There are a few rare books that you come across in your life that make you go – oh my gosh, this book is fucking amazing!! The Martian by Andy Weir is exactly that kinda book.
The premise is pretty simple actually. In the not-so-distant future, NASA has a crew of six astronauts on a manned mission to MARS (called Ares 3, so this is not the first). They land and everything’s dandy for 6 sols (Martians days) but right upon which a sandstorm hits. Our protagonist, Mark Watney, gets hits over by the wind and the other crew mates, presuming him dead perform an emergency exit off the planet. Only, he’s not really dead. He wakes up covered in sand to a dead planet. No humans around, no contact with NASA, and no way to get off the planet. Will he survive? And if yes, how?? But more importantly, what does this realization do to the humanity back on Earth?
The book reads like a hard science-fiction and that’s not entirely a bad thing. If anything, it only lends more credibility to the narrative and all the wild science-y solutions that Mark Watney pulls out of his hat. But picture this, you’re the only living thing on an entire planet that is thousands of kilometers from Earth. No one knows you’re alive, and even if they do they’re pretty much helpless. What would one do? I thought hard about this, picturing myself in Mark’s situation. Of course he’s a trained astronaut and a botanist and I’m a…well, the point here is that where most people would have succumbed to the hopelessness of the entire thing, he fights and fights and fights some more!! And how!
One moment you’re screaming your hearts out ‘NOOOOO! HE’S A DEAD MAN!’ and then Mark comes right up and says he’s gonna be alright. And you heave a big sigh of relief muttering to yourself cheerfully, ‘The bloody bastard’s gonna be fine!‘ That’s pretty much how most of the read went for me.
And I have mention here that the author Andy Weir is brilliant! The kind of picture he paints of Mars, down till the smallest detail and the explanation to the various experiments conducted our protagonist – the science is all mostly accurate! And it amazes me for the kind of research and effort he had put into in crafting the entire book. I heard him say that he had to actually write a computer program himself to figure out how many days it would take for a spacecraft to travel from Earth to Mars. Yes, everything’s that calculated. So when Mark throws numbers and formulas at your face, it’s crazy to think that it’s all real. And that’s one more thing about this book, how utterly possible everything feels. This is not fantasy. The events and catastrophes featured in this book can actually happen in real life. That’s one more tangent my mind goes off to often, how would we react if something like this were to happen in reality? Wouldn’t the social media go absolutely crazy!? Wouldn’t there be numerous religious groups praying for his safety!
And to say nothing of our protagonist himself. The large reason the book works despite the hard science is Mark’s sense of humor. I would put it somewhere close to Chandler Bing in that aspect. But he is not a brooder, he is a doer! And he cracks some amazing jokes throughout his journey. By the end of the book, you’ll really come to love this fellow.
The other supporting cast are all well-etched out too. As an Indian, it was nice to see the character Venkat Kapoor as a high ranking NASA official (The name’s odd though. Kapoor is a North Indian surname while Venkat is definitely a Southie thing). I also loved the entire crew of Hermes. Especially Commander Lewis with her disco addiction.
Andy Weir has struck gold with his first feature novel, and deservedly so. Books like this, they’re every bookworm’s kryptonite.
P.S. Pardon my profanity. Though if it offends you, I suggest you better steer clear of this book. Because the first sentence of the book is ‘I’m fucked.’ 😛
Image courtesy: geek.com