Humble beginning of ‘The Martian’ lead to big things

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First Posted: 2/17/2015

I need to preface this review by saying, I am not a scientist, nor is science a particular interest of mine. I do, however, enjoy sci fi when it isn’t too “techy.”

“The Martian” sounded fascinating. Astronaut Mark Watney is one of the members of the Ares 3 mission to Mars. He’s a botanist and mechanical engineer (convenient for what happens to him), as well as the life of the party. He is known for being the most fun and good humored of the crew. Which is why the crew is devastated when they are forced to evacuate the planet during a dust storm and he is presumed dead.

Watney is far from dead, though, and survives not only being impaled by an antenna (just a little bit, apparently), but also the high winds from the dust storm. He wakes up to find himself alone on Mars. His crew is gone, he is unable to communicate with them or with NASA and the next mission to the planet won’t be for another four years. Despite the dire situation, Watney is able to think quickly and uses his botany and mechanical engineering background to survive. The question is, will he make it four years with limited food and water?

The early chapters were a tough read. Like I said, I’m no scientist. I got a little lost with all the talk of making water (by burning hydrazine – huh?) and modifying one of the rovers to run on solar panels. Frankly, I was about ready to put the book down because I just kept skimming passages that I found really boring. But then, chapter six changes perspectives back to Earth, where satellite images show evidence of Watney’s survival, ironically the day his funeral was held. NASA springs into action, figuring out how to communicate with Watney and keep him alive until Ares 4 lands. Once the chapters switched between Watney’s survival logs and NASA’s actions on Earth, the story really picked up.

Having a break from Watney as a narrator also worked in the novel’s favor. His tone was a little too jocular at times. Yes, he is supposed to be a fun loving guy and yes, he is trying to make light of his situation for his own sanity, but sometimes his tone was a little over the top. The various characters at NASA were more grounded. “The Martian” is hardly brilliant literature but it’s a fun read and you have to admire the path Andy Weir took to get the novel published. He released it one chapter at a time for free on his website and then sold it on for $.99 when his fans asked him to. The book rose in popularity so quickly that the print rights were bought for six figures. It even hit the New York Times Best Seller list last spring and Ridley Scott is directing Matt Damon in the movie version, which will be released this November. Weir did everything to ensure the success and survival of his novel, which mirrors Watney’s journey in the book – although obviously with a lot less riding on his survival.

Andy Weir clearly knows his stuff in terms of the science (at least I think he does. I didn’t exactly fact check). For people interested in space travel who also have a science background, this book will definitely be of interest. If you’re looking for more of a survival story, that’s there as well, but you have to wade through the tech talk to get there. This is a great story of how humanity can band together and go to extreme lengths to save one life and that in itself is a good reason to read “The Martian.”