It’s not what you think.
Though I am perfectly happy to read about earthlings encountering strange fantastical Mars natives, along the lines of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s wonderfully ridiculous A Princess of Mars and its sequels, The Martian is not a book of that kind. Not at all. In fact, I’m reticent to describe it as science fiction, because it’s just so damn realistic.
I mean, why haven’t we had manned missions to Mars yet?
Let me back up. Here’s the premise: a manned Mars mission (think Apollo missions, but on Mars) goes awry and the crew barely escapes, but not before Mark Watney, resident botanist and Mr. Fix-It, gets left behind, presumed dead.
BUT HE’S NOT DEAD.
That’s the book. That’s it.
Really, though, the whole book is Mark Watney trying to be not dead. What makes this book such a fun read is Watney’s – and therefore Weir’s – incredible ingenuity. He’s stranded on Mars with nothing but some random NASA equipment. The setting is very-near-future, humankind’s third manned mission to Mars, so there’s no turning the ship around to pick him up at the Hellas Basin bus stop. HOW WILL HE SURVIVE? And will he ever make it home?
I cannot imagine the extensive research Weir must have done for this novel. For a science lover who knows pretty much nothing about science (I’m talking about myself), the mission and Watney’s survival antics are 100% believable. Maybe an actual rocket scientist or NASA engineer would have a different opinion, but unfortunately I don’t know any of them.
I actually started the book last winter and put it down until last week. It has a fairly predictable pattern of life-threatening-danger, brilliant idea, huge screw-up, another brilliant idea, giant obstacle, brilliant idea, etc etc, which I got a little tired of. But, once you start to notice the pattern, you’re too invested in Watney’s life to not finish the book. And it is pretty darn fun.
That’s my consensus: a really fun, well-thought-out, not masterpiece, summer read. I don’t think all of the science-y stuff makes it too niche. I don’t know anything about science, remember? If you read it, you’ll enjoy it. If you don’t, you’ll have time to read something more life-changing.
Lest I forget, to all of you who have joined my readership since I was Freshly Pressed this week: Welcome! I’m honored that you think my words a worthy read. When I’m back from vacation, I look forward to reading and responding to all of your comments.