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By Andy Weir
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
If Andy Weir's originally self-published The Martian (now a national phenomenon from Crown Publishing, and about to become a major motion picture from Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon) had been just a short story, it would've been perfect -- a ten-thousand-word thriller about a NASA botanist who is accidentally left for dead on Mars after a disastrous mission, when in fact he's still alive, using THE POWER OF SCIIIIIIEEEENCE!!!!!! to keep himself surviving for the several years it takes for Earth to mount and send a rescue mission. But since this is a full-length novel, I am forced to judge it on those terms; and in those terms, the book has some serious freaking problems, not the least of which is that 300 detailed pages about THE POWER OF SCIIIIIIEEEENCE!!!!!! makes for some awfully dull reading, once you get past the sheer novelty of a highly technically accurate action thriller set on another planet.
That's the main problem I had with The Martian when all is said and done, far more than the traditional literary aspects that are either missing or badly handled -- merely that I had become fatally bored with the endless jargony mumbo-jumbo by the book's midway point, especially once you realize that in good scientific-paper style (betraying the scientific background of the author), you can simply read the first paragraph and last paragraph of any chapter to know exactly what actually happens in that chapter. Granted, that can be said about a lot of genre novels out there, whether or not they're scientific in nature; but what keeps a person reading in those cases are all the other literary aspects that an author might bring to a book -- complex characterization, a mature personal style, nuances in the storyline that are only revealed in the those paragraphs between the first and last ones of each chapter -- but given that The Martian completely forgoes all these things in favor of its "all plot momentum all the time" approach so endemic of self-published genre thrillers, there's literally no reason left to read this book than to find out "what happens," and unfortunately this can be done merely by reading one out of every twenty of the tech-filled paragraphs found within, making it easy to see why its ultra-simple adaptation might be so seductive to Hollywood producers.
Ultimately The Martian reads exactly like what it is -- a polyannish ode from a scientist fan to the impossible nobility of the NASA space program, a nobility that no government agency on the planet could ever actually live up to in the real world, and an angry reaction by a scientist writer to all the dumbed-down science-fiction stories that now exist, which itself becomes dryly problematic precisely because it's an angry reaction to dumbed-down science-fiction from a person who's a scientist first and a creative writer second -- and while all this would be forgivable coming from a tiny self-published volume that an unedited author might directly send me through Smashwords for review, it's unfortunately intolerable when learning that an extra million dollars has been spent on it, and an extra hundred publishing professionals have now looked at it, in their attempt to turn it into the massive mainstream national hit it now is. Unless you're a scientist yourself, and get off on 4,000-word descriptions of aeronautical mathematical formulas interspersed with clunky, sometimes slightly homophobic "dad jokes," just do yourself a favor and wait for the movie, where this book's admittedly addictive ticking-clock plot will undoubtedly be put to better use.
Out of 10: 7.8