Ever looked up at the stars with fear and fascination, asking the universal question “What’s out there?” Have you ever followed that thought with dreams of what it would be like to be in space? When I was a girl, I would spend hours looking at the stars and planets through my father’s telescope wondering what was out there. My friends and I would debate life on other planets and went wild over science projects where we got to colonize Mars. Life on other planets is one of mankind’s greatest curiosities and something that immediately drew me to Andy Weir’s novel, The Martian. And yet, The Martian is so much more than a sci-fi novel. It is an everyman odyssey, a book for lovers of sci-fi but also for people who love to root for an underdog, to be a part of something larger than themselves.
Many sci-fi diehard fans are probably screaming right now and would say that a good sci-fi novel encompasses life lessons and is relatable to a vast majority. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a HUGE sci-fi geek, and I would agree with some of that, as well; however, the way The Martian is structured is unique, and that is what struck me. The book tells the tale of Mark Watney, NASA astronaut for Ares 3, who was mistaken for dead by his crewmembers during a sandstorm on Mars and left behind with no way to return on his own or to communicate with Earth. Mark Watney is alone on Mars. It’s an amazing premise but, unfortunately, extremely hard to write and keep the reader’s attention. Everything that is exciting to watch on the big screen becomes tedious in written form and drags the action, losing the reader’s attention. Weir does an admirable job, struggling only at the beginning.
At first, Weir focuses solely on Mark Watney’s perspective through daily logs. The first 50 pages are dedicated to these logs and can, at times, drag due the level of math and science problems being talked through and explained by Mark as he tries to figure out how to stay alive. Later in the book, Watney is at his log again, but, this time, his personality shines through more and I found myself eagerly caught up in his math problems – a complete difference from the beginning.
[Mark] Conclusion: I don’t need the water reclaimer at all. I’ll drink as needed and dump my waste outdoors. Yeah, that’s right, Mars, I’m gonna p*** and s*** on you. That’s what you get for trying to kill me all the time.
There. I saved myself 3.6 pirate-ninjas.
In a way, structurally, this growth is wonderful. I just wish that it didn’t take 50 pages for my interest to really be captured. Once it was captured, however, I was engrossed and invested. I didn’t want to do anything else, as if I put my book down, Mark Watney might actually die. Readers, it is worth the wait, trust me. The Martian is a book you need to read; it will inspire and touch you, make you laugh, infuriate you, and make you question your own endurance.
Weir ingeniously envelopes the reader into the world of the book by having all of Earth’s people actively watching and waiting for news of Mark Watney. By doing so, the reader truly becomes a character. The author rotates between the narratives of Mark, Earth/NASA, and Mark’s fellow crewmembers on their way back to Earth. Through Earth, we become a part of the scientists working to bring Mark home safely and the everyday people on the street agonizing over any bit of news regarding his safety. As a member of Hermes (the crew’s ship), you ride the emotional rollercoaster of leaving your dead friend on Mars to discovering you left him alive, stranded, and you can’t do anything about it. Getting to be all of these people makes it even more agonizing when you go back to read Mark’s logs, because you are the insider with all of the information, but you cannot do a thing. Whatever is going to happen will, and you have no control. I connected strongly with Mindy from NASA who became in charge of watching photos of Mark when communication was lost and reporting his actions. You can watch . . . but there is nothing you can do. The level of anxiety becomes intense, because the longer the journey becomes, the more you watch Mark overcome obstacle after obstacle, and the more you want him to just catch a break and make it home.
Weir created a lovable character you want to save. He is funny, down-to-earth, and never gives up. No matter what is thrown at him, he keeps going. He may yell at Mars, he may get angry and frustrated, but he doesn’t stop fighting to live. He doesn’t stop enjoying the moments he has.
[11:49] JPL: What we can see of your planned cut looks good. We’re assuming the other side is identical. You’re cleared to start drilling.
[12:07] WATNEY: That’s what she said.
[12:25] JPL: Seriously, Mark? Seriously?
Reading this book couldn’t have come at a more apropos time in my own life. I think everyone can relate to life’s struggles and feeling like they are fighting an uphill battle, that the odds are stacked against them. That is why The Martian is more than just a single genre to me. It’s more than just sci-fi or “feel good.” I think Mark describes perfectly what is so special to me:
The cost for my survival must have been hundreds of millions of dollars. All to save one dorky botanist. Why bother?
[…] they did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. It might not seem that way sometimes, but it’s true. […] This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception.
We need to be reminded of the good in humanity and that we are a part of that. In reading The Martian, you become a part of something. No, it is not something real . . . but maybe it will inspire you to go and become a part of something real or push harder to overcome those obstacles in your own life. When a book can do that, it is more than a read – it’s an experience. There are books you read and put away, never to see again, and then there are books you read over and over and play in your mind, taking the characters with you throughout your life. The Martian is the latter . . . and it’s worth every page of the journey.