By Andy Weir
Published by Podium Publishing
Read by R. C. Bray
Wow! It’s been nearly a month since my last review? Oops I forgot to post my review of The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, which I also have yet to write. Well, look for it next week!
I’ll admit it, I did not realize that the movie starring Matt Damon had been adapted from a novel. I probably should have. Certainly when I have mentioned that discovery to friends they unanimously replied “Well, duh!” (okay, I’m paraphrasing outrageously there). Part of the problem, I suspect, is that these days I am too busy plotting and writing my own books (not to mention the thousand other hobbies I have – the day job doesn’t count as a distraction, does it?) to have much time to actually read books other than my own. That, as I have said here several times previously, is why I listen to so many audiobooks. I can do it while driving, so more time for literary pursuits – Yay!
When I did become aware of The Martian as a novel, however, I was happy to grab an audio copy and start listening. If, like me, you have only seen the movie. You will know that the movie is a geek-fest of scientific minutiae and, amazingly, much of it is fairly good science… well, for a movie. The book is much more so and, as it progressed, I discovered that the holes I did catch in the movie were very much filled in by the book. I guess we all know that movies that adapt novels have to cut out a lot of details that were in the books and in many science fiction stories that can lead to bad science when a screen writer cuts out essential facts that would have made it hold together. On the other hand, there are whole You Tube channels devoted to pointing out the plot holes, bad science and other inconsistencies in movies, so I guess they stay in business, but the rest of us have to put up with the bad science (e.g. How many times should Sandra Bullock’s character be dead in the movie Gravity? I lost count.) most of the time.
The book, in fact, has more hard science in it that I might have thought was possible and still manage to tell a good story and not be labeled as a text book. It’s the story of an astronaut, Mark Watney, who is part of the third manned expedition to Mars and is left stranded on Mars by the rest of the crew of the Ares 3 mission. Much like Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone, he should have been dead. In Watney’s case he had been struck by something sharp and pointy that stuck into him through his pressure suit. If the wind driving, makeshift spear hadn’t killed him a hole in his suit should have.
I suspect Mister Weir decided to have anything that could go wrong do so, but find a plausible way in which to have Watney survive anyway, and I should grant this much; he did make it plausible. However, Watney should have been dead and his crewmates did the right thing in abandoning him, but then how is Watney to survive an extended stay on Mars with the leftovers from a mission that had only been supplied to last thirty days? Also how was he to communicate with NASA to let them know he was alive when the only beacon capable of reaching Earth on the Ares 3 mission had left Mars with the rest of the crew?
Watney, it turns out is an extremely clever botanist and engineer and somehow manages to solve those problems and a lot more one step at a time, although along the way, he manages to blow himself up a couple of times, solves a heating problem with a box of extremely radioactive pellets so dangerous, it was a Nasa protocol that they should not be allowed within four kilometers from the Mars station (aka the Hab, for “Habitat”), and a bunch of other mistakes that he somehow manages to survive and learn from. Each one seems realistic at the time, but looking back, you have to wonder how dead should he be? Well, As I said, I think that was the point of the book.
Along with Watney’s own, understandable mistakes, Mars itself seems to be conspiring against him with even more problems to be solved that there was time for in the movie, including having him unwittingly drive into a Martian sandstorm destined to last for months and which, if he doesn’t figure it out in time would leave him stranded with neither food not water nor any hope of rescue from the then-returning Hermes craft.
I think it was obvious from the start of both movie and novel that Watney would survive. The question was, how and would it be believable when it happened? Well, yes, I found it very believable and it was a fun story from start to finish.
For the most part I forgot that the story was not being read by Matt Damon. Bray’s vocal mannerisms, when reading Watney’s first person narrative, were amazingly similar to Damon’s – even more amazing because, as far as I can tell, this recording was produced before the movie was made. The only flaw in the reading for me was that Mister Bray went a bit heavy on the accents, probably to emphasize the crew (both astronauts and support team at NASA) were an international mix and not just a lot of children and grandchildren of one-time immigrants (something that does not come up in the movie). I’m not saying the accents were wrong, per se, but Many of them were thick enough to block out more daylight than the sandstorm Watney started to drive into. It’s similar to the funny voices complaint I have with other readers.
Even so, I give R. C. Bray high marks for his reading of an entertaining, well-written and informative novel. Well done all around.