A few weeks ago I encouraged all of you to go check out Andy Weir’s novel The Martian (or the audiobook version, if you’re like me and spend a lot of time in the car). Even if you’re not usually a fan of astronaut-survivalist, will-he-or-won’t-he dramas, this book has great messages about the human spirit and includes lots of diversity to boot.
Last Friday I went to see the film on opening day—I was excited enough to fork over $23 for my ticket, popcorn, and some cherry Coke for The Martian.And with recent announcements about NASA finding water on Mars, the buzz for this film couldn’t be any better. So how does it measure up? Is it as good as the book? Well…
I’ve been traveling a lot for work lately, and instead of listening to the same twenty songs on every radio station I pass, I’ve opted for an Audible subscription, so I can entertain myself with audiobooks. My first choice was The Martian, by Andy Weir. The Martian follows in a well-established heritage of survivalist fiction, but in a way that counts as science fiction. There’s a movie coming out next month starring Matt Damon and a bunch of other famous actors, which is what initially inspired me to “read” the book. The premise for The Martian is simple: American astronaut Mark Watney is left for dead on the surface of Mars when his team is forced to flee a massive dust storm… except whoops, Mark’s actually alive. What follows is a story of questions: Can Mark survive? Will he ever be able to contact Earth, and if he does, can he even survive long enough to come and get him? How much is one person’s life worth, anyway?
I won’t spoil the ending for you, I promise. But I do want to take a look at how The Martian is a wonderful, thought-provoking new addition to the world of science fiction on multiple levels. Science fiction isn’t just about advanced technology and space stuff; the real hallmark of the genre pushes for answers to the big questions of life in new ways. It imagines what could be, not what is. The Martian has a universal quality to its story, and that’s what makes it a success.
Science is awesome. We don’t post a lot about hard science stuff here a lot, (which may be vaguely related to the fact that most if not all of our writers are or were liberal arts majors) but it nevertheless is really, really cool. And one of the coolest things that science has done lately is to put a new rover/laboratory (the Mars Science Laboratory, aka Curiosity) on Mars!
But obviously ‘Science’ isn’t a concrete entity, capable of building skycranes and calculating trajectories. This awesome sciencing didn’t happen without a metric crapton of human effort, and so that’s why today’s Web Crush is the Curiosity Landing Team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory!
These awesome sciencey ladies and gents have been working on this project for eight years, and in the last week following their tremendous success, they’ve become bona-fide internet celebrities. They get major props from me for several reasons (above and beyond the whole ‘bein really smart and good at science’ thing):