The Opposing Thumb

An opinionated digit leafs through the biological literature
Media Roundup

Summer Readings III: New Fiction

Hello Earthlings, after a few weeks of enforced summer vacation, Opposing Thumb is back- tanned, rested and ready.

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There is one last gasp of summer left- more than enough time for a brief, fun science fiction book. First-time novelist Andy Weir originally self-published “The Martian”. When it became a word-of-mouth (or word-of-social media) hit, Crown Publishing picked it up for commercial release. The plot is quite simple: astronaut Mark Watney is separated from his team during a storm on Mars, presumed dead & left behind, alone on the Red Planet (he is the titular Martian). What makes it work is how plausible the solutions Watney finds to survive on the Red Planet. Without ever being boring, Weir- a confessed space travel geek- describes what is needed to sustain life in a completely inhospitable environment.

Watney finds many ingenious, MacGyver style solutions to problems in areas like electronics and energy conservation- but his primary training (and his original mission) is as a botanist. OT also heard of this book via word-of-mouth, very fittingly, from a *Paid Advertisement* dear friend and quite handsome gentleman *End of Paid Advertisement* in a laboratory specialized in host-microorganism interactions. Fitting because some of the most fascinating (and graphic) moments in the book deal with Watney’s attempts at agriculture on Mars. Weir pays a lot of attention to the importance of plant-microbe symbiosis in creating a fertile soil and sustaining a healthy crop. I’ll not ruin anymore of the story- let me just add that the scientific background never slows down a very fast-paced tale.

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