The Martian – Andy Weir

“I’m pretty much fucked.”

The whole world is watching, waiting, breath held, to find out if Mark Watney, ‘The Martian’, or rather the poor astronaut stranded on the red planet, is going to make it home. In the book, I mean. In reality, it also seems as if the whole world is obsessed with this book, and the new movie, with everyone and their pet chicken trying to read the novel ahead of seeing the adaptation. And yes, that includes me!

When the third manned Mars mission is aborted due to a terrible storm, the escaping crew are unaware that the regrettably abandoned, ‘dead’ crew member really isn’t. Watney awakes injured but alive – but given that he’s alone on an inhospitable planet, he might not stay that way for long. Can he bring all his ingenuity to bear against the monumental task of surviving – possibly for years – until the best minds on Earth can figure out how to bring him home?

The hype surrounding this book has been quite amazing, as indeed has the story of the self-published story-in-installments being grabbed for a huge movie. Trying to put that aside while I read, I was pleasantly pleased with the narrative, but not as blown away as all that. Yes, I can very much see the ‘filmable’ qualities of the tale, but to be honest a little too much came across as soap-opera-ish disaster-upon-disaster, particularly towards the end. Perhaps if several of the scenarios weren’t so familiar, from works such as Ben Bova’s Mars (which I read quite recently), I might have been a little more impressed?

That said, it is a pretty good story. Watney makes for a likable main character: brilliant ‘enough’ for the given role, but very human. His diary entry narrative is engaging, and a mix of science-babble and everyman-like speech. The winning feature is most likely the lack of self-pity, or too much introspection over a wry reporting of the disasters and triumphs of the moment.

These sections are – thankfully, for tension levels – interspersed with events back on Earth. Watney has little choice but to battle on, whereas NASA bods are plagued with doubts and decisions – it’s a nice mix.

Read it, of course. Perhaps a little late now to say ‘before the movie’, but then I always think that’s the best! And I’m looking forward to seeing what the big screen version does with and brings to the whole story.

Paperback: 369 pages / 26 chapters
First published: 2011
Read from 3rd-10th August 2015

My rating: 7/10

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