Monday, September 22, 2014

The Martian - Book Review - Minor Spoilers

Novel by Andy Weir

Review by Ken Parker

A mission to Mars ends in tragedy as the astronauts barely escape a dust storm but one of the crew are killed on the surface.  The rest of the crew escape and head back to Earth and have to deal with their loss.  Meanwhile on Earth, the healing process begins and questions on the future missions to Mars are debated.  But there is one thing that no one could possibly imagine – the dead crew member is not dead.

Minor Spoilers

I will have to admit the reason I read this book was a new piece that link director Ridley Scott to the movie version of this novel.  Right away I purchased the e-book and started reading it.  Right off the bat the novel shows its strengths as a hard science fiction tale.  The story is told from the perspective of Mark Watney, an astronaut that is left for dead on the Mars surface.  His survival relies on his knowledge of science and his ability to improvise over and over again.  Gathering up parts from two Mars rovers, space suits and the habitation center, Mark struggles with the math and science of his predicament in order to keep living long enough to be around for the next Mars mission.

The story is very dry to start with.  It is all about descriptions and numbers and the author really presents the problem as a math test.  While I certainly do not know enough about that science, the author presents it in a readable fashion that is understandable at the same time as it sets up deadlines and hurdles that our lonely astronaut must overcome.  There are snags along the way and Watney must adjust his plan constantly in order to have enough oxygen and food not to mention try to communicate with Earth and travel to a rescue point.

The story of Watney and his survival is the bulk of the first part of the novel but eventually we begin to see from the perspective of NASA and the returning mission crew.  Their perspective adds plenty of tension and emotion as the crew must deal with the fact that they left one of theirs behind and NASA, which is trying to decide whether to tell the public if there really is no way to rescue Watney.  Events occur as time goes on that enable communication and several rescue plans start to form. 

The book is basically a countdown with an ever changing end time.  Watney may have enough water but not enough food and suddenly all of that changes and now he must come up with another plan.
There are enough characters supporting the Watney rescue we get to know in the book and while the novel is mostly about the story and the science, it does manage to bring the readers into the emotion of the entire situation.  Watney is mostly business in the novel but his personality slowly comes to the foreground and fills in some of the needed soul of the book.  I love hard science in books and shows but too much of it can be tiresome.  Thankfully the novel really balances things just right.  You are still not going to get heavy emotional scenes and in depth character development.  I got just enough to stay invested in the characters.  That is not meant to be a negative comment in any way. 

Now my original reason to read this novel was the potential Ridley Scott movie project and while reading it are rarely thought of it in these terms, now that I am done, I certainly see a cinema feel to the novel and would expect that the major highlights would be the beginning and end.  The middle part would have a number of exciting moments but the novel does have its hook and climax set in stone.  I see a little of the movie Gravity in this story.  We have a person fighting for survival in space and to this degree, if there is a movie made it would probably be compared to Gravity again and again.  If there is a movie and Scott is involved, I will be there and I would think that it would be an excellent movie.

So check this novel out and enjoy your time on Mars.

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