A Martian, An Airship Captain, and a Star Fleet Engineer Walk Out of a Book…

I just finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir and I really loved it.  You can see how much by checking out my review on GoodReads. I have to say that I am extremely glad that I didn’t read this book before I wrote my own because I might have given up. The reason? Our main characters, Mark Watney from The Martian and Malcolm Robertson from The Reluctant Captain are defined as world class problem solvers. Andy Weir did such a good job with Mark Watney, I might very well have been afraid of creating Malcolm.

Why did I create Malcolm and love The Martian so much? I blame Star Trek.  I’ve been a fan every since I can remember. Star Trek  and I are the same age. I remember spending Sunday afternoons watching the original series in syndication on one of the three channels we got with our antenna (for my young readers, those are those funny things you still see on houses that you used to get TV channels before cable existed – you know, when dinosaurs ruled the earth).  I wanted to be an astronaut growing up and wanted to become a fighter pilot as a first step. I then found out you have to have perfect eyesight and that dream crashed quickly.   But a few scant years later, I found computers. And found I really liked them.  But I didn’t think I wanted to just program, so I went to school for Electrical and Computer Engineering.

That’s when I reconnected with Star Trek and began my affinity for Star Fleet’s greatest engineer, Montgomery “Scotty” Scott. The reason he appealed to me was the fact that he solved critical issues not with his fists, but with his brain. Here was someone who looked at every problem and found a solution. Even when he “couldnae change the laws of physics”, he found ways to bend them to his purpose. I’ve always tried to model my career and work ethic after him.

And why is that? Because engineers, in the end, are problem solvers. They take their knowledge of science and math and apply it in a practical way to solve a problem. Scientists discover scientific principles; engineers turn them into practical solutions to real problems. And that’s always appealed to me.  It’s an act of creation – not unlike writing a book or composing a song.  You’ve taken abstract principles and turned them into something.

The love of engineering and Scotty, in particular, drove me to write The Reluctant Captain. The premise was: what if the chief engineer were in charge? Malcolm, being Scottish, is obviously an homage to Scotty, but I tried hard to make him his very own character.  He’s a problem solver, although most of his problems now are dealing with people instead of equipment.  But that problem solving mentality is what drove me to write him.

Which brings me full circle to The Martian. I love the same thing about Mark Watney as I do the other engineers: he never gives up and figures that almost any problem can be solved with the right thinking and maybe a little luck. As I said in my review, he’s a sarcastic, tireless,  problem solver without peer; he’s who I want to be when I grow up.

So here’s to engineers as heroes! Too often, they are portrayed as dorks or nerds of the highest degree (and trust me, there is much of a basis to that stereotype – and I include myself in that). It’s great that knowledge of science and math are celebrated as are the people who can wield them. I, for one, will do my part to keep the “engineer as hero” theme going!

Until next time, happy journeys!

Mike

PS: If, like me, you like to read the exploits of a problem solving engineer, check out my book The Reluctant Captain!

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