Now The Martian is a read that everyone on Goodreads seems to be talking about and seems almost universally loved, so I had a bit of a shock three or four chapters when I found I wasn’t really liking it that much. The reason – the science - there is a lot of physics in this read and at first it seemed to go way over my head. But, I persevered and I am so glad I did, because pretty soon I was hooked and I ended up loving this read. It is a story of human endeavour against the odds, about never giving up even when the odds are totally stacked against you. I think though that the real reason I ended up loving this book was the main character, Mark Watney. What can I say about him? Well, he is funny, cheeky, irreverent, positive thinking, a doer. He is courageous and resourceful and it is his constant problem solving that really made me warm to him. Before I knew it I was rooting for him and desperately wanting him to survive. He is stuck in probably the harshest environment not yet known to man, where the slightest little accident could kill him, yet time and time again he puts his “problem solving” cap on and works out a solution. He is a very real character, one that I totally fell for and in the end it almost felt as if I was reading about a real person. Similarly, the physics, despite being way over my head at times, felt real and feasible.
It is a cracking read and now I cannot wait to see the film and from what I have seen of it from the trailer there are a few subtle differences so it should be well worth seeing.
on 9 March 2014
Disco hating astronaut Mark Watney faces almost certain death after he is stranded on Mars when a freak accident separates him from his crew mates during a near future manned expedition to the red planet. This is the premise of Andy Weir's novel and it is quite an original and unusual read. It is absolutely loaded with science, sometimes at the expense of forward momentum within the story but on the whole this works well as there isn't actually anything else going on. Watney is an enormously resourceful and wilful human being, fighting for his life in a hugely hostile environment and the thing he has on his side is scientific knowledge and the ability to think his way round a problem. The first person narrative is dry as a bone and all the better for it. Watney is funny, believable and a recognisably credible geek scientist. I think we can expect a film adaptation of this one before too long.
on 5 February 2013
NASA has set up a chain of expeditions to Mars but very soon after landing the third one is aborted and the scientists have to leave. Unknown to them their dead companion, who is not actually dead, finds himself stranded on Mars with little hope of surviving until the next scheduled mission. Air and water are not the problem but he does not have enough food despite being left with the resources to accommodate six explorers.
Right from the start this is a gripping page-turner and no matter how hard Mark Watney strives to survive Mars works just as hard to kill him. All the time I was willing him to succeed only to have yet another believable crisis threatening his continued existence. In my opinion you will not find a better thriller set on Mars or elsewhere. I had not previously heard of the author and cannot remember how I ended up buying his book to read on my Ipad, but it was a good day. Highly recommended, excellent value for money, and I look forward to reading other work from Weir.
Mark Watney is one of the astronauts on the Ares 3 mission to Mars. Unfortunately, when the Ares 3 mission leaves, Mark is left behind, presumed dead. The fact that he isn’t dead comes as a bit of shock to him at first, and then he is left pondering how, or even whether, he can survive. He knows there is another mission planned but calculating his food supplies and other equipment he doesn’t believe he can survive until the Ares 4 mission lands, and even if he does the scheduled landing site is far away; how could he even get there if he is still alive? Keeping a detailed log of his days on Mars he struggles to set up some way firstly to keep himself alive, and only then does he consider communications. Can he contact anyone? What can they do to help him, even if he gets through?
In between, Mark attempts to keep his spirits up; each of the astronauts had personal music, movies, tv series on entertainment systems, so Mark can keep himself entertained wondering why Sherrif Rosco doesn’t just go to the Duke farm and arrest the boys when they’re not in the General Lee. It’s not until we’re about 50 pages into the book that we leave Mark’s log entries temporarily, to go to Earth, where at Mission Control they are commemorating his death. From there, the book alternates between both locations.
