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The Martian by Andy Weir - reading in Dec 2014

Science Fiction Fans

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Edited: Dec 8, 2014, 4:32pm Top

Someone suggested that The Martian by Andy Weir would be a great book to discuss - stranded on Mar in a life & death situation with a very weird sense of humor. Sounds right up my alley. I hope other people find it fun. (Also, hasn't this been done before - Robinson Crusoe on Mars? Any comment AW?)

Anywho - this book started life as a self-published book. (Bear with me if this is something you have hear before). It has been selected as the best scifi of 2014 by goodreads members. Matt Damon is interested in making this into a movie and it will be released in Nov. 2015. He was just in the movie Interstellar, right? Is MD a scifi kind of guy? Presumably the book is based on a lot of good science. MD, do you want to comment on the book? How about director Ridley Scott or the screenplay writer?

Andy Weir is a programmer who loves space and physics. The right person for a good space scifi. He does have a facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/pages/Andy-Weir/462962073803090

Here's a good interview with Andy Weir

Of course, my first comment is - what are the changes of the first person to be stranded on Mars is both a botanist and a mechanical engineer. What are the odds?

I'd love to discuss this book with other folks, so I hope to hear what you think of the book. Just don't give away the end.

P.S. - It appears there's a lot of reference to the TV show Threes Company in The Martian.

Hope to hear from any and everyone.

P.P.S - Here are some review comments:

PW - Weir laces the technical details with enough keen wit to satisfy hard science fiction fan and general reader alike

KIRKUS - Sharp, funny and thrilling, with just the right amount of geekery.

A little publishing history:
The Martian was written in installments and put up for free on Weir’s website, receiving good reviews from a small community of readers. However, attempts to shop the book to publishers were met with failure. After receiving reader requests for a way to read the book outside of a Web browser, Weir repackaged it in .epub and .mobi formats, eventually submitting it to Amazon’s online store so it could be loaded on Kindle readers. Doing so required Weir to attach a price, since Amazon won’t let you publish Kindle books for free. So Weir sold copies for the minimum of $0.99. Weirdly enough, far more people paid to download the Kindle version than downloaded it for free, and word of mouth pushed the book into the top download lists on Amazon. From there it attracted the attention of Crown Publishing, a Random House imprint, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Edited: Dec 9, 2014, 3:18pm Top

I've been recommending the book like mad. This has been a good year for new authors!
I also think that the audio version enhances the experience. There is an awful lot of science to plow through, and it's all necessary, but R. C. Bray makes it all extremely fun by keeping the character uppermost. The audio version is nominated for an Audie. Bray's back story is a fun read too. He was not a reader until he started free-lancing narrating SF/fantasy/action adventure self published works.

Dec 8, 2014, 8:06pm Top

OK, sounds good to me. I like audiobooks.

Dec 8, 2014, 8:09pm Top

I read the book and absolutely loved it. I also have the audio version, so it looks like I need to give that a listen soon too.

Dec 9, 2014, 3:24pm Top

Tim had a short interview with Weir last month. Not sure where that's stored.

Dec 9, 2014, 10:31pm Top

It was pleasingly engaging with good science. The voice was a little breezy and the least recommendable feature, but still probably worth a read on an airplane. Which is where I read it. A little bit of Damnation Alley on Mars, I think.

I'm not convinced of "PW - Weir laces the technical details with enough keen wit to satisfy hard science fiction fan and general reader alike" because the writing itself was not especially strong. Serviceable perhaps.

Dec 9, 2014, 10:32pm Top

I loved the book in print, and really want to listen to the audio. The narrative is so strong on "voice" that I just know it's going to be great fun to listen to the audio version.

Dec 9, 2014, 11:37pm Top

I read The Martian back when it was an indie, and I'm glad it made the big leagues. I know another member doesn't think much of the writing, and I'll admit that the third-person segments are weaker than the main first-person narrative, but I've seen and done worse.

Dec 10, 2014, 2:35am Top

Did any of you read the Interview I did with Weir?


I'm game for a reread. In all honestly, though, I've already reread it, and then some—all on audiobook.

