The Martian Book Review - Lunchtime Lit With Mel Carriere

Updated on February 25, 2019
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Giving The Brain a Break

Lunchtime Lit has reviewed some pretty ponderous books. Several of the titles dissected and analyzed in this venue run over 800 tedious pages. One such heavy tome, to be reviewed in the future here, even has the word Infinite in its title, which pretty much summarizes the literary experience in the pages to follow. Be warned! Others, while thinner in overall girth, make up for it with the rigors of their palatability. Run-on sentences and excess verbosity are things your high school English teacher would have red-marked as errors for you, but are allowed in the name of art for established literary virtuosos, even though slogging through them can be like Grandma trying to gum taffy, with her false teeth soaking in a jar by the bathroom sink.

Every once in a while a reviewer has to take a break from sophisticated culinary fare and suck on some candy, lest the literary sweet tooth become permanently atrophied. Instead of dishing up Pappardelle with Sea Urchin and Cauliflower, you need to cast aside the culinary connoisseur in you and suck on a Tootsie Pop. How many licks to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop? Who cares - it's not about the end, it's about the journey.

Fortunately The Martian, by Andy Weir, is more than just a hunk of pure sugar, some corn-syrupy goo that induces literary diabetes if ingested daily. Rather, it is a sophisticated confection disguised in a colorful wrapper, like the package of d-CON rat poison I saw misplaced on the candy aisle the other day, but with less fatal consequences if ingested. It is not the Jolly Rancher, the Plain M&M, the PEZ sugar pill, but the Marc de Champagne Truffle of brain candy. It goes down smooth like chocolate, but at the same time contains plenty of nutritional value to nourish the mind.

The cratered plains of Acidalia Planitia, where The Martian takes place.
The cratered plains of Acidalia Planitia, where The Martian takes place. | Source

Lunchtime Lit Rules

Lunchtime Lit is the safe saccharin substitute for literary sweet-tooth cravings, designed to placate your ravenous glucose lust without sending you into a coma of advanced literary ketaocidosis. In other words, Mel's engorged pancreas breaks down the complex sugar molecules, so that you don't have to.

The rules for this metabolic process have remained unchanged since the beginnings of Lunchtime Lit. All books reviewed here are read only during Mel's half hour postal lunch break, no sneaking snacks home in his backpack like a bag of doctor-prohibited Hershey's kisses, to be deliciously consumed later in secret, while carefully keeping an eye on his literary glucose monitor.

Lunchtime Lit One Year Recap to Date * ** ***

Book
Pages
Word Count (Est.)
Date Started
Date Finished
Lunchtimes Consumed
Killing Patton
331
106,000
6/21/2016
7/11/2016 (Slurpee Day)
15
The Winter of Our Discontent
277
95,800
7/12/2016
8/2/2016
14
The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy
783
295,940
8/3/2016
10/15/2016
38
Kafka on The Shore
465
173,100
10/17/2016
11/25/2016
22
Life And Fate
848
309,960
11/26/2016
2/15/2017
49
The Mountain Shadow
838
285,650
2/17/2017
4/28/2017
37
A Confederacy of Dunces
392
124,470
4/29/2017
6/5/2017
17
The Martian
369
104,588
6/7/2017
6/29/2017
16

*Six other titles, with a total estimated word count of 1,791,400 and 237 lunchtimes consumed, have been reviewed under the guidelines of this series.

**Word counts are estimated by hand-counting a statistically significant 23 pages, then extrapolating this average page count across the entire book. When the book is available on a word count website, I rely on that total.

***If the dates are lagging, it is because I am still slogging along, trying to catch up after a prolonged absence from Hub Pages. Someday this list may be current, but don't hold your breath.

The Martian Synopsis

Astronaut/botanist Mark Watney, part of a manned NASA mission exploring the surface of The Red Planet, is left alone when the rest of the crew presumes him dead and ditches him during a severe Martian dust storm. The subsequent portion of the novel is a story of Mark's survival, as he slowly discoverers clever ways to communicate with Earth and to sustain his own life. Meanwhile, a multi-national effort is launched to rescue Watney, which includes the assistance of the abandoned astronaut's guilt ridden companions, who eventually become aware they screwed him over.

