Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir (Hardcover 369 Pages)

Posted: April 10, 2015 in Books

the martian

Mark Watney is a botanist on the 6 man Hermes crew that just finished a mission to Mars.  Watney is in trouble, the crew stranded him on Mars, and assumes he’s dead.  He has 400 sols (sol= a Martian day) of food left, he has a Mars ascent vehicle, a Mars rover, about 5 extra space suits, and lots of time to think about how to at least extend his stay.  Watney begins by growing potatoes on Mars, he mixes earth soil with Martian soil and adds bacteria courtesy of his own feces and adds water.  He grows enough potatoes for 90 more sols.  Watney then fixes the Mars rover and heads to find the Pathfinder spacecraft.  Trouble is, the Pathfinder hasn’t sent messages to Earth since 1997, so what does Watney do?  Simple, he reboots the computer on the Pathfinder and he starts sending messages to NASA.

Fortunately, Venkat Kapoor and his team at the Jet Propulsion Lab in California has been receiving images of Watney all along.  Not only do they know that Watney is alive, they know he’s moved to the Pathfinder.  They communicate with Watney for a while until he has an accident with one of his tools and cuts off communications between him and NASA.  The folks at JPL need to find a way to get Watney off Mars, because CNN is getting the same feed that NASA are getting, and it would be extremely bad public relations for the space program if he dies on Mars, after being stranded there.  They try to build a rocket to get Watney, but the rocket explodes.  Is all lost?  Is Watney destined to be left on Mars to die?

I wanted to read this book as soon as I heard about it.  I like science fiction, and I read a short synopsis of the plot and I bought it.  The book is ok, but there are major problems with it.  It’s basically a monologue between Watney and himself, and even the author realizes that he can’t keep that up forever, so he brings in the Jet Propulsion Lab people, but the Jet Propulsion Lab characters are so thinly drawn, so poorly written, that they’re less than one-dimensional.   How about a little backstory on Venkat at least, and a little less Watney?  The rest of Watney’s crew also suffers from paper thin characterization, so it’s up to Watney to carry the book, and he’s just not interesting enough to do it.  Watney is a snarky, churlish character, who curses a lot, why would anyone want to save this guy?

The humor helps a little, but the book is way too technical. I guess it has to be, but it also increases the boredom factor if the reader doesn’t understand biology or chemistry or physics. Watney moves from the MAV to the HAB it’s death by a thousand acronyms. I can accept the fact that he grows the potatoes, he’s a botanist after all, but then he turns into MacGyver, (if anyone remembers that reference) fixes everything in sight, and performs complex chemical reactions to boot.  Any attempt to kill Watney in the early pages is foolhardy, because the reader knows he’s not going to die, at least not so early, so why bother?  The book settles into a predictable redundancy, Watney gets into trouble, he gets out of trouble, and then gets into more trouble. The ending is predictable, on top of it all. If the reader really loves science, this is the book for you, if you do not, don’t bother to read it.

The Martian:  Too much alien territory to traverse.

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