The Martian was first self-published by Andy Weir in 2011, after which the rights were bought by Crown Publishing in 2014 and re-released. It is currently being made into a movie starring Matt Damon and will be hitting theaters this coming November. This is another one of those books that initially flew completely under my radar. I don’t tend to seek out new authors very often but even when I do, this is a very near-future, more-realism-than-fiction story that I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to, but after having it recommended to me, I grabbed it and I’m glad that I did. Here are my thoughts on Andy Weir’s The Martian.
The story follows astronaut Mark Watney who is stranded on Mars after his team thinks he’s dead and is forced to abort the mission. It is only much later that NASA finds that he’s still alive and mounts what eventually turns into a world-wide effort to save his life. We see 18 months of trials and tribulations as he fights to survive against impossible odds on a planet that seems determined to kill him. It’s very realistic and detailed which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.
This might sound cruel but it’s true. The Martian isn’t a very well-written book. It’s a great story, full of really good characters, but Weir’s writing style just doesn’t appeal to me and I’m hardly the only one to say so. That doesn’t make it bad, it just doesn’t make it great and a lot of it is pretty predictable. After Watney is able to MacGyver the equipment he needs, after it looks like he’s solved his food and water and heat problems, we all know that things are going to fall apart in the end. Yes, it’s necessary for suspense and conflict, but I immediately knew that he was going to lose his potato crop, I knew, when he talked about rovers flipping, that he’d flip it some time in the book, etc. It was only a matter of when, not if. I also predicted early on that he wouldn’t wait until Ares IV came along, his ship mates would come back to rescue him. Predictable, predictable, predictable.
That doesn’t mean that I hate the book, I don’t. Weir put in an incredible amount of research and every part of the book feels realistic, like if someone was really stuck on Mars in these circumstances, this is what they could do to survive. I also don’t have an issue with Watney’s snarky attitude, humor, even bad humor, can be very useful in stressful situations. I just think the story structure could have been better.
After hearing about the coming movie though, I found it a bit hard to imagine how they might make a workable movie since the majority of the book is one guy walking around on the red planet for over a year. With very few exceptions, there isn’t a lot of action to be had. It might make a good character drama, but since only relatively small parts of the book have to do with anyone but Watney, either they’ll have to significantly change the book or they’ll have to rely on Damon to carry the movie largely by himself. The other issue is that the book takes place over a long period of time, how they’ll fit that into a 2 hour movie is beyond me.
I really am looking forward to seeing the movie whenever it comes out on DVD, since I’m allergic to theaters, and will give it a review once I have it in my hands. I think it’s worth picking up though, the trials and tribulations of a near modern astronaut as he fights to survive is fascinating and I’ll be happy to give Weir another chance in his next book.