The Martian is definitely science fiction, but Kurt Vonnegut's assertion about his own fictional science fiction writer Kilgore Trout - like most science fiction writers he knew very little about science, definitely does not apply to Weir. Weir either knows a lot about science, seeming to have a thorough understanding of the mind-numbing orbital mechanics of space flight, the engineering of complex machines needed to travel to and move about on Mars, and the bio-chemistry required to make life work on a near-airless planet, or else he is faking it better than a high priced hooker. Even while spinning an extremely captivating, entertaining, and yes, humorous yarn, he held this reviewer in jaw-dropping awe with technical details so smooth and seamless that only a true master of the subject could weave them in without them getting clunky and awkward.

Smart  and funny neckbeard Andy Weir promotes his latest book in Livermore, California
Smart and funny neckbeard Andy Weir promotes his latest book in Livermore, California | Source

The Man Behind The Martian

The authors evaluated in this Lunchtime Lit literary review series usually have some pretty interesting backstories, being either inspiring tales of overcoming success against all odds, or gloomy narratives about dying in obscurity and poverty. In this case, Andy Weir happily falls into the former category. His drive to publish The Martian and eventually see it made into a hit movie followed a trajectory perhaps as complex as the fictional one he created to rescue his main character from across the vast vacuum of space. His strategy for becoming a successful writer offers hope for all of us small-time bloggers hacking away in anonymity, demonstrating that success can be achieved with no other resources other than a good story and an ability to self-promote online. Weir's acceleration to the escape velocity freeing him from such conventions demonstrates that the Internet has democratized the book business. No longer does a promising author have to be subject to the fickle whims and sterile formulae of gigantic publishing houses.

In my last review of A Confederacy of Dunces I wrote extensively on the subject of neckbeards. While The Martian author Andy Weir somewhat looks like a neckbeard, minus unsightly sub-equatorial throat hair, his practical abilities as a writer and Internet entrepreneur definitely exceed the abilities of the ordinary nerd that dwells perpetually in mother's basement. He has definitely worked on neckbeard games, however, having been a video game programmer on such notable dweebish titles as Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness.

Weir is mostly a self-made man. His Wikipedia page states that he had his first computer programming job at age 15, no less, at Sandia National Laboratories. Despite this prodigious talent, he was evidently too cool for school, leaving UC San Diego before graduation. While kicking around various programming gigs he began to pursue his lifelong dream of writing, coupling this passion with a zest for the exploration of the cosmos. In addition to being a self-described "space nerd," Weir's other hobbies include "relativistic physics and orbital mechanics." He also claims to mix a mean cocktail. It would take a lot of such cocktails to get the party started at gatherings of like-minded geeks such as Andy's buddies, but if you have enough hard cash from a bestselling novel you might be able to coax a few foot-dragging females in, to make the proceedings a little easier on the eyes.

Weir's early efforts to publish his work via conventional channels failed, so in 2009 he began posting The Martian chapter by chapter on his own website. When enthusiastic readers begged for an e-book version, he started peddling his story on Amazon for 99 cents a pop. On that platform, the novel sold 35,000 copies in four months. These colossal sales stimulated interest from book and movie moguls, resulting in Weir signing deals for both in the same week of March, 2013.

Artists rendering of what a future Mars mission might look like
Artists rendering of what a future Mars mission might look like | Source

Can Andy Weir Help Mel Live The Dream

When my offspring accidentally fall within earshot, I regale them with my boring, yet sometimes accurate theories. One of my mantras, which I repeatedly proclaim from my drunken wannabe writer's soapbox, is that there are only so many stories circulating around the human race since we first graduated from grunting to intelligible speech. Human experience is vast but limited, so people eventually run out of tales to tell. What matters then, is not the story but its delivery. For instance, William Shakespeare copied and pasted his plots from history, legend, and contemporary Italian writers. But oh how the Bard could spin these regurgitated accounts into timeless dramatic masterpieces, using a facility of language that seemed no less than divine.

