Book Review: The Martian, by Andy Weir
Once upon a time, there was a webcomic called Casey and Andy. Mad science, zany characters and lots of geekery, it was one of my favorites. I was sad, but satisfied, when it ended.
Then about a month ago Howard Taylor mentioned a hard sci-fi novel called The Martian, and that it was written by the same Andy Weir who once gave us Casey and Andy. I bought the book before I finished reading Howard’s post about it.
And it’s good.
The Martian is a hard science fiction story about an astronaut stranded on Mars during the third manned mission to the red planet. His struggles to survive are not against alien monsters or villainous tyrants or robot uprisings, but against a world. A planet where high temperatures are around the melting point of water, where there’s enough air to have dangerous weather but not enough to have any air pressure to speak of, and where he has equipment & supplies intended for a month-long stay, and the next mission will arrive in four years. 3,200 kilometers from his location.
This is probably not a book for everyone, but if you’ve ever enjoyed hard sci-fi (or liked watching MacGyver) you’ll probably get something out of it. The protagonist is exceptionally clever and resourceful, as you’d expect from a person sent on an early Mars mission. His plans to stay alive are brilliant, and they fail in believably frustrating ways. This could be a true story, if it were at all plausible that major governments would move money from oil & war into space exploration.
There’s science, there’s engineering, there’s drama of several flavours (especially when the story starts shifting back to Earth), there’s humor, and there’s a great deal of … tension? Horror? I can’t find the right word. I’ll settle for dread. It’s not the sort of fear you get from thinking there might be a monster out there in the dark, it’s the sort of fear you get from realizing that the resources you have are not enough.
There was also, for me at least, and unexpected joke planted by the author nine years ago. See, on 5 August 2005 Casey and Andy ran this strip. Click and read it, it’s short and will open in a new window.
Finished? Now, imagine reading this book. There first fifth of it is a journal format, the log kept by the lone astronaut. So you’re reading this, and the back of your mind knows the same author made that comic strip, and every few paragraphs you think, “Bob was there, too”. I mostly read during my commute, so it was a little embarrassing when I started giggling on the streetcar!
If you have ever been a space nerd, you should read this book. If you haven’t, but have enjoyed stories where people do clever things and explain them, but their plans fail because of an oversight or simple bad luck, you should probably read this. If you ever dreamed of wearing a NASA mission patch you should definitely read this.
I hope Andy Weir writes more. More books, more comics, more something. His work is smart and funny and I can’t get enough of it.