Monday, October 5, 2015

Andy Weir's The Martian or Potato Growing For Beginners

a post from June that I'm reblogging to coincide with the movie release...

Last year The Melbourne Age newspaper asked me (and a whole bunch of other much more interesting people) to pick two books which I had enjoyed recently that I thought deserved a wider audience in Australia. The two books I picked were H Is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald and The Martian by Andy Weir. I'm not normally on the cutting edge of things but shortly after I mentioned how much I had enjoyed H Is For Hawk it won the Samuel Johnson Prize for best non fiction work and became a best seller; shortly after I mentioned The Martian the book found a publisher, got optioned by Ridley Scott for development as a movie and it became a best seller too. If only I could apply this voodoo to my own bloody books.
...
Anyway what I wanted to talk about is potatoes. The Martian is a story about an astronaut, Mark Watney, who gets stranded on Mars, set roughly 20 years from now at around the time of the first manned mission there. Mars tries to kill Watney in a million different ways though mostly by cold, lack of air, lack of water and starvation. The fun of the novel is watching how the self mocking and resourceful astronaut manages to solve a series of engineering problems in an attempt to keep himself alive for a few days longer. And then there's the potatoes. He doesn't have enough food to survive for very long but he remembers the Thanksgiving potatoes that NASA gave them and because he studied botany as a minor at college (there is some good botany humour in the book) he manages to mix enough potting soil, Martian regolith and freeze dried shit to make sufficient earth to grow a supply of potatoes that will save his life. The growing of the potatoes sequence is one of the most fascinating and indeed exciting (I'm not kidding) portions of the book. 
...
A few months ago I wondered how easy it would be to grow a potato plant on Earth so I took an ordinary small red potato and shoved it in a pot in the back garden. I forgot all about until this morning. Potatoes must clearly like it when you forget all about them. I never watered the plant or did anything else to it at all and this (above) is the result. This is the first thing I've ever grown from a root or tuber. Thank you Andy Weir you've made a horticulture convert out of me in a way that my previous favourite sci-fi botanist, alas, could not.