A Box of Pure Radiation: The Martian, by Andy Weir

As with most of life’s problems, this one can be solved by a box of pure radiation.”
Andy Weir, The Martian

I am once again reviewing a book that has been out for a while, but it’s only because I just discovered it. (Well, technically, my friend Marty discovered it, and then gave it to me.)

I love hard science fiction. Sometimes. I used to love it more, back when I was reading any science fiction I could get my hands on, when I was catching up on everything that Clarke/Asimov/Heinlein, et.al. were writing and had written. But full enjoyment of hard science fiction can be elusive for me, and I think it has a lot to do with the types of characters I encounter–anytime I get pulled out of the narrative by sub-optimal characterization, I start to get antsy and will put the book down. I’ve become a horribly fair-weather reader: it only takes a few slip-ups for me to turn elsewhere for my limited reading time pleasure. Gone are the childhood days of sticking with books that I wasn’t sure I liked and re-reading anything I liked as often as I liked. Now, I need to be AMAZED…

The Martian by Andy Weir amazed me. Over and over again, until I was hiding in my own house, compulsively reading, hoping no one would notice that it was time for ski practice or dinner or that the kids should really be going to bed. I finished in two sittings, but I would have done it in one if I could have managed it (damn you, responsibilities and schedules! Why did I think growing up was a GOOD thing?)

Main character,  Mark Watney, is totally a guy you want to spend time with, and he has a consistent, utterly believable voice. I forgot I was even reading, and I’m pretty jaded as a reader (see above.) He’s stranded on Mars and has to survive by his own ingenuity. That’s pretty much it, and I was actually shocked at how much I liked the book right away. All of the science and engineering felt real, but never in a didactic way. I even recommended the book to my non-SF friends. The gems of real science are fully embedded and if you skim over a few places that don’t fascinate you, that’s okay. Mark’s voice is so utterly compelling, though, that I really wanted him to explain to me how he had to electrolyze his urine…

SLIGHT SPOILER: It’s Incredibly suspenseful–is he going to DIIE?–even though I was pretty sure my friend Marty would have warned me if the author had killed him off in the end; we’ve had several discussions in our writer’s group about endings in which the main character dies (I’m looking at you, Iain Banks!)

I’m still laughing at things the main character said, and the box of pure radiation quote is my favorite. I kind of want to steal it and write a novel called A Box of Pure Radiation. I have no idea what it would be about, but it would have to be awesome if it had a title like that.

The Martian by Andy Weir

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