I really liked Mark as a character; he’s clearly intelligent; a botanist and an astronaut, he has the know-how and is enough of a geek to give things a go; after all, he has nothing to lose and everything to gain if he can find ways to survive. He has an irreverent sense of humour and this comes across in his log entries. Having never been stranded on Mars, I have no idea how it may impact on a person’s mindset; but I felt that the log entries Mark creates are indicative of a man who is a survivalist, but has a touch of pragmatism in him as well. I don’t really know why some reviewers have complained about the bad language in the book; there really wasn’t very much so that it became an issue, and I think I’d swear if I was stranded on a planet that was doing its darnedest to kill me too. It seems to me that some reviewers have not taken into account the mental, emotional and physical strain that we have to imagine the character undergoing in this situation, coupled with his sheer will to survive and prove the odds wrong.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book; following Mark’s log entries explaining his thinking through solutions to his problems. I think these log entries were partly a way for Mark to ‘think out loud’ as he worked through each issue and as such they give us a really good view into his mindset. I found myself cheering with each triumph, and feeling crushed with each blow. The incident with the airlock some way into the book nearly made me weep with frustration. A great book; I can’t wait for more books by this clearly talented author who has written what I found to be an intelligent and thought-provoking sci-fi novel.
on 9 August 2015
Maybe it’s just as well that this book is being given the Hollywood treatment because it reads like the novelisation of a movie that’s already been released. Weir provides an abundance of numbers and technical know-how, but no real sense of place. It’s as if he’s assuming that his readers already have the movie fully-formed in their heads. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of well-researched detail to add authenticity, but Weir piles it on so relentlessly that the book starts to feel like a Haynes Manual without the pictures. And it’s not as if the concept of Mars as an actual place you can walk around and explore exists entirely in the imagination. NASA’s intrepid rovers have been faithfully exploring the red planet for the last decade, recording everything from dust devils to Martian sunsets (which are blue and starkly beautiful).
Another problem is the character of Mark Watney. No one likes a protagonist who wallows in self-pity, but a little more introspection and a little less wisecracking would have gone a long way towards making him easier to relate to. Instead, when he's not problem-solving he spends his downtime listening to music and watching old TV shows. Watney’s childish humour (encompassing “jokes” about boobs and gay space probes) and sheer lack of curiosity both in himself and his surroundings brings to mind an unfortunate comparison with the film "Beavis and Butthead do America" in which the titular duo studiously ignore America’s most breathtaking landmarks in favour of road-signs that contain accidental innuendos. If Beavis and Butthead ever “do” Mars … actually, scratch that; there’s only one planet they’d do and it begins with a U.
Meanwhile one crisis follows another and Watney deals with them all in his incessantly cheery way. He copes so well with adversity that you get the sense he’s thriving on it. Indeed, you’d be forgiven for wondering if the most terrifying crisis would be for nothing to happen to him, for his music to fall silent and his TV to go dead, forcing him to confront the psychological reality of being completely alone on a hostile planet. Here too there’s a precedent which Weir could have drawn on if he’d been so inclined. The Apollo Command Module pilots spent many hours alone and periodically isolated from civilisation while their crewmates explored the lunar surface. And yet, despite coming from backgrounds not known for literary eloquence, they were able to describe their experience in language rather more profound than “Yay Earthrise!” or “Boo! Solitude sucks!” The constant f-bombs don’t help either. There’s nothing wrong with expletives per se, but in Watney’s case they feel forced and awkward, like the class nerd trying to hang tough with the cool kids.
None of this would matter much if it weren’t for the hyperbolic levels of praise this book’s been generating on Amazon and elsewhere. It’s even being held up as the definitive example of how to write hard science-fiction, which seems to me to be setting the bar depressingly low. Why can’t a sci-fi novel be thrilling, scientifically accurate and literary in its ambitions?
The Martian is not without its strengths, chief of which is a plausible narrative that doesn’t fudge the laws of physics, but it could have been so much more. There was an opportunity here to write a great sci-fi survival novel that transcends its genre and tells us something about ourselves in the process. Instead we’re left waiting to see if Matt Damon can make the The Martian seem, well, a little more human.
I am not into science fiction but after hearing so much positive feedback on this novel I decided to buy.
