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This book is “Castaway” for the space age. It’s a story of struggle and survival on a hostile world that astronaut Mark Watney is forced to make his home.
A spoiler free(ish) video review is here: Man vs. Mars | The Martian BOOK REVIEW
Some of my favorite parts (spoilers ahead): when Mark had to think extremely quickly after he’s launched out of his HAB home by a decompression. The airlock was launched with him and it’s slowly leaking. He has to stop the leak in the airlock (the almighty duct tape!), then do some extreme modifications to his spacesuit with a cracked faceplate – nothing major, just cut one of the suit’s arms off, use it to cover the smashed helmet and seal both openings with his supersticky goo. The seal isn’t airtight, so he does the math on how much oxygen he has (4 minutes) before he makes a run for it to the HAB to get another suit, then hop into the rover before suffocating. Intense stuff.
After surviving a year and a half on Mars, Mark is on the verge of rescue. His rover trip to an evacuation site with a launch vehicle almost ends in his death because of a huge dust storm that is so immense (it could last months) that it slowly descends on Mark without him knowing. His solar cells are slowly getting less power because of the increasing sand particles in the air. He only realizes there is a storm when he leaves the rover to stand on the edge of a huge crater and realizes that he can only see a limited way in one direction of the horizon. Smart guy. He now knows the danger he’s in. Go in the wrong direction. Mark dies. Turn back. Mark dies. Try to beeline through the crater. Mark dies.
The solution he comes up with is amazing – as usual. He lays out solar cells 40 kilometers apart and videotapes the readings so he can come back and collect them later and calculate exactly how much solar energy each gets at a certain time of day. He can use the readings to find out the direction of the storm and then drive in the opposite direction, hoping that it’s a circular storm and maintain enough solar energy to get out of it. (DISCLAIMER: I completely failed at explaining the science of this book, so don’t trust anything more than my general descriptions.) One of my favorite quotes.
The storm is probably circular. They usually are. But I could just be driving into an alcove. If that’s the case, I’m just f&*%ing dead, okay? There’s only so much I can do.
Mark’s honesty, humor and courage are the core of the book. He never wavers and shows a determination and hope that represent the best of who we are. His crew too has some amazing moments in the few pages that they appear. All are memorable from Commander Lewis (“I left him behind. In a barren, unreachable, goforsaken wasteland.”) to Martinez (“Who would you have eaten first?”) to Johanssen, Vogel and Beck.
Long live the Ares 3 crew and long live Mark Watney!