Friday, September 18, 2015

The Martian

When Andy Weir's The Martian came to my attention, it was via fans of sci-fi books rather than because of the upcoming film...but because of the upcoming film, it took a tremendously long time on my library's hold list before my Kindle copy came in. Based on reviews, I thought it would be a cheerful MacGyver in space - and that's exactly what it was! It was an even better book to take to the gym than I'd hoped, and about three-quarters of the way through, I was so hooked that I took my Kindle to school with me one day as my regular free-reading book.

Stranded on Mars when his teammates are forced to leave him behind for dead, Mark Watney is a cheerful MacGyver in space, with believable problems to solve and remarkably easy-to-understand solutions. This book excels at explaining science for the masses. I never felt lost and I never felt patronized. Most of the book functions as Mark's diary, and his refusal to give up and creativity in finding clever new ways not to let Mars (or his own occasional stupidity) kill him are fantastically inspiring. However, where the informal voice works well for the diary entries, Weir's own inexperience as a novelist shines through in the other sections. Narratives of the NASA folks working 'round-the-clock to help Watney are stilted, their dialogue often comically awkward, and occasional brief histories of the making of certain parts in alternatim with Mark's diary entries are jarring in their shift from first- to third-person and their jump from optimistic informality to just plain bad writing.

Problems aside, I see why The Martian has become such a phenomenon, and I look forward to encouraging Husband to read it, and perhaps we'll even go see the movie together.


  1. I have to admit that this is one which hasn't appealed at all! The jarring writing might well put me off even more, but it's good to understand more about the zeitgeist :)

    1. I'll be really intrigued to see how the movie works, because if they can find ways to translate the internal monologue to the screen - perhaps as a video diary - I think they'll be able to elevate the narrative sections.

      I don't know how things are in England, but with the obsessive focus on STEM fields in K-12 education here in America, I think there's actually a big audience for this kind of novelized science writing. No doubt that's why the book was such a hit. And it does have a certain un-put-down-ability. I'm sorry it's not to your taste though!