Review: The Martian

91c4ZDFCn1L._SL1500_The Martian’ by Andy Weir is one of the most thrilling and absorbing novels I have ever read. Mark Watney is the seventeenth man to set foot on Mars, an order determined months before the Ares 3 Mars Descent Vehicle (MDV) touches the ground. The easy-going botanist/engineer is happy with his slot. He’s on Mars, isn’t he? Living an astronaut’s dream. Unfortunately, the dream lasts longer than the scheduled sixty days.

A dust storm scrubs the mission early. All six crew suit up and make for the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV). High winds kick up debris and Mark is almost impaled by a detached antenna and knocked out of line. The antenna hits and disables his bio-monitor and pierces his suit. The last read-outs the rest of the crew get hint that he might be alive, but that his suit pressure lost pressure. An attempt is made to find him, but with high winds tilting the MAV, the mission commander has to make the call or risk five more lives. The MAV leaves without him.

Mark doesn’t die. In fact, in a bizarre set of circumstances that might only happen in Mars’ lack of atmosphere, blood from his wound seals the breach in his suit. He lives, only to be stranded alone on Mars. So begins his journey of survival, which will include a series of firsts for the seventeenth man. He has myriad problems to solve: food is foremost, then a plan to survive long enough to be rescued.

The unique atmosphere of Mars plays an important role in many of his plans and I enjoyed learning the differences between what we take for granted and what Mark must invent. It’s that, his inventiveness, that keeps this novel rolling. His upbeat personality, which understandably squeaks close to the edge of madness from time to time, renders the science readable or even personable. Despite his intelligence, he makes mistakes, though, plenty of them. Some were humorous, many were not.

At no point, during the course of the novel, did I take it for granted that Mark would live through his ordeal, which is why I kept reading and reading until the end. I finished the book in a single day. I had to know how it all turned out for my new favourite astronaut.

The Martian’ was originally self-published. His success gained the attention of readers, publishers and film studios. He cut a deal with Random House and sold the film rights. Not bad! This edition has two new covers. US edition pictured above, UK edition right.

With all the science and math, the novel could have been dry. I didn’t find it so, I found it all fascinating. If I didn’t understand something, I took it for granted that Mark did. His life depended on it, after all. Not mine. The scientific exploration is broken up with plenty of adventure and commentary and a good portion of the book is devoted to NASAs efforts to help him from Earth. It’s the humour that really made this story work for me, though. For all the thrills, there are plenty of laughs. There are also more than a few poignant moments. How can there not be? Mark Watney ends up racking up a lot of firsts during his sojourn on Mars.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

Review: The Cassandra Project

cassprojectThe Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One leaked audio file ignites a controversy that involves NASA, private enterprise, the President of the United States, present and past, and a decades old scandal. One question, who was the first man to walk on the Moon?, sparks many more questions and piece by piece the Cassandra Project is revealed. The idea another mission, half a year before Apollo XI and another man, Sydney Myshko, might have landed on the Moon before Neil Armstrong seems like fiction and many regard it as just that. But a handful of men want to find out the truth, one because he can, the other because it’s his nature and the President because, well, it’s his job.

Morgan ‘Bucky’ Blackstone is a billionaire several times over. He is planning his own mission to the Moon and when he learns there is a mystery to be solved, he sets out to solve it. Jerry Culpepper works for NASA. He also wants to know the truth, but fears revealing it will end his career. As it turns out, simply pursing it is enough. When Bucky and Jerry join together, the facts begin to unfold, but without the aid of a President who feels betrayed by them both, they will never find the final puzzle piece.

‘The Cassandra Project’ by Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick reads like a Jack McDevitt novel. It starts with a cover-up and one clue, just one, a mere snippet of information. Then, throughout the course of the novel, deft fingers pluck at the corner of the wallpaper, pulling it away scrap by scrap. Some pieces are too tattered to be useful, but others come away in sheets. What’s hidden beneath doesn’t always make sense. But when it does, when everything is revealed, it’s pretty awesome.

I am not as familiar with Mike Resnick’s work, having only read one of his novellas. His influence was clear, however. There are more voices in ‘The Cassandra Project’. More players. This particular mystery required a team, both on the page and behind the book.

Whoever was responsible for ‘Bucky’, well done. He was endearing. Jerry proved himself worthy of both Bucky and the reader’s respect and the President read just as he should have, a man trying to do the right thing. Behind the characters and the mystery is a clever commentary on the state of NASA today and timely questions regarding the present and future directions of science, in all fields. I enjoyed absorbing that as much as the story itself.

I would love to talk about the conclusion, which may strike some as both a reach and controversial. So as not to spoil potential readers, I will be circumspect in my comments. I loved the way the ultimate reveal was handled. An assumption is hinted at, but not outright ‘claimed’. It’s up to the reader to decide. The enormity of the assumption is pretty stunning, though, and long after I put the book aside I thought about the implications.

If not for Jack McDevitt’s name on the cover, I may not have picked up this novel. There are certain authors, however, whose work I will read without reservation, regardless of whether the subject matter interests me or not. Yes, I have had to put aside some books and I have valiantly struggled to read and understand others. But occasionally I’ll stumble across a gem. ‘The Cassandra Project’ falls into the latter category. It has also inspired me to look into more of Mike Resnick’s work, which is a win for both authors. Ultimately, however, a good book is just a good book and I highly recommend this one.

Written for and originally posted at SFCrowsnest.