Book Review: The Martian

I’m guessing that in recent months almost everyone has read The Martian. I had three different people recommend it to me by the time the trailer for the movie was out. I’d already picked it up for my Kindle after the first recommendation, which had been intriguing enough, someone I’d met that day had said, “You’ll enjoy nerding out over it, it’s like sci-fi but without being, you know, sci-fi sci-fi.”


The Martian by Andy Weir


Apparently, I’m easily read because that person, who had known me a sum total of about 1 hour, was dead on. It’s only just barely sci-fi, in that most of the science in it would actually work and hence, isn’t quite fiction. Sure, there’s plenty of speculation, no one has ever been stuck on Mars before, but that’s ok because it’s not supposed to be a documentary.

If you’ve somehow missed it, the gist of the story is this: A group of astronauts visit Mars, they are the third such group to do so, so in theory this should be getting routine. Except that space is dangerous. Things go wrong during a storm in which Mark Watney, our protagonist, is flung away from the group by a piece of debris. His vital signs monitor drops offline and, after an attempt to find him by the captain, he is presumed dead. The remaining team have no choice but to leave him behind.

However, that would make for a very short story. So, you’ll forgive me for the not-really-a-spoiler when I tell you that he isn’t dead. When he comes to he has to figure out to survive on Mars, a planet that seems awfully dedicated to killing astronauts.

It’s refreshing in that Watney’s drive is purely survival. There’s no love interest, no wife and kids back home he has to survive for. He doesn’t need to prove himself to the folk who never believed in him. He doesn’t need to survive so he can save the world. He just doesn’t want to die in space. Honestly, that seems like motivation enough to me, but it’s definitely a bit of a relief that it’s that simple.

To me, it reads a bit like a (thoroughly coherent and well thought out) long chat in the pub. Like, you somehow get onto a conversation with your friends which goes

Friend 1: Ok, well if your plane crashed in the Amazon how would you survive?

Friend 2: I don’t know? Is it a passenger jet? Or a tiny bi-plane?

Friend 1: A passenger jet, why?

Friend 2: Ok, that’s good. Someone’s got waterproofs in their suitcase, I can use those to keep dry and to collect clean water when it rains. I can siphon jet fuel to start fires

Friend 3: You’ll blow yourself up

Friend 2: Ok… um, let me think…

And on and on. Except on Mars instead of in the Amazon. It’s one guy figuring out how to use science and common sense (although he sometimes lacks the other) to survive long enough to get back home.

It’s an easy read, I read it really quickly and I found myself actively making time to go read more of it. That hasn’t happened with a book in a while. Consequently I fell through it in about a week, which is pretty good going for me, I don’t find myself with a huge number of opportunities to read. I’ve also now become one of those people who wants everyone else to read it, which has to be a good sign, right?

Oh, and compared to the movie? Well, I preferred the book because there’s more in it. However, the movie doesn’t stray disturbingly far from the book and (thank goodness) doesn’t feel the need to add a love interest. So it’s all good. I enjoyed the movie as well. Go see it if you don’t fancy reading the book, I won’t judge you.

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