The Martian by Andy Weir

the martian

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’s surface, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, Mark won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

Armed with nothing but his ingenuity, his engineering skills–and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–Mark embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Well, what can I say? The Martian by Andy Weir was fantastic.

I was not a fan early on in the book. It read very much like a scientific manual and I wasn’t sure if I was reading that or a story with a narrative. The lengthy descriptions of his methods, and the paragraphs upon paragraphs of explanations and science behind what he did went over my head. Not necessarily because I couldn’t comprehend it, but because all I really cared about was the outcome.

I can create the O2 easily enough. It takes twenty hours for the MAC fuel plant to fill its 10-liter tank with CO2. The oxygenator can turn it into O2 then the atmospheric regulator will see the O2 content in the Hab is high, and pull it out of the air, storing it in the main O2  tanks. They’ll fill up, so I’ll have to transfer O2 over to the rovers’ tanks and even the space suit tanks as necessary. But I can’t create it very quickly. At half a liter of CO2 per hour, it will take twenty-five days to make the oxygen I need. That’s longer than I’d like.

I couldn’t help but imagine that if I was stuck on Mars with Watney (putting aside the fact that I would face almost-certain death), he would explain all of this to me and wait, expectantly, for me to jump up and down in a standing ovation. For the first part of the book, the narrative is littered with these lengthy, step-by-step details of what he is going to do. These either impress you or they don’t. Personally, I was impressed the first time but after the tenth time, I felt a little bored. Maybe I felt a little exhausted too because, okay I get it, Mark Watney is very intelligent, deserves to live because he is intelligent, and I am reminded of this repeatedly. It started to feel like I was suffering from blunt-force trauma.

But, I believe in the principle of charity. I told myself that if Watney didn’t provide explanations, I would criticize the book for being too unbelievable, too theoretical, and lacking substance. So I soldiered on. I was curious. Regardless of my qualms (which I will return to after), Watney was stranded on another planet; this was a survival tale of an entirely different level. I wanted to know – needed to know – how Watney would survive.

Once the other perspectives were introduced, the book started to take a turn for the better, and it was then did I feel myself invested in the book and its story. Weir offers some commentary on society’s insatiable appetite for disaster stories. Television programs and hours of the day are dedicated to Watney. Viewers both love and hate the spectacle; they love the drama, the voyeurism, the extraordinary circumstances, they love and hate being helplessly glued to the fate of one person. Whilst there are people gallantly trying to help Watney save his life, the narrative was balanced with commentary on sensationalism and bureaucracy. The juxtaposition is deeply interesting, and the story had something worthwhile to say about how the masses consume and commodify disaster.

However, Weir doesn’t only paint humankind in such a jaded light. Underlying the story is the idea that people generally possess the basic instinct of altruism and compassion. When the odds of Watney’s survival are slim (perhaps non-existent for the average Joe), Weir’s portrayal of humanity at its finest was moving – inspiring, even. I love these utopian narratives where all of the world unites together to achieve something. Suffice it to say, The Martian hit something quite close to home for me.

One of my biggest criticisms of The Martian is that any psychological consequence of Watney’s plight are largely neglected. Unlike most of the book, the psychological and behavioural science isn’t rocket science. Watney spends months and months alone and on another planet, and yet he shows no signs of mental deterioration or distress. If there’s something that the Sims got right, it’s that people, like Sims, are social creatures and we need human connection to survive. Loneliness can have serious consequences on one’s mental health, no matter how mentally healthy and resilient they may be. To quote the article, ‘Loneliness … sets in motion a variety of “slowly unfolding pathophysiological processes.”‘

Instead, Watney is strangely, bewilderingly optimistic throughout. Where is the oppressive fear of death? The trauma? The anxiety? The guilt? The desperation? The lack of weakness was extremely unrealistic to me, and I don’t buy it for a second. As a consequence, I wasn’t particularly invested in Watney the character – I was more invested in the outcome. And I can’t help but think that The Martian could have achieved more if Watney had a personality beyond ‘sarcastic’, ‘funny’ and ‘intelligent’.

Nonetheless, I have thought a lot about this book since finishing. Why did I like it so much? There were some glaring flaws that were deftly covered up by the compelling premise and addictive momentum of the narrative (especially when other perspectives are introduced). As I discussed earlier, I was not fond of the superfluous math and physics. I wasn’t convinced that Weir understood the human psyche well enough, and it showed in the under developed characters. My criticisms seem to outweigh my praises.

And yet, it was just so exciting. The Martian was an excellent survival story that delivers what it promises. To uphold my integrity as a reader, I cannot deny that I enjoyed the book despite its shortcomings. And sometimes, I think that is what it comes down to when reading a book. As some of you know, I cried. I cried a lot; I was so overwhelmed by the ending. And when books can elicit such a strong emotional response from me (other than raging, burning anger), it leaves an impression on me. The Martian did just that.

