Andy Weir – The Martian
Length: 372 pages
Genre: Near-future Science Fiction
Started: 18 June 2015
Finished: 20 June 2015
Where did it come from? From my SantaThing Secret Santa this year.
Why do I have it? My Secret Santa thought I would like it, I guess. (They were right!)
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 02 January 2015.
As the old saying
goes: Men are from Mars. Or this
one is, anyways.
Summary: Mark Watney is a member of the Ares 3 mission – the third manned mission to Mars. Six days into their planned 30-day stay, however, the team was hit with a sandstorm more powerful than their equipment could withstand, and so an evacuation was ordered. During the evacuation, however, Watney got hit with part of the habitat’s communications array that punctured his suit, knocked out his vital signs monitor, and knocked him out of visual contact with the rest of the crew. Thinking Watney was dead, they evacuated Mars and set out back for Earth. But Watney is very much still alive, and alone on the planet, with no way to contact Earth to let them know that he’s still alive. But even if they do find out he’s alive, it will be over a year before he’ll have a hope of rescue, and he’s in a habitat that’s meant to last thirty days, so he must figure out how to keep himself warm, fed, breathing, and sane for all of that time, if he hopes to ever have the chance to see Earth again. Meanwhile, back on Earth, NASA is caught in a media firestorm over Watney’s death – and then later, over his survival. How much is it worth to risk to save the life of one man?
Review: I loved this book. Absolutely loved it. I probably shouldn’t have loved it as much as I did – tech-y sci-fi is usually not my thing, and this book is absolutely FULL of tech-y bits – but I completely devoured it, and loved every single second. It is funny and smart and suspenseful and touching and plausible and compelling and just great. The only thing I can possibly think of that I might change is to maybe give more of a background on the rest of the Ares 3 astronauts – they show up relatively late in the story, so they’re not as well-developed as they could have been – but that’s very very minor. Otherwise: LOVED IT.
This book is written largely in the form of log entries from Watney, detailing what happened that day, what he’s done, and containing his notes and plans for what he’s planning to do next, along with his thoughts. (Later chapters that focus on events at NASA are third-person omniscient POV.) Initially this writing style bothered me – it was choppy, and full of little asides, not like normal prose, even first-person-POV prose, at all. But as I got into it, I realized that the book is essentially structured as Watney’s diary… and that I use exactly the same tone when I’m writing in my own journal as Watney/Weir uses here. After that I got along much better with the style of the book – because I realized that if this character as written were stranded on Mars, this is *exactly* what his logs would sound like. (Circular logic, there, but whatever.)
Also high on the verisimilitude scale is the science. I am not an astronomer, or an engineer, or anything, nor have I done research into weight vs. thrust ratios for ascent vehicles or solar cell efficiency in a sandstorm… but it’s very clear that Weir did. There’s a quote in a WSJ interview with Weir that I think sums it up pretty well: “If you get down into the deep details, the science tells you the story.” And this kind of a backward-engineering of the usual format – letting the needs of the science dictate the plot, rather than the needs of the plot dictating the science, makes this book feel very plausible, but also very real and very urgent. It’s also very immersive; I was constantly putting myself in Watney’s shoes. What would I do in those conditions with those resources and those very real constraints? Could I figure it out? How would I cope with the various crises? Would I survive? [Answer: probably? I mean, if you dropped me on Mars by myself tomorrow, no, I’m totally toast. But if I’d had the kind of training that goes into being an astronaut on a Mars mission… then: yeah, I’d like to think I could figure it out.] There’s one instance of plot driving the science – due to the very thin atmosphere of Mars, I find it pretty unlikely that even a wind of 175 kph would have enough force to blow a grown man off his feet and across the terrain. But otherwise, all of the science seemed legit, and explained well enough so that it’s accessible to readers who aren’t scientists.
But before you think that this book is all science and calculations all the time, I should point out that it’s also super funny. Watney’s the affable jokester on the crew, and that sense of humor still comes across even as he’s writing his logs for himself (and for posterity). He spends a fair amount of time ruminating about 70s television (which is what one of his crewmates brought with them), and once he re-establishes communication with Earth, the following exchange takes place: “JPL: Also, please watch your language. Everything you type is being broadcast live all over the world.” “Watney: Look! A pair of boobs! -> (.Y.)” I literally laughed out loud at that – and it wasn’t the only time.
Overall, this book was absolutely great. I’m so glad that my SantaThing Santa picked this one out for me, since I very well might have missed it otherwise – a tech-heavy book about Mars astronauts would not have ordinarily been at the top of my list. But it was definitely the best book I read that month, and is a very strong contender for best of the year. 5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Read it. Especially if you like survival books, books about space exploration, or the movie Apollo 13. But in general, if you like your books smart, funny, exciting, and awesome, give this one a try, even if the description doesn’t seem like something you’d normally be into.
Other Reviews: There’s a million of them over at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: I’m pretty much fucked.
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