Monday, November 30, 2015

Review: The Martian

Author: Andy Weir
Genre: Science fiction, contemporary
My Rating: ★★★★★ (5 of 5 stars)




If there is a kind of story I am certain we are all so eager to devour, it is that of survival. We are always excited to hear tales of men striving to stay alive in an isolated island, of friends stuck in a forest of cannibals, of sailors trapped at sea where they are forced to become cannibals, of unlikely allies in a town of living dead, and even of kids chucked in an arena where they are barbarically made to murder one another. We marvel at the things the main characters do just to keep going, and we sometimes put ourselves in their shoes, wondering if we will go the same path that they did.

So when I heard of Andy Weir’s The Martian for the first time—described by many as an interstellar survival story fronted by an astronaut Robinson Crusoe —I know it was just too good to pass up. I have to read it; after all, the string of existence stories that I treasure for their ability to quench my thirst for adventures is screaming for a new addition.

The Martian follows astronaut Mark Watney who, after being mistakenly thought dead during a dust storm on Mars, is left when his crewmates are forced to evacuate the planet. He finds himself stranded on the Martian surface with (1) no way to signal Earth that he is alive, (2) food supplies that would run out years before a rescue mission reaches him should he be able to get a word out, (3) machinery that will probably get weathered by Mars’ unforgiving environment, and (4) possibilities to commit “human error” in his attempts to live. How long will he be able to sustain this fight when all odds are seemingly not in his favor?

Riveting, smart, and laugh-out-loud funny, The Martian is perhaps one of the best hard sci-fi tales that I have encountered in the past year. While it is teeming with technical details, Weir makes sure that readers who do not have much knowledge in space programs and modern science fiction in general would not be left behind. It charges along nicely at a gallop, making it an entertaining ride that would beg to be read in just one sitting.

Watney is perhaps the epitome of a narrator that is virtually impossible to dislike. Documenting his dogged journey to survive through a twenty-first-century style epistolary, he constantly pulls hope and strength from his resourcefulness and unlimited supply of gallows humor. Readers will find themselves laughing with and rooting for him, crunching their brows and ooh-ing at every problem solved, and face-palming whenever his efforts are met with inevitable setbacks. Through his rose-colored spectacles—or helmet faceplate, rather—he proves he has too steadfast a soul to be dampened by the Red Planet’s challenges.

If there is anything I came to almost not liking about this book, it is the change of point-of-view to show what NASA is doing on Earth to retrieve him (is that counted as a mini-spoiler?) and those handful of times on Mars when the readers are made to know something before Watney notices it. I understand that they are necessary. They are not bad per se, though there are times when the transitions are not seamless. But like bumps on a gratifying joy ride, it did not halter my enjoyment of the story.

Aside from Watney’s, another POV that I also loved is that focusing on his crewmates. The hard-knuckle science foundation of the whole novel gets its emotional punch on this side of outer space, where the Ares 3 crew proves they are a close-knit team through and through. They will do everything they can to get back to Mars and rescue Watney, even if it means having to cause a mutiny.

The moment I reached the last page, I immediately wanted to start it again. This is what I hoped every book I pick up will make me feel: a little bit exhausted from the life I lived with the protagonist while going on with his adventures, a little bit invigorated by the things I learned while reading, and all in all happy for having just read a very good book.

Five stars for the amazing experience.

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