The Martian starts with a bang. Mark Watney, an astronaut, has been left for dead on Mars. No one knows he is alive and the next mission to Mars is years away. How will he survive?
Luckily for him (and for The Martian), Andy Weir has made Watney both an engineer and a botanist; he will need skills from both professions to have a chance. Weir starts The Martian as Mark Watney’s log, or diary; this is written in the first person and Weir captures the voice of a smart scientist who is also rather sarcastic. He gets the voice right, but, at the start at least, it left me wanting to hear more about Watney’s thoughts other than how he will solve the next crisis. Watney’s character is revealed slowly.
Soon, people on Earth find out that he is alive. From then on, The Martian runs on two tracks: One on Mars, where we continue to hear about Watney’s adventures from the man himself, and one on Earth, where we hear from various people at NASA as they work to help Watney survive and, eventually, rescue him. Weir does an excellent job of capturing the sort of feverish activity involved, reminiscent of other efforts to rescue people, both in space (“Houston, we have a problem”) and on Earth (like the miners that were trapped for weeks).
The strengths of this book are how Weir captures technical and factual material about the survival and rescue; the plot moves along nicely and the book is well written. However, none of the characters are fully developed; even the hero is rather two dimensional – he’s smart and resourceful and sarcastic, but what else? The other characters are even less developed. The Martian reminds me of some of the old style, problem solving science fiction that I grew up with. It is more Arthur C. Clarke than Ursula LeGuin.
Recommended to those for whom the above limitations aren’t turnoffs. I will look forward to reading more from him.
Andy Weir is a programmer and software engineer; he is a self-described “space nerd”. The Martian is his first novel.