A good friend had told me, after the movie came out, that the book was a must-read. Of course, my reading list is already unattainable, so what was adding one more to the list right? Humour me.
Anyway, I’ve gotten into the habit of picking up second-hand books, so as not to bankrupt us. I found the movie tie-in edition of this book, with Matt Damon’s face plastered over the cover. I was none too pleased with this, but I did want to read the book. So I bought it anyway.
Author: Andy Weir
Story: Mark Watney is part of the Ares-3 mission to Mars, one of six astronauts of the mission. He is the mechanical engineer and botanist. He is also the funny guy.
The mission is supposed to last for 31 days, but is cut short due to a storm. The team aborts on the sixth day, and they prepare to go back to their main ship. In the kerfuffle caused by the storm, Mark is skewered by an antenna, and blown away by the high speed winds. The rest of the team tries to locate him, but his suit’s bio-monitors show that he is dead. Reluctantly, they are forced to leave.
However, Mark isn’t dead. He wakes up, and realises that he is all alone. On Mars. With no means to contact Earth.
Writing: Another book in diary form, which isn’t my favourite style by any means, but somehow this format works well for the story. The writing is infused with humour and intelligence, and therefore projects a vision of Watney that is immediately likeable.
Side note: I generally don’t do this, but I reckon that Dork was going for the same thing, but failed abysmally in the effort.
Characters: The characters are all likeable, even though they clearly have their personalities and flaws. They fit the moulds of highly intelligent scientists, with a verve for conquering new frontiers. The NASA folk have a few more shades to their characters, where the bureaucratic mindset of thinkers tussles with the risk-taking streak inherent in doers. The book mildly explores these nuances, without allowing the narrative to be distracted from the situation at hand.
Pace: Suspenseful and exciting. Even though there are down-times, they serve as breathers for the excitement of things happening, and things going wrong.
Conclusion: The great thing about this book isn’t the story or the characters, even though these are amazing aspects. In my opinion, the mix of characters is fantastic. Apart from character names, which naturally give insight into their ethnicities and genders, there is no physical description of the characters. [Except, I think, for Vogel, who was described as lumbering, suggesting bigness.] I like that the characters could be black, white, Asian, or a mix of all, for all the relevance it has to the story. True, there is a believability aspect, where not many non-white non-male people get to do these things, but that can be disregarded because it is a novel after all.
Having said that, I loved every aspect of this novel. The human spirit shines through, both on a individual level and at an organisational level, where all people come together to save one life. It is a beautiful thing to behold.