The Martian by Andy Weir

★★★★☆ (4/5)

Despite being unable to visualise the technical aspects of this story, this novel sure is pure thrill to read. The constant race against time and survival against brutal odds renders grittiness to the story. It is devoid of sentimental, nonsensical clichés that often downplay the crux of such books. Mark Watney, the protagonist, is lonely and helpless in every sense of the word. Mars is inhospitable, desolate and unwelcoming. Distances between Watney, Earth and the crew are ruthless and unsparing. Yet, each individual and collective choice lingers and pervades till the very end. Human existence and endurance become gateways to ultimate survival. Instinct and inherent goodness overpowers any threat of gross failure.

Dark humor, sheer tenacity of will and interplanetary travel make this an excellent read. Highly recommended!

(PS: The film version does not do justice to the novel at all. How it won so many awards is beyond me.)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m fucked.
  • Mars is a barren wasteland and I am completely alone here. I already knew that, of course. But there’s a difference between knowing it and really experiencing it. All around me there was nothing but dust, rocks, and endless empty desert in all directions. The planet’s famous red color is from iron oxide coating everything. So it’s not just a desert. It’s a desert so old it’s literally rusting.
  • My guess is pockets of ice formed around some of the bacteria, leaving a bubble of survivable pressure inside, and the cold wasn’t quite enough to kill them. With hundreds of millions of bacteria, it only takes one survivor to stave off extinction. Life is amazingly tenacious. They don’t want to die any more than I do.

  • There’s an international treaty saying no country can lay claim to anything that’s not on Earth. And by another treaty, if you’re not in any country’s territory, maritime law applies. So Mars is “international waters.”
  • “It’s amazing how much red tape gets cut when everyone’s rooting for one man to survive.”
  • So I go out every night with a homemade sextant and sight Deneb. It’s kind of silly if you think about it. I’m in my space suit on Mars and I’m navigating with sixteenth-century tools. But hey, they work.
  • So far, I think it’s been working. But who knows? I can see it now: me holding a map, scratching my head, trying to figure out how I ended up on Venus.
  • And I have to hustle. Dust storms move. Sitting still means I’ll likely get overwhelmed. But which way do I go? It’s no longer an issue of trying to be efficient. If I go the wrong way this time, I’ll eat dust and die.
  • My terrifying struggle to stay alive became somehow routine. Get up in the morning, eat breakfast, tend my crops, fix broken stuff, eat lunch, answer e-mail, watch TV, eat dinner, go to bed. The life of a modern farmer. Then I was a trucker, doing a long haul across the world. And finally, a construction worker, rebuilding a ship in ways no one ever considered before this. I’ve done a little of everything here, because I’m the only one around to do it.
  • 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.

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