Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Martian - Book Review

From the Publisher: 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 and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and 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—and 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?

I'm going to be honest. I only picked up Andy Weir's The Martian because enough of my friends AND the Amazon algorithm god recommended it. I'm not usually one for hard science fiction as they tend to be dull and entirely too introspective for my tastes.  I'm pleased to say, The Martian is neither. I devoured the entire book in just a few days and I highly recommend it, but it is not without its short comings.

The book is extremely well written. Weir's voice and writing style (a mixture of first person, third person, chat transcripts and miscellaneous reports) are marvelously unique. The Martian doesn't sound like every other book, and that makes it positively refreshing. In addition, there's a great bent of sarcastic humor throughout that keeps you chuckling and turning pages as things get worse and worse for Mark Watney.

Although much of the tech is a figment of Andy Weir's imagination it's so firmly grounded in reality that you're never jarred out of the story by any of it. There's never that laser cutter, or robot that is so conspicously science-fiction as to make you start wondering why and how exactly it's there. The characters are extremely believable too. They react the way they should, and the way you want them to. They panic. They break down. They pull it back together. It's great.

Where the book falls short is in just three places in my opinion.

First, there's a lot of math.  You heard me. A lot. We regularly are treated to large passages which basically are word problems the author talks through. I have X number of X available to create X number of a resource I require. Or, I have X number of resource and X number of days it must last, equaling X number of resources used per day. It's not a big deal and at first it's interesting. But after a while it becomes easy to start skipping.

Second, and I don't want to give anything away, but this is a story of Man vs. Environment which if you're not familiar with the means: man has problem. He deals with it. Some random event causes a new problem or aggravates the old one. Repeat until rescued or hero dies. The Martian is no exception to the rule. There's just no relief, no true success which became frustrating for me. After a while I found myself just sort of grudgingly resigned to the fact that even though the latest problem was solved another worse problem would soon appear.

The third, and perhaps most egregious of The Martian's few sins occurs at the end of the book. I'll try to keep things vague to avoid spoilers. Basically, the conclusion of the book, the climax everything has built towards, is taken out of Mark Watney's hands. I felt cheated. In a book, ENTIRELY about taking control of one's situation, stripping away the Hero's Choice in the final chapters is a huge let down. The author must have recognized this on some level because he tries to build in a Hero's Choice moment but we've jumped over to different characters, and Mark is left to face random chance alone, while we observe from an extreme distance.

 A little disappointing to say the least.

That said, I still think  The Martian is a brilliant piece of writing. The humor and voice alone makes it worth the read. If you aren't aware, it was self-published in 2011 and recently has been thrust into the main stream. An amazing accomplishment and I tip my hat to Mr. Weir, writer to writer on that account. Well done, sir. Well done.

What to know: There is a lot of swearing in this book. Admittedly, I'd be swearing quite a bit too if faced with grizzly death on an alien world but it must be noted for more sensitive readers. There is implication of a sexual relationship and mention of "lovemaking." Mark spends a few lines lamenting the lack of women on Mars but nothing untoward.

1 comment:

  1. Did you see the movie? I want to read the book if the swearing is tolerable.