I’m a big fan of science fiction stories in books, movies and video games. A lot of them however are much stronger on the fiction than on the science part. So I’m really happy if once in awhile I find a story which combines science with a good plot. When a friend told me about Andy Weir‘s novel The Martian it sounded like it might be able to deliver both.
The main protagonist of the The Martian is the NASA astronaut Mark Watney. When the crew of the third manned mission to Mars has to make an emergency liftoff, before a massive sandstorm destroys their spaceship, Mark is presumed dead and left behind on the surface of the planet. He survives the storm but is now faced with the massive challenge of survival. As the expedition’s artificial habitat and all their supplies remained on the planet Mark is safe for now. But even if none of the technology that keeps him alive fails he will eventually starve. Mark can also not contact NASA to let them know that he is alive because the storm destroyed all his means of communication. He can only rely on himself to secure his rescue.
The Martian is indeed a proper science novel. Space travel to Mars doesn’t rely on fantastic inventions like a warp drive. It relies on the appropriate and horribly expensive combination of existing space travel technology. If humanity would strive to send astronauts to Mars in the near future it would probably work similar to what is described in the book. The description of the planet Mars itself is also very accurate. There are no aliens and no mysterious ruins. It is just a gigantic barren red desert full of sand and rocks. But the harsh environment with little atmosphere, no water and extremely low temperatures is enough of a challenge anyway. The main character, Mark Watney, is not the typical hero. He is an engineer and scientist, the kind of geek you would expect on a scientific expedition. But these abilities combined with his unbreakable optimism might actually save him.
Andy Weir expertly combines science, technology and human aspects into a gripping tale. You can tell that he has read classic masterworks of science fiction like the stories written by Isaac Asimov. Without any space battles, aliens or fantastic worlds the book is so exciting that I just couldn’t put it away. If you enjoy science fiction novels this book is an absolute must read.
A cliffhanger at the end of the season of a TV series is bad enough especially if the TV series gets cancelled afterwards.
But a cliffhanger at the end of a book is even more annoying, at least if you know that it will probably take another four years until the next book gets released. 🙁
Last Sunday I finished reading His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. I really enjoyed the three books. What starts as a children’s adventure in Northern Lights (also known as The Golden Compass) evolves into a complex story in The Subtle Knife and ends in an epic struggle between good and evil in The Amber Spyglass.
I like the three novels for a lot of reasons:
- The story is quite novel and very unlike the usual fantasy story taking place in a medieval setting.
- I like the humanistic philosophy developed during the course of the story.
- The world of Northern Lights where people have dæmons is really fascinating. Philip Pullman invents a whole society based around this situation.
- There is an ample supply of very well written characters. Each of them has a strong background which makes her or his behaviour very believable. And a lot of the characters develop during the events in a way that is in line with the events portrayed by the story.
- The whole story is well planed. Philip Pullman manages the multitude of story lines like a conductor guiding an orchestra. Even an immensely powerful object like the Subtle Knife cannot cut holes in his plot.
- And there is that end! I really hate it because it is so sad. But I also love it because it is so brilliant. You can see the doom in advance and begin to think frenetically how things could turn out allright. But in the end the outcome cannot be changed. I agree with Silke that the end makes it even more worthwile to read these books.
If you so far only saw the movie The Golden Compass and are waiting for the sequels I would highly recommend to read the books instead:
- The studio is not planning to finance further movies based on His Dark Materials as the Golden Compass was not very successful at the box office in the United States.
- The first movie is incomplete as the scenes taken from the final three chapters of the first book were deleted from the movie (although at least one scene is shown in one of the trailers).
- Considering the controversy over these books the story would probably be watered down badly if the sequels would ever be produced. This already happened to some extend in the adaption of the first movie.
So if you want to know what the story is really all about you have some reading ahead of you. 😉