Thursday, March 20, 2014

“The Martian” by Andy Weir – Perils of the Red Planet

The Martian by Andy Weir (Book cover)
With the exploration of Mars being closer to realization than most of us believed in our childhoods, interest in the red planet is once again starting to rise, and unsurprisingly, so is the number of novels in relation to it.

Amongst all of them though there is one surprising standout, The Martian by Andy Weir, and it is actually the author’s debut novel. The premise is rather simple: a group of astronauts arrive on Mars for the purposes of exploration, but very soon, all but one of them die because of the unexpectedly hostile environment.

Being a lonely stranger in a hostile and strange land, Mark Watney, the last astronaut of Mars, has his work cut out for him: his lack of supplies, communicative abilities and distance from Earth dim his hopes of escape to what feels like pitch black.

On top of having to find a way back home, Mark must also contend with the deadly and mysterious mother nature of Mars, broken and damaged machinery, and his own human weaknesses. Having nothing but his intelligence and craftiness to rely on, Mark isn’t ready to abandon just yet.

The premise isn’t one that deceives you, remaining basically a “one man against nature” survival show, with Mark being the protagonist and Mars’ environment the enemy. Pretty much every problem encountered by Mark requires him to use his intelligence in order to solve it, and each one seems to be more impossible than the last one.

The challenges faced by the protagonist are far from being mundane and easy; failure or success at each one has clear repercussions, and there is more than one moment where the author manages to make you truly fear for Mark’s life, even though we know he is the main character.

As things get closer to the end, the relationship between Mark and reader grows ever stronger; the thrill, sadness and inspiration of watching Mark calmly and in some cases nonchalantly face an impending and impregnable doom is very hard to convey. We really do not know whether or not Mark will survive this ordeal, and by the end of the anticipation builds up to a truly memorable climax

The Mars Surface
The Red Planet

It really shows that Weir put his heart and soul into this book, with there being plenty of technical details and every event being based on the reality we have today. In other words, Weir actually went out and researched manned spaceflight, orbital trajectory mechanics, astronomy, and everything that comes with writing a novel in space. The result is a work which feels convincing on the instinctual, emotional and intellectual levels.

The only potential downside to this book (notice the word potential) is its rather slow development, at least when compared to other science-fiction novels out there. If I had to put it in terms of movies, this books is more like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Moon rather than Star Wars or such science-fiction.

The slower pace is not for nothing though; it gave the author room for philosophical and human deliberations, giving us food for thought and further serving to help build the relationship with the protagonist.

The Martian by Andy Weir (Book cover)
If what you are looking for is a more deliberate, technical, thought-provoking and moving science-fiction story where the protagonist is pitted against very realistic threats, The Martian is sure to please you from the first page to the last.

Andy Weir (Author)

Andy Weir

Personal site

Andy Weir is an American author who has only very recently made his debut with The Martian, a novel which turned out to be a huge success. Though not much is known about him, Weir is someone who is dedicated to write scientifically and technologically-accurate stories, as evidenced by the amount of research he did on astronomy, orbital mechanics and manned spaceflight for his first effort.

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