*Spoiler Free Review*
I enjoy reading and watching stories of a character navigating an extreme situation – being left on Mars, alien invasions, the apocalypse – and hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. I think it has something to do with human nature that we want to see ourselves tested beyond what we think we can endure and overcoming insurmountable obstacles.
What would I do in this situation? What would I do to survive? What would I do to help someone else?
The 2011 novel, The Martian by Andy Weir explores the idea of an astronaut left behind on an unforgivable planet and having to figure out how to survive it…for four years. Mark Watney is hit by debris during a mission on Mars and presumed dead. The crew aborts the mission and Watney is left behind, no dead weight. Luckily he has some tools at his disposal from the mission: a habitat, a couple of rovers, and a bit of food and water. Now he has to learn how he can make it all last the length of time it will take for the subsequent mission to reach the planet and hopefully rescue him.
I enjoyed the continued raising of the stakes. If something could go wrong, it did, and although the science and math of figuring out how to fix things and extend the life of equipment, etc. sometimes went over my head, I didn’t study physics or engineering, reading about how Watney calculated how to solve all the problems sent his way was interesting. Given he only had so many resources at his disposal, he had to rely heavily upon his wits and use those things around him in unexpected ways.
There are, of course, a few things that stood out that bothered me at times. Watney keeps a journal, and although sometimes it comes off a bit juvenile in language and context, he’s alone without anyone to talk to so I felt it was a way of keeping himself amused. I let that slide. Once he’s able to establish contact with NASA, we meet all the people who are working towards bringing him home, among them, Annie, the media relations rep who’s been written as the foul mouthed, short tempered female amidst a slew of calm, brilliant men, and this trope always bothers me. Maybe it’s representative of the misogyny that still exists in these types of environments, because there are a few comments made in regards to the looks of one of the female astronauts on the mission, and that is so irrelevant. And in this near future, can’t we have moved on from this?
My only other complaint is how little we get to know Mark. His journal entries are mostly about fixing things and a few personal notes. We get a little information from the crew and the team at NASA that he’s clever, has a good sense of humor, and the mental fortitude to survive such an ordeal, so while I was rooting for him, I never felt like I knew him, and maybe that’s okay. He’s a fellow human, in a dire situation, and in a bit of a moral quandary. What are we willing to do for one person?
I enjoyed this read. It was quick, it was entertaining, and it was unexpected.
If you have a book to recommend for my 2023 reading challenge, please leave a comment below, or join me on Goodreads so we can share what we enjoy.