I figured since the movie based on this book* is currently raking in millions worldwide, it'd be prudent of me to discuss the literary phenomenon that started it all. Especially now, since I haven't seen the movie yet; my opinions of the book remain unswayed by my undying love for Matt Damon (sorry Bryan).
Simply put, this book is fantastic. I was enthralled almost from the beginning (more on the "almost" in a sec), and by the end I felt like I'd just finished an autobiography rather than a novel. An autobiography about a single human surviving on Mars. Yep.
It wasn't even until I was recommending the book to a friend that I realized how significant Weir's accomplishment actually is. This friend is a fellow writer, and we tend to discuss books in a very writer-y fashion: What's the pacing like? How was the plot executed? Are the characters believable? Do their actions and motives make sense within the story? And so on. So here I am, telling her that this book with one main character who talks mostly to himself is one of the best things I've ever read, and suddenly it clicked - Weir did the ONE THING that every single creative writing instructor I've had since high school has been telling me not to do. He completely isolated his character and expected this one guy to carry the entire plot. And you know what? The story is exciting, and the voice never gets boring. It totally works.
The only gripe I had, and the reason for my "almost" above, was that sometimes the scientific explanation was a bit heavy-handed and borderline condescending. This was especially true at the beginning - Mark Watney's explanations of his methods throughout the book become much more important as the story progresses, and his attention to detail is the reason I feel 90% certain that I could head to Mars and start a successful potato farm. But I remember one instance near the beginning where Watney is mentioning CO2, and he finds it necessary to throw in a parenthetical clarifying that that means "carbon dioxide." Now, I'm aware I've had more exposure to scientific literature than your average English Lit major, but this seemed over-the-top. It's important to keep your audience in mind, and I think the majority of any audience devouring a book about a guy trapped on Mars and constructing a survival strategy on the fly would at least have some vague understanding of greenhouse gases and their abbreviations. But in the grand scheme of things, this is a tiny, nit-picky issue that in no way deterred me from devouring the rest of the book while gripping the edge of my seat.
I'm sure, before too long, you'll be seeing a follow-up post with my thoughts on the movie. October is turning out to be a crazy busy month, but I can't let this one slip by without seeing it on the big screen!
*I've been debating whether to provide links to the books in these posts or not. Being a die-hard fan of our local bookstore, Literati, it felt disingenuous to link to Amazon. But then I remembered Neil Gaiman's promotion of IndieBound, which is a site dedicated to making it easy to find your nearest independent bookstore. So here you go!