“I’m pretty much fucked.”
Yes, that is the opening line in the self-published, best-selling science fiction novel of 2014. The backstory is pretty fascinating as Weir posted chapters on his personal blog, then self-published it to Amazon for $0.99 and the rest is history. But was that opening line due to astronaut Mark Watney being stranded on a trip to Mars? Or was it a foreshadowing of how I would feel reading this thrilling sci-fi adventure meets MacGyver at a time when the story (and movie) are being hyped all over the internet? Pretty much yes to both.
Mark Watney is part of a NASA crew who becomes stranded on Mars after a dust storm causes the team to evacuate and leave him behind, thinking he is dead. The 370 page space thriller is part journal logs of Watney’s day to day adventures filled with goofy humor and MacGyver-esque survival techniques. At around the 50 page mark (a true testament to read at least 50 pages before giving up) new characters and points of view emerge with Venkat Kapoor and other staff at the Johnson Space Center returning from the memorial service for Watney. This back and forth narration add to the suspense and build up of the novel and give readers a break from the heavy science jargon detailed in Watney’s journals.
Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE SCIENCE! Very much. However my eyes began to glaze over with SOLS, MDV, MAV, Hab, EVA and equations that I avoided in school like Watney references: “Where water is entering a container at a certain rate and leaving at a different rate and you need to figure out when it’ll be empty.” If you love chemistry, physics and engineering at a very technical level, you’ll love this book. Me, not so much.
Actually I really enjoyed hearing from other characters dealing with the death (and then survival) of Watney back at NASA and eventually from the crew who were still out in space. The planned rescue mission kept the pages turning and added to the thrilling sensation of it all. Even Watney’s goofy sense of humor worked nicely for me with all his references to pop culture and overuse of exclamation points. It brought a human side to him that softened all the scientific jargon.
So why would I read a book like this that is splayed all over the media outlets and internet? It is the first selection in my library book group that I host and unfortunately I don’t chose the books. Maybe if I read this six months from now I would have a different experience. The entire time I had Matt Damon narrating in my head, which isn’t a bad thing, but I like to create my own visuals before seeing an adaptation. I wrote a post earlier this week about book groups and why choosing popular reads can sometimes be a tough choice to discuss. There’s a lot to discuss in The Martian, that is for sure. But with all the hype and opinions buzzing around, it’s challenging to separate them all.
I recommend this book to anyone who loves their science fiction, thriller adventure novels. You will LOVE it. And while I was reading it, I could see how this story would play out wonderfully on the big screen. Dare I say that this is one I’d prefer to watch? Gasp! Here’s a little preview of the blockbuster coming out in October, if you haven’t seen it already, and the trailer opens with what I thought was the best quote in the book.