Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

What a fantastic book! I read all 379 pages in a single day. The Martian was recommended by a writer I respect, and he was right. I bought a copy for my dad for his birthday because I think he’ll love it, too. In short, it’s an archetypal journey involving science.

The premise: Mark Watney is a crew member on one of the first missions to Mars. Though his mission isn’t the first, the art of landing (and surviving) on Mars is by no means perfected. After a freak accident, Mark is presumed dead, and his crew reluctantly leave him on the surface during a high-speed escape. Mark must then heal himself, find food and water, and survive in a freezing world with an “atmosphere” inhospitable to humans.

The story is told through two main perspectives: Mark’s first-person log recording his day-to-day struggles and a third-person account from the perspective of the people at NASA (and later, everywhere on the globe) involved in trying to rescue him.

This is a fictional work, but it’s realistic. An engineer and a botanist, Mark’s chapters contain lots of science. I like science, but I’m not a scientist. The science he presents is easy to understand, and in case you don’t care to follow all the numbers, Mark provides the “bottom line” in layman’s terms—and often with lots of humor.

In fact, the scenes at NASA contain lots of humor, too. I found myself chuckling out loud several times throughout the book. Both Mark and the folks at NASA use adult language, so a warning for younger readers.

Though fictional, the book captures the human spirit well. Around the globe, countless dollars and resources are thrown toward the potential recovery of a single man. As Mark notes, it’s not that he’s so special that he himself is worth all that, but it’s what he represents: humanity has put a man on Mars, and now humanity hopes to use its innovation to save him.

I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I will say: if you were ever a fan of the “space race” or near-future space travel stories, this is for you. Mark is sort of like MacGuiver on Mars. He makes the best out of each situation and finds humor even while complaining. The author truly respects the reader’s time and does not add any needless scenes—each carries its own weight (sometimes heavy on science, light on philosophizing), and the structure and order of the scenes adds great humor and dramatic irony. Well worth a reader’s time!

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