The Martian by Andy Weir: Robinson Crusoe stranded on Mars.

The Martian by Andy Weir - his first ever novel, earlier self-published then picked up by Crown to be released early 2014 has become a runaway success story.

I actually would like to thank Crown for bringing back the focus to this lighthearted sci-fi novel about the compelling story of survival of this astronaut stuck on the surface of Mars for close to eighteen months. I would have entirely missed this gem had it not been for the intelligent marketing behind this title.

It's a great book. and am sure it would have done well by itself but the backing of a traditional biggie ensured that it reaches a wider audience. Like me (smug grin!)

Anyways - Andy delivers a compulsively readable account of Mark Watney - a modern day Robinson Crusoe - stranded on the planet of Mars when his mission went horribly wrong - and while rest of the crew manage to escape and get back onto the spaceship "Hermes" - Mark is left for dead.

He wakes up alone and finds that he is "fucked". It's a terrifying situation to be trapped in - with a prefab hub, 2 Mars Rovers and a small sack of potatoes to survive with. However, this Crusoe is armed with a razor-sharp engineering mind, a never-say-die attitude and oodles of sarcastic humor to lighten the situation. It works and how. The gripping narrative - in spite of being 90% dry log accounts from Mark - does the job of keeping you glued through and through to the book.

I personally thought that this was more a "science" book that science-fiction - where Andy goes into excruciating details of how to create water from oxygen - reclaimed from the carbon-dioxide we breath out - and hydrogen - to be cracked out from the hydrozine or rocket fuel Or where he does the math of how much food and liters of water should he be saving up for - if he has to wait for four years till the next Mars mission is supposed to arrive back on the planet. Initially the arithmetic is fascinating but it does become a chore as we rapidly progress through the book.

Mark is clearly one of the most resourceful characters I've read about - an engineer and a botanist, bits of software programmer, handyman, electrician - all rolled into one. And the ingenious manner in which he scrapes through and survives on Mars is commendable. Also impressive was the scope and number of dire situations that Andy makes his lead character fall into. The POV switches from the first-point log accounts - punctuated by Mark's infallible sense of humor about the 70's TV, disco music or his own sense of hygiene - to third-person view of the heightened sense of tension and drama that happens in the NASA command-center once they find out through satellite images that Mark is alive. I thought it was a clever ploy - juxtaposing these two POVs to notch up the drama a little bit.

While clearly Mark is the "Martian" and the center of all happenings in the book- Andy cleverly brings up a few other important characters into the fray including a few strong female characters. All well rounded and three dimensional.

The only flaw - would be the narrative does get tiresome after a bit. The solidly researched findings that Mark keeps heaping on us readers gets a bit boring frankly. And while an extremely competent man, Mark seems to have kept his feelings completely under wraps. A man stranded on Mars with little chance of survival - who doesn't reflect on a life well spent or not well spent? An emotionally cold man. A tad difficult to believe.

But overall, a fun "science" book featuring a castaway in Mars with enough chutzpah to make us like him and root for his survival, funny thrilling and gripping in equal measures - Andy Weir's debut scores. Celebrating the triumph of the human ingenuity and the will to thrive.


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