For this week’s review, I bring you The Martian, by Andy Weir. It is a near-future Sci-Fi, set within the next few decades.
The premise snagged me right away:
Mark Watney is stranded on Mars after his mission is aborted.
He is a member of the third mission to Mars. The most junior member. A huge storm blows up a few days after the mission reaches Mars’ surface, forcing evacuation to the MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle). En route through the storm, Mark is hit by an antenna and knocked out.
Through a series of freak events, Mark’s crew members think he is dead.
Through a series of even freakier events, Mark actually survives, in spite of his suit being breached.
The MAV almost tips over in the storm’s high winds, and the crew is forced to leave – or risk being stranded on Mars.
So, Mark is on Mars. He has shelter, and he has food for now – enough for a year. The catch is that the next Mars mission isn’t due to arrive for four years, and he has no way to communicate with Earth.
The book is about Mark’s efforts to survive, and NASA’s efforts to retrieve him.
It was clearly meticulously researched. Umpty-nine things go wrong, and there are a corresponding umpty-nine clever fixes, each carefully grounded with detailed explanations. I’m enough of an engineer that I enjoyed the explanations, and appreciated the effort that went into them. I wasn’t quite enough of an engineer to read the explanations as meticulously as they were written.
I was impressed that the author was able to keep the tension and pacing through 369 pages of things almost killing Mark (and maybe actually killing him – wouldn’t want to give away the ending!). If the story had been on earth it would have been easy to hit the “oh, come on now!” point, but this is on a harsh planet, over a pretty fair span of time. With that background, the Murphy’s Law effect seemed inevitable instead of forced.
The story is split into first-person chapters from Mark’s point of view and third-person chapters looking at what’s going on back home.
I admit that I was a bit taken aback the first time I hit a third-person chapter, mostly because the first five chapters/48 pages were in first person. At that point I thought the whole book would be in first person.
That moment of “er – wait a minute!” was my biggest beef with the story. It definitely threw me out for a whole twenty seconds.
However, the third-person parts on Earth gave an important perspective. I think it would have been possible to write the whole book from Mark’s point of view, but that would have missed out on some wonderful emotional and dramatic moments.
My writer-self wonders whether Andy could have slipped a third-person Earth chapter in earlier. Perhaps something in third person showing his fellow crew members or Earth responding to Mark’s loss. But that would have weakened the logical sequence of point of view.
As it is written, the book only introduces a point of view shortly before it is “connected” to the rest of the story. The Earth point of view picks up very shortly before they discover Mark is alive. The crew’s point of view picks up very shortly before they are told Mark is alive.
Anyway, the POV management was an interesting aspect. Aside from that very first jolt, I thought it was quite effective.
I often get annoyed with multi-threaded books because I almost always like one thread better than the other. In this case, I was never sorry to leave one viewpoint and get shunted to another – they were all interesting.
The Martian is a great survival tale that has some neat engineering and excellent plotting/characterization.
It is Andy Weir’s first published novel. I look forward to seeing what he writes next!