Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian, by Andy Weir, is, in short "Apollo 13 meets Cast Away" or "Robinson Crusoe in space". It is a story about an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars, after a freak accident that should have actually killed him, but didn't. It is a gripping narrative of surviving against all odds, of resourcefulness and ingenuity in the face of adversity.

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The Martian

Author: Andy Weir
Genre: Science Fiction, Contemporary, Action & Adventure, Space, Survival
First Published: 2015
Format: Paperback, 384 pages

Book Blurb:

I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Hermes or Earth. Everyone thinks I’m dead. I’m in a Hab designed to last 31 days.

If the Oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the Water Reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death.

So yeah. I’m fucked.

I saw the movie adaptation of The Martian before I read the book. I didn't even know then that it was based on a novel. I was actually searching for a different movie (My Favorite Martian), but I found this instead, and Matt Damon on the cover image caught my interest. I simply LOVED the movie!

Weeks later, I was raving about it on someone else's post on Facebook, and a common friend happened to mention "the book has a lot more details". That's when I found out there was a book behind the movie. Naturally, I had to order it immediately! Guess what! I loved the book so much that I read it THRICE within a month of ordering it!

The Martian, by Andy Weir, is the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut who is a part of the crew of the third manned mission to Mars. He gets accidentally left behind on Mars when his crew mates are forced to abort mission due to a severe sand storm, during which, he gets impaled by a communications antenna and is presumed to be dead. He survives that one accident by sheer luck, but luck alone is not going to help him last FOUR years on that barren planet, with the limited supplies he has on hand, until he can be rescued by the next manned mission to Mars.

As Watney says in the book -

"In the face of overwhelming odds, I'm left with only one option, I'm gonna have to science the shit out of this."

Luckily for him, he happens to be the botanist and the "Mr. Fix-It" for that mission, and his knowledge of botany and mechanical engineering is what's going to save him.

Another thing working in his favor is his attitude - his natural disposition towards making light of stressful situations with humor. He knows there is a high possibility of his dying there, but he doesn't spend too much time feeding that thought in his mind. Instead, he is all business-like, focusing all his attention on solving one problem after the other. Weir has portrayed him as an intelligent, funny, witty and a mentally strong and extremely outcome-oriented person, not easily swayed by fear and despair.

This is how he handles the ROUTINE FEAR that comes with his unique circumstances (of being stranded on Mars)...

“I’ll be playing with high-voltage power tomorrow. Can’t imagine anything going wrong with that!”
“From this, I concluded the following:
    1. I’ve been in a dust storm for several sols.
    2. Shit.”
“Just once I’d like something to go as planned, ya know?”

And this is him at the EXTREME depth of despair...


You know what!? Fuck this! Fuck this airlock, fuck that Hab, and fuck this whole planet!
Seriously, this is it! I've had it! I've got a few minutes before I run out of air and I'll be damned if I spend them playing Mars's little game. I'm so god damned sick of it I could puke!
All I have to do is sit here. The air will leak out and I'll die.
I'll be done. No more getting my hopes up, no more self-delusion, and no more problem-solving. I've fucking had it!


Sigh...okay. I've had my tantrum and now I have to figure out how to stay alive.”

Mostly though, he's just making fun of everything - of his situation, of scientists, of NASA, and of course, of himself. Here are some samples of "Watneyism"...

“I started the day with some nothin’ tea. Nothin’ tea is easy to make. First, get some hot water, then add nothin’.”
“Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. 'Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.'”
“I tested the brackets by hitting them with rocks. This kind of sophistication is what we interplanetary scientists are known for.”
“One thing I have in abundance here are bags. They’re not much different from kitchen trash bags, though I’m sure they cost $50,000 because of NASA.”
“I started with a large rigid sample container (or “plastic box” to people who don’t work at NASA).”
“Also, I have duct tape. Ordinary duct tape, like you buy at a hardware store. Turns out even NASA can’t improve on duct tape.”
“I got bounced around a lot, but I’m a well-honed machine in times of crisis. As soon as the rover toppled, I curled into a ball and cowered. That’s the kind of action hero I am.”

(You know what! Maybe I'll do an entire post later on my favorite quotes from Mark Watney!)

As for the rest of the characters in the book - well, they have very short roles (naturally), but I liked them. Venkat Kapoor, the JPL guys, Mark's crew mates on Hermes, and Mindy! I specially liked Mindy Park in SatCon. She started off as a typical shy nerd, but eventually went on to become so cheeky! In fact, quite a few of the other characters also showed a marked sense of humor, which, I think now, probably ACTUALLY reflects on the author's own mental attitude, in terms of stress management and coping skills.

The Martian, by Andy Weir, has been written predominantly in the form of "logbook-style entries" by Mark Watney, interspersed with third-person accounts of what's going on back at NASA and with the rest of his crew mates. I loved that style of writing for the scenario presented in the story. What didn't work for me was the sudden non-linear approach at certain places in the book. Those random "flashbacks-in-pieces", despite being very few, disrupted the natural flow of the book and seemed unnecessary.

But the amount of research Weir has put in the book is clearly visible and makes the story completely plausible and realistic. This is hardcore science fiction, and parts of it can seem really complicated to those not interested in so much science. But I liked it. All those problems related to mass, weight, speed and time etc. took me back to my Physics classes in school. The plot moved along at a brisk pace. One problem after another, combined with Watney's own brand of humor.

I loved the book more than the movie, even though Ridley Scott and the entire movie-adaptation team did a pretty decent job on it, but they left out a major portion of the book from the movie, which has many more problems for Watney to solve, and kind of demonstrates the FULL depth of his perseverance and grit. The movie doesn't quite seem to do enough justice to Watney's character, AFTER you've read the book. So, every time I watch the movie again now, I just have to re-read the book too!

My rating: 4.5 out of 5. The Martian, by Andy Weir, is probably the best science fiction I read in a very long time! Highly recommended for all sci-fi lovers. It will suck you into the world of Mark Watney and will leave you in a "hangover" that could last for weeks YEARS!

P.S. - I first published this review over 6 years ago, on my old blog, and even today, I still think of Mark Watney every time I cook potatoes!

P.S. 2 - You won't understand the reference to "potatoes" if you have neither read the book, nor seen the movie! (Does such a person even exist anymore on the internet?)

P.S. 3 - (If the answer to the above question is in "affirmative", then...) Yes! I DELIBERATELY mentioned the "potatoes" because I WANT you to read the book AND watch the movie! :D

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