review

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

If you’re not a fairly hardcore survivalist junkie, you may find this book a bit dull. If you’re not excited to the point of near physical arousal by clever and intricate ways the human mind can wrestle with survival in a difficult situation, then this book’s not for you.

Lucky for me, I happen to adore that shit.

Hardcore survivalism? Interesting and different location. High stakes, excitement, a protagonist that makes the Book Boyfriend list?

The Setup

“Ares 3. Well, that was my mission. Okay, not mineΒ per se. Commander Lewis was in charge. I was just one of her crew. Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be “in command” of the mission if I were the only remaining person.
What do you know? I’m in command.”

It’s so fantastic to stumble on survivalist fiction with a very different setting. More often than not it’s either the traditional desert island location or the ever-trendy post-apocalyptic dystopia. Don’t get me wrong, I love that shit, but when you find a piece of survivalism set on Mars how can you help but go:

description

Mark Watney is a botanist, engineer and astronaut. Kind of a macho and manly nerd, if one such Adonis could possibly exist. His mission is compromised and a series of unfortunate events leads to his crew believing him to be dead and getting to fuck off Mars with him still on it. He wakes up in his spacesuit with nothing but the equipment his crew left behind before buggering off without him. He is alone on the planet, no comms, no crew, no way out. He has limited food, water and air. He has to figure out how to a) survive b) figure out a way off Mars against all odds.

“If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death.
So yeah. I’m fucked.

LOG ENTRY: SOL 7

Okay, I’ve had a good night’s sleep and things don’t seem as hopeless as they did yesterday.”

Predominantly told through Mark’s POV, we watch this absolute genius sort his shit out. Though I’m not a space geek, I am absolutely fascinated by core survivalism. If someone can manipulate an everyday object to transform it into a key to survival, I just go weak at the knees it’s so awesome. Probably because my brain is convinced I will one day witness the apocalypse and I’ll need to remember all the skills I possibly can to ensure that I’m first on the scene to kick the ass of whatever alien/zombie/angel may threaten us. And that last part is where those Buffy re-runs come in handy.

It’s doubtful that The Martian has taught me anything I could use in an Earth-based apocalypse scenario. And unless the apocalypse in question involved invading Martians with a penchant for kidnapping British twenty-somethings and teleporting them back to their home-planet….well even then I probably wouldn’t be able to put anything The Martian taught me into practice because I’m not the badass genius that Mark Watney is. All I could hope for it to remember writing this review and allowing myself a moment’s laughter from the sad, sad irony before my inevitable explosion-death.

The point being: The Martian is choc-a-block full of technical jargon and crap. There’s a shit-ton of chemistry, maths, geometry, astrology and even botany. The constant info-dump in essence takes the place of world-building in this book, because let’s face it there’s not a huge amount of exposition needed when you’re dealing with Mars. We know what it looks like. It’s red and sandy with craters. That is all.

But all of the intense, spacey, survivalist stuff? That’s awesome. There’s a lot of it, so it could possibly get boring for those who don’t happen to get survivalist lit hard-ons, but luckily it’s explained as simply as possible. And it’s funny.

“The concept is simple, but the execution will be incredibly dangerous.
Evert twenty hours, I’ll have 10 litres of CO2
thanks to the MAV fuel plant. I’ll vent it into the Hab via the highly scientific method of detaching the tank from the MAV landing struts, bringing it into the Hab then opening the valve until it’s empty.
The oxygenator will turn it into oxygen in its own time.
Then, I’ll release hydrazine, very slowly, over the iridium catalyst, to turn it into N2 and H2. I’ll direct the hydrogen to a small area and burn it.
As you can see, this plan provides many opportunities for me to die in a fiery explosion.”

I always love seeing humour in books, and this is just my type. It’s not constant, but it flows through Mark Watney as easily as the Hab-made oxygen that flows through his veins. It’s casual and subtle humour and by Mars it’s easily worth another star for my rating.

“Turns out being on the surface of Mars for a few million years eliminates all the water in the soil. My master’s degree in botany makes me pretty sure plants need wet dirt to grow in.”

I found the humour in his character really made me connect with Mark, and I got thoroughly invested in watching him make the planet his bitch. Mars sure as heck fights back though; there are more than enough nail-biting moments to buildΒ the suspense. It’s exciting, it’s clever and boy does it have an awesome protagonist.

Our Hero

Andy Weir essentially wrote down my dream man. I am not kidding; he makes the Book Boyfriend list and that list is the highest state of VIP imaginable. It consists solely of Raffe from Angelfall and, now, Mark Watney from The Martian. And it is a place well-earned.

Mark is a superhero-loving, World of Warcraft playing, motherfucking botanist geek. He has a degree in making plants grow – but making them grow on Mars, son! He’s also an engineer (oh yeah) and he’s a seasoned astronaut. And God-damn he’s got a sense of humour.

“I don’t want to come off as arrogant here, but I’m the best botanist on the planet.”

I wanted to marry this man. He was just an all-around great guy. Intelligent as hell, top-notch sense of humour, and a level-mix of geeky and tough-guy. LOVED HIM.

Why didn’t it get five stars then?

Weeeeeeeeeeell I’m a complete snob and only give five-star ratings to books I really can’t fucking fault. With The Martian I did find myself loosing focus the millionth time something sciency was explained to me. As layman-oriented as the book is, I am science/math-resistant, I retain that kind of information the way a sieve retains water and it’s the bane of my life but that’s just how I’m wired. Though Mark Watney can have a crack at re-wiring me, jus’ sayin’.

That really is my only major complaint though, I’d be seriously nitpicking if I pointed anything else out. To quote Patrick Rothfuss:

“…you won’t find me bitching, because the only thing I could say was something along the lines of, “O! Woe is me! I was expecting pure untrammeled brilliance and all I got was mere shining excellence! Also, they didn’t have any loganberry cream cheese at the cafΓ© this morning, so I had to have blueberry instead! Alas! I shall now weep and write poetry in my journal!”

Yeah. I don’t want to be that person. Nobody wants to be that person.”

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