Tag Archives: Astronomy

The Martian

The Martian has been on my reading list for quite a while, especially after having seen the movie. All I can say is, the book was even better.

The Martian is the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut who ends up stranded alone on Mars when the rest of the crew is forced to do an emergency mission abort. Believing him dead, the crew is forced to leave him behind.

Naturally, Watney turns out to be not dead, and thus ensues his story of survival. Watney has to fight against the elements of Mars, as well as make modifications to everything he has in order to make it last until help arrives. Back on Earth, when NASA quickly discovers Watney survived, everyone is pulling together to try to bring him home.

Before I knew a whole lot about the book, aside the premise, I was a little uncertain how interesting it could be. It’s the story of one guy all by himself. But author Andy Weir uses a log entry format to tell Watney’s story in first person, without making it boring or seem like he’s talking to himself.

I also loved that, despite being stranded, Watney is still pretty snarky. I relate to that on a very deep level.

While the movie was slow in parts, the book flies by. Weir does an excellent job of knowing when to give details, and when to allow “I drove 90 kilometers today” to cut it.

The Martian is an excellent book for when you want something sci-fi, but you want it to feel realistic. For some people, Mars is still the space goal, and this book could turn out to be historical fiction ahead of its time.

Either way, it’s still just a good read. The only thing missing was my favorite quote from the movie, which, despite not being canon, was utterly in keeping with Mark Watney’s character. He would totally have said, “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

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The Return

When I saw that Buzz Aldrin had written (or co-written, at least John Barnes authored the book also) a sci-fi book, I couldn’t pass it up.

The Return was written and set in the 2000s. It follows the lives of four people who are inextricably linked. Kids together, Scott, Nick, Thalia and Eddie called themselves the Mars Four and dreamed of going there after growing up in the ’60s. In their adult lives, each one has been individually working toward commercial space travel.

When a routine mission goes fatally wrong, it’s just the beginning of a chain of events that make it seem like someone wants to keep the everyday folks out of space. A bomb set off in the upper atmosphere, putting the crew of the International Space Station in deadly danger, and now only the Mars Four and their individual expertise can save the crew.

The Return is all adventure and action, with a dash of nostalgia. And as it’s written by someone who’s been there, it actually does not read like sci-fi, but more like a fiction book. This isn’t Star Trek or Star Wars, this book reads like something that could happen today, with no magic high-tech gadgets required.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and not just because I love just about anything associated with space. It was fun, the characters felt real and relatable. It had action and intrigue. It was about everything you’d want in a book. Plus, when they did talk about science, it was explained clearly, no fancy jargon and complicated terms, just plain English.

The Return is, however, one of those books that just might turn you into a believer again. Surely the technology is out there, both for commercial space travel and, eventually, for Mars. Some people already firmly believe in that future and are working toward it. After reading this book, you might find a bit of that passion has rubbed off on you too. And even if you’re not signing up for a Mars mission, you might find that you hope we have enough people around who will.

Hidden Figures

I saw the preview for Hidden Figures shortly after I’d seen the book at work. Right away, I knew I wanted to read it. Astronomy and all its facets has always fascinated me, and I knew Hidden Figures would too.

Having read the book after seeing previews for the film (haven’t yet seen it, though), the book certainly wasn’t quite what I had expected.

The book chronicles the lives of several women–black women–who began working for NASA (or rather its precursor, NACA) in the thick of World War II, and paved the way for not only the astronauts to enter space, but for equality and integration to spread throughout the organization.

The book focuses mainly on four women and how they fought for advancement, seeking titles of mathematicians and engineers instead of being stuck being computers.

After having seen the preview for the film, I was honestly expecting something more biographical of the women–and more interaction between their stores.  Hidden Figures read more like a brief history of how black women worked their way into traditionally white, male jobs. And while it was still interesting and a good read, I found myself having to readjust my expectations in order to finish the book.

My one issue with it was that it just wasn’t long enough. As author Margot Lee Shetterly herself said, she had to cut some parts out. And as I read the book, I wanted more. It seemed like this book could easily have been 400 or 500 pages, including more biographical detail and going deeper into the interactions between the women. But, perhaps that is what the film will accomplish.

Overall, the book was an enjoyable read, satiating my appetite for learning, even as it whetted it more. I’ll have to revisit my to-read list, I know I’ve got a few more science-related books on there.