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.