Review by Rosalie Wodecki
The Martian is a tale of the stranded survivor Mark Watney. Told from the barren surface of the planet Mars, the story is intense from the get-go. Andy Weir’s early references to Wikipedia and NASA place us firmly in the ‘now’. The diary entry marked ‘Log Entry: Sol 6’ offers an immediate sense of the alien. And Watney’s frame of mind is clear within the first few words:
“I’m pretty much fucked.”
Though the ‘log entry’ format is enjoyable at first, it’s quite some time before Weir moves away from this storytelling tool. It’s good that he does, as this affects the pace of the story in an important and positive way. But it could have come sooner. It would be a long book if told only through the eyes of a lone, forgotten man on Mars.
At its heart, The Martian is a convincing tale of human existence on another planet. The sheer awkwardness of Watney’s day-to-day life, the lack of transporter beams, the need to survive, and the alien and unrelenting landscape – all of it feels real. And possible. It’s what makes the book shine. Like all the best science fiction, it’s about being human. It makes us want to be there and allows us to feel like we are.
It’s hard to ignore the many glowing reviews that this book has already received. If “NASA really likes the book” then it’s fair to say that the science stands up. But the reader doesn’t need this endorsement. Every detail in the story feels well-founded and well-researched. Weir takes time to show us his full workings, bones and all. Sometimes the transparent and visible nature of these scientific workings happens a bit too often. In the two-way relationship between author and reader, there’s not much space left for trust.
Weir does, though, allow his story a rapid pace. It’s this that makes it such a riveting read. Not knowing how things can be resolved – or if they can – is key to enjoying the book. That said, knowing what might happen won’t ruin the book. The convincing story of a man on Mars holds up. And is more than enough reason to want to keep reading.
With the recent release of the film in mind, it seems safe to say that reading the book first will only enhance your enjoyment of the film. Not only that, you’ll go in with a head packed full of science facts, leaving you free to enjoy the scenery. On the flip side, if you see the film first, there’s a lot to more to be read, enjoyed and understood later. The choice is yours.
Rosalie Wodecki is a writer who specialises in plain English and writing for the web. She’s quite keen on sharing knowledge – any way she can and for all sorts of people. In her spare time she writes stories and takes photos. And just generally makes things up. She thinks science is cool.