A gripping book with a sympathetic hero. Even with a couple of quibbles, The Martian deserves 5/5 stars.
The Martian has been described as “Robinson Crusoe in space”. However, we quickly realise that Mark Watney – the astronaut marooned on Mars – makes Defoe’s hero look like a pampered, snivelling amateur.
This book does so many things seamlessly:
- It makes you believe in and care about the hero within 2 pages, enough so you worry about him and can’t bring yourself to put the book down until you know his latest survivalist science stunt isn’t going to kill him.
- It juggles action on Mars, Earth and the Hermes (the craft the rest of Watney’s crew mates are using to get back to Earth), often using different timelines, but all in a way that creates a clear, easy-to-follow narrative.
- The pace is break-neck. We are dropped straight into Watney’s predicament on page 1 and the narrative pressure rarely lets up.
- It’s surprisingly funny. There’s some great dark humour which provides welcome comic relief.
If I had to nitpick, I’d say that in a couple of places I could have done with less of the highly-technical scientific explanations. I found myself skimming down the page to find out what I really wanted to know: would Watney’s current experiment kill him or not?
But that’s just me being difficult. Overall, The Martian is a tremendous accomplishment and a book I would recommend to everyone (and particularly anyone, like me, who likes sci-fi and wanted to be an astronaut).
P.S. If they screw up the movie of this, heads should roll. I hope it will be Apollo 13, only with more dark comedy and potentially lethal hard science. Here’s the trailer if you haven’t already seen it (WARNING: BIG SPOILERS. If you’d like to read the book before seeing the film, don’t watch this!).