The Martian by Andy Weir, published: 2014, 389 pages, Random House.
The Martian is frankly just a really, really fun book. I knew it would be, it’s what everyone’s been saying, and why I was interested in it in the first place (plus my eternal love for sci-fi). Back in january I was having a shitty day, so I went out and bought books to cheer myself up.
I stood in the bookstore and gazed at this book, thinking “Am I finally gonna do it? I’m finally gonna do it” and I bought it. Sadly they didn’t have the original cover, which is absolutely gorgeous, so I had to make do with a kind of, well, I won’t say ugly, but slightly less gorgeous version. We all must make sacrifices in life.
Before this I’d read the first half of Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust, Nigthwood by Djuna Barnes and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in about a week (I was trying to get caught up on uni reading). No hard feelings, they’re all truly excellent books that I loved, but at the same time if I had to read one more page of metaphor heavy, run-on sentences without plot I might very well have gone insane.
The Martian was my solution.
It’s the story of Mark Watney who strands on Mars, alone, unable to communicate with NASA, with a pretty good chance of dying in a myriad of ways. You know, fun.
Not just because Mark Watney is funny (he is, I think some people had a problem with his sort of humor, but I loved it), but because it’s a fucking adventure. A space adventure! A very realistic space adventure, but an adventure nonetheless! It’s technical, yeah, which is why Watney needs to be so funny, because there’s no freaking way we’re reading almost 20 pages of someone describing growing potatoes and creating water (even if it’s on Mars) if he’s not entertaining – so it was technical in a way that didn’t bother me. Half the time I had no idea what the hell was going on, because I couldn’t visualize it (here the movie definitely helped), but somehow it didn’t matter. I have zero clue if the science holds up and frankly I don’t care.
Andy Weir made it seem believable and that’s all that matters. You wouldn’t think science was so much fun (well, it can be, but rarely when you’re describing it, rather when you’re doing it), but told the right way it really, really is. Of course the immense odds stacking against Watney help keep the reader glued to the page, and the utterly ridiculous risks he has to run to, well, ‘science the shit out of it’ is, no matter how technical the descriptions, nervewracking. I mean, setting fire to rocket fuel? Insane… please tell me more.
It isn’t all fun and games, though, and a few well-timed reminders showed the fairly bleak life Watney actually leads up there. Most of the time he skims over the solitude (the way it’s told helps make that believable), which only makes it that much more efficient when it shows up.
Mostly I think I liked it because, aside from the obvious heroic aspect of surviving alone on a deserted, desert planet (even if it’s some very “everyday heroics”), there’s something heroic about the idea that is, in many ways, the heart of the novel. Not just humanity’s incredible endurance in horrible situations, but the idea, as Watney points out near the end, that humanity will work together, spend a stupid amount of money, take enormous risks, in short: do everything it takes, to (perhaps succesfully) save one person. One single, lonely botanist in space.
It doesn’t matter who’d been stranded on that planet, in a way Mark Watney is utterly replaceable, he isn’t special because he’s Mark Watney, he’s special because he’s human, and because his situation reminds us how invaluable a human life is. You can’t put a price on it. No matter who’d been on that planet, no matter who’d survived, they’d be doing everything they possibly could to get them back. So often we forget the individual human beings who hide underneath the masses, the statistics, and stories like ‘The Martian’ reminds us that no one deserves to be abandoned on a murderous, desert planet in space. Whatever it takes to get him back; it’s worth it. And I like Andy Weir for pointing that out near the end, lest we forget.
It isn’t a perfect book, but damn if it wasn’t a fun ride.
I watched the movie afterwards and that, too, is a fun ride. I prefer the book, but a lot of the technical things that went over my head in the book were a lot easier to understand in the movie. The two go well together.