The Martian – Andy Weir

This post should really be called, why I hated The Martian so much I couldn’t finish it. In fact this shouldn’t really be called a review post as it is probably going to be a big old rant and as I said, I didn’t finish it. Anyway, are you ready? Here goes…

Ebury Publishing, paperback, 2014, fiction, 384 pages, bought by myself to troll myself with apparently

Imagine you are caught in a freak storm and you become lost from everyone you are on an expedition with, note – they have searched for you and think you are dead. Now imagine that this happens to be on Mars and your expedition have gone back to the nearest spaceship, which is headed back to earth and you can’t communicate with them anyway as your suit and communication kit was damaged in the storm. That is the position in which astronaut Mark Watney finds himself at the start of The Martian and this is what he thinks about it…

I’m pretty much fucked.
That’s my considered opinion.
Fucked.

Now I have to say that at the start of this book I was pretty keen on it and hooked. I had loved watching Gravity and I thought that James Smythe’s The Explorer was a bloody marvel and I am not known for my love of books set in space. So I had high hopes. As Mark starts to look at ways to survive, both using the kit he has and also his bodies natural matter and chemicals, I was initially fascinated and even laughed a lot (there was a lot of poo being used as manure to grow plants science, thats my kind of science) as it went on. Then I started to get really, really, really bored.

Firstly there was the science stuff. I was not very good at science at school, my step father who was initially my science teacher (work that one out) would say this is because I didn’t apply myself, I would say I am just not very interested in science. I’m still not, unless Mary Roach is writing about it. So whilst I tried to keep up with all that ‘survival on Mars science’, which I couldn’t tell you if was realistic or not let’s be honest, I just couldn’t. It became repetitive, dull and frankly (and indeed literally in one respect) up its own bottom. I just couldn’t penetrate the monotony of it, here is an early example…

I even beefed up the MAV fuel plant compressor. It was very technical (I increased the voltage to the pump.) So I’m making water even faster now.
After my initial burst of 50 liters, I decided to settle down and just make it at the rate I get O2. I’m not willing to go below a 25-liter reserve. So when I dip low, I stop dicking with hydrazine until I get the O2 back up to well above 25 liters.
Important note: When I say I make 50 liters of water, that’s an assumption. I didn’t reclaim 50 liters of water. The additional soil I’d filled the Hab with was extremely dry and greedily sucked up a lot of humidity. That’s where I want the water to go anyway, so I’m not worried, and I wasn’t surprised when the reclaimer didn’t get anywhere near 50 liters.
I get 10 liters of CO2 every fifteen hours now that I souped up the pump. I’ve done this process four times. My math tells me that, including the initial 50-liter bust, I should have added 130 liters of water to the system.
Well my maths was a damn liar!

I mean seriously, it’s really dull, really repetitive and really boring. You could say ‘Simon that is the point’ but if you did I might have to come and poke you in the eye. Even if it is boring or complex science, and even if Mark must do it over and over again there is no excuse to be boring, the aforementioned Mary Roach is never dull not once, she gets me to understand science by making it funny, a bit rude, interesting and exciting. However  Andy Weir is not Mary Roach, actually that’s not fair, Andy Weir’s narrator Mark is not Mary Roach. After a few chapters I realised Mark is actually a cocky, arrogant, self inflated twerp. I hated him and the science. Then it went downhill further for me when we joined the spaceship heading back to earth.

You see instead of having one utter self absorbed pain in the arse character, we soon have several. Mostly men, but I will go onto that shortly. These characters couldn’t run an ice cream van let alone a space ship, so the unbelievable fiction I could get lost in went beyond farce. Only to say that implies it is funny, like Mark himself thinks he’s funny with his hilariously lame asides, it isn’t funny. And when it tries to be it is painful and, yes that word again, dull. Let’s see an example of the kind of banter happening in space…

“Seventeen times,” Chuck said.
“Fourteen times,” Morris asserted.
“No, it’s seventeen. You forgot the amperage minimum for the haters to keep the—”
“Guys,” Venkat interrupted, “I get the idea.”
“Sorry.”
“Sorry.”
“Sorry if I’m grumpy,” Venkat said. “I got like two hours sleep last night.”
“No problem,” Morris said.
“Totally understandable,” Chuck said.
“Okay,”Venkat said. “Explain to me how a single windstorm removed our ability to talk to Ares 3.”
“Failure of imagination,” Chuck said.
“Totally didn’t see it coming,” Morris agreed.
“How many back up communications systems does an Ares mission have?” Venkat asked.
“Four,” Chuck said.
“Three,” Morris said.
“No, it’s four,” Chuck corrected.
“He said backup systems,” Morris insisted. “That means not including the primary system.”
“Oh right. Three.”
“So four systems in total, then,” Venkat said. “Explain how we lost all four.”

