The Martian

March 7, 2016
The Martian Book Cover The Martian
Andy Weir
Science Fiction
Crown
February 11th, 2014
eBook
369
Owned

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 the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars' surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years 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's not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills — and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength – he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive – but Mars has plenty of surprises in store for him yet.

Grounded in real, present-day science from the first page to the last, yet propelled by a brilliantly ingenious plot that surprises the reader again and again, The Martian is a truly remarkable thriller: an impossible-to-put-down suspense novel that manages to read like a real-life survival tale.

(via Goodreads)

The Martian is the first science-fiction book I’ve read which successfully weaves together hard sci-fi (where science and technology are central to the plot) and light/humorous sci-fi (think Hitchhiker’s Guide). Matt-Damon-the-martianMark Watney, our protagonist, feels very real because of this element. He is fighting for his life, but unwilling to take himself too seriously. For every paragraph of world building Weir writes we have at least one paragraph of character building. Even though Watney has almost no interaction with other human beings throughout this book, we still get a very real glimpse of watching him grow and develop.

I am not good at what my friends call “The Mind Movie”. I struggle to visualize the world that I am experiencing through words in images. It’s something that I didn’t even realize people did until recently. Typically, that disconnect is what drives me away from hard science fiction. That and the fact that I never took to math. I think science is interesting, but you need real math to back it up. It took me a while to read this book because it was described to me as: “The Apollo 13 film if you cut everything out but the science parts.” — Not my cup of tea.

Yes. There is a TON of science. Math! Numbers! Experiments! Successes! Failures!! — But the science aspect was not as intimidating as I thought it might be. the-martian-nasa-martian_standardWatney is a mechanical engineer/botanist. When he gets stuck, he has a lot to figure out– such as, how will I eat? How can I make these tools last much longer than intended? Where do I get more water from? Etc. etc. etc. We get a lot of details which help the reader feel like this really happened; or at least really could happen in the future.

However, Watney is also a wisecracking, smartass of a character. His witticisms are tossed into all the hard science, making it more digestible. It also helps that we are reading his log posts, which are broken up in an appropriately-blog-like style. In a stream-of-consciousness way, Watney explains what he is doing (SCIENCE!) and why it’s important (HUMANITY!). There were the rare moments when I felt like I was overwhelmed with the science, but then Watney would decide that even he was too science-y. Even he got bored or frustrated. Like, that one time he changed “kilometers per sol” to “pirate-ninja” for the sole purpose of shortening it and making things more interesting. In fact, that’s the reason I found myself highlighting more lines than any book I’d read in a long while.

the-martian-messageWatney’s drama is one of the things I enjoyed the most. The fact that he is sarcastic, wise-cracking, and immature helped me connect to him. He mixes science with sass, and I don’t blame him. I’ve heard his character described as whiny. But, honestly, if you were abandoned on Mars with barely a sliver of a chance to survive, what would you do? You’d probably either give up completely or do the exact same thing. Yes, sometimes he starts an entry a bit on the dramatic side, but I know I’d do the same thing.

This is my favorite example:

AUDIO LOG TRANSCRIPT: SOL 119

You know what? Fuck this! Fuck this airlock, fuck that Hab, and fuck this whole planet! Seriously, this is it! I’ve had it! I’ve got a few minutes before I run out of air and I’ll be damned if I spend them playing Mars’s little game. I’m so god damned sick I could puke! All I have to do is sit here. The air will leak out and I’ll die. I’ll be done. No more getting my hopes up, no more self-delusion, and no more problem solving. I’ve fucking had it!

AUDIO LOG TRANSCRIPT: SOL 119(2)

Sigh … okay. I’ve had my tantrum and now I have to figure out how to stay alive. Again. Okay, let’s see what I can do here …

If you think of the premise of this novel my next statement won’t be a surprise: the-martian-ares-mission-crewThis was an incredibly nerve-wracking book. I found myself constantly holding my breath, sitting up straighter, leaning forward, eyes-bugging-out. I was constantly worried about Watney and his potatoes. However, it wasn’t to the point of Mortal Danger fatigue. None of the danger Watney was in felt forced or unlikely. Watney’s humor alleviated the sense of danger, but never the tension. It was a great balance.

Also, the perspective changes were well done, too. Only one of those changes did I find distracting, specifically when we see an omniscient view of how the Shiaparelli crater “entrance ramp” was created and subsequently watch Watney and the rover tumble, but they balanced the sciencey-sarcasm of Watney’s experiences on Mars while providing the tension of a variation of the omniscient observer found through the viewpoints of those on Earth. In fact, I really loved the CNN Mark Watney Report.

martian-spacesuit-3The ending. This was the first literary-based happy cry I’ve had with a book in 2016– and possibly in many years. I read a lot of books which tend to have sad moments. But thanks to the tension, anxiety, and my general passion for Mark Watney’s survival I cried so hard when this book ended. I was not just emotionally relieved, but also physically relieved. I never thought they’d make it. So good.

If you like science and you haven’t read this book yet, please do so. Immediately.

5 Stars

3 Comments

  • Mike Anderson March 7, 2016 at 10:40 pm

    Great book! Since I’m a math/science guy I loved that part, but, unlike a lot of scifi, everything Watney did is actually doable with current technology (and a bit of good luck). He didn’t invent a warp drive or get beamed up anywhere. That’s what I thought made it so interesting. When I first heard this was being made into a movie I wondered how they would accomplish this one-man show. I thought the film was good and quite faithful to the book.

    • Jackie B March 22, 2016 at 8:47 pm

      Did you know that Andy Weir sort of wrote the book through crowdsourcing? Originally it was part of a blog, and he adjusted it based on feedback to make it more realistic. I would totally real more science fiction along this pattern.

      Have you run into anything similar, Mike?

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