Andy Weir’s The Martian Review Round-Up
The Martian was the runaway science fiction success story of 2014. Weir’s book began life as a self-published book (way back in 2012) and eventually rose to national and international stardom. It’s even being fast-tracked for a November 2015 movie: Ridely Scott directing, Matt Damon staring. Take that, Interstellar! If The Martian is eligible for the 2015 Hugo Award, it’s likely to be a major contender—but the eligibility questions are serious and substantial. I’ve addressed those in my Andy Weir’s Eligibility Post; I want to write about the novel in this post, and not get caught up in the “will it or won’t it be eligible” questions here.
The Martian is a fast-paced SF thriller about astronaut Mark Watney. Through Mark’s journals, we learn how he’s been left for dead on Mars, and how he has to utilize all his engineering and botany skills to survive in that harsh landscape. Chock-full of rich engineering detail (turning rocket fuel into water, growing potatoes, maintaining his Mars habitat, etc.), The Martian zips through Mark’s survival and NASA’s attempts to rescue him. Weir delivers a well-detailed and well-imagined Mars with lots of plausible detail. Engaging and very accessible, it’s easy to see why The Martian was a bestseller; it’s somewhat reminiscent of the movie Gravity, and totally out of step with almost everything else that’s being published in SF today.
The Martian feels like a throwback to old-school “engineering solves problems” SF: as challenges come up, our hero uses SCIENCE to solve them. There’s a golden-age style optimism of the ability of scientific knowledge and human ingenuity to overcome the most hostile landscapes. I found The Martian reminiscent of Arthur C. Clarke’s classic A Fall of Moondust, although Weir isn’t as interested in character development as Clarke. That’s probably the major flaw of the book: Mark starts and ends the novel the same person, and none of the secondary characters are fleshed out in any substantial way. Still, if you’re looking for a quick and exciting SF adventure uncluttered by deeper philosophical concerns, The Martian is perfect for you.
I hope that doesn’t sound disparaging of The Martian, because it wasn’t meant to be. Weir is writing a different kind of SF novel; while an author like Ann Leckie is drawing on the complex, densely structured futures of Iain M. Banks, Weir is focused primarily on action and plot. I think the indie roots of The Martian are clearly visible here: it’s not trying to be “important” or “significant” in the way of some other SFF writers, but instead trying to be entertaining and accessible. While that can be wearing at times—Weir overuses exclamation points, for instance, and the sheer number of engineering crises Watney survives is improbable—it is also refreshingly different.
The Martian brings up all sorts of interesting questions about what exactly science fiction can and should be. I think there’s plenty of space in the SF landscape for novels like this, but it’s telling that this didn’t find a mainstream publisher until after it was successful on Amazon. The Hugo and Nebula awards have yet to come to terms with the indie publishing scene. Readers seem to be happier with The Martian and Wool than with Echopraxia or Ancillary Sword, and I imagine this will be a major issue of contention in the coming decade.
I have The Martian fourth on my current Hugo Prediction, but crossed out due to eligibility issues. This is the kind of novel that was so widely read that it would have a great chance of a nomination; even if it’s not people’s first choice, it was probably memorable enough to make a lot of ballots, particularly if you’re a fan of Hard SF. Weir is showing up on most Year-End Lists, and he’s supremely popular on places like Goodreads. Except him to be an essential part of this year’s conversation despite eligibility issues.
The Martian was broadly and positively reviewed when it came out, with plenty of follow-up articles on Andy Weir’s self-publication journey after it became a bestseller. In terms of mainstream publicity, Weir certainly outstripped any other SF release of 2014.
WordPress Blog Reveiwers:
Book Reviews Forevermore (4 out of 5)
Attack of the Books
Rhapsody in Books (4 out of 5)
Overflowing Heart Reviews
Violin in a Void (7 out of 10)
Drunken Dragon Reviews (4 out of 5)
Ristea’s Reads (5 out of 5)
BiblioSanctum (4.5 out of 5)
and on . . . and on . . .
I could have put up a ton more reviews, but this is a good representative sampling. The Martian was widely and positively received by WordPress bloggers, and, since the hardcover has been out since February (with the paperback out in November), there’s been plenty of time for people to read. Once again, if we go on sheer popularity alone, The Martian will be on a lot of ballots.