The Martian by Andy Weir
There have been a lot of books dealing with the topic of astronauts stranded on Mars, but Andy Weir’s The Martian is, in my opinion, one of the better ones out there.
Where this book stands out from all those other stories about Mars is the details. In simple terms this really is nothing more than a kind of retelling of Robinson Crusoe on Mars, with elements of Gravity thrown in for fun. The main bulk of the story is told through the log entries of the main character, astronaut Mark Watney, as he struggles to survive alone on Mars after being left behind by his crew mates. In fact, we don’t get to meet any other characters until we’re several chapters in, when the focus switches to the NASA team back on Earth who learn that Watney’s still alive and go all out to find a way to get him home.
Watney himself is a very well written character; an expert botanist and engineer (skills which serve him well in his quest to survive), he is also one hell of a smart-ass with a slightly dark and twisted sense of humour. Indeed, if the entire novel consisted of just his log entries I think it would still be a lot of fun to read, though the use of alternative viewpoints throughout does give the narrative a lot more depth than it would have with just a single narrator.
It’s pretty obvious from the word go that Weir has done his homework on this novel. The science here isn’t technobabble, but real-world hard science and the technology appears to be based as closely as possible on existing or realistically achievable space tech. The author makes it clear that he knows what he’s talking about and doesn’t skimp on his role as an educator as well as an entertainer. Perhaps I’ve spent too long reading the more fantastical sort of sci-fi but I found the hard science in this one to be refreshing.
The history of the book itself is also worth commenting on. It was originally released as a free serial on Weir’s own website after being rejected by various literary agents, and then later self-published through Kindle Direct at the request of the author’s fans. From there it managed to generate enough interest for the publishers to take notice and since then it’s proved to be something of a runaway hit, with a movie of the book due out later this year. If the film stays true to the book then I’m really looking forward to seeing it, despite Matt Damon having the starring role.
So in conclusion, I personally think this is a great book and heartily recommend it to anyone who fancies a bit of sci-fi that relies on reality more than fantasy, but still wants a corking good read to keep them going. I wouldn’t quite give it five stars (I am quite sparing with those five-star reviews), but would give it four-and-a-half if I could.