The Martian had been on my TBR list for a while. I’d heard pretty much nothing but good about it, although I did hear that it had a lot of technical information that occasionally bogged it down. While the part about a lot of technical information is true, I actually found that it didn’t get bogged down at all.
Mark Watney isn’t the first man to walk on Mars—he’s actually the seventeenth—but he’ll probably be the first to die there. Abandoned for dead in a dust storm, it’s only by sheer dumb luck that he survives in the first place despite being nearly impaled by an antenna. Now, with no crewmates, no way to contact NASA, and no way to leave Mars, he has to do the impossible: figure out how to survive until he can be rescued.
So, something that surprised me right at the beginning of The Martian was just how many supplies Mark actually had left on Mars. Since the mission was scrubbed so early due to the storm, Mark has nearly a year’s worth of food left. I didn’t get this from the blurb or from most of the other reviews I’ve read; I figured he’d have enough stuff for a few days, but would need to stretch it out for a few months until he could get rescued. But no; he has enough for several months, almost a year—but needs to stretch it out for four years, which is when the next Ares mission is set to arrive on Mars.
That’s a big difference in scale.
Of course, I know nothing at all about space travel, so it didn’t occur to me that it would take nearly a year to reach Mars in the first place. Plus the countless preparations and calculations that have to be made. It’s not like forgetting your kid at the grocery store and turning around to get them fifteen minutes later. It’s more like, you know, forgetting your kid on another planet.
Not that Watney was forgotten, of course. Even though the crew of the Ares 3 mission believes him to be dead, it was still unbelievably difficult for them to leave him behind. Following protocol doesn’t exactly do much to relieve survivor’s guilt, after all.
But Watney is incredibly resourceful. He’s a botanist, so his first order of business is to see if he can grow anything on Mars. Not outdoors, of course, but indoors he knows it’s worth a shot. He knows he needs some sort of high-calorie sustenance to supplement the meal packs left behind by the rest of the crew, so he tries to grow more potatoes from the ones sent to Mars with the crew for their Thanksgiving dinner.
Through it all, he journals. About two thirds to three quarters of the book is Watney’s journal entries, written with some surprisingly good humor. Most of his entries boil down to, “Well, this might kill me, but if I don’t do it, I’ll die anyway, so…fuck it, bring it on.” But this dude is really something else. The word “plucky” usually makes me think of a cartoon character, but Mark Watney is the epitome of plucky.
We also get a look at what’s going on in Houston and in the rest of the world while Watney is stuck on Mars. We watch as they discover he’s still alive, and as they attempt to make a rescue plan. There are also little interludes with the rest of Watney’s crew on Hermes as they head back toward Earth. Finally, there are occasional third-person descriptions of Watney’s activity—but beware of these. If it switches to third person, some serious shit is about to go down.
I am sincerely so impressed with Andy Weir’s writing. I read over and over about The Martian that there was a LOT of technical jargon, and there really is. I was a little worried that I would start skimming and stop understanding things and/or be less and less invested, but I was happy to find that that wasn’t the case at all. Much like with my surprising investment in Ready Player One, I was happily surprised to find out that I was extremely invested in a very technical account of how one guy figures out how to survive on Mars.
Oh! I almost forgot I wanted to speculate about movie possibilities. It would be like Cast Away in space! I think they could definitely pull it off. Maybe even get Tom Hanks to play Mark Watney. (But maybe not, he might be too old. Although I don’t know how old Watney’s supposed to be.) Anyway, I’m not a big movie person in general, but I think it’s probably a movie I’d watch!
(Okay, apparently they are making a movie…didn’t find that out until after writing this. Cool—Matt Damon will make a good Mark Watney!)
This review is already too long, so I’ll stop it here, but if you like to read sci-fi and you liked Cast Away, you should definitely read The Martian.by