Review: “The Martian,” Andy Weir

Pros: Absolutely fascinating from start to finish!
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

I recently saw the trailers for the movie “The Martian” and thought they looked pretty fascinating. So when I found that I could get a review copy of the book the movie is based on, I jumped on the opportunity.

Andy Weir’s The Martian is a science fiction tale of survivalism set in the context of an entirely different planet. Six astronauts land on Mars. They don’t stay long–a particularly nasty sandstorm fulfills one of the few conditions under which they have to leave. On the way to their conveyance, they lose Mark Watney to flying debris. His bio-sign monitors indicate that he’s dead. As it is, the astronauts almost miss their window to safely leave because they don’t want to leave even his body behind.

When Mark wakes up–most definitely not dead–he finds that he’s been left behind. There’s a lot of damage–in particular he has no way to contact NASA, nor the departed astronauts. He quickly sets out to figure out how he’s going to stay alive. Luckily he’s a botanist, so his quest to figure out how to grow his own food has at least a slim chance of working–but even if it works perfectly it won’t keep him alive for several years when the next astronauts are expected to arrive. Even if he does live that long, he has to figure out how to transport himself the long distance to where they’re supposed to land.

 

This is an immersive story about someone trying to survive despite all odds–particularly appealing to survivalism and self-sufficiency nerds, with plenty to appeal to technophiles and space travel geeks. Think of it as a zombie story where the zombies are replaced by environmental conditions that are completely inimical to human life. I often find the survivalism aspect of zombie stories to be the most fascinating part, so The Martian was like candy to me. While I couldn’t understand everything, I got the gist of it all, so I didn’t feel like the author was either talking down to his audience or pitching things way over my head. He explained things well, and consequences were easy to follow.

Much of the book consists of a monologue/diary-type thing from Watney. Since he has a great sense of sarcasm, wit, irony, and just plain silliness, this makes his constant travails all the scarier, and his successes all the more sweet. It’s easy to cheer for him or hurt for him. The whole thing gets all the crazier, with even higher stakes, once NASA manages to get involved. I love all the characters back home and the astronauts who left–they all had strong and different personalities no matter how long they did or didn’t occupy the spotlight. Probably my favorite secondary character is the foul-mouthed NASA PR person; she was just plain fun.

In particular I love the fact that this book is both gripping and funny, nail-biting and entertainingly quotable.

[11:49] JPL: What we can see of your planned cut looks good. We’re assuming the other side is identical. You’re cleared to start drilling.
[12:07] WATNEY: That’s what she said.
[12:25] JPL: Seriously, Mark? Seriously?

This isn’t a thrill-a-minute suspense with explosions (okay, without many explosions), but it’s an edge-of-your-seat window into a very scary situation, approached with humor and pathos and an amazing level of detail. It certainly makes me want to watch the movie!

 

NOTE: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

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