Now if you haven’t fallen asleep again and found that tedious to read, imagine how it was to have to type it all. I mean me, not the author. Please bear in mind that this was almost a page of the book where absolutely nothing happens, no real movement goes in the story and things are (ironically) once again repeated over and over and over. If only it was ironic enough to be funny, it’s just infuriating. There are endless pages like that, well how as endless as fifty pages can actually feel and I was getting more and more and more angry.

So why had I not stopped reading? Self trolling maybe, seeing how much I could take (I did the same with Fifty Shades of Grey) before my eye bled and I hurled the book across the room. Whatever it was I was utterly broken when they started to introduce women into the book and a whole level of misogyny was introduced as the female characters were. Girls are either clever and bland looking and not really paid much attention in the book, or they are astronauts wet dreams. I think at one point I read something along the lines of but you’re too pretty to be an astronaut. That was it, I was done and frankly utterly furious. I threw the book across the room and gave up.

So as you might guess I didn’t like The Martian very much, I thought it was utter bobbins if I am honest. I had such high hopes for it, especially after hearing all the right people loving it. Interestingly Gavin, Kate and Rob and I all read this for Hear Read This and we all hated it, yes even Gavin, you can hear us giving it a good bashing here. That said, I am also aware we are in a small minority, after all there is a multimillion pound movie being made with Matt Damon in it, so it must be good. I won’t be queuing to see it though. I will be reading the sequel to James Smythe’s The Explorer, called The Echo, instead. If you want a corking spaceship book please, please read that instead. There I’ve said it.

If you have read The Martian I would love to hear your thoughts be they the same as me or be they that you think I am a complete buffoon. Do let me know. I was the same with Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan which almost everyone else in the world loved too.

31 Comments

Filed under Andy Weir, Ebury Press, Review

31 responses to “The Martian – Andy Weir

  1. David

    Crikey, I thought Michel Faber’s ‘The Book of Strange New Things’ took the prize as Worst Book Set in Space Ever Despite Everyone Else Loving It, but it sounds like it has a serious rival there. Suffice to say, I’ll be giving it a miss.

  2. I loved it and found it funny. I also liked Mark a lot, finding him willing to make fun of himself.
    But then again I truly hate “Kafka on the beach” and “Lord of the flies” which both has elements I usually like.

  3. I love you so much. I seriously thought I was the only person alive who felt this way. We just wrote up our discussion of this for The Socratic Salon and I said so many of the same things – I found it dreadfully boring and repetitive, I thought Mark was a paper thin character with zero emotions, etc. and I’m honestly baffled by the sheer number of people that love it.

  4. This review made me laugh! I’m one of those people who enjoyed The Martian, but I admit the scenes on Earth were so, so bad. By the time I was typing my review a week later, I couldn’t remember Venkat & Co.’s names (and I only remember Venkat, because you’ve mentioned him here). That said, I did like the MacGyver in Space vibe; it was a mix of serious/fun. However, I do think the book would have been more interesting if Mark didn’t have such a “bro” vibe; some of the ways he dumbed down the science made me question his own competence.

    If you didn’t like the beginning/middle, you would have HATED the ending (probably) which was unambiguously cheesy. I have very mixed feelings about it and am trying to find a way in which I can rant about it on my blog under a giant “Spoiler Alert!!” banner. I don’t feel right putting up spoilers for books people actually like and get excited about… that’s why I limit my “So Bad, I Read It For You” spoiler-heavy reviews to truly awful books which are inexplicably popular… but I really DO want to gripe about The Martian’s ending and see if someone out there can make me feel better about it. Isn’t that the point of the Internet?😛

    I really want to read The Explorer now…

  5. I read the first chapters and… I have nothing against science, in fact I’m quite interested in learning about spaceships and that kind of thing. But I felt I was reading a textbook and that’s never a good thing when you expect a funny novel (that I didn’t find funny at all, let’s be honest). And I hated (loathed) Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store if it’s any comfort to you.

  6. I really want to read the Martian now to see if I hate it too!

    Meanwhile The Echo is even better than The explorer in much the same way that Aliens was better than Alien.

