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Thread: "The Martian" by Andy Weir [Spoilers]

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    "The Martian" by Andy Weir [Spoilers]

    Now that it is available in mass release, I figured I'd start a thread where people can discuss the book.

    I'm only a little way into it, but wonder why our intrepid astronaut, Mark Watney, didn't scratch "SOS" in giant letters into the dirt as one of his first tasks.
    Surely NASA has satellites in orbit, and they would be inclined to photograph the landing site, if only to assess the damage.

    Rescue might not be at hand, but getting word out that he is still alive would start the wheels turning.
    I may have many faults, but being wrong ain't one of them. - Jimmy Hoffa

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    Lots of dust devils that would erase scratched letters, but putting rocks into letter shapes would work as well as on desert islands here.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Extravoice View Post
    Now that it is available in mass release, I figured I'd start a thread where people can discuss the book.

    I'm only a little way into it, but wonder why our intrepid astronaut, Mark Watney, didn't scratch "SOS" in giant letters into the dirt as one of his first tasks.
    Surely NASA has satellites in orbit, and they would be inclined to photograph the landing site, if only to assess the damage.

    Rescue might not be at hand, but getting word out that he is still alive would start the wheels turning.
    Just wait.

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    I just finished this great novel. I thought I was there. I am not a fan of first person. This story needed first person. When bad things happen I felt [redacted]. This was a visceral reaction. The Martian is great.
    Last edited by PetersCreek; 2014-Mar-13 at 12:45 AM. Reason: Not very family friendly language

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    I found the science mostly believable, but my knowledge of specific areas is far from complete.
    For example, could he really grow the potatoes?
    I recall that the Phoenix lander found high concentrations of perchlorate, which is apparently pretty nasty to living things.

    As to the overall story, I really enjoyed it, but thought the problems started going a little over the top toward the end. While it would make for a dramatic movie scene, blowing the airlock on Hermes seemed a little much for me.

    Also, it's nice to see mostly-competent people in a story that involves a government agency.
    BTW: Would NASA have to release satellite photos of the landing site if they contained his dead body?
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    The perchlorate issue is nothing like what the media's made of it. The LD50 of sodium perchlorate in rats is 2100 mg/kg...table salt is 3000 mg/kg. And perchlorates are unstable and water soluble: they're easy to wash out and residues won't last long in the presence of organic materials.

    If there's a lot, he'd have to wash it out, just as he would with any other salts (and if there's a lot, it's probably from an evaporite deposit with lots of salts that will need to be washed out anyway, including plain sodium chloride). In humans, perchlorate is taken up in place of iodine, so if he's getting constant exposure over a long period of time (constantly switching to fresh regolith that still has perchlorate in it) and doesn't have iodine supplements, he might eventually have thyroid issues. Potatoes probably wouldn't care.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Extravoice View Post
    I found the science mostly believable, but my knowledge of specific areas is far from complete.
    For example, could he really grow the potatoes?
    I recall that the Phoenix lander found high concentrations of perchlorate, which is apparently pretty nasty to living things.
    Asparagus would do well on Mars, it seems.
    So much so, in fact, that Kounaves suggested future colonists might be able to use the Martian dirt around Phoenix (seen above at the tip of the Robotic Arm scoop) "to grow asparagus very well".

    While the alkalinity of the soil sample will please asparagonauts, it'll come as a blow to strawberry-loving interplanetary gardeners, since the fruit requires somwhat more acidity. However, NASA notes that elsewhere on the Martian surface may prove suitable for future cultivation of Wimbledon's favourite punnet-filler.*

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    Growing plants like strawberries that like more acidic soil isn't a matter of finding a patch of more acidic regolith...you need to build a soil with leached and weathered regolith and large quantities of organic material.

    Potatoes do better in somewhat acidic soil, but will grow in pretty much anything. I haven't read the book, but probably the biggest threat of failure in an improvised farm would come from bacterial or fungal contamination...with no soil microbes in the regolith to compete with, things could go bad quickly.

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    The Martian is going mainstream! cant wait for the Movie! CNN article: How to survive on Mars

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    Quote Originally Posted by cjameshuff View Post
    Growing plants like strawberries that like more acidic soil isn't a matter of finding a patch of more acidic regolith...you need to build a soil with leached and weathered regolith and large quantities of organic material.

    Potatoes do better in somewhat acidic soil, but will grow in pretty much anything. I haven't read the book, but probably the biggest threat of failure in an improvised farm would come from bacterial or fungal contamination...with no soil microbes in the regolith to compete with, things could go bad quickly.
    They would likely do much better by going hydroponic for food growing.
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    Quote Originally Posted by HenrikOlsen View Post
    They would likely do much better by going hydroponic for food growing.
    If they had the necessary setup and supplies. The premise of the novel is that the expedition was short-term (much shorter, true, than the trip itself, back and forth)

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    Quote Originally Posted by grapes View Post
    If they had the necessary setup and supplies. The premise of the novel is that the expedition was short-term (much shorter, true, than the trip itself, back and forth)
    Yeah, the "growing potatoes" thing was a jury (jerry?) rig to stretch the food supply.
    Last edited by Extravoice; 2014-Mar-20 at 06:31 PM.
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    Growing in raw regolith would essentially be hydroponics. The microbial contamination issues I mentioned are a common affliction in hydroponic setups here on Earth.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cjameshuff View Post
    Growing in raw regolith would essentially be hydroponics. The microbial contamination issues I mentioned are a common affliction in hydroponic setups here on Earth.
    Not to be too much a spoiler--this is an early plot point--that issue is addressed in the book, so he is not growing hydroponic.

