In The Martian, by Andy Weir, astronaut Mark Watney is trapped on Mars. His crew had to escape, thinking he was dead and leaving him behind. Now, he’s hoping to make contact with Earth and get rescued. The book blurb stopped me from reading this novel for about two years, but when I saw the movie trailer, I was interested (which is really weird). The book is saved by the enjoyable protagonist, whose personality and sense of humor elevate the book. I call this one a READ WITH CAUTION, as the book starts strong but loses steam over time and suffers from an abrupt, unsatisfying ending.
Here, There Be Spoilers
I first saw The Martian a few years ago, available as an ebook rental from my library. After reading the book blurb, I was unimpressed. I thought about it a few times since then, but never made the plunge. Then I went and saw Jurassic World, with a preview trailer of The Martian (movie version, obviously). And for the first time ever, a movie trailer made me want to read a book.
I suppose this shows the power of a good book jacket blurb. The Martian’s blurb shows nothing of what actually makes the book great to me–the protagonist’s personality. Mark is chosen for his mission because he’s an affable, laid-back guy who has a great sense of humor and will be easy to befriend. As such, listening to his lonely thoughts from Mars in the log-like messages that make up the book are rendered quite entertaining, rather than dull and droll.
I can’t vouch for the science in the book. It seems sound to me, but I have admittedly thought more about space being vast and beautiful than the actual realities of space travel and survival. If you’re looking for hard science, this seems to have a good dose of that sort of thing, but the author has a light hand when applying it, meaning that if you don’t really follow the process, you won’t get lost or bored reading about it. There are definitely areas where the author describes far too much, though.
Mark is written well, making me laugh out loud in several instances. I found a kinship with him, as I often find myself a bit too laid back and unserious, even in quite dire situations. It is a quite rare occasion that a book makes me laugh out loud, and this one did a few times.
After a certain point, there was so much danger that it began to get stale. While I understand that space and Mars aren’t cocoons of safety, the book may have benefited from fewer instances of absolute catastrophe. Like overused exclamation marks or capitalization in writing, the excessive issues Mark encountered soon lost their charm.
I felt like the book ended quite suddenly. I wasn’t satisfied with the ending. It wasn’t that I didn’t like what happened, though. I found that I wanted to know more about what happened beyond the rescue and the readjustment to Earth. I wanted to see Mark hug his parents and get a medal, and even potentially see how his situation changed space travel overall. I wanted him to see potatoes and react humorously.
In short, with a different main character, it’s likely that I may have found this book boring. I did, however, enjoy it in the way it was written, even if it went downhill over the course of the novel. I call this one a READ WITH CAUTION.