What a treat. I loved it and didn't want the book to end. Its a story about an astronaut left on Mars and his bid to live long enough to get off. There is loads of technical stuff in the book but so well explained and the prose is excellent. I followed through with the ideas and the equipment used and never got lost, as I do in other Sci-Fi books I have read.
Its funny in places and I love the initial contacts between Earth and Mars and found myself laughing out loud on the train several times.
For me its a great read and I have not stopped recommending it to friends and strangers. It is that good!
on 18 April 2013
This novel has a great premise, which is in many ways it greatest strength. Weir is great at delivering technical information in his writing style, and a great part of the text is quite technical. But it's succinct, and is never bogged down with advanced vocabulary. However, if you are not looking for a story that talks a lot about the technicalities and issues of space travel and inter-planetary exploration, this book is not for you.
The story itself is good, switching between the main characters life on mars, and the events of those back on earth adds a refreshing change of pace at key points which keeps the reader engaged. Do not expect a deeply philosophical approach to difficulties faced by a lone human on a barren world, you wont be getting it. Life alone on Mars is described by Mark Watney, a likable and quick witted botanist, who likes to keep things simple, and humorous.
All in all, this book will interest the sci-fi fan, and will appeal to the casual reader, such as myself, looking for a new and refreshing story.
I read The Martian about a year after it had hit mainstream awareness, but before the announcement it would be made into a Hollywood film. I’m glad that I’d managed to avoid the hype around this novel as it meant I could enjoy it without any preconceived notion of what to expect.
On the first manned mission to Mars, a devastating sandstorm threatens to destroy the habitat set up by the the first astronauts to land there. They decide to evacuate, but during the evac astronaut Mark Watney is hit by a broken communications antenna. Believing Mark to be dead, the crew continue their evac and start their journey back to Earth, their mission to Mars terminated.
Waking from unconsciousness, Watney realises that he’s been left behind. His suit was torn during the storm, but congealed blood from his wounds had sealed the tear. Now he must somehow survive using supplies left behind. And then he must contact Earth to try and get help and hopefully, eventually: rescue.
Watney is an engineer and a botanist. His scientific knowledge is the only thing that is going to help him survive. He knows he is screwed and that his chances are slim, but he doesn’t let that get in the way. First he must find a way to create water and food. Water is made from unused hydrazine rocket fuel, while food comes from planting potatoes in Martian soil mixed with his own stool. This is how most of the book follows: a problem must be solved and Watney uses his knowledge and skills to solve it and survive a little longer. Watney keeps a log of his endeavours, thinking that he will never be rescued, so that at least when NASA returns in four years they will know what happened.
When NASA observe the fruits of Watney’s work, they realise he’s alive and try to find a way to communicate with him. Watney believes his only chance for survival is to travel 2000 miles in a rover buggy to the location of the next manned mission landing in the hope he’ll be rescued in four years.
There’s a lot of science in this book, and it’s mostly believable and interesting. Indeed, the “doing science” aspect of the novel has been roundly praised for it’s accuracy. But the problem-solution cycle bogs down the human story with unnecessary nerdery and it makes the story drag. I believe that the science in sci-fi should be a skeleton on which to build a human story, not the story itself.
And what about the characters? Well, there wasn’t much to get involved with. Watney’s character is pragmatic and cocky. He doesn’t dwell on existential matters. There’s almost no self-reflection that I could relate to. The secondary characters — all those at NASA and the crew that left him behind — are very pale impressions of stereotypes I’ve encountered a hundred times before. I can’t remember much about them at all.
Despite the lack of good supporting characters, the heart of this story is strong and I rooted for Watney’s survival. But while it’s an entertaining read, The Martian spends too long on the science and not nearly enough time on the soul.
An astronaut is accidentally abandoned on Mars after a storm nearly kills the entire crew. Can he save himself from a slow and cold lonely death?
I read this book in 3 days. It zips along nicely and I always wanted to know “what happens next”, so why am I disappointed. Well the main problem for me was the distinct lack of characterisation, without this your characters lack depth and can become stereotypes. Our main character, because we spend quite some time reading his “journal/diary” does at least grow a little in our imagination, even if I never really “saw” him, however all the secondary characters at Mission Control and his former colleagues now speeding home, are little more than cardboard cut-outs and I never saw any of them in my minds eye. I was therefore never very interested in any of them.
