Thursday, July 21, 2016

REVIEW: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian
by Andy Weir
Science Fiction
4/5 stars

I grabbed this book because of the movie, like many people probably did. The difference with me is that I really put my foot down about not reading this book. Even when The Martian hit theaters, even when everyone raved about how good it was, I waited until the movie came to the cheap theater in town (months after release) before I saw it. Usually, I'm adamant about reading books before seeing their movie versions, but for this one I was just as adamant I would see the movie first. To be honest, I never expected I would read this book.

Why? Partly because I heard it had a lot of swearing -one of the things I draw the line at- but also because I honestly wasn't sure I'd like the story.

I mean, it's about a guy stranded on Mars, all alone, fighting to survive. Intense? Yeah. Moving? Probably has its moments. But enjoyable? I anticipated an adrenaline-pumping film I'd watch once, maybe twice, but I couldn't see that a story like this would be entertaining enough for more than one evening, not when there weren't even conversations or aliens or anything.

Boy was I wrong.

What made this story was Mark Watney -his personality, his sarcasm, his snarky little asides, and his disparaging remarks about disco music. While the plot of the story is intense and daring, I wouldn't have cared a lick if Watney wasn't such a believable and entertaining personality. Without his jokes, crash course in 70s pop culture, and his random declarations of facts like 'I'm basically a space pirate' (with the undeniably logical explanations, to boot), I would have set this book aside a loooooong time ago.

I mention a lot that I don't like prose and narrative as much as I like dialogue -which is true- but the underlying reason for this is personality. In so many books, I find that the narrative lacks any hint of a character's personality, which is something I really connect with. Take out the personality and what have you got? A block of descriptors with no feeling, that's what. The Martian is bursting with personality, which makes it interesting and entertaining, and it's all because of Mark Watney.

And because Mark Watney was such a likable and interesting character, I found myself reading detailed descriptions of space travel technology, computer programs, NASA regulations, physics and biology. And I don't even like science! (In fact, science overload is one reason I haven't read much sci-fi in the past.) Because Mark Watney is a snarky, entertaining character, he made every one of these subjects interesting by injecting his snark into it. I still can't believe I sat through it all.

If anyone else had written this book -if Andy Weir had chosen any other personality but Mark Watney's with which to tell the story- it would not have been a quarter as interesting as it was. Kudos, Mr. Weir.

There are definite differences between book and movie, as always, but this is one of the best adaptations I've seen. The movie really nailed the core of this book and the story and Matt Damon was amazing; he was even more Mark Watney than Mark Watney in the actual book is. ("I am dipping this potato in crushed Vicodin, because no one can stop me. It has been seven days since I ran out of ketchup.") For this reason, I think I actually enjoy the movie better, but the book is definitely worth a read, because there's still a lot of stuff they couldn't fit into the film.

As a caution to my readers: There IS a lot of swearing in this book; the 'f' word especially is used frequently, by many characters across the board. For the most part, the swearing was used in specific situations or instances. I don't have as much of a problem with the use of swearing in books and movies when it's 'called for'; it's when swearing is used just for the sake of swearing that I can't stand.

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