I picked-up the audiobook of The Martian to listen to on an 8 hour drive to Minnesota. From an audiobook perspective it was extremely engaging and managed to make the time pass quickly. My only complaint is that the way the narrator voiced the female characters started to get on my nerves in some places. But I'm unsure if this was due to the tone he chose to read some of their lines or if it was the character's actual dialog that grated on my nerves. Despite this I still really enjoyed listening to this novel.
Six astronauts are on a scheduled Mars mission. It was supposed to be the 3rd in a series that NASA had planned out, but when a strong dust storm suddenly develops they are instructed to abort the mission. During evacuation one of fleeing astronauts, Mark Watney, is hit with debris and presumed dead. Without any other recourse, the remaining 5 astronauts flee the worsening storm and unknowingly strand Mark alive on the planet.
This was a great survival story in a setting you don't normally see. Usually survival stories are about the person learning to live off the land and "going back to nature". Stranding someone on an inhospitable planet is a fantastic idea because that isn't an option. Mars is out to kill Mark, or so he sometimes believes, and he has to make due with the limited mission supplies in order to survive. Every time we were with Mark, it was a wonderfully tense atmosphere as we experienced things through his daily mission logs. Mark had a sense of humor that acted as great comedy relief to a novel that could've taken several turns towards depressing. The humor made reading about Mark planning his courses of action, to only have to re-plan when things went wrong, a lot of fun. However, the book started to drag for me when Weir began switching back and forth between Mark's log entries and what NASA was doing.
When Weir began to intersperse Mark's scenes with NASA, it killed the suspense for me and caused one of my biggest issues with the story. In the beginning, you really felt Mark's sense of isolation and the desperation to make rations last until the next Mar's mission was scheduled. To remain with him like that and continue to only know what he knew would've made for a much more tense read. However, this tension was erased when we began to switch to NASA's point of view. It caused Mark's plight to lose a lot of the atmosphere it had built-up in the beginning, because you knew what NASA was doing and that things weren't as desperate as Mark thought. You were able to see the extremes NASA was going to in order to help Mark and these extremes were what started to kill my suspension of disbelief.
I could understand the media attention and NASA's struggle to get Mark back safely. However, I was a little baffled by the obsession with it. Mark is stranded on Mars for a long time. Much longer than the media's typical attention span and yet throughout the entire book the outside world is completely engrossed in the story the entire time. Some major channels even dedicate entire programs towards just Mark's situation. I could understand this in the very beginning, but as time wore on and only baby steps were made, the world probably would've began to lose interest. The fact that they never once seemed to waver and that the entire world was essentially holding its breath, really threw me off. Additionally, there's a lot of emphasis on how much time, money, and resources are utilized to save Mark that it started to become too far fetched for me. I began to have a hard time believing that so many people and governing bodies would give up so much to save one person's life. I was glad to see Weir eventually address this issue, but when he did, it almost felt tacked on. I read that part of this book was re-imagined, so I can't help but wonder if that section of the book was what they were referring to.
All in all, an excellent read. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys hard Sci-Fi books or survival themed stories.