The Martian is a book that is hard to describe. It is certainly funny but it has serious moments. It has math but it isn’t a textbook. It is good for anyone who is interested in engineering and science but doesn’t want the story to be bogged down by equations. The science is one of the best things about this book, but the plot is no slacker.
The book covers the story of an astronaut named Mark Watney, who after being left for dead on mars after a dust storm forces the crew to evacuate. Being left alone 30 million miles from earth Watney has to figure out how to survive, contact earth and eventually get home. It also follows the people on earth aiding him in not dying.
This quick but interesting premise serves as guiding framework. Everything happens as an effect of Watney trying to get home or to get him to survive. This focus allows you to know exactly what’s going the end game, even when it gets deep into the details of a specific things. When the book goes in detail on how Watney made water with jet fuel it goes in depth on the process. This detail doesn’t make you forget the end goal is to make water. The focus is never so much on the how that you forget the why. This focus on leavening mars makes the story more understandable as offshoots to gather resources or tests might have thrown off the narrative otherwise.
The plot is good but a good plot can’t carry a story. The thing that truly makes the book great is the dialogue which is ironic considering Mark Watney is stuck on Mars alone. His recordings have a comedic edge despite his situation. Be it idle thoughts “How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.” or frank admissions of how dead he will probably be (I’d put something here but they are all quite vulgar). Watney isn’t the only funny individual, other characters get a few jokes in. In one instance before the launch of a supply mission the Flight Director is talking to the director of the program Watneys a part of, and remarks “Do you believe in God, Venkat?” Mitch asked. “Sure, lots of ’em,” Venkat said. “I’m Hindu.”. This overall comic tone greatly benefits the book as it stops the book being mopey and depressing.
The other main reason I love this book is how scientifically interesting it gets as it talks in depth about how watney survives. These details of how he gets water by burning the jet fuel and mixing the hydrogen with the oxygen. It also includes hiccups like how he almost blows up the HAB because he does his math wrong. This kind of realistic problem solving in (to us at least) absurd situations reminded me of the What If blog on xkcd. So fans of that might appreciate the engineering and science.
Now I read this book after watching the movie with Matt Damon so I already just about knew what to expect. Many parts of the book were cut out of the movie so I was surprised by funny dialogue and a few plot points. So don’t write off the book if you have seen the movie. Matt Damon also has accurately portrayed the book’s Mark Watney so the both are good companions to each other.
I love this book as it really encouraged me to work towards being an engineer I already was moving there and this solidified that movement. Now this isn’t the kind of book to change your life, but it’s a fun romp from start to end. And really what more can you want.