The Martian by Andy Weir
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My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
First Published: 2011
Read from: August 4, 2014 to August 6, 2015
Awards: 2015 Seiun Award for Best Novel, 2015 John W. Campbell Memorial Award Nominee for Best Novel, 2015 ALA Alex Award
Legitimate science, edge of your seat action & suspense, and great humor; no wonder a movie is in the works.
I finished The Martian in very little time. The first 25% I read at a fairly normal pace and liked enough that it really grabbed my interest. Shortly there after it went from damn good, to… *AWESOME*!… I read the last 75% or so in one continuous reading, as I simply could NOT put it down. That ought to tell you something right there.
I enjoyed it so well on multiple levels — the characters, pacing, science, humor & climatic action — that I found myself unsure how to critique it. So I took a look at others’ reviews, looking closely at what those who gave it less than glowing reviews had to say. In almost every case those FEW who didn’t seem to like it gave as reasons they disliked it because they thought:
a) It’s too good. (What?!)
b) It’s a formulaic money grab. (NOT!)
c) It’s too amazing to be ‘real’. (Truth really is stranger than fiction, folks.)
d) The main character is too optimistic and a geeky cornball. (Met any astronauts?)
So in more detail. Debunking some of the negative reviews:
a) The Martian is “too good”. – Won’t really give this a response. I’m not sure what this really means. I suspect the reviewers who said something like this meant a combination of point b & c below.
b) It’s a formulaic money grab. – A good description of the story that you see a lot is The Martian is “Apollo 13 meets Castaway”. It’s an accurate description, but that description turned some off as being some kind of formulaic attempt to re-tell an old story. This is in NO WAY true. The story is very much a unique piece of work. What’s more, the story BEHIND this story is even more amazing in some ways than the story itself.
The Martian’s author, Andy Weir, started writing in 2009, spending 3 years researching and polishing. Having tried unsuccessfully to get an agent and publish traditionally with other work in the past, he self-published The Martian on his personal website in late 2012, offering it as a free download. Some fans asked him to self-publish it on Amazon so they could read it on their Kindles. He did this, selling it for 99 cents, the least amount allowed. He sold so many copies in such a short time that he quickly captured Amazon’s best-seller list for sci-fi. Only THEN did traditional publishers and movie studios get interested. He sold the audio and print rights in early 2013, and Twentieth Century Fox optioned the movie rights shortly thereafter. The hard back debuted in early 2014 on the NY Times Best Seller list.
So as you can see the “life” of this novel is almost more amazing than the circumstances it portrays, and certainly shows that it was a labor of love that captured the attention it has gathered for one reason only. It’s DAMN good.
c) It’s too amazing to be “real”. – I could go on and on with examples of real world events that when told sound stranger than any book or movie plot. In many cases some of the events that happen in The Martian are pretty tame in comparison. One of the things the novel does really well is its science. And it keeps it amazingly accurate and realistic with everything based on current technology or technology we could build today if we had the funds. Things NASA has been kicking around for some time. Also, in a real life mission to Mars, the time frames involved ARE very long with a lot of things that could go wrong. So all things that happen are entirely plausible. Could any one person actually survive all that? Some people have survived amazing things alone for time frames just as long.
d) The main character is too optimistic and a geeky cornball. – Quite frankly all those in the space program, whether they came in through the military or civilian worlds, are pretty nerdy and geeky to some degree. And driven, optimistic people usually. If they had been vetted long enough to get to the point that they were sent on a multi-year mission to Mars you can damn well bet that this would be the case. Even so, you DO see times when the character wants to just give up. But they are brief and do go to show the mind set these scientists and career driven people learn often much quicker than us ‘normal’ folk. That how we approach any given moment is a CHOICE, and hell, wouldn’t you rather go down fighting while keeping a goofy, optimistic attitude than bitching and complaining and just waiting for the inevitable. As some real world events often show, it is not uncommon for people to respond in these situations with almost over the top, goofy humor. You hear about it in front line banter in combat and goofy antics in combat medical facilities aka MASH. Even in the height of some of the tensest moments of Apollo 13, there were some instances where those in danger despite lack of sleep, heat, etc got a little goofy.
And if you didn’t like the corny humor in this story — that really helped ‘make’ this story for me and so many others — then you really are a scrooge.