karen's Reviews > The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir
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bookshelves: live-through-this

i have finally seen the movie, so i added some notes at the bottom.

this book is basically just a really long SAT question. and i so hope the movie is just matt damon sitting at a table doing equations for two and a half hours.

oh but first, as promised, here are the photos of me being an astronaut this past weekend.

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i am orbiting the eeeeeeaaaarttthh!!

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i did a really good job at astronauting and i didn't need to do math even once! (although i started experiencing cramped space-madness after about 6 hours, so i doubt i'm going to mars anytime soon.)

so many people i know LOVED this book. and so many people i know HATED this book. and as is usually the case with rabidly divisive books, i find myself smack in the middle, perplexed (but pleased) by the passion on both sides. it's a fine book - a pretty good balance of things i enjoyed and things i enjoyed less.

things i enjoyed less:

the reason i don't read a lot of sci-fi is because my grasp on sci is pretty slippery. and this book is one long celebration of math and chemistry and physics and etc. and also airlocks. i don't like airlocks. which is a weird thing to not like, i suppose, but the same way Moby-Dick; or, The Whale bored me when melville fangirled over rope for a million pages, this one izza lotta descriptions of spacecraft bits and the mechanics of airlocks and stuff that's wicked important if you are being an astronaut but is boring to me reading about it and i totally glazed over whenever anything had to be secured onto an airlock and depressurized.

but what's really frustrating is that for all the attention to detail/accuracy when it came to the math (i assume/i trust), the book's pretty flippant with the psychology. watney is all relentless optimism and unflagging "can do" attitude and dick jokes, with very few signs of depression or fear that isn't phrased in the form of a joke. weir tried to blanket over this "lack of meltdown" with that brief mention that watney is the class clown whose jokiness becomes heightened under stress, but seriously - there are more tears in any given episode of project runway than in this book about a man abandoned on mars and left completely alone for 2 years facing ever-escalating dangers and setbacks.

and the writing is definitely problematic. there is so much repetition, and so many times watney starts off a paragraph with "remember" as in "remember when i mentioned this-and-that?? well, now it is coming back into play in this situation razzmatazz!" it's not great for narrative flow, and it's a little insulting to assume your readership can't remember things that happened during the course of the book. and this tic is doubly perplexing when you "remember" (remember???) that watney's entries are ostensibly directed at other astronauts/scientists who wouldn't need science explained to them, and certainly wouldn't need the prod to remember it.

the ending is bad and too abrupt. there's not much else to say about that.

but there are also things i enjoyed:

i love survival books, so all the high-stakes DIY macgyver "lemme fix it with glue!" stuff was entertaining, when it didn't require me to recall stuff i learned failed to learn in high school. i also love lateral thinking puzzles, so i appreciated watney's process of arriving at unconventional solutions to problems i will never face. bonus points for when the fix was some unpretty punk rock janked-up solution, especially when it freaked out the scientists on the ground. and i like watney's blithe attitude - to a point -

To them, equipment failure is terrifying. To me, it's "Tuesday."

i preferred it when he was being cowboy-practical to when weir was forcing the humor. which - i know a lot of readers have a problem with the quality of the humor, but as someone who says "that's what she said" pretty often daily, the juvenile nature of the humor didn't bother me, and i did giggle at his consumer review of his laptop:

Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.

but it just felt like wherever weir could stick a joke, he'd stick a joke, and it became over-bedazzled with humor. although, considering this book treats watney's situation as reality t.v. for those still on the ground, and reality t.v. tends to amplify its participants with "must be entertaining at all times" fervor, this isn't entirely inappropriate after all.

another frustration i had was how much i enjoyed all the stuff that was happening on the ground and in the Hermes. it was much more interesting than equation-boy and his boob-doodling, and it was better-written: the humor was more successfully integrated, the characters were more convincingly human, and that's frustrating because it shows he can do it. so that's a "thing i enjoyed" buried under a complaint, i guess. but i did genuinely enjoy all the non-mars scenes, and when it would cut back to watney, i would groan like it was a bran chapter in ASOIAF.

so that's me: middle-of-the-road karen who sees the book's flaws, but mostly enjoyed reading it.

tl;dr: a fun book interrupted by math.


so, i saw the movie a couple of days ago, and i can finally weigh in on a comparison of the two. i'm definitely glad i read the book first, but at the end of the day, i'm not sure if there's an answer about which is "better."

book wins:

some of my favorite harrowing "OH NO" moments from the book did not make it into the movie (like that sudden realization which sends him scurrying outside for a long time), and also some of my favorite solutions were absent (hair). and while there were way fewer perilous moments in the movie, there was a zillion times more emotional response to the problems that did occur. which is points for realism, but watching people cry or otherwise emote on the big screen is as boring and time-wasting as reading about math, so one negates the other. but overall, the most interesting stuff got cut from the movie - stuff on mars, stuff on hermes, stuff on ground, etc.

