Book review: “The Martian” equal parts action and suspense

Kim Brack/For the Steamboat Pilot & Today

“The Martian”

by Andy Weir

In April, the ABA announced “The Martian” as the Indie Choice Book Award for Adult Debut Book of the Year. There has been a lot of praise and hype around this book since its debut. It’s all well deserved. Instead of being a boring, techy tome, it is a riveting, barnburner of a story.

Mark Watney is an astronaut who has been accidentally left behind on Mars after a sandstorm threatens the Ares3 Crew millions of miles from home. He is seriously injured, separated and because his suit is damaged, the crew sees no sign of life and believes he is dead. The commander has to make the difficult decision to evacuate the rest of the crew.

When he comes to, Watney assesses his situation and declares that he is in trouble. Two words come to mind ingenuity — the quality of being clever, as well as inventive — and resilience — the ability to recover quickly from hardship. He never blames the crew for abandoning him and instead, attacks his problems head on and with humor.

The Martian is brilliantly written. Alternating between the narrative of events on Earth and Watney’s diary-like log entries, the reader desperately wishes to communicate with both. This technique gives the reader his or her own version of intelligence and knowledge throughout a story that is packed with figures and facts. Watney’s log entries feel so real; one can almost hear his voice as though he were speaking directly to the reader. (I listened to and read this book, the reader for the audio is phenomenal!) He remains positive and objective, despite being confronted with overwhelming challenges. The sense of realism is extended throughout the narrative itself, which does not break the spell by inserting needless context; the reader is fully immersed in real-time events.

Apart from the story, which has equal parts action and suspense, resulting in many moments of bated breath, Weir does what many have tried and failed — he makes science sexy. Watney is first and foremost a scientist, and his ability to calculate and experiment throughout the story is not only related in a way that is easy to follow, but it is also gripping. Space stories can be cool, but Andy Weir does more than that; he makes the science behind such stories cool.

The Martian demonstrates that knowledge really is power and that hope can unite not just one nation, but the whole world. The reader is reminded that compassion and the desire for a happy outcome can help accomplish the seemingly impossible. Weir also gives a new perspective on heroism — he presents a man who solves problems while remaining calm and optimistic, despite enormous setbacks. Mark Watney is the protagonist you absolutely cheer for.

A movie based on the book, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, is due for release in November 2015, so read it before you see it.

This book is available at the Bud Werner Memorial Library and at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore; e-books can be found at

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