Book review: The Martian by Andy Weir

Here are some things I did not expect a novel about an astronaut left by his teammates on Mars after disaster strikes to be – funny, witty, sarcastic, fun.

Here are some things The Martian, a novel about an astronaut left by his teammates on Mars after disaster strikes, is – funny, witty, sarcastic, fun.

Andy Weir’s book follows Mark Watney, who is the astronaut I’ve mentioned left on Mars by his teammates. He’s stranded after the crew of his Mars mission, Ares 3, has to leave the planet in a hurry when a storm strikes, and Mark’s suit is pierced by a stray antenna. Assuming there is no way he can have survived, the crew flies away. Only Mark, through a series of bizarre events, is still alive, and instead of giving up he starts planning how he’ll survive until the next mission to Mars arrives. And when NASA discovers he’s alive, they mount a mission to rescue him that captures the attention of the world.

The Martian is funny from its opening line (“I’m pretty much fucked”), which shocked me and then delighted me. I was a little apprehensive about reading this book because I thought it might be really depressing and kind of scary to read about a guy stranded on his own with no hope of surviving. But actually The Martian is full of humour and of hope – Mark is a character who draws you in with his pithy comments, his can-do attitude, his ability to survive the worst crap Mars can throw at him, his resourcefulness, and his intelligence.

Because just because The Martian is often a funny novel, it doesn’t mean it’s not also an extremely clever and intelligent novel. I can’t imagine the amount of research Weir did for this book, and although I don’t know how accurate the science is, it certainly feels incredibly accurate – it would have been more difficult for Weir to make the incredibly detailed science he includes up. Some of it, I confess, did go over my head, but I loved that Weir took the time to explain everything, and explain it in as simple terms as possible, usually by using Mark as the conduit.

The Martian is also a serious novel, lest you think from my earlier description that it’s all fun and games. Mark’s plight is a awful and it captures the attention of the world, and Weir illustrates just how important we can think the life of one person is when we can see their death imminently approaching on television screens, in newspapers and on social media. I’m not sure The Martian is supposed to be a commentary on how we selectively choose which tragedies to care about, but it did strike me that we do live in a world much like that in the book, where the life of one man dying on Mars is more important than the lives of thousands of people dying in wars and famines. Anyway, that’s just my thought, but it’s certainly fascinating reading about the world’s fascination with Mark and his survival.

The Martian is a brilliant novel, which took me by surprise from beginning to end. It’s unexpected, full of characters to love, laugh and despair with, and is a book about humans being tested to the extreme. I’d love this book to have carried on for another 300 pages, but it’s also pretty much perfect as it is.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Del Rey. This did not affect my review.

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