Quick Review: The Martian

A few weeks ago my wife told me that she was going to read The Martian before seeing it in the theater. Since I’ve been getting more reading time when I ride the bus to work, I decided to read it as well before seeing the movie. This weekend we’ve been on a road trip, and yesterday was mostly a rest day, once we were done running. So I curled up in the hotel room and proceeded to finish the book before heading out for dinner. I’ll avoid spoilers in this review, but when I review the movie all bets are off.

As most people know, the story of The Martian is about an astronaut who is stranded on Mars, after his mission goes badly, and the rest of the crew are forced to abandon the site. During the evacuation Mark Watney is injured in the sandstorm and is believed to be dead. The rest of the crew takes off without him and he awakens hours later to find he is alone. The rest of the story is about his struggle to survive, and escape the planet.

One of the things that I enjoyed most about this book is that much of the story is told in the form of Watney’s log entries. You don’t often see the action as it is happening, you get his reporting of what happened after the fact. It gives the book a feeling of “found footage”, as if you’ve stumbled across a diary of a shipwreck victim. In fact, when the book does finally take a break to give some real-time narrative, I momentarliy got confused and wondered if my eBook had gotten corrupted with another novel mixed in.

The writing in the book is very engaging, and the plot naturally creates a lot of suspensful moments. These moments of suspense are tempered however, by the great descriptions of the science that Watney is performing to survive. Many of the log entries feel like you’re getting an education in molecular chemistry, along with moving the story forward. With the release of the movie, many scientists have come out to endorse much of what the book portrays as factual accounts of what is possible within science, even today. There are certainly times where the science falls down, but by and large I’ve heard that it’s mostly on-point.

SInce I can’t say too much more without getting into spoilers, I’ll leave this review at this point. Once I see the film I’ll put up another review where I get into more details about how the two differed and if those differences mattered.