Luneteque: The Martian – About Potato Farming on The Red Planet

Closing our intergalactic week, I bring here one of the best books I’ve already read: The Martian! Getting your attention from start to finish, even though it’s extremely technical at some points, you can be sure you won’t be able to get away from the curiosity of “how did this guy managed to plant potatoes on Mars?”

When I was an intern and had to read countless labour cases and sues, I remember I took some times off for relaxing – and, instead of drinking coffee or chatting, I’d read The Martian or I’d write my Undergraduate Thesis. Yes, I finished reading the whole book on my internship intervals or when I had nothing else to do.

In my point of view, it just goes to show that this book is really awesome!

As a good sci-fi fan who grew up with her father telling Isaac Asimov stories and explaining how stars, planets and interstellar travels work, I had great expectations for this book and I wasn’t disappointed.

So get ready, because our space shuttle today will take us to the red planet – where we’ll learn how to survive with a compilation of series and songs from the 70’s and an improvised potato farm!

Andy Weir – The Mind Who Build The Book

Andy Weir, book author (image source: Editora Arqueiro)

Born in July 1972, Andrew Taylor Weir – who writes as Andy Weir – is the person behind this amazing story! Apart from the discussed book, released in 2011, he’s also responsible for the book Artemis (yes, my author name here at Lune, I even smiled as a goofy fan), many short stories published independently or as a collection in flash fiction format, as well as the webcomics Casey and Andy and Cheshire Crossing.

What is really interesting is that, for those who understand English, Andy makes many of his works available for free on his website, called Galactanet!

A detail: for those who write fanfiction, you can be sure that our friend Andy also wrote it! So don’t allow anyone to discourage you for being a fanfiction writer – your work is valid!

As field of work, Andy is a software engineer, but that didn’t stop him from writing all this time! Upon writing The Martian, he wanted to make a scientifically accurate story, so he researched concepts of physics, orbital mechanics, Mars conditions, history of space missions and botanic.

(And I bet a bunch more of stuff – I remember a whole chapter, out of nowhere, explaining about the manufacturing of cloth to build bases in Mars and I was just “ok, that’s pretty interesting, but why now and why is he telling me SUDDENLY about how the cloths are sewn…?” until the end of the chapter and I was “my Gosh, this man is a genius, I didn’t see that coming!”)

The Martian – About The Book

Brazilian book cover (image source: Editora Arqueiro)

“Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became the 17th person to step on Mars. And, probably, will be the first one to die on the red planet.

After a sand storm, Ares 3 mission is aborted and its crew leaves, certain that Mark died in a terrible accident.

Upon waking up, he sees himself completely alone, injured and without means to tell people on Earth he’s alive. And, even if he manages to comunicate, his provisions would run out before the arrival of a possible rescue.

Still, Mark isn’t keen on giving up: Equipped with nothing but curiosity and his engineering and botanist skills – and an unsheakable sense of humor -, he embarks on an obstinate fight for survival.

For this, he’ll be the first man to plant potatoes in Mars and, using a genius mix of calculus and silver tape, he’ll elaborate a plan to get in touch with Nasa and, who knows, leave there alive.

With a strong, real and modern scientifical base, The Martian is a memorable and fun thriller, driven by a plot that won’t stop surprising the reader.”

(Synopsis by Editora Arqueiro, translated by Artemis)

And there are a lot of surprises!

I think that before the asian dramas, my source of extreme plot twists that made me more surprised than Scooby Doo unmaskings was this book. When you’re expecting for something to happen BAM! something else does and you’re COMPLETELY lost.

Which is, honestly, excelent!

The book also gives us complex details, the author doesn’t spare theories and scientifical explanations only because he’s bringing us a fiction story. It’s all very well explained and, for those who know the theory and are interested on subjects connected to space travel – from physics to botanic – it’s definitely a good call!

But wait, don’t get discouraged: if you don’t like or don’t understand well this kind of thing – trust me, I was horrible at physics, chemestry and math at school, I only saved myself in electricthe book doesn’t get boring. Why? On my opinion, because the author explains very well.

He isn’t there to be an annoying lecturer who wants to show how intelligent he is: speaking in first person, it’s as if Mark is talking to us – as if we are his partners and astronauts who would perfectly understand what he’s going through. It could very well be a conversation between two NASA work colleagues during a couple drinks after work.

My sensation after reading the book is that Mark is one of my best friends – and it remains to this day.

Matt Damon on the movie as Mark Watney showing us his potato farm

The story of the book also doesn’t drag itself. Instead of dragging around only to make what my sister called stuffing sausagesmeaning, putting a lot of things on it just to increase the number of pages and making it look bigger and better – each moment happens a twist that the reader doesn’t expect and the desire of stop reading is none.

“Oh, look there, how cool, he’s managing to plant potatoes, everything is going fine WHAT, ANOTHER DEVASTATING SANDSTORM APPROACHES, HOW SO, BRAZIL? I DIDN’T EVEN ENJOY THE POTATOES PROPERLY!”

This is the feeling throughout the whole book. When you’re feeling comfortable and happy with how things are going, hold on tight because something will happen to take you off your balance.

And that’s what make the story happens!

