The Martian by Andy Weir
Rating: 4.75 stars
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.
But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?"
Review: I have to start by giving a shout out to Bridget from Dog-Eared and Dog-Tagged. It was her review that pushed me into giving this book a try. Science was always my least favorite subject in school, and SciFi is a very hit-or-miss genre for me, generally speaking. So if it weren't for her review, I might never have picked up this book at all. Thanks to Bridget, I just had a great experience with a SciFi book! Me! And a SciFi book! Wonders never cease. So, thanks, Bridget!!
The first thing that drew me in with this book is the fact that I had no idea how it would play out. Part of that is because I am not very scientifically minded, so I had absolutely zero clue as to what Mark Watney would have to do to stay alive. But, even if I was scientifically minded, I would still have no idea how this book would play out, because the odds stacked against Watney are impossibly high. Like, astronomically high. Literally. He could die at any moment from a thousand different causes. So, watching him trying to find a way to stay alive, find a way to contact earth, and get rescued, was incredible.
That underlying tension on every page, knowing Mark's every breath could be his last, made this book so much more suspenseful and gripping than I was expecting. I mean, reading about a guy who spends a long time stranded and alone might sound boring to some. (And, let's be honest, Cast Away starring Tom Hanks, to which this book has been frequently compared, really was pretty boring to me.) But Mark wasn't just hanging out on an island with a volleyball, waiting to be rescued. He was on a foreign planet. He was surrounded by elements that were constantly trying to kill him. So he was extremely busy. Staying alive required massive amounts of ingenuity and determination on his part. Plus, Mark is a remarkably funny character, especially considering his circumstances. We, the readers, can't help but root for him to overcome his impossible odds.
It did help, though, that the whole book wasn't from his point of view. Besides Mark, you read chapters from the perspectives of various people in NASA, Mark's shipmates with whom he flew to Mars, and a few others. Their points of view, motivations, and agendas were not only interesting, they rounded out the whole story. And nothing felt contrived, either. I mean, of course Mark's story would be headline news. Of course his shipmates would be dealing with huge amounts of guilt and grief. Of course it would be a central question whether it was worth the billions of dollars to rescue one person. Of course people would disagree on the best course of action. So while I loved being in Mark's head, I also loved those chapters from Earth.
I should note that this book is very technical and scientific. But I should also note that I was able to follow along without too much difficulty. I do wonder, though, how much of the science in this book is real. Like I mentioned, I am not particularly scientifically minded, so I have no gauge for it. I just accepted what was in the book point blank, because I had no reason to doubt it. But I'm a little curious if Mark's exploits on Mars would actually work for a non-fictional being. Granted, I hope no non-fictional being is ever in his situation, but I'm still curious.
In the end, I felt like book in a word could be described as "life-affirming." The human race does a lot to make me bitter and jaded. Looking at the news can be the most depressing thing in the world. But for every creep out there, for every selfish, hate-filled soul, there is someone else who is kind. Someone who is compassionate. Someone who is trying to make the world (universe?) a better place. And, in the end, it's not so bad to be a human. Not so bad at all.
Review in a GIF:
Bottom Line: The Martian was gripping, intricate, surprisingly funny, and ultimately a very affirming story. I would happily recommend it, both to fans of SciFi as well as to those who normally might not give this kind of book a try.