Sunday, October 25, 2015
The Martian (book) by Andy Weir
The Martian is a near-future look at what might happen if an astronaut were accidentally stranded on Mars.
NASA had already previously sent astronauts to Mars on two separate occasions, so Mark Watney's mission, while not danger-free, was supposed to be relatively uneventful. Then the sandstorm happened. The rest of Watney's crew had every reason to believe he died in it, and so they left him behind. Except that he didn't die, which meant that he had to figure out how to communicate with Earth in order to let everyone know he was still alive, and he had to figure out how to go from 300 days worth of food to enough food to last for four years, the amount of time it would take for the next scheduled Ares mission to arrive.
This was basically a survival story in which literally everything could kill the main character. If his equipment failed, Watney had no breathable air, no food, and no water. When things went wrong, he used science and math to figure out how to live just a bit longer – he figured that as long as he kept doing that, and never gave up, he'd have a chance at survival.
Watney's “voice” was engaging, and I was hooked, wanting to see how he'd manage to survive the next disaster that came his way. I should mention that most of the book was written journal-style from Watney's POV, although there were occasional third-person sections that showed readers how things were going back on Earth, or that foreshadowed things that were about to go wrong on Mars that Watney couldn't know about. The first time the book switched from first to third person, it was a little confusing – I found myself thinking “Wait, did The Dukes of Hazzard have a character named Venkat Kapoor?” I got used to it, although the few later third-person bits that focused on Watney felt very strange.
The Martian's detailed scientific and mathematical explanations were both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. The characters were largely uninteresting, little more than a name and a job. I sometimes had trouble remembering who was who, and the further I got into the book, the more it bugged me that I knew almost nothing about the life Watney was fighting to get back to. However, I stayed hooked because of how wonderfully real all the Mars stuff felt. I'm not a scientist, but the problems Watney dealt with felt like they could actually happen, as did his solutions to them, in large part because Weir, through Watney, walked readers through it all in mostly easy-to-understand language. Unfortunately, sometimes those explanations were so detailed that it felt like they bogged everything down.
All in all, I'm glad I read this but don't necessarily expect to ever reread it. Unless we manage to send a person to Mars and back in my lifetime, in which case I think an "Andy Weir's The Martian" party would be appropriate.