Andy Weir’s book The Martian encapsulates the wondrous question of “what if” in character, plot, and the narrative story, creating a piece where the reader excitedly wonders if our main character will die or not.
Weir’s own knowledge of space exploration and technological development gives tangible evidence to these questions, helping the readers immerse themselves in the story and believe much of the unknown that is faced. This is one of the highlights in reading The Martian—how easily you can immerse yourself in the new and slightly futuristic world. It’s there, just barely out of our reach and well within our sight. With this world building, readers immerse themselves even more into the story, and the plots and setbacks faced throughout the story hit a little closer to home. At points, you are left wondering at what point in our future we will be reading a story like this.
It would be easy to have a story like this be incredibly dark, the character brooding and glooming, all hope lost. Instead, the reader is met with Mark Watney, a man that makes jabs, jokes, and puns every step he can. Faced with the probability that he will die on this planet long before help can ever reach him, Watney takes moments to ponder world-shattering thoughts like, “How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.”
Throughout the book, readers will find themselves laughing. Because of this, a story that takes the Man vs. Nature story to new heights is not the doom and gloom we are used to. You have confidence in Watney. Instead of anxiously asking, “How are you ever going to survive this latest problem?” you sit back and say, “I know you can get through this, now tell me how.” This confidence in a character is refreshing, and readers will find themselves rooting heavily for our stranded hero.
This story is not just Watney’s story—Weir gently bounces from Watney’s first person narrative to a more omniscient third person as people learn of his survival, and then work on the impossible task of bringing him home. Switching between first and third person is a writing rule that wars are fought over. You’re either told never to do it, or you find a teacher that gleefully rubs their hands together and encourages such shenanigans. And The Martian adds another notch into the belt for this.
Although you love Watney, it’s refreshing at times to pull back and see things he doesn’t see, view characters he may never meet. Along with keeping the story moving, and adding fresh perspectives, the narratives on Earth help Weir show one of the fundamental points he puts in his book: people want to help others. Whether they’re trapped on a mountain, victims of a disaster, or a solitary human stuck 140 million miles away, humans will go out of their way to help.
The Martian has a few blunders here and there, expected for a first novel, but its main fault is the ending. Weir gives us so much throughout the book, gently building up tension until we are again shocked by the massive stakes that are at play. You are committed to this story, to the character, and as the final scenes play out you grip the book tightly, waiting for something to go wrong. And then there is a little sign-off, and you are done. With how much you come to care for Watney, the radio show-style goodbye feels cheap, as if someone forgot the ending when the story went to print and another one was hastily written up. It was the largest flaw of the novel and it was enough to knock the rating down a whole star, but not enough to discourage others to read it. Whether for the McGuyver stunts, witty commentary, or near future tech, The Martian is worth the read.