By Andy Weir
Rating: 5 Stars
‘I’m stranded on Mars.
I have no way to communicate with Earth.
I’m in a Habitat designed to last 31 days.
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 screwed…’
Hilarious, action-packed and somehow (considering this is a book about an astronaut stranded alone on Mars) incredibly uplifting.
The book is set at a time when Earth has been running a series of successful missions to Mars. Mark Watney, our protagonist, is a botanist who is part of the latest mission when a storm forces them to abort early. During the evacuation that follows, things go catastrophically wrong and in the chaos Mark is accidentally left behind.
The novel is a lot of fun to read, action packed and very well paced. You find yourself really rooting for the characters. It was one of those books that I raced through, but it still managed to be a very satisfying read. The unusual slant of a botanist astronaut as the main character, is not something that I have seen explored before and led to some incredibly tense (but also hilarious) situations involving potatoes.
The level of research that Weir must have put into the science and mathematics in this is staggering. But it reads very well for the ley-reader, managing to be plausibly complex but not alienating. As it is based on a purely speculative situation I’m sure there are some holes in it – what I can find on the internet mainly seems to question the viability of the storm at the beginning – but they aren’t staggeringly obvious and they don’t interfere with the pleasure of reading.
I also really enjoyed the format of the book, it is very much a composite novel that encompasses a variety of forms: personal logs, transcripts, real time narration and even text written on card then beamed through space. Jumping between Mark on Mars, his team on their ship and the other characters down on earth, allow for a much wider perspective on the situation that I was expecting. You can also definitely feel the origins of the story as a serialised release, the switch between settings certainly aids Weir’s preference for cliff-hangers! I wasn’t quite sure how the novel was going to work originally, seeing as the premise is that of a man stranded alone, but Weir manages it brilliantly. I was never bored.
All in all, it’s a great book and Watney is a brilliant character, enterprising, funny and very, very human. If we can face our troubles with half as much humour and perseverance as he does we’ll be doing very well.