I’m so impressed with myself! I selected a book that is both current and popular to review (a rarity with me). While reading this on my last vacation, I finished it in about two days (yet another rarity). This one has been incredibly popular due to the huge popularity of the Matt Damon movie from last year. After finishing this awesome novel, I may actually give the film a try.
The Martian is set in the near future, where manned flights to Mars occur every few years. Mark Watney is a scientist and one of the members of the latest crew to spend one month on the surface of the red planet. When a dust storm threatens to destroy the only means of leaving, the crew has to abandon their mission prematurely. The crew leave Mark behind, believing him to be dead. Mark must now figure out how to survive in hostile conditions with minimal supplies until he can be rescued.
This book is not what I expected. It really is MacGyver in space! The tension never lets up as Watney faces all types of struggles as he works to obtain enough oxygen, water, and food to survive for two years. Watney is facing this terror alone as he no longer has the means to contact anyone on his team or Earth. Fortunately, Watney is an extremely clever scientist who manages to work out solutions with very few resources. The dangers never let up as every few pages brings a new problem that Mark has to solve. Weir does a great job of keeping the story tense in this ultimate survival story.
A scientist himself, Weir brings a lot of science into this book. A lot. Fortunately, he makes it extremely accessible for a regular audience as complex ideas are broken down into simpler steps. Based on my reading, would I be able to survive on Mars? Hell no! However, Weir did an excellent job of helping me to understand that attempting to make water could result in a horrible and fiery death. Although The Martian focuses primarily on Mark, there are chapters that take place back at NASA as well as the crew that left him behind who are planning a rescue mission. These scenes also help keep the tension high from exploring Mark’s situation from other perspectives. Without delving too much into overly emotional muck, Weir does superbly in showing the bonds that Mark has with his crew mates. I’m always impressed when writers can convey deep feelings with minimal words.
I don’t think I would have liked The Martian as much as I did without having such a great protagonist as Mark Watney. Despite the horrific situation he finds himself in, Mark reacts with a lot of humor which adds some great funny moments without detracting away from being on the edge of my seat the entire time. I just hope that the Matt Damon film managed this balance of action and humor in the same way.
“I guess you could call it a “failure”, but I prefer the term “learning experience.”