movie wins:

having a montage to look at while math goes on and on in a voice-over is way more interesting than me kidding myself reading the math paragraphs several times like suddenly i'm gonna get it. also, matt damon delivers the jokey bits in a way that seems natural, and there are fewer jokes overall. (although in some cases, they cut the wrong ones. #aquaman) and i guess that iron man scene. that was pretty cool.

so it's kind of a tie. the movie is basically the cliffs notes version of the book - it gives you the basic gist of it, but you'll miss out on some really great scenes if you are like "book??? too boring tl;dr." and if you just read the book you won't get to see the airlocks in all their glory.


i want to see this movie, but i know it'll kill my motivation to read the book, so it looks like this puppy is gonna have to be my airplane book this weekend. as a bonus, with my window seat i can pretend that i am an astronaut myself, albeit a really incompetent one.

i apologize to my seatmates in advance.

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book - check
astronaut ice cream pellets - check

and off we go!

come to my blog!
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Comments Showing 1-50 of 107 (107 new)

Amy (Other Amy) I inhaled the first half in one sitting (would have been the whole thing but my Kindle chose bedtime to die for lack of juice and I took it as a sign). The writing creaks in places, but the story is so good I don't care. I think you are going to like. (Much better than his short works.) I'm finishing it as soon as I get off work.

karen i'm excited to see where i fall. half my friends are saying READ IT and half are saying DEAR GOD DON'T READ IT and i suspect half of the READ IT half want me to read it because they hated it and they want to spread the suffering around. i need better friends.

message 3: by El (new) - rated it 1 star

El I started reading this for the same exact reason as you. I only made it through one page last night, though, so not sure where I will fall. :/

Amy (Other Amy) So funny. I think this is definitely one of those love it or hate it books, and I think I know the dividing point. (I have my review half written in my head, which I try not to do while still reading the book, but I have been thinking about it from a cultural moment standpoint). I think the whole book is basically a long Macguyver or A-Team episode, with (probably) better science. So if a reader can enjoy those shows for what they are, they will enjoy this book.

Brenda Ayala It's science-y technical and his characterization isn't very accurate (I expect someone to break down at least once if they're on a planet by themselves for like a year!) But I liked his nerdy jokes and I will concede that had a large impact on my rating!

Amy (Other Amy) Ridley Scott? Matt Damon? Jeff Daniels? SEAN BEAN!?! Good grief. I hadn't even looked at the movie yet. I guess I know what I will be doing this weekend.

Bradley If you don't mind a bit of Heinlein and a bit of snark, you'll probably like this light read, Karen. The science bits were interesting to me because I'm interested in science, but it definitely wasn't THAT deep. It's pretty mainstream.

I can't wait to see if Mark's obligatory love interest in the movie is going to be homosexual and one of the crew that leaves him behind on Mars. Oh the angst when he finds out! (No, there wasn't a love interest in the book. But you know, we're talking the MOVIES, ya know, even IF it is the wonderful Ridley Scott.)


karen i am totally down with macgyver. i'm not sure what "a bit of heinlein" signifies, since i never did read him, but if by that you mean "on your dad's bookshelves" then yes, i am down with that, too.

message 9: by Linnie (new)

Linnie Movie seems intresting. I bet the book is too!

message 10: by Erma (new) - added it

Erma Talamante Definitely need to know what you think... I'm on the fence about reading this one, and considering passing on it entirely... Not a big fan of the trailers, but as we all know, that could have nothing to do with the book.

Anmiryam I definitely came down in middle on this one. Fun science driven plot, but lack of real character development made it feel flat. I think it will be great fun as a movie and it wasn't a bad read.

Bradley Heinlein was all originally about using real science and explaining it very well in the service of pretty good adventure stories. Like this. ;)

Ellen Gail Totally jealous of your future seatmate. I would love to sit next to an astronaut.

karen i will definitely tell you what i think. i am full of opinions! and i expect that my inflight shenanigans will make the news: crazy lady disrupts flight yelling 'bout some outer space nonsense.

Haikufall I loved this book and hope you like it as well. I can't wait for the movie.

Kirsten Huculiak Suspend reality for a while and dive in! I really loved this book.

Delta This is a great book. I suspect you will love it! Definitely better to read the book first...

Jeffrey Gray One of the best books I've read this year. I was still thinking about it a week later. Sign of a well written story

message 19: by jean mac millan (new)

jean mac millan I want to see the movie too

Amy (Other Amy) Finished. It is fun, fun, fun. Some of the science bogs, but not a major hurdle. And your fellow passengers are going to be entertained, at least!

Stacia It's fun & perfect for reading on a plane. Maybe you should channel Mark Watney & read all his dialogue out loud while playing airplane astronaut? ;-p Stock up on some freeze-dried ice cream for snacking on the plane. Heeheehee.

message 22: by Erma (new) - added it

Erma Talamante Stacia wrote: "It's fun & perfect for reading on a plane. Maybe you should channel Mark Watney & read all his dialogue out loud while playing airplane astronaut? ;-p Stock up on some freeze-dried ice cream for sn..."

