well, okay. I know the answer to that. Part of it might be what I represent: progress, science, and the interplanetary future we've dreamed of for centuries. But really, they did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. It might not seem that way sometimes, but it's true.

If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it's found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don't care, but they're massively outnumbered by the people who do. And because of that, I had billions of people on my side.

2) Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.

3) “Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be “in command” if I were the only remaining person.”

What do you know? I’m in command”

4) “They say once you grow crops somewhere, you have officially ‘colonised’ it. So technically, I colonised Mars. In your face, Neil Armstrong!”

5) “The screen went black before I was out of the airlock. Turns out the “L” in “LCD” stands for “Liquid.” I guess it either froze or boiled off. Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.”

And for my final verdict? I give it a 4.5 UY Scutis out of 5. Yep, 4.5 UY Scutis, the largest known star in the universe. How big is UY Scuti you might asked? The median size of it is 1,708 solar radii. 1 solar radius is equivalent to the radius of our dear Sun.

PS: All stills were taken from this site.

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