When a storm hits one NASA’s Mars missions, one man is left behind, and determined to stay alive for as long as it will take for rescue to arrive.
If you pay close attention, Andy Weir’s novel The Martian might actually teach you how to survive on Mars.
You’ll have to really pay attention though, because if there is one thing that becomes clear very early on during the adventures of Mark Watney, botanist, engineer and first living person stranded on Mars, it’s that getting off Mars requires more technical know-how than assembling an IKEA cupboard.
While the setting (and in fact the book’s blurb) may raise expectations of a sci-fi thriller, The Martian is in fact more comedy than thriller, more Bridget Jones than Arthur C. Clarke.
This is on one hand due to the book’s diary-style, and on the other to the character of Watney, who faces every near-impossible problem with a good portion of glib gallows-humour.
Problems are also the only thing on Mars Watney seems to have an abundance of, when instead of waiting for death on the red planet, he immediately sets out to find a way to survive until there is a chance to be rescued by the next Mars mission, roughly 4 years away.
If there is one thing you absolutely cannot blame Weir of, it’s insufficient research. As a self-proclaimed space nerd, he has dug deep into his expertise of manned space flight and the operations involved, to produce a book that is full of the technical details his character deals with on the quest for survival.
This might prove too complex for some, but serves to root the novel in reality. After all, Watney is not afraid of aliens or or an A.I. that may turn against him, but very tangible things such as starvation, dehydration and freezing to death.
The unique tone of the book might not do the gravity of the situation justice (get it? Gravity?), but it makes both the novel as a whole and Watney as a character easy to root for, a core requirement for a solitary character in a scenario that has otherwise been expansively covered.
Speaking of expansively covered: due to the popularity of recent deep-space adventures such as Gravity and Interstellar, 20th Century Fox was quick to swoop in and secure the rights to an adaptation of The Martian as well, starring Matt Damon as Whatney and slanted for release in October of this year.
Readers will spend most of their time on Mars with Whatney, while occasionally NASA’s perspective of events in explored from the eyes of Venkat Kapoor, director of Mars missions, and Whatney’s old crew.
These parts are decidedly weaker than the logs, grappling both with stilted dialogue and a lack of emotion, reading like pesky chores in-between the real action, the meat of the novel into which Weir has poured decidedly more effort.
The Martian is a novel that stands and falls with its plot, which once upon a time would have had to rely heavily on the fantastical, but in times of Mars spacecraft Philae and HD images of the red planet provides a refreshingly modern piece to the big puzzle that is the wonder of space exploration.
Publication Date: August 2014
Publisher: Del Rey