It was almost immediate that The Martian began to bore me. It didn’t even hesitate. Within moments, the initial action that left an American astronaut stranded alone on Mars left me alone with him too.
I trudged on. Despite the jargon and despite the focus on science I continued. There was something towing me along. Suspense? Not exactly. Cheering for the ‘little guy’? I quickly grew to enjoy Mark Watney (the novel’s protagonist), but that wasn’t it either.
Above all else, reading The Martian through to its very end was a product solely of my own curiosity. “Can this author keep this writing up,” I thought. I wondered who Andy Weir was, if he had come from a future where he was documenting the fact of Mark Watney’s ordeal in space, not its fiction. I wondered how he knew so much about the science or how he made me believe his version of NASA was real. Completing my journey through the novel was the equivalent of following slowly behind a weaving car, half-expecting and half-wanting a crash to gawk and stare at.
The crash never came. Andy Weir is either one of the best scientists to write or he is a writer equally dedicated to the craft of research. I won’t say the novel was perfect – far from it actually, I did genuinely feel it was boring – but it still stands as an achievement.
If you are going to write hard fiction like The Martian, then put a human as charming as Mark Watney at its center and give us a plot worth cheering for. I don’t know how else I would have gotten through calculations of planting potatoes and how many would be needed to keep a typical person from starving immediately.
I cannot recommend this book, but I cannot not recommend it either. We will see if this is one of those “see the movie instead”‘s shortly. I was waiting to finish the book first.
Well, the day after I wrote my draft, Diane and I rented The Martian. My lack of enthusiasm had turned her off from reading it. After watching the film, I do think it was better. This is certainly one of those ‘show me, don’t tell me’ experiences. I hated everything the movie decided to cut and wished it had condensed some things differently (the Chinese subplot), but it was solid.
With the movie and book both under my belt, I think it is safe to say that The Martian is a well-written plot with characters that forgo acting like regular humans in favor of that plot. This is a thought experiment given Matt Damon and a Hollywood budget.
Kudos to the author.