I picked up this book on a 2-for-1 special on Audible, and I’m really glad that I did. It was a blast. I was talking to my friend Krystin about it when Dale and I were in the middle of listening to it, and apparently this book is a bit of a response to the genre blending that has become so prevalent over the last couple of years. No blending with this one, though. Weir puts forth a straight science fiction yarn that can be summed up simply: Mark Watney is alone on Mars, and he’s doing everything he can to survive.
The majority of the book takes the form of first-person day logs kept by Mark Watney. Watney was one of the astronauts on the Ares III mission that was supposed to establish a month-long base on Mars before coming back to Earth. Less than a week in, a massive storm hits, and they all escape. Well, except Watney who becomes injured and swept away. Through dumb luck, he survives, and he spends the next two years putting his life back together on Mars. The story follows him healing his initial injuries, crafting ways to communicate with space command back home, figuring out how to become the first Martian farmer, and trying to come up with a way to get home. In the midst of it all, Watney provides shrewd observations about his new world and life with a biting, sarcastic humor that helps keep him sane in the desolate wasteland.
Now, a straight up epistolary narrative is not my thing. Though Watney doesn’t record every day of his time on Mars, leaving one character alone for too long can get dangerous. Luckily, just at the point that I was starting to get worried that Weir was going to strand us on Mars with Watney, he starts to include chapters based out of mission command on Earth. That story picks up from a satellite technician figuring out Watney is alive to the administrators trying to decide on the best way to keep him. The book accurately portrays how people on Earth would react to the news of an astronaut being trapped on Mars: morbid curiosity, fear for his safety, and a clamoring to do whatever could be done to get him back.
And so, while in some ways this book has a very modern feel, it does have a very classic format. The main problem is escape Mars, and this is never used a backdrop for more sentimental or psychological issues. The very real man vs. nature conflict puts all other worries aside as Watney has to deal with numerous problems dealt to him from the environment to a plethora of issues he brings on himself through experimentation (explosions from water making, blowing up a rover with a drill, and other mishaps). The book is simultaneously both dramatic and fun. It kept making me want to peek ahead to see if he actually made it out or not. Because you start feeling that you’re going to be so mad if he dies, but you just can’t see how could ever make it.
And if you’re going to do a trapped and trying to escape story, then that’s the way to do it.
JMF Rating: 9/10
‘Til next time,