Review: The Martian

MArtian UKBy Andy Weir

Del Rey Books, out now

Stranded on Mars, Mark Watney must rely on every ounce of his training and knowledge to survive – with some help from 1970s sitcoms and a driving disco beat…

Many reviewers of Andy Weir’s tense and enjoyable novel have compared The Martian with MacGyver – the TV series which starred a pre-Stargate Richard Dean Anderson as a man who could create just about anything out of scrap – and it’s easy to see why: Mark Watney not only has MacGyver’s technical talents, but also his sense of humour. There are some laugh out loud moments (one particular interchange between Watney and NASA is hilarious) which help to prevent this from becoming an ultra-serious updating of Apollo 13, even if the stakes are just as high.

Better scientific minds than mine (of which there are a considerable number) will be able to nitpick Watney’s science, but to a layman, it is all presented plausibly, with various mathematical calculations underpinning key decisions – which then have to be implemented with some very basic tools. As Weir has commented in an interview, the intricacies of the science helped to drive the plot, and many of the troubles that plague Watney come from unintended consequences of his previous actions.

The story is told in multiple forms. Primarily, we are privy to Watney’s log or transcripts of audio from his craft, but there are various third-person sections on Earth (and occasionally on Mars – the only stylistic bits which don’t really work for me). Weir is clearly something of a geek (his response to a Star Wars vs Star Trek question in his publisher’s Q&A is “Doctor Who”): there are many references to science fiction and fantasy culture (a secret meeting is codenamed Elrond; Watney wants to do an impression of Iron Man late in proceedings), and there are running gags about various 1970s American sitcoms.

Wisely Weir doesn’t keep Watney cut off from contact with Earth for the entire story – how that communication works is one of the key elements of the tale – but a large part of the time, the reader is kept to Watney’s perspective. It makes for a slow-motion race against time but you’re one of those people who has to peek at the ending – don’t!

Verdict: A highly enjoyable debut novel which grips from the first paragraph. 8/10

Paul Simpson

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