Posted on October 9, 2015
37. ‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir
What the hell is happening? Has my finger accidentally strayed onto the cultural pulse? Am I reviewing a book that is both current and popular? The world must be ending!
Well, it isn’t, but I am reviewing The Martian by Andy Weir, which has been everywhere recently because the movie (starring Matt Damon) was released at the end of September.
The Martian is set in the future, when manned missions to Mars are a semi-regular thing (or as regular as they can be given that it takes about a year to fly there, and we haven’t invented convenient human-freezing technology yet). Mark Watney is one of a team of scientists recently arrived on the red planet as part of the Ares 3 Program, but when a terrible dust storm threatens to destroy the only vehicle that can take them from the surface of Mars back to their orbiting spaceship, the team abandons the project and the planet. Unfortunately Mark is knocked away from the escape vehicle by a piece of flying debris and, presuming him to be dead, the others return to the ship and set a course for home. Back on Mars, Mark wakes up.
This book is like the most extreme Boy Scout survival adventure you could imagine. Mark isn’t able to communicate with his team or Earth, he can’t leave the atmospheric protection of the Hab (the big, pressurised, oxygenated tent they all lived in) unless he’s wearing a spacesuit, and he has limited food supplies. If he is to survive, he will have to let Earth know that he is still alive and then hold out until a rescue mission can save him. And we’re talking roughly two Earth years. He doesn’t have anywhere near enough food to last that long, and he doesn’t even have enough water to grow enough food to last that long. The first line, “I’m pretty much fucked,” sums it up quite well.
To be honest, The Martian is not what I was expecting. I went into it thinking I was going to read an emotional, dramatic book about one man’s struggle to survive, alone, farther from home than anyone has ever been. I was hoping for psychological tension on an epic scale. And I was hoping that that cringey line from the movie trailer – “I’m going to science the shit out of this” – was just a cheesy Hollywood addition to an otherwise fairly arty story.
In fact, this book is all about the action. Of course, Mark Watney’s character is important, but he isn’t hugely complex. In fact, he’s almost constantly upbeat. He cracks jokes and only occasionally seems to think about the overwhelming enormity of his situation. That’s probably a good thing, that’s probably the kind of attitude you really would need to survive, but it’s not at all the tone I was expecting. Still, this book is absolutely tons of fun and Weir is always upping the stakes so that you just can’t stop turning the pages. I read it almost one sitting.
There is science in this, loads of science, but it isn’t inaccessible. Weir does an excellent job of distilling complex ideas down to their simplest forms. No, I still don’t really understand how one would go about making water, or how this could result in an explosion, but my layman’s brain certainly understood that the possibility of horrible, fiery death was very real. Overall the gung-ho ‘jolly adventure’ thing was very entertaining, and the writing style really reminded me of Wool by Hugh Howey. I enjoyed The Martian a lot, and I have high hopes that the movie is going to keep me on the edge of my seat.
“Mars and my stupidity keep trying to kill me.”
Interested in reading this? You can buy the book here.
Don’t forget to check back here at the end of the month for my review of the movie!