Andy Weir’s first novel, The Martian, has been placed on a pedestal of science fiction-worshippers’ making. In fact, the book, which got its start as a serial publication on Weir’s blog, charged forth with tenacity after it was published in 2014 and adapted by filmmakers in 2015. It’s safe to say few book/movie combos have accrued this much hype in the past two or three years. (Key word: few.) It’s also safe to say those who do not identify as sci-fi fans, readers, or aerospace intellectuals account for a large portion of readers who have hailed this novel as a must-read.
Which means it may be unsafe to say I didn’t love it. At all.
The novel starts on Sol 6 (sols, you’ll discover, are solar days, which are slightly longer than Earth days). The opening line grabbed me: “I’m pretty much fucked.” Both unconventional and vague, Weir played a strong hand right off the bat, compelling me to read further. Unfortunately, the next 50 pages didn’t live up to that first line.
The novel is separated into chunks, primarily several chapters of “diary” entries by Watney, who finds himself stranded on Mars with inadequate food to account for the four years he must wait for the next Mars expedition — and no way to communicate with NASA. Or Martians. Or anyone/thing. In contrast to the diary-esque entries by Watney, the reader also gains gratifying glimpses into the goings-on at NASA and on the Hermes, the ship that Watney’s colleagues escaped to prior to stranding him on the red planet.
Fortunately, Watney is highly resourceful and manages to find a way to produce food and survive–at least, for another 300-or-so sols. Unfortunately, one problem after another crops up, thwarting his resilient attempts to survive. The story chronicles some of the most creative (& critical) thinking on Earth — and Mars — and despite several tedious stumbles along the way, concludes with a jaw-clenching finale.
Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Intriguing premise, non-conventional play on the survival theme, sharp contrast between Earth/Mars. . . . Unfortunately, I can’t join the hordes of others who worship at the feet of Weir/Watney.
The plot was sluggish — I almost quit at the 50-page mark. (Read: SO. MUCH. SCIENCE. Sidenote: I am not scientifically-minded at all, so much of the chemistry went way over my head. That being said, without these descriptions, it would have been hard to fully grasp Watney’s dire situation.) However, I can’t remember the last time I quit a book, so I kept digging through the prose, hoping for redeeming qualities. Once Weir included scenes from Earth, things improved.
I also struggled with characterization. Watney was completely uninteresting to me at the start of the book. He said things like, “Yay!” (yeah . . . I just didn’t buy that) and only rarely allowed a glimpse at the sarcastic genius readers would come to know and love (or just appreciate) later in the novel. Additionally, Weir kind of pushed my limits with repeated scenarios in which Watney proclaims he’s succeeded at something/is safe, followed by, “I’m completely fucked.” Those quips lose their humor and effectiveness after repeated use.
I did relish the portions in which Watney’s character really shined through (think last half of book). My favorites: his sassy communications with NASA when he felt they were micromanaging. I also enjoyed the last third/half of the novel, once the plot picked up speed and I became more invested in Watney’s survival.
This novel is a quick read, especially if you allow yourself to skim over some of the more tedious scientific descriptions to grasp the major concepts of maneuvers and predicaments. In all, the book fell short of the hype, and I was a bit disappointed. For me, this disappointment is more rooted in the writing itself, rather than the premise. For those who aren’t English majors with tendencies to over-analyze writing, I don’t doubt the book will prove enjoyable.
Rating: 3/5 stars