Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Publication Date: February 11, 2014
Source: ARC received from the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review
Summary from Goodreads:
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first man to die there.
It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he's stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive--and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to get him first.
But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills--and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit--he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
Did you ever read a book and think, "This would make a great movie"? Well, move over Apollo 13, because The Martian could totally be the next space-based blockbuster. Is Kevin Bacon still available?
I have to admit it: at first, I was NOT understanding all the hype around this book. I'd seen so many excellent reviews, but the first 13% or so nearly had me asleep at the wheel. Our friendly astronaut Mark realizes on page 1 that he's been stranded on Mars. Thought dead by the rest of his crew, they took off for Earth without him. Not cool, right? So Mark jumps into action, coming up with a plan for survival. Mark is a botanist-slash-mechanical engineer, so he's got lots of knowledge that can help him fix his equipment and grow food. That's great for him, but as a reader, it wasn't always great for me. He descriptions of his survival plans are SO technical that unless chemistry is your forte, it's hard to follow along and keep interest.
However, after that initial section made me feel like I was going to drown in soil bacteria and atmospheric pressurization, the story suddenly switched perspectives, which jazzed things up quite a bit. From then on, the book jumps between Mark's POV and that of a few other characters. This fleshes out the plot a bit more, and when the technical knowledge starts making an appearance again, it blends into the narrative much more seamlessly. Obviously, this is a book about NASA and space travel, so science-based knowledge is key--I'm not saying the author should have done without it. But the book kept my interest a lot better when the science-y stuff was woven into the rest of the plot action a bit more, rather than taking center stage (as it does so much in the beginning). By the end, I was left feeling extremely impressed by the immense amount of research that Andy Weir must have done to make this into a believable, science-based fiction novel.
There are two key features of The Martian that make it great: its ability to keep you guessing, and Mark Watney himself. Because of the way the author switches POV throughout the novel, you're never sure if Mark is going to survive (and if he is, how he will manage to do it). The closer I got to the ending, the less I wanted to put it down. And Mark is pretty hilarious. At first I thought his sense of humor was a little cheesy, but as you get to know him more, you see that his joking manner is completely fitting.
I read a few reviews that showed frustration at the fact that Mark never seems to grow/progress in the novel--his sense of humor is always the same, no matter how many obstacles he faces or how much time he spends on desolate Mars. But honestly, this book NEEDS some humor. Mark's situation is so inherently depressing that without his ability to take things lightly, this book would have been way too heavy. Plus, you've got to be at least a little impressed by his tenacity. Because I mean, hello? If I was stranded on Mars, I'm pretty sure I'd be less inclined to start going all Survivorman, and more inclined to curl up in a ball of weepy, sobbing dismay. So rock on with your bad self, Mark.
Overall: despite the slow start, The Martian picked up the pace and ended as an excellent, thrilling read. Don't let the technical stuff scare you off, because it all comes together to make a fast-paced story and a heart-pounding conclusion.