Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Martian


Book Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Date Started: November 2nd 2015
Date Completed: November 15th 2015
Genres: Sci-Fi
Quality Rating: Four Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Three Star
Final Rating: Three stars

I'm sad to say that The Martian disappointed me, but through no fault of it's quality. I can see why so many people love it, but unfortunately I always seem to have a hard time getting into sci-fi and it usually means I don't really enjoy the genre in its book form. Weir's novel wasn't an exception to that and so I have to say I enjoyed the film more this time.

The writing depends a lot on dialogue and first-person narration, so when I didn't really get Watney's humour it made the book difficult to engage with. The strange thing is that when I watched the film I actually noticed how well written the speech was, and how it really brought the characters to life with the actors verbally enhancing it. But then when I picked up the book it just didn't work on page for me, even though a lot of the dialogue is lifted straight from the novel.
I also think the amount of science info-dumping was crazy. Admittedly, the book wouldn't have worked whatsoever without it, but it's pretty hard to follow if you haven't got a degree in a science. I didn't mind this that much, excluding all the times when Weir had clearly tried to simplify the science but then made it so vague you couldn't even try to work out what he was talking about. Another controversial point I've heard is that people disagree at how believable all this is - personally I gave up trying to judge if it was realistic very early on.

At times being stuck with huge portions with Watney trying to figure out science was like actually felt like being stranded alone on Mars trying not to die. Take that whatever way you will, but it's not a particularly positive comment in my mind. While the feeling of utter solitude added to the atmosphere, that atmosphere wasn't really a place I enjoyed being in when I was struggling to stay engaged in the first place. A lot of people say that the opening of this book is quite slow since it is literally Watney as the only inhabitant of a planet trying not to die, but once other things kick in it gets better. I agree with this to a point, however I still wasn't really that engaged when other people did turn up since we keep flicking back and forth so much. The parts that did include the rest of the crew and the people on earth were definitely more interesting for me since Weir creates such compelling characters, but I really do feel they're best when interacting with each other. And unfortunately this book is about someone who is alone for the whole book.
The climax was done really well; it fitted with the rest of the book when it came to rather confusing explanations of the science behind the reality, but it wasn't overdramatised to the point where this feeling of believability was completely thrown to the wind. Just a simple, well thought-out and delivered resolution that satisfying tied together the story.

Like I've mentioned, Weir definitely creates compelling characters who show depth even in their short appearances, though the sheer amount of them does become slightly hard to keep up with when you're trying to digest all the science as well.
Wantey was a brilliant protagonist, even if I didn't find his humour particularly amusing (don't get me wrong, he had a couple of good one-liners, but I kind of felt like Commander Lewis when my reaction was just to nod and go with it). The real strength with Mark was his personality: he was a really likeable person. Weir could've done a thousand things with him, whether it would be really dark or moany, but he chose to create a person that the audience really wants to root for. While I think the best characters are usually ones that aren't necessarily good people, you forget how rare it is to actually find a character you genuinely like as a person.

For a 300 page book this took me forever, and I read the biggest chunk of it in one go. As part of the story the pace is really slow to begin with because it's just Watney on his own, but when things start to happen it fluctuates for the rest of the book. There isn't really a consistent balance between Watney's logs and then the perspectives looking at everyone else (as well as other formats dotted through), so depending on how well you translate from each point of view it might take you longer.

The Martian is definitely a book for science-geeks or anyone interested in other planets and space. If you click with the characters you'll have a great time and find yourself rooting for a fictional astronaut like he was real. Personally I just didn't enjoy it as much as I was hoping, though I can't criticise Weir too harshly for his work.

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