RogerBW's Blog

The Martian, Andy Weir 02 May 2014

Astronaut Mark Watney is on Mars. Alone; the rest of the crew thought he'd died in the dust storm that they were escaping from. Now he's trying to work out how to survive.

This is a story with rivets in it, in the traditional heroic-engineer mould. The bulk of the narrative is Watney's diary, describing how he's going about cannibalising equipment to stay alive: to stretch food, water and oxygen supplies that were meant to last another 24 days for six people out to the 500-plus days he'll need before rescue can possibly arrive.

Occasional cutaways deal with events on Earth, particularly once communication is restored, but this is primarily Watney's story. There are no enemies to fight except the forces of nature: the cold, the dust, the lack of usable resources.

The writing style, presented as Watney's log intended to be found by whoever discovers his body, is pleasant though extremely informal (lots of "yay!"). The low-brow jokes wore on me at times, when I had difficulty believing in Watney's psychological role in the crew as someone who'd help them all get along better. Still, he manages to stay sympathetic, reminding me of a less-annoying version of David Brin's protagonist in The Practice Effect, and the story is a compelling one even if the interpersonal elements are pretty flat. Fortunately there aren't many of them; this is a humanity-vs-nature problem in the style of classic Clarke or Asimov. Many people report having stayed up all night to finish the book. I didn't, but I did read it in less than 24 hours.

The ending is somewhat abrupt, and (spoilers):

Grafvba qebcf bss n yvggyr va gur svany fprarf, jurer Jngarl orpbzrf n cnffratre sbe uvf nfprag vagb beovg naq vf cnffviryl erfphrq; nsgre nyy jr'ir frra bs uvz fheivivat ol uvf bja rssbegf, vg frrzf n ovg bs n funzr gung gur ynfg ovt bofgnpyrf fubhyq or birepbzr ol bgure crbcyr. Shegurezber, gur zvffvba pbzznaqre jub znqr gur qrpvfvba gb nonaqba uvz va gur bevtvany vapvqrag unf orra pyrneyl gelvat gb pbcr jvgu vg, cnegvphyneyl bapr fur ernyvfrf gung ur vf va snpg fgvyy nyvir, naq guvf unf orra tenqhnyyl ohvyg hc guebhtu gur obbx… ohg va gur raq gurer'f ab erfbyhgvba ng nyy.

(If you don't recognise this way of hiding text, paste it into rot13.com .)

The book was originally made available as a free download, though it's now been locked away by a publisher. Film rights have been sold. Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) is apparently writing and directing. This might not be entirely terrible.

Many thanks to Meg Wood for pointing me at this one.

Addendum: yes, this is the same Andy Weir who used to write and draw Casey and Andy.

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