I’ve been reading a lot lately. I think it’s to do with the weather. When the heat index hits 114°F, it’s difficult to summon the energy to want to do anything more than lift a book and be grateful I have a job that keeps me indoors. So it’s not surprising that I’ve read seven books so far this month, the most recent being The Martian, by Andy Weir.
I saw the movie earlier this year, and because I liked it so much, I bought a copy from the used bookstore downtown. For whatever reason, I didn’t start reading it until the other day.
The bulk of the story follows an astronaut named Mark Watley, one of a team of scientists and engineers on a manned mission to Mars. When a massive storm forces the team to evacuate back to Earth, Watley is separated and thought to be dead. It’s not until months later that anyone on Earth figures out that Watley survived, but is utterly alone on the surface of Mars and struggling to survive long enough to be rescued
For all that I’ve heard that the prose is “workmanlike”, and the fact that the story revolves around people using science to fix one life threatening problem after another, The Martian is wonderfully readable and full of humor. Granted, the jokes are more helpful if you’re a bit nerdy and/or geeky, but I’m more than a little bit of both, so I giggled when Watley joked about naming his rover projects ‘Sirius’ (it’s to do with dogs- get it?), and when the NASA-folk named their secret project, ‘Project Elrond’ (it’s especially amusing in the movie, when Sean Bean’s character is standing there while they’re talking about it).
I don’t read much science fiction these days, especially hard sci-fi. Complex scientific matters can be difficult for an author to explain to a layperson without either being confusing or condescending, but Weir traverses that fine line very well. It helps that most of the explanations are expressed by the main character, Watley, who is self-deprecating and snarky enough to explain things like how he used rocket fuel to make water, or why you can’t just toss seeds and water into Martian dirt and expect things to grow.
The only real problem I have with this book are the shifting points of view. While most of the story is told by Watley, there are parts from the perspectives of various NASA personnel and the rest of Watley’s team. These POVs can flit from person to person with little warning, so it’s best to pay close attention when the non-Watley parts come about. Overall, though, it’s a pretty minor thing in the grand scheme of the story. The Martian is about space and science, but more importantly, it deals with the human capacity to solve problems in the face of terrible odds, and our ability to work together for a common cause. It’s wonderfully readable and hard to put down, and I think it’s up at the top of my favorite books of the year.