The Martian (Book, 2014)

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.

Addendum

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.

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8 thoughts on “The Martian (Book, 2014)”

  1. Stop reading books and play more video games. Those book things will ruin your mind =)

    I enjoyed the movie but so much of it was so.. stretchy, that it was hard to fully buy into the science part. Rooting for him on an emotional level was very believable though.

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  2. This is one of those rare cases where I liked the movie better than the book, too. I actually “read” The Martian on audio book during a road trip, and that was dangerous because I had a hard time staying awake through some parts. Like you said, Watney is a great character, but the pages of potato calculations were just sooooo sloooooow.

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  3. I liked that at least Andy Weir injected some sarcasm or other humor into his “calculations” sections of the book. Though I did find myself wanting to skim some of those pages a little. Sounds like I enjoyed the book more than you on the whole, but I totally see what you mean and I agree that the movie was even better in many ways!

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  4. I actually just finished the movie last night. I definitely really liked the movie a lot and it made all the science easier to digest and even interesting to get into, as someone who personally isn’t big on science overall. Having seen the movie and based on your own experience with the book, I highly doubt I’ll want to spend time reading the book. My attention span is pretty bad as it is now and reading through a boring book that might seem more text book than immersive fiction is something I’m going to have to pass on.

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