Apollo 13 meets Castaway in this grippingly detailed, brilliantly ingenious man-vs-nature survival thriller-set on the surface of Mars.
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first man to die there.
It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him-and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he's stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive-and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to get him first.
But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills-and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit-he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
When I requested The Martian on NetGalley it was mostly just because my inner geek loves sci-fi. I was both fascinated and haunted by the blurb and from that alone I was already dying to know what would happen to Mark. While I got the gripping survival adventure I expected, I also got something unexpected: a truly funny, immensely likeable main character.
Mark is stranded on Mars after a series of disasters forces his crew to abort, convinced he is dead. With very little equipment, limited food supplies, no contact with Earth and an injury, things don’t look good for Mark Watney. Mark has to try and contend with freezing temperatures, a lack of water, oxygen and food, cramped conditions, and of course the fact that no one knows he’s alive, so even if he can survive, his chances of ever making it off Mars are pretty slim.
The story is predominantly all about Mark. We flick between Mark’s logs and Earth, so there are some secondary characters, but Mark is definitely the key here. He faces loneliness that is impossible to comprehend, and odds that would probably make (many many) individuals give it all up. But Mark is a scientist and a fighter, and he desperately tries to work through problem after problem, in the hopes of perhaps somehow surviving four years until the next Mars expedition and catch a ride home.
I feel like often scientists are the cliche anxious geek with no social skills (and yes, as a science student I may be a tiny bit biased against that opinion!) and I absolutely loved that Mark didn’t fit those stereotypes. Yes, he’s a scientist, and a bit of a geek, and he’s insanely good with maths and problem solving…but he’s also got a good relationship with the rest of his crew, he’s tough, he’s likeable and he’s genuinely funny. He’s a very believable character, and I loved following his thought processes. At times, he can come across as a little silly or overly pleased about small things, but I think that’s believable and real: Mark is living, as much as possible, minute by minute, trying not to allow himself to consider the horror of his situation, but focusing on every positive, no matter how small. He is resilient, and sometimes a little too well-adjusted, but stranded on a foreign planet completely alone with no one to talk to but himself, Mark can either laugh or cry – and crying won’t help his resolve at all. My only real complaint for the characters is that I would have liked to see a little more about Mark, and to a lesser extent, the rest of his crew outside of the mission; their relationships and so on.
There is a lot of science in The Martian, which may put some people off. There are calculations and lots of mulling over different solutions to problems, and so it can feel quite science heavy. I’ve talked before about how I like a bit of science in my sci-fi (shockingly) and so I personally quite liked that. I didn’t feel it made the story dry or slow, but at the same time, Weir isn’t happy to give you vague statements like ‘Mars is cold’; he assumes you can keep up! It not only highlights just how clever Mark is, but more crucially, it shows just how bad his situation is.
Despite the humour, and the science, The Martian is absolutely full of tension, from Mark’s dire situation to NASA’s stress and the fact that his crew think he died. Despite the fact there aren’t really too many ways the story can end (either he’ll make it home, or he’ll die, he can’t survive on Mars indefinitely), Weir manages to keep you guessing the whole way through.
Buy it? This is one that I would be happy to buy.
In a nutshell: A gripping, unexpectedly funny survival story with a hero you can’t help but root for.