The Martian is a 2011 science fiction novel written by Andy Weir. A film adaptation directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, was released in October 2015. I haven’t seen the film yet, so my review will be about the book only.
I started with a great deal of misgivings. I love Science Fiction, but my passion is more with the distant future. Perhaps a childhood of watching Star Wards means my concept of fantasy and science fiction are forever jumbled, but the read-up for this seemed awfully dry by comparison. This is believable science fiction, set in the near future – booooo.
Even so I dived in. One thing the Weir does perfectly is making the main character likable. If he had failed there the whole story would have ground to a halt. Mark Watney, a botanist and engineer, is stranded on Mars for reasons that I won’t go into.
He’s on his own. Everyone thinks he’s dead, there’s no-one coming, and there’s no way the base on Mars will last long enough for the next group to visit Mars. Food is running low and it’s a hopeless situation. Except it’s not, because Mark doesn’t lose hope. If there’s a theme running through The Martian it’s hope, that and human ingenuity.
If The Martian taught me anything it’s that I am most certainly not astronaut material. Things go wrong nearly as much as they go right but Mark doesn’t give up. It avoids the danger of Macgyver levels of contrivances: he doesn’t get out of things using blu-tack and paperclips. The problems that arise are combated with believable science and good old human grit. It’s real edge-of-the-seat stuff and I’ll admit I got the ‘Oh thank god!’ tingles more than once.
I struggled with some of the details. Credit where credit is due Weir has learnt his stuff. All the tech which is talked about is thoroughly researched, utterly believable, and wonderfully fragile, as realistic space travel should be. All the same there’s a lot to get through.
Don’t feel guilty about glazing over when it comes to some of the explanations. Mark is a trained professional, after all, and though his science talk might seem a lot to wade through his human side keeps things ticking along. It avoids the loneliness of a one person narrative by jumping back to NASA, away from Mark’s one man journal entries, and manages to keep things intense right up to the end.
I also appreciated that this isn’t a ‘One American Male against the World’ story. Nationalities from all over are part of the narrative- both men and women.
Does Mark make it off Mars? I won’t tell you. Is it a good book? It is! I thoroughly recommend it.
So, yes. The Martian gets the thumbs up from me and if I learnt only one thing it’s this:
Always take potatoes into space.