Let’s See What the Hype is About, or my review of The Martian

red border limited cropThe Martian 

by Andy Weir

Publisher: Crown

Publication Date: February 11th, 2014

Format Read: Kindle E-Book

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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 & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long 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 isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

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4 star rating

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OK, I know this book has been getting a lot of hype recently, and I’m just one little blog adding to it. Having come recommended from Kaija and Silver, of Run Freak Run and Daughter of the Witch Queen, and with a major blockbuster version also now out, I felt it was about time to see what the hype was about. And, in my humble opinion, it was absolutely deserved.

The book is about astronaut Mark Watney, who on a mission to Mars is presumed dead and left behind–and it’s about his struggle to survive on an alien planet. Fortunately for him, he is both the crew’s Botanist and Engineer, and comes up with one clever scheme after the other to cheat death. The book has become quite popular in the last year or so, garnering accolade after accolade (which is super impressive since it started out as a blog), and there’s a movie starring Matt Damon which came out in October. Also impressive, although I am slightly worried that Hollywood is going to mangle Weir’s humor (I haven’t seen the movie yet).

I personally held off on reading this because I thought it would be jam-packed with technical nonsense, which is absolutely NOT the case. I mean, it’s fairly packed with technical stuff, but Weir does a good job of making it interesting. Actually, he did this a lot, to my surprise and delight–it is the rare, rare writer who can make manure and potatoes sound interesting. Weir perfectly balances the science and the narrative, and adds heaps of humor to take the edge off what could be an otherwise melodramatic story.

Seriously, the best part of this is the wry humor and attitude of Watney. That is absolutely what drew me in and made me care, even about fertilising potatoes. I appreciate that Weir avoided topics of depression and loneliness–there are a few times where Watney misses death by an inch, where we see his temper, but it’s fueled by a truly desperate will to survive. And he has a strange, geeky, somewhat immature sense of humor which I enjoyed immensely. I mean, if you can’t make nipple emoticons when talking with JPL, when can you?

So part of the draw of Watney for me is the humor. The other is the truly insane lengths that everyone goes to to survive and help him survive. The book documents the time and effort JPL and NASA to go to help him, at hideous risk and expense. One of the most touching things is that the reaction of his crewmates on the Ares 3 mission to Watney’s position, and the lengths they go to assist him blows my mind. Another thing that blew me away was the several casual calculations of mortality–’I can starve myself this much if it means I’m mostly alive at the end goal’, or ‘if I can’t feasibly survive, and my death is going to be long and horrible, this is how I make it quick’. There’s no morbidity, no gallows humor, just emotionless calculations about the end goal. What is probably one of the more controversial points of the book is a discussion about cannibalism. But that too is presented in a matter-of-fact way, and a delicate awareness of both the need to survive and the emotional associations.

Anyways, needless to say that The Martian has hit a perfect sci-fi combination–a balance of science and narrative, an irrepressible and funny narrator, a story designed to grab us, and a fantastic epic about the lengths we will go to survive. Also, thanks to Hollywood, we can now all imagine Matt Damon as we’re reading about Watney.

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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.


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