The Martian

Posted: November 17, 2014 in Book reviews

By Andy Weir
It is the near future and man has made it to Mars. Ares 3 is NASA’s 3rd mission to the Red Planet, but after two previously successful missions things don’t go to plan, and just 6 days into their 30 day mission a freak dust storm forces the 6 person crew of Ares 3 to make an emergency evacuation.
In the chaos they lose contact with one of their group, Botanist Mark Watney. With the storm threatening to destroy their spacecraft before they can escape, and with Watney’s suit reporting no life signs, Commander Melissa Lewis makes the tough call for them to make for orbit, assuming that Watney is dead.
Except by sheer good luck Watney has actually survived. Only now he’s exiled on Mars, alone, with limited resources and no contact with NASA and only a vague hope of rescue that will rely on Ares 4, due to arrive in several years’ time and 3200km away. The only trouble is his food will run out long before then…


Oh I enjoyed this, I enjoyed this a lot. In fact I’d say it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year, one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years. Originally this was self-published by Weir, before thousands of sales and a position high on the Amazon charts persuaded a publisher to offer him a 6 figure sum for the rights (yes I am envious!).
It’s easy to see why this did so well on Amazon, because once you start reading it doesn’t take long to get hooked and to find yourself addicted to Watney’s struggle.
This has been compared to the film Gravity, and in some respects the comparison is accurate, but whilst 90 minutes with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney doesn’t give you much time to bond with the characters, several hundred pages following Watney, the crew of Ares 3, and select NASA officials on Earth, gives you more than enough time to form attachments, especially with Watney.
In other hands this could have been a book as dry as a Martian riverbed, an overly technical guide to survival on another planet, but whilst there is a lot of science and engineering at work here, Weir never lets it overwhelm the human element, and never lets the book get boring.
Told mainly through his journal entries, Watney is a funny, irreverent narrator, inventive and resourceful, and boy does he need to be resourceful. Alone with only equipment and food meant for a limited mission he has to fight to stay alive, fight to contact NASA, and fight to try and get home, and if you’re anything like me once you start following his journey you will find it very hard to pull away, and I have to say I had a lump in my throat come the end.
Weir’s prose is lean yet natural, technical yet human, and at times very, very funny. Oft times hard science fiction is overly clinical, but that is no problem here, because Weir balances his obvious knowledge with jokes about disco music and 70’s TV, and the crew of Ares 3, highly trained professionals that they are, are also a group of human beings whose witty bantering feels incredibly natural.
There are some contrivances, Watney does seem very lucky at times, and the book would probably have benefited from one of two fewer crises, although it manages to just shy away from becoming repetitive, and Watney’s characterisation ensures this is more than just a roller coaster ride of disaster and salvation.
Highly recommended!

  1. […] If this review seems slightly familiar then it’s because I reviewed the book upon which the film is based a while back. Check out that review, if you’re interested, here. […]

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