We’re taken on the same feeling Mark has of surviving one day at time and not guaranteeing that situation will last forever – but we’re also taken to the incredible personality of the character of maintaining himself strong and not descending into panic and depression, accepting he has no control over the situation, but he can control the outcome.

Apart from his struggle on the potato farm – the first man to colonize Mars – and comunicating with NASA, we have the dilemmas of people on Earth of how to rescue Mark Watney. And during all this process, we also follow his companions of Ares 3 mission, who were going back home and didn’t know they had abandoned Mark alive on the red planet.

The options are many, but resources and fuel definitely aren’t plenty. With many calculations, we perfectly understand the dilemmas of resources and the risks of any rescue mission. The scientifical part is easy to understand and contributes for our hearts to stay on our throats as people from NASA will solve everything and if the guys form Ares 3 can do something to help.

Oh, and a fun fact: Mars is the name of the war god on Roman mythology – which was inspired by the Greek war god, Ares.

But the cherry on the top of this banana split here is the author’s sense of humor – and that was the greatest difference I saw between the book and the movie.

Adapted in 2015 for the big screens, Ridley Scott brought us an incredible movie, counting with Matt Damonwho is Mark for me whenever I think about it now – and Jessica Chastain on the cast, apart from many other renown names. It is, in a matter of fact, a very good movie: I watched it with my father and we loved it.

But I watched after reading the book and, wow, how I missed Mark’s humor!

There aren’t words for how much I expected this scene (image source: not so popular)

Not that there isn’t in the movie – as you can see in the GIF above, there is! – but on the book there’s much more.

What makes the book super interesting and makes us devour every page, is the fact that Mark is extremely charismatic and, even though the situation is terrible, he never loses hope and the will to move forward.

“Hey, something went wrong and they left me in Mars because they think I’m dead? Ok, sad, but let’s plant some potatos. Literally. With waste from my travel companions. And look! They left a bunch of old series and a collection of Disco music from the 70’s – I’ll spend my moments hearing Donna Summer and Bee Gees while I take care of my plants!”

That’s basically how Mark lives! And when he finally manages to make NASA notice he’s there – through a fancy plan involving rovers and satellites that takes days to complete – the despair and hoplesness from everyone on Earth is directly contrasting with the hope and calmness that Mark maintains even on the bizarre situation he found himself in.

One of the scenes I remember the most is when one of the NASA executives stares dramatically at Mars from his office window at night and says something like “I can only imagine the desperate things going through this man’s head knowing he’s abandoned in Mars with the perspective to die in no time from lack of supplies…” and then the author focuses on Mark, watching one of his series and thinking “but if Aquaman can talk to fish, how does he talk to whales which are mammals…?”

A very valid question, Mark. You won me there.

Matt Damon dancing Hot Stuff at the middle of Mars with a radioactive isotope that can’t be broken while he drives on the rocky mountains of the planet? I love this man, I love this movie, I love this book

The movie does have the humor from the book, but I can guarantee that in the pages we have a lot more fun than watching the movie – and I get the motive. Mark himself, on the book, mentions that if they were to make a movie about what happened to him, they’d make it much more dramatic, with a heroic rescue at the end, the whole crew would run to hug him as if he wasn’t malnourished, without taking a shower for a while and with risk of contamination from some unknown disease.

And, honestly? I laughed when that was exactly what happened on the adaptation. Because literature and cinema are two different means of entretainment: what works for one of them, doesn’t work for the other. Because of that, we have book adaptations! Some situations must be changed to present the story better to everyone watching by means of images, sounds and acting.

Unless you’re Peter Jackson adaptating The Lord of the Rings, but that’s a story for another day.

The movie is a great adaptation, but trust on Artemis’ words: if you like sci-fi and space travel, don’t miss The Martian!

It’s a perfect mix of science, space missions, memes and 70’s songs, that gives us a fairly good idea of how NASA deals with the unexpected – apart from showing us that for everything in this life there’s a solution: just like Mark Watney planted his potatoes and colonized Mars to survive and even comunicate with Earth and finding a way to go back to his crew before his oxygen and food run out, we can also solve the problems that appear before us.

We just need a good planning and a fair dose of humor!

Bonus: Movie and Book

Want to watch the movie? It’s possible to find it on platforms like Google Play, ITunes, XBox, PlayStation and Youtube.

The book, at least here in Brazil, is out of stock. But searching on the main bookshops, Amazon or local book stores/used book stores might solve that problem! I strongly recommend to all sci-fi fans!

Mark Watney approves this recommendation and this post!

Bonus 2: Astronaut Week at Lune Station!

This whole week was dedicated to astronauts and space travel themes! I’ll leave here the posts by Hekate and Selene – which are very good – with great recommendations for those who like the theme!

Lunar Popcorn: Interstellar and The Wormhole, by Hekate

Lunar Popcorn: Over The Moon – The Legend of The Moon Goddess and Her Love

Known here on the Moon as Artemis, my name here on Earth is Kadine. I consider myself from Serra Negra – and I'm an Aries ascending in Scorpio. Interested on everything artistical, I have a weak spot for researching obscure things! Museum adventurer, I buy more books than I can read, super interested in other languages and cultures, tea and mug collector, writer on my free time and night gamer so I can rage with constant invaders on Dark Souls (and relax with Devil May Cry or Resident Evil).