Surviving the Red Planet

I should have written this post some time ago, at the very least a week ago, but then life and confusion that it brings, took over and now I get the time to finally get down to it! If I have said it once, I have said it a million times, science and I are not good friends; in fact we do not have any friendly relation at all; it’s more of one eyeing the other suspiciously and moving along. Unlike History where I am automatically drawn in, science makes me run in the opposite direction. Therefore my adventures in Science Fiction have been very far and extremely few. I was happy in leading life this way until I read Stefanie’s review of Andy Weir’s The Martian and I must confess, against my instinct, against my avowed dislike, I was curious enough to pick up this science fiction.

The Martian begins when NASA astronaut, mechanical engineer and botanist all rolled into one Mark Watney is left stranded on Mars, after his crew mates presumed him for dead, when he was impaled by an antenna blown away in the dust storm, that forces Ares 3 crew to abandon their work and head back to earth.  Mark wakes up after a couple of hours and realizes what has transpired; including the fact that all radio communication has been destroyed and NASA has no way of knowing that he lives and to plan a rescue mission. Mark comes to the conclusion that if he wants to make it  back to earth, he needs to survive on Mars for four years , when Ares 4 reaches Mars. Thus begins his efforts and endeavors in surviving Mars- from creating water, to potato farming in the Hub, Mark is now to use all his mechanical and  botanical skills to survive years. In the meanwhile , via satellite NASA discovers Mars is alive and begin a race against time to plan and execute a rescue mission to get Mark back. When a tear in the canvas of the Hab is breached, collapsing the Hab and destroying Mark’s potato farm, NASA is even more pressurized to turn out a solution quickly or Mark would die of starvation. This is further complicated by the fact that the unmanned probe hastily prepared to send Mark supplies, fails and crashes within minutes of launch. The only option left is to send the Ares 3 crew back through a slingshot trajectory to Mars to get Mark back, potentially endangering the lives of 5 crewman of Ares 3.

While the synopsis sounds kind of gloom and doom and if you have seen the trailer of the film, your idea may be reinforced, (this is why I thinks books should never be made into films…Hollywood messes up good books!) the book is anything but gloom and doom. Written in form of logs that Mark keeps , it is vibrant, humorous and a scientific account of all his adventures on Mars. The books thus contains detail accounts of how to create water, how to maneuver the rover to get across Mars and how to convert water from hydrazine. You see Mark take Mars by the horns and get on the planet’s back to reach the finish line. There is plenty and I do mean plenty of science, but it is easy to understand and simple enough for science zero like me to follow. But its just not science, there is a lot of humor, and it is this humor which sustains the reader through the book, because between science and the incredible plot twists, things to get kind of fuzzy. But Weir handles the whole thing with mastery with nail biting moments and laugh out loud moments all balanced together for a wonderful and brilliant read!

If you have not read the book, read it! I have seen the trailer and trust me regardless of how the movie turns out to be, you have got to read the book. Not reading the book is to truly miss out on something awesome!

Thank you Stefanie, once again for convincing me to read something outside my comfort zone, and guess what…as always, you are so right!!!

The Eternal Joy of a Funny, Brilliant and Humane Mind….Sir Terry Pratchett!

As the world knows by now, that Sir Terry Pratchett had a recent visitation from DEATH and in his language has “moved on”. I mourn his loss as much as other Pratchett fans and know that life on the third planet from the sun, without his wisdom, humanity and funny bones would simply be not the same. However knowing him, I do not think he would have appreciated ‘mourning’ and would have found much hilarity at the professed grief of folks who have never read his work, let alone appreciating it. He would instead read his true fans a riot act for being cast down when he was simply “getting on with things”. Therefore instead of doing an obituary post, I thought of blogging about some of best reasons why we all adored Sir Terry Pratchett and his Discworld!

