The Martian [A Review]

"You are the only human being on Mars." A review of The Martian, a new novel by Andy Weir.

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You are one of six crewmembers on one of the very first manned missions to Mars in history. Things are going according to plan until a terrible storm hits and you have to abort. As the crew scrambles through the whipping winds to get back aboard the shuttle a chunk of debris, carried by the wind, knocks you away and the crew has to leave without you. You awake slowly, fading from blackness to a profound silence–the storm has gone onward, as has your crew. You are the only human being on Mars.

The Martian

If that sounds like the plot of a sci-fi thriller, it’s because that’s precisely what it is. The Martian by Andy Weir (Crown Publishers) is a page-turner of classic nerd fodder: if you love desperately narrow escapes from hopeless situations combined with near-future tech and a generous helping of scientific asides that only the geeky STEM student could appreciate, then this is the book for you.

Weir crafts the narrative mainly as a set of journal entries, such that you as the reader enter into the story through day-by-day past tense vignettes. It’s an interesting angle, because it feels so immediate and yet also reflective. You really get an opportunity to enter into the head of Mark Watney (the main character).

Given the recent flurry of interest in manned missions to Mars, this novel is a fascinating–and sobering–look at an area of space exploration that is slowly inching further away from fi toward sci. If we actually succeed in putting a human being on the face of Mars in only one decade from now, as is the plan, then this novel takes on a disturbing sense of potentiality.

Weir works hard to make his prose sound very normal, which contributes to how raw and gritty it feels. He uses profanity extensively toward this end, but rather than making it feel more real, it diminishes the quality of the writing in my opinion. He uses profanity so frequently that at times I felt like I was reading a cheap checkout stand novel. I’m no Victorian prude living in a cave of ages past; I am more than familiar with the place of profanity in our postmodern pop culture, but I nevertheless believe that profanity doesn’t make us sound cooler as much as it makes us sound pathetic.

Though I believe it would have been a higher-quality novel if he had used his profanity with greater purpose and lesser frequency, this is a small quibble in the final analysis. Weir writes with a sort of nerdy focus on detail that I really appreciated, and for his first published novel I am duly impressed. Apparently Hollywood is, too.

You can purchase a copy on Amazon (paperback $12/kindle $5).

DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

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