I found this book every bit as exciting and fun as I had been lead to believe it would be.
This is the kind of thing that would be really easy to over hype. Everybody talked about it. Everybody thought it was great. Everybody loved it. Ridley Scott loved it enough to make a movie and Matt Damon loved it enough to be the star. Google loved it. NASA loved it.
Even those hard science fiction nerds who get upset about bad science in their fiction loved it.
I finally decided to read it before seeing the movie.
It holds up pretty well to the hype. There is one caveat. If you like Mark Watney, you will love this book. If you think his humor is juvenile or you find him a little bit unrealistic then the book is going to fall apart.
I liked Mark Watney as a narrator for a book — he’s outgoing, funny and has charisma coming out of his pores. I would probably hate him in real life. As the main character of a book about a man stranded on Mars after an accident where his team thought he was dead he was perfect.
Watney has his moments of doubt. He gets scared and worried and wonders what to do. Then he sits down and does math and figures it out. I appreciated the math. Watney showed us how he planned to survive and then Weir made it worthwhile later then disaster struck and we all knew immediately how bad it was because of how many potatoes were destroyed, or how much air was gone, or how much of some other resource was compromised.
Weir does a credible job of making Watney a solid character who is entertaining enough to spend a whole novel with. The other characters, only have as much personality as Watney refers to in his journals. We know that the commander loves seventies music and that one of the crew is german and another is of some kind of South American descent. Other than that there’s little to know.
That’s okay because they are really only set dressing, they are the rescue robots that come back to get Watney when they find out he is still alive.
The real star of this novel, though, is the science. Andy Weir is obviously a big NASA and space exploration nerd and he thought out the technology to a believable level and then showed realistic consequences of using that technology beyond it’s design standards.
Watney practices chemistry, electrical engineering and botany all on a planet that is seemingly designed to kill him. There is almost no air. There is no water. The soil is almost sterile. The temperatures are deathly cold.
There is one conceit — that of a windstorm on Mars being dangerous — that Weir leans on in order to tell his story. The rest of it is pure science down to the orbital mechanics of the ships and the ways in which Watney finds to increase his food supply.
To me the times when Watney would encounter a problem and start sitting down to science his way through it were my favorite parts.
This book will make you cheer. It will make you grit your teeth in frustration. It will keep you on the edge of your seat.