Andy Weir's "The Martian" is the most compulsively readable hard sci-fi books I've ever come across. I love the genre, science-fiction, but so many hard sci-fi books fall flat on their face when it comes to being interesting outside of the technology. The facts being correct is one thing but having something to counterbalance all the numbers and hard data? Weir's biggest success here is the ability to weave a generous helping of humor throughout and an inherent ability, surprising as it's his first novel, to ratchet up drama to an unnerving degree.
The skinny on the story is simple: A manned mission to Mars, Ares 3, has to evacuate the red planet post-haste thanks to a dust-storm. Mark Watney, resident smart-ass, botanist and mechanical engineer, gets lost in the ensuing chaos. The rest of the crew makes the tough choice and departs without him thanks to no signs of life. Mark, left to fend for himself, deals with life on Mars with no obvious way to survive long enough for NASA to rescue him.
Watney, quick to crack a joke as well as MacGuyver together something to ensure he lives through the day, might be one of the more compelling male characters I've come across in a novel of this kind. Weir imbues the wayward spaceman with a humor that is infectious and a determination that is indomitable. The opening line grabs hold and this novel never lets go. The highs and lows of life on Mars are both terrifying and interesting. Weir, a devout space-nerd and computer science geek, somehow manages to make the verbose recanting of calculations and technical explanations interesting. That, in itself, is a quite a feat.
Mission logs serve as the meat of much of the novel. Watney's snark and ingenuity shines here. The progression of the narrative later involves secondary characters in the crew that left him behind and also committees and mission control back at NASA. Mark Watney provides the most compelling voice, no doubt, but NASA in full-on Apollo 13 crisis mode was just as interesting. A lot of the tension can be found in the backdoor meetings to move funds around, secretive cloak and dagger talks about the risk involved and the lengths they'll go to bring Mark home.
Weir's attempts at sympathy and characterization are never saccharine and genuine. There is a definite camaraderie between Watney and his crew that Weir establishes with just a few scant paragraphs.
There's some definite gallopin' true-believerism in the mission and the integrity of NASA here. Would all the stops be pulled out for just one guy trapped on Mars? I don't know about that but I'll be damned if I didn't find it all tough to not root for and just get swept up in.
This work, far more than any other, proves why audiobooks can be a wonderful thing. RC Bray's narration of The Martian not only immersed me in the survival tale far better than I could have imagined but the quality of the Audible-sanctioned recording was just top-notch. I've been recommending people listen to the audio version instead of reading it as normal as it bolsters the experience.
FINAL WORD: Andy Weir's debut novel is not only a genuinely great hard science-fiction novel but damn if it isn't funny and unnerving at the same time. Mars sounds like an awful place but astronaut Mark Watney manages to MacGuyver his way through things somehow.. some way. There wasn't a character that I didn't find, at least, immediately likable and RC Bray's narration of the whole affair made it far better than I could have dreamed. This is a must listen/read. Hard science-fiction rarely gets better than this.
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