April was a little slow on the reading front. I got Moby Dick back from the library, though, so I’m trying to finally finish that up now (yay…) and then I’m hoping things will pick up.
Okay, why did it take me so long to read this? Put it this way: I’ve seen Apollo 13 dozens of times, and read extensively about the mission, and I still tense up during that final descent scene. When Commander Lovell’s voice finally comes through the static, I tear up a little.
Point is: I’m still a nerdy little space geek at heart. So it was pretty much a foregone conclusion I’d love this.
Astronaut Mark Watney is part of the Ares 3 crew, conducting a mission on Mars, when a storm and horrific freak accident strands him on the planet without his crew or any way to contact anyone back home. Luckily, he’s a pretty ingenious problem-solver, which comes in handy as Mars tries to kill him over and over and over.
What I wasn’t expecting about this book: It’s laugh out loud (or at least, snort out loud) funny. You have to have a sense of humor to survive on Mars all by yourself for months on end, and Weir gave Watney a great sense of dry, deprecating, sarcastic humor.
There’s a fair amount of legit science in here and it was a little bit like reading an episode of Mythbusters, minus most of the explosions (there are some explosions). Weir also mastered upping the conflict and tension throughout the book beautifully — before too long, I was slightly on edge for just about every scene, wondering how will he almost get killed this time? It’s so classically cruel as a reader: Something would go right for Watney — he’d establish communication with NASA, his food supplies would be growing nicely, they’d start to put together a viable plan to get him home — and I’d think, Oh, let things so smoothly now, while at the same time eagerly waiting for/dreading the next inevitable catastrophe.
The Martian may not be for everyone — you have to have at least a little sci-fi geek in you — but I think it’s actually extremely accessible sci-fi if you don’t usually read that genre.
A mostly enjoyable read with two big issues…
Nora is a grad student who’s struggling a bit with what she wants out of life, especially right after being dumped. Up in the mountains for a friend’s wedding weekend, she stumbles into a graveyard which turns out to be a portal to another world where magic is real and both useful and very dangerous. She falls under an enchantment without even knowing it and is pressed into marriage to a man she thinks is dashing, charming, and wonderful, but actually is a bit of a monster. After she manages to escape, she’s brought into the care of a grumpy, cranky old magician in a medieval society (think: no technology, backwards views about women) and eventually convinces him to start teaching her magic. In the meantime, conflict erupts between the kingdom where she now lives and the magical race that originally kidnapped her.
First things first: I generally really enjoyed reading this book. I looked forward to going to bed each night because I was eager to see what would happen next, which is always a good sign. It starts really weird, but it works: Nora gets thrust into this world and she’s very confused and under the enchantment which basically creates extremely powerful, pleasing illusions. In the back of her mind, she kinda knows that something isn’t right, but she’s unable to verbalize her concerns and if she manages to do so, the “people” she’s with brush it aside and distract her with some ridiculously over-the-top party or something. As a reader, you’re sort of along for the ride — knowing that something’s not right and wondering what the hell is going on. Although it was a little frustrating to read at first, I liked it and was quickly drawn in.
Once Nora escapes/is rescued, however, the pacing varies between interminably slow and holycrapeverythingishappening and back to hum-de-dee, everyday life with not much going on and quickfast-pacedaaction! The problem was, I was never sure what the ultimate conflict would be. It was like there were several different sub-plots but no main overarching plot.
I kept comparing it to Harry Potter: you know each book is gonna end with some shit going down between Harry and Voldemort and even though other stuff happens throughout the books — Hagrid gets a dragon egg, Harry learns to battle dementors, Ron dates Lavender, Ron and Hermione get in a fight — everything’s building to the climax, and you know that the whole way through.
Here, I was never sure what that climax would be, or if there would even be one, for that matter. Was the main plot Nora trying to find her way home (she mostly seems not to care about that, except a few times where she’s like “What about those portals that no one knows about or can control? Is there another way I can get home? No? Oh, okay, I’m gonna go peel some potatoes then…”), trying to learn magic, or this conflict/battle/war between the magician who rescued her (along with the rest of the kingdom he lives in) and the other weird magical race?
When we finally do reach that climax, it seemed rushed and hurried. (Leading up to it, though, there’s a wonderful little snippet that had the “The Red Wheelbarrow” fan in me swooning. #englishmajor) And then the ending felt weak and dissatisfying because there wasn’t enough character development in Nora to support it.
All that criticism aside, though, I wouldn’t recommend avoiding this one. It’s a enjoyable, if frustrating, read.
Also, while looking up the Amazon links for this, I found out that apparently it’s the first in a trilogy, so I think I need to reserve some of my criticism and see if the pacing and character development comes together in the entire story arc.