This is a departure from the other books I’ve reviewed but I like to keep an open mind when choosing what to read and, while I generally prefer genres like romance and historical fiction, at the same time I do find science fiction appealing for a change of scenery. My husband recently finished The Martian and declared it ‘superb’, which led to my decision to speed through it too so that we could catch the newly-released movie while it was still in the cinema (that’s because I’m a book-before-the-movie kind of gal but I’ll leave that for discussion in my next post 🙂 ).
The Martian is about an American astronaut called Mark Watney who gets stranded on Mars. The rest of his crew, believing him to be dead, leave him behind when they escape in a storm and he has to figure out how to survive alone on the desert planet until the next NASA mission arrives in four years’ time.
The novel was so thoroughly researched by its author that it had the potential to become swamped in the technical aspects; however, Weir incorporates the science slickly into the narrative and for the most part I found it quite handy to follow. Indeed, my chief point of ignorance was that the book was filled with such specific details about the practicalities of carrying out a space mission to Mars that I had to check whether humans in fact have set foot there. (Not just yet.)
Overall, the plot moved along nicely but I felt that the final third of the book slowed down a good bit, descending somewhat into a series of scenes where ‘this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened’. Nonetheless, I read on because I was just itching to find out whether Watney would make it home.
The outstanding plus in The Martian is the character of Watney. He has an upbeat nature, despite his desperate circumstances, and his cheeky humour is so compelling that I genuinely laughed out loud a lot. However, where Watney’s character shines, the secondary characters are undistinguished. Many of them seem like faint imprints of each other with few distinctive characteristics to set them apart.
That particular snag in the writing may stem from the fact that the book actually started out life as a self-published work. Andy Weir first put it up on his own website as a serial and it was only after fans requested that it be made available in e-reader format that he put it up on Amazon, where it became a big success. Cue the writer’s dream: first came the call from an agent, then the call from a publisher, and finally the call from Hollywood. You can read more about Weir’s meteoric (hee!) rise to fame in this Washington Post article and this piece on Business Insider UK. I really love the story behind the story – it is inspiration for writers everywhere.
After I had turned the final pages, my husband and I hightailed it to the cinema for the movie version. For a book that had its origins in self-publication, the movie has an impressive cast, boasting one Oscar winner (Matt Damon as Mark Watney) and three Oscar nominees. It was a very good translation from book to screen, considering that much of the novel is composed of ‘log entries’ which are essentially Watney’s thoughts in diary form. The ending sequences were altered slightly from the original material but otherwise it was quite faithful.
So the whole experience of The Martian, in both book and movie formats, was immensely enjoyable. Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s sci-fi; Weir has made it accessible to the not-very-technologically-minded and the story is engrossing. I highly recommend it – you’ll be rooting for the main guy and you’ll be dying to know what happens next. No loftier praise for a book really!