The Martian (Andy Weir, 2011)

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The Martian: a novel, by Andy Weir (2011).

Score: Outstanding.

The Martian tells the story of Mark Watney, left for dead and stranded on Mars during a critically intense sandstorm on the sixth day of a manned mission. Watney has to figure out how to make water and food for himself, how to reestablish contact with Earth and how to get out of the planet before his life support fails.

Some people have described it as “just a thought experiment” like it was a bad thing, but I don’t see why it should. The bulk of the plot are the technical details of Watney’s ordeal. Since most of the chapters are told by Watney in the first person, we get a great glimpse of who he is, how he thinks, and how he takes life (hint: he’s much funnier than Movie!Watney). For the rest of characters, development is minimal and that’s how this story likes it.

Like good science, it’s the product of peer review. It started out as a blog where Weir would post the episodes as he wrote them, and corrected them according to the evidence provided by some of his three thousand devoted readers. I don’t know how much got corrected but the technical detail is astounding. It’s easily understandable by someone with a high-school level of science, you just need to read carefully and Google occasionally. It ends up being quite instructive. Even if you’ve watched the movie you’ve got some surprises coming up for you, and if you haven’t… Boy, you’re in for a bumpy ride of geeky man versus nature.

The first person narrative is very well achieved. You follow Watney’s train of thought as he is scared of the situation, then starts dividing it into smaller problems, then starts devising a solution for each. As time goes by you see how he starts being affected by stress and isolation as well. He speaks the way someone like him would, as do the rest of scientists that appear in the book. Boy, do I hate first-person narrators who speak like Romantic poets. It’s been post-modernism for a while, people!

Comparing it to the movie, there are some plot points the movie scrapped. Totally understandable, as it would have made the movie much longer and veering into tedious territory. So, having enjoyed both, both are good at what they do. You don’t really have to choose, you can like both.

To sum it up: if you’re not interested in science or engineering in the least, don’t read it, you’ll be very bored. If you like them, you’re gonna have a great time.

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