The Martian

Speaking as someone who has gotten through a lot of crappy situations by sheer stubbornness and spite, The Martian takes surviving to an all-new level.

I watched the movie based on this book starring Matt Damon and because I enjoyed it so much, I decided I wanted to read the book. 

This book is clearly science fiction and it’s excellent science fiction. Mark Watney, a botanist slash engineer slash comedian in training is on Mars with the five other team members when a dust storm comes up and the decision is made to abort the mission.

Watney gets taken out by an antenna and is presumed dead. The team makes the difficult decision after searching for him to lift off or perish themselves.

Watney wakes up and from there it’s a constant struggle between everything that could possibly kill him and his sheer desire to stay alive.

This story is mostly told (VERY informally) through video log entries Watney makes or in later parts of the book through third-person omniscience as the reader learns what other characters are doing, namely the Hermes crew, NASA and others.

Heads up for those who care, there is A TON of swearing in this book.

I don’t regret reading this book, but I will likely keep my imbibing of this story to watching the movie moving forward. Why?

Math.

There was a whole lot of math in this book. In fact, it’s the reason why I’m taking a half star off for my review of this book. There was so much math and scientific explanation, it pulled me HARD out of the story and the last thing you want a reader to do is need to put the book down because they have a headache keeping up with all the jargon you’re using.

It’s much more easily communicated via narration in the movie and it doesn’t pull away from the story at all.

And no, I did not check any of the math. (I have grade 11 level competency. I had to Google how to work with percentages and fractions in my twenties to figure out taxes. I am not equipped for this. If I find someone who tests the math in this book, I’ll link you to the article. Here’s the movie version of the math. Here’s another check on the movie math. This goes through everything the movie got wrong. There’s also this fun article about how a teacher tried to replicate some of the botany in classrooms.)

The second reason this book doesn’t get five stars is because of the treatment of women in the book which is thankfully not included in the movie. Watney makes boob jokes (page 152) and sex jokes. He calls certain people’s daughters and sisters prostitutes (page 176). There are sex jokes made at the expense of the woman software engineer Johanssen (multiple, but especially page 231 and 398).

Also, the offhand joke of a “gay probe” on page 206 because they named a probe Iris, the goddess of messages and rainbows.

The women characters are reduced to the same kinds of archetypes we usually see in poorly written literature: the commander who is unattainable, the gorgeous and tiny software engineer, the “one of the boys” communications director. One would think, if this were in the future where we are landing people on Mars, the women in charge would be treated like they were in charge and deserving of respect but OK.

I don’t want to take away from how good this book is, because it is. I laughed out loud and felt so sad I wanted to cry and had to put it down to feel my own existential dread and cheered along with Watney when he conquered potatoes grown in his own shit and soil from Mars. But it’s always important to point out where the author could have improved or had someone else look over a story.

Unless the author wanted to give across the idea that this astronaut was an immature and emotionally under-developed jerk who couldn’t read social cues and thinks the inferences he made about women and “gay probes” are completely acceptable in a high pressure, life or death situation when an entire world is watching?

Moving on.

My absolute favourite part of the book however is when Watney is talking about how much people wanted to help him out to get back to Earth and I’ll end the review to sit in your head with this.

“But really, they did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. 

It might not seem that way sometimes, but it’s true. If a hiker gets lost in the mountains people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do. And because of that, I had billions of people on my side.

Pretty cool, eh?”

Page 435 of The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian. Come for the thrilling space adventures, stay for the stories of shit potatoes and people helping people. Four out of five stars.

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