You know those books you walk past about fifty times while you’re at the bookstore, reading the inside cover multiple times and even walking around with it for a while before putting it back? That’s exactly how my relationship with Andy Weir’s The Martian began. I love the premise: Mark Watney is stuck on Mars. He landed with his crew six days before the book begins, but unfortunately a giant dust storms takes him out before he can get the heck off Mars in an emergency departure. He is sure he will die there – because lets face it, Mars isn’t exactly the most hospitable of environments. His crewmates and NASA presume that he is dead. Left with a limited — very limited — supply of food, water, air, and time, The Martian is a fun, compulsive read that keeps you up, reading “just one more chapter” because you have to find out what happens to Mark Watney. The reason I kept going back and forth about reading the was because awesome premise aside, I could see so many potential pitfalls. Like the giant elephant in the room… er, in the book: Mark is on Mars. Alone. Zero other people. And something told me that could be a very good way to write a very bad book.
The first large chunk of The Martian is exactly what I thought — Mark is alone on Mars (I think that is a well-established fact at this point) but my reading eyes and heart are so very happy to report that it was not the trainwreck I feared it would be. During this time, Mark makes a plan, explores how he ended up on Mars alone, and breaks down a lot of really boring scientific words and math into narration that is surprisingly interesting and engaging — and for you fellow non-sciencey people, incredibly understandable. I had to reread a few places but for the most part the science and the math clicked as I read.
Mark’s narration is also broken up with chunks of events taking place back at home at dear old NASA and with the crew mates who believe Mark to be dead. While I enjoy Mark’s entries into his log the most, I do think the parts of the book that deal with external characters are a really nice and refreshing break with what could otherwise be a long of repetitious stuff happening on Mars.
One thing I think is really important to point out here is that I really, really like Mark. He is the kind of person who, if he existed in real life, would have friends but a lot of people would think of him as a little bit of an arrogant jerk. I think that’s what made me like him so much. He seemed totally really and really funny. I never would have thought that a book about being stranded on Mars and left to die in the barren wasteland of a far-away planet could be hilarious, but there were so many times during Mark’s entries that I legitimately laughed out loud.
I’m not a quick reader, but I finished this book in a couple of days. In fact, when it was done, I thought, “Wow… what a short book!” But looking back I see it’s 300+ pages. I just couldn’t stop reading it. If anything this is where my main conflict and “criticism” come in. On one hand, I wish the story were longer, because there’s a lot of time where we read entries from Mark with massive amounts of time between them. But on the other hand, a lot of what happens is very repetitious, and reading more of that could get boring very quickly. I would have loved to see a little more of the NASA side of things — how the crew was selected, how the mental health of all of crew members post-accident were being monitored (this is mentioned a little but not in tons of detail), etc.
I hear this is being made into a movie and I have to say, I can’t wait to see it. I’ve already recommended this book to several of my friends because I enjoyed it so much.
One cool fact about The Martian: Andy Weir wrote this book and originally published it online for free. His readers wanted an ebook, so he formatted it for the Kindle and sold it on Amazon for 99¢, the lowest he could list it for, before it was picked up by Crown Publishing. I think that is really awesome and a giant plug for self-publishing – and the quality of the writing itself!
You can read an excerpt of The Martian for free here.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher’s Blogging for Books in return for a fair and unbiased review. I wasn’t asked to give a positive review, just an honest one!