That’s my considered opinion.
This is the conclusion Mark Watney arrives at when he finds himself stranded on Mars. It is also the opening to the book I want to recommend to you today. As you can see: much like this post, The Martian does not waste time on an elaborate intro. Intros be damned.
I know that there’s a film version of this book now, and I’ve seen it – it’s great. Nevertheless, if you still have the chance to do so, please pick up the book first! Why you ask? Easy: there is NO WAY the film could be any funnier than the book. The book had me literally laughing out loud throughout. That’s 369 pages worth of amusement. Ok…maybe not 369. It does have its dramatic/sad moments as well. Still: most of it was really funny. On the other hand, the film version directed by Ridley Scott only has 141 minutes to catch up on the books hilarity, which isn’t nearly enough given that it too still has to portray the dramatic/sad elements of the story for it to make sense, and of course spend some time showing impressive Mars/space shots. Have I made my point? Good. Moving on.
Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon in the film version, is stuck on Mars with no hope for a speedy rescue. Or survival for that matter. Most of the book consists of Mark’s log entries, in which he analyses his current situation and chronicles it for posterity. He expects to be the first human being who ever died on Mars, which would lend a kind of special importance to these records. Also, they are just funny as hell.
The log entries can get pretty sciency at points and I was surprised by the fact that I still found them very enjoyable. Mark Watney talks about chemical reactions and physics a lot, but it is always done in a way that is still entertaining and easy to understand. I was afraid that this means that most of it is probably bullshit, which would take the fun out of it for everyone who’s a bit more science savvy than I am, but apparently that is not the case. Most critics agreed that Andy Weir’s science in the book is very well executed. As he is a software programmer turned writer, Andy Weir even wrote a program that helped him calculate orbits as well as interception times and angles in order to make his book as realistic as possible, which I think is very impressive. With that said, the few things that do indeed not make much sense from a scientific point of view can definitely be excused. An article from Time Magazine that examines the credibility of the science portrayed in The Martian states that
[t]he story is such a ripping good ride and so gorgeous to watch that you don’t merely want to suspend your disbelief, you want to tie it to a parking meter outside the theater and order it not to disturb you with its barking.
…and given that there’s no way I could have expressed this sentiment any more accurately, I’ll leave it at that.
I realise that I went from telling you how much fun I had reading this book to talking about it being very sciency, and that these two things don’t necessarily go together – at least when you’re anything like me, they usually really don’t. What makes this book so incredibly hilarious is Mark Watney’s voice in it. He keeps such a great attitude throughout the novel, and is at times so deliciously fatalistic in his views that I challenge you to read The Martian and not like him. He describes in detail his everyday struggles on Mars, such as the lack of good, non-70s music that he suffers from. This despair about trivial issues combined with the extraordinary circumstances Mark currently finds himself in is amusing in itself.
At first the – at times – very technical language can be slightly off-putting, but as these passages are always interspersed with Mark’s commentary on the odds of his imminent death, it is fairly easy to get used to Weir’s style of writing. It may strike you as odd that I mentioned Mark’s possible demise as a prime source of entertainment, but trust me: it is. It is because Mark is always extremely aware of the absurdity of his situation, for example when he inadvertently turns his living quarters into a massive bomb – or whenever he tries to light something on fire knowing that NASA’s intention while putting together the supplies for the mission was to make triple sure that there’s nothing flammable on board because: fire in space = bad.
I hope I managed to get you to pick up a copy of this book (hint: it’s really affordable as a kindle version on amazon 😉 ) without giving away too much of the actual plot.
Please, please, please read it???
Did you come across either the book or the film version of The Martian?
Did you like it as much as I did?
If you didn’t read the book so far – will you now?