Mars and “The Martian”

So on my last flight, the end of last week, I picked up a book entitled “The Martian” by Andy Weir.  It’s his first novel, and I’ll admit I haven’t even written a short story, let alone had anything published; however, I have read a couple book on writing Science Fiction and Fantasy.  From my studies, I now read books with a critical eye as well as for enjoyment.  I really like the style and pacing of this book; It’s about a stranded astronaut, left for dead on Mars.  Luckily for him, NASA is launching  ships to Mars every five years or so.  Sounds like a long time to survive on a planet several light-minutes from Earth, but supplies and return vehicles are launched years ahead of the astronauts.

Some of the problems I have with the book, which I haven’t finished, but am 90% through, are the constant use of the metric system for measurements.  The stranded Astronaut is writing a log for posterity and he is constantly talking in liters, meters and kilometers, etc.  I don’t think an American would write in his log that way.  Yes he’s a scientist, but nobody I know uses KPH to describe speed.  I would find it more believable if he was translating from NASA approved units to “normal” units.  I constantly find myself stopping and converting back to units I can understand.  The is one of the rules you don’t want to violate as a writer.

Another problem I have is the log it’s self.  It reads like he is talking into a tape machine or maybe a digital recorder, but near the end of his trek to a new launch vehicle, it is made clear that he is typing.  I have a hard time typing stream of conscious in this simple blog.  I have gone back and reread some entries and noted incomplete thoughts.  If I thought the world would read my notes and thoughts for decades after my death, and I had many hours each day to kill, I would take my time and write a really good, factual log.  I’m pretty sure the snarky remarks and jokes would be kept in a personal diary.  Now I could be completely off base, the author could have investigated the logs of sea captains from discovering the new world.  Again, it doesn’t always read the way one would expect – it distracts from the story.

My last complaint about the story line, is the time frame.  It seems the whole team is working with technology from this decade, but then there are some technologies that seem the stuff that physicists have proposed, but we have never built or tested, for long distant space flight.  The astronaut finds the entertainment data sticks the rest of the crew has left behind, all of the entertainment is from the 70’s or earlier?  Later we find that the commander, who left all the 70’s stuff behind, she and her husband are collectors of “classic” 1970’s collectibles, so that’s puts the novel anywhere from 40 to 80 years into the future – based on the sacristy of the collectibles found.  You would think 40-years from now we would have some cooler stuff, but then maybe the author has set the story in the near future.  No dates have been given, so it’s hard to know.  It’s confusing at times.

All in all, I would recommend the book if you are looking a good, quick read.  The author is very knowledgeable about space flight and how our current systems operates.

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