Review: "The Martian" by Andy Weir

  • Posted on: 19 April 2016
  • By: TedG

We discussed The Martian, recommended by Scott Smith. Though six of us attended, only three of us read the book. Excuses ranged from travel schedules to “I saw the movie.” However, the discussion was lively. (Three others who could not attend, but had read the book, sent their comments by email. Those are woven into the following review.)

Scott, himself an engineer, led the discussion. He, and the rest of us, were drawn to the technical details of the story––clearly set in the future but grounded in current or near future science and technology. The story revolved around the protagonist––stranded on Mars––developing often low-tech solutions to what appeared to be overwhelming technical problems; something like MacGyver on Mars. Conversely, both John and Angelo, though they liked the book, found the technical details a little challenging. John was flat-out “bored with some of the technical stuff,” but was able to “[skim] right along to the next generally exciting narration,” while Angelo noted that he “got slowed down by the technical parts, which at times seemed to go on and on.” Somewhat like the group’s MacGyver reference, though, John also mentioned that the book “at times, was like a TV serial, waiting to tune in next week right as some catastrophe occurred.”

Another thread of conversation had to do with the cost of space travel––is it worth the huge cost given the many unresolved problems we currently face here on Earth? In the story, the space ship returns to Mars when they realize that the person left behind for dead was indeed still alive. At huge cost and risk to the crew, they chose to return to recover their comrade––was it worth the risk?  We decided that given the military backgrounds and training of astronauts, the decision to take the risk was understandable. “Leave no comrade behind” is a basic tenet of military operations.

That led to the observation that these folks––or anyone contemplating a trip to Mars––needs a broad range of technical skills to cope with the uncertainties inherent in this type of exploration. And not only technical skills, but also a calm, balanced, and level personality that allows them to operate effectively in stressful situations and function well in close quarters with others for long periods of time. Folks need something to do in these circumstances, otherwise the boredom could be crippling.

As to the question of the worth of space exploration, we agreed that exploration is a fundamental human drive, akin to and a necessary part of our natural curiosity. It feeds our soul. And any technical or other spin offs––Tang, teflon––are fine, but not the primary purpose of the enterprise.

Though Ron thought the entire story was a stretch, the group in attendance only raised one criticism about the logic of the story. That concerned the windstorm on Mars that caused the “Martian” to be left behind. We thought it unlikely that there could be a serious windstorm on Mars given its very thin atmosphere. Otherwise the story hung together well.

Only those who read the book (not the movie goers) were allowed to rate the book. (But the rest of us liked the movie a lot.) The average score for Interest was 4.25 out of 5, while average Readability score was 4.05.

Our next meeting is May 5th at 6:30 at the Rivers. We will discuss The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.