After an accident while attempting to leave Mars with the rest of the Hermes crew, Mark Watney is stranded on the planet. With no way to communicate with Earth, his chances of survival are slim. He must use all his knowledge, skill, and resources to keep himself alive until rescue can be sent.
This is a special review because, rather than reading the book, I listened to the audio book. The experience was an interesting one indeed. I enjoyed the person narrating and his various voices and accents, I think the recording folks did an exceptional job (and from the panel I saw at Bookcon, audio book recording can be really tough).
The story itself was also pretty good. From my non-expert position, there wasn’t much that made me question the science and thus render me unable to suspend my disbelief. I’ve been told that the Skeptics Guide to the Universe folks were also fans scientific accuracy, so it seems like author Andy Weir did a good job with the scientific elements. My only qualm about it is the amount of detail that Mark uses in his logs. If his logs are for the folks at NASA, it might not be necessary to explain everything to the degree that he does, but then again, maybe NASA likes that kind of thing. I don’t know, but to me it seemed to lack the urgency I would expect from someone telling about events shortly after they happen.
That said, I still liked Mark’s logs. They were a good way to see his side of the story. The lack of urgency is made up for by the parts of the story that take place on earth or aboard the Hermes spacecraft. These sections add a lot of drama and fun. There’s also a few parts that have an omniscient third person narrator that provides information about Mark and his situation that he doesn’t provide himself. I appreciate this narrative point of view because there are many things Mark could not be able to explain (because he isn’t aware of them) or would not explain (because he assumes those listening to his log would already know). They all mix well, but it was occasionally odd from an audio book perspective because there are no visual (meaning textual) hints that the narrative has changed perspectives.
On that note, I’ll point out another issue with the audio book format. There isn’t much time to follow spelled out words (this happens, but I won’t say why because it might spoil things for those of you who haven’t read it yet).
All in all, I think this is a worthwhile sci-fi novel. It’s got action, science, problem solving, and even a bit of humour. Actually, these humorous parts reminded me of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (one of my favourite series) and they are a good break from all the high-stakes survival drama. The cast of characters also seemed pretty diverse (the narrator even does accents to differentiate characters). Finally, amid all the drama and suspense there’s a hopeful message about the community that comes together to help a fellow human survive. What’s not to like about that?
Final verdict: A solid sci-fi novel about survival worth reading – perhaps especially if you plan on seeing the film.