Note: I’d just like to announce that this marks my 101st book review on Goodreads! I don’t post all of them here, because many of them are dashed off pretty quickly. You’re still missing out, though.
This book is a fun survival story that masterfully scratches the collective itch that is our curiosity about humanity’s next step into the universe. It’s a refreshingly realistic look at what going to Mars actually means, and what it would mean if the endeavor went slightly wrong. It’s an adventure story that will translate well to the big screen. But i have some major qualms with the book as a whole.
I do appreciate the sense of humor that Weir imbued pretty much all of his characters with. It makes them likable and it’s one of Mark Watney’s most important tools for survival. But likable characters don’t make the most compelling stories. A lot of the jokes were used repeatedly and got old by the end of the book. And i would’ve liked to see some other aspect of Mark Watney. He was just too upbeat about everything all the time. There was no heart-wrenching “Wilson!” scene, nothing. I get that astronauts are chosen for their mental resilience, but still. He went through some serious shit.
The rest of the characters in the book are just tools, honestly. They’re not fleshed-out, they’re just there to do their jobs. And i have to say that i thought the female characters were treated pretty unfairly. Of the dozen or so scientists in the story, just three are women. This is the future, throw us a bone! Johansson is the victim of repeated sexual harassment and we’re supposed to think this is funny. And the one and only time we go into a person’s head in this entire book (about isolation and survival!) is to learn that minor character Mindy wishes she were pretty like minor character Anna. Why? In what way was that necessary? The really ironic thing about it is that Mindy is a scientist who has earned her master’s degree and resents the fact that she’s being made to spend her days deciphering photographs. So, NASA is shitting on her professionally, and the author is shitting on her psychologically, exposing her inner feelings for absolutely no reason.
But, the characters were not the point of the book. Man’s innovative mind and will to survive and unfailing willingness to
spend billions of dollars rescuing a single white dude help his brother is the point of the book. The story is very, very detailed. We know precisely what goes wrong to strand Watney on Mars and exactly the measures he takes to survive, down to the many calculations he makes to repeatedly ration and stretch his oxygen, food, water, etc. All of these calculations and shufflings of things to and fro and repairs and modifications of complicated equipment were really cool at first, but wore on me by about the middle of the book. I’m sure they wore tremendously on Watney, too. We were both glad when the action picked up again toward the end of the book.
It’s a fun read, not a great work of literature. I do recommend it, despite the dearth of compelling characters.