Well, I did it. I finally gave into the hype and succumbed to the curiosity when I discovered the movie version of this book would be directed by Ridley Scott (the guy behind brilliant films like White Squall and Gladiator – also the man behind the train wreck that is Prometheus… ) Scott either does things brilliantly, or abysmally, and I wanted to read the book before I eventually got around to seeing the movie, which of course I will because MARS!! Anyway, I read the book in less than 72 hours so here are my thoughts about it…
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first man to die there.
It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he’s stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive–and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission 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 get him first.
But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills–and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit–he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
I don’t think I have ever read a hard sci-fi book and enjoyed it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever managed to read a hard sci-fi book without giving up at some point out of sheer boredom or frustration. Thus, I did not have high hopes when I started The Martian. This novel starts off with a bang, but quickly gets bogged down in science, fascinating science, but I read to connect with and live vicariously through characters, not learn how to separate hydrogen from hydrazine. Also, the book starts out in epistolary format where the narrative is exposition-only journal entries from said martian in question and I’m not a fan of the Dear Diary style. I’ll admit, I almost gave up, but then there was a break in the journal entries and the scene changed from Mars to Earth. Saying more than that would be giving away too much and this is one time I don’t want to give away any spoilers.
I am so glad I didn’t give up on this book! Once Weir starts giving us more than just Mark Watney’s journal entries, the story really gets going and I could not book this down! Weir is an absolute master at creating suspense while working with what becomes an unconventional narrative style. I loved it, and I have definitely learned something about the writing craft having read this book.
This book is science heavy, but it’s always presented in a conversational style made more engaging by Watney’s sarcasm and black humor. After a while, I found myself enjoying the hard sci-fi aspect of the book even if it did require me to pay extra attention to what I was reading. I struggled to read this book at night when I was tired. I switched to reading it during the day when I was fully caffeinated and well, I finished the book in a single sitting. Now I know how to approach more tech heavy novels in the future. Science aside, the author does a fantastic job of making Watney a likable guy who you can’t help but root for. The auxiliary characters that come into play are also presented in fun and engaging ways that had me grinning through most of the book.
What you see is what you get with this novel. It’s a survival story and reads like the screenplay for a movie. Not a Terrence Mallick or Darren Aronofsky film, no, but something action-orientated I could imagine Spielberg or hey, Ridley Scott, directing. The last hundred pages are some of the most tension-driven, page-turning reading I’ve ever experienced!
So that’s the good: well written, expertly paced, snappy dialogue, great characters, good science (not all of it accurate apparently, but more accurate than most) and absolutely entertaining.
Now for the bad…
This is an intellectual read, not an emotional one. Despite the adrenaline rush I had while reading this novel, once I’d turned the final page and thought about it, I realized there wasn’t really much to the story. The author focuses so much on the science that I think he forgot some of the human aspects. You’d think that for a guy alone on Mars he’d be a little more introspective, get a little philosophical (heck, religious even) and ponder life with a little more depth. Of course, this might be happening off-page because all we’re getting from Mark is what he chooses to record in the journal that will be read by others, but it still felt a little… empty, soulless even. When it comes to survival stories, I prefer the more introspective stuff ala Christopher McCandless’ story as told by Jon Krakauer in Into the Wild, or even the 127 Hours memoir, Between a Rock and a Hard Place. Granted, Weir is writing fiction, but I still wanted more, something that would leaving me with more than Martian physics to mull over once I turned the last page. This story could’ve been so much more, but Weir admits on his Facebook page that his intention is to entertain and not make a statement. The Martian is certainly entertaining, but it is little more than. It is not a story that will haunt me and I’m probably going to have forgotten much of it by the time the film comes out in November.
In conclusion, I recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t think they’ll like hard sci-fi or are looking for an entertaining and engaging read that won’t tug on the heart-strings too much. I have to give this 4.5/5 ink splats because while I was reading, I was fully immersed and couldn’t put the book down. My disillusion and disappointment has only come after the fact, so here you go Book, but I do think you could’ve been better.