ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andy Weir is an award-winning American author best known for his first published novel, The Martian. A former computer programmer, Weir’s initial shot to fame was through a short story he posted online titled The Egg, which highlighted the overarching concept of “Everybody”.
The Martian is a commendable sci-fi novel with rigorously researched details and scientific accuracy. It relates the tale of an astronaut, Mark Watney, a botanist-cum-engineer who is left stranded in the harsh atmosphere of Mars and the adventure that follows his quest for survival. The film adaptation directed by Ridley Scott and staring Matt Damon has gone on to become a critical and commercial success.
The book starts with Mark Watney logging into his video log and lamenting his misfortune on being left behind on the Red Planet. The book moves along in a first-person narrative through the eyes of Watney (obviously). He explains how the crew of NASA’s Ares 3 mission had to emergency evacuate the planet due to the onslaught of a massive storm. During their departure, Watney is yanked away by a stray cable and is presumed dead. Heartbroken, the crew decides to take off without searching for him given the precarious nature of the situation. But as fate would have it, Mark survives with minor injuries and makes his way back to the artificial habitat they had set up on the surface of Mars. Now with the mammoth task of surviving 550 solar days on Mars, Watney sets upon to solve the herculean problem of his survival with his botanical and mechanical engineering expertise.
It is generally considered wise to read a book after watching the movie since the book always tends to be better and has deeper connotations and details to it, and thus comes as an added surprise to the on-screen story one just saw. But when it comes to The Martian, it is highly recommended to finish the book first, since (in a rare instance) the movie seems to be the better alternative.
The Martian is a commendable science fiction novel when it comes to scientific accuracy and nail-biting adventure, but that’s all it is. While many reviewers have heaped praise on the book, the story leaves you wanting more. Weir has striven hard to achieve a near-perfect scientific precision through extensive research into orbital mechanics and space exploration, but has completely neglected to imbibe a certain literary uniqueness in the prose. The narrative reads as a hotchpotch of numbers and formulas with no quality relief in between them.
However, curiously enough, the pace of the plot is engaging and entertaining. The numerous instances of Watney facing life-ending complications but always coming out of them victorious borders on the pedantic, but the author’s skill surgically saves the narrative through some top-notch storytelling. But a story must have something more than a barrelling narrative. It must have a dramatic quality captured through poetic symbolism and charming wordistry, which this one lacks. A good book is often characterized by its quotable language along with an engaging plot. But even if one sifts through page after page of this book, any quotes worth mentioning won’t reach that mark.
The author has tried hard – too hard, in fact – to make the protagonist come across as a genius and charming guy capable of facing an impossible situation through wit and humor. But alas, Mark Watney ends up giving the impression of an arrogant know-it-all whose attempts at jokes leave you cringing.
“My reply: Venkat, tell the investigation committee they’ll have to do their witch-hunt without me. And when they inevitably blame Commander Lewis, be advised I’ll publicly refute it. Also please tell them that each and every one of their mothers is a prostitute.
P.S. Their sisters, too.”
Furthermore, Weir has attempted to include various characters but has failed to give each of them the apt attention they need and has, instead, muddled the plot with half-concocted and unnecessary secondary characters.
While the story is wonderfully crafted with twists and turns that keep you on the edge of your seat, the narrative seems fit for the big screen instead of paper. The author’s neglect of certain moral and descriptive elements that could have added gravitas to this tale drags the story down – even in the low-gravity atmosphere of Mars.
The Martian is an okay read, especially if you are not looking for a book that doesn’t necessarily seek to become a classic. It is a meticulous specimen of complicated science-fiction with all its numbers adding up correctly but literature left unappealing. With the positives of an exciting and entertaining space adventure narrative and the negatives of a colorless characterization, this book is a great read for an uneventful afternoon, though almost certainly not a potential favorite.
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