Summer Book Club Review: The Martian

Welcome to VGBlogger’s Summer Book Club! All summer long, we will be providing weekly book reviews across a wide range of geek favorite categories, including art, comics/graphic novels, fantasy, gaming, and sci-fi. So whether you’re heading out for a road trip, going on vacation, lounging beach/poolside on a nice sunny day, relaxing inside away from the summer heat, or simply searching for a good read to fill your free time, follow our Summer Book Club for our top picks of what you should be reading during these hot summertime doldrums.

TheMartian

“I’m pretty much fucked.”

From this opening line it’s made immediately clear that The Martian is not a run of the mill sci-fi novel.

Soon to be a Ridley Scott directed blockbuster feature film starring Matt Damon and a who’s who of Hollywood talent, author Andy Weir’s The Martian is a masterful combination of nerdy science, MacGyver-esque ingenuity, and smart-ass snark. Protagonist Mark Watney’s embodiment of these three traits drives home a page-turning story about one man’s fight for survival in outer space.

An American astronaut sent on a mission to Mars, Watney is presumed dead and left stranded on the Red Planet by his crewmates after he is hit and carried away while evacuating during a dust storm. With limited supplies, a harsh environment where nothing grows, no way to communicate with Earth, and years until he can hope to be rescued when the next Ares mission crew arrives, Watney’s only choice is to science the shit out of a survival plan, using his brain, his asshole, and a whole lot of duct tape. Boy does he ever.

Watney is an astronaut, engineer, and a super-botanist, so he’s obviously kind of brilliant, but his unwavering optimism and gallows yet playful sense of humor make him a relatable character that you just want to root for through thick and thin. Whether he’s calling the mothers and sisters of NASA’s investigatory committee prostitutes, creating a new scientific unit name known as the pirate-ninja, contemplating how Aquaman is able to control whales, making stupid piss and poo jokes, or lamenting the death of a laptop with Steam user review snark (“Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.”), his humor cuts through all of the scientific mumbo-jumbo and makes him a relatable everyman. Sure, he’s quick to say how fucked he is when he makes a mistake or something goes horribly wrong, but after venting and thinking things through he always come back with some elaborate, jury-rigged plan to un-fuck himself. His emotional shifts only make him more likeable, more human.

The story becomes kind of predictable that way–something bad happens, he figures out a solution, repeat–but it remains entertaining every step of the way, even as the perspective begins to regularly switch back and forth between Watney’s personal accounts via first-person mission logs and the more traditional third-person authorial narrative structure of the events taking place back on Earth and aboard his crew’s evacuating spacecraft. Naturally, the story isn’t as engaging when it shifts away from Watney’s point of view, but the political inner workings of NASA’s attempts to mount a rescue as well as the interactions between Watney’s crewmates as they eventually learn of his survival and decide whether or not to risk everything to get their boy back are necessary devices to drive the plot forward.

The Martian is a lot like Cast Away with a science geek twist. Instead of turning a Wilson volleyball into an imaginary sidekick, Watney is able to keep his sanity by recording daily logs, creating the illusion of conversation. He also raids his crewmates’ left behind digital entertainment collections to stimulate his mind with bad 70s disco, reruns of old TV sitcoms like Three’s Company, and Agatha Christie novels. Even if he wishes his astronaut pals had better taste in entertainment, any form of escape is good when faced with such dire circumstances.

This is primarily a tale of man against nature, yet on a deeper level–digging beneath the hardcore science and endearing humor–the story is ultimately about the resilience of the human spirit and the inherent bond that ties all of humanity together with the instinct to help each other out. And it’s because of this that The Martian, even as deeply rooted in real science as it is, is able to succeed on so many levels and appeal to a wide audience of readers. A love of science and space travel goes a long way, but even if you have never read a sci-fi novel or don’t particularly care for the genre in general, The Martian will win you over.

Disclosure: A review copy for The Martian was provided to VGBlogger.com by Crown Publishing.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!