By Zachary Bloom
One part botanist and one part mechanical engineer, astronaut Mark Watney is ideally suited to attempt to survive in a climate utterly and remarkably unsuited to him. When he is mistakenly left for dead, alone, on Mars, Watney must use all of his intellect and perseverance with the extremely limited resources available to him in order to survive. His initial plan, to plant potatoes in the HAB (Martian Habitat), in order to survive until the next mission lands, four years later, gets many-a-time complicated. Such obstacles as creating a suitable climate for crops in a confined space, while providing them with the necessary nutrients for their survival threaten Watney along the way. His own fecal matter being one of the integral resources in this process, The Martian refuses to balk from the unglamorous.
Weir boldly writes a book with a single character, told in small episodes of retrospective narrative, as Watney writes log entries detailing his struggles. This boldness is apparent from the first sentence.
I’m pretty much f*****. That’s my considered opinion. F*****.
There being a single character, the book sometimes feels claustrophobic, and Weir occasionally departs from Mars to Earth, providing us with some much-desired human interaction. Despite this occasional claustrophobia, The Martian is a success, finding true suspense through its log entry style, the very essence of a first person narrative. Weir is also unfalteringly hilarious, punctuating the grim and nearly insurmountable obstacles of Watney with a sharp wit.
There is a seldom-explored gap in science fiction writing, somewhere in-between the examination of foreign things function in our systems (think aliens coming to earth) and how we survive in foreign systems (think people exploring other planets). Weir fills that void perfectly, exploring the viability of our systems in foreign places. The Martian strikes a perfect balance, being based in hard science —Weir researched orbital mechanics and astronomy in order to make the book consistent with existing technology — while still being exciting and fantastical at heart. This book has enough science and thought provoking challenges to be enjoyed by hardcore science fiction fans, while still being unpretentious and funny enough to entertain
In Mark Watney, Weir gives us a character who matches his humorous wit with astounding competence. Again and again, The Martian has the brilliance of presenting seemingly insurmountable challenges to Watney, who, through blood and sweat, brilliantly devises sensible solutions. Hilarious, smart, resilient, and utterly human, Watney’s character is the cement of the novel. When a reader picks up The Martian, he makes a commitment to spend 369 pages trapped on Mars. Weir, mercifully, has given us the perfect companion.