Monday, February 22, 2016

Review: The Martian

Imagine if a team of writers were sitting around scheming on how to write a book optimized just for me. The conversation would probably go like this:

Writer 1: Obviously, it needs to be about problem solving and improvisation.

Writer 2: Definitely. And it should include a full range of hacks, from complicated marvels to uses of simple machines.

Writer 3: And it needs to have some witty banter. Ben's not going to want read just page after page of hack. It has to be spiked with funny lines.

Writer 2: For sure. And we need to make sure it crosses disciplines. Yes, computer programming should help save the day, but so should chemistry, physics, and botany.

Writer 1: Botany?

Writer 2: Oh, yeah. Ben loves that stuff. And it should include Morse Code. Trust me.

Writer 3: And don't forget, it can't just be the hero that's the brilliant one. We need to spread the spirit of inventiveness and great ideas to most, if not all, characters in the book.

Writer 2: Does it need complete closure?

Writer 1: Nahhhh, that's Shira's thing, not Ben's. Speaking of Shira though, it would be ideal if she could read and enjoy the book, too.

Writer 2: Hmmm, that's going to be tricky. They don't usually read the same books. But I'm sure we can think of something.

Writer 1: OK, let's go to work!

And if the the team of writers had absolutely nailed it, they probably still wouldn't have written something as appropriate as Andy Weir's, The Martian. Yes, the book is that good.

It was our friend Dawn, over a a year ago who read The Martian and immediately thought it would be a good fit for me. Then Shira read the book and she totally agreed. So we put the book on hold at the library and waited. A few weeks ago, the book version of the book (versus the audio version of the book) became available. So we rented it from the library. Problem was, I was in the middle of another book at the same time. And besides, who has time to actually read a book (listening, on the other hand, is easy).

Shira totally Mark Watney'd* that problem: rather than wait around for the audio book, *she'd* read it to me. Yeah, she enjoyed the book that much, and more importantly, she knew I'd enjoy the book that much, that she read it aloud to me. For the record, she's an excellent narrator.

So the book is awesome and hits all the points above. If anything, I found all the problem solving almost tiring, as my brain futilely tried to keep up with Mark Watney as he overcame obstacle after obstacle. To Andy Weir's credit, he found a nice balance of giving Watney success and challenges, so that the book had an excellent flow to it.

While I can appreciate a dystopian novel as much as the next guy, and I've got nothing against wizards and vampires, I do think there's something fundamentally awesome about having the spotlight on a science-based, problem solving book. Will this inspire folks to overcome obstacles in their own life, or want to get involved in the world of scientific discovery? Heck, will it influence our space program? Perhaps not. But like any great book, it has the power to teach and inspire you in ways you may not expect.

Oh, and it's a fun read, too.

*Mark Watney'd - the main character in the book, Mark Watney, is constantly solving problems. So much so, that Shira and I now use his name as a shorthand for a clever solution or fix.


  1. yes, an amazing book... I too didn't want to have to wait for my holds to ever come in... had some audible credits and simply bought the audiobook, now I can listen to it over and over...well maybe once or twice more when I think the kids will enjoy it.

  2. I was 50th on the hold list at my library. My turn to borrow a copy came up last December. I finished it quickly and really enjoyed it. The movie isn't bad either. Nothing better than a self-supported adventure on Mars with a healthy helping of nerd.

  3. Loved the movie and now am waiting for my turn to have a crack at the library book.

  4. Nick - one of the points I was going to make in my post, but didn't, was that I wish there was a PG-13 version of the book suitable for kids. I appreciate well placed cussing as much as the next guy, but I'd definitely be for a Jr. version of the book that toned down the language to make it accessible to middle schoolers and below.

    Matt - "self-supporting adventure on Mars" - I suppose I hadn't thought about it like that :-). I can just imagine the wheels turning in your head: what if I brought just potato flakes (the backpacker's equivalent to Watney's freeze dried taters) and vitamins on my next run? It worked for Watney...

    Exploriment - yeah, you're going to love the book. It'll be worth the wait.