Mark Watney and a crew of daring astronauts travel to Mars for what was to be a temporary visit to the Red Planet. When Mark is feared dead following an accident arising from an errant dust storm, the crew must make the difficult decision to leave without him. The problem? Mark isn’t dead. What follows is a survival story of a man who must go against all odds, struggle to survive and find a way to once again make it back to Earth.
Weir’s The Martian was a strange reading experiences. There were portions that I found dreadfully boring – long streams of writing that were littered with detailed, in-depth information about how to grow crops in space, rewiring electronics and altering software. However, Weir would hit me with an unexpected twist that would suck me back in and keep me riveted until switching gears back to where we were before. It was frustrating because I really, really liked the character of Mark Watney. He’s funny, charming and so unbelievably quick on his feet. It would have been easy for Weir to write a character without a sense of humor because, well.. why would someone have any reason to be funny if they’re stuck on a planet with little chance of rescue?
I can’t even imagine the extent to which Weir went to try and get this right. It’s not like he could research public records on manned missions to Mars. Luckily, he’s a huge self-professed science geek in going so far as to design software to calculate the best route for the journey from Earth to Mars. He also didn’t skimp on the jargon and acronyms associated with space travel. It might be best to read this one with a pad and paper so you’re not putting yourself in danger of forgetting what certain abbreviations stand for (this is mainly for technologically challenged folks like myself).
In an interview, Weir noted that he found that sweet spot as an author where you’re surprising yourself with plot twists that seemingly come from out of nowhere. He seemed to take joy in finding ways to screw over his protagonist while also challenging himself to create ways in which to keep Watney breathing. In doing so, Weir’s book is basically one long chess game between Watney and Mars with the upper hand constantly shifting.
The final chapters are especially memorable and I’d be lying if I said my heart wasn’t pounding during the book’s last moments. When it comes down to it, Weir can certainly pace suspense with the best of them and I’d give The Martian a firm recommendation to thriller fans who do not mind leaving their comfort zone once in a while.
On a side note, I’m interested to see how the movie version plays out. Matt Damon is not someone who comes to mind initially for Mark but I’d be hard pressed to think of another actor who could do the role justice. I guess we’ll wait and see.