A mix of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter and Tom Hanks in Castaway, Astronaut Mark Watney is stuck on Mars. However, unlike A Princess of Mars, The Martian isn’t an incredulous or frivolous example of science fiction. While Burroughs’s main character ends up on Mars by unbelievable happenstance, Mark is stranded after a mission to Mars ends abruptly; his crew, thinking him dead, leaves him on the planet’s surface.
From here, the story is told in the first person point of view for most of the book. Mark keeps a journal of his trials and tribulations as he tries to find ways of rescuing himself off the Martian surface. Throughout, there are third person accounts from those on Earth and from his crew as everyone puts their lives, careers, and rockets on the line to save him from what could be a lingering, painful death. The book is a quick read because the tension is high all the way to the last page.
As a narrator, Mark Watney is funny, smart, and believable. He’s not the cold scientist stereotype, nor the typical meathead military grunt one often gets in first person sci fi stories. As a character, he’s well balanced and likeable, which is important — otherwise, you wouldn’t be rooting for him to survive through everything that Mars can throw at him. Mars is just as powerful a character as Mark is. It is the wild beyond almost anything Earth can muster in a tale, holds no punches, and certainly tries its best to outsmart our protagonist at every turn. Some of the other characters are a little wooden or two dimensional — there is at least one character, Mindy Park, who I wish had more face time — but, let’s be honest, this is Man vs Mars.
In fact, Mindy may be my one complaint. I really would have liked to see more of her, or some follow up on her after the fact. Of the supporting characters, she had the most potential to be interesting but was never really given a chance. She was instrumental to forwarding the plot but never was allowed to rise above her original position; she was a static character that should have been dynamic. That’s really my only complaint. I don’t honestly have a suggestion on how she could have been used more without distracting from the real story, I just liked her and wanted to see more of her. End side rant.
The Martian is an excellent example of modern science fiction. It’s a space opera (following the criteria that travel must happen between two planets and then drama occurs) without involving aliens, laser blasters, or really anything that seems outside of the realm of possibility. This is a believable story, something you could expect to see on the History Channel in the distant future vs. Syfy. It’s smart and well researched (the science is good, which I think makes for even better sci fi). I wholeheartedly recommend this to any sci fi fans out there or anyone wanting an engaging page turner.