Also, I have duct tape. Ordinary duct tape, like you buy at a hardware store. Turns out even NASA can't improve on duct tape.
Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.
More than just a love letter to duct tape (although I could've come up with more than those two quotations), The Martian is a taut survival thriller, filled with laughs, science, and attitude.
And attitude is the key -- Mark Watney is full of it. From what I can tell, how you react to his attitude, his sense of humor, his personality directly correlates with your enjoyment of the book. When the book was first released, I read plenty of lukewarm or negative reviews that were about Watney as a character more than they were about the book as a whole. And that's fair. Some times you can deal with a protagonist that you don't like because you like the story, or the world, or the author -- whatever. But The Martian's not built that way. It rises or falls on your appreciation for and attachment to the abandoned astronaut. By the end of chapter two, if you don't like the guy, put the book down and move on to something else, because it won't get any better.
Me? I liked the guy almost instantly -- his self-deprecation, his sarcasm, his temerity, his MacGyver-esque abilities, his hatred of disco. Coupled with the severity of his situation, and the refreshingly original premise, I was hooked but good from the get-go.
We do eventually meet other characters -- NASA executives, NASA non-executives, the rest of Watney's team, and so on. We don't get to know them as well as we do Watney -- but what we do get are well-rounded characters working as hard as Watney is to help him survive. Racing against the clock -- with the eyes of the world on them (think of the media coverage of Apollo 11's landing -- but in a 24-hour news cycle in the Internet age), these people are in a situation almost as extreme as his is.
Not only do the character moments work -- and work very well -- but the details are spot-on. The book is chock-full of scientific detail and explanations. Would you appreciate more of Weir's work if you actually followed the details of the Chemistry and other science? Probably, but you can get the gist of it without really understanding it all. Jesse Pinkmans of the world can enjoy this book, not just the Walter Whites. Unless his science is wrong, I guess -- in that case we liberal arts types are better off -- but I'm betting he knows his stuff.
The plot moves along quickly -- but not too quickly. Plenty of ups and downs, successes and failures, steps forward and steps back. There were times in this that the tension was so high I wondered if I should get back on my blood pressure medication. But then, like a seasoned professional, Weir would have me chuckling. A near-perfect balance of tension and release, enough to keep you on the edge of your seat without falling over. There's some good emotional moments, too -- particularly as things start to come together on the rescue mission, and more-so as the mission gets into trouble -- even some inspirational moments. Weir put together the whole package -- story, characters, style, and heart.
Do yourself a favor and grab this one.
Note:I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. Which was generous and cool of them, but didn't impact what I said about the book.