The Martian by Andy Weir is an enjoyable read. I’m not sure it was the best choice in books as I was still coming down from my high after Night Train to Lisbon, but light reads are good for balancing out the heavy stuff.
Written mostly as journal entries by abandoned astronaut, Mark Watney, the endless explanations on the necessary procedures conducted to survive life on Mars were tedious. I often felt as if I was reading an article from National Geographic or a really interesting survival manual. I skimmed a few descriptions until I found the story again.
Andy Weir has proven that he knows his technical stuff, but he delivers it inelegantly and without passion. I don’t need to know exactly how many molecules of various elements are produced when splitting hydrazine nor do I need to know how much power is required to do so. All I need to know is that it’s dangerous. Besides, how many of us could actually refute the science?
The diary entries came across as mild locker room humor mixed with surfer dude attitude and undermined any real tension in the plot. We’re told this is how Mark Watney deals with stressful situations. A more professional approach on the part of the main character with less “ugh, whee, yay, and boo” in his responses would have gone a long way to making me believe in the seriousness of the situation and that he was a highly educated person suitable for space travel.
We’ve been here before with Apollo 13, Castaway, and mostly recently, Gravity. Even Robinson Crusoe was a survivor story. The Martian lacks in respect to these stories because beyond saving Mark, there is no human side to the story. There is no wife or girlfriend waiting on Earth, no foul play to his situation that he needs to discover, not even a friend to whom he needs to make an apology for having spoken harshly. In short, there’s not much in the way of human interest for Mark Watney.
The second way in which The Martian differs greatly from these stories is that it’s pure fantasy. Obviously Apollo 13 is real and the other tales could actually happen. Travel to Mars and/or survival on Mars is still pretend. I find it’s easier to relive historical tragedies than get caught up in the drama of make believe. But that’s just me.
The story was mildly predictable in terms of the sequence of trials and tribulations Mark had to endure on Mars. No sooner would he triumph, I’d turn the page and right on cue the next crisis would appear. The constant up and down was interesting but not as suspenseful as everyone is claiming. This is most evident when thirty pages into the book, Mark wonders if he’s going to blow himself up undertaking an experiment. With about 92% of the book left to go, I’m pretty sure he’s not going to die. Result: zero tension.
Still, Andy Weir’s book is fun. If you’ve worked your way through all your DVDs of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Dr. Who, I recommend reading The Martian. If you’re not a reader, you can wait for the movie which, according to IMDB, is due out in November, 2015.