I need to remember to do this next time I fly somewhere!

Wendy Darling Reeead ittt! Perfect airplane book. Also, (view spoiler)!

Guttu Wonder why you have kept such a good book in waiting.

Christine Roberts I feel the same way about reading it before seeing the movie- this book has been on my TBR for a while, and now I'm feeling the pressure to get to it as soon as possible.

Celeste I wish someone would take a video of it. I didn't even watch the trailer till i read the book. I loooved it, Im also too lazy to write a review for it, but I figure Andy Weir doesn't really need it anyway.

Michał Steier This book is like a fresh bun with butter and honey. Hard resist, impossible to stop eating ;)

message 28: by El (new) - rated it 1 star

El Michał wrote: "This book is like a fresh bun with butter and honey. Hard resist, impossible to stop eating ;)"

So it gets better? I have to admit about 60 pages in I'm not terribly impressed with the writing so far.

Michał Steier @ El
Writing is simple and it gets a bit technical at some parts (I did like it though) but there is great load of humour and fun. And yes, plot speeds up over time, just give it couple of chapters more. I enjoyed this novel greatly.

[Name Redacted] So far this book has been...okay. Aside from the genuinely cool science-stuff, it's a pretty paint-by-numbers story, the sort of thing you can predict as you read. Guy's stranded, struggles to survive, happens to have all the skills and tools necessary, but OH NOES! Author decides random disasters have to happen at exactly the places you expect them to! The characters are all pretty thin, though the protagonist is relatable enough. I'm not impressed, and i suspect the overhype has killed it for me, but i freely admit it's a perfectly fine turn-off-your-brain read (well, keep it on for the science, but turn it off for the characters, plot, events, etc.).

Steve You're already better astronaut material than Andy Weir is. He says he has a fear of flying.

[Name Redacted] Finished and, while I appreciate another rare entry in sci-fi which actually emphasizes the "sci" part, it's a 3-star read at best.

I've probably read too many of your monsterotica reviews, but as I zipped through the oh-so-predictable plot, I kinda found myself wishing he'd encounter an amorous space-raptor or something...

Nadine Jones I look forward to hearing what you thought!! I never like books with lots of buzz so I wasn't expecting much from this, and I loved it. I see lots of reviewers felt there was too much science, but I'm an engineer, so there is never too much science! This book was right in my wheelhouse.

message 34: by Stacia (last edited Oct 02, 2015 08:40AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Stacia You got the ice cream?!? :-D I didn't even know it came in pellet form.

Have fun with your hamster (uh, I mean, astronaut) pellets & I hope you enjoy your in-flight reading!

Cecily [Name Redacted] wrote: "Finished and, while I appreciate another rare entry in sci-fi which actually emphasizes the "sci" part, it's a 3-star read at best."

You may not be the film's biggest fan. A huge amount of the science - and therefore most of the excitement - is left out; far more than is necessary to cut it down to a couple of hours on screen.

message 36: by Tom Barry (new)

Tom Barry Why do so many people think this film is based on a real life event, good film though

Cecily Tom Barry wrote: "Why do so many people think this film is based on a real life event, good film though"

Do they really? Or is it more a case of people joking/trolling and others taking them seriously?

Then again, Capricorn One seems to have been the main trigger for widespread belief that the moon landings were a hoax, so maybe...

[Name Redacted] Cecily wrote: "[Name Redacted] wrote: "Finished and, while I appreciate another rare entry in sci-fi which actually emphasizes the "sci" part, it's a 3-star read at best."

You may not be the film's biggest fan. ..."

Ugh. But the non-science parts were pure cliched hackeneyed Hollywood-style... Oh. Okay, now I understand.

message 39: by Jan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jan I wasn't a fan of this book either...your review reminded me why! Well said Karen

message 40: by Erma (new) - added it

Erma Talamante Well, hell. Might have to read this one after all.

message 41: by Abby (new) - rated it 2 stars

Abby The SAT comment is so accurate!

karen thanks!! but ugh - that second link put me to sleep immediately.

message 43: by Firebird (new)

Firebird don't read this stupid book

message 44: by Lena (new)

Lena You must see the movie. Best movie I've seen all year. It was all action from the first five minutes. I also have a soft spot for disco. abba was the first band I ever liked. I danced like a tiny little maniac to my mothers VHS of abba videos. Often she would dance with me :)

karen i probably will, but tomorrow i gotta go to the 3d imax of the walk because eeeeeeee heights!

Carmen YES. Zero knowledge of psychology. Too many calculations. Also, you are amazing.

Carmen Abby wrote: "The SAT comment is so accurate!"

I agree with what Abby said. This is completely on-point.

karen because of what an accomplished astronaut i am?? agreed. however, YOUR review cracked me up the most, especially your interpretation of the dialogue. here is a link to it, for people who enjoy laughter:


Carmen Aw, thanks, Karen!

karen you blinded me with science.

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