The Martian

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Astronaut Mark Watney is the 18th man on Mars. He’s a member of the manned Mars mission Ares 3. Or he was, when the mission was aborted on Sol 6. After an accident during the crew’s unplanned departure, Watney is presumed dead and left alone on the desert planet. Many ordinary astronauts would have given up; the situation certainly seems hopeless. But Mark finds the will and resourcefulness he needs to keep fighting for survival.

 

I don’t feel bad if I spoil this for you. It’s a Matt Damon movie, and a damn good one. It also nearly follows the book to a T. Many of Watney’s clever one-liners even make it into the movie. If you haven’t seen it or read the book, you’re honestly missing out. 10/10 would recommend this story, in book or movie form.

Mark Watney’s voice is full of dry humor and life. He manages to maintain hope in a hopeless and dark situation. Like the psychology on staff in Weir’s NASA said, Mark’s response to extreme stress is to make light of the situation. Any time it feels like our hero is a goner, he cracks a joke, lightens the mood and then solves the problem. Watney is a protagonist in the most definitive sense of the word; he is the human we all want to be; kind, compassionate, intelligent. He’s forgiving and believes the best in humanity as whole. Even so, he’s not naive. He knows life isn’t fair, and he’s quick to point it out, usually involving some kind of humor, and moves on. My friends consider me to be one of the most cynical people they know, and I’d love to be a little more like Mark.

It’s initially very difficult to relate to the characters on the ground. Their voice isn’t as strong as Mark’s, so his story drowns theirs out. It’s not until they’re sure that Watney is alive and kicking that any of them develop any personality. Placed in contrast with Mark, some of these mere mortals come off as cowardly or selfish. They make questionable decisions and they fuck things up.

Finding Pathfinder was such an important step in this journey for a few reasons. 1) It established communication with NASA. This is very practical (now he can talk to the smarted people in the world. They might help him get out of this mess), but it’s also incredibly symbolic. Mark thought he was the only one who knew he was alive on Mars. Now he’s not alone. 2) It established just how resourceful Mark Watney is. Even the folks at NASA didn’t consider him finding Pathfinder until Watney figured it out. It’s the first time it makes you think, this man might make it out alive. 

Sure, this is a survival story. I could draw many parallels between The Martian and Life of Pi, or any other castaway story, really. But like Mark says at the end; he was never alone. His success and survival in this story hinged on the human tendency to help other people. Without thousands of people back on Earth working around the clock to save him, Mark would’ve never made it home. Without their unswerving determination that Mark Watney would not die alone on Mars, he would have. So yeah, this is an epic survival story. But the success belongs to the collective rather than one man whose life should’ve ended in a dust storm on a distant planet.

 

 

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The Glass Spare by Lauren DeStefano

The Glass Spare by [DeStefano, Lauren]
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You’re wind. You’re everywhere 

Wilhelmina Heidle is a princess. She is the third spare child of the king of the wealthiest nation, and she will never inherit the throne. Wil is a force to be reckoned with. Her greatest weapon is her anonymity. Rumors have the princess of Arrod sailing the seas or attending boarding school, but in reality Wil has been training with her older brother Owen and venturing into the slums of the capital city to retrieve chemicals for her other brother Gerdie. Her father sends her into the city to spy on his enemies and one day she hopes he’ll send her into the world.

When a deal goes wrong, Wil earns her first kill, and realizes her terrible power; any living thing she touches turns to gemstone. Soon after, tragedy strikes her family and she gets her wish. Her father banishes her, tells her that she’s cursed and if she ever returns to Arrod, he’ll kill her himself.

DeStefano, as always is original. Even when she’s appropriating a myth, like King Midas, her characters and settings are unique. Wil is not your average angry teenage protagonist. She’s connected to her family and relatively happy, relatively willing to ignore blatant injustice in her own kingdom, trusting that things will get better for her. Loom is not a revolutionary. He’s a boy who saw what was wrong with the kingdom he was meant to inherit, and he wanted to change something. His trust that Wil will make the same choice is refreshing.

So many will see Wil in themselves. Those struck with impossible wanderlust will see themselves in her need to get out and experience the world. Those who struggle with their own minds will appreciate the clear metaphor Wil’s curse is. Wil is proud and stubborn and fierce. Despite her belief that she is a monster, and time and again she makes personal sacrifices that prove otherwise.

I honestly had a difficult time writing this review, because the writing is so pretty and the premise is so interesting. But it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of development and memorability. It’s clearly setting up for a sequel, but in the process, it leaves many of the characters feeling flat and unrelatable. I’m excited to see where the rest of this series goes, but I was a little disappointed by The Glass Spare.