Original Publication Year: 2014 (though interestingly this was self-published first in 2012)
Genre(s): Sci-Fi, Thriller
Format: Audio (Audible.com)
Narrated by: R.C. Bray
This book made a pretty big splash earlier this year and seemed to be everywhere. I had not heard a single negative thing about it and it sounded like the most sci-fi fun to be had this side of the Milky Way Galaxy. When looking up the publication year I was very surprised to see that the book was originally self-published before being bought by Crown Publishing. This sends me into a panic because this book was indeed fantastic and super amazing so what else am I missing by completely ignoring self-published lit???!!! Before I hyperventilate and pass out I will just have to trust that established publishers will in fact identify those self-pubbed diamonds in the rough amid the gigantic, enormous pile of self-published novels.
Anyway, back to the point. This book is amazing. If you are even the tiniest bit a space nerd and you have a sense of humor, I can’t imagine this book not tickling you pink. Even if you are not a space nerd but like well-paced character driven thrillers this book should work really well for you. So what’s it about? Mark Watney is an Astronaut/Botanist/Mechanical Engineer who is accidentally stranded alive on Mars. He must figure out a way to survive alone on the planet and with limited supplies while back on Earth NASA scrambles to figure out a rescue and Watney becomes the most compelling news story for months. The narrative splits between Watney’s journals and the action back on Earth.
Calling the book Science Fiction is actually a bit of a stretch because I think much of the technology in the book is at least possible today. And there is A LOT of technobabble here which normally I don’t really like. One of the strengths of the book is how Weir manages to make all this technobabble completely fascinating. He does it I think partially by context - the solutions Watney is developing are life and death and have a McGyver quality to them – and partially because he dumbs it down just enough so that it is easy to at least get the gist of what is happening.
It is also due in no small part to the character of Watney himself, who is another strength of the book. I found him incredibly likeable and charismatic. In fact, by the end of the book I was halfway in love with him. He’s partially what you would expect in an astronaut – brilliantly smart, adaptive, quick-thinking, daring and unflappable – and some things you wouldn’t – goofy, very funny and irreverent. My crush was deepened by the news that Matt Damon will play him in a movie version next year – pretty perfect casting I think.
The final point I want to make about the book is that I think Weir also did a really amazing job with the pacing. The book at heart is a survival thriller so it is important to keep the action and threat level pretty high. Splitting the narrative between Watney’s journals and the action on Earth was a really good choice and Weir struck the perfect balance between the two. Just as the lone voice of Watney starts to drag ever so slightly, there’s a switch to Earth and a cast of relatively distinct and decently developed cast of characters there. As soon as you started wondering how Mark is doing back on Mars, the narrative switches back. For me, it was paced just right.
I listened to the audio and I really liked R.C. Bray’s narration. He captured the humor in the journal entries really well while doing a decent job with the cast of characters on Earth. It did take me a little bit of time to warm up to him but once I got into the flow, I decided I really liked him.
Final Verdict: I found this to be a perfectly paced space drama which satisfied both the nerd and thrill seeker in me. 4 out of 5 Stars. ✯✯✯✯
I’ll leave with some of the more endearing quotes from the book:
“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”
“I can't wait till I have grandchildren. When I was younger, I had to walk to the rim of a crater. Uphill! In an EVA suit! On Mars, ya little shit! Ya hear me? Mars!”
“The screen went black before I was out of the airlock. Turns out the “L” in “LCD” stands for “Liquid.” I guess it either froze or boiled off. Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.”
“[11:49] JPL: What we can see of your planned cut looks good. We’re assuming the other side is identical. You’re cleared to start drilling. [12:07] Watney: That’s what she said. [12:25] JPL: Seriously, Mark? Seriously?” (I am sorry to say this one made me guffaw out loud because apparently I have the sense of humor of a 13 year old boy.)