Space is fucking cool. Sure, it’s also scary as hell, but it’s mostly cool. And yet, the amount of sci-fi I’ve read concerning space is embarrassingly small. But that’s okay because I just finished reading The Martian and it’s great.
I wasn’t aware of The Martian until I saw the trailer for the upcoming film adaptation a few months ago. Now, Interstellar was one of my favorite movies from last year, boasting awesome space science and a great cast, so I was all for yet another movie featuring awesome space science (or Martian science in this case) and a great cast. Then I found out there was a book, so I had to read it.
A brief synopsis: In the near future, NASA has figured out how to execute manned missions to Mars to study the planet. On one such mission, astronaut Mark Watney is separated from his crew in a dust storm and, presumed dead, is left behind. Of course, he’s not dead. Now Watney has to figure out how to survive on Mars and let NASA know he’s still alive.
I won’t spoil anything from the book, but I will say this: if you saw the trailer and, like me, thought that it gave away too much of the plot (growing crops on Mars, getting in contact with NASA), I’m sure your feelings will change upon reading the book. All this stuff happens about sixty or so pages in, so the trailer didn’t really give away much. Actually, it just scratches the red, sandy surface. The Martian is the classic survivor story, man vs. nature, but with a new twist for a new age. I mean, we’re not talking about Tom Hanks derping around some island with a volleyball. It’s a guy stranded on Mars. Fucking Mars.
There are two things that make this book as good as it is. The first is Mark Watney. Most of the book is written in entry logs from Watney’s point of view, though this changes up a bit later on. First thing you should know is that Watney is a very fun protagonist. Lots of wisecracking, laugh out loud moments that will make you root for Watney with each little victory. A first-person survival story hinges on its lead being likable, and I was onboard with Watney from the first sentence: “I’m pretty much fucked.”
The second thing that makes this book great is the science. When it comes to writing, the phrase “write what you know” gets thrown around a lot. Well, Andy Weir knows his shit. You don’t have to be a science wiz (God knows I’m not) to understand and appreciate the book’s accuracy when it comes to figuring out how a lone human could survive on Mars. I’ve described the book’s style to people as mixing Tom Clancy’s technical nature with Joss Whedon’s humor. My reasoning comes from how Weir is able to write about everything from chemistry to the technical workings of spacecraft and keeps it from being mundane by way of Mark Watney’s sense of humor. Fun fact: Weir wrote his own software to calculate how a crew would make an orbital trajectory to Mars. That’s insane.
Negatives? None really. I guess that if you’re not one for switching back and forth from first-person to third-person later in the book you might be thrown off a bit at first, but I doubt it’ll make anyone put the book down.
Mind you, this isn’t a particularly long book and the pacing is pretty fast, so don’t let all the sciency technical talk make you think this is going to be a huge time sink if you’re not usually into that sort of thing. It’s a great book to pick up if you’re still looking to round out your reading list for the summer (and will time perfectly with when the movie comes out). Will it be any good? I hope so, because the source material is a winner.