Originally self-published in 2011 this was the first novel published by Andy Weir under his own name, the rights were later bought by Crown Publishing and was re-released in 2014. It has since been turned to a film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon in the titular role of Mark Watney. I have no doubt that I’ll do a review of the film at a later date but this review is going to focus on the book.
I have stumbled across a number of things over the years that I have ultimately ended up really liking, such as Mythbusters and Scrapheap Challenge, and this book was the same. I started reading The Martian thanks to a friend of my skin-sack, the book had done the rounds between several people, each one of which had read it, liked it, and then passed it on to someone else. I was handed the book and the very first line made me want to read it…but before we get to that join me as we have a look at what is going on and contrary to what you may think the book is not about Martians.
Set in 2035 a group of astronauts are forced to evacuate their Martian mission after a huge sandstorm hits their base. During the evacuation one of the party, Mark Watney, is hit by a piece of flying debris that destroys his suit's life support equipment thus causing his suit to flatline. The rest of his crew believe that he is dead and with the storm bearing down on them they are left with no other choice but to leave his body behind and return to their orbiting ship in order to return to Earth.
What no one realises is that Watney survived, and awakens to find himself alone on Mars with no means of contacting Earth or his crewmates. Not one to give up, Watney decides that he must find a way to survive until the next planned mission arrives in four years time, fortunately he is an engineer and a botanist so if anyone can survive it will be him.
Sometime later NASA realise that Watney indeed survived and is now on Mars by himself and struggling to survive. The combined forces of the world ultimately pull together as they battle to find a way to not only communicate with Watney but also bring him home safely.
I immediately liked the character of Mark Watney because he maintains a tongue-in-cheek humour that enables him to survive his bleak situation. He makes regular logs so a lot of the story is told from the first person perspective in logs that can sometimes be happening days apart. The logs happen in Sol days which are Mars days, and for the majority of the book we are basically reading a one man show. However what I really thought was interesting was the shift in perspectives, because once NASA learn of Watney’s survival we switch to a third-person perspective before returning to Watney’s Sol entries. These transmissions work seamlessly and are never jarring or interrupt the overall flow of the narrative.
The desperation of the situation is never underplayed. Just when you think that he is actually going to make it, something happens that set him back, so the tension is never allowed to become slack.
Things switch back from Earth to Mars between pages and as I delved deeper and deeper into the book I found myself reading into the small hours of the morning. I just did not want to put it down and a story in which politics doesn’t get in the way is really refreshing. Space agencies cooperate with one another without the twatheads in power getting involved thus keeping the focus on rescuing Watney rather than the politics on Earth.
The more complicated science-stuff is told in a very accessible way so you do not need to have a PhD yourself in order to follow what is going on or understand what Watney is talking about. Similarly to Michael Crichton’s style of writing, Weir is able to take more complicated concepts and effectively “dumb” them down without making the reader feel like things are being dumbed down for them.
The isolation and loneliness of a man trapped alone on an entire planet is perhaps the only thing that the book doesn’t carry especially well because despite all the odds Watney seems to retain his composure throughout. He doesn’t lose hope and he focuses on surviving. I wouldn’t have wanted to start reading about a man slowly going insane or becoming increasingly miserable as the book progressed but someone who’s composure never seems to even remotely crack does not seem what someone stuck in his situation would actually do.
Watney is brilliantly resourceful, perhaps not surprising as he is an astronaut with a PhD in both Engineering and Botany, and so when adversity hits he is able to deal with it. His character doesn’t change so even when he does make contact with Earth once again he is still taking the piss out of the truly desperate situation he is in.
This is a great book and I personally find it is the character of Watney that makes this a must-read. It is very well written and very entertaining. Pick it up because I can promise that you will not be disappointed, I am giving The Martian a Thumbs Up because it is an exceptional book that is very hard to put down.
9/10 – The Martian is an excellent story and is hugely well written. It appeals to fans and non-fans of science-fiction. Weir creates a great character in Watney and lets the tension slacken a little when it needs to but knows exactly when to pull the situation to breaking point making you wonder if Watney is ever going to make it off the planet alive.