If I were to judge a book by its first line, I had a high opinion of The Martian from the off:
I’m pretty much f**ked.
I was suggested to read The Martian by a close friend for my recent birthday, and with a previous book recommendation, it proved eerily well recommended.
The Martian tells the story of Mark Watney – left alone on Mars, presumed dead by his crewmates when the surface mission they’re attempting is forced to abort. Against all odds, Watney survives and is left to fend for himself against all the challenges that Mars pits him against. Watney’s story is chronicled through a series of log entries written by Watney throughout his stay on Mars, and is interspersed with passages detailing the efforts and actions from the team at NASA on Earth to bring him back.
The format worked really well. Watney is a likeable and humorous protagonist dealing with a situation not faced by any human before in history in the best way he knows how – by cracking jokes but also being pragmatic with the means to survive. Watney is clearly intelligent as well as witty. There’s shades of Robinson Crusoe and Castaway in The Martian; instead of talking to a football, Watney talks to the reader through his log entries.
There’s quite a lot of technical detail exposed in The Martian but it’s not overwhelming; rather, it’s done in an effective way that educated the reader because the protagonist is aiming to educate whoever reads his mission logs how he tried to survive. The reader is neither broadsided by technical jargon nor condescended to, and the author’s extensive research on the subject matter is clear to see. The technology seems almost plausible – an extension of today’s technology that really makes me wonder if humanity is so far away from a manned Mars mission.
The plot moves along quickly – Watney soon realises the gravity of his situation and there’s clear progression throughout – first a food source is needed, then a means to contact Earth, then a means to effect rescue. Not all of these are successful, naturally; this adds to a realistic feeling in The Martian – certainly not everything goes to plan, and the stakes are always high. Ultimately, in the face of every challenge faced by Watney, The Martian exposes a very human desire to survive. Watney faces an immense struggle but uses all of his ingenuity and skills (mixed with a lot of luck) to stave off what seems to be an inevitable death. I found it compelling.
It’s also refreshing to see all involved parties introduced that supported Watney’s mission really committed to saving him once his survival is made known on Earth. There’s a sense of friction between the characters but this is not in the aid of any ulterior motives, just the search for a better or more successful way to spend billions of dollars to save one guy. There are vested interests but overall the dedication from an organisational and societal standpoint to not abandon Watney and want to save him is pretty endearing.
Overall, I found The Martian to be a thrilling and thoroughly enjoyable read – I found that I wanted to read just one more part before going to bed – and I’d highly recommend it to anyone with a predilection for science fiction or adventure! A great debut from Andy Weir who is definitely an author I’ll keep my eyes out for more from!