Finally, a book that has actually lived up to the hype! I’ve been hearing a lot about The Martian. It’s been on many “Best of 2014” book lists, and is the GoodRead’s Choice winner for 2014. Generally, when I see a title gaining a lot of buzz I feel quite skeptical. I am the first to admit that I don’t tend to enjoy the literary titles that tend to be seen on these lists; I enjoy lighter reading, stuff with happy endings. Happily, The Martian is worth the hype that it has received this year. It was sci-fi without being inaccessible to readers less likely to pick up a book with that genre label. And it most certainly was not the depressing, dull, yet, well written, material that I associate with “Best of” lists.
The Martian picks up after astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars, presumed dead. Much to everyone’s surprise, Mark is very much alive and has proved ingenious in extending his life in such a inhospitable habitat. He’s the first potato farmer on Mars, he’s MacGyver in space. This survival is not completely unexpected, after all Watney was “the mission’s fix-it man who played with plants”. What becomes the million dollar question is whether or not Watney can keep up this survivor mentality until he’s rescued, if he’s to be rescued at all.
Once earth learns that Watney is still alive, the big decision has to be made. Do they spend the money to go back and rescue Watney, assuming he can live on Mars for years until this as-yet-to-be-determiend rescue? It’s not exactly a quick fly by to Mars, nor is the rescue going to be cheap. Fortunately for Watney, the answer is yes (the press loves the survival angel). I didn’t expect to like The Martian as much as I did, and I really didn’t expect it to be as funny as it was. I loved the humour in this book. Watney was irreverent and plucky; you couldn’t help but hope that he would survive. I really liked how the character was crafted. Here we have this guy stranded on a planet with little hope of rescue, but he keeps going and keeps up his good humour from page one:
I’m pretty much fucked.
That’s my considered opinion.
Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare.
I don’t know who’ll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now.
For the record…I didn’t die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can’t blame them. Maybe there’ll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say, “Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars.”
Watney’s is stranded in space and he’s thinking about his Wikipedia page. Morbid, but I think it speaks to his attitude throughout the book. Watney’s personality goes a long way in endearing him to readers. He’s not just the super-smart and serious astronaut that you would expect. He’s personable and entertaining; readers become invested in his fight for survival. To me, this personality is a very important facet of the book, and I think it’s this character that will draw readers who don’t normally read science fiction.
I also loved that The Martian was pretty much a love letter to nerdiness. I loved the references to nerdy pop culture, especially this one:
“What the fuck is ‘Project Elrond’?” Annie asked.
“I had to make something up,” Venkat said.
“So you came up with ‘Elrond’?” Annie pressed.
“Because it’s a secret meeting?” Mitch guessed. “The e-mail said I couldn’t even tell my assistant.”
“I’ll explain everything once Teddy arrives.” Venkat said.
“Why does ‘Elrond’ mean ‘secret meeting’?” Annie asked.
“Are we going to make a momentous decision?” Bruce Ng asked.
“Exactly,” Venkat said.
“How did you know that?” Annie asked, getting annoyed.
“Elrond,” Bruce said. “The Council of Elrond. From Lord of the Rings. It’s the meeting where they decide to destroy the One Ring.”
“Jesus,” Annie said. “None of you got laid in high school, did you?”
What can I say? I love a LOTR reference.
In addition to Mark’s recounting of his “projects” readers are also treated to brief interludes back on earth. I thought this really helped with the momentum of The Martian and I also think that it kept the book from getting too repetitive. We get it, Mark’s a smart guy, he can deal with adversity. We don’t need to see this cycle over and over again without reprieve. The return to earth provided a much needed break from Mark’s narrative that could have become repetitive and tiring. Yes, you can have too much of a good thing, and that is nicely avoided in The Martian.
To sum up, The Martian was an excellent read. It’s not your average science fiction story. It’s a read accessible to many readers. Don’t be afraid of the sci-fi label. Yes, it’s a space story, but at it’s heart, The Martian is a survival story, and one that I think will appeal to many readers.
This is a tricky one. I’m really not sure what to recommend. I can’t say that I’ve read science fiction that’s ever been this fun. I’d love to hear what others recommend that are similar to this one!