We’ve all been there—stuck in a Martian windstorm trying to get to the escape ship before the maelstrom tips it over, when bam! We’re knocked senseless by a piece of flying antenna. The next thing we know, we’re waking up about to suffocate because there’s a hole in our spacesuit and the rest of the crew is on its way home, thinking we’re dead.
Thank goodness we haven’t gone through this. But the question is, if we were in that predicament, how would we react? I know I would probably just curl up in the fetal position and wait for death. But I’m not Mark Watney, the main character in a ripping yarn entitled The Martian. This book, the basis of the Matt Damon movie of the same title, is the whole package. It combines adventure, human drama, science fiction (that sounds so real that the reader forgets this isn’t actually possible) and a huge dose of laugh-out-loud humor. The book came out in 2011, but with the debut of the movie, interest in the book has risen once again. So, even if you’ve seen the movie, I strongly recommend the book. It contains no real surprises in terms of the ending, but after reading it, I felt like the film, which was one of my favorites of the year, was just a Spark notes version of a classic story.
For those of you who haven’t seen the movie either, I won’t spoil the ending. I will tell you that, after the accident, the book splits its time between Mars and Earth. The Martian half is predominantly Watney’s journals depicting his attempts to stay alive in the harsh, unforgiving environment of Mars. Not only is Watney tough, but he’s also just plain genius. Could you grow potatoes on Mars? I know I couldn’t grow potatoes on Mars. But Watney does. And while he’s doing it, he maintains his sense of humor as well as his colorful language.
The Earth half of the book shows the scientists of NASA trying to find a way to get back to him before he starves to death. Apparently, flying to Mars isn’t as simple as jumping into a rocket and going straight there. It takes months of preparation and you have to lift off at just the right time or it takes way too long to get there because Mars is in the wrong place. And you have to think of literally thousands of things, like how to get to him once you make it to Mars and how to make the food so it isn’t destroyed when it hits the ground there.
If I have a criticism of the book—and it’s a tiny one—it’s that a couple of times it got a little too technical for me. And I literally mean about twice and for less than a paragraph when Watney’s description of how he calculated something or overcame a problem gets a little too science-y for my interest. But then the next paragraph, he cracks another joke and the story zips right back to life.
The book takes place over the course of almost two years, but there’s a constant immediacy to it. Will something go wrong? Will he starve? Will they get to him in time? Will he notice the storm before it’s too late? Watney can never just relax because there’s always something trying to kill him, from lack of oxygen to freezing temperatures to, of all things, too much oxygen. Who knew that was a thing?
I give this book a solid five stars out of five. It’s something that almost any reader would enjoy. If you’re into science fiction, it’s a slam dunk. But it’s not just for that. It’s full of adventure, intrigue, humor, and it’s just a beautiful story of the almost limitlessness of the human spirit and the potential we have to overcome even the most seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Read this book. Seriously, turn off your computer and go buy it. Now.