This book was recommended to me by my co-worker Paul, who was reading it at the time. The movie looked good and in my experience I almost always tend to enjoy a book more than its movie counterpart. I think in order to enjoy the book without being influenced by someone else's interpretation of it, you have to read it before watching the movie. Hence why I downloaded it onto my Kobo and got reading!
Overall, I loved this book, despite the fact that it was fiction. I don't read a whole lot of fiction anymore, but I like to slip in a fiction novel after reading a few non-fiction novels just so things don't get repetitive. I read non-fiction because I love learning, and in general I think i am more engaged in a books written about real life, and real things. Now that I'm considering it, I think I should say I'm less engaged in a fictional book precisely because its not real. Doesn't really matter; semantics.However, despite the fact that it was fictional, The Martian reads very much like a non-fiction novel. The author, Andy Weir, works as a software engineer (in addition to writing books now I suppose) and apparently he tried to make the story as realistic and scientifically accurate as possible. I'm not an astrophysicist, botanist, or NASA employee, but I was convinced that what I was reading was at least conceptually plausible and that makes more a much more interesting story.
Quick Plot Summary: A Manned mission to Mars in the near future involves a crew of 6 astronauts. The plan was to be on Mars for 31 days but the mission is cut short on day 6 when a heavy dust-storm risks damaging the "ascent vehicle". 5/6 astronauts make it to the ascent vehicle in order to leave the planet but the 6th, Mark Watney, is struck by a flying piece of debris and the crew presumes he is dead due to the puncture in his space suit (they can all view bio-monitor data provided from their suits which is relayed to each crew member). Watney survives while the rest of the crew leaves in the only way off Mars. He has to figure out how to survive on Mars for 4 years until the next planned mission arrives with only a years supply of food.
What I loved about this book was that Weir didn't try to incorporate too many thematic elements into it. Within the first twenty pages you understand exactly how the story is going to be told, and what you're getting into. The book is written as a series of journal logs and audio logs recorded by Watney while stranded on Mars, interspersed with narrated scenes from Earth as well as the spacecraft carrying the other crew members back to Earth. Set-up this way, the book gives the feeling of an intimate connection with Watney as he plans his survival.
Being an engineer, I love problem solving. In the book, Watney is a mechanical engineer/botanist, which provided him with possibly the best foundation of knowledge to maximize his chances of survival. Watney approaches all the problems he encounters with a sort of emotionally-detached, logical view that I can relate to. He understands that, facing death as the only other alternative to escaping the planet, he simply has to line-up the problems standing between him and escaping, and do his best to solve them. He takes you through his thought process as he works, top-down, to formulate his plan of action and slowly accomplish tasks as his plan granulates and becomes more detailed. The story serves as a great example of the engineering problem-solving process. It should be recommended reading for those mandatory professional engineering courses you have to take in your undergrad.
Considering that the premise of the book revolves around a lone man, left to die on a planet 54.6 million kilometers away from Earth with little chance of survival, you could easily see how the story could internalize and focus on Watney's emotions, state of mind, or mental well-being. This is not the case at all however, the story focuses on the reality of the situation. Watney takes you through the exact process of how he survives, and he leaves no room in his journal logs to wax philosophical on his situation, or go off on tangents regarding the implications of his situation in the context of the history of humans. While these could certainly be explored as themes in a story like this, that's not what The Martian is about. It's left up to the reader to develop these views and to realize the bravery and resilience that Watney exhibits.
In essence, what I'm saying is that The Martian is a story built around technical details. It probably is not for everyone, specifically people who don't have much interest in technology or space exploration. But if you do like those areas, or if you have some sort of STEM background, than I would recommend it to you, non-existent reader of this blog post.
Weir's writing style is definitely influenced by his background in computer programming. He is not exactly the most illustrative in his prose, but he manages to convey the details necessary to build each scene in your head and to understand the character motivations without having to explicitly describe them. I think the idea behind the story is so intriguing and relevant to today's zeitgeist that it really only needs a writer like Weir to flesh it out with the vivid reality provided by technical feasibility. Weir wanted to ensure the details of Watney's survival plan and the Mars mission in general were as close to real-life as possible, and I think this is really what makes this stand out as an exemplary work of sci-fi fiction. You almost get the feeling at times that you're reading " A Survival Guide to Mars".
I'm going to go see this in theatres on Friday. I'll update with my thoughts on the movie then.
Update: I thought it was excellent. I think it was one of the more faithful book-to-movie adaptations I've ever seen. Ridley Scott managed to keep the main storyline almost completely the same, and made very few concessions in it's recreation. Many of my favourite lines of dialogue from the book made it to the movie script, and the actors that delivered them did a great job. I really liked how they retained the great humor from the book, it was one of the best features of the book itself.