book review: the martian

The Martian by Andy Weir

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“I don’t want to come off as arrogant here, but I’m the best botanist on the planet.” Andy Weir

An unforeseen storm interrupts a mission on Mars and leaves Mark Watney stranded. Without knowing when or how he will escape, he survives using his knowledge of botany and chemistry and the materials left by his crew.

This is another instance where I am really glad I chose Audible. I’m eager to watch the movie now. I’m curious about what they included and whether Matt Damon can be the Mark Watney I imagined. Some have argued that this is a book that was begging for a movie deal, and I say, “so what?” It’s a cool story, and some stories are meant to be performed.

The majority of the novel is told from Watney’s point of view in the form of personal logs. The narrative is told with a real voice – with cursing and odd outbursts – rather than a writing style.

“It’s true, you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl.” Andy Weir

I can imagine that reading these logs may have sometimes felt uncomfortable or weird without Mark having a voice of his own, but in audio form, the persona feels whole and convincing. I like a character who is himself. He isn’t trying to fit a mold. He isn’t overly dramatic or intellectual. Watney reminds me of my younger brother – without the foul language. I imagine my brother will be quite like Watney when he is older. This for example:

“He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?” He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”

LOG ENTRY: SOL 61 How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.” Andy Weir

The story depends on a lot of science information. I tried to follow the science the best I could, but what I like about audio books is that I can continue to do chores and house projects while I listen. So occasionally, I tuned out the details about how Watney was converting atmosphere to water or nuclear energy into space heaters. That stuff was cool and a huge part of the story, but luckily if I felt I missed something too important, I could rewind. The performance of this audio book made me keep listening.

“As with most of life’s problems, this one can be solved by a box of pure radiation.” Andy Weir

Throughout the novel, I was questioning the way that NASA and the crew and the world came together to seek out a way to save one man. Would the world support this? Would the world risk this? Would the world pay for this? On the one hand, I’m not sure I would support spending millions of dollars to save one man. On the other, I think it would be an amazing feat of science and human intelligence to say that we did and could. I’m assuming Andy Weir considered this while he wrote The Martian – or maybe he did in editing – since the finale is a discussion of this very question.

“If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do.”Andy Weir

View all my reviews