Andy Weir’s The Martian is easily the quickest book I’ve burned through in years. It took me less than 2 days, a staggering achievement when considering I was listening to the audiobook. Alright, it’s not that staggering. It was only just over 10 hours long, and my usual Audible book ranges between 15 and 30 hours in length… Still, I devoured the book. I was glued to it for hours on end with it’s jaw-dropping intensity. You see, not only is The Martian a great book. It’s a great science fiction novel. And guess what. It puts the ‘science’ back into science fiction – so much so that I often forgot it was a sci-fi novel. It felt like something that had truly occurred, and that was so cool.
The novel follows Mark Watney, a stranded astronaut on Mars. A near-fatal ravaging from a sandstorm on the red planet gave NASA and Watney’s crew the ‘OK’ to abort the mission, both parties presuming Watney to be dead. And now he’s entirely alone, with no way to communicate to earth, and with only enough sustainable food, vitamins, and water to get him through about 200 sols (Mars days). The next manned mission to Mars isn’t scheduled to land for another couple years. So it’s either he gets working on a way to create sustenance immediately, or he’ll truly become the first man to die on Mars.
I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while, especially for all it’s accolades, such as winning the 2014 Goodreads Choice Award for a Science Fiction novel. It wasn’t until the trailer for the upcoming film, starring Matt Damon, that I decided to give it a listen. And from what I see in the trailer, it’ll do the novel real justice. The only aspect of the novel the trailer didn’t seem to fully capture was the humor – of which there is plenty.
Mark Watney is charismatic. He’s witty. He’s hilarious. But he’s also so very smart. The novel’s enjoyment hinges on the fact that he can literally crack a quip about anything. Had the novel chosen a more serious character, it probably would’ve felt a lot like the film Gravity, and I’m glad it diverged heavily from that direction. Although there are other characters and POVs outside of Watney’s, it’s his that the novel revolves around and spends the majority of its time on – and being that he is literally the only person on the planet, it would have gotten really boring really quick if it were anyone else.
One of the best things about the novel was the fact that 95% of his scenes were log entries he typed up on his downtime. This may seem odd in theory, but his witty character bleeds into each log making it enjoyable, and by the end of each log entry you’re left needing to know more as he is generally off doing something potentially life threatening directly after he enters it.
Another thing the book got totally right? It’s science. It’s math. Two subjects I was truly atrocious at during my schooling. How bad, you may ask? Well, I was in Algebra 1 for four years, if that’s any indication. But I did graduate in the 99th percentile in English, so that’s something. Anyway, that’s why I’ll never be a rocket scientist. Luckily, our Martian is. And a damn good one. Author Andy Weir accounted for just about any contingency with his science. And although I may not be the best to judge ‘good science,’ this novel is leagues ahead in the realism department than any other book I’ve read in recent memory; probably ever.
The science does begin to get stale though. In the beginning of the book it was a breath of fresh oxygen for the genre. But the technobabble doesn’t abate. This drags the book down some, especially if you simply have no clue what they’re talking about (like me).
Anything that could happen to our poor, lonely astronaut, does happen. Often it truly seems like a hopeless struggle. But as a botanist and an engineer, he finds a way, just about every time. Even then, terrible things do happen to Mark. To have the mental stamina, the knowledge necessary to fix the issues, and the sheer will to survive? It seems it was a good thing he was the one stranded on Mars and not one of his other crewmates.
Great novel. Cannot wait for that film.