Astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars.
Really, there’s not a lot of exposition to The Martian.
The premise is simple. Mark Watney is stranded. Mark Watney comes up with all sorts of neat ways to stay alive while waiting for a rescue crew. And with that, I’ve explained the entire book.
Andy Weir manages to expand this kernel of a plot into a book’s worth of Martianing, and it’s fascinating! I couldn’t wait to see what Mark would do next or how the crew was interacting and planning to save him.
The real magic lies in the mix of Mark’s resourcefulness and personality. He sees a situation and McGuyvers his way around it. While he has genius-level intelligence, he tempers it with wit.
“He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?” He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”
LOG ENTRY: SOL 61 How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.
Mark is an easy guy to root for.
He doesn’t get overly emotional about his situation. Instead, we see his mind constantly at work, deducting and deducing.
While Mark’s personality makes the book so pleasurable, it’s also The Martian’s major flaw.
There’s no introspection. At all. You’d think there would be at least a little ruminating on his solitary life.
He’s a grown man with no real connections on Earth other than his crew and his parents, and even those connections don’t appear to run too deep. As a result, there’s an unexamined story we miss out on. Regret, longing, real terror at the situation, character development…we get none of that.
Mark has a lot of downtime, plus time doing tasks where his mind could be free to wander. It doesn’t. Here’s a summary of how the book goes (note – this isn’t an actual quote- I made it up):
Uh oh. This thing broke. Ok, I fixed it. Whoopsie, now this thing broke! There, fixed it, too. Wonder if I’ll get to go home? In the meantime, here’s another broken thingie! Here’s how I’ll fix it.
Surface dwelling aside, it’s still time well spent and it’s no surprise this was made into a hit movie. I look forward to reading Weir’s next book.