Sunday, February 22, 2015

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir
Published: Crown Publishers (2014)

The Book:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone, with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.
But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?”

The Martian is Andy Weir’s debut novel, and it has a pretty interesting origin.  It was originally posted serially on his blog (which I think is here, though he has another author page here), and it took off in a serious way after he self-published the full novel for Kindle.  Now, it’s a best seller and already has a movie adaptation in the works for later this year!  I originally noticed the novel due to very positive reviews from other bloggers, so I had high expectations from the start.

My Thoughts:

I would highly recommend The Martian for fans of stories of survival in harsh conditions, realistic science, and optimistic, intelligent protagonists.  The events takes place in the near future, where Weir has carefully imagined a potential manned space program to Mars. Though the mission does include some technology that is not currently in existence, the capabilities are clearly explained and internally consistent.  I admit that I did not double-check Mark’s math, but I really enjoyed that the basic math and science were explicitly described.  The novel makes the future where we have a Mars program, and where a man could struggle to survive for years alone on Mars, feel like a plausible extension into the future of our current reality.

While this is a science-based tale of survival, Mark’s personality keeps it from ever getting too dry or grim.  The story is mostly told through Mark’s logs, where his conversational style, optimistic attitude, and good sense of humor keeps things relatively light in the most difficult situations.  A lot of his humor also involves pop culture, as in the following excerpt:

“I got really bored, so I decided to pick a theme song!  …  There are plenty of great candidates: “Life on Mars?” by David Bowie, “Rocket Man” by Elton John, “Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan.  But I settled on “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.” ~p. 223

Things are not always quite so goofy, though, and when things go wrong Mark’s panic (and his use of profanity) comes through just as clearly. Mark also has MacGyver-level resourcefulness and an expertise in botany.  I think his charming personality and intelligence are a large part of why the story works so well— I can’t imagine anyone not rooting for him to make it home alive.

The Martian is a pretty straightforward story, where essentially all of the conflict is external.  Mark faces one crisis after another, but I felt that the different circumstances and details kept the pattern from feeling repetitive.  Everything that happens seems to arise naturally from Mark’s situation and the consequences of his own actions. The precariousness of Mark’s situation kept the tension up, and it was fun to try to figure out what might go wrong next.  The story was well-paced and easy to read, and this was a book that I flew through very quickly. I can see why it was optioned as a movie, since I think this is the sort of novel that would be relatively easy to adapt.  I’m looking forward to seeing the film— maybe I can even review it here as well!

My Rating: 4/5

The Martian is a debut novel that has exploded in popularity, and I’m happy to say that it has lived up to the hype for me.  It’s an entertaining survival story that features an upbeat protagonist and a thoroughly imagined future Mars mission program.  In his log, Mark clearly lays out the science and math behind the problems he faces, as well as his proposed solutions.  Events move along quickly and Mark’s personality from his log entries keep things optimistic and funny.  This was a really fun book, and one that I think could translate well to a movie!

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