I recently stayed up all night finishing The Martian by Andy Weir, a book about how a man, Mark Watney, gets trapped on Mars and his quest to survive and return to Earth. It was an excellent book and a unique read; not many science fiction books flat out explain to science and reasoning behind their ideas or plot points. But every single turn, Weir gave the readers a detailed account of Watney’s survival and rescue. We are given a layman’s explanation, which only draws us more deeply into the story, as we can mentally work through the problems Watney faces with him.
Basically it’s a book about how to science your way off of Mars after you’ve been stranded there. And it’s awesome. I’ve talked about my love of Space on this blog before (remember this?). Space – it’s the final frontier as Gene Roddenberry so kindly made aware for us. This is what makes Space – and in turn The Martian – so interesting to me.
My STEM skills are basic at best. Every time a math problem or principle complicated a lesson (which was a lot) then the subject matter quickly got away from me. But despite this I always loved science. I loved what happened when you saw an experiment play out, after analyzing what you thought your materials would do. I liked predicting and I liked problem solving. Science can be so creative and that’s what I was drawn to, the creativity of making something out of, seemingly, nothing. It’s almost like it’s magic!
But The Martian reminds us that there is nothing magic-like at all about science and how it plays into our everyday lives. It’s not an over-complicated system of ideas or an secret code that only a few can crack. It’s about understanding how the smallest parts of our universe interact with each other, and how that affects the lives we lead everyday. Maybe I couldn’t have come up with any of the life-saving ideas that Watney did, but I can understand them and his reasoning behind those decisions. It’s just such a fascinating mixture of science report and dramatic novel – I haven’t read a book like this in quite a while; a book that demands concentration and understanding of the reader, but also does it’s utmost to get the reader to understand and comprehend exactly what’s going on. It’s science fiction, with the science fully explained.
For someone like me, this is gold. But I think it can be gold for everyone. Science is really cool and can be really exciting! Things can explode, or break apart, or change properties because of one small chemical reaction. Hell, our entire universe as we know it was probably created by a small chemical reaction. Remember when I talked about how it’s a miracle you’re even here, because of all the small things that had to happen for humans to even exist? This book reminds me of the same sentiment, made even more relevant as it’s a story about survival and rescue and beating the odds.
This is a thread that’s presents itself throughout most Science Fiction books and entertainment. We are a society that like high stakes, that enjoys watching things blow up. We have (mostly) rational minds and can follow problems and understand basic principles – but it’s the drama and ultimately the fight that’s created in narratives like The Martian that keep us coming back. We continually place our protagonists in increasingly more desperate situations, and they continually fight back, using only their mind and the resources available to them. At the heart of it all, The Martian, like a lot of science fiction, is an inspiring tale of what it takes to escape an impossible situation. And that, I think, is the most important message any book can give us.
Really, The Martian only makes me wish I had better science and math skills. I want to know that I, too, can be abandoned on Mars and live to tell the tale. Of course this is immediately not possible because I require glasses/contacts to see, and that’s not a variable NASA wants to deal with. For now I will settle for seeing the movie 5 or 6 times.