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Plodding engineering science fiction,
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This review is from: The Martian (Kindle Edition)
Who'd have thought so many people would rave about reading endless engineering detail?
Precisely how many holes did you have to drill? And how long, exactly, did that take? Tell me again how you stacked those solar panels? Describe, in precise detail, the tests you carried out to ensure that your repair was functional? And wow, that glue sure comes in handy, doesn't it?
It's all here. The first-person narrator of this story just can't help but tell you this stuff, sometimes dictating the detail into his audio log while under quite hectic time pressure. I'm usually a fan of scientific detail in SF, but the detail in this one just introduces too many longueurs into what could have been a much pacier and more gripping account. Andy Weir obviously spent a lot of time thinking about the science, but he should have throttled back a little on including it all in the story: "show, don't tell" is a timeworn but useful maxim.
There are also errors in the science, which is a bit of a killer if you're going to inflict all your calculations on the reader. One hundred percent oxygen is not as dangerous as Weir makes out. One percent oxygen, on the other hand, is much *more* dangerous to breathe than Weir makes out - it kills you a lot faster than just holding your breath would do. Medical oxygen masks don't work the way Weir implies. And for a while the protagonist is double-counting his expired carbon dioxide, using it to generate oxygen *and* to grow potatoes.- he can't successfully do both simultaneously. In a standard SF offering, these problems would induce no more than a shrug and an eye-roll, but when Weir keeps shoving the detail down the reader's throat, this reader tends to rebel.
We also could have done with a slightly more restricted narrative style. There's a first-person narrative, a third-person narrative with a multitude of POV characters (including the narrator of the first-person narrative) and an omniscient observer who occasionally steps in to update us on the some of the techy detail unknown to any of the characters. It adds clunkiness that this novel can ill afford.
What was good? Lots of things were good. The lead character is engaging - unlike some negative reviewers, I don't find either his levity or his profanity out of place. If you hang around with people who deal with life-or-death situations, the tone will ring true.
There are gripping moments, and I'm glad I ploughed through the endless detail to get to them, because they are tense and well written. If the whole book had been written in the style of the final few pages, it would have been utterly compelling. There are some ingenious plot elements. And there are good touches of humour - I smiled at some of the revealing dialogue between the minor characters.
As I hope this review shows, I came away from this one feeling more frustrated than disappointed. I'll keep an eye out for more from Andy Weir in future.