The Martian by Andy Weir
“I’m pretty much fucked.”
That’s our introduction to Mark Watney and the first line of The Martian. It’s a pretty great opener, both for catching the reader’s attention and for perfectly summing up the casual way Mark deals with some pretty serious situations. Like, for instance, being accidentally left behind on a manned mission to Mars and having to survive in a completely inhospitable landscape for over a year.
One of the most compelling aspects of this book is watching Mark puzzle through challenge after challenge. How can he grow food without living soil or water? How can he communicate with Earth? How can he get off the damn planet? Instead of relying on coincidences or impossible technical magic, we get to watch a really smart guy figure through real options and experiments. It creates a tense and fascinating narrative.
Which helps the reader forget that this book is really light on real characters. Matt is plucky and jokey and never gets too depressed by his situation. No matter how many set backs he faces, he never throws a perfectly understandable tantrum. He is almost too brave in his plight. The side characters are just as flat: quirky, one-note traits replace real development.
But don’t get me wrong. This book is great; I finished it in a matter of hours, just because I needed to know what was going to happen next. It’s, in fact, a sign of a talented author that the strength of one aspect of a book – the plot, in this case – can totally eclipse a weakness in another area – flat characters.