Gut Reaction: THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir

I just finished reading Andy Weir’s The Martian. Overall, I enjoyed this compelling story. The story follows Mark Watney, an astronaut left on Mars after his crew had to abort their mission, assuming he was dead, and with no other options.

The first forty-eight pages follow Watney as he merely tries to survive without any human contact. The reader only knows what Watney writes in his computer’s log, so the sense of isolation is mutual. After that point, the reader gets scattered sections of dialogue with NASA officials and the astronauts who left Watney as they try to figure out a way to first contact Watney, and then try to rescue him.

The pacing picks up a bit, but the story is still laden with scientific and technical ideas and explanations. I don’t think this takes away from the story, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t skim over some of those paragraphs to get to the bits I actually understood.

What drives this story, really, is Watney. He’s a lovable asshole with a wry sense of humor and a creative mind. He dumbs down the explanations of his survival techniques so everyone can understand; author Andy Weir clearly knew that he would need to do so in order to appeal to as broad an audience as possible.

The dialogue between the various NASA execs is dramatic and straightforward as they try to develop a plan to deal with their lone astronaut stranded on Mars. Weir doesn’t bother with describing what people look like, and his settings are simplistic. What you really get, then, is raw conversations. I think this keeps the narrative moving forward; non-sci-fi readers could certainly feel bogged down in the tech-speak, so why burden them further with overwrought details of the lines on a NASA director’s face?

Still, around the middle point of the story, I found myself wondering what the real point was. Either Watney would survive, or he wouldn’t. The reader was just a helpless viewer, like Watney’s parents in Chicago, watching eagerly for any updates on the rescue mission’s agonizingly slow progress as it played out in a 24-hour news cycle. It was difficult for me to really invest in either potential ending, until I actually got there.

Once the rescue mission begins, Weir jumps back and forth between Watney, the rescue crew in orbit above Mars, NASA’s execs in Houston who had invested countless hours and a mind-boggling sum of money into this plan, and the billions of viewers around the world who, like the reader, could do nothing but watch.

These scattered, dramatic perspectives are the key sequence of the story; this is the final countdown before liftoff. All of the preparation and work between the characters (and the reader) lead to this single moment in time, and the sudden onslaught of anticipation and anxiety is the climax. My stomach was roiling.

This was Weir’s first novel, and he’s adept at dramatic storytelling and interesting dialogue. He also understands the weight of the moment. He doesn’t even bother with much of the aftershock. The moment passes, and, like the characters, the reader can only sit and reflect.

Worth it.

Brief NaNo Update: Last night, I surpassed 13,00 words, so it took me seven days to achieve over 25% of the 50,000-word goal. I had a couple of slow days on Thursday and Friday, but I’m okay with it, since I’m still averaging more than the 1,667-word daily minimum.

I spent some time yesterday outlining the next few sections for my story, which should carry me another 10-15k words, and I’m looking forward to diving back in. That’s sort of the key: one week and 13,000 words in, and I’m still excited to tackle this.

My goal for week two is to continue hitting about 2,000 words per day to give myself a comfortable lead before the halfway point. If I can get my average minimum requirement to 1,200 words per day, I can take it a bit easier in the second half of the month.

Steve D

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