Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The martianNow here’s a thing.  I just enjoyed a book about space, and there’s no one more surprised than me.  When this book dropped through my letter box a few weeks ago my heart sank a little.  As I’m sure I must have said before I do often judge a book by its cover, and the combination of this cover, the title and the blurb on the back did not fill me with excitement.  However reading isn’t just about favourite authors and comfortable books, it’s also about stretching oneself and being prepared to read books that may not initially seem to be ‘your thing’.  And the thing is, it’s those books that often turn out to be the ones you just can’t put down; which is exactly the position I found my self in last Friday night!

By now most people will probably have heard of this book as a result of the film it was made into starring Matt Damon.  For those of you (and I was on of those) that haven’t, this is how it goes.  Mark Watney is one of a group of  astronauts on a US mission to Mars.  He has recently been one of the first men to walk on Mars, but a sand storm strikes, and the rest of the crew escape thinking Mark has already died.  He hadn’t died, and is now completely stranded and alone on Mars.  He has no means of communication with the other astronauts or with mission control back in the US.  As far as he is concerned the world thinks he is dead. Unless he works out a way to live in this hostile environment, without doubt, he soon will be.

“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.”

I’ll be honest the first 30 pages or so were a struggle, so much complex physics and science which my simple, unscientific brain couldn’t understand.  However I persevered, because I think despite all the thick, soupy, sciencey stuff I could see  there was something probably quite exciting lurking behind it.  I was right, because as the story unfolded and  Marks character began to develop I was gripped by this tale  of survival against all the odds.

Mark Watney’s character is irrepressible.  No matter what space and Mars throws at him he finds a way around it.  He’s a scientist, a botanist, a geek of the first degree and a problem solver with nerves of steel and a determination to live.  The book captures the absolute isolation Mark is facing perfectly, and it does so with lots of humour.  Mark is a geek with great comic timing, and there is suspense in bucket loads as he attempts an epic journey across Mars to try to reunite himself with the other astronauts.  There is also a real sense of the terror he felt when things didn’t go according to plan.

Maybe it’s because of the International space station currently orbiting the earth and the British astronaut Tim Peake so much in the news, but I found myself fascinated by the concept of living in such isolation and so removed from planet earth.

There is much in this novel that I didn’t understand but it didn’t seem to matter.  The story was so gripping that I was carried along with it.  And, actually if I think about it I did learn stuff.  I watched the film a couple of days after finishing the book and found myself explaining some of the space stuff to Mr V.  ( he didn’t need / want me to explain it) but having been a science dunce at school I felt the need to share my new-found knowledge.  Incidentally the film is not nearly as good as the book, so if you have  choice go for the book.

So, if any of the above has made you consider reading this, I would say, be ready for a slow start but stick with it and you are guaranteed a read which is wholly ‘out of this world’  (sorry, had to include a poor attempt at a space joke)  Seriously though, this is a great book even if like me you are not a science geek.

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