*please note – language warning*

These days books can be successful in a variety of ways. It’s no longer about the bricks and mortar publishing house delivering hardbacks to bricks and mortar bookstores. Authors are using the e-book and platforms like Amazon and iBooks to get their start. This is how the world discovered The Martian, a novel that once was on the 99c download and is now in homes all over the world and a major motion picture under its belt.

We find ourselves on Mars, at some point in the future when humans have reached this next frontier, astronaut, Mark Watney is stranded. He was left behind after a storm went wrong, his crew and only way home leaving without him. In his words –

“If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m fucked.”

The book follows Marks trials as he survives on Mars, attempts to find a way home and to let home know he’s alive because unfortunately everyone on Earth thinks he’s dead. It’s an inconvenient predicament and for the most part we rely on Mark to narrate to us where he’s at and what he’s doing. Mark has this wonderful way about him, he’s ingenious, handy and funny. As a narrator he makes light of his situation, without understanding the very real, and very terrifying situation he is in.

There’s some real gems in this book, seriously –

“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”

“I admit it’s fatally dangerous,” Watney said. “But consider this: I’d get to fly around like Iron Man.”

“Back on Earth, universities and governments are willing to pay millions to get their hands on Mars rocks. I’m using them as ballast.”

Mark has a great appeal as a narrator, he explains the situation in clear and simple terms and with just a little bit of humour. To spend time with a narrator in a story where there is little in the way of character interaction requires a bit of finesse. You can’t just say what happened, you need something to keep the reader interested, Weir has found this balance. However while the novel has been described as gripping and intense, to me, the telling by Watney negates some of the suspense. To tell us what’s happening, at its most basic level, he needs to be alive. He tends to have righted the wrong, or at least have a plan and I was inherently confident of his success. Something about Mark Watney, the botanist/engineer, King of Mars screamed I will survive, even when facing all kinds of obstacles and I never really believed otherwise.

There’s something about the ingenuity of growing potatoes on Mars, the act of survival in a barren and uninhabitable terrain, the strength of the human spirit to persist, to keep trying when it would be easier to give up and to keep eating potatoes when you’d almost prefer to eat your own arm. The science itself is also fascinating, even more so because we are so very near to making it to Mars ourselves. Perhaps I exaggerate, but Weir has tapped into that little piece of each of us that looks up at the stars and wonders, what if? The result is a book very different from many I’ve read, the story it tells captures you, as does it’s roguish botanist protagonist.

All hail the King of Mars!

Book Conversation Points:

  • Do you have a favourite Mark Watney quote?
  • How did you find the diary-like telling of the story by our narrator?
  • Movie adaptions – yay or nay and why?

I’ll leave you with a little Australian Mark Watney rambling –

“Also, have I mentioned I’m sick of potatoes? Because, by God, I am sick of potatoes. If I ever return to Earth, I’m going to buy a nice little home in Western Australia. Because Western Australia is on the opposite side of earth from Idaho.”

Next month I’m reading ‘Ayoade on Ayoade’, by Richard Ayoade. Come join us at the OuttaGum book club!