Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

Pros: tense, compelling, humerous, hard sf

Cons: swearing, some exposition

Mark Watney is presumed dead after being hit by flying debris and having his suit depressurize during the evacuation of the Ares 3 mission on Mars in a dust storm.  But hours after his crew departs on the only ship, Mark wakes up.  Now he’s alone on Mars with no way home and supplies only designed to last a crew of 6 for 31 days.

This is a novel of survival under extreme conditions.  It’s predominately told from Mark’s point of view via daily journal entries.  Mark is a resourceful man with a dry sense of humour, which helps keep the novel upbeat even though things are constantly dire.  It’s a compelling book that’s hard to put down with lots of tense moments.  

It’s also hard science fiction, meaning there’s a good amount of science explanation and mathmatics going on.  Most of the time it’s quick and engagingly told (often using humour).  Communications are reproduced with the time lag and flight times are dictated by real physics.  According to an interview I read by him the only scientifically inaccurate point in the book is the dust storm on Mars at the beginning of the book.

There’s a fair bit of swearing, which I’m not keen on, but a lot of it was understandable given the circumstances.  My only other complaint is that a lot of necessary information was given in conversations in ways that - though they worked in the text - would sound odd in real life.  So, for example, people would say things like “It’s nice to be back in Houston.”, rather than simply “It’s nice to be back.”, so the reader would know where the conversation was happening.  Similarly, people often explained things to coworkers that their coworkers should know, like how various scientific things work, or what they’re called, so that the reader would learn this information.  It’s a catch-22 in that the reader needs the information and there are only 2 ways to get it across, via dialogue or exposition.  Dialogue is the more interesting way of reading it, so he made the right choice.  And most people won’t notice he did this, they’ll just enjoy the fast paced story.

This is a fantastic book and I can understand why it made so many top 10 lists for 2014 and why it’s been optioned for film.


Ron Buckmire said...

Nice review. I inhaled The Martian in 2 days over Xmas Break and quite enjoyed it. For some reason I thought it would be possible that Martian might die in the end so I thought the book was incredibly suspenseful!!

It should be a very interesting film!

Jessica Strider said...

Thanks. I thought the book was very compelling, and like you, wondering if Mark would survive kept the tension up for me.