Astronauts are inherently insane. And really noble.
The Martian, by Andy Weir
Remember last time I wrote, when I vowed to write and post to this blog more often? Well, there are always excuses, and this time my excuse was a short trip to Toronto. Before I left, I vowed to stick to my blogging schedule while on the trip, but it proved too difficult (and tiring) to blog after long days of walking under scorching suns and thunderstorms, especially without my laptop. But on the bright side, plane rides without stimulating in-flight entertainment gave me enough time to finish not one, but two books in less than a week.
One of these books was The Martian, which I had been struggling to get through for a few weeks. It’s not that The Martian is difficult to understand. It’s the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut who is stranded alone on Mars. Its plot and characters are relatively straightforward (sometimes too much so), but the scientific details were often too intricate for me. I’m not a particularly technical person, and while I was impressed by the amount of research that Weir must have conducted, the long, detailed descriptions of Watney’s survival tactics didn’t make for a compelling read, at least for me.
The Martian came to me highly recommended from someone who is very close to me, so I was surprised when I didn’t enjoy it as much. But in hindsight, that shouldn’t have been a surprise, since everyone has different preferences for books. Reading The Martian helped me realize what I look for most in books (which happen to be two traits that The Martian is, in my opinion, sorely lacking): compelling, believable, dynamic characters, and elegant prose.
As for the lack of elegant prose, it can’t be helped. Most of the narrative is told in first-person, through Mark Watney’s eyes, in the form of log entries. The prose lets Mark’s cheerful, pragmatic, and silly personality shine through, but it doesn’t do much to describe the barren beauty of Mars. But then again, it’s obvious that Mark’s first priority is survival (and rightly so).
I had some problems with Mark as a character. I understand that he has a cheery disposition, but I found that he was entirely too cheery for someone forced to survive alone on Mars. He never seemed to reach an existential crisis, or actually face his utter aloneness. I understand that Mark is supposed to be a strong, resourceful character, but come on. Even the strongest person I know would face a few breakdowns in his situation.
Aside from Mark, I found the other characters flat and one-dimensional. Whenever the narrative turns from Mark, it becomes dull. The conversations between characters are filled with cheesy, uninspired one liners, and the characters themselves are often caricatures. There’s no depth to them. That being said, I usually don’t look forward to film versions of books, but I’m excited to see how these characters will be brought to life in the film version.
YES OR NO?: The Martian was a NO for me, but I think that speaks to my own tastes, rather than its merit as a novel. I can see how other people would find it compelling, but it certainly wasn’t my cup of tea.