My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’m pretty much f**ked.Astronaut Mark Watney is marooned on Mars after a freak dust storm literally blows him away from his crewmates. Thinking he's dead, the mission is scrubbed and the rest of the crew head back to Earth. Mark hopes to survive until the next NASA mission to Mars in four years.
That’s my considered opinion.
Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare. I don’t even know who’ll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe 100 years from now. For the record… I didn’t die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can’t blame them. Maybe there’ll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say “Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars.” And it’ll be right, probably. Cause I’ll surely die here. Just not on Sol 6 when everyone thinks I did. Let’s see…where do I begin?
Most of The Martian consists of Mark's log entries which read like a MacGyver episode. He keeps as lighthearted a mood as possible while recording the details of how he is attempting to grow food, find water, and so forth. It is this lighthearted element which helps keep this from being merely a manual of "how to survive on Mars." For example, Mark's selection of entertainment from among the things left behind by his crewmates yields the complete series for Three's Company. His occasional comments on the series afterwards made me laugh out loud.
Fairly early in the book, NASA's side of the story begins being interwoven with Mark's struggle for survival. Since Apollo 13 is one of my favorite movies, the comparison is inevitable and irresistible. NASA must juggle PR, competing agencies, rescue plans and more ... while we see Mark doggedly surmount one obstacle after another. It is a welcome element because an entire book of Mark's survival log was going to need some sort of additional depth to make it interesting.
Although I always felt fairly sure that Mark would survive, as the end of the book loomed near I got increasingly tense. What if these were his "found posthumously" logs? The author kept the tension up to the very end.
And at the end? I'm not ashamed to admit it. I cried.
Tears of joy? Tears of sorrow? Read the book and find out.
Or listen to it as I did. Narrator R.C. Bray did a good job of conveying Mark's sense of humor and absorption in problem solving and survival. He also was good at the various accents of the international cast comprising the rest of the crew and NASA. He had a tendency to read straight storytelling as if it were a computer manual or something else that just needed a brisk run down.
The main thing a bit at fault was Bray's German accent, which I kept mistaking for a Mexican or Indian accent. Those don't seem as if they should be that interchangeable do they? My point exactly. However, I always knew who was speaking, I felt emotions as they came across, and it was a good enough narrating job. Not enough to make me look for other books in order to hear his narrations, but good enough.
This novel is not a short story and I felt it would have benefitted from more characterization. Yes, we get to know Mark Watney and, to a lesser degree, his crewmates and the NASA crew. However, to hear Mark's story for so many days (sols) and get to know so little about him during that time ... well, after a while it got a little boring, aside from the new problems to be solved or emergencies from which to recover.
We also got occasional forays into NASA and the spaceship crew, but more about Mark would have enriched the story. It didn't have to be soul-baring and I realize he was writing a log, but after several hundred days some personalization would have crept in, one would think.
Anyway, that is not a huge factor because I enjoyed the story. But I was not surprised to see that the author is a computer programmer and it did cost the book a star.