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The Martian

The Martian - Andy Weir Occasionally a sci-fi book becomes such a sensation on its publication that it becomes required reading for any self-respecting fan of the genre. Andy Weir's The Martian was part of the New York Times bestseller in 2014, a rare accomplishment for a sci-fi book these days where genre fiction is usually represented by only the occasional epic fantasy or dystopian YA books like [b:The Hunger Games|2767052|The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)|Suzanne Collins|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1358275334s/2767052.jpg|2792775] (though these may go on a separate “younger readers” list, I am not sure).

The publication history of The Martian is almost as dramatic as the book itself. Andy Weir initially posted the original version on his website. It became very popular and readers started to request that Weir make a Kindle e-book edition available. He graciously wanted to make the book downloadable for free from Amazon but they require that self-published e-books are priced at least $0.99. The e-book quickly became one of Amazon’s top selling e-books. An offer from a major publisher soon followed, the revised edition hits The New York Times best seller list, soon after the movie rights is sold. This is almost a rags to riches story, except that Weir never said anything about adorning himself with rags at any time.

Normally I find synopsizing a book to be a chore but most reviews feel incomplete without any kind of description of the plot. Fortunately synopsizing The Martian is almost a pleasure thanks to its plot simplicity. Basically Mark Watney, astronaut / botanist and engineer is stranded on Mars due to a dust storm. His crewmates left him behind on Mars as they thought he died while caught in the storm. The entire book is basically about Watney’s struggle to survive all alone on Mars while awaiting rescue. The basic concept of the story is similar to [b:Robinson Crusoe|2932|Robinson Crusoe|Daniel Defoe|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1403180114s/2932.jpg|604666] or the Tom Hanks movie Castaway. The first 50 or so pages of the book is narrated entirely by Watney in log format. I was concerned that I was about to read a whole book with little or no dialogue which is not an attractive prospect for me. Fortunately the author switches things up a bit with sections of the book told from NASA personnel on Earth and Watney’s crewmates on the Hermes spaceship.

The bulk of the book though is focused on Watney’s struggles on Mars, using his ingenuity to create food and water for himself to stave off starvation until he can be rescued, and to modify available equipment to make a temporary home for himself. Also his leisure time activities to cope with boredom, mostly watching TV shows on video and reading [a:Agatha Christie|123715|Agatha Christie|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1321738793p2/123715.jpg] novels. Watney also has to plan an epic trip to a rendezvous rescue point thousands of kilometers away. The situations and emergencies are very cleverly imagined by Andy Weir and the ingenious solutions are often mind boggling but highly believable thanks to the application of accurate real world science. I believe this aspect of the book is what made it a bestseller. The time of the story’s setting is not specified but it seems to take place in our present day. In fact The Martian often reads more like a contemporary thriller than a science fiction novel. It even has a hair raising climax which is very vividly depicted.

My only complaint is the prose style of the first person narrative as told by the protagonist Mark Watney. His logs are written in modern colloquial style which I find a little grating, I felt like I was reading something written by a cheeky teenage blogger. I also do not think Watney and Andy Weir himself are as funny as they seem to think they are. The level of humor in this book tend to be rather juvenile and the novel is riddled with jokes that fall flat for me. In all fairness humor is very subjective and you may find this book hilarious at times, certainly the general tone of the narrative is quite lighthearted. Other sections of the book narrated in third person are much better and rise above the "snarky blog" level of the Watney sections.

After the end of the novel there is an interview with the author followed by an essay. These are very good and Andy Weir comes across as very likeable, sincere and humble. I am also very happy to read that he is a huge Doctor Who fan, for which I will give him bonus points. In conclusion I am quite happy to recommend this book to fans of very hard science fiction (meaning the science is 100%real). I like it well enough though it won’t go on my “favorite” bookshelf.

(Rating: 3.5 stars)