Books : reviews

Andy Weir.
The Martian.
Del Rey. 2014

rating : 2.5 : great stuff
review : 11 November 2014

I’m stranded on Mars.

I have no way to communicate with Earth.

If the Oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the Water Reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Habitat breaches, I’ll just kind of explode.

If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death.

I’m screwed.

The third Mars mission has had to evacuate and return home because of a dangerously strong storm. Due to a freak accident, Mark Watney is left for dead. But he’s not dead. And now he’s alone on Mars, without enough food, air, or energy to last the many months it would take rescue to arrive. Not that he can call for help. Nevertheless, he is an engineer…

This is a great adventure of engineer versus planet, in the old tradition: Apollo 13 meets Gravity meets A Fall of Moondust.

Watney is competent and resourceful, and he does have resources to be resourceful with: all the equipment the crew left behind when they abandoned Mars. Mars keeps throwing problems at him, and he keeps figuring out solutions, knowing that the first problem he can't solve will kill him for sure.

What makes this fun is all the engineering (although I’m sure it’s much harder than shown here); the little acid comments Watney keeps making about the entertainment choices of his departed crewmates; and the potatoes.

I am surprised that Watney didn’t realise that Earth would be able to see that he was still alive, but much of the rest of it rings sufficiently true to make this a thrilling adventure across the Red Planet.

Andy Weir.
Del Rey. 2017

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 11 September 2018

Welcome to Artemis. The first city on the moon. Population 2,000. Mostly tourists. Some criminals.

Jazz Bashara is one of the criminals. She lives in a poor area of Artemis and subsidises her work as a porter with smuggling contraband onto the moon. But it’s not enough.

So when she’s offered the chance to make a lot of money she jumps at it. Now all she needs to do is plan the perfect crime in one of the most dangerous places in the universe – and survive it.

The moon has a small town, Artemis, population 2000. Most of the inhabitants are either super-wealthy, or the ordinary blue-collar people keeping the town running, and working as tourist guides. Some are criminals. Jazz is a bit of both: a legitimate porter, and a smuggler to keep the wolf from the door. But she’s making no headway in saving to pay off a big debt, so when one of her super-wealthy smuggling customers offers her what looks like a great deal for some sabotage, she decides to take it. But the job doesn’t go as planned, and soon Jazz is on the run, and the worst is, she doesn’t even know who’s after her! She will need all her moon-smarts just to survive, let alone win out.

This is a fast paced romp, essentially based on a huge McGuffin, but with plenty of engineering know-how needed to solve all the problems. Jazz is a drop-out, which is why she wants money; she also has a well-developed business ethic, which is why she gets into trouble in the first place; she also happens to be an engineering genius, which is how she gets even deeper into trouble.

The book superficially has a YA vibe, but Jazz is not a teenager, she’s in her mid-20s. So occasionally the story and the vibe clash somewhat. However, this is an interestingly-drawn world, both the politics of Artemis, and its Earth-based back story. I enjoyed the grunge-tech feel to life on the moon (although I’m sure there are holes in the engineering, and in the chemistry). And I particularly appreciated how the ending panned out.

Andy Weir.
Project Hail Mary.
Penguin. 2021

rating : 2 : great stuff
review : 15 January 2023

A lone astronaut.
An impossible mission.
An ally he never imagined.

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission – and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

But right now, he doesn’t know that. All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time, and he’s just woken to find himself hurtling through space, millions of miles from home.

It’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery, and he’s got to do it all alone… Or does he?

Ryland Grace wakes up in a spaceship. He’s lost his memory. He doesn’t know who he is, where he is, or why he’s there. The fate of the entire planet Earth hangs on him completing his mission. But he doesn’t know what the mission is, or even that there is one.

This is The Martian on steroids. The problem to solve is bigger, less understood, and more important. The setting is more claustrophobic. The setbacks are more catastrophic. The revelations as he slowly regains his memory are shattering. And the resolution is more emotional.

Great stuff.