It’s about twenty years since I read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy. Three detail heavy, science rich, political novels about the colonising of Mars. Since then nothing, and now two Mars novel in a week. Pierce Brown’s Red Rising was a grown-up Hunger Games clone set on the red planet. The Martian by Andy Weir is pure Robinson Crusoe.
During a manned mission to Mars something goes wrong and Mark Watney is left behind. His fellow astronauts thought he was dead, but due to a complicated (unlikely) set of circumstances, he survived. Now he’s on his own. It’s not all bad. He has food and equipment meant for six and NASA will lead another mission to Mars, eventually. All he has to do is survive for four years in a habitat designed to work for a month. What could possibly go wrong?
I must confess to being rather late to the Martian party. There are already over 1000 almost all superlative reviews on Amazon, so this review is just another drop in an ocean of praise.
A lot of this book is about the science. It is, in the truest sense of the word, science fiction. If you didn’t enjoy physics and chemistry at school, you might struggle with The Martian as it is detail heavy on chemistry, botany, electronics, astrophysics and much more besides. But there is a very human element to the novel too. There has to be or it wouldn’t work.
The novel essentially breaks down into a set of challenges that Watney has to solve. Andy Weir’s depth of knowledge and research is staggering. Not only can he write convincingly about the technology and processes required to support life on Mars, he details how they may fail and be repaired, or reverse engineered to be used to maintain life in an entirely different way. Beyond that there is a rich vein of humour running through the book. This lightens the potential science overload and makes Watney an intensely likeable character. You absolutely want him to survive this. Well I did anyway. By the end of the book I was quite emotional.
To say more would give stuff away that is best left to the author to reveal. I was slow to pick the Martian up, but I’m so glad I did. It’s an almost perfect piece of tense science fiction. Lo-octane thrills, but utterly breathtaking. It’s a masterclass in storytelling.
Many thanks to the team at Del Ray for sending me a copy of this book.