The Martian: Survival Mode, Hardcore Edition

I’m only mostly ashamed of that joke.

The Martian is something I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while. My dad always pestered me to read it, which I always told him I would. Then the movie came out and looked amazing, so I moved it higher up on my to-do list. Even then, I didn’t get around to it. It just slipped me by, time and time again.

Until now. Now, I can say with confidence that I should not have been putting this one off! This book is fantastic! It’s easily one of the strongest science fiction books I’ve ever read! As soon as I was finished with it, I wanted to go right back and read it again!

Unfortunately, I can’t review it twice. So that’ll have to wait another time. To my great dismay…

The story is incredibly simple. Mark Watney, botanist/engineer, ends up stranded on Mars after a powerful storm forces the rest of the crew to abandon their mission. Now, with what limited supplies he has left, he needs to survive long enough for NASA to put a mission together to rescue him. There are no massive plot-twists or complex betrayals, nothing like that. Just a man against the elements.

The main reason this works so well is the perspective. A majority of the story is told from Watney’s perspective via log entries, so we experience everything that he does after the fact. This allows for some really witty and clever delivery. Seriously, the first line of this book might be my absolute favorite in all of fiction.

I am fucked and I’m going to die.
-Mark Watney, literally the first line of the story

Plus, it manages to create tension by dividing audio logs up in smaller segments when real bad things start to happen. Sure, we already know that he’s going to survive; the log wouldn’t exist otherwise. That’s not where the tension comes from. Rather, it creates engagement by making the audience ask ‘how will he survive’ instead of ‘will he survive’, which is incredibly unique and fun! It makes the story super easy to binge for long periods of time!

Now, I do have a few gripes with the perspective. Mostly in that it’s inconsistent. Partway through the story, we cut away from Watney and back to NASA and his other crewmembers. These are told in a third-person perspective. If it were just these alone, it wouldn’t be a problem; Watney’s scenes are first-person, everyone else is third-person. Unfortunately, there are a few scenes focused on Watney that are told in the third-person.

This is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it creates easy tension and allows the writer to weave scenes that wouldn’t be possible from Watney’s perspective. On the other, it is disorienting to the reader because it breaks the book’s established rules. It wasn’t until halfway through that segment that I even realized it was focused on Watney at all! If your story switches between third and first-person, you need to establish clear rules to your audience and follow them. If you confuse your reader, you’re doing something wrong.

On a more positive note, the dialogue here is fantastic! It’s all witty enough to be entertaining while being realistic enough not to ruin the immersion. Better yet, each line manages to squeeze out an incredible amount of character! Every bit of character personality is communicated entirely through how they talk. This is dialogue writing at its finest!

It also has a great sense of humor! This book made me smile and chuckle more times than I could count! The jokes aren’t always great. But when they’re funny, they’re pretty damn entertaining! Like this line!

Watney was alone on Mars. God only knew what he was thinking.
*Cut to Watney*
Why can Aquaman control whales? They’re mammals, not fish! That makes no sense!
*Chapter ends*

Plus, it knows how to balance the comedy with the genuine drama. The two never once clash with each other. When it needs to be serious, it is. When it doesn’t, it’ll give you a hearty chuckle or two. It is as all things should be: perfectly balanced.

Even better yet, this book is incredibly smartly written! It doesn’t pull fake science out of its ass to progress the plot. It is an incredibly realistic story that utilizes realistic science, which makes it fun for nerds like me. Plus, it explains it more than well enough for not-smart people (also like me) to understand it perfectly!

It isn’t a flawless piece of sci-fi. But it’s exactly what all science fiction should try to be: smart and fun! It’s a wonderfully engaging book that you should absolutely read if you haven’t already! It deserves your time, one-hundred percent!

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I need to go stare at a wall and figure out how Aquaman can control whales. Because… this is just my life now.

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