Dec 10, 2014, 11:25am Top

I thought this book was a lot of fun. It's definitely breezy in tone, and the structure is very simple. This puts the focus more on the technical side of the problems than on the emotional hardships of survival and isolation, which I didn't mind. It was funny and fast-paced without being brainless.

Dec 10, 2014, 11:31am Top

>8 starbreakerauthor: I think the publishers editors may have helped a lot with the changes in POV. The NASA characters and the rest of the Martian crew come across as powerfully and admirably as does the main character.

Dec 11, 2014, 1:59am Top

I really enjoyed this book! I know that our library has the audiobook as well, and I will probably grab it for my next long drive.

>9 timspalding: - yes, must have been interesting to talk to Weir!

Dec 11, 2014, 2:06am Top

>12 NorthernStar:

He's funny. He puts off the image that it's all about the technical--that that's all he cares about and he doesn't really know anything else. But the Martian works because he knows a lot more than that. Either he's lying, he's modest, he's clueless about abilities he actually has, or he had a good editor.

Dec 11, 2014, 6:49am Top

Thanks to whoever added all of the character names on CK. I've only listened to the book (twice) so didn't have the list handy.

Is it too early to start discussing?

Chapter 1 deals with the accident that causes Mark to be left behind. I liked that you hear the crew's version of the storm and evacuation later in the book.

Dec 11, 2014, 10:59am Top

>13 timspalding: I was struck in the interview by his account of how little he reads. He seemed earnest about it.

Dec 18, 2014, 2:41pm Top

I'd love to start discussing the book. (Sorry to say, but have been unable to get the audiobook from the library, darnit!) I've passed the 150 page mark and am in awe of Mark Watney (MW). Can you image getting speared by antenna, dragging yourself and the atenna into the Hab, then self doctoring. Gives me the shivers just to think about it. And that's just for starters. I wonder how its dealt with in the audio.

I just realized this makes me think of The Life of Pi and of Tarzan. Both are survival stories, though obviously very different in style and content.

Please comment - negative, positive, neutral - all are welcome!


Actually, I made it to page 158 and all I can say is - what bad luck!

The crew's side of the story makes it clear that the leader Lewis did everything short of remaining behind to find MW. She almost did not make it to the liftoff from Mars. MW keeps saying he doesn't hold the crew responsible for leaving him behind. Do you think he really means that?

Throughout the 1st hundred pages MW does an unbelievable job of survival and adaptation. He cannibalizes all the tech resources that he can to make his Hab farm possible. I have to say when MW nearly blows himself up converting hydrazine to usable water, etc. - I thought well there goes the Hab and farm. But, wonders of wonders, he recoups. Of course, there's an old saw out there about "necessity who is the mother of invention." That episode shows that MW is great at thinking outside the box, but he's only human and he did not take into account all the variables. But, then he's not superhuman and he's trying to survive and not do a dissertation. Time is not on his side, as his constant reminders about his need to manufacture water asap inform us. (Silly question - how many ways can you make potatoes using MW's limited resources ;-) ).

When MW takes to traveling and jerry-rigs the rover so that he can re-charge it enroute with solar panels ripped from the Hab's solar farm (he figured he left enough for the Hab's survival), you are left speechless with wonder for someone to circumnavigate using flimsy navigational points. Its a wonder he made it to the Pathfinder and then he actually made it back. He wasn't too sure he would, but you do not get the feeling that he is quaking with terror inside. At times I wonder if he is suffering from PTSD, has too much on his plate to have time to have a breakdown, or if he is an eternal optimist.

Then there's the Earthside of the story. Should the crew of Ares III have been told that MW was alive when it was first discovered? They were definitely suffering when they thought he was dead. Would it have been better for them to know he was alive, even though he chances at survival were not thought to be too great?

I love it when Mindy first discovers that MW is alive and she tries to convince others that its true. Then there's all that politics. I'm not totally sure yet, but Venkat is definitely the man of the hour. He's going to do his d___dnest to bring MW home.

Has anyone seen the TV programs that MW is viewing? They seem to save his sanity, though they are incredibility inane. (Reminds me of another book - REady Player One with all it's 1980's trivia).

How about how MW & Earth begin to communicate? And then MW has to use the patch communicated in this method to patch the Rover's (?) communication program. It sounds excruciatingly slow and so easy to miss a letter or two.

