The Martian – Andy Weir

About the Book

Apollo 13 meets Cast Away in this grippingly detailed, brilliantly ingenious man-vs-nature survival thriller, set on the surface of Mars.

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?

369 pages (paperback)
Published on February 11, 2014
Published by Crown
Author’s webpage
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This is another book I didn’t really want to read. I knew it was getting a lot of praise, but I really wasn’t interested. It’s not that I don’t like hard SciFi – I absolutely love it. The problem I kept running into was, I really don’t like Cast Away, and I really don’t look forward to reading a book compared to that movie.

However, it went on sale on Amazon, and I jumped on it because I have a problem.

And it took me about half a chapter to fall in love.

The Martian is exactly what it’s billed to be – a guy stranded alone on Mars. Nothing terribly new and unique there. However, this book works so well because it is exactly like what you expect, but Weir packs in so many unique, interesting, and mind boggling (seriously, I didn’t understand half of what Mark Watney talked about while stranded on Mars, and I didn’t care in the least) facts that you’ll quickly realize this isn’t a book about one man. It’s a book that can actually get a person excited about science.

That sounds kind of cheesy, and it is, but I’m nothing if not honest.

The Martian works largely because Mark Watney, our stranded protagonist, has one of the most captivating I could imagine in a book like this. Much of what he does while on Mars flew right over my head. I didn’t understand the dimensions or the measurements. The math aspects made my eyes cross a bit. How on earth can someone be that smart? The thing that really baffled me is the fact that Watney isn’t the smart one, Weir is. The author himself must be a genius.

However these facts are interspersed in a personal monologue that is captivating. It’s interesting to see how Watney keeps himself from going crazy, as many of us would. It’s also interesting to see how much he changes over his time in the book. The situation is harrowing, the world is broad and empty from so much as vegetation. It’s a dead place. This is, perhaps, the most dead world I’ve ever read about. Sure I’ve read about characters that were alone, but rarely this alone.

Juxtaposed with Watney’s solitary drama is the drama that is NASA trying to get a man left behind home. Readers won’t find the characters as enthralling as Watney – there are a lot more of them to squeeze into half the stage time as Watney gets. The real drama is out on Mars, but the behind-the-scenes NASA action is just as interesting in its own way, from the PR machine, to the science of communicating across vast swaths of space, to… well, everything else that NASA entails.

Then, Watney’s previous crew gets involved, and their personal relationships and the different ways they are dealing with being away from Earth, and the situation of leaving behind a crewmember adds another wrench in this already multilayered and very emotionally compelling plot. Their relationships are welcome to a book that is, to that point, pretty stark, and mixing it with Watney’s wry and laugh-out-loud humor in the face of all the horror he’s facing, warms up a book that has the potential to be just as stark and dead as Mars is.

The Martian is something else. It’s a solitary journey, a man against the elements, the ultimate harrowing tale about someone facing off against all odds – literally. That’s not all there is, though. The emotions are a snarling maze that serve to suck readers in. It’s hard not to feel compelled by Watney’s saga, and it’s impossible not to be impressed by the brave face he puts on in the face of such slim odds. The NASA elements are fascinating, and very well done, and add a nice business background noise that ground all of the action in some real-world feeling fact.

Yes, this book has a ton of science, and yes, the science can be a bit overwhelming. The facts are interesting, but they aren’t the gripping part of this novel (aside from the “Holy shit, how in the hell is Any Weir this smart?”). This is a book about a personal struggle, an independent struggle, the ultimate story about man against the elements, the ultimate kind of story that has been told over and over again in literature, rewrapped for a new generation. It’s funny, and full of ceaseless hope, but starkly real and tension-filled.

The Martian is a book I should have read a lot sooner.


4/5 stars

5 Responses

  • I still haven’t read it, Sarah, you aren’t the last person 🙂

  • This book is on my TBR list as everybody’s been talking about it but I have to admit I felt the same way as you about the ‘one man stranded alone’ part of the story- although by the sounds of it THe Martian is good enough to make up for that. Do you think that you need much science knowledge beforehand or is it okay to read it as a die-hard humanities student?

    • No, I don’t think you’ll need much science knowledge beforehand, but you might kind of tune out during those parts. In fact, unless you’re a botanist or an astronaut then a lot of the science will go completely over your head anyway. I’m not really sure how many people would be able to completely follow Watney’s advanced math/science background. It’s presented in a really easy to digest way, and it’s also easy to tune out the science facts, and just sit back and appreciate the work it takes for his protagonist to mentally and physically last in a situation like that. I really enjoyed the HUMAN part of the book…. how he works through problems, how he dealt with his situation and so forth. I enjoy hard SciFi, though, and I do see how heavy science could turn people off…. but if you go into it expecting that sort of thing, and anticipating the human side of the struggle, then you’ll be fine.

  • Dammit, now I’m regretting passing up a chance to read this one, since I didn’t think I’d be interested either (though for different reasons; I enjoy survivalism in stories, though I’m less fond of hard sci-fi). I wish I hadn’t, now.

  • I just got around to reading it a few weeks back, despite having purchased it many months ago. It finally got past the hype to the point where trusted friends were recommending it and that finally got me off my butt. And I’m happy to have finally done so, as it was a really good book.

    Your point about the comparison with Cast Away reminds me why I don’t like comparisons like this, even though I make them all the time myself. They can set up false expectations on one hand, or cause someone to not even bother on the other.

    I think this one worked in part because of the story juxtaposed against Watney’s journey. I liked seeing what was happening on the other end. It actually ratcheted up the tension for me as suddenly there was not only a lot at stake for Watney, but for the world as well.

    Happy to see that you enjoyed it.

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