I know, I know. The entire internet has read this book already and I’m totally behind on everything. But whenever something is surrounded by this much buzz, I get suspicious. In this case, I didn’t have to be. Not only are the interwebs in agreement on this book being absolute fun, the boyfriend has been pushing me to read it as well. And he’s notoriously hard to please when it comes to books…
by Andy Weir
Published by: Crown, 2014 (2011)
Ebook: 385 pages
My rating: 8,5/10
First sentence: I’m pretty much fucked.
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.
Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.
Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.
But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
Okay, so the buzz wasn’t unfounded. From the moment you pick up this book, you get to enjoy the charming voice that is Mark Watney’s – astronaut, botanist, and objectively the smartest man on Mars. Mark gets left behind, presumed dead, on the Ares 3 mission. Still very much alive, he makes plans to continue his breathing and being alive habit until Ares 4 arrives and can maybe give him a lift back to Earth.
Using his intelligence, scientific knowledge, and pragmatism, Watney expands his chances of a survival immensely. He becomes Mars’ first potato farmer (or any other farmer, for that matter) and doesn’t spare us the log entries explaining how he uses his shit as manure for the potato plants, descriptions of the smell included. Have I mentioned yet that Mark is hilarious? Were this book less exciting plot-wise, Mark Watney’s humor and hopefulness would have been entertainment enough.
Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshipped.
But this is the kind of cascading catastrophy-story that doesn’t really let your blood pressure catch a break. I don’t remember how many times I held my breath, how much I cursed, how many scenes gave me goosebumps. Considering the amount (and length) of detailed explanations about How Shit Works (On Mars) and How Mark Builds New Stuff or How Mark Accidentally Blows Himself Up (not a spoiler), I’m surprised how gripping and emotional it all was. There are so many moments when I thought, Ok, now it’s over, I’m just going to watch him die for 100 pages now… and Mark finds a way out of it. Mind you, I’m not telling you if he finds a way out of everything. If you consider that everything Mark does, even just sleeping in the hab, any second something could go wrong, some machine could fail, and he’d be dead in seconds. It gives even the quieter moments a sense of underlying dread that makes this book so hard to put down.
Okay, so I was the worst at maths in school. If you told me that one day, there would be a thing that makes mathematics sound exciting and like something I might want to spend more time understanding, I would have laughed in your face (maybe spit on you, too). But it’s true. Watney’s life depends on science, and not a small part of that is calculating stuff. It was a joy to see Mark come up with new ways to fix seemingly unfixable problems, to deal with any crisis, the keep hope when everything seems pointless. I found it impossible not to love the guy.
Another thing that always leaves me emotionally broken and crying is when people come together to work for a common goal. NASA finds out pretty soon that Watney’s alive and they do everything to bring him back. Not only do these chapters convey just how many people put in the time and work to save one man’s life (some at great personal sacrifice), but they also help flesh out the secondary cast. Ares 3’s crew, the people at NASA, they all showed personality and humanity, something I didn’t expect from this book. Really, I thought I’d only ever see Watney and his fight for survival on a planet that wants to kill him.
I can say pretty much nothing about the science in this because I wouldn’t presume to know better. It all sounds plausible, considering what I learned in school, but I’ll just defer to people much smarter than I that the science is sound. I read books for characters but I’d be lying if I said the sciency bits didn’t interest me. I found reading about the science as exciting as Watney’s bitching about the endless supply of Disco music (and nothing else).
This is an emotional roller-coaster ride that is both thrilling and thought-provoking. I can see why it was such a big hit, once enough people knew about the book. Whatever Andy Weir writes next – sign me up.
MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Excellent!