Rating: 4/5

Book Information
Book Name: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Publisher: Broadway Books/Crown/Random House (NY)

The Martian in:
Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon

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14 thoughts on “The Martian by Andy Weir

  1. I already told you that, I think, but I love reading your reviews, so, so much. The way you’re writing them, underlining everything about the book, the characters, the feelings, whether it’s realistic or not, and even manage to quote such great articles about psychology and everything, well… I just love it ! :)
    I have to say, I’m not sure that The Martian is a book for me, because, if I like survival stories sometimes, I’m not that fond of stories dealing with space and another planet, I don’t really know why. And the scientific explanations would probably annoy me a little from time to time. But reading that this book made such an impression on you at the end, well, maybe I’ll reconsider reading it sometime, even a few pages, because I’m kind of curious :)

    • Wow, thank you Marie! Such kinds words! That really means a lot to me. :’) Thank you, thank you!

      To be honest, I was quite skeptical at first, but I found that it surprised me. I think what really made the book for me was the ending; it subverted a lot of common tropes in survival stories, so I liked that a lot! I think it is worth a read – it’s pretty easy to read and you can always skim the scientific explanations. The narrator states what the process is intended to achieve before the explanations, so you won’t miss too much! C:

  2. Hehe I saw the film and I really enjoyed it so I might pick up the book as well! The whole film, and especially the ending, was so thrilling and exciting that I kind of want to go through it again, through a different medium. I can kind of see what you mean by it being a little bit unbelievable that he wasn’t suffering psychologically. That wasn’t really in the film either – they showed his physical struggle a little bit more but it still felt a bit unrealistic.

    • I think you’ll like the book! It’s a bit funnier, but they did change some of the jokes so that it’d be better for a wider audience.

      I felt like in the movie, there were brief moments of weakness and doubt. They were subtle, though!

      I’d love to know your thoughts on the book, since you saw the movie first! :D

  3. I wasn’t really planning on reading this book, but all the high ratings have got me thinking otherwise. I see what you mean at the beginning, with the step-by-step details on how Watney did things – I know I myself would be immensely bored, no matter how believable.
    And your qualm at the end is so true – I would be BAT CRAZY if I were Watney, alone on Mars for days on end! I can’t stomach no contact for two hours, let alone the time he was on Mars.
    Either way, this was an awesome review! Survival stories are rad, aren’t they?

    • I discovered that the more you read, the better you could guess where those rambly explanations ended! XD They do take up the first part of the book, but when the different perspectives are introduced, it gets MUCH more interesting. It is worth holding out for. :)

      Right? And hearing nothing too, but wind and probable cause of death for months and months… I shudder just to think about it.

      Thanks! They are – I hardly ever read them, but I feel like I’ve read the supreme survival book because… Mars. Though, I’d be very interested in reading a psychological survival story! :D

  4. As usual CW, your reviews are absolutely fantastic! This one was no exception. I have been meaning to read the Martian for a while now, and I feel so compelled to read it now, after reading this awesome review! I can see and understand how the psychological aspect being neglected would bring down the book a bit. I doubt someone could stay so optimistic while being so isolated for a long time!
    I don’t know how I’d fare in terms of the scientific descriptions (probably might drift over them) but despite that, if this book made you cry, it’s something I definitely want to read!
    😄💓

    • Thank you Josie! I think you’ll like The Martian – it’s definitely a ride, and a very exciting one too. c:

      Haha, you and me both! I’d be losing my mind if I was there for so long. It doesn’t matter too much if you skim them – you’ll still understand what is going on (that’s what I did)! <3

  5. I heard what a tear-jerker this movie is! Did you see it before reading?

    Ugh what I hate about sci-fi books is when they insert so much details on the process. I tend to just scan about these methods and look for the gist. I’m worried this is what would happen if I read this though I want to to see how it would leave an impression to me as it did to you! :D

    Your review is absolutely compelling, CW! And that graphic is just so cute! :D

    • It was! The reasons why it makes you emotional are very different too. It’s just so many emotions. :’D I read it first and then saw the movie! It made me appreciate some things more, so I am very interested in a perspective where the movie was seen first, and the book after.

      If it makes you feel better, the gist is disclosed before the scientific methods or right after. So you don’t have to look in between the lines to find out what it all means.

      Thank you! It was either the rover or the potatoes! (It makes sense, I promise!) XD

      • Ahh yes! That’s what I plan to do though I’m just worried I might like the movie so much I won’t proceed reading anymore haha!

        Well, I trust your tastes on books as much as your preferences on animation films LOL. So if you said it’s a promising read then I know it is! :D

  6. […] The Martian by Andy Weir – Mark Watney’s scientific ramblings may have been tedious, but his survival and adventure across Mars was definitely unforgettable. There’s no denying that this book is quite unlike any survival story you’ve read, so for those who still have this on your TBR, give this heart-stopping and incredible book a go! (Goodreads, my review) […]

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