The Martian // Book Chatter

This book was the monthly read for a group over on Goodreads. I hesitated picking it up, it did not sound like a book I would enjoy. I am glad I gave it a try. I started the book one afternoon… and was finished the next. When I couldn’t read, I listened. I didn’t want to go to sleep. When I finished the book, I couldn’t stop talking about it. But enough about me.

The Book: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Audiobook: Narrated by R.C. Bray

The Story: Mark Watney is the 14th person on Mars. But his mission does not go the way it was supposed to. Presumed dead, he is left behind after an emergency mission abort. With no way to communicate with earth, his fight for survival begins.

The Main Character: Mark Watney is a incredibly resourceful botanist and mechanical engineer. Driven by every tiny glimpse of hope and never discouraged by setbacks, assesses the situations and his actions realistically with an sarcastic undertone, and does not often allow himself to log his feelings or show fear.

The Narration: The story is mostly told by Mark Watney’s mission log entries. The 3rd person narrative is used when following the activities on earth and the rest of the crew. The writing enables even less tech-savvy people (like me) to understand what’s going on and makes it easier to imagine the situations Watney finds himself in.

The Chatter: As I already mentioned, I flew through this book. I love the fast-pace of the plot. You just can’t stop, you need to know what happens next. You imagine yourself in this situation. I’m pretty sure I would have died with the antennae still sticking out of me.

Mark Watney is a very likeable guy and from the beginning on you are rooting for his survival. What bothered me about him for some reason was his career as a botanist. While his (intimidating) mindset, knowledge and ingenuity are supported by his character, I kept thinking this that the botany aspect did not fit him, but was written in just to give him any chance of survival at all.

I am torn when it comes to wanting to read more about the effects of the isolation and living in constant mortal danger on him. The presence of that would have made him a little more human and would have had great influence on his chance of survival. Instead, he continues to be (sort of) perfect. On the other hand, his character traits and sense of humour make the book the light-hearted story it is, rather than a depressing read, which I appreciate.

I enjoyed that the book is not overly futuristic, men on Mars aside. The book is full of detailed science and technology, which I personally loved. Everything is described and explained well and makes sense. You will probably learn something new. Well placed cuts back to earth and to the crew break up the (sometimes a tad weary) explanations of his calculations and procedures. The plot gets a bit repetitive. But despite the clear pattern, it doesn’t get boring and Weir is able to keep up the suspense from the first to the last page.

The Audiobook: R.C. Bray does a good job reading the book and delivers the humour and science. He gives all characters distinct voices and brings them to life. His German pronunciation needs some work, but I forgive him. And I still can’t identify the accent Bruce Ng is speaking.

The Conclusion: The Martian is a fun, gripping, quick read with lots of detailed science and engineering. Mark Watneys personality and the suspense of wether he will survive or not make up for the repetitiveness of the story. It was only after I finished the book that I read that a movie adaptation is due out in November (directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon) and I am very much looking forward to seeing it.

Who should read it? I recommend this book not only to those interested in Sci-Fi, but also to other readers. Basic knowledge in chemistry and engineering greatly helps appreciating the scientific and technological details of the book. That said, the pace, thrill and humour still make it a captivating read for anyone with interest in adventure, survival stories, space exploration, problem-solving and MacGuyver-ing, who are willing to dive into a bit of tech-y reading. Make sure you read it on a weekend, you will not want to put this book down.

The Rating: I rate this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.4halfstars

The Discussion: Have you read The Martian or listen to the audiobook? What did you think? How long do you think would you survive on Mars? If you’ve listened to the audiobook, do you know what kind of accent is given to Bruce Ng?

The Links: There is a lot of material about the book and author online. For discussion questions and a Q&A check out the books webpage. If you want to read interviews with Andy Weir, I recommend the articles by Ars Technica, Amazing Stories and Air&Space.

Image: “PIA18614: Opportunity’s Northward View of ‘Wdowiak Ridge'” (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.)

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