Okay, Weir is no Shakespeare, but he does possess one hell of a wit. This talent is what separates The Martian from the novels of scores of other dull science fiction writers who died penniless, scribbling away mundane, uninspiring descriptions about colonies on other planets. In contrast, despite its incredible technological detail, The Martian is not dull at all. Reading this pulse-racing tale, you will raise your eyebrows in wonder in one paragraph, then snort your lunch out your nose the next, suffocating in spasms from a humor that does come from the outer reaches of the solar system, like a Martian meteor crashing in the Antarctic ice, but is more earthy in nature.

I would like to add one more thing before I close that is not quite pertinent to a literary review, but I am going to include it anyway because I have emancipated myself from such conventions. As a five year old boy, I still recall watching Neil Armstrong on black and white TV as he took that giant step for mankind, walking on the moon on what was probably a scorching July 21, 1969 in my then home of Tempe, Arizona, though I don't remember any heat. I only remember the thrill. Because of that I too am a self-proclaimed space nerd, but one that deliberately avoided learning about orbital mechanics and relativistic physics because those topics made it problematic to hit on girls. Nonetheless, since that unforgettable moment in 1969 it has been my fervent dream to see a man walk on Mars before I die. However, because our nation has been plagued by Presidents of very little imagination since the death of Kennedy, I recognize this desire now as probably just being false hope. Yet because of skilled writers such as Andy Weir, I hold onto a flicker of faith that the spark that sent America to the moon can be rekindled, and help get us over the hump to the red planet.

Questions & Answers

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      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        5 months ago from San Diego California

        Beautiful Lawrence. We here are eternal allies and friends forever.

      • lawrence01 profile image

        Lawrence Hebb 

        5 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

        Mel

        'Men of every creed and race

        Stand before thy face

        Asking thee to bless this place

        God defend NewZealand'

        From the National Anthem.

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        5 months ago from San Diego California

        Too bad that poison had to seep down there to your peaceful little nation, Lawrence. All my love to all Kiwis of every race, creed and color.

      • lawrence01 profile image

        Lawrence Hebb 

        5 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

        Mel

        Thank you for your thoughts. NZ has a small population so something like those events are pretty catastrophic for us.

        Its been likened to the effect 911 had on the USA but the big difference is the one who carried it out looks and sounds just like us!

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        5 months ago from San Diego California

        Thank you Lawrence. It's my understanding that Mars has massive dust storms that completely envelop the planet so that surface features cannot be seen at times. Even before I read this book I remember hearing about that.

        Whatever the case, I hope you are doing well. New Zealand must be reeling from that horrible tragedy. God bless and thanks for dropping by.

      • lawrence01 profile image

        Lawrence Hebb 

        5 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

        Mel

        You mean there's still hope for us!!

        I can still believe that one day my series will be three movies, YIPEE!! :-)

        I watched the movie and the only thing it got wrong was the storm. Mars atmosphere is only 1% of the earth's so they reckon we wouldn't even notice a blizzard blowing as it would be so gentle on us.

        Still a great yarn, and by the sounds of things, a great book.

        Lawrence

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        5 months ago from San Diego California

        I'm gonna have a milkshake right now Miz Bejabbers so here's a long distance toast to Mars and beyond. I would tip something stronger in it but the wife is looking over my shoulder. Thanks for reading!

      • MizBejabbers profile image

        Doris James MizBejabbers 

        5 months ago from Beautiful South

        Well, I care, Mel. Your review was poetic, strange for sci-fi, but so what. I haven't read the book, but you made me want to. I was a sci-fi nerd before man walked on the moon. That was back when it was all mechanical and not so much fantasy. I just wish I could write the stuff. So let's have a drink to your great review. Make mine a white chocolate mocha.

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        5 months ago from San Diego California

        You are very welcome Heidi. Great to hear from you.

      • heidithorne profile image

        Heidi Thorne 

        5 months ago from Chicago Area

        I didn't read The Martian, but I did love the movie... at least until the end when his rescue was just plain unbelievable.

        I was a kiddo, too, when we took that one small step on the moon. Glad to have been alive then. Thanks for sharing your review and memories!

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        5 months ago from San Diego California

        Bill you are such a prolific writer and urban farmer I don't see how you have time to read a book. Leave that for we the indolent. Thanks for dropping in my man.

