Andy Weir’s ‘The Martian’, A review – Or: ‘How many potatoes can a man eat on Mars?’

Not since the Mountain faced off against the Red Viper have I felt quite so tense whilst viciously clutching a book between my frail man fingers.

I’m tempted to tell you to just read the book. Don’t read this, read the book! Fair warning, this review will feature spoilers. ‘Cause…I wanna talk about the book, OK?

The Martian, by Andy Weir is a roller-coaster on speed. It’s like watching your favourite comedian walking a tightrope between the London Shard and the Gherkin whilst doing his best routine with no safety harness and a swarm of angry, UKIP supporting super wasps doing fly by stingings. Sure, you’re laughing–but who knows when one of those bastard bugs’ll get a pot shot and the laughter goes tumbling back to Earth. Splat. Bye-bye laughter!

Tumbling back to Earth is something Mark Watney would have loved to do. Being stuck on Mars sounds…frightening. If you don’t know the story, here it is in a nutshell: Mark Watney, one of six Ares III crew members (a NASA organised manned Mars mission) finds himself stranded on the red planet when a nasty storm causes an emergency evacuation. On his way to the MAV (fancy speak for spaceship), Mark goes and gets himself a little bit impaled on flying debris and the rest of the crew shrugs apathetically, climbs into the rocket and slings their collective hooks. Bye-bye, Mark!

With only his super botany skills, above average mechanical engineering skills, and a whole boatload of smarts, Mark must find a way to resist Mars’ wiles and keep himself alive until he can be rescued. But with no way to communicate with NASA, and not knowing if anyone realises he’s even alive, Mark is faced with the damn right daunting reality that he’ll either have to survive until the next Ares mission (four years away), or die alone on a godforsaken rock.

He gets busy, gettin’ busy, I’ll tell ya that for free!

You might recall in my last review (David Brin’s Uplift), I mentioned that I’m a slow reader. Whilst that’s true, every rule has an exception. And The Martian is my exception. I read it in five days, which is a record for me. Others say they read it in a single sitting, but you know what, whatever. Five days is impressive, I don’t care what you think!

Every page of this book is a turner. Be prepared for a whole bunch of science, though. I’m not sure how accurate it all is; the last science I did was in secondary school, eight years ago. I did alright in GCSE science (B,B?). Either way, Weir clearly knows his stuff, and it’s incredible to see so much research and hard science in a work of fiction. It makes the entire thing that much more believable.

That said, this is a survival story to the bone. This is the sort of stuff Bear Grylls should be doing. Oh, you ate a live scorpion? Good for you, Bear. Mark Watney ate potatoes…which he grew…on Mars…after harnessing the bacteria in his own homemade chocolate pudding.

You crossed the Sahara Desert did ya, Bear? Very impressive, Bear. Well done, Bear! Mark Watney crossed MARS, Bear! He pimped a rover, and drove 3,200 kilometres with a radioactive radiator as his only source of heat!

Face it, Bear. You’ve been dethroned.

Just to clarify, I’m aware that Mark Watney isn’t real…but he is, so shush.

I’m not typically a fan of first person narratives, but this isn’t pure first person, so it’s fine. Not that there’s anything wrong with first person–a good story’s a good story–but I just prefer third person.

We, the audience, get semi-regular daily updates from Mark as he sits down and types out his misadventures. Should I say daily? Soly? Eh…anyway, I thought it was pretty neat of Mark to format his diary as one would a typical novel. 0.6” indent on new paragraphs. Double spaced. 0.5” margins. Thanks, Mark. Very considerate. Honestly though, that was the only thing that drew me out. Once. And it’s not something that can be helped, it was just a thought that paid me a visit whilst reading. Anyway, this format allows for plenty of interesting story telling tricks because everything’s told from a first person account of past events. So, a log entry can start (and often does) with something like:

“I f**ked up. I f**ked up big.”

And instantly my heart is racing. Whatcha do, Mark? Are you doomed? Don’t let it be so, Mark. You’ve gotta make it back! The world’s watching, Mark!

Mark Watney might just be my favourite fictional character in recent years. I actually care about this person. I care if he lives or dies. I’m invested in his survival. Well done, Weir. You made me care for a non-thing! Mark’s a funny, optimistic, ridiculously intelligent bloke. Yeah he swears, and he throws tantrums, but wouldn’t you in his shoes? His resourcefulness and ingenuity is utterly inspiring. Really, at the end, it begs the question: could I do what Mark Watney did? Even with the intelligence and training. Could I have lived alone, stranded on a world that doesn’t even support the simplest of bacterial life, for a year and a half? Would I have gone insane? Taken the easy way out? Or, more simply, would I have failed?

See, Mark falls down. He falls down a lot. But he also manages to dust himself off, and get back to it. So the message I’m taking away from The Martian is that of perseverance. When the universe decides to pile it on, when everything’s getting too damn much, I’m just gonna remember that Mark Watney endured a year and a half of disco music and nothing else, but despite that he remained a sane man.

What an inspiration.

* * *

The Martian is Andy Weir’s debut novel, and is soon to become one of those moving picture books staring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott. Weir first self-published The Martian, but was later picked up by an agent which is both bloody rare, and really, really lucky for us all. I don’t know if I’d have heard of this fantastic book had it remained self-pubbed.

Check Andy Weir out here:

And check out The Martian here:


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