Prior to reading The Martian, I wasn’t much of a “hard science fiction” fan. I liked sci-fi, sure, but it was more along the lines of Star Trek or Star Wars. Wonderful stories, but not exactly about the “science” part of sci-fi. So I went into this book expecting it to be dry or dull, despite the fact that many people had recommended it to me. They were right, I was wrong, because The Martian is easily one of the best books I’ve ever read, of any genre. I couldn’t put it down, even when I fell ill and had to visit the emergency room — I took the book with me and could barely stop reading long enough for the medical team to perform exams and tests on me. It’s been a long time since a book has engrossed me like that.
I wish I could pinpoint exactly what about this story makes it so compelling, but the truth is that it’s a variety of things mixing into the perfect combination. I felt like I knew the characters, everyone from Mark himself down to NASA techs who were only mentioned once. People talk about how books can transport you to another world, and it’s been a long time since my cynical heart believed that to be true. But this book felt real. I don’t think I stopped holding my breath for the entire last three chapters; I was too engrossed in the story and in the fate of Watney and his crewmates.
I particularly enjoy the way Andy Weir manages to balance the science talk with enough explanation that non-science minded people like myself can understand, as well as Watney’s sense of humor. I expected this book to be full of angst and existential crises about his situation (which would’ve been fully understandable, given what happened to him!), but Watney never gives up. It was almost sort of inspiring, how he just got on with survival instead of wasting time lamenting his fate. He just did what he had to do.
Throughout the book, the one worrying thought I had in the back of my mind was, “Wouldn’t someone resist spending all this time, effort, and money just to save one person?” I live in the U.S., where a huge swath of the population argues against government programmes to feed the hungry, so they don’t starve to death. The idea that they would be quiet when billions of dollars are being spent to save one man sounds absurd to me. But I think it’s a combination of the scientific gains from bringing Watney back to share everything he learned during his time on Mars, as well as what he says at the end: maybe people really are inherently good, and maybe they really do want to help others when they can. It’s weird that a novel about a man stranded alone on another planet made me feel hopeful, but it really did.
What did you think of the novel? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
Aliya will be back in mid-July with Film Past, Film Future by Tim Cawkwell.
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