140 million leagues under the blackness of space, Jules Verne is reborn…this time with a sense of humor and irreverent references to pop culture.
Through a series of journal entries, the protagonist of this story relays a first person account that chronicles the trials and tribulations of being stuck on the biggest deserted island in the solar system. Mars. This work was well-researched and the science in the text feels just barely out of grasp of current technological innovations. Andy Weir is to be commended for his dedication to the craft of writing and his ability to embed a compelling story within a bevy of scientific equations. For fans of hard science fiction this should be an absolute delight.
I felt myself skimming over some of the more technical science bits as they do sort of come pummeling one after another. However, this is how I felt when I read through the lists of taxonomy in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and; like Verne’s book, I found the plot and story compelling on both an individual and a universal level (despite my personal aversion to numbers and math).
In one sense, you could say this story did not plumb very deep into a human emotional experience. We do get a sense of what the characters are going through, but we lack some of the nuances that might be happening inside their heads–despite the distraction of the dire circumstances. On the other hand, this is really refreshing in that we don’t get some sappy, romantic subplot artificially shoe-horned into the story to make us “feel” feelings. What may be missing is not really all that off. Highly trained professionals working under these circumstances would be very focused on the immediate and imperative task at hand: survival. And humans are very capable of this. People in desperate situations are able to get outside their heads, put aside daily annoyances or stresses and zero in on what really needs to be done. That too is part of the human condition.
Even though I felt overwhelmed by the “math” problems coming at me on a regular basis, the author managed (quite deftly) to bring everything back to relatable terms. He illustrated the problems well and made these an integral and believable part of the story. He also managed to make the character very human, because not everything comes together for the protagonist and many times fixing one problem led to other unforeseen problems later on (I believe the author did all this intentionally – and masterfully). This is a classic tale of, Man vs. Nature, yet the trials suffered by the protagonist do not feel contrived or random. Suspense is kept up throughout the book.
Another thing done quite well, was the protagonist’s sarcastic personality. The character is constantly making humorous, pop culture references or else giving sarcastic commentary to himself or others. All this levity is well-timed and serves as a great balance to some of the drier aspects of the book (i.e. math problems). A dual function is also served here, because it gave the protagonist more depth and personality, and provided a gateway for the reader to relate to his plight. Whether you’re a rocket scientist or professor of literature, you would probably have the same reaction to being trapped on Mars: “Oh crap, I’m screwed.” Andy Weir captures this with excellent tone. So, even if you’re not a science fiction fan, this is a well-balanced and suspenseful tale that informs as much as it delights.
Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes, YouTube or our website: https://nodeodorantinouterspace.wordpress.com/2015/12/03/review-the-martian-by-andy-weir-ridley-scott-matt-damon.