When my husband read this last year, I asked if he thought I’d like it. He said it was probably too technical, too much on the “hard” science fiction side (meaning it focuses on the science as opposed to being more about people and society).
Then, as some of my favorite bloggers started writing about this book, and as it showed up on a lot of “Best of 2014” lists, I decided to read it.
Despite all the hype, I wasn’t disappointed. Was it too technical for me? In some places, yes. I found myself comparing this book to the show Mythbusters – they take science and math and make it entertaining. Maybe this book had more than I needed to know about the properties of oxygen and hydrogen. But it made science really, really entertaining.
The Martian, by the way, is about Mark Watney, who’s on a small team of astronauts on a mission to Mars. The crew has to leave suddenly because of a storm. The team, thinking him dead, has to leave him behind or none of them get out alive. So he finds himself alone on Mars, with minimal support systems and no way to get home.
Here’s how it begins:
Log Entry: Sol 6
Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare.
I don’t even know who’ll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now.
For the record… I didn’t die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can’t blame them. Maybe there’ll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say, “Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars.”
And it’ll be right, probably. ‘Cause I’ll surely die here. Just not on Sol 6 when everyone thinks I did.
Like the movie Gravity, you don’t have to understand all the mechanics of space travel to find it thrilling. But while many felt Gravity lacking in the science department, there is a lot of it in this book. At a minimum, you’ll need some understanding of basic math, physics and chemistry for this book to make sense. Did I gloss over the formulas and calculations in a few places? Absolutely. I admit it. But I got most of it, and it made learning an awful lot of fun. And I think this is a book, like Mythbusters, that may inspire people to explore science and math. I hope so.
Truly, though, this isn’t a book about science and math, it’s a story about survival. About strength and ingenuity. About a man fighting for his life and the people hoping he succeeds. I liked our hero so much I rooted for him the whole way, and I genuinely felt for the people who would suffer if he didn’t make it.
The other thing that makes this book a standout is Weir’s sense of humor. For a book about a man’s fight between life and death, it’s also laugh out loud funny, from his biting journal entries and emails to his commentary on bad 70s television and music (those of you who are my age will particularly appreciate this).
For tonight, I have to get back to Three’s Company. I stopped last night in the middle of the episode where Mr. Roper saw something and took it out of context.
I will say that a lot of novels told through journals don’t work for me, because it’s never realistic how much people write in their journals or how much detail they recall. In this story it works perfectly, because 1) Mark has a lot of time on his hands, and 2) he has an important reason to document everything he’s doing. The journal also works really well because it shows you the ups and downs, not just in Mark’s situation but his emotional state. It shows you his thought process as he works through different solutions to surviving on Mars. And it’s just damn well written.
So, highly recommended even if you’re not a “hard” science fiction reader. There’s already a movie version in the works, and it should be a good one. But read the book first.