Saturday, 10 October 2015

Review: The Martian

If you own a TV, you've seen an advertisement for the upcoming film The Martian. You probably know it as the movie with Matt Damon trapped and surviving on Mars, and maybe you'll see it and skip the book. Don't. Seriously, do not pass up the book. The problem I have with movie adaptations is that they always seem to skip on vital details or thoughts. The Martian is written in first person and if the film chooses to go the route of internal monologues, it won't make for a very thrilling film. Or, if it chooses to show us what main character Mark Whatney does to survive, it could avoid the thought process he had to construct to plan said survival. And that is half the fun of this book, which is easily one of the best books I have read this year. From the very first page, I was hooked, and it was all I could do not to just stop everything and finish the novel. It is that good. No, good is the wrong word. It's fantastic. The movie might be good, but I can guarantee that you'll be missing out if you don't read the The Martian and experience it as an achievement in literature.

I love the cover concept– that Mark is battling through uncertainty and never giving up

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. 

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

The story starts with Mark trapped after being blown away in a dust storm. After he survives it, he dedicates all his time to survival techniques– finding food, water, heat, and, most importantly, getting a message to NASA in hopes of a rescue before he starves to death or is killed by something else. The ensuing journey is full of trials and obstacles that regular Joe's and Jane's like us can hardly comprehend... mostly because we aren't resourceful and inventive and desperate astronauts. But one of the many good things about The Martian is that when Mark explains the situation and what he has to do to survive, it's in layman's terms. I never felt confused about what he was doing, and while I thought it was insane, it made sense to me.

And Mark's struggles are very, very real. The concept of how far away Mars is in relation to Earth is terrifying. His rescue will take months, and he doesn't have much to sustain himself with. Reading about his trials and endurance to survive and maintain a new way of life is an adventure on its own, especially when things don't go as planned. Like I explained to my mom when I finished this book and effectively had my mind blown: "It's like Castaway, only set in space and a lot less depressing."

Mark is awesome. There's no other word to describe him, really. He's the kind of man you want to go out for beers with on a Friday night, or hang out with when you're depressed and need some cheering up. The book was way funnier than I expected (though some of the humor is admittedly dark, given the situation), and since over half of it is told from Mark's POV, you can't help but love him. You want him to win, because it would be heartbreaking to watch such a good soul waste away alone, millions of miles away. If that's not enough, every time he does something miraculous or survives a harrowing experiment. The depth of his creativity is mind-boggling, and you can't wait to see what he comes up with next. 

The story is expertly and craftily written. While the majority of the book takes place from the logs that Mark takes, there are other key parts to the book– NASA struggling to communicate and operate a mission to rescue him, the crew that assumed Mark was dead, and what can be described as the perspective of Mars itself. All of this combines into a nearly flawless story that reveals how humanity can work together to save someone who deserves to be saved. The only villains are time and Mars, and as the book draws to a close, all you can think is: "If this doesn't end the way I want it to, I'm going to either start a riot or burst into tears." 

You might be sick of seeing the ads for the Matt Damon adaption of The Martian. Fair enough. But don't let that steer you away from a truly fantastic book. It's earned its reputation, and if you give it a chance, you will not be disappointed. 


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