5 stars. Some days I start a book, and know almost immediately with a mix of excitement and anticipation of sleeplessness that I’m not going to stop reading until the final page is turned. Andy Weir’s The Martian was exactly that kind of book. Astronaut Mark Watney’s story of abandonment, ingenuity, and survival completely engrosses, with mental challenges combining with tension and drama on the harsh surface of another planet.
What really impressed me was the resourcefulness and methodical work that Watney employed. Problem solving, prioritization, planning ahead, and imaginative use for all the materials available to him are front and center, along with an understated will to live that is the mark of good survival literature. Weir’s strong grasp of science and ability to relate scientific and engineering concepts holds the tale together.
I freely admit that I’m a geek. I found Watney’s sense of humor to be spot on–part smartass, part gallows humor, all nerd. The almost flippancy of his journal entries that comprise the bulk of his narrative is made far more human and approachable through his corniness.
Yes, there is an element of “problem occurs, Watney comes up with a clever solution and averts disaster, repeat” to the book; however, none of the man vs. nature conflict is contrived. All are issues that an intelligent person can truly see happening to someone in that position–a chain of events that feels inevitable.
Pacing of the story was excellent, with lots of little moments building towards the grand finale. Weir also resisted the temptation of throwing in lots of “What Watney didn’t know was that the fribbilizers were only capable of handling 6.23 megawhoops instead of the 7.8 that the high goober content allowed through the Martian air”; heavy-handed foreshadowing that would have ruined the book.
Equally compelling is the drama that happens away from the Martian surface. Were this simply the story of Watney, many of the most moving and insightful (not to mention stand up and cheer!) moments of the tale would have been lost. Weir chose to make this a story about humanity rather than simply just one man’s survival.
My favorite book of the year by far. What a great ride! The Martian is a book that I will read over and over.