I don't have much time. "I'm pretty much f*****." — in the opening words of The Martian, Mark Watney tells it like it is. What follows is a calculated and carefully crafted tale of math, science, and extra planetary exploration. Life on Mars, and all the incredible science behind it, churned out in succinct, factual nuggets of easily swallowed phrases that make this book a lighting quick read. I read it in 3 days, my perpetual pal read it in 2 ... but to be fair, we were stuck in an airport for most of that time. Since then, my mom, sister, and a handful of friends have borrowed my copy and devoured it just as fast.
While I'm not Mark Watney, my time, or rather yours, is still short. The movie release has been moved up from the end of November to October 2nd, two days before this space nerd's birthday. A draft of this article has been sitting on the back end of the website for a couple months ... waiting for me to finish it.
Now is that time. In honor of author Andy Weir's epic tale, delivered with laser sharp precision, I've down my fangirl rave into something more to the point. According to my math, and assuming you immediately acquire the book (apparently the audio version is killer too), starting Thursday, September 10th you'll have 23 days to read it before the movie comes out. That's 552 potential reading hours, and with 387 pages and an average reading speed of two minutes per page, you should probably set aside 13 hours to finish the book. That's roughly 4.5 hours per week starting immediately ... doesn't seem too hard, does it?
While my math may be questionable, Weir's is impeccable, and still easily digestible for the non-mathematically inclined. The Martian tells the tale of a futuristic Robinson Crusoe / MacGyver on Mars, engaged in basic survival a la "Apollo 13 meets Castaway."
Read it before the movie, you'll thank me. If you need further proof, read on.
1) The Book
From the beginning, I was on the edge of my seat and unable to put it down. Smart as a whip, Weir solved every seemingly unsolvable problem in a way that made my jaw drop.
It’s smart and it’s funny — if this book were a guy, I’d ask him out to dinner.
— Sarah Bayard, 5 Books That Made Me Ignore The World This Summer
Originally published for free online after being rejected by publishers, Weir persevered, creating an Amazon Kindle version for 0.99 at the request of fans. A meteoric rise to the top and 35,000 copies sold within three months soon grabbed the attention of publishers. Topping Amazon's bestselling list in science fiction, it then debuted at the number 12 spot on The New York Times bestseller list for hardcover fiction, and is currently #1 for paperback trade fiction (44 weeks on the list).
Translated into 21 languages, there is still a singular language throughout: survival ... plausibly, on Mars. A book for nerds, the math is extensive, but not tedious. Not a math fanatic myself, Weir's equations were to the point and illustrative:
To map Watney's 3,200-plus mile journey across Mars as he attempts to reach the landing site for the next mission, Mr. Weir studied NASA satellite images and used Google Mars, a site Google built in collaboration with NASA that details the elevation and temperatures of Mars's surface. He figured out the chemical reaction that would allow Watney to make 600 liters of water out of hydrazine and CO2. He calculated how many calories Watney would need to survive four years—2,137,500—how many potatoes that requires, and how much formable land he would need to develop for his potato crop.
Depending on how much you want to know before you begin reading on your own, this SPOILERCAST by The Adam Savage Project provides all the nerd love you could ask for in an audio book review.
2) Andy Weir
The son of a particle physicist and electrical engineer, Weir dedicated himself to writing the most realistic account he could based on existing technology. With a lengthy background in computer programming, Weir studied orbital mechanics, astronomy, and the history of manned spaceflight in order to create the most believable account of a Martian, ever.
"I sat down and did the math. And physics. And chemistry." Weir even wrote a program for orbital mechanics, to determine the path of the spaceship Hermes and its ion drive engine. His interview for Science Friday is especially enlightening into Weir's mentality and passion for the facts, as close as he could get them.
A self described "dork," his intrigue is clearly transferred to the page, as well as in person. Andy's interview with Adam Savage (of Mythbusters fame) is ample fuel for any space nerd or enthusiast.
At one point, Weir had given up on his writing career, writing the Martian as an online serial. Yet, just like Watney, he persevered. A book and movie contract were signed in the same week — maybe even saving the NASA space program in the process. His visible happiness might make him the luckiest nerd in the world, and in many interviews, he uses the word Cinderella. Contagious enthusiasm, from readers, scientists, movie makers, and all nerd-kind is slowly sweeping the growing media coverage for the upcoming film.
