Friday, November 7, 2014

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

I heard about this book last spring when it first came out, as a book that would definitely appeal beyond the usual sci fi fans, and I was particularly interested in the promotion by Fiction Addiction in SC where they asked their members to trust them and buy the book wrapped in a paper wrapper so they didn't even know what they were buying. My book club usually picks one sci fi/fantasy book each year and this one seems like a shoe-in. I have been waiting and waiting for that but I just couldn't wait anymore! And I'm so glad I didn't! I could not put this book down. I was reading it while brushing my hair. I was reading it while waiting for my toast to toast. I was reading it while "watching" the cat outside. It's almost 400 pages and I finished it in 48 hours.

Mark is on a manned expedition to Mars. A bad sandstorm kicks up and although the habitat can withstand winds that strong, the craft they need to return to the larger ship that brought them there (and will bring them back to earth), cannot, so the mission is scrubbed. As the six astronauts are making their way back to the craft, Mark is blown away from the rest and impaled on a piece of radio antennae. His spacesuit reads no blood pressure, no heartbeat. The commander makes the agonizing decision to leave his body and the five remaining astronauts return.

But Mark is not dead. He was injured (and the stabby antennae also stabbed the computer on his spacesuit causing those negative readings) but he makes it back to the hab. And he discovers that not only is he stranded on Mars, but he has no way to communicate with either the ship or with NASA. (And even if the ship knew he was there, they do not have another small craft that could go to Mars and back. Most of them only have the capacity for the single trip they're designed for.) Another mission to Mars is planned in four years. If Mark can wait that long. He's a botanist and a mechanical engineer, so he does have some skills to draw on. And he'll have to be creative to make this work.

This book sounds like it could be awful--no dialogue, one character with no one to interact with. In fact at one point I said to my husband, very excitedly, "Now I get to find out if the potatoes Mark planted have sprouted!" I paused and then acknowledged that I probably just described the most boring book ever written. And yet, this book is brilliant, very fun, and riveting. That is entirely due to Mark, his irreverent humor, his creativity, his lack of self-pity, and just how engaging he is. The book is Mark's journal, being written for posterity whether he survives or not (which does away with the problem in books like this of a first-person narrative killing the suspense about whether or not he'll survive. He could be narrating this and still not survive. You just don't know.) The science seems legit (I've read that it's very accurate) but isn't inaccessible for this non-science reader. The life-and-death situations that keep cropping up very much cause some heart-in-your-throat moments, when you just don't know how (or if) Mark's going to get out of his latest predicament. Some people might find his lack of depression and self-pity unlikely, but remember people who are accepted into space programs have been through extensive psychological testing, and they only accept people who are likely to be able to withstand grueling situations.

I loved this book. It might be my favorite book I've read this year. I don't care if you don't read science fiction. You need to read this book. Now. I'll wait.

I bought this book at Park Road Books, my local independent bookstore.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A good friend recommended this book and like you, I ate it up and passed it to my daughter who did likewise. You brilliantly highlight the essence of this book: Andy Weir makes growing potatoes suspenseful!