“I guess you could call it a “failure,” but I prefer the term “learning experience.”” ~ Mark Watney (The Martian)
Author: Andy Weir
Genre: Science fiction/Survival
Summary: Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.
Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills — and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength – he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.
As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive – but Mars has plenty of surprises in store for him yet.
My Opinion: First things first. I don’t do science fiction. I don’t do math either. The Martian is both mathy and science-fiction. I adored the movie, and I had a couple of friends on tumblr screaming about this book. So I decided that despite having full knowledge that I was going to be bitterly disappointed, that I’d give it a go. I will never think of potatoes the same way again, and this book had me sobbing at the end. Five stars hands down. I am sorry I ever doubted this book. Side note, I freaking love this cover.
This book is so unique. It’s a Mars story unlike any other, and it also has wonderful survival story elements. It’s not one of those stories where man loathes nature and is struggling to survive, it’s a story where man is really fed up with nature but damn it, nature and man worked together on Earth and heaven help us all if Mark Watney doesn’t make nature work with him on Mars!
It’s one of those survival stories where man works with nature. I just don’t get enough of those.
Mark has a lot to take into consideration when it comes down to making Mars livable. And this is where Weir shows his science knowledge. First is the psychology, what is going on in Mark’s head, but also the heads of those back on Earth. It’s hard to balance two stories in one, as well as write them in two different styles (Mark’s parts are first person, what takes place on Earth is third), but it’s done beautifully here. Mark’s personality is fantastic and he’s such an easy guy to root for (even if he does have the foulest mouth on Mars). Even minor characters had a distinct personality. Sure almost all the scientists were smart-alecks but they all went about it differently and had different motivations. There was a fair bit of diversity as well, although more in passing. Weir was also respectful of some very serious topics and I felt like those issues were addressed well.
Secondly is the math. Oooh boy the math. I had heard from a friend that this book was very science and math based, almost too much so. Look y’all, when I was a kid I wanted to be Mark Watney then I realized just how much math an astronaut had to learn and I noped right out of there. I was ready to do that at any given moment with The Martian. While I did have to go back and re-read some things a couple of times before I fully understood it, Watney (and therefore Weir) did an excellent job of explaining the math behind everything and the importance of said math. This is not a math lover forcing math on the reader, this is someone with serious math knowledge saying “look at how cool math can be because it can totally help you survive on Mars!” I have a whole new appreciation of math thanks to this book.
Finally is the straight up science. Mark is a botanist and his first self imposed mission was to get food. Which wound up being potatoes. I had no idea I could feel sentimental over potatoes but when I finished the book and saw the potatoes my parents left sitting out I started crying all over again. The science is just amazing. I had no idea that such hard science could be made into such a fun and fascinating read. This isn’t an easy read, and it’s not a good book to read when you’re tired as what happens on Sol 37 will come into play on Sol 66. The science is explained really well and while it makes the book very technical, it also makes for an enlightening and really enjoyable story.
And ultimately this is a book for optimists. Mark faces incredible, and sometimes terrifying challenges, yet somehow he manages to push on. Yes, a few times he considers taking an easy way out, but honestly, who wouldn’t? The power of the story is that he never has a promise that he’s going to live to the next day or ever see Earth again. Yet he soldiers on. As science laden as this book is, it is truly a story about humanity. How we keep it in impossible times, and how we show it to others. It’s an incredible book and it took all my will power to not turn back to the start and immediately re-read it.
TL;DR: Sometimes you just come across a book that makes you realize that no matter the seemingly insurmountable challenges we face, we can always make it through with the help of potatoes others. The Martian did that for me while teaching me a ton about science and made it fun. This is a nerdy book, no doubt about it, but it’s also a human book and one of the most optimistic books I’ve encountered. It’s got everything a good book should have. Suspense, a very real challenge (or challenges in this case), humor, diversity, and space. Because everyone loves a good space story, and that’s exactly what this is.