I also love the public relations person Ann - how she badgers everyone into doing what she wants. Even a photo of MW in spacesuit on Mars.

You have to give the Earthside team credit - they re-invented the Pathfinder program, etc. and came up with ways for MW to survive with care packages.

Now, of course, after the disaster on page 157 - how is MW going to survive? What a cliffhanger. I'll be back once I find out tonight.

Edited: Dec 22, 2014, 12:13pm Top

The botanic piece interested me, because that's my background. I think Andy must have decided to keep things vague here so as to not have complications spiral out of literary control. Thus, planting only one type of crop, when it would have made sense to plant everything he could. He mentions having peas and bean seeds too.

I love his toss away line about not having several billion tiny space suits to accomodate the soil bacteria when he plans to remove the oxygen from the Hab. He doesn't even mention the vital role of soil fungi in making sterile soil habitable for plants, probably for the same reason as above.

Soil biology is an up and coming study, and we're just at the beginning of the knowledge curve. HERE's mention of a study specific to potatoes.

One thing I'd like to correct is the notion that his human manure would keep the Hab stinking. Once it's thoroughly covered in soil, there is no odor. Joseph Jenkins 'splains it all in his free to download master work, The Humanure Handbook.

PS: That reminds me of another book, Liquid Gold: The Lore and Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants, which also talks about how crazy it is to use clean water to flush away such a valuable resource, putting it in places that make it an expensive hazard rather than a re-usable asset. It also gives many examples of how people and communities are re-plumbing the system. (Never hurts to raise awareness.)

Edited: Dec 22, 2014, 3:19pm Top

70's TV wasn't all bad. Well...

But Weir chooses the highest inanity ranked shows Three's Company and The Dukes of Hazzard to poke fun. I think you have to have lived those seasons to properly appreciate them. How old is Weir? Does he own a time travel machine?

Dec 22, 2014, 3:19pm Top

It is interesting that MW decides to do only potatoes. I kept wondering - doesn't that take a lot longer to grow than peas. However, maybe they need stronger sunlight than potatoes and potatoes had greater number of calories. Of course, any plant on this Earth has symbiotic relationships with all kinds of living matter - fungi, bacteria, viruses, insects, ad infinitum. So, we have a little suspension of belief. Actually there's a lot of suspension of belief on all kinds of levels, but on with the story.


OK, after the airlock blew out - MW survived and repaired the Hab and his spacesuit, but lost the crop. Earthside - they are working like demons to come up with a solution. Even the Chinese get into the act. However, the first attempt to provide food to MW - Project Iris fails abysmally due to insufficient quality control.

Now desperation sets in and Venkat has to decide between Iris 2 or the Richard Purnell Manuever (extreme flyover). .

Earthside decides to go with the "safer" Iris 2 rescue plan, but Mitch (Ares III project head) decides instead to let Ares III (now Hermes) crew know about the R.P. Manuever and they "mutiny" and decide to make this extremely chancey flyover to pick MW up. MW starts to prepare, but shorts out his communications. Oy Veys mir!

As MW says on p 229 "Mars and my stupidity keep trying to kill me."

Now MW is back to doing things his way. He digs up the "hot" RTG. Whee!

MW has to travel much farther to Schiaperelli to meet up with his ride home and he doesn't even know if the schedule has moved up or what has happened. Another cliffhanger. I can hardly wait to read more.

Dec 23, 2014, 10:47am Top

Chapter 8 is devoted to the NASA side of things and you get bits and pieces of those characters, leading with Venkat Kapoor and Mindy Park. But you are aware of Teddy Sander's OCD and Bruce Ng's asperger traits. Annie Montrose, the media head, is explosive. She never hints that the Mark Watney re-discovery is a good thing. It's always about how hard it makes her job. R. C. Bray does a fine job with these people.

Edited: Dec 30, 2014, 11:37am Top

Venkat Kapoor is a quiet foil for the personalities that surround him. His scenes with engineers are always fun. I don't recall their names, but fondly remember the bickering of the Mutt anf Jeff communications guys (finally have the print book in hand - Chuck and Morris in chapter 6.) Rich Purnell dumps all his data all over Kapoor's desk. And recall his temporary office in the break room - love his patience with everyone.

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