I recently finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir. I first heard about the book while listening to the Tested Podcast where Adam is talking about his trip to Australia. He mentions the fact that he read the book while on the trip and that he loved it. Will then chimes in that he had read it months ago and had suggested it to Adam.
Then in either that or a later Podcast, they all decide to read it; Adam will listen the the audio book, Will will re-read it, and Norm will read it for the first time. Once done they were going to have a ‘book club’ Podcast where they all discussed the book. Initially it was my plan to get and read the book in time for the review.
Unfortunately, due to my cheapness in not wanting to buy a book I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy, combined with the fact that no libraries seemed to have it, I wasn’t able to read it before their review came out. Fortunately, because the internet hasn’t ceased to exist in the time between when I eventually got the book and the time when I eventually finished it. I was able to read it and then go back and find their review. It was great and offered interesting insight into things I didn’t give much thought to. And so, without further unnecessary backstory, here is my review of Andy Weir’s The Martian.
Let me start by saying that though I liked the book, I liked the story that is, I was not a big fan of the writing. Thus, I’m about to make myself look like a critical, cynical asshole, but I couldn’t not mention this aspect and for that I apologize in advance.
The writing of the main character, Mark Watney, is really bad. Andy Weir, a writer is not. He never claims to be and he even proves it in his bio, “…first hired as a programmer [...] at age fifteen and has been working as a software engineer ever since.” However, due to all the praise it’s been getting, I was expecting a higher quality reading experience. Again, not to take away from the story, which is quite good and I will get to it in a moment, but first I have to do a little more complaining about the writing.
It is immediately apparent from the first chapter, hell the first page, that this is not written by an “author” or “writer” in the traditional sense. This was a guy that had an idea for a book and just decided to write one. This is admirable and there is no shame in that, but would it have killed him to get an editor? The book reads like it was written by a sixth grader. Or rather, written the way a sixth grader talks. It’s full of unnecessary cursing (not that I mind curse words, but still) and silly exclamations like “Boo-ya,” and “super duper.” This is not how real people express themselves and thus it makes your character seem less real and takes the reader out of the book. He tries to convey the sense that Mark is a humorous guy, but it really just makes him seem immature and annoying.
There is no doubt Mr. Weir is an intelligent man. There is a lot of math and a lot of science in the book and I am sure that all of it is based on things that could really happen. I don’t claim to be a science expert so I can’t say for sure, but those parts certainly seem to be based in reality. It’s just a shame that the writing doesn’t compliment the great story of survival that is being told. Ultimately, what would have been great is if he could have given an outline to a “real” writer and have him or her flesh out the story for him.
Now I don’t claim to be a good writer. I am a terrible speller, I rarely edit my work, and I am not grammatically inclined. I am self aware enough to see that in myself and admit to it. However, even I notice countless grammatical errors, problems with sentence structure and various other faults that, to me distracted from the story.
However, that is only one half of the equation. Not all of the story is given to us in a first person account mission log. There are other parts of the story that take place on Earth. We get to see what NASA are up to while all this is going on. We get to see what the rest of Watney’s crew are up to while they think he’s still dead on Mars. Oddly enough, these parts are fairly well written. They are much more fluid, enjoyable, and easy to read. It was surprising to me that these parts were written by the same author. Since they don’t come in until a little later in the book, they sort of come as a surprise. When did Andy learn to write?
Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, the story itself is actually very good. Described as “a cross between Cast Away and Apollo 13” the story is very interesting. I was engaged in it the entire time I was reading it and even found myself reading much more pages than I typically have the attention span for. The creative ways Mark is able to solve the problems that Mars and his equipment throw at him are quite ingenious. That feeling of desperation towards the end nearly brought me to tears. The fact that he had put so much effort into surviving and all the people involved in helping him do so is actually quite moving.
So then, there are two main facets at play here, the story and the writing. If you can separate the story from the writing, than this is a really solid book. If you can’t, then this may not be the book for you. Click here for the Tested Podcast review of The Martian. WARNING: There are spoilers.
In related news, as is the way of life, around this time next year we can look forward to seeing The Martian as a several million dollar blockbuster. According to IMDB, a film version of The Martian is set to be released on November 25th 2015. The news gets better when you read that it is to be directed by the sci-fi master himself, Mr. Ridley Scott! If Scott gives us anything close to what he did for Prometheus (which, though I disliked the storyline, the visuals were undeniably good) than I have no doubt the movie will be good. As long as the screenplay strips away all of the cheesy exclamations and focuses on the drama of the story, the movie will, in my opinion exceed the book.
The one thing than niggles me about the movie already is the casting. The main character is going to be played by Matt Damon. I personally have no problem with Damon, I think he’s a terrific actor and I have no doubt he’ll be excellent in the role. However, the great part about reading a book is being able to picture the characters, as well as the action, in your head. Matt Damon is not even close to how I pictured the main character. I finally understand when my Mom and sister complain about the casting of a movie based on a book they’ve recently read.