This book kept me on the edge of my seat, but some elements of the writing . . . ouch.
I’m obsessed with survival stories, and The Martian is the ultimate survival story. Astronaut Mark Watney is stranded alone on Mars. Literally everything can kill him: the extreme cold, the lack of oxygen, the absence of food and water, equipment failures, dust storms . . . . The only thing that Mark can rely on is his own intelligence.
An incredible amount of research went into this book. It’s science fiction with actual science! I think that’s becoming rare these days. It’s refreshing to read, and it feels real. I could actually imagine something like this happening in real life. It’s both fascinating and terrifying.
Mark is an easy character to root for. His optimism and humor help him persevere in situations that would cripple most people. This book is like a strange form of wish fulfillment. The reader wishes that he/she could be as resourceful and resilient as Mark. I don’t think Mark is a realistic character, but he’s interesting to read about because he’s the person that everybody wishes they could be. He’s funny, brave, brilliant, level-headed, and not afraid to rebel against authority and misuse multi-million dollar equipment. He’s like a nerdy action hero in a thriller movie.
The story starts slowly (with lots of details about potato farming), but once it gets going, it doesn’t stop. Mark faces one harrowing challenge after another. The plot is captivating. Whenever I wasn’t reading this book, I was thinking about it. I rushed through parts of my day so that I could get back to reading. I loved watching the characters overcome problems that seemed insurmountable at first.
Unfortunately, some elements of the book feel amateurish to me. I think the author is more of a storyteller than a writer. There’s nothing wrong with that because the story is amazing, but it had the potential to be even better. The writing itself is pretty lackluster, which makes it hard to get into the story at first. At some points, it reads more like a technical manual than a novel.
The character development, structure, and dialogue also could have used more work. I actually cringed at some of the dialogue because it sounds so unnatural. I questioned the placement of a few scenes, and I wish that all of the characters had been better developed. The secondary characters are indistinguishable from one another and all feel like less-awesome versions of Mark. I wanted to know Mark’s backstory and see more of a character arc for him. He spends over a year struggling to survive alone on Mars, and the experience doesn’t alter him at all. I needed a tiny bit of introspection.
I am curious about what Andy Weir writes next. Even with the flaws, this is the most believable piece of science fiction that I have read in a long time. I enjoyed it.