I have been on a little bit of a space kick lately – having enjoyed Gravity and loved Interstellar. So when I read that a new movie called The Martian was in the making, which was based on a book, I didn’t think twice before ordering it online. I should have, because in that brief moment of excitement (propelled by the knowledge that Matt Damon would be playing the titular role), I forgot that I don’t do science. Just like I don’t do non-fiction.
Science-wise, the novel starts out pretty easy. Mark Watney is stranded on Mars. The rest of his crew, the Ares 3, left in a rush in the wake of a dust storm, and thought Watney was dead. Watney wakes up, injured, but very much alive, and realizes that he’s the only man on Mars, presumed dead, and no rescue until the next mission is set to arrive, several years later. He only has a limited supply of food, no communication with Earth, and no one even knows he’s alive. But Watney is resourceful; he’s a botanist and isn’t ready to give up. This makes for the premise of The Martian. But, of course, things get more and more complicated as the book progresses – some interesting complications, and some (for me) complicated complications.
Watney is a lovable protagonist. He has a do-or-die, never-give-up attitude that is admirable and worthy of a central character. He has an amazing sense of humor that aids his ability to stay alive, and keeps his readers chuckling. But I had a hard time believing that Watney does not get hit even once by a debilitating depression. Being alone in a hostile environment on earth would do that to you, let alone being on Mars, under the conditions that he’s found himself. In many ways, The Martian is a great example of the human spirit, of how humans are capable of banding together in dire times; but, for me, it is this extreme of positivity that makes the book weak and flawed.
I’ll admit it – I skimmed through the last several pages of the book. It just got very jargon-y for me and I didn’t not want to finish it. So I did what a bad reader does – I skipped. A lot. I liked the end, and for a first book, Weir does amazingly well. It’s just not a book for those who are not scientifically inclined.