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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 95/100: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian - Andy Weir

I would never want to move to Mars, but like much of the population, I am still totally intrigued by the idea of setting foot on an alien planet. I read this book because a) everyone was talking about how great it was; b) I wanted to see the movie before it left theaters; and c) this is probably the only way I'll ever have guts enough to visit another planet.

In the regard, the scientific accuracy of this book was a real treat -- although I am no expert, I was able to "believe" in Mike Watney's successes and setbacks living on a "planet that wanted to kill him." The attention to detail was meticulous in this environment where EVERYTHING must be carefully planned because stepping outside your door unprepared would be enough to kill you. Yet despite its technical chops, this book was not as dry or stilted as a lot of "hard" sci-fi tends to be. Sure, it had a few clunky moments where characterization and dialogue were concerned, but for the most part the humans inhabiting this book were as believable as the science behind it. I especially love that much of the book is related in Mark Watney's "log" entries, so that we get a real sense of his voice and personality. Also, it is so incredibly rare to get a science fiction novel told in the first person that I was well disposed toward the book just for this narrative choice. (In addition to first-person narration being my favorite style, I also like stories where the narrator is "aware" of writing his or her story down, so that it is set up as a fictional memoir, a diary, or, in this case, an astronaut's log.)

I was a little disappointed when the PoV shifted from Mark to the folks on earth, but I did have my doubts about how Watney's log entries alone would be enough to fill the book. For the most part, the balance felt natural and organic, the tension remaining high both on Earth and on Mars. The book is believable suspenseful and man, do you want these guys to pull through!

I couldn't help but think about how this book would have been different if it were written as literary fiction rather than genre fiction. I was expecting Mark's solitude on Mars to give him ample opportunity to reflect upon his life -- I thought the book might be filled with all the personal things that might come up when you were writing alone on a distant world -- but despite his solitude, we find out very little about Mark's life prior to coming to Mars. This is in keeping with his personality, I think, but I would have liked to have read a story that took the literary approach, too.

I was also disappointed that we did not get more descriptions of the Martian environment. Although we got a lot of technical details, such as the length of each day and why plants don't grow in Martian soil, we don't get word pictures of the vast openness of space, or what the sun looks like in the Martian sky, or Martian moons, or mountains. That's where the movie is able to do what the book did not, and so the two compliment each other well. (On the other hand, the movie doesn't do nearly as well at capturing Mark's personality as the book does, which is equally important.)

All in all, the book was not perfect, but I think it deserves all the attention and praise it has received.