I first heard about The Martian from my brother, who, sharing my enthusiasm for science-fiction, recommend that I add it to my wishlist (which I did). However, after hearing that The Martian was being adapted into a film, and being released this year, I made an effort to bump it up the list and read it.
(I HATE seeing the film before reading the book; it ruins the whole experience for me. Once you’ve seen an actor portray a character, you can never imagine that character being anything different.)
So while my boyfriend was sitting in the cinema last week watching the biggest science-fiction film since Intersteller (with STRICT instructions to not give away any spoilers when he returned), I was sitting on my sofa with a peppermint tea and my nose between the pages of Andy Weir’s The Martian.
What I immediately loved about this book was the opening line. There’s no long-winded backstory, or set-up – it starts with a simple four-worded sentence: I’m pretty much fucked. That’s Astronaut Mark Watney, and he’s not lying. Watney is stranded on Mars, after an unfortunate event led to his five crew members evacuating Mars in a hurry. Watney would have been with them, if they didn’t believe him to be dead.
I think I’m pretty much fucked is a suitable introduction to Mark Watney.
Despite being an ‘against all odds’ tale about survival, Weir uses humour as the driving force behind the story, and to great effect. Watney’s narration, I think, is much more ‘human’ than other standed-in-space stories. He’s stranded on Mars, with no way of communicating with the rest of his crew or NASA back on Earth, and the next Mars mission is scheduled four years from now. With limited supplies, Watney will starve to death in just short of a year. As expected, Watney goes though a whole range of emotions, and sarcasm is one of them.
However, Watney does have one advantage; he’s an Astronaut. A botanist and mechanical engineer trained by NASA for deep-space missions to Mars. Watney uses this knowledge to calculate how he can prolong his chances of survival, taking us on a number of advanced science lessons along the way.
Weir is to be congratulated on his ability to explain complex science to the reader in a way that is simple and interesting. Watney’s witty narration and sarcastic story-telling helps guides us through the scientific calculations and processes that, while necessary for the story, we couldn’t honestly give a monkeys about (yes, this book can be read by all – regardless of how good your knowledge or maths and chemistry is!).
I would be interested in knowing how much of what Weir describes is actually scientifically correct. I’m sure there are plenty of expert science buffs who will be quick to debunk any impossible claims – I’ll look into that. However, regardless of how accurate the science really is, Watney’s botany, chemistry and engineering solutions are totally believable and never left me in any doubt (but then again, I’m NOT an expert science buff).
The book is based almost solely around Wateny’s narration, but we are also told the story of the guys back at NASA, who realised fairly quickly that Watney is still alive, thanks to regularly image updates from satellites stationed around Mars. Other reviews have criticised Weir’s ‘washy’ approach to these characters, but I disagree with those who criticise that Weir didn’t provide us with much development of these characters. Not once did I think to myself, “I want to know more about this NASA guy”, because all I cared about was Watney and his developments.
I do, however, think that Weir missed the opportunity to delve deeper into existential and moral discussion. NASA’s story has a couple of good moments where they discuss the value of Watney’s life against multiple lives, money and ‘the advancement of mankind’, but I definitely think there was more scope to make the reader think about the value of life and what it means to exist. But that would have led to a much darker read, and I can’t criticise what is now one of my all-time favourite books.
Gripped to the very end, and constantly on the edge of my seat, Weir managed to pull me into the story and make me root for Watney the whole way. I know it sounds cheesy, but at times it felt like Watney really was a real astronaut stuck in space. Any author who can make me so emotionally wrapped up in the story, gets five starts from me.
I have since seen the film, and while I think it is a good adaptation and portrayal, I still prefer the book (obviously). The film reveals less of the ‘failures’ Watney experiences in the book, presenting an unrealistic (and untrue) version of events for viewers.
What’s more, the film extended the ending (because I guess they felt they needed to ‘close the story’), which I think was pretty lame. It would have been much more effective (I think) to end in the same fashion the book did.
What do you think? Comment below!(5 / 5)