See, I don’t always read alternate history books. Even I need a break so I can explore some new frontiers. So I picked up a copy of the immensely popular The Martian by Andy Weir and decided to see what all the fuss was about.
The Martian stars Mark Watney, a modern day Robinson Crusoe, who finds himself stranded on Mars after his crew thought he was dead. Now armed only with his knowledge of mechanical engineering and botany, Mark has to survive on a hostile world using only what was left behind by NASA. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the world is shocked to learn that the man they thought was dead is alive and well. The largest rescue effort since Apollo 13 is launched to save Mark, but numerous setbacks force everyone to take insane risks that put more than just Mark’s life in danger.
Weir tells the story primarily through first person diary entries from Watney, who details for the reader his trials and tribulations on trying to survive on Mars. Weir has other methods of moving the story along including audio recordings, letters, text communication and third person dialogue, mostly from people back Earthside tasked with keeping Watney alive long enough until they can get him off the planet. I found Watney to be an engaging character reminiscent of Randal from Clerks. I also found it to be a nice touch on how his communication deteriorated as he goes completely bonkers the more time he spends alone on Mars. That being said, I found many of the secondary characters to be weak in comparison. There is only so many times you can read another meeting of government employees complaining about how powerless they are and how much the press is up their ass.
More importantly, The Martian is an intense look at what space exploration could have been if we never stopped exploring space. No, I am not working any alternate history in this review and, while I admit my background in science isn’t great, I got the feeling the technology Weir described in this book is not only realistic but easily within our capabilities if we only had the will to fund it. I was also tickled by the concept of the Hermes spacecraft, the ship used to travel from Earth to Mars. It is a true spacecraft, having been built in space and used for multiple missions. Just think what it would be like to have something like that orbiting Earth at this very moment.
Doing some research on Weir, I discovered he originally published The Martian online because he did not have a lot of success publishing works in the traditional way. Now that his debut book has been such a shocking success, I wonder if anyone got fired for passing on Weir or if they even noticed what happened. Maybe someone with more knowledge of the publishing industry can let me in on this because someone screwed up royally by not signing Weir. The Martian was an excellent novel about realistic space exploration, featuring an interesting protagonist and I highly recommend it.