Skip to main content

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian, by Andy Weir, is a blistering fast read, a compulsive thriller, and at nearly 400 pages, one of the longest books I’ve ever read basically without pause. I dare you to read this in anything more than three days. Chances are if you get past the first chapter of Mark Watney’s misadventures on the Red Planet you’ll be reading this straight through until the end.

"The Martian 2014" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -

For me, the addictive quality here is placing a hazily drawn but charming pragmatist in a series of life-threatening mishaps and watching him figure out to survive. I’ve read it described as Cast Away meets Apollo 13, and that’s not a bad way of thinking about it. The tone is strictly realistic. Don’t pick up this novel expecting any of the stuff that happens in Hollywood movies about Mars to happen in this story. Really, it’s a very simple tale, well-told, about a man marooned on Mars. Watney is portrayed as a geeky, hyper-competent engineer with a strong survival instinct. He cracks jokes, uses math to solve problems, and rages against disco. He’s basically like every engineer I’ve ever met. The conflicts of the novel grow organically from the problems Watney encounters and his attempts to solve them. 

Is that enough? Well, enjoying a book is a subjective experience. For me, looking for a quick read right before a long weekend at Arisia, The Martian was the perfect prescription. It is a slight book, easy to read, hard to put down. I think understood in that context, the slender ambitions of the book are forgivable. This is a book you read to be entertained in an immediate, visceral level. And on that level, it succeeds masterfully.

Weir was smart to focus on these survival aspects and down-play Watney’s past, his connections with his crew-mates, and the larger questions of exploring Mars. The evidence from non-Watney chapters suggests the author wasn’t ready to broaden his vision for this story much beyond the question of whether this one astronaut would be rescued - the secondary characters are very flat and the conflicts between people back home and in the Hermes spacecraft returning home are very much on the level of office politics. Which is fine. These sections aren’t the point; they exist in service of the point.

A part of me reading this book, however, grew nostalgic for Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. Robinson was able to describe the gritty struggle for survival in the early years of Martian colonization but he could also reach for higher themes. The ancient wastes of Robinson’s Mars evoked a timeless canvas for Man’s struggles. There was poetry to his Mars, and terrible beauty.

Weir’s Mars is an empty theater for hilarious and profane rants.

The thing that most bugged me most about this novel, though, was the potential for larger conflicts. Weir touches about the sacrifices that individuals, nations, and arguably the planet, need to make in order to save one lost American, but he doesn’t dwell on the subject. I kept asking myself if it was realistic for so many missions and resources to be shelved or repurposed to save one man, and if, in the grand sum, that was the correct decision. I’m not suggesting it wasn’t morally justifiable but I think a single voice raised in earnest opposition, to express the view point of the gimlet-eyed realist, would have made the Earthbound sections more interesting. It would have at least given the book an interesting human antagonist, a voice for nature.

With a movie coming out this Fall, directed by Ridley Scott, now is the time to read this book. Watney’s part will be played by Matt Damon who will bring his own baggage to the role. It’s not to say that Scott will ruin the book or Damon is a bad casting choice or anything, I would just suggest that the pleasures of this book are distinctly those of a ‘fast read,’ and before Hollywood colonizes Weir’s story, it might be better to enjoy The Martian on its own terms.
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Review of I Wish I Was Like You by S.P. Miskowski

Even 23 years later, I remember 1994 and Kurt Cobain's death. I experienced that moment as a kind of inside out personal crisis. I felt ashamed by his death. As though his exit in someway indicted my own teenage miseries. "I wish I was like you," goes the verse in 'All Apologies,' "Easily amused." I felt as though a check I hadn't remembered writing had just been cashed. 

SP Miskowski's book, named after the first half of that line, is in the words of another reviewer, a novel that shouldn't work. The narrator is unlikeable, unreliable, and dead. The plot is almost entirely told as a flashback and long sections of the novel concern the inner processes of the writer. The daily grind to summon up enough self-esteem to carry a sentence to its logical conclusion is a real struggle, people, but it ain't exactly riveting.

But the thing is, this novel works. It is one of the best things I've read all year and a real achievement in weird ficti…

"A Breath from the Sky" Story Announcement!

I am thrilled to share the news my story, "Promontory," will appear in an upcoming anthology of unusual possession stories published by the incredible Martian Migraine Press. The anthology, "A Breath from the Sky,"puts together a classic H.P. Lovecraft tale and twenty other atypical stories of possession. Judging from the cover and the list of impressive authors, I'm anticipating pure awesomeness. "Promontory" is a possession story and one of my more overtly horror tales, so I'm overjoyed that it found a host, er, home here. I am sharing the Table of Contents below, as well as a link to the announcement on the Martian Migraine website to provide a sense of what this collection will be about. The cover is amazing, the other authors selected for the collection are amazing, and I have to say, having a story appear alongside a classic tale like HP's "Colour Out of Space," feels pretty darn amazing. I hope to provide more information abou…

In Defense of Brevity

As a writer of short speculative fiction, I am also a reader. I was a reader first and my love of the genre leads me to want to write short fiction. I think one of the most important things a writer can do is read contemporary's work. If nothing else, you're likely to be entertained - there's a great amount of stupendous short fiction available out there for exactly nothing. But it also tends to helps to develop craft. 
Long-time readers of this blog know I write up recommendations of a few short stories each month I really enjoyed. "Sic Semper, Sic Semper, Sic Semper by Carl Wiens" was my favorite story of the year. The first line of this story pretty much sums it up: "The time traveler set up a studio apartment in Abraham Lincoln’s skull in the frozen moment before Booth’s bullet burst through and rewired history," but I also enjoyed "The Girl Who Escaped from Hell" By Rahul Kanakia and "Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies," by Brooke Bol…