The Martian by Andy Weir

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I know this is the week I usually post by movie review but I’ve been a little uninspired as late in that department. But OMG! I needed to immediately share my thoughts about one of the most thrilling science fiction novels I’ve listened to in a long time! I just finished it last night and my first impulse was to write a review for it and convince all of my science geek friends to read it to. I could have waited until next month to share but I just couldn’t. It had to be now.

This science fiction story is awesome! In the almost 11 hours of listening time, there was only one instance where I had the thought “No way.” After my painful experience with the lack of research done for the movie Gravity, the technical accuracy of the subject discussed in The Martian was refreshing and exciting. It was like reading a Ben Bova novel – totally nerdy and scientifically accurate! Yay! The details of the book felt so real to me that mid way through the audio I just had to look up to see if the author, Andy Weir, is or was an engineer of some kind. Turns out he is a writer — but also a computer programmer and he worked for Sandia National Laboratories early in his life. That totally explains the realistic understanding of US government and NASA bureaucracy and procedure. Surely if he didn’t know these things himself he probably knows someone personally who does.

Anyway, enough gushing and geeking out.

Short Summary: Basically, this story is about the third manned mission to Mars, known as Ares 3. During a life threatening storm the crew aborts the mission to return back to Earth. On the way to the escape vehicle, one of the crew members, Mark Watney, is impaled, presumed dead, and left on Mars. Turns out, Watney didn’t die. The bulk of the story is about how he tries to keep himself alive with or without the help of NASA or the rest of the Ares 3 crew.

Thoughts and analysis… and more geeking out: The story is mostly told by Mark Watney through his mission logs, which gives the reader a sense that the story is being told through first person. This platform endears Watney to the audience; what an interesting, humorous, and resourceful character this man is. The story is filled with a lot of technical this, that, and the other thing, which would normally bore a reader, but Watney’s voice makes going through all the technical details fun to listen to (I’m sure it would be fun to read as well). I found myself laughing out loud at many of Watney’s comments and sarcasm, and I thoroughly enjoyed the many SF and old TV references.

It was also nice to get the third person omniscient perspectives of NASA and the Ares 3 crew who left Mars. Many of the characters felt genuine and I enjoyed the idiosyncrasies that each character displayed. It was nice to hear people say the “uh,” “um,” “hmm,” and other verbal queues that many people have. This may all have been the fact that I was listening to an audio, but I doubt it. The profanity didn’t really bother me  because it all felt so appropriate and realistic; I’ve never heard of a tough situation where people didn’t curse.

My favorite aspect of this book is how many bad different things happen to Watney while he’s on Mars. Many of his troubles I was able to guess, but there were many I was not, which was fun for me. And I found myself getting excited for Watney when he’d come up with a clever Macgyver solution for something (this was one TV reference I was surprised was not used, but it was a late 80s show and that may be the reason). And I agree Watney, duct tape is seriously amazing. When I was engineering school our motto was, “When the going gets tough. The tough get duct tape.” I also liked the fact that Watney made mistakes, because they totally happen, there’s a reason we have the phrase “human error.” Of course there may have been a couple of incidences where he probably should have died, but come on, when it’s man versus nature I want man to win.

I won’t really go into the 1 instance where I was like, “No way Watney could survive that.” But what I will say is that I was pleasantly surprised at how the author influences the reader’s perspective of believability by having the various NASA characters argue the validity of the plans discussed to rescue Watney. Even though I had my own ideas of what should or shouldn’t happen, the author used the story’s characters to convince me of the reasons he chose the solutions that he does and in the end I was like, “Ok. Fine. Let’s see where this plays out.” Pretty slick actually.

I’m so happy I got a chance to experience this novel before the movie comes out. Yup, there is a movie coming out in November 2015. I think that this will still be another example of the book being better than the movie, it will be interesting to see how much of the humor will translate to the big screen, but I think that Ridley Scott has a chance to doing this story justice.

In conclusion, I am so excited about this story that I’m certainly going to buy the book as well (I already won the audio) to study it for my own writing education.


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