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    Wow, that was one cool page turner, I loved it!
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    So, how will Hollywood ruin the story in the movie?
    I may have many faults, but being wrong ain't one of them. - Jimmy Hoffa

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    I'm late to the thread but bought the e-book on release day and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The coarseness of the opening sentence took me by surprise, made me laugh, and hooked me for the duration.
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    I think there were several places where the profanity might have been a little overdone, but it worked well at the opening of the book.
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    I think it worked well throughout the book. I can see how some folks would think it overdone in parts but then I know a lot of people who would overdo it themselves (this self included) or even worse if they found themselves in such a situation.
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    [Professor Farnsworth] Good news, everyone! Ridley Scott's interested in directing! [/PF] (Those of you familiar with Futurama will know that whenever the Professor says, "Good news!" there's always a catch. In this case, the catch is that he wants Matt Damon to star in the film.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tuckerfan View Post
    [Professor Farnsworth] Good news, everyone! Ridley Scott's interested in directing! [/PF] (Those of you familiar with Futurama will know that whenever the Professor says, "Good news!" there's always a catch. In this case, the catch is that he wants Matt Damon to star in the film.)
    Matt Damon is another one of those "can actually act if he gets the right script and director" actors. I don't think Ridley Scott is one of them.
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    I'm amazed at how generally popular this book is, though maybe a little less surprised that it's popular with the group of tech/engineering enthusiasts that gathers on this forum.

    I could barely finish it. I felt I was wading through endless information about how many holes he had to drill and how long that took, how the solar panels had to be stacked, which things he had to glue to which other things, and on and on and on. For me, it only livened up in the closing chapters when the protagonist was heading for orbit - I could have done with a lot more writing at that pace, and a lot less of the show-and-tell of the first 90% of the book. Who'd've thought so many people would want so much detail?

    He's also not very good with his gas physiology - confused about oxygen, double-counting his carbon dioxide. Since that all blew up in the early chapters, I suspect it rather poisoned my willingness to be lectured later.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    He's also not very good with his gas physiology - confused about oxygen, double-counting his carbon dioxide. Since that all blew up in the early chapters, I suspect it rather poisoned my willingness to be lectured later.

    Grant Hutchison
    Seeing how confusion about this was what killed the Biosphere 2 experiment, it's something people need to get right when telling this type of story.
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Who'd've thought so many people would want so much detail?
    I had the same reaction when I read Moby Dick

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    Quote Originally Posted by grapes View Post
    I had the same reaction when I read Moby Dick
    Yeah. And look what Moby-Dick did to Melville's career.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by Extravoice View Post
    So, how will Hollywood ruin the story in the movie?
    He'll have a love interest. The clothing-eschewing Tara Thoris will fall for him, and supply him with all he needs.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Yeah. And look what Moby-Dick did to Melville's career.

    Grant Hutchison
    Weir's made enough money quit his job and start writing full time, so I think he's doing a little better than Melville (especially considering Melville's currently pushing up daisies).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tuckerfan View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison
    Yeah. And look what Moby-Dick did to Melville's career.

    Grant Hutchison
    Weir's made enough money quit his job and start writing full time, so I think he's doing a little better than Melville (especially considering Melville's currently pushing up daisies).
    I agree. I didn't make my point well at all.

    I assumed grapes was trying to draw some sort of analogy between Moby-Dick and The Martian. But all that detail in Moby-Dick earned Melville a critical lambasting and the start of a career decline, whereas Weir seems to have done the opposite. However, Melville subsequently got layered up with allegory and became a major literary figure after his death. I'm doubting that's going to happen to Weir, and I'm doubting Weir cares, and I agree with Weir if he doesn't care.

    So if grapes was making an analogy, I don't understand his post. And if grapes wasn't making an analogy, I don't understand his post. But since I made a post that no-one is likely to understand, I ain't criticizing.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by HenrikOlsen View Post
    Seeing how confusion about this was what killed the Biosphere 2 experiment, it's something people need to get right when telling this type of story.
    Mission-critical, you might say.
    I haven't fretted much about gas physiology in fiction since Ian Fleming killed someone with gold skin paint, and I more or less gave up on the issue when Larry Niven claimed that there is an atmospheric carbon dioxide sensor in your armpit which is the main stimulus that keeps you breathing. But Weir just kept doing it until I developed involuntary tooth grinding.

    Grant Hutchison

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