It’s taken forever, but I finally got around to reading The Martian, the first book from my “Your Next Great Read” list put together by an actual person from my local library. At first blush, I really liked it, but the more I thought about it, the more I started to see cracks that make it something I definitely enjoyed but not something I’ll buy or read again.
The Martian is the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars when his team thinks he’s been killed as they rush to leave before a storm ruins their chance. But surprise! He’s not dead and ends up having to use leftover supplies and his own ingenuity to stay alive and try to get a message back home.
As I said above, a little bit of first-person POV goes a long way for me, so I was surprised and grateful when Watney’s logs of the mission were interspersed with some third-person story-telling both of his work and the work of NASA teams trying to figure out a way to save him. And if you like the story of Apollo 13, there’s a lot to love about Watney’s survival story and the effort everyone goes to. But, sometimes it gets a little tedious.
There are a lot of scientific principles going on in this book, and to his credit, author Andy Weir does a good job of making it all accessible. I never felt like the story got lost in the science. But I don’t know if it was just that Weir didn’t trust his ability to distill it into something digestible or if it was something else, but there was SO MUCH repetition. I had a speech class in high school, and the motto of our format was “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.” Worked fine for speeches, but it brings the book to a glassy-eyed halt in a few places, especially when the writing devolves to very basic “I did this. I did that. Then I did the other. It worked!”
Fortunately and unfortunately, Watney is a fun character. Witty and sarcastic, he approaches his situation with good — if at times frustrated — humor. It certainly keeps the book moving along and smooths over some rough patches, but it also leaves him a little stagnant. Life-threatening instances can basically be summed up with “Crap, that happened! How to fix?”
He’s got his own brand of hipstery charisma, and it’s actually a little distracting. For all the time he’s stuck alone on Mars trying to MacGyver his way from situation to situation, I never really feel like he’s affected by anything on a personal or emotional level. There’s not a lot of growth unless, that is, you count a grudging acceptance of 1970s TV (but never disco) as he makes his way through the entertainment left behind by a fellow astronaut.
The saving grace for that problem, however, rests in the ground crew at NASA and the astronauts on their way home, minus one teammate. If you want emotional connections, that’s where you’ll find it as they mourn, realize Watney is alive, and brainstorm, reject and test ways to bring him home.
Whatever bogged down the middle of this book was made up for with a fast-paced, exciting resolution. And if you keep going past what Kindle thought was the end just before it booted me out of the app, there’s an epilogue of sorts that really addressed and made up for some of my Watney problems.
It just wasn’t quite enough to make The Martian a keeper.
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