Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Martian by Andy Weir (Crown Publishing)

In today's blogpost, I look at a science fiction novel from Andy Weir, entitled The Martian, published by Crown Publishing Group, that’s currently available to buy.

I’m stranded on Mars.

I have no way to communicate with Earth.

I’m in a Habitat 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 screwed.

Space-themed Science Fiction has come back in a big way lately in movies, particularly survival stories. Last year’s Gravity was one of my favourite movies of 2013 (beaten only by the awesome Snowpiercer) and this year has given us Guardians of the Galaxy and Interstellar, both of which will certainly fall into my Top 5 by the year’s end. And of course, next year marks the return of Star Wars, making it a very interesting time for science fiction indeed. The book itself is focused on one man’s struggle to survive on the planet Mars after a mission goes horribly wrong, The Martian is probably one of the strongest novels of the year and it’s easy to see why it’s being adapted into a movie with Matt Damon (who even starred in Interstellar himself) as the main character, and Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) as the writer with Ridley Scott (Gladiator) directing. It certainly looks like this book has a very promising future indeed, and based on the strength of the novel, I most certainly will be checking out the film.

A freak dust storm lands Mark Watney, one of the explorers of the Ares 3 mission on Mars, stranded without a way of getting home to Earth in the near future. There’s no such thing as FTL travel and don’t expect to find aliens here. It’s very much similar to the aforementioned Gravity and Interstellar in its style, but remains unique enough to be compulsory reading for any science fiction fan and incredibly entertaining. Whilst on the surface, it doesn’t seem like a novel focused on the struggles of one man could be that engaging, but Weir finds an interesting twist on the narrative structure to separate it from others of its type. Rather than be told in the usual third or first person narration, Weir has the protagonist Mark, narrate by recapping what he’s done on different days in a series of journals. This helps by the fact that Weir has chosen to make the protagonist a humorous character, and it’s pulled off incredibly well in a way that really makes you get behind and support the character as he struggles to survive on Mars. If you’ve been put off about reading this novel by the fact that the limited cast might not keep you entertained enough, then don’t worry, because Weir manages to keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

I must have finished this novel over the course of a day. I devoured it over the bus journey into my campus and on the bus journey home, as well as during breaks whilst waiting for new lectures. I could not stop reading and it’s one of those novels where if you allow it to, you will be hooked from the beginning to the end and there is literally no dull moment. The Martian is that good, with some incredibly tense moments that make it perfect for a movie adaption, and you can see why one is on its way.

Another interesting touch that I liked about this book was the fact that Watney is not the only character who is the narrator here. We also spend time back on Earth once NASA learns that he’s alive (his crew believed he died during the freak accident), and Weir makes their struggles seem just as real and just as sympathetic as the Watney is on Mars. Weir even manages to drag news and politics into the book as well and prevent it from feeling dull, with news studios following Watney’s struggle as the world watches on.

There’s a lot of technological and logistical knowledge that this book takes into consideration as well. Andy Weir is an incredibly smart author and it shows in the narrative. However, this aspect of the novel never feels dull and there’s never any information dumping that drags the pace down. The humour prevents the book from being dull, and the book itself is also not as dark as it could have been, which is a relief indeed.

The Martian then, is one of 2014’s best novels. I can certainly see why it’s a Goodreads Choice Awards winner and had I read it before the closure of the voting process I probably would have voted for it as well. If you’re a fan of the likes of Interstellar and Gravity, then Andy Weir’s survival epic is certainly something that I would recommend. Even if you didn’t like those two, then give this a try anyway. Because it’s just that good.

VERDICT: 9.5/10

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