Thursday 9 July 2015

#CBR7 Book 71: "The Martian" by Andy Weir

Page count: 369 pages
Rating: 5 stars

Six days into the first manned mission on Mars, there is a huge dust storm, forcing most of the crew to evacuate, earlier than anticipated. Mark Watney, the crew's botanist and mechanical engineer is impaled on an antenna and believed to have died. He wakes up alone, stranded on Mars with no way of signalling Earth that he is still alive. The next manned mission to Mars is scheduled in four years' time, and even if he were able to send a signal to announce his miraculous survival, he doesn't have enough supplies to last him long enough for a rescue mission to reach him. Even if he could use his botany skills to grow food enough to last him, none of the equipment he has with him is designed to last for years in the unforgiving environment of the red planet. Mark Watney, one of the first men to ever walk on Mars, is very likely to be the first man ever to die there too. He's not going down without a fight, though? With his boundless optimism, his education and his creativity, he's determined to survive until the next crew of space explorers arrive, when he will hopefully be able to go home at last.

I was given this book as a Cannonball gift exchange present from the lovely Beth Ellen, but first heard about it in August last year, when my friend Erica, who usually can't stand science fiction books, read it in less than 48 hours and then rated it five stars. Since then, so many people all over the interwebs have read and reviewed it and absolutely loved it, to the point where I started getting scared of reading it at all, convinced I was going to be the first person I knew, in real life or online, who was going to think the book was just ok. So I kept putting it off, and finding excuses for why I couldn't read it yet, until the trailers for the upcoming film starring Matt Damon started being released, and I realised that unless I wanted to get spoiled, I was going to have to just read the book already.

I discovered very quickly that I wasn't going to hate the book, and as I tore through the pages (annoyed that I actually had to do work, even with the summer holidays quickly approaching), it was really obvious why so many different people in my friend sphere had rated the book so very highly. I've seen it described as Robinson Crusoe meets MacGyver several times, and as a super-brief summary, that makes a lot of sense. Mark Watney is a great protagonist. He's funny, charming, self-deprecating, resourceful and smart. He keeps his head cool in a crisis (and being stranded on Mars is a hell of one) and his education, training and background make it believable that he'd be able to actually do the things he ends up doing to survive. I will admit I skimmed quite a few of the explanations of the mechanics and physics of what he did, because science is so far from what I cared about, but it all seemed realistic.

The chapters are short, the tension is high and Mark is a character you really root for. You want him to make it, you are invested in his survival and while I assumed he was going to be ok in the end, this was not a guarantee and actually told my husband (who, is coincidentally also called Mark) off for asking me questions while I was reading the final parts of the book. I needed for it to be only me and the book. So yes, you can add me to the long list of people who loved this book and have added Mark Watney to my list of favourite fictional characters. Now I'm one of the many who hope Ridley Scott doesn't screw up the film.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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