Andy Weir's The Martian has been on my radar for a long time. Most people who weren't aware of it eight years ago had it brought to light when Matt Damon starred in the 2015 movie adaptation. Well, I finally got around to it, and I loved it. Two notes, first, I did see the movie back when it came out. Also, full disclosure I audiobooked this one, narrated by Wil Wheaton. I'll touch on both.
First of all, this is just a great story, particularly to fans of sci-fi grounded in practical science. It's a survival story, much like Cast Away or the Revenant. We follow a rollercoaster of one character devising solutions to survival problems, only to have gut-wrenching new troubles pile on top of one another. All along, we're pulled forward with the single question of "will he live?"
The book stood out, however, in the main character, Mark Watney's attitude. He was very sarcastic and seemingly cavalier about how bleak his situation was. We can presume many of his jokes were his way of dealing with his hopelessness. But it was still often funny, which one doesn't see in many survival stories.
Then, there's the science. Science themes are thoroughly embedded and run consistently throughout. I'd say, Weir kept as much fidelity to practical science as one could while still coming up with new (near-future) ideas. It was wonderful. I imagine it took tremendous research, and I applaud him.
Next, as my experience was with the movie adaptation first, let's compare. I found the movie to have many of the same merits as the book. It had lots of tension and edge-of-your-seat suspense as to whether Mark Watney will survive. It had a great deal of science fidelity. It also preserved Watney's sarcastic humor, though to a lesser extent. However, what it lacked, which was engaging in the book, was Watney's internal thoughts. When Watney encountered a problem in the book story, he'd walk through ten ideas of how he might try to solve it, but have to humorously point out how nine of those options would likely kill him. Then he'd opt for the least likely to result in death. This style gave readers a deep connection to his way of thinking, and what it would take to survive, it gave a number of opportunities to showcase Watney's humor, and helped build just how dire the situation was. We observed Watney die a hundred times in his mind. The movie didn't and probably couldn't do the same.
In a movie, we'd have to listen while the actor explained all the bad options, which would be a lot of non-action on screen. Otherwise, we'd have to see his thought played out as if real, ending in his death, only to be brought back and told it didn't really happen. That, over and over again, would have come off more silly than scientific. So it had to be reduced, and I don't fault the film, I just appreciate that the book had that extra layer to enjoy.
Finally, let me address the audiobook aspect. I'm a big fan, as they let me turn thinks like doing laundry into book time. This one had Wil Wheaton narrating. I have mixed feelings about Wheaton. I'm a Star Trek fan. I'm sure that fans of Trek and fans of the Martian are a Venn diagram barely worth drawing. I liked some TNG episodes with Westley. Other times, he rubbed me the wrong way, coming off as arrogant. Likewise, I sometimes like Wheaton in his more recent rolls and endeavors, but half the time, I think he comes off as too smarmy. To my surprise and my delight, he hits just the right balance with The Martian audiobook. Watney is sarcastic, and Wheaton does that wonderfully. Watney is positive in the face of nearly impossible odds, and Wheaton pulls that off just right.
I highly recommend this book. I think the movie is worth a look as well. And if you like audiobooks, give Wheaton's narration of The Martian a try.