The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir is a page-turner, pure and simple. This is a story of one man’s survival in the face of the harsh Martian landscape. In the opening pages, astronaut Mark Watney is left behind, presumed dead, in a Martian dust storm. His ingenious and increasingly desperate gambits to survive form the bulk of the novel. Weir has put a great deal of thought into the scenario and each disaster and obstacle that befalls Watney feels logical, the solutions plausible. As a thought experiment on Martian survival, this is an astonishing achievement, and Weir is able to bring a visceral sense of tension and momentum to what could have been simply a dry recitation of problems and solutions.
Most of the novel takes the form of Watney’s log entries, as he charts his various attempts at survival. His entries are occasionally slightly awkward, filled with facts that the character should already know, but that is a problem of the form rather than the author. There is, however, a sudden shift, when the point of view abruptly leaves Watney’s logs and widens to other characters on other planets. This expansion of the story allowed a fairly short premise to be stretched in new and interesting ways. The world of the novel was expanded and enriched. However, the sudden use of shifting viewpoints was initially jarring to the point that I had to go back and check.
This was a minor flaw in a narrative that was generally a very well constructed series of events. Weir parceled out information and made use of dramatic irony to wring as much tension as possible from the situation. The characters, however, fair less well than the problem solving and the plot. Watney himself functions largely as a problem-solving machine, although some attempts are made to fill in the edges of his personality. Outside of Watney, sarcasm seems to be the default setting.
InThe Martian, Weir has constructed a fast-paced, cleverly constructed survival thriller. In the end, everything beyond that is nit picking. I didn’t love this book, but I enjoyed it, and despite minor reservations, devoured it within a matter of hours.