This book was given to me by Paul Martinovic at Penguin General last year, so thanks Paul! Only just got around to reading it but I’m glad I did, and I definitely wanted to read it before watching the film.
The novel tells of Mark Watney, a botanist-astronaut who gets stranded on Mars after a dust storm makes his crew think he’s died. Whilst Mark’s initial struggle is working out how to survive on Mars, NASA eventually realises he’s still alive and the mission turns to working out how to get Mark back to Earth.
It’s a sciency novel, let’s be honest here, and it was a little difficult for me to wrap my head around. Whilst Mark’s going on about oxygenation and EVAs, I found my attention waning, but once the secondary storylines of NASA back at home and the Ares 3 Crew are brought into play, the novel became much more engaging and exciting to read. Mark faces a lot of obstacles throughout his journey – which is understandable, survival and escape from Mars was never going to be an easy task, but it did become a bit repetitive at times.
The characterisation of Mark really is the novel’s highlight. He is witty, immature and incredibly relatable, rather than being a smarty-pants geek of an astronaut. Maybe it’s a good thing he doesn’t have a huge psychological breakdown (which in all fairness, might well come after the end of the novel, because during his time on Mars it’s highly likely that he was just trying to get from one day to the next) because otherwise it would have been a really bummer of a book. Instead, the novel and its protagonist are captivating and engaging, which makes you want to read on and see how this joker is going to get off Mars.
And you can bet that Mark’s interviews once he gets back to Earth were probably hysterical.
As I said, it’s slow to build and can be a little jumpy at times (there was a whole section of interspersed paragraphs describing the production of something for the airlock that ultimately failed, which felt a bit out of place), but if you like science and outer space, then this is definitely for you.
I also really liked the little prequel in the back of my book, telling you about Mark getting into the Ares 3 programme. I’d be interested to read more of that, and even a sequel/epilogue about Mark’s return to Earth.
I think readers of this novel will divide into two camps: people who like science and people who don’t. Those who do will love the opening sections of all the maths and sciency stuff, and those who don’t (like me) will enjoy the human side of the novel, and the action going on off-Mars, such as the parts on the ground and of the Ares 3 Crew.
Overall, if you stick with it, I think it’s a really great book and extremely well written by Andy Weir. Which is saying something for someone who is clearly intelligent enough to invent his own Mars mission. Usually science and emotions don’t really mix, but here, they do.
The Martian is published by Del Rey, the SFF Imprint of Ebury.