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        5 months ago from San Diego California

        Thanks again John for getting my back. I didn't take anything supportive from BM's comment. Smelled like snark to me. Oh well, if he wants to piss all over my page I guess I'll let him. Free speech and all that.

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        5 months ago from San Diego California

        Hmmm Mills. Kind of shaking my head on that one. I know Jean Shepherd, I read up on him after the Christmas Story. I think he was America's first shock jock. I know he is from some Indiana town. I would love to read his collection of short stories some day. Thanks for checking in Mills.

      • profile image

        Pat Mills 

        6 months ago from East Chicago, Indiana

        I think some of us here wish they could find someone who will help them make a breakthrough to a bigger reading throng, I have grown content getting just some attention. I don't aspire to be the next Shakespeare or Andy Weir or even a local hero like Jean Shepherd or John R. Powers. I'm just glad to be who i am as a writer, and that Mr. Weir doesn't feel compelled to get a restraining order against you. Thanks as always for sharing.

      • bradmasterOCcal profile image

        Brad 

        6 months ago

        John

        "Ok Brad, I shouldn’t have attacked you personally. I apologise for that, however your original comment to Mel reeked of sarcasm. "

        B: Thank you for the apology. The sarcasm was all yours, when I made the comment there were no other comments. When I see an article that deserves comments, I usually leave one. Without comments there is no feedback to the author, and it is especially important when it deserves accolades.

        Oh, but my first comment was in context of the article, and I have no affiliation in regard to American politics either so whether you support Trump or not doesn’t really matter."

        B: As for the Trump, why did you mention it at all? As I mentioned to Mel, if he would have asked me about my comment he would have known the truth.

        Fair enough!

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        6 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Ok Brad, I shouldn’t have attacked you personally. I apologise for that, however your original comment to Mel reeked of sarcasm. Oh, but my first comment was in context of the article, and I have no affiliation in regard to American politics either so whether you support Trump or not doesn’t really matter.

      • bradmasterOCcal profile image

        Brad 

        6 months ago

        Mel

        Bill and I were the only ones to comment in context of your article. You and John, what did you do?

      • bradmasterOCcal profile image

        Brad 

        6 months ago

        Mel

        I was actually being supportive of you and your work.

        John

        John Hansen

        5 hours ago from Queensland Australia

        Check BM's profile score 35 and number of comments on hubs...all pro-Trump or anti-Democrat. I guess he is just an angry man or bored lol. As you say this isn't even political....strange to get hate comments on a book review.

        B: What? Actually my hubber score is 32 and it has been as low as 14. I am pro Trump and anti Democrat but I am not a republican, I just like Trump because he is not either of them.

        As for you, why did you attack me. Can you read what I wrote, and you call it hate.

        Maybe you should read my articles instead of making these remarks stimulating hate.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        6 months ago from Olympia, WA

        I've read two books on the last year. Not sure why I've dried up, since i used to read daily for years. Hopefully I'll get my swag back soon.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        6 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Check BM's profile score 35 and number of comments on hubs...all pro-Trump or anti-Democrat. I guess he is just an angry man or bored lol. As you say this isn't even political....strange to get hate comments on a book review.

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        6 months ago from San Diego California

        Thanks John so much for taking the bad taste out of my mouth from the previous comment. I've tackled some political subjects before for which I expect trolls, but as far as I know there was no slant on this hub, except I implied I liked JFK. Anyway, why dwell on unpleasant people, this is a great book and I hope you get to read it. I appreciate you dropping in.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        6 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Ignore Brad Masters, the neigh-saying troll. This was a wonderful review. I haven't seen the movie starring Matt Damon yet, but you have convinced me to read the book. Andy Weir sounds like a wonderfully talented writer. I too am somewhat of a space nerd, so I loved this. Good job, Mel.

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        6 months ago from San Diego California

        I don't know about that Brad Masters. I expect to hear from the usual faithful. Thanks for your snarky words.

      • bradmasterOCcal profile image

        Brad 

        6 months ago

        You did all that work and no one on Hp cared. That is a shame!

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