(“A book a friend recommended” from the Reading Challenge)
I put this on my Reading Challenge list on the recommendation of a friend, and then ended up reading it for a book club that I’m part of with a few other friends – we definitely did not regret it. I’m probably a little late to the party on this particular book, but in case you haven’t heard about it or given it a try yet, The Martian is excellent. (Spoilers below.)
Set at an indeterminate point in the future, the basic plot of the book is that NASA has been mounting manned missions to Mars for awhile now. The most recent mission has been there six days when a very bad storm forces them to abort the mission. However, in getting from their shelter to the ship that will get them off the planet, one of the crew is knocked away by blowing equipment and presumed dead. Horrified but unable to stay, the remaining five crew members make it to their ship and head home.
The problem is that Mark Watney is not dead…and is now alone, on Mars, 140 million miles away from home.
The rest of the story is a funny, brilliant, moving exercise in showing how vital the human mind is for our survival. Watney has to figure out how to survive on a barren, freezing cold planet, with only the barest shelter and supplies available to him. He has a little bit of a head start (since all of the equipment and supplies that were meant for six can now go just for supporting him), but even with the most careful rationing, those supplies will not last him long enough for a rescue mission from Earth to reach him. He must manage the equipment completely on his own, with no hope of guidance or spare parts beyond what is already at the mission site with him. He must figure out the most efficient way to use everything that he has available to him, as well as how to grow food on a planet where nothing can grow, or he will die.
Which he proceeds to do, cracking plenty of very nerdy jokes along the way. I won’t pretend to have understood all of the science and math explanations that Watney offers as he works out his plans to create sufficient food, water and air, but the book was very enjoyable even without getting every last detail.
There are also difficult decisions to be made, first back on Earth, and later by Watney’s crew members, once they realize that he is, in fact, still alive and doing his best to stay that way. I thought those were handled well, and pretty believably; it’s an incredibly difficult situation to think about, because as much time and effort and money as it is to mount a rescue mission, it’s impossible to think of not trying, of not at least making the attempt to save Watney and bring him home safely.
I know a lot of other people have probably written reviews of this, and of course the movie is out now as well (which I haven’t seen yet but am definitely looking forward to). The tone of the whole book is upbeat, and it all flowed well and was very easy to read; I definitely had a hard time putting it down. I do think that my favorite aspect of the story, though, is that it so clearly shows that we, as humans, must use our brains in order to survive – that rational thinking is what ultimately keeps us alive and (hopefully) thriving. An emergency situation like the one Watney finds himself in just highlights it more than we usually see in our day-to-day lives.
To sum up: The Martian was an awesome book and you should read it. Most science fiction fans or fans of books with lots of nerdy references will enjoy it. (If you like the voice/tone of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, I think you might also be a fan of this one.) It’s also (obviously) a good book for fans of stories set in space/on other planets, or for anyone who likes survival-against-impossible-odds stories. Highly recommended.