Happy [Inter]National Novel Writing Month! Typically, rather than spending the first day of the month writing, I dedicated yesterday to consuming Andy Weir’s book The Martian. The books pretty dense so devouring 85% of it in one sitting was no small gesture, we’re talking reading while you cook good. Despite having watched the film, which (as you might expect) spoiled the ending for me, I was still enthralled by Weir’s science heavy tome; set on Mars, the narrative follows Mark Watney who has been left behind by his crew, with limited food and resources, he works against the odds to solve one life threatening problem at a time.
Any book that hinges 80% of the narrative on one characters voice (a character who rarely interacts with another human being) should struggle. It should not be enough to read one man’s experience on an otherwise empty planet (with not even a Martian Queen to hit on!) and yet Weir manages it. Personally, I loved Watney as a character. It’s a pleasure to spend such an extended time in his head because his stark intelligence is tempered with a down-to-earth humour. Even more impressively, despite their comparatively minimal place in the book, all of Weir’s characters stand out. Even from the periphery you are left with a real sense of having known each of them. Weir has a real sense of character which is, I think, what makes this book so good.
From reading the book, it is obvious why this story was snapped up by Hollywood. Even knowing what was coming I found myself turning pages at a ridiculous speed. When I started I was a little concerned I would get tired of reading Watney “think” his way out of problems as I don’t have a particularly strong interest in physics / space but that was never the case. I won’t pretend to anyone that I understood it all but Weir really made me care.
Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have picked this book up if it weren’t for the hype surrounding the film. I was drawn to it because I’d heard that Weir actually did all his research with just Google. This is important because what makes this book so realistic is the realism of the science involved. Fiction doesn’t have to be factual (thank god!) but Weir takes you on an intellectual journey with his book, Watney (and by extension Weir’s) use of hard science to save his own life is what makes the book so thrilling. In the same way great fantasy writers are able to interweave mythology to create a gripping narrative Weir uses science fact to create truly phenomenal science-fiction.
The movie is brilliant, the book is better.