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Book Reviews: The Martian – Andy Weir

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As usual I received this book free of charge in exchange for a review, this time from NetGalley. Also as usual I will give my candid thoughts below.

The plot of this one is basically Castaway plus any movie you’ve ever seen set on Mars. Guy’s marooned on Mars and only has his wits to survive the situation.

On the positive side the level of detail here is amazingly intricate and the author tells you every single detail of every cliff-hanging situation and its eventual resolution. Also, the main character is one of those rare individuals who responds to stress with humor so the book manages to be quite funny in its way despite the rather grim situation being faced.

To the negative, the science in this book is OK but at times left me scratching my head in perplexity. It’s obvious the author has done his homework but there were more than a few holes. For the most part I managed to ignore them but anyone who is hyper-technical will likely be inflamed at the whole thing. Finally, after a while the meticulous detail tended to be rather draining. I started and finished this book in a single 5-hour sitting and by the end I was just exhausted and ready for it to end. I highly recommend that you do NOT attempt that.

In summary, this book has a great premise and pretty good execution for a book so intimately tied to science content. I also have absolute confidence that this will become a movie (if it hasn’t already) so look for it in the theatre eventually.

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Alexander the Bait – William Tenn [1946]

Astounding Science Fiction, May 1946

Astounding Science Fiction, May 1946

Alexander Parks is a man of infamous standing today, but it was not always so. Before he was anybody at all he was a radar scientist who worked on his own in secret to map the surface of the moon in excruciating detail. With this tenacity though, he also harbored a deep cynicism about the human race. He knew that mankind never undertakes any endeavor unless it also could satisfy the material desires of those who would bankroll it. With this in mind, he devised a plan to catapult mankind to the stars on the power of its own greed.

Tenn’s story is only adequately written and sometimes outlandish, but it does have the quality that it emits the potent tone of truth. Alexander’s view on mankind is well founded in the history of the species. We are notoriously materialistic and seem to undertake little that doesn’t immediately benefit us in the comfort of our micro-suede easy chairs. Anyone needing proof of this can reference the constant tussle for funding at NASA.

After years of work, Alexander releases his results to the world and the press goes wild as his photos appear in every paper on the planet. Now that he has whetted the appetite of the scientific community, he announces that soon he’ll be prepared to do a remote mineralogical analysis of the moon as well. Astonishingly, when the results from this latest venture arrive it is revealed that the moon is a treasure trove of precious metals, Uranium and Radium. Instantly the Lunar gold rush begins and every company on the planet is falling all over itself to get to the moon to collect this new bounty. After scores of rushed launches that end in fireballs (eerily reminiscent of the early Russian manned space program 20 years later), a crew of 500 on a 10-ship fleet that all die in space due to exposure to “Jura rays” and another few ships which spiral into the sun, the Canadian ship Flutterer III touches down on the moon for the first time in the Plato Crater. It is left to the reader’s imagination to decide what evil fate befell Flutterers I and II.

Much to the explorer’s disappointment, when mining actually begins they discover that they’ve been had. The only thing remotely worth mining on the moon is iron ore. The tide of public opinion quickly turns on Parks who quietly slides into private life again with a knowing smirk. Parks admits to his closest confidants that it was, in fact, all a complex ruse. The initial radar mappings were, of course, legitimate enough but the mineralogical findings were all a fraud devised entirely to motivate the greedy populous of the planet to get out of their micro-suede recliners and do something to solve the problem of interplanetary travel.

Like much of the science fiction of this period as seen from our advanced positions, ‘Alexander the Bait’ suffers from much misinformation, much illogical omission and much random silliness. It is, however, vaguely visionary in a few ways. If Wikipedia is to be believed, Tenn’s idea of radar mapping of the moon actually predates the actuality of the practice. Further, his depiction of early manned space flight is fairly prescient. One can also find little fault with his view of mankind.

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