Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Review of The Martian by Andy Weir

There has been a lot of hype about The Martian. I saw it on several Best of 2014 lists. Book podcasters have raved about it. And I will admit that I read it precisely because of this hype. If left to my own devices, I never would have picked up a book about an astronaut stranded on Mars.

This is science fiction, heavy on the science. The reader follows an astronaut whose Mars mission colleagues assume that he is dead. They leave him behind when they return to Earth. The astronaut is not able to communicate with anyone on Earth to tell them about his survival, and he knows that he will stay alive only as long as his supplies last.

The story ends up alternating between the astronaut and employees at NASA, who do eventually figure out that he’s alive. The question becomes how the astronaut can manage to stay alive long enough for NASA to engineer a rescue. There’s an interesting philosophical undercurrent about how much a single life is “worth.”

As I read, I thought about all the young science enthusiasts I know.  I think this book would appeal greatly to teen readers. (Parents: there’s some swearing and some sexy talk – otherwise, very P3-13). The story also highlights the potential for deep creativity in scientific and technological fields (and the personal character required to be successful with science).

I can think of several people who would love it. But me? I liked it, but I did not love it. It has good pacing, and I enjoyed the main character. But the drama that I would expect to feel while “spending time with” a character through deepest isolation was not there. I expected to experience a pendulum of emotions from despair to resolve. I expected to feel the character’s deep hunger. Instead, he comes off as kind of happy-go-lucky to me. He made me feel very confident about his chances instead of concerned. My heart did not race as I read.

I’d be interested to hear from you about how hype influences your reading choices. I have read two very-hyped books recently: All the Light We Cannot See (my review here), which blew me away, and this one. In both cases, I would not have read the books without having experienced the hype. But in this case, I think that the hype gave me expectations that were too high.

Here’s an interesting article about the author. I took note of the perseverance he displayed with his writing career – similar, perhaps, to the perseverance of his main character? And I’m intrigued by the fact that The Martian started off as a serial on his website.


Gabrielle said...

Wait you read a book about Mars? That was my first thought.

And I had heard about this one, and really am not a lover of the "stranded and alone" genre (I think reading Island of the Blue Dolphins creeped me out to much as a kid!)

But I read a lot of science fiction as a teen and young adult. Starting with the traditional teen SF and working forward from that. I was just thinking that I had not read any good science fiction in a long time (must be all these bookclub books!) so maybe I will consider this one or find something else. I am going to read that article about the author. I appreciate that you always have links to interesting stuff!

Oh, and here is a link to picture of the guy on Mars! From the Huffington Post. (okay not really, it just looks like a human shadow next to the Mars Rover.)


jennifer said...

I felt the same way about myself -- Me? Mars? ;)

I think that there are a lot of "stranded and alone" stories out there --- books and movies. I think that that was a little bit of the reason why I felt like I had already experienced this book before. That said, it was an easy, fun read -- and definitely a good way for non-science fiction readers to get their toes wet in the genre.

jennifer said...

I tried to reply to you before -- but somehow it made a brand new comment. See below!