3) The Facts
Already tapped as “the most science-based science fiction film to ever hit the theaters,” The Martian is steeped in NASA backed science. The HAB, space farm, water recovery, Mars spacesuit, ion propulsion, and rover are just a few of the Nine Real NASA Technologies in The Martian.
Location wise, you can even take a tour through Watney’s Martian meanderings via photos from NASA’s HiRISE camera. Check out the mind-blowing images here.
As far as colonizing Mars, well, that’s underway too.
Mars One is a young and growing organization with a team of eight. This team is supported by an impressive board of ambassadors and advisers from all over the world; including an astronaut, Nobel Prize laureate, and the former NASA Chief Technologist. Mars One receives donations from people in over 100 countries and over 200,000 applied for the first crew selection procedure.
Mars One will soon announce a media deal with one of the world’s biggest production companies in order to create a show around selecting our crews. Big brands are showing interest in associating their corporate stories with Mankind’s Mission to Mars.
Lockheed Martin and other major aerospace companies are ready to implement Mars One’s plan. Work on the first unmanned mission, scheduled for launch in 2020, has already started.
(More than 200,000 people signed up for a one-way ticket to Mars when Mars One opened up its astronaut candidate search. Candidates have since been whittled down to 100. More details.)
4) MacGuiver on Mars: Mark Watney
“Space is dangerous. It’s what we do here. If you want to play it safe all the time, go join an insurance company.”
The lowest ranked member of the Ares 3 mission crew, NASA astronaut Mark Watney is also the team’s botanist/mechanical engineer. An “average” run-of-the-mill astronaut at the beginning of the story, by the end, he’s a full blown hero. Faced with disaster after disaster, Watney’s wit, humor, and unflagging determination carry the plot and “sol” entries (sol = a day on Mars).
In lieu of giving too much away, I’ll give you a few key quotes from Watney:
“Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be “in command” if I were the only remaining person.
What do you know? I’m in command.”
“In your face, Neil Armstrong!”
“In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m left with only one option. I’m going to have to science the s*** out of this.”
“LOG ENTRY: SOL 381 I’ve been thinking about laws on Mars.
Yeah, I know, it’s a stupid thing to think about, but I have a lot of free time.
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.”
NASA is an American nonmilitary organization, and it owns the Hab. So while I’m in the Hab, American law applies. As soon as I step outside, I’m in international waters. Then when I get in the rover, I’m back to American law.
Here’s the cool part: I will eventually go to Schiaparelli and commandeer the Ares 4 lander. Nobody explicitly gave me permission to do this, and they can’t until I’m aboard Ares 4 and operating the comm system. After I board Ares 4, before talking to NASA, I will take control of a craft in international waters without permission.
That makes me a pirate!
A space pirate!”
NASA chooses adventurous, reliable people to be astronauts, partially because of their desire to know more. Watney has heart, courage, and unfaltering ingenuity. He continues to take Martian soil samples, even when he thinks he may die — for future generations. For the sake of the data. He is the first person to do many of the activities on Mars, the first Martian farmer, and the weight of his pioneering existence is not lost on him, even in the most dire of circumstances. He carries through stoically, giving the book a heroic modern-space-western feel, John Wayne roaming the great red desert of Mars.
The rest is summed up best in this trailer:
5) The Movie
Widely expected to blow Gravity and Interstellar out of the water, The Martian is heavy on science fact, light on science fiction. Filmed in Budapest on one of the biggest soundstages in the world, shooting took 70 days. Around 20 sets were built, relatively low considering director Ridley Scott used 70 on Exodus and over 100 on American Gangster.
Wadi Rum, also known as The Valley of The Moon, in Jordan was used as the filming location of Mars.
In the below Q&A panel, Matt Damon, Ridley Scott, Andy Weir, NASA director of planetary science Jim Green, and real-life astronaut Drew Feustel discuss the science of The Martian. In response to being asked about intentions to "inspire a future generation of scientists" with the film, Matt Damon quotes screenwriter Drew Goddard (The Cabin in The Woods, World War Z), who told him his mission for the film:
"I want this to be a love letter to science."
6) The Cast
Matt Damon is cast perfectly as Mark Watney. He also has the chance to redeem himself from his first scene in Interstellar where he wakes up naked and afraid (or at least half frozen and crying (did anyone else laugh?)). He also gets a bit of movie karma after trying to leave Matthew McConaughey behind: he is left behind on Mars.
