First Published 2011 (Self Published), Audio Version: Podium Publishing March 2013
I had a google fail recently and thought that The Martian the movie was being released in Australian cinemas in November—and so with this review would be giving you all a good lead time to read the book The Martian before watching the movie. Turns out the Australian release date is actually October 1st, so there goes that plan.
Well, you still have two days to cram in listening (or reading) Andy Weir’s novel The Martian before the movie based on Weir’s book, and starring Matt Damon, comes out on Thursday. The audiobook is a little under 11 hours, so it will be a bit of a push, but doable—especially once you get sucked into the life or death struggle of our Astronaut hero, Mark Watney, stranded alone on Mars.
Weir’s first novel has become a bit of a cult hit—not just in the the Science Fiction reading community but also the wider reading community (especially audiobook listeners)— transferring from self-published serial, to audio book, to traditional publisher. And now to the big screen.
The Martian is a near future sci-fi novel about when space exploration goes wrong, like totally off the mission-plan and right through back-up plans B through Z wrong, and how hard it is to get things back on track. On page one we find Mark Watney alone on Mars after the early evacuation of the Ares 3 mission, an evacuation during which his fellow crew members believe Watney died. The near future nature of this universe means that it is not just a case of the Ares 3 crew turning around to pick up Watney, and this is not just because he has no operational communication system.
Queue survival, science-style, as Watney pits his (and the entire NASA team who put together the mission’s) science skills against the hostile environment of Mars and some rather slim survival odds. And there is definitely science in this book. In writing The Martian, Weir researched what was required for the space travel described and Watney’s survival—and then unleashed a great deal of this on the reader. The narration style (Watney is recording log entries for posterity) and the fact that each piece of science relates to the next logical step for survival—air, water, food, power and rescue—meant that rather than throw the reader out of the narrative the science worked to pull the reader further in. Knowing the narrow margins by which Watney’s survival hangs, and the tendency for chapters to end cliffhanger style—a nod to the original serial format of this work I feel—creates a gripping tension right through to the final pages.
It is not just the science, or Watney’s Macgyver-ing of science, that makes this novel so engaging. Weir crafts a story that balances the high stakes tension with wry laugh out loud humour—mostly from Watney—and emotional depth. The author creates a cast of characters who are each distinct and believable, from the merest scraps of description and information. Watney’s crew members—off page for most of the novel—are made real through Watney’s remembrances. And the earth bound NASA crew, never pictured outside their work spaces, are still distinct against the backdrop of bureaucracy. Never fear, bureaucracy, politics and media play their part in The Martian. It is still that type of near-future.
Like pretty much everyone else that I know who has read The Martian, I listened to the audiobook. It has been a consistent bestseller on the audiobook app that I use and The Martian is definitely a book that lends itself to the audio format—most of the chapters are audio logs from Watney on Mars, and many of the other scenes are conversation driven. I have to confess that I am a bit of a tough critic on audio narrators, and will give up on books, even if they are interesting, if I don’t get comfortable with the narrators voice—thankfully this is not the case with RC Bray. Though one or two of the character accents were a little bit off, I found Bray’s voice very easy to listen to and was not tempted to jump ship to the written version of the book at any point.
The Martian is probably the most nail biting story of hostile environment versus human I’ve ever read (listened to!) and I highly recommend it— whether you are a sci-fi fan or not—and it is an excellent place to dip your toes into audiobooks if you’ve been considering entering the field of reading with your ears. Oh, and if you are subscriber to the book before the movie, the quicker you read, or listen, the quicker you can see the story translated to the big screen.