Book Reviews

Book Review: The Martian, by Andy Weir

The Martian

Alright, confession time; I haven’t seen the movie. I don’t watch a lot of movies, much to the chagrin of my husband, who loves them. I think I’ve seen… three movies this year? That might be too many, because honestly the only ones I can recall are Detective Pikachu and Endgame… hmm…

But yes, The Martian; Follow astronaut/botanist/mechanical engineer as he struggles to Make It On Mars, completely unsure of his ability to survive and convinced everyone on earth believes him to be dead. Also he uses the word “fuck” a lot, and considering the circumstance, I can’t really blame him.

First off- Andy Weir is a clever man- one who asked two questions as his premise for the story.

  1. What would it take to survive alone on Mars with almost no outside contact?
  2. How would science actually be utilized in this endeavor?

With a father who is a particle physicist and a mother who is a electrical engineer, that man has science in place of blood. And it shows, every event, ever test done by our hero Mark Watney is backed by math and science, and he lays it out for you. Sometimes in minute detail that made me feel like I was reading a math and/or scientific formula.

Which in retrospect… I guess I was.

The humor and suspense is where this book really took off for me. I believe I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have a head for math (in fact, I have dyscalculia), so certain intervals of the book made my brain recoil much like it used to in algebra. Yet other parts were great; I never once thought potato farming could be so exciting and dangerous!

“It’s true, you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl.”

Much of the story is told though written and audio logs that Mark keeps, so we’re able to follow his thought process as he decides how to handle each knew challenge. But the book was at it’s best (in my humble opinion) when told from an omnipotent view point. Many of my favorite parts were scenes involving the NASA team working on recovering him and the crew that unwittingly left a living man behind.

And let’s talk about that crew for a moment, because honestly they were just the best and I feel cheated out of an entire story where all of them hang out and make jokes about how badly they all smell. Specifically let’s talk about Martinez, who honestly maybe should have been rewritten to have a flame for Mark, because they had the best chemistry, even separated by the fact that one of them was on Mars while the other hurtled away at incredible rates of speed. The entire crew was great, and I loved the little tidbits of personality we got of them throughout the tale. The flashback of them all waking was especially telling, who knew the simple act of getting out of bed could let you get to know how different people are.

“[19:29] JOHANSSEN: When we pick you up, I will make wild, passionate love to you. Prepare your body.
[19:29] JOHANSSEN: I didn’t type that! That was Martinez! I stepped away from the console for like 10 seconds!”

Oh, Martinez, you flirt…

But between the humor is tension and danger, be it Mark making a mistake that could cost him his life (as every mistake on Mars might do) to the intense arguments between NASA officials trying to save his life. The lighter moments are necessary, and it’s a good thing Mark has a sense of humor about his situation, because it sure as hell isn’t good.

“He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?” He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”

LOG ENTRY: SOL 61 How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.”

Our hero is specifically equipped to handle the challenges Mars has to offer, in fact, Andy Weir made damn sure of it. His backgrounds in botany and mechanical engineering are exactly what he would need to survive alone on an alien planet. His sense of humor and optimism are another, some might say, equally important factor. Without them it would have been easy for him to give up, to allow despair to set in when taking in the odds. But Mark never does, through dust storms, raw potatoes and a radiation powered heating device, he makes it work, and is rewarded by the one thing he wanted.

For the Cubs to win the World Series. To go home.

“As with most of life’s problems, this one can be solved by a box of pure radiation.”

The one thing I felt was missing was an overriding motivator for Mark to care about his survival. Of course there is the very human desire to not die, but… sometimes it felt as though Weir was so busy focusing on the science that he forgot there was a human doing it all. For the most part, it was fine, I didn’t start this story expecting deep character arcs and development, but it would have been nice if Mark had been yearning for Martinez something more, some goal that drove him to never give up. It’s partially explained by NASA officials while they discuss his personality, but it didn’t quiet feel like enough.

I enjoyed the numerous pop culture jokes, the continuously more sassy Mindy Park, and the constant digs on disco. I never felt like what was happening back at NASA was a waste of story, either, as Weir set out to write a (conceivably believable) story about survival on Mars and how it would play out in real life. You don’t get many astronauts unless you’ve got mission control, anyway.

Final Conclusion: Read it if you liked the movie, which I may very well watch sometime soon. Also read it if you like real science based science fiction, feel good survival stories, and pop culture references.

“I admit it’s fatally dangerous,” Watney said. “But consider this: I’d get to fly around like Iron Man.”
All hail Rich Parnell, the steely-eyed missile man.

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