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This week, we all have the chance to see the Perseid meteor shower peak. One of the brightest of the whole year, the 11th through the 13th are predicted to be the best nights for viewing it. Many people just have to step outside, turn off the silly exterior lights and look up to see it. Here in Brooklyn, I can sometimes make out the big and little dippers, sometimes Orion, but seeing them through the hazy orange glow of the city’s light polluted sky is underwhelming. So we’re scooting Upstate to darker skies for a few days.

Considering the spectacle happening right now above us and the image of a 10-centimeter-ish woman on Mars (sculpted by the winds, they say), this is a perfect time to read Andy Weir’s The Martian. If you haven’t already. Lots have. I resisted for more than a year after my boyfriend read and loved it because it sounded pretty boring. A guy gets stuck on Mars and writes a log? Maybe later.

What MoonPie failed to mention is how funny and real and fascinating this story is. Written with accessible detail and perspective, it reads like adventurous narrative nonfiction. A perfect example of the flaws in the “Fall behind, Stay behind” mantra my family subscribes to.

themartian

Mark Whatney is an astronaut with a predicament. Not too long ago he was part of a 6-person crew on a Mars mission. Something went wrong. His crew believed he was dead and left him. The world thinks he’s dead; there won’t be a rescue mission. He’s not dead. But he doesn’t have enough supplies to last the four years until the next mission, so he probably will be dead soon. The circumstance is plausible, as are the limited resources he has to work with.

Log entry: Sol 69

Mars is a barren wasteland and I am completely alone here. I already knew that, of course. But there’s a difference between knowing it and experiencing it.

At least Mark is a botanist and chemical engineer with a sense of humor and strong will to live. The big problem is too big to see a solution to, so he methodically breaks the situation into small, solvable problems. Top of the list is figuring out what to do about food.

Mark assesses and updates situations in his log. One problem solved quickly leads to others. Mars shows as much ingenuity trying to kill Whatney as Whatney shows trying not to die. I must confess one reason I loved this book from the start is it made me feel like I have a clue about the mechanics of space technology and conditions on Mars. I found myself nodding Ahhhs and Of courses to things I knew nothing about just before.

It’s rare to find such an exciting, entertaining story about one person just trying to survive. Mark’s heart, humor and optimism keep momentum going the few times the action lags. The detailed scientific explanations allow you to follow his logic, plans and execution. You understand the dangers as he does.

This book answers a lot of questions I didn’t know I had about space travel. For once, I even loved the end. The movie starring Matt Damon opens in theaters October 2, leaving you with plenty of time to read the book before streaming the film on Netflix.

And don’t forget to look up this week!

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