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Mean Maureen’s Online Book Club – the Martian

Hi, all, happy Sunday!  Sorry I’m posting this so late, but my husband and I spent the entire day at Ikea, then desperately trying to leave Ikea, then cursing loudly while putting together furniture from Ikea!  (SIDE NOTE – HOW ARE WE NOT DONE MOVING YET???  It’s been approximately 27 years, I think, that this process has been going on.)  But anyway, the end is finally in sight (I PRAY) and my husband and I spent a whole day in the bowels of Ikea and are not yet divorced, so I’m going to call it a good day.

Enough preamble though – speaking of someone who did NOT have a good day, and in fact, probably the worst day of his entire life, meet Mark Watney:

themartian

Mark is the protagonist of the Martian, a guy with a lot of intelligence, wit, and maybe the worst luck in the known universe.  In this excellent novel by Andy Weir, Mark is an astronaut on the third manned mission to Mars (Ares 3), and as he and the rest of his team are evacuating to abort the mission due to an extremely powerful dust storm, he gets speared with an antenna, blown out of sight and left for dead, despite his team’s best efforts to save him.  The only thing is, he ISN’T dead (otherwise this would be a very short novel) but he doesn’t regain consciousness until after his team has left the planet, and the communications system is broken, so he can’t exactly have them turn around and get him.

So, Mark finds himself utterly alone on Mars, with about a year’s worth of rations, about FOUR years from when the next team is planning to come back to the planet.  The rest of the book has to do with him fighting to survive in one of the most hostile environments imaginable, against incredible odds.

I’m going to stop right here, now that the basic set up is out of the way, and strongly recommend that if you haven’t read this book and are planning to see the movie,  you stop reading right now.  This is a very entertaining book, and unless they screw it up royally, it’s going to be a wonderful movie.  I mean, it’s just dying to be a movie.  All of the stakes and various points of extreme jeopardy that Mark runs into are great and they’ll be even better on the big screen as surprises.  So seriously, heed my warning, you’ll have an awesome time in the theater!

But for those of us who have already read the book, let’s plow ahead.  Okay, I obviously enjoyed this book.  As someone with an interest in science, but no formal background in it, it was super fun to watch a protagonist repeatedly save his own life thanks to nothing but science and math.  (Okay, and a helluva lot more optimism than I would have been capable of mustering up in such a dire situation.)

In fact, I’d say this book (and movie) should be the ad campaign for science and math in general.  (Do they have ad campaigns for school subjects?  Seems like they probably do these days.)  Anyway, I’m going to give this book to all of my future children, with the grim warning – hey Junior, if you don’t know your math and your science YOU WILL TOTALLY DIE ON MARS, OKAY???  (Something I won’t tell future children – I would have died at literally every perilous juncture in this story.)

Anyway, enough about my poor chances of survival on Mars – onto other stuff I liked about the book!   It was super interesting to read a behind the scenes NASA type story that seemed very convincing as a layperson.  (I’d have to verify with someone who actually has an aeronautics background, but it seemed legit to me!)  Though it did spark me to research some of NASA’s real fatal disasters and man do I not recommend that!  (Especially Apollo 1, which Mark’s character references in the book.  So, so horrible.)  But honestly – it was just great fun to read a gripping, well paced story populated by so many incredibly smart people in an interesting universe.  I mean, that ticks a lot of What Do You Want in a Book? boxes, for me.

Stylistically, I also enjoyed the diary format for Mark’s part of the story.  Diaries in books can be gimmicky, but I thought it really worked with the plot and also made all the science and math much more easily digested than if it had been written differently.  Toward the end, every time it left Matt’s diary and went into the omniscient narrator explaining what was happening to him, I was afraid he was going to die.

Side note – I would have been so pissed if he died.  I mean, even if that was probably the most statistically likely outcome at, well, every point in the story, if he had just, like, driven into the dust storm and slowly starved to death as his potatoes and solar cells dwindled, I would have showed up at Andy Weir’s house with protest signs.  I mean AFTER EVERYTHING WE’VE BEEN THROUGH???  But luckily, that didn’t happen.  However unlikely, Mark survived in an explosive (literally) and triumphant ending that was tension filled with right until the very end, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

The only criticism I have of the book is that I feel like, for a story set with one guy alone for much of the book, we baaaaaarely scratch the surface of his thoughts, other than him working out his immediate survival.  And I mean, him working out his survival such a crazy situation is plenty entertaining, especially coupled with some of the smartest minds on Earth trying to bring him home at the same time.  But when I say we barely scratch the surface of his thoughts I mean that for a man, presumably in his 30’s at least, with some life experience behind him, he never turns his thoughts to former loves or close friends, outside of the flight crew he was with and some incredibly generic and very fleeting thoughts of his parents.  You would imagine a guy with literally nothing to do but think for well over a year, would have… well, a more developed inner universe, especially since this diary might well be the only thing of him that survives.

I feel like with a touch more inclusion of Mark’s thoughts this could have been elevated from Incredibly Entertaining Book to Incredible Piece of Literature.  Not to be all highfalutin, mentioning the difference between art and entertainment here, but I think if it came down to it, I would classify this as very high quality entertainment, but not quite literature.  I mean, I will definitely read whatever Andy Weir has coming out next, but I think he’s more of a spinner of yarns rather than a writer with big ideas and deep insight into the human condition.  Because if he’d had ’em, we probably would have heard at least some of them with a man stranded with only his thoughts for a year and a half on Mars, alone.

That said, a.) I could be wrong and am eager to read more of his work and b.) he tells a REALLY entertaining tale.  And again, the Martian was just made to be a movie.  A thrilling movie!  It’s one of the few books I’ve read where I thought wow, this could be a movie as is.  Don’t change anything, just have someone write it down in script format and there you go!  (Also, funnily enough, while reading, I found myself hearing Mark Watney’s diary in Matt Damon’s voice, and it really worked, so I think they did a great job with casting.)

Anyway, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, those of you who have read the Martian!  Did you love it as well?  Do you think the movie will be any good?  Are you excited to see it, even though you know everything that happens?  (I seriously think going into it without knowing anything would be so awesome and I’m kind of jealous of people in that situation.)  Do you think my thought on this book being really high quality entertainment instead of art holds water or am I the wrongest wrong that ever wronged?  Let me know!  And let me know if you have any suggestions for the next Mean Maureen’s Online Book Club, to be reviewed/discussed October 1st!

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