Raise your hand if you think you could survive a plane crash on a deserted island. Most of you probably think you could…I mean, we’ve all seen Lost and Castaway. We know the drill. Catch some fish, light a fire by rubbing some sticks together – though that’s actually a lot harder than it looks, in case you’re not nerdy enough to have tried before – and try to flag down a ship. That’s not so bad.
Raise your hand if you think you could survive being stranded on Mars for over a year.
Yeah, I don’t think I could either. Maybe if I was a NASA astronaut/awesome botanist/hilarious cynic (okay, maybe I’ve got that one down)/overall smart person.
In other words, I think maybe I could if I was Mark Watney.
Who’s Mark Watney? Only one of the best fictional characters to be found in modern day fiction. Also the main character in The Martian by Andy Weir.
The Martian is probably the most hard-core science fiction novel I have ever read. In a previous post I briefly talked about soft sci-fi, so, for reference, Weir’s novel is exactly the opposite of that. It actually has real science in it, a disturbing rarity in the genre that is named after that particular academic study. I’m pretty into science and generally have a good grip on what goes on when it comes to chemistry and biology. But the person who wrote The Martian is slightly smarter than me. Slightly. So lots of pieces of brilliant information was wasted on my puny mind. Not that it mattered, because the storyline and characters were fascinating enough to keep me engaged:
Ares 3 was little more than a routine mission to Mars. Two teams of astronauts had already come and gone. By the time Mark Watney gets to the red planet, him and his crewmates aren’t going to be the first people to do anything on Mars. Not the first to walk on it, not the first to bring back samples of martian rocks.
But that all changes when a dust storm heads their way. In the middle of an evacuation mission, the rest of the Ares 3 crew leaves Mark behind. After all, when the satellite came loose from where it was attached to the Hab, it’s antennae skewered him like a Shish Kabob, destroying his bio-monitor and causing him to show up as lifeless on all other networks.
Left for dead, Mark is able to find his way back to the Hab alive, but without any way to communicate with NASA or his captain.
He soon becomes the first for almost everything. The first person to be alone on Mars. The first to preform over one hundred EVA’s. The first to grow Martian potatoes. The first space pirate…which he’s pretty excited about.
And possibly the first person to die on Mars. He’s not too hyped up about that last one.
But Mark’s not about to let that happen. He’s determined to find a way to survive until Ares 4 comes to pick him up. Easier said than done, but Watney’s a botanist and an engineer, so he knows what he’s doing. Sort of. When all else fails, he can always use some duct tape. Duct tape fixes everything.
Except for the fact that Watney’s only source of entertainment is the USB his captain left behind. If lack of food, oxygen, and water don’t kill him first, then maybe it will reach him through having to suffer though 70s TV shows….and disco music. Disco music, man. Doesn’t get much worse than that.
Unlike most hard-core sci-fi novels, this one wasn’t a drain to read because the story was told through the eyes of Mark Watney. A sarcastic botanist/astronaut who is determined to get off of Mars because he won’t let a dead planet get the better of him, Mark’s voice keeps the novel alive. His brilliant cynicism and eternal fight with Mars, boredom, and NASA getting up in his business after communication is reestablished makes The Martian a hilarious read. And let’s not forget his annoyance with Disco music (I tried listening to some so that I could understand what he was talking about. He’s right…it really does suck), love affair with duct tape, and occasional nerd references.
Honestly, I haven’t seen characterization this good for a long time, particularly not in sci-fi novels, which tend to put more of an emphasis on story than character. Jason Bourne…er, Matt Damon, is going to make a perfect Mark Watney when the movie is released. I’m pretty excited.
As far as the story goes, I considered giving it a ‘good’ rating instead of ‘mint’ when I first started reading. Honestly, The Martian starts out as a survival story, only it’s on Mars instead of a beach or jungle. Cool, but not very original. But later it pans out into something much bigger than that. We get the story in 1st person from Mark Watney himself, but we also get glimpses of his crew members, the head executives at NASA, press relation strategies, and Chinese/American politics. Pretty dang cool.
My favorite scene? NASA headquarters is going crazy after discovering that Mark is, in fact, still alive. They start running stats on how to keep him alive and think they have it all figured out until they realize that being alone on Mars probably has a massively negative effect on a man’s phycology. He must be depressed, lonely, and bored. Poor guy. If only they could raise his morale….
Cut back to Mark’s log entry, where’s he’s chilling in his Hab and wondering: How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.
That followed by a reference to Harry Potter and surrounded by his darkly hilarious fighter’s mindset sealed the deal. Mark Watney is officially my new favorite sci-fi character and The Martian deserves the highest rating possible.
Have you read this book? No? Why not?! On a scale of disco music to duct tape (disco being the worst and duct tape being the best), The Martian is about as epic as heavy duty duct tape. If you like science, sarcasm, a good survival story, awesome characters, or interesting tidbits on NASA, then this book is for you. If you don’t like any of these, then you’re just a really boring person. Sorry, but we all know it’s true.
So go check out The Martian by Andy Weir. And don’t forget to watch the trailer for its movie of the same name. Leave a comment and tell me what you think. Is this book a win? Will Matt Damon make an awesome Mark Watney?
The answer should be yes to both of those, by the way….Just sayin’.
Hannah Heath – book worm and aspiring author