Review: "The Martian" by Andy Weir

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Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Publisher: Crown, Random House
Release Date: February 11th, 2014
Pages: 367

In The Martian, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the few people to walk on Mars. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Like his protagonist, author Andy Weir is entering unknown territory with his first novel being traditionally published. After a successful launch in the digital format, Random House quickly snatched up the novel for its physical printing and even the rights to a movie have been sold to writer-producer Simon Kinburg. Also like his astronaut, Andy Weir makes a few costly mistakes. These mistakes leave the novel awkward in places and boring in others, but ultimately gets saved at the end for a satisfying finish.

Sounding like the plot to a blockbuster movie, The Martian starts out with the protagonist's entry logs after the accident that left him stranded on the red planet. Mark Watney is a botanist, sent on this Mars expedition to see what kind of plants could grow in the martian soil. The first forty-eight pages of the novel describe the situation that Mark Watney is in and then very technical descriptions on how he is going to get out of every situation that arises. These pages are barely sprinkled with background information on the protagonist or his feelings of his impending demise on Mars, just technical information. The author, a software engineer and devoted hobbyist of physics, orbital mechanics, and spaceflight, clearly gushes his passion for science and engineering in The Martian, but lacks a third dimension for his hero Mark Watney.

The novel gets better once the point of view shifts to NASA's directors and staff that learn of Watney's survival and what their side of the rescue plan is. I also found the world's response to the situation of a man stranded on Mars to be very interesting, especially the plan that two different nations come up with to save the lone astronaut.

The prose stumbles a bit when Weir changes styles of writing midway, to describe a small hole forming in the wall of a Mars Habitat. He tries to be flowery and descriptive with the history of the wall and its contents as the disaster starts, but it just took me out of the novel with the shift in style. To me, it seems the author might have been trying to show off a bit for being so new.

The Martian is a decent hard Science Fiction novel and I certainly didn't regret reading it. I just wish there was more substance to the protagonist's side of the story. I hope that this will not be the only novel that Weir does, as I look forward to seeing how he grows as a writer.

Score: 5.5 out of 10

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