  7. Hahaha… I do love a good rant, even better reading someone else’s… seems very valid from the passages. Not a book I’d pick up – and certainly not now – unless of course the ending you missed was he was rescued by a talking horse in a boat😜

  8. I haven’t had any desire to read it, it’s my town’s “City Read” this year. I AM, however, interested in the film.

  9. Laura Caldwell

    I quit somewhere shortly after the aforementioned poo. :Too many books, too little time.”

  10. I like the sound of the science bit. The parts you quoted sounded really interesting (but then I am an engineer…). The bits about girls in science being ignored would really annoy me… I do have a copy here given to me by someone who raved about it. I don’t know that I will be reading it any time soon though…

  11. I finished it yesterday and feel much the same way you feel about it. It made for tedious, repetitive reading most of the way through and I found myself looking forward to the non-diary bits of the story. I did think the ending was fairly moving, but I almost gave up on the books several times along the way. It was more a marathon than a fun run, that’s for sure. Overrated…way overrated.

  12. 100% agree with your take. Not sure why people could stomach this one, especially people whose reviews usually radiate deep thought and eloquence. Glad to know others including yourself found it boring, repetitive, and not worth much time.

  13. sharkell

    I won’t be reading the book but I did love the movie.

  14. I really like the premise of this, and was attracted to watching the movie, but the quotations you’ve presented here, well, yes, so tedious. And ordinary ordinary pedestrian prose. I wasn’t planning to read this, and defo won’t now. But a question. Do people *really&* throw books across the room. I keep reading this. I have abandoned books, and often with utter contempt. But I’ve never thrown the object across a room. How does it feel? PS I don’t read space/spec fic books, but ADORED Faber’s Book of Strange.

  15. Sarah

    I understand where you are coming from here, the main character is an arrogant twerp but I still loved the book! I wrote my review here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1237623277?book_show_action=false. I also felt that there was a tad too much science but it didn’t stop me from enjoying it all. I think the fact that I am a space fan probably meant I gave it a bit more time than other people might have done.

  16. I loved the book so much; it was my favorite new-to-me read of 2014. I laughed and laughed (and I don’t do that for many books) and loved all the science-y parts. I don’t disagree with everything you said, but my experience was completely different than yours. I love that your reviews are so honest, though.

  17. even though I’m not into maths nor science, I devoured this book in n time and loved it. I really enjoyed how he managed to combine both very detailed aspects and lots of humor. I did find a lot of humor. I also found it fascinating that the author wrote a special program to measure specific forces, for instance for the final attempt at saving him.

  18. Great review — really made me laugh. I will not be reading this book (but as I hate sic fi and space, I wouldn’t have anyway).

  19. Justine

    I really enjoyed your post, Simon, and laughed out loud a lot, even though I really loved the book (and it’s my husband’s favourite book of all time, ever!) You make a great case for why it’s a shit book, but I loved the science, even though I’m in no way a science or maths type.

  20. Chris Barker

    Thank you! I thought I was the only one who hated this book!!! All the science stuff got to me and Mark’s dialogue annoyed me. I was really pissed because I always buy second hand copies of books unless its something I have to have. Well, I thought I had to have this book and paid full price for it.

  21. I guess this is one of those books that you either love or hate, no just ‘meh’. I loved it, reading it in two days. I didn’t always understand the science but it was funny and touching and suspenseful all at the same time. I’m very much looking forward to the movie.

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  23. It’s really interesting to read your take on The Martian. I haven’t read it, but my husband has and loved it. He was especially drawn to the hard science.

    As he said (in December 2014 on my blog): “If you enjoyed chemistry class (I am darn proud of winning my local Chemistry Olympiad in 9th grade), consider astrophysics to be as beautiful as art, and never quite gave up your dreams of being an astronaut, you’ll love The Martian and the intricate scientific problem-solving at the heart of the plot.”

    I never had dreams of becoming an astronaut, so this book has stayed in the unread pile for me (so far).

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  25. I’ve been recommending this one to my husband – mostly because he is a scientist and I’m curious to hear his take on it. I thought it was repetitive and too geekish (although I do love science), but quite enjoyed it, did think it funny and thought at the time that it would make a good film. The characters and plotting however were wafer thin, I agree.

