Monday, September 29, 2014

The Martian by Andy Weir

Spoiler-free summary:
Mark Watney, a botanist, has been stranded on Mars. His food, water, and oxygen supplies are low, he’s unable to contact Earth, and he’s pretty sure everyone thinks he’s dead. Needless to say - it’s looking pretty bleak. But he does have some flashdrives full of disco music, television reruns, and Agatha Christie novels. He’s also pretty resourceful. Watney details his strange stay on Mars in snarky, hilarious journal entries that reveal to us not only the inhospitalities of the planet, but the intricacies of one man’s personality in the face of danger.

I really liked the format of this novel. Watney’s journal entries are both informative and amusing. I loved his self-effacing attitude, his gratuitous use of obscenities, and his distrust of everyone who isn’t him. I also enjoyed the sections written from NASA’s point of view – the scientists were shown in an honest, humanizing light. I think Weir is a master at pinpointing just what makes a person likeable. I found myself caring about Watney, which is really saying something because I usually like books to end with at least one heart-wrenching, gruesome death.

Sometimes it was difficult to keep the abbreviations and Mars lingo straight – there was the Hab, there was also the MAV, one of the rovers became The Trailer at one point, I kept confusing the crew members who left him behind. I took a day or two off from reading and had to reacquaint myself with the jargon and names, but I did get it all straight eventually.

It’s been a long time since I took chemistry, physics, or “Extraterrestrial Life for Beginners” (this was my favorite class), but it seemed to me that the science might be sound, or, might at least interest engineering types and readers of hard science fiction. I have noticed other readers calling this book “too sciencey,” and there were parts where I felt kind of bored/inadequate because I couldn’t get into the finer details, but I’m glad Weir didn't shy away from these technical explanations. Mark Watney made engineers seem pretty cool (think “humble comedic geniuses with supervillain powers”), and if this gets one person interested in science, I’m all for it.

There were times when I wanted this story to hurt more. Sometimes I wished Watney was less nerdy, interested in pirates, and content with being a l33t haxor type (this is a type), and more interested in some weird ill-fated love affair or the state of his own mind, but, I think Weir knew what he was doing, and by making Watney seem flippant, kept us invested in him for him.

I am not sure what this has to do with my reading of the book, but it’s interesting to note that Weir self-published The Martian on Amazon in 2012 and was then picked up by a publisher and the novel was re-released in 2014. The paperback is coming out in November and I've heard some really good things about the audiobook.

Buy The Martian today in a variety of formats from Powell’s Books.

Photo: Random House

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