Author: Andy Weir
Reviewed by Alex Krefetz
Since watching Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar last fall, I’ve been starving for space science fiction stories. I’ve found that there are a few different variants on science fiction tropes. There are the fantastical sci-fi tales, the likes of Star Wars and Star Trek that seek out the alien and exciting swashbuckling-style of storytelling. There are the philosophical and introspective pieces like Interstellar and 2001: A Space Odyssey that often use space exploration as a metaphor for the plight of humanity in both our own evolution and our place in a larger universe. Then there are stories like Apollo 11 and Armageddon, which build an understanding of the science and practicality behind space exploration before throwing a wrench into everything and telling an exciting story of man against the elements.
Of these three archetypes, The Martian fits best into this third category. Andy Weir is able to marry together the hard science of space exploration with the story of NASA astronaut Mark Watney, thought to be dead after being impaled and left behind on Mars to fend for himself without communication. The narrative is formed through various logs Watney writes on his day-to-day actions while trying to keep himself alive and find a way back to Earth. It is with this style that the book finds its strongest element – the voice of Mark Watney. For a guy stranded on Mars with no way to communicate with NASA or his ship, Mark keeps a relatively upbeat and optimistic attitude. On the surface, he seems like a goofy and amicable protagonist. However, underneath an easy-going exterior is a calculating and intelligent survivalist.
I don’t want to spoil any more of the experience, but I would be remiss not to praise the style of narrative. Without going too deep, Weir is able to change the method of storytelling at crucial moments that had me on the edge of my seat. With books like those in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, I’ve grown to appreciate how a story can be written from multiple points of view. While incorporating this idea, Weir takes it further into the story moving from first to third person in interesting and exciting ways. I’ve never read a book where the person-perspective had such a dramatic effect on setting a scene.
Despite the praise I’ve lumped on The Martian so far, it’s not a perfect work. Even though Weir does a good job of explaining the science behind Watney’s plans, there are some passages that can feel like a lot of technical speech that can slow the fast-paced story down. It’s a testament to how often Weir gets it right that these instances are few and far between, but it doesn’t change the massive tonal shift when they do appear.
Overall, The Martian is a smartly-written and easily accessible tale for those looking for a balance between science and fiction. It’s the kind of book I started at 10:00 PM and didn’t put down until I realized it was past 2:00 AM. The book is being turned into a movie directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon later this year, but I think the change in medium won’t quite capture the page-to-page excitement of the book. Weir is a master of timing, and you’ll certainly enjoy your time reading his book.
Five out of Five