In addition to Damon, the film stars:
Jessica Chastain as Commander Melissa Lewis
Kristen Wiig as Annie Montrose
Jeff Daniels as head of NASA, Teddy Sanders
Kate Mara as computer expert Beth Johanssen
Donald Glover as Rich Purnell
Sean Bean as head of flight Mitch Henderson
Michael Pena as pilot Rick Martinez
Sebastian Stan as flight surgeon Dr. Chris Beck
Aksel Hennie as German astronaut Aleks Vogel
Chiwetel Ejiofor as the head of the Mars exploration, Vincent Kapoor
Excellent casting, if you ask me.
7) The Director
Ridley Scott, who brought us Alien, Blade Runner, and Prometheus, called NASA directly to talk with Jim Green, director of planetary science. Green answered questions about rockets and habitats and rovers and led tours of NASA facilities.
"Ridley and I were around when we landed on the moon ... the lunar generation," Green said. Two years ago, landing the Curiosity rover on Mars spawned the Mars generation.
"That's the inspiration that will propel our economy forward by bringing in the scientists and engineers," Green said. "The movie and the book is a fabulous opportunity to celebrate that."
The Martian is so closely aligned with NASA's actual plans for Mars, they're hoping the publicity will help move the mission forward. Determined to create the most realistic space movie to date, Scott's collaboration with NASA may have done just that.
Prometheus 2 has been confirmed as Scott's next film.
9) Astronaut Approved
“A book I just couldn’t put down! It has the very rare combination of a good, original story, interestingly real characters and fascinating technical accuracy … reads like “MacGyver” meets “Mysterious Island.” — Astronaut Chris Hadfield, Commander of the International Space Station and author of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
Although a bit darker in ideals, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin believes that it would be more cost effective to leave people on Mars as settlers. You can listen to his interview at the National Space Society's International Space Development Conference in May of this year here: Buzz Aldrin on why Mars is our future and why we should leave people there.
The Guardian, 9/8/15:
Nasa astronaut Kjell Lindgren said on Tuesday from the International Space Station that both he and crewmate Scott Kelly have read the novel by Andy Weir. Lindgren told reporters he really enjoyed the book and hopes to get a copy of the film beamed up to orbit on 2 October, the day of release, or shortly thereafter.
Although not an astronaut, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson gives his seal of approval by breaking down some of the science in this video presented as a special
9) NASA Space Architects, Mock Missions, & More
NASA space architect Brent Sherwood predicts a new kind of vacation, a mere fifty years from now: “Imagine a hotel with a view that’s changing all the time, where there are 18 sunrises and sunsets every day, where food floats effortlessly into your mouth. – Who wouldn’t sign up for that?”
It’s really a real thing. Isn’t that exciting enough? Movie or no. While it may still be a few years off, you can get involved in The Mars Society, read the reports from The Humans to Mars Summit, and at the end of August, six scientists locked themselves in a solar powered dome in Hawaii for a Yearlong Mock Mars Mission to test the mental toll of isolation. Read about daily “life on Mars,” from team member Dr. Sheyna Gifford’s blog: Live From Mars.
Okay, so I'm just trying to get an even 10 here. Potatoes are Mark's only source of food on Mars after his supplies run out, that and a special drink.
“I started the day with some nothin’ tea. Nothin’ tea is easy to make. First, get some hot water, then add nothin.’ I experimented with potato skin a few weeks ago. The less said about that the better.”
I’ll spend the rest of the evening enjoying a potato. And by “enjoying” I mean “hating so much I want to kill people.”
Way to go Weir and Watney, essentially, you've made the best book-movie combo to ever exist. I'm calling it now.
Live Another Sol would be an awesome name for a James Bond movie.
If you can't tell, this book is worth your time. It may even herald a new surge in the Martian age. The dialogue has been ignited, the science considered; The Martian is sure to inspire the realization of life imitating art. NASA happily consulted with the people behind this film, because it's right on track with what they're already planning. We may even see it happen in our lifetime, but on the silver screen first.
Overall, I'd say it's one of my top 10 all-time favorite books, ever. Go read The Martian now, while you still have a chance (before the movie comes out!).
PS: The audio book is roughly 11 hours, so you can listen to it even faster.