After hearing rave reviews of The Martian by first-time novelist Andy Weir last year, I bought copies for my father, stepfather, and husband for Father’s Day, and they all loved it! I finally had a chance to read this thriller set in space myself and really enjoyed the fast-paced suspense and humor.
As the novel opens, astronaut Mark Watney wakes up and discovers that he is alone on Mars. His crew was on the surface of the planet, but a storm forced them to evacuate. Mark doesn’t hold any grudges for them leaving him behind; he seemed to be dead, and even his suit’s automatic readouts of vital signs showed he was dead. He would have done the same thing in their shoes. But now he is left on Mars – alone – and figures it will be at least three years until the next manned mission lands there and is able to rescue him.
The problem (one of many problems) is that Mark can’t communicate with his crew or with anyone on Earth, so he has no way to let them know he is even alive…oh, and he will run out of food long before the next mission arrives. These are just the first of many serious survival issues that Mark faces throughout the course of the novel. Fortunately, Mark is really smart (he’s an astronaut, after all), his specialty is botany, and he has a strong will to live.
This novel is sort of like the movie Castaway, set in space, if the TV character McGyver were the lead character. Mark is on his own for much of the story, trying to survive and facing one obstacle after another. Each time he is faced with a life-or-death challenge, he figures out a clever way to overcome it. What keeps the story from becoming dry or dull is Mark’s dark sense of humor. The novel is written as Mark’s log of his adventures, and he is constantly cracking jokes.
Unlike Castaway, the action isn’t all just Mark. The reader also gets to see what is happening back on Earth at NASA and with his crew as they head home on their long journey. Someone at NASA eventually figures out that Mark is still alive, so that adds additional urgency to the story, as the engineers and scientists try to figure out how to rescue him, and the world watches and waits. The action flips back and forth between these different scenes, keeping the pace fast and helping to build the suspense.
Weir is a software engineer and a self-described “space nerd,” so there is a lot of science in this book, but it doesn’t bog the story down. The action, constant new challenges, and Mark’s sense of humor keep the narrative flowing smoothly and quickly (and you can just skim the science-y stuff if you like). Real space experts at NASA have said that the science in the novel is accurate, so that adds to the intrigue and credibility of the story. I loved this warm, funny sci fi thriller just as much as the men in my family did, and I can’t wait to see the movie adaptation.
369 pages, Crown Publishers