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We all know that space outside our atmosphere is pretty dangerous. In a vacuum, there is no air to breathe, no gravity to hold you down, and the pressure on your body is trying to tear your cellular make-up apart. So far as we on Earth know, there is no other planet out there capable of sustaining life.
Now imagine being stranded on Mars. Completely alone on a planet which is constantly trying to kill you.
This is the reality for Mark Watney, the protagonist of Andy Weir’s bestselling novel, The Martian. Watney, along with five crewmates, has been sent to Mars as part of the Ares program which aims to send people to the red planet for the very first time. Their job is to collect as much information about the surface of Mars as possible and bring it back to NASA. But on the sixth day of their mission, all hell breaks loose. A sandstorm capable of destroying their shelter, the Hab, is rapidly increasing, and the commander makes the decision to abort the mission. As they are making their way to the escape vessel, the MAV, Watney is struck by their communications satellite and presumed dead. The remaining members of his crew then have to make the heartbreaking decision to leave Watney behind in order to save themselves.
Except, unknown to his crew, Mark Watney is alive.
With no way of contacting Earth, his only chance of survival is to wait for the next Mars mission in four years time with only enough supplies to last a crew of six people 31 days.
“If the Oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate.
If the Water Reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst.
If the Habitat breaches, I’ll just kind of explode.
If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death.”
I am a big fan of author's experimentation with narrative voice (with some of my favourite narrators including Cheif Bromden, a schizophrenic patient, in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and five-year-old Jack, who has never experienced the outside world, in Room). Weir is able to seamlessly slip between four narrative styles throughout the novel, introducing us to them gradually. First is the first-person introspective voice of Mark Watney; the rest of the novel is narrated in the third person, broken up by setting: NASA Headquarters back on Earth, the Hermes spacecraft upon which Watney’s crew are travelling back towards Earth, and Mars.
Watney is one of my favourite narrators, in terms of likability, of any book I have read. He recognises that he is not an indestructible superhero; he acknowledges his flaws and insecurities, but still manages to make the most out of his unprecedented situation. He has an incredibly witty and sarcastic sense of humour, which allows his narration to flow into technical jargon with ease, aiding the understanding of the reader. Watney is, after all, very human; his constant uphill battle for survival does take its toll on his morale, which allows us to feel empathetic towards him. But his undoubted determination to survive makes the story a thrilling read.
This novel will keep you gripped from the moment you pick it up. Whether you are an avid fan of sci-fi, or someone who likes things a little more down to Earth, there is something for everyone in this book. Whilst the novel may be set on Mars, the story deals with the basic human instinct of survival against the toughest of circumstances. Something we can all relate to.
I have to admit, I have committed a cardinal sin among book lovers: I watched the 2015 movie based on the book before reading it. My only excuse is that I hadn’t realised it was a book until after I had watched the film. With that being said, there is so much more detail and many more obstacles to overcome in the book compared to the film, so even if you have seen the movie, I would still definitely recommend reading the novel.