Sunday, June 14, 2015

Reflections on "THE MARTIAN" (Science Is Plot)

author- Andy Weir
publisher  Broadway Books 


A botanist and mechanical engineer is impaled by a javelin-like projectile during a Martian sandstorm and blown away by a windgust of up to 175 kph. His spacesuit is punctured and decompressing. According to his cardiac telemetry, he is lifeless. The five surviving astronauts must--and do-- evacuate the red planet before their one and only Mars Ascent Vehicle is destroyed by the force of the storm.

Mark Watney regains consciousness and discovers that he is well and truly skewered. Chance and science saved his life. (Spoiler) Spilt blood turns to gunk in the hostile Martian atmosphere, and gunk clogs.... He still faces impossible odds. Science may save him, but (like Magic) the application of Science comes with its own costs and dangers.

That is why Science IS Plot (or at least, creates plot). Mark can make water (scientifically), but the chemistry involves fire and potential explosions. Mark can solve the problem of the deadly Martian cold, but only by risking cancer. He can generate solar power, but not enough to breathe and drive and cook, and communicate and everything else he'd like to do. For every solution, there is a trade-off, and every solution or trade-off may lead to unanticipated consequences and new perils.

Sometimes literally, Mark Watney lurches from one cliff-hanger to another. The primary narrative is "Captain's Log" diary-style, spiced with transcripts of different methods of interplanetary communication from Morse code using rocks to binary to near-normal email, interspersed with real time scenes on Earth and on the mothership. A riveting read!

Rowena Cherry 

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