Why I read it: This sci-fi book was highly recommended and I bought the audiobook a little while back. It’s not a romance but I don’t mind a little break every now and then and, as I’ve said before, I tend to be more adventurous with audiobooks anyway. I hear this one is being made into a movie starring Matt Damon, to be directed by Ridley Scott. If they don’t muck it up, it will be awesome.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads) Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.
Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive?and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.
Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.
But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills – and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit – he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
What worked for me (and what didn’t): This book was an absolute cracker. Honestly, I was hooked from the beginning and the story kept me gripped right until the end. I am trying to restrain myself from just fangirl gushing about it – it was just that good.
Mark Watney has been left alone on Mars. His crew, for valid reasons, thought he was dead and they had to leave in a hurry. He is alone, in a hostile environment and has no communication with Earth or his crew’s ship (Hermes) because the same storm which caused the quick departure took out the comms. So, at first, no-one even knows he’s alive. What follows is him making a plan to survive until the next Mars mission which is four years away. He is a mechanical engineer and a botanist, which, as it turns out, if you’re going to be stuck alone on Mars, include the perfect skillset. He basically MacGyver’s what is available to him in order to survive.
Mark has a wry sense of humour and the book is actually very funny even though the tension is often high. I was so impressed with the way the author kept ratcheting up the tension. When things were looking like they could actually work, something would happen to screw it all up and Mark would have to come up with solutions to new problems.
Mark is not the only cast member in the book – there are portions from various members of the Hermes’ crew and from Mission Control, NASA and JPL back on earth. The parts from Mark’s perspective are in the form of log entries and there are a few sections from an omniscient POV which give the reader/listener real time information – necessarily any log entry Mark does is about what he’s planning to do or what he’s just managed to do – so these sections are a useful device to ramp up the tension and keep the listener on her/his toes. I suppose looked at from the outside, it might seem a bit odd to have the various POVs mixed with close first person, third person and omniscient narrator but all I can tell you is that it really works. You’ll just have to trust me on this. (Quite a few of my friends have read or listened to the book and they’ve all pretty much loved it too if that helps.)
This was one of those audiobooks where I kept finding excuses to listen because I wanted to know what happens next. The science was interesting, accessible and explained in an entertaining way and it all sounded completely plausible. I’ve no idea what Neil Degrasse Tyson would say about it’s accuracy but it made sense to me. There was no deus ex machina, no swooping rescue from a Mars alien or anything.
I’m kind of in awe of the author because he had to create all these problems for Mark and then he had to solve them too. So; major hat tip. I was seriously worried for a while there (well a few times actually) that the author might have painted himself into a corner but he kept surprising me (in good ways).
What else? I think this book really lends itself to the audiobook format. I don’t know what the text actually looks like of course, but I think RC Bray’s interpretation of it was stellar. There were times he did a bit of a happy dance and sang a line when something surprising worked. He absolutely nailed the dry humour of Mark and the various other characters. There are some ripper one-liners in the book and Bray delivered them with perfect comedic timing.
The cast is multicultural – a German on the Hermes crew as well as an American of Mexican heritage, some Chinese nationals, a man with an Indian (as in India, not Native American) heritage and an American with an Asian heritage. They were all voiced well; the accents sounded authentic and didnt’ edge into caricature. The female voices were basically softened version of Bray’s own voice, so, not really that female sounding but also not drag-y. It’s really challenging for a male to sound believably female and I prefer the way Bray did it here, as opposed to a weird falsetto which just makes the women sound strange and jokey.
The commander of the Hermes mission is a female and she is absolutely in charge of the mission and respected and I really liked that. There weren’t a huge amount of women in the story but those that were, were skilled and smart and terrifyingly competent.
As far as criticisms of the narration go, there was one section where a couple were talking – a male and a female and I couldn’t tell the difference really between them. They’re voices kind of bled into each other so they sounded identical in sections. But it was a very short section and in context, I understood who was who.
Basically, I think everyone should read or listen to this book. I really hope they don’t screw up the movie.
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