I was scouting for a train-book (i.e. “read on my phone for 20 minutes a day”) last September and realized that Andy Weir’s The Martian all but flooded my Recommended Books carousel on Kindle. I’d heard of it before, knew it was a debut novel, but didn’t know much about it.
So yeah–I paid $7.99 or whatever and have to admit that that was the best $7.99 or whatever I’d ever invested in a book.
The Martian is a tale of survival in the vast wilderness that is Mars at its core, a new spin on hard sci-fi on its cover, and a comical, albeit harrowing investigation into the human psyche. Mark Watney, one of the first men on mars and the first to die (or so think his crewmates) fights technology and the elements while trying to figure out how to live for several years on several months’ worth of supplies. His day-to-day (sol-to-sol) activities are recounted to us via journal entries, a good move by Weir because it shows just how desperate our protagonist is to share the rest of his lonely, hopeless life. The book becomes increasingly frantic and hilarious by the page.
Most impressively, I believe The Martian deals with very technical information (converting radioactive materials into heat to conserve energy, making water out of rocket fuel, etc.) in an accessible way. Too often I read hardcore sci-fi books (Dune comes to mind) that become a bit overwhelming in detail. Yes, while this information is important, sometimes I just want to read a book instead of study a manual (or draw family trees (*cough* Game of Thrones)). I’ve recommended this book to several people who stay away from sci-fi because it is a book first, a space book second.
The Martian begins with us believing that Watney’s is the only voice we hear from. It surprised me (this isn’t a spoiler) when I started to encounter Earthlings and read scenes aboard the earthbound spacecraft that left him behind. These are well-balanced, for the most part, and important in the grand scheme of the novel. In fact, I’d say I was almost let down because some off-Mars characters weren’t given their due–that said, The Martian is a book about Watney’s survival (and global cooperation/compassion, science, etc.), not about external events (though some of these are well done).
As mentioned, this book really drew me in because of how funny it was. It bugged me at first when the first line (“I’m pretty much fucked.”) jumped right off the page at me. Yeah–I buy it, but I don’t think I was expecting that sort of casualness, especially when the book is tagged “sci-fi.” That’s not fair of me to say–I’ve heard Ready Player One is pretty funny (it’s on my list). Maybe this is kinda the future of mainstream sci-fi, though, to give us human characters with genuine emotions set in some sort of not-so-real environment. The protag’s humor is very important to his survival, too, since he’s completely isolated and pretty sure that Mars will either suffocate him, freeze him, starve him, dehydrate him, or explode him at any moment.
Why You Should Read It
I read this book within 24 hours. A few weeks later, I read it again. I just picked up the hardcopy (because) to read it at my leisure and share it with friends. They’re making a damn movie about it with Matt “The Martian” Damon. If that isn’t telling, then what is? (OK–just because Hollywood picks up a book doesn’t mean it’s going to be good [insert endless examples here].)
Whether you like sci-fi or not, The Martian is an important book by an author who, as far as I’ve read, is just a science buff who wanted to write a book he wanted to read. How’s that for a change?