I will say this in The Martian’s defense, it has a stunning cover design and a really, really good premise. A clever botanist/engineer accidentally gets deserted on Mars and has to Macgyver his way to survival until someone can come back for him? Genius. If it sounds interesting to you at all, you should give it a try since so many people liked it. And actually, I’m pretty excited for the movie with Matt Damon because I think (hope) it’ll fix most of the issues I had with the book.
Alright, let’s talk about those issues:
1 – The writing is pretty good for a self-published novel, but it needs some serious editing to make it more readable. I get that Random House didn’t want to make changes after buying the rights, but it reads like a 3rd draft. And then there’s the dialogue which is just awkward as fuck. So much awkward. I wish I could pinpoint exactly what makes the dialogue so awful, but I do know most real people (even nerdy scientists) don’t talk like that.
2 – Mark Watney is about one step away from being a jokey robot. Dude gets rattled occasionally but then immediately rebounds with a silly joke (to varying success). Always. As Hermione Granger would say, he has “the emotional range of a teaspoon.” I get that many people (myself included) use jokes as a coping mechanism, but if you’re stranded on Mars for months or years and will probably die, it seems improbable that you’d never do some soul-searching. I felt like I never actually got to know the real Mark Watney because he never got real in his log entries. The book is hollow with no emotional center. Everything can’t always be: something bad happened, I’m going to certainly die, *insert poop joke here*.
3 – The pacing of the plot is off. The novel gets very monotonous very quickly. Something bad happens, Mark makes a joke, and then he fixes the problem. Rinse and repeat every other chapter. Maybe some people find that suspenseful, but it was actually pretty boring. I ended up skimming decent chunks just to get on with it.
4 – So. much. technobabble. It’s cool that Weir did his research, but at times I felt like I was being bashed over the head with it. And I’m a scientist! I can’t imagine non-sciency people enjoying it.
5 – It’s pretty depressing as fuck reading futuristic sci-fi where women are still heavily outnumbered in scientific professions.
6 – Maybe I’m a monster, but I felt like there should have been more discussion about whether it was worth the billions of dollars spent trying to save Watney. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be worth it, but in a world where multiple people can literally be saved with a $3 malaria net, there should have been more discussion of the money issue from the Earth side. Actually, I think there should have been more Earth characters in general. We never really get to meet Watney’s family and that’s a shame because it would have upped the stakes substantially.
Phew, it felt good to get all that out. Hope we can still be friends.