The Journal containing his record of events is at first interesting and different, however it soon becomes repetitive in the extreme. Explanations of what he needs to do, descriptions of how he does it, then how it all went wrong and how he fixed it again on nearly every page, you get the picture. It does go on a bit in this vein and the descriptions of “how to” in the end do get rather boring. After a while the regular inevitable disasters that “will kill me in a few minutes” are actually nothing of the sort. It's always quickly fixed with some sticky tape, a few dabs of glue and of course our hero's massive intelligence and extreme resourcefulness. You're expecting genuine human drama backed up by real danger and imminent death, only to be let down badly by an adult boy scout who “cries wolf” every other page.
The writing is at best adequate for an adventure story, often not very interested in character development, but truth be told, those cardboard characters and the “The idiots guide to survive alone on Mars” really does kill any emotion stone dead. The dialogue, especially at Mission control, is clunky and often juvenile. Simplified scientific explanations, for the poor average reader who doesn't know his Co2 from his O2 are so very common, that some pages really have little else on them. Mathematical explanations about how long this or that will last pepper the narrative to such an extent that I got fed up and often wanted to close the book and forget I had bought it. His habit of including a “funny last line” to many “Sol Entries” also soon became tiresome. Expecting your reader to think a little is fine and there is nothing wrong with that, however it can't replace drama and human interest with “a bit of Science” because it doesn't work. The end, what we have been waiting for since page one, is over in a flash. The four or five pages of excitement and emotion free description of his fate, was just not good enough by half. It should have been a white knuckle ride, intense and heart pounding, but no, all we get is, this happened and then this happened, what a tremendous let down! The end feels rushed to say the least, when the author spends pages and pages educating us about Oxygen and Nitrogen, but can't put together a reasonably exciting end it says quite a lot about the authors ability to write fiction. He definitely prefers the technical to the human aspects of his story. What a shame.
Even with it's obvious flaws I finished the book so what does that mean? It means that the author has taken a strong basic story that's been done before (Robinson Crusoe on Mars) and given it a makeover. In the hands of a more experienced author, with the ability to inject some humanity and real human interest, it could have been great. As it turned out it became a summer blockbuster in the vein of Jaws and The Da-Vinci Code, a huge hit, a film, but in the final analysis a bit of a disappointment.
Let's hope the film can inject some characterisation and real human drama.
on 27 July 2015
This is extended novel version. Our narrator even references the event ("NASA learned their lesson... all filters are interchangable").
There is a lot of excessive technical detail thrown about - I didn't really care about the square footage of soil required to grow 952 potatoes, and considering he insists on "sparing [us] the math", he relies an awful lot on the minutia of statistics and other mathematical details. But that doesn't always detract from the story - it's this detail that means we are more able to understand the desperate improvisation required to stay alive so many miles from Earth, when no one else realises he's still alive. He has to survive knowing that rescue is NOT immediately on its way.
I actually enjoyed this story. I wanted to know what happened, how Mark would keep going long enough to make contact with Earth again, overcoming all the incredible bad (and good) luck that dogs the 400+ days he might end up stranded on an alien planet . Yes, there are certain parts where the characters grated, or slipped into unbelievability, but the underlying plot was strong enough for me to grit my teeth and get through these occasional niggles. I even liked the narrative technique of leaving us alone with only Mark's log for a significant portion of the novel, stranding us with just one perspective of the whole event just as Mark is stranded. [small spoiler - after about halfway through we start getting a third person narrative of the events back on Earth, focusing on their rescue/recovery efforts].
I wouldn't call this the greatest work of literature. It's been made into a movie, directed by Ridley Scott and is already being compared to Prometheus (for both good and bad) - and I would agree that it's a mixed bag, some people are going to hate this, others are going to find it an enjoyable piece of action. Personally, I read until it was finished, and was happy enough with the conclusion. I won't recommend this, but I won't try and put anyone off either.