The Martian by Andy Weir Book Review

Martian

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The almost riotous success of Andy Weir’s The Martian is a fascinating story in and of itself, but not one that the publishers wish to be retold. After facing one rejection after another from the publishing industry, the software engineer chose the only viable route: self-publishing.

Weir self-published the story on his blog one chapter at a time. The piece-meal release was a huge success, so much so that he published a Kindle version on Amazon by popular demand. It didn’t take long before publishers that initially rejected his manuscript come crawling back. Since then, The Martian has not only become a #1 New York Times bestseller and one of the best science fiction novels but also adapted into an Academy Award-nominated blockbuster movie directed by Ridley Scott and featuring Matt Damon.

The Martian is Andy Weir’s debut novel and it follows the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut crew member of the Ares 3 mission to Mars. Aboard a futuristic ship named Hermes, the crew takes around one year to make its way to Mars from Earth. After dropping the supplies they need to study the red planet and survive, they must descend to the surface using their state-of-the-art Mars Descent Vehicle (aka MDV) and start routine setup.

Ares 1 and Ares 2 missions were both completed without a hitch, NASA expected that this Mars expedition will be similarly successful and problem-free. But boy, oh boy – they couldn’t have been more wrong. Not long after Ares 3 crew started erecting HAB, a safe living quarters on the surface of Mars, they were hit by a freak dust storm and visibility drops instantly to near zero.

Worried that the dust storm may take many months before it subsides, NASA aborts Ares 3 mission to Mars, recalling astronauts back to Earth immediately. But things go horribly wrong for Mark Watney. One minute, he is struggling with his crewmates to find their way back to Hermes. The next minute, Watney was nowhere to be seen, blown away by the storm with the Hab antenna jutting out of his side.

After seeing his bio-signs dissipate, the other shipmates understood that Watney had lost pressure in his suit. Certain that astronaut Watney is no more; they make a difficult but practical decision to leave him and go head back home. As fate would have it, Watney was still alive and kicking.

He’d wake up several hours later, with no other crew member on sight. He now finds himself alone on Mars with no way of communicating with his fellow shipmates or Earth. And to make matters worse, he’s got only a limited supply of resources and food.

Thankfully, on top of being an astronaut, he’s a trained botanist. Starting with a small bunch of potatoes, he becomes the first person to ever farm on Mars. But he must also push through a raft of tricky technical, physical, and mental challenges to make it out of Mars alive. There’s hope for Mark Watney, after all.

Right from the first chapter, it’s easy to understand why The Martian has gained its reputation as one of the best reads of recent times. In this novel, Weir shows a consummate ability to craft exceptionally technical scenes without leaving the readers in the dark. The outcome is an easy-to-read story that’s as compelling as it is plausible.

Weir imbues Watney with unwavering resilience, sharp wits, and a sense of humor, which helps provide some respite in an otherwise grave scenario. As a reader, you may find yourself laughing your ribs sore when you should be on the edge of your seat with fear.

As far as Watney’s verbal anecdotes and style are concerned, the contemporary dialogue can, for the most part, belittle the fantasy setting. Not only do characters in the story converse in the same way we currently do, but they also use pretty much the same tech. For example, their computers still use traditional keyboards (one would expect something much fancier and more advanced would be in the offing in the future).

Instead of lending the story to a fantasy context, these run-of-the-mill elements make the novel feel like it is set in an alternate now, only that the people decided to send manned missions to Mars. Even so, Weir’s brilliance in creating new and more creative predicaments and scrapes to put the astronaut in, not to forget the ingenuity in crafting ways to get him out of those scenarios, is nothing short of marvelous.

Unlike most post-apocalyptic fiction and other classic sci-fi works, which tend to invest heavily in creating a gloomy fantasy world, this novel focuses on the human spirit and the life-saving power of science. 

Overall, this is a funny, smart, and relentlessly entertaining book. It will royally please fans of The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton or Your Servants and Your People by David Towsey.

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