Friday, July 17, 2015

5 x 5 Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

1. Even though this is part of the Summer Reading Program, I figured it belonged here on He is a Thark because it's technically science fiction. I say technically because I guess it's since in the future and since the ion thruster drive that the Hermes spacecraft uses appears to be more advanced than actual models in service, it gets shoved into that category. But the science in this fiction is so hard that it's practically adamantine: it's really just science-filled-fiction. Delicious crunchy fiction with a thick, chewy science center.

2.  Randall Munroe hit the nail on the head with this summary of the story, but what that leaves out is how downright funny the book is - or rather how funny the main character Mark Watley is, since most of the book is in his voice. The narrative establishes that Watley's coping mechanism is humor, and being stranded on Mars gives him a lot to cope with, so that humor comes through strong, leavening both the tech-talk and the life-and-death drama.

3. Because the movie trailer came out and got so much play just before I started the book, I could only hear Watley in Matt Damon's voice. That's not so bad, really.

4. Writing that contains a lot of detail and concrete description and writing that appears to be demonstrating how and how well the prose could be turned into a film: am I making a distinction without real difference? Some of the scenes - Earthbound episodes, primarily - read a lot like a novelization of a movie - you can almost see the blocking and the cuts. Scenes in offices are written even more visually than descriptions of Watley's activities on Mars. Some of that results from the change of narrative voice (from Watley's diaries to third-person narration) but some of it seems a little calculated.

5. Overall this was a very satisfying read, and only because under the tech-love, the melodrama, and the funny, Weir occasionally gets to a kernel of very real human emotion and experience, and the reader forgets that it is a book or a wannabe movie and gets lost in the people.

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