By Andy Weir
Genre: science fiction, thriller, adventure, humour
Goodreads Choice Award Winner 2014
Review of movie adaptation here.
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’s surface, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, Mark won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.
Armed with nothing but his ingenuity, his engineering skills–and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–Mark embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
Oh man this book is awesome. I know some think it a bit dry since our astronaut Mark Watney explains what he has to do in order to survive and just how much physics and math is behind his calculations, but you’re never made to feel dumb. It’s actually nice that the book treats you like a rational being capable of understanding science while also entertaining you for hours.
“I guess you could call it a “failure”, but I prefer the term “learning experience”.”
I’d love if we were taught physics and math in school in a sort of space exploration project: “You’ve just killed your astronaut, Swytla – go do that calculation again.” It would feel far more useful than the usual dry way we were taught. Oh, and the professor wouldn’t treat girls as incapable of understanding this stuff – women have always contributed to science, it’s not my fault men buried this fact. So I loved that the commander Lewis was a strong woman and that other women on the crew contributed just as much as everyone else. In fact, there are quite a lot of amazing characters in this book. (And a fellow LOTR fan or two as well.) 😀
Mark Watney is my favourite, of course, and his exploits with faulty equipment, mishaps, and even catastrophic events are an inspiration to all people who feel overwhelmed with their everyday life. You just have to turn big problems into manageable chunks and tackle one at a time. It’s what he does and slowly but surely he finds a way to live through another day. He may have a killer of a time when nothing works right and may even despair at ever figuring out how to solve a problem, but he always picks himself up. Of course it helps he’s got a killer sense of humour which is why the book is so entertaining to read. Yes, it’s a giant adventure on a foreign planet but it’s so much more than that.
“Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be “in command” if I were the only remaining person.”
What do you know? I’m in command.”
The majority of the novel is told from Watney’s point of view and is structured as a log report where he sometimes explains in detail what he’s done and what he plans to do. Being alone, talking to himself soon becomes a habit keeping him alive and kicking. It is also his way of making sure he is never forgotten in case he doesn’t make it. Soon though, as time goes by, it becomes his way of working through problems, of joking and even having imaginary conversations with his crew-members. It’s almost like a podcast or a vlog.
There are also reports that consist of only one sentence succinctly summing up his feelings thereby cracking you up. This is definitely one of those books, you know – written for the ‘I need something positive and funny in my life right now’ moments. In that way the movie has captured the spirit of the book. But it has also changed a lot of stuff in the ending and cut out a ton of material in between. Novel Watney has to struggle so much harder and deal with so much more shit than the movie version. The novel also has more believable scenarios than the Hollywood production, but that’s what we all suspected anyway.
“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”
There are also chapters from NASA’s point of view where it jumps between people working there. You clearly see the connections between them, the different dynamic. Watney works alone and is in turn more and more self-reliant. NASA scientists and personnel have to follow rules, observe social niceties. Watney just says what he thinks; he gives a shit about political correctness or abstaining from profanity when the situation calls for it.
“Me: “This is obviously a clog. How about I take it apart and check the internal tubing?” NASA: (after five hours of deliberation) “No. You’ll fuck it up and die.” So I took it apart.”
The novel moves away from the beginning format of daily entries and propels you right into the centre of action, easily switching between Watney’s crew, NASA, and him. You won’t be able to let go of the book at that point. Even if you saw the movie, the events differ so much by the time you reach the middle part of the book that things still surprise you. Oh, the people who read it first must have had such a wonderful experience!
The underlying message of the book is summed up by Watney himself. He may be stranded on Mars but he knows he is not alone, not truly.
“If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do.”
So, read the book and enjoy the adventure. If you are more science inclined, this book is for you as well. Fan of exotic locales? Ditto. And if you ever think you have it bad, read this book to adjust your priorities and get inspired to do better as a person and a human being. The only problem you’ll have is finding books of similar quality to devour next.