  1. The Great A’Tuin and Discworld – Why? Give me one good reason why you would want to live on earth, when in the parallel trousers of time you could inhabit a world which sits atop four giant elephants who in turn stand on the back of the great big turtle A’Tuin….I mean earth just spins on its Axis while Discworld swims long gently rotating on the back of these creatures…far! far! Better I say!
  2. DEATH – YOU GOTTA LOVE DEATH. HE RIDES A COOL BIKE, CARRIES A SCYTHE, CAN WORK AS A HOGSFATHER WHEN THE NEED ARISES AND IS ALWAYS HELPFUL ABOUT THE TRANSITION THE LIVING BEINGS HAVE TO MAKE FROM ONE STAGE OF LIVE TO ANOTHER.
  3. Lord Vetinary – Not only is Discworld way cooler, but the leader of its greatest city Ankh-Morpork is the coolest dictator ever. A trained assassin, he knows the use of all kinds of people and has a finger in each pie (as in spy). He keeps the order, ensures the city makes money, provides a quick and easy end to any troublemaker and is indulgent for the right causes. He is never threatened, (Yes! Captain Carrot could be a potential kingly candidate) but Lord Vetinary could not care less and is more interested in understanding why Captain Carrot along with his superior Sam Vimes cannot hold peace in the city for longer duration!
  4. Ankh-Morpork – How can you not love Ankh Morpork, the greatest city of Discworld? How can you not hate Ankh Morpork, the greatest city of Discworld? Its rich, its crooked and its mad bad city like all big mad bad cities of world!! We love em’, we hate em’ but we cannot live without em’
  5. Ankh Morpork City Watch – The entire cast of characters led by formerly alcoholic, street talking walking cynical Sir Sam Vimes (One bottle is one too many) the very ideological and completely incapable of grasping sarcasm Captain Carrot, the gorgeous and seriously and I mean seriously deadly Angua and the amazingly none too bright pair of Fred Colon and Nobby Nobs…You love this watch and you want them to be the watch of your city….they are always late to the crime scene, they take forever to solve crimes, but they always get their man/woman/creature in the end, something our real life coppers have yet to master!
  6. The Witches – Bring on the drumroll and I am sure Granny Weatherwax would disapprove, but bring them on nevertheless!! The absolutely ruthless, rough talking, no-nonsense Granny Weatherwax who is not particularly fond of people, but she will stand by them, well because you gotta stand by them! Nanny Ogg, the gregarious, alcohol loving, bawdy song singing Nanny is the “mother” as likes to think of the gang. The third have beens with their unique perspectives: Magrat Garlick who loved herbs and nature and became the queen, the fat Agnes Nitt with a voice of gold and Tiffany Aching!!
  7. The Footnotes – What are these books without the footnotes – a detailed explanation to all that is caustic, funny and convoluted of complex and not so complex issues of Discworld. Like my flatmate/best friend says they are a parallel plot unto themselves and you truly cannot imagine the Discworld without these gentle and not so gentle references!
  8. The Parodies – Oh! My! Did Sir Pratchett make a parody of Sir William Shakespeare or Gaston Leroux? It is said that parodies are one of the highest forms of flattery; I am not sure if Sir Pratchett meant to flatter either of the “greats”, but he did make “Wyrd Sisters” and “Maskerade” a whole lot funnier and intellectually palatable than “Hamlet” or “The Phantom of the Opera”!
  9. The Moral Brand – Sir Pratchett was for all his imagination and humor a humanist. Anything mean, discriminatory or stupid got onto him and came out as scathing lashing critique of the utter stupidity of mankind through his pen. His City Watch was a testimony to his belief that all creatures are born equal and that no one was lesser or superior basis birth. He was intolerant of anything remotely resembling racism or xenophobia and was caustic in his condemnation of nations of their greed and power mania (Jingo is a prime example) and religious narrow mindedness (Small Gods). What made him a genius instead of a boring pedagogue was his ability to convey his point through humor, wit and a strong dose of irony!
  10. The Humor – What can I say? The caustic ruthless and absolutely funny humor! I will let Sir Pratchett do the talking himself – “The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.” “Here’s some advice boy. Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come around again. Thats why they’re called revolutions.” “The enemy isn’t men, or women, its bloody stupid people and no-one has the right to be stupid.”My flatmate/bestfriends favorite“Our stars are entwined,” said Casanunda.”We’re fated for one another. I wants your body, Mrs. Ogg.” “I’m still using it.”

I was first introduced to Terry Pratchett’s world when as a bumbling and confused sixteen year old, I picked up Maskerade from the Library. I then knew I had found true love when he wrote about Agnes Nitt’s reaction to comments on her fatness, being constantly told that it’s what inside that’s important, “as if people fell in love with a good pair of kidneys.” That love has never wavered and funny as it may sound, I have found solace, wisdom and a lot of distraction every time I reached out for one of my much loved Discworld novels, in moments of greatest distress and trauma.

Thank You for helping me through the journey called Life, Sir Pratchett…I am so much a better individual for having met you. You will live on with us, while DEATH takes you to the next phase!