As is wont to happen, my to-be-read list is always piling high and my little notebook is crawling with book recommendations and future conquests and purchases. Two years back, I started to take on reading challenges to get me back into the habit of reading; a 9-to-5 really throws your life askew.
The second book I picked up this year was The Martian. We all know the basic premise of the story. An astronaut on a mission to Mars gets stranded on that blessed red planet in 2035, while the crew takes off for earth. So when the movie was nominated in the best comedy category, I was perplexed. Okay, maybe just the premise wasn’t enough. The dude’s stranded. On MARS. How could anyone see the subtle humour in this?
So I bought it. And proceeded to fall in love with it.
There are many reasons for me to cling on to the book, and I go about recommending it to anyone who cares to ask me for my honest opinion. As a child, I was fascinated with space and anything extraterrestrial. This was the defining moment in life when I acclaimed I wanted to be an astronaut. I even made a rough sketch of my rocket, which was to be shared with two other mates. And then I made the mistake of choosing the science stream in standard 11, and all my plans quickly went out the window.
There are many things to love about this book, and the opening scene is bang on point – drama, intrigue and character.
“I’m pretty much fucked. That’s my considered opinion. Fucked.”
The character of Mark Whatney is hard to resist. A biologist and mechanical engineer, he garners public sympathy from the word go. It is a story of survival, against all possible odds, especially in a hostile environment. Mark is all about dispensing interesting scientific facts, facts that we’ve probably learnt in school but is now rotting in the back of our brains. I mean, who would have known that for every kilogram of hydrogen that is sent to Mars, one can make thirteen kilograms of fuel. Interesting, isn’t it? Such facts help while making small talk at parties, conventions or even in the elevator. Collect such facts. (Ignore me if I sound a little like Ross Gellar.)
“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”
Not to mention the twists in the tale of how makes contact with earth, and his fellow earthlings have been fumbling their way through this PR disaster, then PR success to an almost outer space revolution. How he begins to grow potatoes in the habitat and burns hydrazine to make water, how he manages to drive 3,200 km to the Schiaparelli crater where a subsequent mission was to land in four years, and how he manages to retain his sanity through it all. Fascinating!
However, the essence of the story is in its narrative. Yes, the story is interesting and unique, but the wry humour and wit that seeped into the essence of Mark Whatney through Andy Weir is stupendous. And this is the latter’s debut novel. I was hooked to the book, and managed to finish it over a weekend in January. When not reading the book, I was cranky and irritable, especially at the dinner table. But what a journey!