When I saw that The Martian had won the goodreads sci-fi reader vote I decided to check it out. A novel about an astronaut stranded on Mars. Cool. I love space, I love anything NASA-y. I love sci-fi (I write it myself – check out my stuff ;o)). I’m glad I did.
This novel is several things:
1. A technical masterclass – the detail is incredible, and the author should be commended. While at times it can seem almost overwhelming, it adds to the realism, and is very brave of the author. The smallest incorrect detail can shake the knowledgeable reader’s confidence and earn a poor review. Thankfully for Mr Weir, I’m not that knowledgeable reader. What I mean is, I don’t know all the technical, scientific stuff. But, judging by the mostly favourable reviews, the author has got this right.
2. Humourous – you wouldn’t think a novel that spends a large proportion of its pages inside one man’s head – a man who is in mortal danger every second – would have much room for humour. A man who is stranded, millions of miles from home, in a seemingly un-salvageable situation. But it does. It is laugh out loud funny at times, and a novel more of hope than of despair. Yes, it is a hopeful novel, a novel that portrays great risk, and…
3. Ingenuity – Mark Watney is a genius! There, I said it. A fictional character is a genius. That makes the author one too, because he had me rooting for an imaginary character. Someone that came from his mind. As all authors strive to do; make characters that have depth and are believable. Characters that stay with the reader long after they turn the final page. Watney is one of those characters, and I didn’t want the novel to end.
4. Realistic – the story plays out exactly like you would imagine it to in real life. NASA scrabbling to find solutions, Watney figuring out how to stay alive, and a balance between the isolation of Watney and the isolation in numbers of the NASA people back on Earth, and to a smaller extent the crew forced to leave Watney behind after the terrible accident that leaves him in the predicament in the first place.
The first long section of the novel is all Watney. Just you and him, trying to survive on Mars. It’s so believable, so absorbing, that I felt a pang of despondency when we were taken back to Earth by the author to meet the other characters. But that’s a good thing, because it shows just how believable a character Watney is. I found myself wondering what he was up to as I was reading parts not set on Mars, and felt home when I returned to Mars. Amazing stuff, and very original in its treatment of the subject matter. I won’t tell you whether it ends well or badly for Mark Watney, and I won’t even hint at the plot, because this is a book you really ought to read for yourself.