Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Although I’m not much of an engineer and my knowledge of physics and chemistry is by now rusty at best, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s a story of survival of the human spirit, creativity and problem solving at its best.
In previous reviews I have commented on how usually we put ourselves in the place of the protagonists of the books we’re reading and wonder what we would do. I can honestly say if I had been in Mark Watney’s place (abandoned alone in Mars), I’d be dead.
Of course he’s an engineer, a botanist and an astronaut, so he’s not your usual Joe. Even by those standards, he seems like an extraordinary human being as he never (or very seldom) gets downtrodden and keeps trying and going, no matter what. Resilience should be his second name.
I cannot comment on how accurate many of the suggestions or situations in the book are (and I’m sure people will have as reference other stories, books and movies), although I know whilst I was reading it, it seemed well constructed, plausible, and to my untrained eye the story felt true.
I found the epistolary (logs) style appropriate and suited to the content (this is not somebody trying to write a novel or a confessional), the book thrilling, and the adventures of this modern day Robinson Crusoe gripping and impossible to put down.
Do we get to know much about Mark? Probably not, other than his steel determination, his sense of humour (somewhat infantile, but hey, whatever helps) and his resourcefulness. There is no much character development, but maybe survival is far too consuming an activity to allow for much of anything else. We know the other characters more through their actions than through deep psychological insights, but this is an adventure book and it focuses on doing.
We can’t help but ask ourselves if in real life the team around him and the whole world would have been so generous. One seriously wonders, but there are wonderful examples of human generosity and we can only hope so.
Having had a quick look at the negative reviews I observed that many people said it read like an instructions manual and it was boring. Although it’s not the most emotionally engaging book I’ve ever read, I didn’t find it slow or boring, just the opposite. But maybe it’s me. And it seems a few other people. I’d recommend it to anybody who finds the premise interesting, but just in case have a look inside and read a sample, as the style does not change much and if you don’t like the beginning you might not get along with the book.
Book Highlights: The sheer amount of detail and technical knowledge.
Challenges of the book: As above. From reading some reviews people found the science part of it a bit hard to stomach. Also, I got the sense that the main character is somebody writing a log for posterity, but not somebody who wanted to discuss his feelings or philosophical insights, rather an eminently practical person. Also, at some point in the book somebody mentions he coped with situations by using humour. Sometimes he appears too upbeat, but then…when you’re alone you have to get on with it.
What do you get from it: A story of endurance of the human spirit and determination to hang on to life. And a lot of details about life (or the absence of it) on Mars.
What I would have changed if anything: I would have liked to know more about the life of the character before he was in the situation he is in, but he does not linger on thoughts about his life or himself much and in such circumstances, maybe keeping busy would be the best defence mechanism. Also, we only get what’s written, not the truly alone and unrecorded moments. Taken at face value the form and the content appear suited to each other.
Who Would I recommend this book to?: People interested in survival stories, and with a certain background or tolerance for lengthy explanations about technical matters. As I comment in the body of the review I don’t think I’m particularly up-to-date in engineering or technical matters, but I’ve always loved solving puzzles and problems and the whole book is a big puzzle.
Realistic Characterization: 3.5/5
Made Me Think: 4.5/5 (more about technical issues than about life in general)
Overall enjoyment: 4.5/5
Overall Rating: 5/5
Olga Núñez Miret