Written by: Andy Weir
The Martian actually came out early last year but it’s just now finding its way to Audible, my preferred outlet for reading. So, if you’re starting the new year looking for something you might have missed well you’re in the same boat as me.
What do you get if you cross Castaway and Gravity? Well you sort of get The Martian. To be completely accurate you have to add in a heavy layer of pop sci-fi engineering though. In the near, well kind of near, future we apparently regularly send crews on missions to Mars. We have long range ships capable of making the round trip in a pretty lengthy time span. On one such mission the astronauts are caught in a major wind storm that forces them to abort their mission on the planet. In a tragic turn of events one of the astronauts is pulled away from the rest and thought to be dead. So, the remaining crew pack up and head for home. The problem is that Andy, an engineer by primary trade has been left on Mars and he’s far from dead.
The bulk of the story follows Mark as he attempts to survive the Red Planet utilizing all of the scraps and supplies left on the planet from the previous Mars mission. It seems that every astronaut must have a primary and secondary skill set. Andy’s primary skill set fell in engineering and his secondary abilities are all centered on botany. How does botany come into play on a planet with no living soil or water? Well I’ll leave that mystery to the pages of the book. The story unfolds via Mark’s logs. He records everything he does and how he does it so that future astronauts that visit the planet can collect his logs and save them for posterity. Andy knows that these astronauts will return in a few years, so his goal is to try and find a way to survive until the next Mars mission crew arrives on planet.
Through Mark’s logs we not only learn how he solves some pretty complex problems but we also get to know Mark. He’s an instantly likeable character who can find humor even in the most adversity, even if that humor is pretty snarky. Mark’s problems and solutions are also so well drawn out and detailed that it’s easy to invest in them and follow along in Mark’s logs to see what happens next. This is an adventure story with plenty of action and suspense and for the majority of the reading only one character.
Having only one character keeps what could become quite convoluted sci-fi technobabble easy to follow and extremely riveting. Mix in with the sci-fi adventure a great deal of laugh out loud snarky humor and a really likeable character and what you get is a truly unique science fiction character study. There’s a great deal of math in some of the scenarios but fear not you do not have to follow along and figure out the equation; Mark does that for you and it just adds to his personality along the way. The detailed problem solving also grounds the otherworldly problems and makes them feel real.
The failings of this highly entertaining book are few and far between. It would be easy to argue why Mark gives so much detail in his logs. He describes the problems and solutions as if he’s talking to laymen but the fact is the only people likely to dig through the logs after he dies are other engineers who don’t need it broken down into speak and spell the talk. Also, there are some pop culture references that date the story. The book is obviously set in the future so making references to current pop culture throws the story off a good bit and honestly it makes the book a little less evergreen. The Martian is one of those books that you’ll be able to read 20 years from now and it probably won’t seem all that out of date. The writing is pretty careful that way, if it weren’t for the maybe two pop culture references. With that said, both references are pretty funny.
The Martian is a truly unique sci-fi experience that’s both thrilling and humorous. Weir draws his main character so well that you really are rooting for him all the way to the very end. When he hits adversity you actually feel for the poor guy and you admire his tenacity in a no win situation. Even if you aren’t a fan of the genre but you do appreciate a good character study you should give The Martian a go.