With the movie out, I told myself I wouldn’t see the movie until I read the book. So, I bought the novel and turned to the first page. Two days later, I’ve finished the novel and am processing the roller coaster of emotions I experienced, while being entertained by Watney’s sarcasm, humor, and MacGyver-esque abilities. (Let’s just say I was a bit more tired for work than usual.)
The biggest strength of this novel is Mark Watney. No matter how hard the Martian environment tries to kill him, Watney manages to be humorous. One of the my favorite pieces from the novel follows (don’t worry these few lines don’t spoil the story):
“What must it be like?” he pondered. “He’s [Mark Watney] stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?” He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”
LOG ENTRY: SOL 61
How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.
Mark Watney’s voice makes the story. Without it, this novel wouldn’t have been nearly as popular.
Why? (Besides missing Mark Watney.)
Because of how technical it is.
Which isn’t necessarily a negative. It wasn’t for me. Not because I understood everything. I’m not an astrophysicist. Nor have I studied orbital mechanics or relativistic physics (two of Weir’s hobbies), and I am far from any sort of engineer (Weir is a software engineer). But because Watney’s wisecrack comments after longer technical bits often clarified what he was doing, I was able to enjoy fundamental parts of the novel. Let’s face it, like how this book wouldn’t be the same without Watney, it wouldn’t work without being so realistic.
However, after reading multiple reviews of this novel on Goodreads, I noticed a pattern forming. Of those who didn’t enjoy the book as much (thus giving the novel three or less stars out of five stars), the major complaint seemed to be that this book had too much math. And because there was so much technical stuff, the tension slowed and people got bored.
I admit that there was a few times I skimmed over some of the more science heavy bits, but Watney is an astronaut. Science and math are necessaries for him. This book wouldn’t have been believable if Weir didn’t include all the science and math.
Watney’s strong narration and the Martian environment trying to kill him at every turn (not to intentionally personify Mars, but you get the point) balanced out the more science heavy sections.
When all is said and done, The Martian is a science fiction novel. It just happens to be one of the most realistic modern sci-fi books on the market.
Read the book. You’ll find yourself laughing at Watney’s dark humor and rooting for the astronaut who refuses to let a hostile, barren world kill him.
Human ingenuity, survival, and collaboration at its finest.
(Photo courtesy of Joel Tonyan.)