The Martian

by Andy Weir

“I am smiling a great smile. The smile of a man who fucked with his car and didn’t break it.”

The six person landing team on Mars encounters an unexpected sandstorm and witnesses one of the their crew impaled on a radio antennae go spinning out of sight as the other 5 members desperately escape the storm. His blood pressure? Zero. Heart rate? Zero. The rest of the crew successfully makes it off the planet’s surface and the mission is scrubbed as the surviving crew returns home mourning their fallen brother.

But Mark Watney, the mission’s botanist and an engineer, survived the accident and now faces down the rest of his life, alone on Mars, as long as he can cobble together ways to survive.

A logistical nightmare, The Martian heaps disaster on top of accident on top of disaster as the impenetrable Laws of Murphy have their way. This one has numerous similarities to the story of Apollo 13, in that the vast majority of its bulk is attempts to fit square pegs into round holes, with or without NASA’s help, forcing equipment to function in ways in which it wasn’t designed.

The science here is heavy, as is the math, but ‘hard’ science fiction is not necessarily the best classification. It’s quite accurate in terms of science, so it would qualify, but this is much more of a fast-paced thriller than an attempt to wrangle physics. We’re never given a chance to get bored. With the science and math as strong as it is and thriller-like disaster pacing it’s easy to think of this as a slam-dunk, but something holds it back a little. The plot is tense, the main character darkly funny, but that heart-hammering connection with the character in peril never fully materializes. And the peril is extreme. You’ll follow Watney’s every move, willing him to find a way and maybe even holding your breath a couple of times, but his victories aren’t necessarily your victories, and neither are his defeats.

Even if the main character was not as compelling as he could be, the situations certainly were, which means this book is extremely difficult to put down. Not a single dull moment exists within this story, so as with Watney, there’s no time for anything but to keep moving forward. This is a lightning read.

“Beers for everyone if I get back to Earth.”

3+ stars

*Tough time with the rating here. Started as 3+, a day later moved up a notch, and now I’m moving it back to the original. Sorry for waffling.

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