Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The MartianTitle: The Martian

Author: Andy Weir

Publisher: Crown Publishing

Format: Hardcover

Where I Received the Title: Library

Review:

There was a lot of hype when The Martian was published earlier this year. It had escaped my radar two years ago when Andy Weir self-published the title. Needless to say, good works gather praise and after good sales and word-of-mouth, the previously rejected novel soon had the attention of publishers. Just one year after releasing this novel for free on his website, Andy Weir had a six-figure deal with Crown to publish The Martian.

The premise of The Martian is that an astronaut by the name of Mark Watney is left for dead on Mars after he and his suit are impaled by an object during a sandstorm. He is knocked unconscious and his life support monitor is destroyed, leading his five crewmates to believe that he is dead. Mark awakens to find that his crew has left and he is left alone on the red planet with some damaged equipment and a suit that is barely held together by his coagulated blood.

Most men wouldn’t last an hour in these circumstances, but Mark Watney is no ordinary man. He is one of Earth’s most brilliant botanists and has the survival skills of a Robinson Crusoe or Macguyver. Using the limited resources left on Mars, Watney develops a livable habitat and a sustainable nutrition plan with one goal in mind — to live until a rescue team returns to Mars.

Let me just say that this book was fantastic. I was hooked from the first paragraph with Andy Weir’s great sense of voice and perfect blend of humor, action, and technical savviness. It is very much a hard science fiction novel, with mathematical calculations and engineering know-how, yet it doesn’t read like one. The character of Mark Watney is rich and likable — the kind of guy you’d love to have a beer with, just to hear his thoughts on any subject matter, be it science, baseball, or the best of seventies sitcoms.

The book starts off as a diary-style narrative, with Mark chronicling the happenings of the day with a lot of side commentary that helps paint Mars’s climate and terrain with a sense of realism. Nearly every page is filled with some witty comment or remark that will crack a smile on your face. As the novel progresses, we also find viewpoints from NASA scientists and Mark’s crewmates, bringing the story together.

The Martian reminds me of why I love science fiction. Like Kim Stanley Robinson’s fiction, I would classify The Martian as utopian SF — demonstrating how man can achieve success against great adversity. Mark Watney is in dire circumstances and Mars is relentless and unforgiving in how it punishes the astronaut. But ultimately, this novel is a triumph of the human spirit, demonstrating how the greatest challenges and impossible odds can be overcome with ingenuity and resilience.

Where movies like Castaway left me somewhat bored, The Martian is anything but tiresome. Each challenge Mark faces requires unique solutions and the pacing of the novel is quick, but balanced well with brief moments of planning and recreation.

The SF field has been inundated with pessimistic dystopias, blaming man’s selfishness and ignorance for dooming future generations. The Martian is a cool reprieve from these heavy-handed plots and it was a true delight to read. I would not hesitate to recommend this novel to people outside of the genre and think SF fans will like it equally. It truly was a wonderful book to read.

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Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Title: Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline

Rating:

Publisher: Crown

Edition: Kindle (purchased from Amazon)

Review:
Drop a quarter in the slot, grab onto the joystick, and get Ready Player One.

Cline’s debut novel is a dystopian adventure set in the year 2044, where a great depression leaves much of the world in poverty. With nowhere to turn, many find their escape from reality by joining the virtual universe of OASIS.

When the OASIS software’s creator, James Halliday, passes away, he leaves behind a series of challenges that in the end, promise one winner his entire fortune. Millions of competitors search in vain for the first Easter Egg until a teenager named Wade Watts (whose OASIS handle is Parzival) solves the riddle. Suddenly, he finds the entire world watching him.

As Wade continues on his quest to stardom, he competes against a blogger named Art3mis (with whom he develops a love interest), his best friend Aech, and a corporate team led by Sorrento who will stop at nothing to win Halliday’s lottery. Wade must solve the remaining clues, escape those trying to murder him, and even give up the woman he loves in order to win the prize.

Ready Player One is a thrilling ride that doesn’t stop until the last page. Those who grew up in the eighties will find themselves at home. The novel is packed with eighties geek culture, including several references to movies, music, and video games. There are so many details that Cline obsesses over (including famous robots of the eighties) that will make any eighties fanboy giddy.

But don’t be fooled — the story has substance as well. Wade deals with many of the pitfalls teenagers do. At times he is unable to look past his feelings for Art3mis to see the bigger picture and he occasionally sidetracks into juvenile behavior. All of this makes his character real. The plot has its merits as well. Wade’s quest is clear, yet he must overcome many internal and external obstacles to reach his goal.

I think the biggest difficulty I had with the story was that it read like a young adult novel. The pacing was quick, the plot line was straight forward, and the characters were primarily in their adolescence. The eighties pop culture, on the other hand, lends itself more toward a Gen X reader, who may desire a little more complexity in the characters and story.

Overall, I gobbled this book up, even swallowing a few pages whole. The novel was page turning, upbeat, and in the end left me satisfied. For those who want a light read and want to relive their geek obsessions from a quarter century ago, Ready Player One is the perfect oasis.