Castaway on Mars, how is that going to work? Pretty well, actually. I knew “The Martian” was highly acclaimed. I knew it was considered one of the best Indie books to come out in the last five years (it was originally self published before being picked up by its current publisher), and it was on a Goodreads list of top reads for 2014. Still, it took me several months from when I added it to my ‘To Read’ list to the time I actually picked it up. Perhaps the summary didn’t sound as exciting as the other books in my virtual pile. Perhaps I was worried about how well I would like a book that contained one voice. I don’t really know why I put it off, but I am glad I finally read it.
It takes a gifted author to keep the reader entertained when a story is absent of any other voice, as “The Martian” is for a large chunk of the book. Eventually the point of view changes and you get a glimpse into what his crew, NASA, and even the world is thinking as astronaut Mark Watney fights for survival on the red planet. Mark’s voice is so incredibly entertaining that even when he was rattling off paragraphs of heavy scientific explanations, I could not help but keep reading. He has an unrelenting sense of hope and an ability to laugh at himself and his horrifying situation that makes him feel like a real person. His resourcefulness actually feels like a product of his intelligence as a well education botanist and electrical engineer, and not some magical deus ex machina contrived to get him from point A to point B. Because he felt so real, I was fully invested in the story, feeling both fear and relief as obstacles were met and overcome.
The narrative changes quite a few times from Mark Watney’s logs on Mars, to the inner offices of NASA, to NASA worker bees, and even small expository asides that explain how Mark Watney became the first man left behind on Mars (with so many other firsts to come), and what people are willing to do to get his feet back on terra firma. I could have kept reading Mark’s narrative and not been upset, but I truly appreciated the fullness of story that the introduction of supporting characters brought.
If you are looking for a smooth and easy read in the hard science fiction genre, I would definitely recommend this. “The Martian” illustrates the strength of the human spirit and shows us how one person’s life can bring a world of people together, how one man’s struggle can cause millions to hold their breaths and send their prayers and well wishes into the sky. In some ways, the hopeful tone reminded me that most people are in fact good people and that our strength as human beings is in our creativity, our spirit, and our ability to love. It is hard to believe that this is Andy Weir’s debut novel and I look forward to seeing more from him in the future.
Note: I read the self published version of this book. There are differences, though not too many from what I understand.