Book review – The Martian

This is a book review for The Martian by Andy Weir, available here:

When I first saw the trailer for the film, I had no hesitation in marking it in my diary as one to watch, so you can imagine how excited I was to discover it was based on a book and I one-clicked it with equally little hesitation.

I loved it. No, really. There could have been so many things wrong with it, but it was close to being one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in the last few years. I can totally understand why they’re making it into a movie.

The premise is simple – an astronaut is stranded alone on Mars during a dust storm and somehow has to find a way to survive for the length of time it’ll take someone on earth to notice he’s still alive and send a crew to rescue him.

The majority of the story is told in logs recorded by Mark Watney, ย the astronaut. If you’re a trekkie, you’ll have to fight the urge to mentally insert “Captain’s log; stardate…” at the beginning of every chapter! It’s a structure that’s really difficult to get right, but Weir manages it with only a couple of minor blips. There’s a section about 2 thirds of the way through where he suddenly starts referring to Watney in third person, just for two small sections. It’s different enough from the rest of the book that it stands out but it didn’t really (to me) serve any purpose. There are short cameos from things that are happening on earth and also from the spaceship with his fellow astronauts in that’s on the return flight to earth.

The truly staggering thing about this book is that it’s rammed full of science and figures and calculations, and yet somehow it all makes perfect sense and isn’t in any way boring, even to someone like me who isn’t interested in theoretical physics. You become so invested in Watney’s survival that you follow his plans and progress with acute attention to detail. You happily roll with him through his potato projections, ninja pirate calculations, hydrazine conversion theories and solar cell transportation because each thing is a building block in his long term survival.

The strength of the book is in the main character himself. Watney is surprisingly hilarious. The quips he makes had me laughing out loud a few times and you can clearly see how he tries to keep himself sane. His, at times crude, humour is what makes him so endearing and likeable. He’s smart and undeterred by every catastrophe the red planet throws at him, and it throws many. Everything that possibly could go wrong does go wrong and he just buckles down and finds a way to get around it.

I could go into how this one man stranded on a distant planet could be a metaphor for humanity, but frankly it’s redundant because this book is so enjoyable just as a story that it’s worth reading just for that one level.

I would happily recommend this to anyone looking for an enjoyable, funny, smart and, above all, original romp of a story. I’m off to look for other books by this author…

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