  26. I really liked The Martian, thought it was entertaining and funny, but definitely not going to win any literary awards. I would, however, recommend An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield. If you liked Packing for Mars, I think you might like this one. It addresses some of the same things (the day-to-day aspects of being in space) but also larger topics about what it takes to become an astronaut, and the things that Hadfield learned through his experiences that are great advice for even non-astronauts.

  27. GLENDA

    I gave up on The Martian when the narrative went back to the spaceship- so dull! Generally enjoy science fiction but seriously did not like this- apart from the science stuff. Agree Chris Hadfields book is a great insight into the graft of becoming an astronaut – he is a terrific ambassador for the Space Station.; much better than this fiction! Will look for The Explorer.

  28. A refreshing, genuinely honest review that has not put me off the book. In fact I have a very high tolerance of reading novels that contain large wodges of things that I don’t understand properly (Master and Commander). So I may well read it to see if I agree. Also, it sounds a bit like the kind of 50s/60s sci fi, complete with lots of men and misogyny, that I read obsessively in my teens.

  29. typespectrum

    Yes, I completely share your point of view. I felt engaged, and even started doing my own personal research into astronomy and engineering just out enthusiasm for the technical development in the storyline. But then I got to those misogynistic lines and wondered if Weir was aware that he was excluding women. Yes, a woman is commander. But that does not override the blatant misogyny throughout the book.

    1. Beth is the hot chick on the ship. Everyone wants to sleep with her. She is “won” by her colleague Beck. But Mark still expresses how he (and every male he knows of) fancies her. There is a passage where she is having a conversation with her father and it is disgusting. He implies that she was the chaste, good daughter. He praises her for her CHASTITY over her computer genius. It is only worth making her a genius because she is hot.

    2. Mindy Park (a Korean-American) is perceived as less than Annie Montrose, because she is not beautiful. There is something sexist AND racist about the depiction of Park. She is the stereotypical meek Asian girl, whose brains in engineering don’t matter because all Asians are great as this subject. What she really wants is to be white; to exemplify eurocentric standards of beauty. Whether Weir meant this or not, he is admitting his own preference for eurocentric features. As well, Park remains subordinate to men. She never uses her voice.

    3. Park and Johanssen (Beth) both cry and tear up. The men don’t cry. The women do. Only Commander Lewis does not because she is a commander…seriously.

    4. More about racism. One of the NASA guys, either Teddy or Mitch refers to the whole Chinese population despicably. He says “these chinese nerds are a weird bunch”. Seriously. How must it feel, being Chinese and reading this? It undermines the great alliance between the Chinese and the American government….It makes them seem again, almost subordinate to the U.S. government.

    5. Dr. Kapoor is a Hindu and apparently it is funny that he is one. When asked if he believes in Gods he replies “lots of them”. Yes, Hinduism is polytheistic, but the context is weird. he also says “Oh gods!” …this seems to remind me of Apu from the Simpsons. The already established trope of the funny Hindu man. Seriously…what Hindu says “Oh gods”. This is pathetically racist.

    6. Martinez asks Beth who she would eat first if she was alone on Hermes after the rest of her crew died. She obviously did not want to answer this and Martinez says that he’s meaty. Then he says “what you don’t like Mexican”? He’s referring to his ethnicity as something delicious…this is how white people like to exploit others. It’s like saying “I love sushi” when you meet someone Japanese.

    7. Back to misogyny, the use of the word “rape” is absolutely abhorrent. He might as well stick in a Holocaust joke in there. I mean, there is no reason to use the word rape. He’s a writer, and he couldn’t think of another word? I almost puked when I read it. Immediately lost respect for the author.

    8. And then of course, the pangs of not sleeping with women. He could have written about an actual woman from home that he loved and missed. He could have written about relationships and intimacy and feeling less alone in the world. He could have written about kissing a woman or holding her in his arms. He could have mentioned sex ALONG with love instead of independent. And a lot of people have already picked up how he compared a Martian goddess to a human woman. Women are as real as hypothetical alien monsters huh? No one his character is single.

    9. The comment, as another person pointed out, about the gay spacecraft coming to save him. Why casually throw in the word “gay”? There was nothing empowering about it. I’m LGBT and I felt excluded and condescended to. It’s like saying “that’s so gay”. Weir is very behind the times.

    There’s a lot more disgusting anti-humanity sentiments in this book, which is such a shame because I felt more inspired to become a scientist after reading it. It gave me mixed messages. His narrative is privileged and demeaning. I get the feeling that women and people of colour are jokes to him. That this is nerdy white cishet male novel and is not meant for anyone else.

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