The Ultimate Survival Fiction
Book review by James C. Jones
After a while I get tired of the standard survival fiction stories with the ex-military, armed to the teeth superhero fighting of the mythical rogue military units, and roving biker gangs while traveling to their big retreat in the northwest mountains. Fun reading, but seldom much real survival thinking education there. I often find my best survival concepts in non-survival literature. I am not a big science fiction fan, but the concept of the Martian fascinated me. A man stranded alone and abandoned on Mars. Mars! No breathable air, free water, edible anything, no other humans for millions of miles. Now that’s a survival challenge. Of course our hero, Mark Watney does have some left behind food, water, shelter and oxygen, but not near enough for the hundreds of days he has to survive before there is any chance of rescue. What he does have most is knowledge, improvisation, determination and imagination. Of course there is some good luck, but plenty of bad luck to. He makes some nearly fatal mistakes. Nothing in the story relates to survival techniques usable on earth, but everything in the story relates to survival thinking. How to think is much more important than basic information in survival and in life. Watney follows every one of my “Ten Principles of Survival” outlined in my recent articles.
- He anticipates issues and problems and has solutions in mind
- He stays aware of what’s going on around him
- He focuses on being there (on Mars!) now rather than dreaming about where he would like to be
- He stays calm. Even after some huge disasters, he gets it together fast
- He evaluates and reevaluates his situation, resources and options to make good decision
- He does the next right thing instead of be overwhelmed by a seemingly hopeless situation.
- He definitely takes control and owns his environment and situation. He is the Martian and ignores mission control to make his own decisions. He happens to Mars not the other way around.
- He has what he needs. Well at least most of what he needs. He makes the rest
- He uses what he has. Wow! This is probably the main issue of the book. He Improvises, re-purposes and invents devices to make air, food, water and even rocket fuel.
- He does what is necessary to survive including risks, pain, boredom, and an awesome journey across the barren deserts of Mars alone.
And of course my 11th principle of survival: he never gives up.
- He also keeps his sense of humor with all sorts of comments in his log. When he has really screwed up or Mars is trying to kill him again, he says “Okay Watney, stop whining and get back to work”. That’s how we survive!
Okay: this book review gave me an excuse to restate the principles, but it’s a great read and can help you understand how these principles apply to almost every situation. A lot of the improvising his highly technical math, chemistry and computer science. The author is a software engineer with interests in orbital mechanics and relativistic physics. Yes, a nerd. So if you want to skip that, you can wait for the movie, but the book is more fun.
The Martian by Andy Weir, 434 pages, paperback, from Broadway Books, $9.99. Movie in theaters this week.