Reviewed by Dan L.
The Martian by Andy Weir took the Sci-Fi reading populace by storm with the release of the hardback. So much so, that Ridley Scott decided he wouldn’t make a sequel to Prometheus, instead he would adapt The Martian for the big screen. I’m here to tell you to read this book before that film gets made. There are several reasons – the primary one being that it is a great Sci-Fi read – but the main reason is I can’t see how they will adapt such a personal story into a grandiose event.
The majority of this novel is told through diary entries, or logs, as they are known to anyone familiar with a life in space. Our central character, Mark, has been left behind on the planet Mars after disaster struck a manned NASA mission and his crew left believing him to be dead. His primary focus is to stay alive in the hope that NASA will rescue him and he records his daily routines in case of emergency or space archaeologists. This sounds like a relatively clichéd story, or at least one that serves several archetypes of the genre, but it is so much more than that.
Mark, like many astronauts, is a genius. His knowledge is primarily based in botany and engineering, but he knows his stuff. After the initial horrifying prospect of being stranded on Mars sinks away, he sees his life there as a challenge or a maths equation. He discusses, through the log, how he will convert gases to sustain his life, how he will create water from scratch and he plans to raise a potato crop in his habitat. Everything he does is believable and interesting. Some may see certain sections as being a little dry, because the technical knowledge reaches quite far. Thankfully, he has been written with a witty personality and a ridiculous sense of humour.
Throughout the logs, when Mark isn’t putting his life in danger with his experiments, we get a glimpse of the possible solitude that his life would bring. He never dwells on the depressive aspects of his survival and often cracks jokes about his own ideas or his captain’s taste in music. A personal favourite moment is when Mark realises that he is the first person to ever do the things he is doing and decides that sections of Mars must be named after him or when he names his own scientific units. It’s whimsical and takes away from the idea of dread that could consume the book. Mark is an everyman, but with a bigger brain. He does what we would all do, he explores the personal belongings of the departed crew and in this we get a wonderful look at the absent cast. This is a nice touch from Weir, we get to see beyond Mars and its sole inhabitant.
Without spoiling the book, I can have confidence telling you, dear reader, that NASA does notice that Mark is missing. They soon gather their technological know-how and begin to formulate a plan. Here is where I believe Mr Scott will spend most of his adaptation. Mark’s solo chapters are meant to be read like a private diary and, at times, a confession. Everything the surrounds NASA is big blockbuster territory. Here we have scientists finding many ways for Mark to survive while yelling “damn it” at the varying restrictions his distance causes. It’s almost like reading two books sandwiched into one novel and that’s no bad thing. This new inclusion is welcome but it does take a certain shine off of Mark.
This novel is a lovely addition to the genre because it brings something a little different. It doesn’t feature a myriad of aliens or a vast ensemble, but it feels otherworldly enough to leave a reader in awe. It also makes for a lovely entry point to those wanting to get a taste of the genre and not be utterly swamped by details. But seriously, read it before it hits the cinema. Any book lover would say that, but I think this movie will change a lot of Weir’s work. Also they have cast Matt Damon as Mark… which doesn’t work for me. Curse you, Hollywood!
Dan blogs at Utterbiblio – http://utterbiblio.wordpress.com/ .
Andy Weir, The Martian (Del Ray: London, 2014). 978-0091956141. 384pp. Paperback.