I first saw this one when it came out last year. I didn’t know what it was about but the title got my attention, then I looked at the reviews it had something like over 3,000 reviews and like 4.5 stars, pretty impressive. Based on those two aspects alone I know I had to read this one. What was so good about this that over 3,000 people had read it and had given positive reviews?
This is Weir’s first novel, he has written man other short stories that were published on his site. He grew up in California and attended UC San Diego studying computer science. Later he took a job working for AOL and Blizzard working on video games in particular WoW2. This guy seems pretty smart to say the least and there is an interview at the end of the book where you really get to see what a nerd he really is. I say that because he calls himself that, and it is always cool when someone can make fun of themselves. The fact that he is so thorough and interested in all things science makes for an amazingly well written story, but we will get to that later. He has also written a number of short stories on his site, of which The Egg is his most famous. Check it out, pretty interesting story that may need its own post (eventually).
The story starts out immediately into the action. A team of astronauts are abandoning their mission on Mars because of a freak dust storm that threatens to leave them stranded. In the process of making it to the escape vehicle one of them, Mark Watney, is stuck by debris from the storm and thought to be dead. The team makes a tough decision to leave his body as the rest of their lives are in danger. Mark regains consciousness and through no less than a miracle is still alive. He gathers himself and begins to assess the situation in front of him. He is stranded on Mars with limited food and supplies and most importantly no radio. The rest of the story is Mark trying not to die in any number of ways while also trying to figure out a way to get off the planet and return safely home.
After reading this story a few things came to my realization. The first is that the amount of research done on this novel pales in comparison to any novel I have read even Max Brooks in World War Z, and that is saying something. The other thing that is very evident is the almost infinite ways astronauts can die and how dangerous space travel is. In my Random Thoughts page I often talk about such things and how our flesh and blood bodies were not meant for space travel. While reading his story you get very real picture what it is like to be an astronaut and the many obstacles they must overcome just to stay alive not to mention complete their mission.
The idea is for this story is nothing new, think Castaway but on Mars, but with a totally new and exciting spin on it. Tom Hanks once he was able to catch fish and what not, so he could technically have lived on the island the rest of his life with almost no real problem, although there was a pretty big adjustment period. Whereas on Mars if something goes wrong with Mark’s shelter, he could be looking at not being able to breathe or unable to filter water or take your pick, but the result will always be the same, DEATH.
I would love to ask Weir how much time he spent researching this novel, there is an unprecedented amount of detail in every aspect of the story. I also wonder how he came across all this information. He had to have spent many many hours either interviewing people at NASA or astronauts or anyone involved with space flight. He goes into detail about how certain pumps work, how they are assembled, how much power they use down to the exact voltage. It is also interesting to read how, when Mark has to make do with one thing or the other, all the details Weir goes into. Mark in the story is an engineer and a botanist and both of these skills he will need if he wants to get off the planet alive. The engineer makes sense as I am sure you would need that skill to survive that is a no brainer. The botanist aspect is very interesting and something that again really shows how clever Weir is and how much research went into this novel.
One thing I really liked about Mark the character is his sarcasm and his wittiness throughout the story. In the interview at the end of the story Weir talks about how much of himself went into that aspect of the character, it is kind of funny. Speaking of funny, despite all the bad luck and at times just plain terrible bad situations that Mark encounters he still seems to maintain that same sunny disposition. Somehow he never lets the situation get the best of him, which knowing what he goes through is pretty remarkable. The other thing I liked about this was that it is a pretty funny story, you would not think so given the dire circumstances. Mark seems to be able to make a joke out of every situation and will keep you with a smile on your face while you turn the page seeing if he will die or not. Weir does a great job mixing comedy and drama, which is what makes this one such a great read, among so many other things.
However, despite my loving this novel, at times I did feel that there was an over explanation of the things that Mark was doing on Mars. Whether it was explaining how he was going to reroute a drill for more power or tear apart some battery to use it elsewhere, there was always too much information. This is what makes this one so special but also at times felt like too much. Honestly, it was not that big of a deal, but somewhere towards the middle it got the slightest bit annoying. Even the ending I felt was a little drawn out, as the overload of specific details seemed to drag out the ending. With that being said I did like how even the way the characters spoke over their radios seemed to be real. With all the “copies” and the “mission control go,” everything had a sense of realism that sometimes is hard to come by in a sifi story. I also had very sweaty palms reading the final few pages, so Weir did a great job of building suspense and continuing to use his very detailed and informative writing style.
All in all this is a wonderful read and one any sifi fan will want to check out. The funny thing is that it is not a real sifi novel, but more a science novel with a fictitious story. It is classified as sifi but I think that is somewhat of a misnomer. Also at the end there are a few extras that are worth noting. As mentioned above one is an interview with Weir, the other are some review questions (which I thought was a little weird), and the last a short essay about why Weir loves science. Anyways, this is an awesome story and you should check it out.